Photo: Al Jazeera

Photo: Al Jazeera

I’ve been looking at images of horror, both close to me and from afar, for a quarter of a century, but none looked as terrifying as this – maybe because, after a long time, it carries the meaning of everything that’s been going on and which holds nothing good for the future: in Syria, people are locked in cages big enough to accommodate up to twenty living objects, sometimes very neatly built, apparently from pieces of gates and fences. Men are put in one cage, women in the other and then those cages are placed in strategic positions to be hit by the Russian bombs, American missiles and drones, French guided mines, or simply by the enemy, whichever comes first. Those who drive the cages explained to the reporter that those inside are Assad’s sympathizers, because they belong to his religious minority or his party. They even said that some of them are guilty for being in high official positions. One man from the cage tried to say something, but they pushed him away. Women from the other cage were silent. So, those are the representatives of the “democratic opposition” in whose name the politicians of the world are arguing, whether they are for or against them, in whose name they send bombs and promise that none of their soldiers will actually go there, and with such loose and contradictory plans they happen to hit a “Doctors without borders” hospital, or a city which the Kurds managed to win over after heavy losses and organize schools with women without headscarves, or an occasional human cage or, at a pure stroke of luck – Jihad John himself.

***

Slovenia’s southern border, but symbolically the whole country, is closed in a barbed-wire cage; some refugees already got lost because of the dark and fell into the cold waters of the Sotla river; others were escorted by armed soldiers and policemen on horses with full equipment and helmets to the fields where they were left to freeze for hours, hungry and sick, before they were taken to be “documented”. Now everything will be fine, the refugees will be allowed to pass using standards known only to the officials (which mustn’t by any chance be in accordance with the Croatian standards) and, besides the occasional unfortunate individual, only deer and other wild and domestic animals will get stuck in the wire. Even some hunters stated their concern. After a long time, the writers spoke up, saying that future generations will remember Slovenia locked in barbed wire and shouting about the repression and treason against ideals. Poet Svetlana Makarovich stated (with many curse words) that Slovenians don’t deserve their national anthem anymore, Presern’s poems celebrating neighborly love, but a children’s poem about a well-behaved doggie which wags its tail and guards the house in order to get a pat on the head from Aunty Merkel. Judging by the reactions on social networks, the poem could be widely accepted. Rounds of protest will continue every Friday; in the meantime, writers and others prone to action will organize different events, some at the border, near the wire. In this cage, at least, we refuse to be silent.

***

Sixty years after the Algerian crisis and ten years after the riots in the suburbs, Paris and the entire country are once again locking themselves in emergency measures and maybe even police hour. Unlike the recent massacre in “Eurasian Paris”, Beirut, no interpretation can be connected to the refugees: all witnesses talk about young people who spoke French without an accent and didn’t wear masks. They weren’t trying to hide anything because they knew they were marching to their deaths. They were probably all born in France and were French citizens. According to French law, they were, simply put, French. When people like them massacred the employees of Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, many wise men said that artists, caricaturists (and those like them) were killed because they offended Muslim sanctities and that, simply, they went too far. It sounded partially convincing, especially associating with all the victims in Muslim countries who were, directly or indirectly, killed by Western countries starting from the colonial past to present days.

This morning, after a sleepless night and many tears, I see a utopian stumbling of this opinion: just like in a Hollywood horror movie, some young Frenchmen with predictable social background and position set off on the night of Friday the 13th to kill anyone who happened to be at symbolic places representing the everyday life of Western and global culture: a football stadium named after France, where a friendly match between the two axels of Europe, Germany and France, was taking place and which the president of the state was watching; a McDonald’s restaurant; people at restaurants on a Friday night; the theater Bataclan, where the band Eagles of Death Metal was playing – their name is also charged with symbolism. Wasn’t the job of all those “profilers”, spies and experts on terrorism to look at the daily program of events in Paris and conclude that they are a terrorist’s wet dream? Can you imagine a “better” day and better symbolic places for an attack? Everything which represents the Western world and way of life, which is by default “insulting”, forbidden and even punishable by severe corporal punishments, prison or death in some of the more hardcore regimes, was attacked.

The Bataclan center can help us understand: I remember it as a funny ruin, a memory of orientalist eccentricity of the Parisian golden era, the second half of the 19th century, Ofenbach (his opera Ba-ta-clan). In slang, that name is used to represent something like “a mess”, “noodle-doodle”, in one word “like, whatever”. About ten years ago, the building was refurbished in bright red and yellow and became a temple of metal music. Black leather, naked chests (male and female), spider stockings, tattooed body parts, hats, dark glasses, vests, black T-shirts – those are the images of a typical Bataclan performer and concert-goer. The concerts are held at the theater downstairs and the dancing hall is on the first floor. I’m not trying to blame anything on “metal” folklore. On the contrary, some Dutch and German bikers went to the Middle East war zones to help the enemies of the caliphate, first of all Kurds, which is a rare example of direct European help. The young French terrorists attacked those European commodities which are still available to them – football matches, fast food and metal. With this in mind, president Hollande’s statement is true – France is at war, but it’s a civil war. Any shift of the blame onto foreigners and non-citizens, like the refugees, is completely wrong. Among other things, they come in order to be able to go to football matches, eat hamburgers and listen to all kinds of rock in peace. The attack on the refugee camp near Calais because of the murders in Paris is a clear fulfillment of Nazi fantasies.

