Monday, March 20, 2006

The Day of Milsevic's Funeral

On Saturday, I decided to run some errands in downtown Belgrade. As I was leaving my apartment, my landlord warned that the traffic was bad – and it was. The bus, crowded as usual, inched along the road, despite taking an alternate route. There seemed to be a lot more busses coming from villages and towns as well. Along the route I saw a group of men, some carrying a photo of Milosevic and a few wearing the traditional shajkaca hats, heading towards downtown. I knew that Milosevic’s body had been on display at a small museum for the past several days (I had seen the queue of people standing in the rain the previous night), but that wasn’t in the downtown area. A large number of people left the bus at the next stop, which left those remaining with a seat – a pleasant surprise on most bus trips.

Two people sitting by me were having a discussion. Although I could not understand what they were saying, the inclusion of words such as Milosevic, Kosovo, UN, and Hague provided a good indication of what they were talking about. When the woman brought up words such as America and Milosevic + terrorist, I could tell that the two were exchanging opinions and observations. I wished I could have listened to their conversation and heard their ideas. The man across from me was reading a local newspaper. I could see pictures of Milosevic, his coffin, and well-wishers kissing the framed photo of the former president in front of the coffin. On the back page was another photo of Milosevic and a short article. Decoding each Cyrillic letter just as a young child, I figured out that it was his obituary. Sensing that the bus would not reach its normal destination by Trg Republic, I also got off the bus and walked.

On the main walking street Knez Mihailova, there were a fair number of people on the streets for a Saturday morning. Ice cream vendors were now selling from their wheeled carts. Popcorn vendors and newsstands were also busy. In most respects, it seemed like a normal Saturday. I noticed that many people coming towards me were wearing buttons with Milosevic’s picture, heading in the direction of the Parliament.

After running my errands, I decided to walk towards the Parliament. Here, a large crowd (estimates between 50,000 and 90,000) had gathered. Some were standing on concrete flowerpots or climbing up the wall to the elevated grassy area to get a better view. In front of the Parliament on an erected platform, speeches were being made. Large screens projected images of the former president. News vans were parked near some trees. In front of me, old woman wearing a kerchief and dark dress held up a large photo of Milosevic. To one side, a man was selling copies of the book written by Milosevic in the late 1990’s. Although the crowd was quite civilized, I decided to leave after a few minutes.

Meanwhile, across town at Republic Square, protesters of Milosevic gathered. Holding colorful balloons and blowing whistles, this crowd sought to remind others of the harm that Milosevic did – and that he is no hero. News reports such as B 92 and BBC reported that the participants of this rally were more positive and future oriented, hoping that the death would help move the country forward and close up a grim chapter on its past. As taken from the B92 (local) website: "Thank you for the deceit and theft, for every drop of blood shed by thousands, for the fear and uncertainty, for the failed lives and generations, the unfulfilled dreams, for the horrors and wars you waged in our name, without asking us, for all the burdens you've placed on our shoulders," they said. "We remember tanks on Belgrade streets and blood on the pavements. We remember Vukovar. We remember Dubrovnik. We remember Knin and Krajina. We remember Sarajevo. We remember Srebrenica. We remember the air strikes. We remember Kosovo. We'll be remembering that one for a while. And dreaming of it."

That evening, I attended a music recital. I asked one of the musicians if he had been downtown. Although this young man indicated that he was not a Milosevic supporter, he thought that both gatherings were “crazy”. Like so many people of Belgrade, he simply wanted to move on.

1 comment:

tombetz said...

WOW- a witness to History.

kind of like being in Berlin when the wall came down..