This article first appeared 12 February 2014 at Radio Sarajevo,
Šejla Šehabović: Two stories about solidarity or….
…all that you do not need to be afraid of
I would like to show you two pictures from my home town. They both have to do with solidarity. The first is in English. The language is foreign, but the face is ours.
It is the face of my dear friend, Damir Arsenijević. You have seen Damir these days on your TV. They have seen him outside the country too. You know very will that outside the country we are represented by some dodiks, izetbegovićes, radončićes and čovićes. You know how ashamed you feel every time their slick faces appear on the screen. You feel insulted and humiliated. My friend has a doctorate, from a British university. He would be capable of leading in any normal state, but he decided to return to plug away in an abnormal one. Look at how my friend, a guy from Tuzla, represents you and me:
If you feel today, like I do, a certain discomfort in looking at the blackened administrative buildings in our cities, if you are a little panicked about the anarchy that could take over, if you think it is a little unpleasant to show solidarity with rock-throwing youths, if you are worried that even worse and uglier people, like Fahro Radončić, could come to power and that you could then, if you join in with all this, find yourself responsible for that foul outcome, I have one thing to tell you: my friend, like you, is also afraid of all that. He stood before workers whose poverty he does not share. He stood before wretched people to whom he had to translate his thoughts into understandable language. Before the lackeys of different political parties, who are a particular kind of wretch for whom it is hard to say there is help in this world. He stood before parents who fear another war. Before children who are not afraid of anything, and who do not know anything about anything. And he could, like you and me, whine about the masses. Here, the ones who whine the most are the biggest intellectuals.
It is understandable that people might suspect that nothing will come of all this, or that things will get even worse. Everyone is against us, Europe, Serbia, Croatia, Dodik is manipulating the situation, and so on and bla bla bla… The man whose face appeared to represent us before the world knows all that, better than you and me. You will see him this evening at 6:00 at the Plenum, in the National Theatre in Tuzla. He will listen to reasonable and unreasonable recommendations. He will put up with journalists asking for a statement, and since the Plenum does not have a leader and they have to decide who gives a statement by consensus, the journalists will leave. They are not so crazy as to do their jobs and participate in something when nobody knows what it is. This evening at 6 my friend will grind his teeth, swallow his fear, and look people in the eye. That is solidarity.
The second story about solidarity I will tell you without a video illustration and without the name of its heroine. First because she doesn’t like publicity, and second because it could put her in an unpleasant situation. All of us who are sick of living in a country where the shit swims to the surface and everybody else chokes below have put up too long with the humiliation of unpleasant situations. My heroine is from Tuzla. On the first day of the Tuzla protests she left work, to join the peaceful demonstrations. And it turned her stomach, like it did mine, to see the arsonists and people behaving like a lynch mob. She is not hungry, she has secure pension tenure, she is not unemployed, she is not on the margin of society. But she also did not stay at home to watch the despair of her fellow citizens from a respectable distance. When the police pulled out their truncheons and started to impose order on the backs of the citizens, she did not hide herself away. Attempting to protect one of the demonstrators who was being arrested for no reason, she offered to go with him into the police van. Most of the people who watched this scene thought that she was a professional mediator – it looked like she had done this kind of thing a thousand times before. But my dear woman of Tuzla leads a peaceful life. She has never been convicted of anything and has never had contact with the police. There are people who do not need any training to offer to help other people. The man who was taken into the police van was not beaten that day. Because one young woman stood with him. You can be sure that she was afraid, like you and me, that her behaviour might contribute to some possible anarchy. She is afraid, like all of us, that some tycoon could come to power, that some Chetnik could take advantage of the situation, that the scavengers from the neighbouring states might continue their visitation on ours. Her fear, like ours, is that Europe will turn its back on us and spit on us for doing the same thing that rebellious people are doing in all the respectable states of the world. She is afraid of everything, from the High Representative to her employer.
The difference between me writing this essay, the majority of you who are reading it, and my woman from Tuzla is that she decided on the first day of the protests to draw a line under her fear. That line was drawn in front of the body of a person who was threatened, and not in front of her own body. The success of every rebellion is not in its concrete political results, but in the number of people who have found their own line beneath which they will not go at any price.
The worst will happen. The world will think of us as savages. Inzko will threaten us with troops. Ustashas and Chetniks and Balije will come. The regime will make use of violence and injustice. The opposition will pay pyromaniacs to set fire to buildings that our parents built. Unreasonable people will comment on Facebook, spreading gossip, the stupider the better. Journalists will latch on to these stories and to the bosses who feed them – or, out of pure foolishness, will take pleasure in disorder. The people who look for a bit of reason in chaos, with their hearts and minds, will be trampled. A hundred intellectuals, each one smarter than the last, will complain and cry on the TV screens, tears will spill out of them as they race one another to predict that everything will fail and that things will be worse than ever. Brokenhearted artists will tell foreigners that the dark day has come to our land, looking with one eye at potential visiting gigs in other countries and with the other at their own despairing faces on the screen. All the worst will happen. Everything that we have watched up until now, with our heads hanging. Except there will be more noise, so we will not suffer in silence. If in the general screaming you recognise someone near you who is prepared to stand before the people or defend someone else’s body with their own, you have found my friends. For me the most important thing for now is to be among them. To find my own line, beneath which I will not go, ever, at any price.