In other words, this is all about fantasies, notions, narratives and images which don’t make up a comprehensive and understandable system. If we still have any sense left, we won’t proclaim European and western commodities an identity, but we won’t see them as a sin or a motive to take away a human life, either. More than 100, maybe even 150 dead, almost 100 critically injured, many wounded, probably a lot of invalids, hundreds and thousands in grief, deprived, damaged, traumatized, who didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to them. And the murderers, their fellow citizens, who gave themselves every changeable, elusive, unconfirmed and reckless motivation. Does this remind us of something? What was that country that fell apart because some citizens thought that they can punish others with death for an absolute Ba-ta-clan? For speaking in a language they can understand, for social envy, for enjoying the same things, for private disputes, for drunkenness, for “program” slogans we didn’t even understand, for other people’s fantasies and their own evil dullness, for preventive revenge?

We live in cultures of complete arbitrariness: upon receiving the signal, one of the terrorist may have wiped the grease from the beef burger off his chin and started shooting everyone else at the McDonald’s because it symbolizes the western decadence which should be eradicated. I don’t think that the war in Yugoslavia or the public killings in the USA are mixed models which directly create a new and equally cruel reality. But, it’s clear that these causes are in all our minds. And there is no general method for eradicating the Eros of that omnipresent horror from the minds of some.

***

Still… I am certain the destruction of all cages would bring relief. Europe, which is the closest, would have to pay equal respects to the Kurd pacifist youth, murdered Hasidic women and children, rich Russian tourists whose plane was probably taken down by a bomb and, of course, European citizens killed by a depressed co-pilot, and offer the help of their institutions and citizens to everyone – and there are a lot of them. No one is less ordinary or innocent, less ours or more theirs. And the living simply must be helped. No spitting on the other, not even the dumbest conspiracy theory, no ignorance, no superstition is unworthy of discussion and an attempt at change. Even the belief that man is an incurable beast is worth shaking. The goal is simply to gain time which we could use to start thinking about death, and limiting it to standard cases of chance and illness…

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 20.11.2015.


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Svetlana Slapšak
Svetlana Slapšak, rođena u Beogradu 1948, gde je završila klasičnu gimnaziju i doktorirala na Odeljenju za antičke studije na Filozofskom fakultetu. Pasoš joj je bio oduzet 1968-73, 1975-76. i 1988-89. Zaposlena u Institutu za književnost i umetnost 1972-88. Predsednica Odbora za slobodu izražavanja UKS 1986-89, sastavila i izdala preko 50 peticija, među njima i za oslobađanje Adema Demaćija. Bila članica UJDI-ja. Preselila se u Ljubljanu 1991, gde je redovna profesorka za antropologiju antičkih svetova, studije roda i balkanologiju (2002-14), koordinatorka studijskih programa i dekanka na ISH (2004-14). Glavna urednica časopisa ProFemina od 1994. Umetnička direktorka Srpskog kulturnoga centra Danilo Kiš i direktorka Instituta za balkanske i sredozemne studije i kulturu u Ljubljani. Predložena, u grupi Hiljadu žena za mir, za Nobelovu nagradu za mir 2005. Napisala je i uredila preko 70 knjiga i zbornika, oko 400 studija, preko 1.500 eseja, nekoliko romana, libreto za operu Julka i Janez, putopise, drame; prevodi sa grčkog, novogrčkog, latinskog, francuskog, engleskog i slovenačkog. Neke od novijih knjiga: Za antropologijo antičnih svetov (2000), Ženske ikone XX veka (2001), Ženske ikone antičkog sveta (2006), Mala crna haljina: eseji o antropologiji i feminizmu (2007), Mikra theatrika (2011), Antička miturgija: žene (2013), Zelje in spolnost (2013), Leteći pilav (2014), Kuhinja z razgledom (2015), Ravnoteža (2016), Preživeti i uživati: iz antropologije hrane. Eseji i recepti (2016), Kupusara. Ogledi iz istorijske antropologije hrane i seksualnosti (2016), Škola za delikatne ljubavnike (2018), Muške ikone antičkog sveta (2018). Dobitnica nagrada Miloš Crnjanski za knjigu eseja 1990, American PEN Award 1993, Helsinki Watch Award 2000, Helen Award, Montreal 2001, nagrade Mirko Kovač za knjigu eseja 2015, nagrade Mira ženskog odbora PEN-a Slovenije 2016, Vitalove nagrade Zlatni suncokret 2017.
Svetlana Slapšak

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