GOING TO BELGRADE

I would have to find out by going there, but in thinking about it, I imagine the film would be about living with crime.

But because this is such a common activity, because we ourselves have so much experience with it, perhaps it is more useful to try to describe the simplicity of crime. Or, if simplicity seems too complacent, then the ease with which it can happen, the way that the crimes we live with become imbedded in a dense logic of apparent necessities, and permit an all but natural process of coming to live normally with crime. This atmosphere of justification is so rich, it is so logical, that the crimes either lose their discrete character and all but disappear, or indeed remain, but as minor details in a much more complicated picture. The hermetic nature of this situation, its in-turning, the pathology of persecution and paranoia that accompany it, is only reinforced by the certainty that "no one who is not us can understand."

This is an old story. At the scale we are discussing, it is as old as the nation state and its systematic organization of information. It is as old as nationalism itself, and the inevitable racism that accompanies it. We are in the realm of "the banality of evil," of which we have had so much direct experience in our times.

Of course I am thinking of German people inside Nazi Germany, but I am also thinking of American people during the war in Vietnam, of the metropole French during the war in Algeria, of Soviet citizens during the War in Afghanistan, of all of us during the permanent wars in Angola and Timor, or confronted by more subtle cases like Chile, Argentina, Salvador, where nationalism was transmuted into a political phobia that masqueraded as an internal affair. I could continue, listing the wars characteristic of the New World Order, beginning with Grenada, the Gulf War, the interventions in Haiti and Somalia, the renewal of bombing against Iraq which continues to this day, but I am afraid that the matter of living with crime will get lost in all the different justifications for actions taken or not, and in the differences of scale and distance from the crime itself.

The fact of the matter is, what the Yugoslav people are living, and living with, ought to be very familiar to us. It represents the culmination of a politics that is everywhere the same, that is the raw expression of national self-interest, and that this politics will inevitably lead to any extremes, whether the atomic bomb, carpet bombing and defoliation, the Phoenix Program of assasination or My Lai, and that this politics depends absolutely on the complicity of its people and their tacit capacity to live with crime, and then to even transform crime itself into a national heritage of righteous struggle and self-affirmation.

I think most of us have been there in our time. We know about living with lies, international or domestic. And we know about accepting representatives who don't represent us. We know about hiding behind representation, when we are actually at sea, indifferent or absent, or only bored by the very intricacy of the fabric. Internal exile-- sexuality, art, information and religion are vast resevoirs. There are other strategies. All of them eat the soul and eventually corrode a capacity to see. This is our situation. If you can accept the next step, once the bombs start falling on your head, once there is martial law, the strategies of internal exile become more complicated, there are fewer sanctuaries, and actually living with crime becomes easier because inseperable from survival and the various cycles of sacrifice and self-respect.

You might say that the difference between the experience of an American citizen and a Yugoslav citizen is the difference between cyber-sex and direct contact.

To be very clear, I am not justifying the politics of Belgrade. Nor do I have any easy proposals for the equitable resolution of this war. I would like to see everyone throughout Europe simply stop what they were doing and converge on Kosovo, to drown the violence with all our bodies like white cells flooding to the heart of infection. It seems to me to be one of the few exemplary actions in a situation where there is little qualitative difference in the paradigms that guide either the U.S./NATO or Belgrade. Imagined flocking of bodies to the site of the crime is a highly significant sign of separation from representation, and it suggests another paradigm. You will say it's not realistic. No, probably not, and I know we're certainly not there.

This is a way of saying that I did not start with the thought of going to Belgrade. In fact, conversations I had with young people who feel much more strongly than I do the weight of complicity, powerlessness and inaction, who actually do feel something strong when they see or hear the testimony of refugees, or the proofs of genocide, made me feel how much my own distance has developed, and how effectively I have come to insulate myself. The very accumulation of defeats, and a certain repetition of isolation has probably done its work. Living with crime is like other habits, closing around you until it becomes how things are. While one could find a nicer word, I suppose cynicism will do, especially since post-modern is even worse.

So, again following the line of thought of these young people, I got around to walking to Kosovo: alone, with others, whatever, and of course with a camera.

And then I had to accept what has happened, there is no good in denying what has happened with time, and that I know too well the voice of victims, and that this would be easier (for me, with a certain experience), and what would I have to add to what is already being done with these voices and these images, except to do it better and certainly make it more complicated? At which point I begin to think some sharply simple thoughts. This apparent unanimity that Belgrade projects, what is this? Who knows what and what do they do with what they know? How does it work (each time, and I do know, there were 15 years of it in the States,and bombing of course has a further predictable effect whether in Germany or England, Iraq or Vietnam)? And what does it cost, this complicity? Or is that only an old judeo-christian turn of thought? And is it so simple as only human all too human, or is there something to be learned even from this, because this is about us, about us in our hometowns and in our occupations, it is about me too, and it is about us in our barren state, our coat upon a stick state.

My questions range from understanding the use of state power through a police and army, the control of information, the manipulation of open and secret strategies, and on into the more difficult realms of individual adaptation and the grotesque dances of survival. And I want to take this magma, this mass of question and bad conscience (on all our parts), and let it lead me through a Belgrade that is neither a geographical nor a political entity (not the way I am approaching it anyway), but a state of mind separated from ours by the level of violence alone, by a matter of quantity and not of quality, and by not so many kilometers.

And there is another element. These "young people" I mentioned, they are, as you might imagine, filmmakers. And these women still think about going the other way, south, toward Kosovo, since that's where their instincts leads them. And what if, in the end, the film, or a film, was made up of the dialogue between these two instincts. One fresh and coming of age with this war (it always seems to be the wars that mark, and this is very much a part of the story), and another instinct, rather more used, more dogged surely, persistant, loyal above all else to an uncorroborated practise of not letting go, of forcing to put new states of mind in difficult situations, and continuing to be present. What if that was the movie?

 

Robert Kramer
Tourcoing
4 May 1999

 

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