June 25, 2001
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Some days it is like looking into an old and rust-speckled mirror, one that is twisted and distorted and bent, and one that returns a reflection that bears almost no resemblance to what I believed was the real world. A smiling face turns into a leer. A cool cup of water turns green with poison.
Translating Stevan Konstantinović's article was such an experience. I grew up in the country of which he writes, and yet I do not recognise it, cannot find it, in his account. I read his words and they make only marginal sense to me, as though I am reading fiction, a bad novel, something that a once-best-selling author running out of ideas might have concocted in desperation - my country seems to have become home to clichés and their minions, storybook Mafiosi with storybook molls strutting their stuff on the boulevards that were once home to me and my childhood innocences.
But underneath Konstantintović's accounts of armed thugs in leather jackets lie those other stories, the chilling ones of destitute retired teachers trailing the funerals of strangers in the hope that the deceased's shoes might fit them and that the survivors may see fit to give those shoes away. And I can very easily see how the scramble for survival, the same instinct for clinging to life in the face of death and destruction, might have produced both these extremes. Should I rush in and hate them and condemn them, those people who remained behind in the country I left when I was young? All of them, the pathetic and the vicious alike? How can I hate an entire nation on the basis of the fact that it harbours the seeds of its own destruction?
Every nation has its vermin - the weevils in the grain, the cockroaches in the kitchen, the rats in the hold. But in circumstances where survival isn't the paramount idea in everyone's head, it is easy to keep such vermin where they belong. When the householder is more worried about keeping a roof over his head, however, than about keeping the house clean, that's when vermin multiply, and ultimately take over. And that is the stage that the outside forces have finally driven Serbia to - its back against a wall of sanctions, ripped systematically into smaller and smaller shreds by international interests, bombed by missiles and bombarded by lies and half-truths, reduced from a proud and decent nation to grubbing in the dirt for its next meal.
It would be very easy to turn away from it all and renounce it completely, on the simple basis that I am no longer one of those people, and I cannot understand the basis on which their daily lives are lived. It would be easy to turn on them and hate them - but, instead, I find myself staring into that twisted mirror with pity. Should I be ashamed of what my people have become? I cannot feel that, because I know what they used to be. I can only pity the people who have fallen so far from so high, and rail at those who pushed them over the precipice. It is now, when they are at their lowest ebb, that the nation needs to be loved, and told that it is loved. I don't mean that I, or anyone, should declare allegiance to the street thugs and the mafia. But we should all declare war on the circumstances that brought them to power. I don't know if it is too late to go back; it may be, and that would be a raw pain to me. But I have to believe that the spark of my people's soul is not yet extinguished by their trials - and much as it hurts me to have things of which Konstantinović's article speaks revealed to the world, I have to hope that speaking such things out loud may cause the nation to finally stand up in defense of its honor, its past....and its future.
Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. However she has lived outside her native country for much of her life: Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her next novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, is due out in September 2001 with Harper Collins. Recently, Hromic won the much coveted BBC online short story competition. Her story, The Painting, was broadcast in the UK in the last week of January 2001.
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Alma A. Hromic 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Related Internal Links
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
This Week's Internal Links
The Balkans That's Us! - by Stevan Konstantinović
The Democratic Dilemma - by Stephen Gowans
Racism - by Aleksandra Priestfield
Let The Old Men Fight - by Deck Deckert
Please Be Patient - by Milo Clark
Please Be Patient II - by Milo Clark
Robot Minds - A Poem by Sandy Lulay
Alma Hromic's Commentaries on Swans
Letter From My Father (June 2001)
They Change Their Sky (May 2001)
Year Two, P.K. (March 2001)
Letter to my Unborn Child (February 2001)
On the Anniversary (September 2000)
Subject: Into Myth (September 2000)
Sadness in Novi Sad, Serbia (April 2000)