This is not the rule of the people, even less the rule of the citizens. This is a flea market.

Andrej Nikolaidis (Foto: Tone Stojko, Sa(n)jam knjige u Istri)

By Andrej Nikolaidis, CdM columnist

My relatives from Canada told me at length about the miseries of the Bosnian refugees who fled the war to the great country across the ocean. Those stories were full of dark humor. Naturally, because dark humor is what we put into everything: as if things will be less terrible if you manage to laugh at them. It works. It really makes it less scary. But that leads to everything in your life and the lives of people around you becoming a series of bizarre things. Our lives, societies and countries are good for laughing, but not good for living.

Heroes of one of the stories from Canada were a married couple who lived in Sarajevo and worked at the market in Grbavica. They had a stall there, which, as they say, was their second home. They were met by one of my relatives two months after their arrival in Canada.

How are you doing?

Great, I’m attending English course.

So, how is it going?

Great, I just have to learn more about should and would and I’m ready for the market.

The man, if you ask me, got everything right. You know that favorite question of amateur philosophers and writers: what is life? Life is a masquerade, life is the sea, life is not just to cross a field, life is when you are alive, etc. Let me make a modest contribution to the sad search for a word that would appropriately describe life, which is so dull in itself that it has successfully eluded mind and language for millennia.

Life, I mean, is a market. The Bosnian refugee in Canada got that right. Just to learn more about should and would and I’m ready for life here – that’s what that man actually said.

Even if life is not a market – which you will easily convince me of, because I understand that life can also be toilet paper, a pearl, ajvar (a traditional Balkan winter food) or wasteland – I would not underestimate the influence of the market on our lives.

Why? Because the history of the former Yugoslavia from 1989 onwards cannot be understood if the market is not properly understood.

First, like at a flea market, we gave away everything we had sworn to for half a century. When we no longer need them, we sell everything – even people and ideals. You can’t live in the new age with old ideals – is that right?

It turned out to be a bad trade: hence all the great nostalgia in our lives. But let’s be honest, even when everything is over, for a change: nobody forced us. We traded brotherhood and unity for hatred and nationalism of our own free will. We gave the factories to the bullets and shells that killed our brothers of yesterday and destroyed the cities where we first fell in love. And who did we hate the most passionately? Exactly those who tried to talk us out of that, those who said “don’t”.

Were we bothered by hyperinflation, which melted away social wealth and created a new class of the rich? Where was our class consciousness, where were the demands for justice, while they killed cities and people with our money and our votes? Where were the workers and unions to stand up to protect the rights of employees while ethnic cleansing and complete destruction was being done? Lower than our silence was only the “higher goal” for the sake of which we agreed to the slaughter.

Then as now. Are you following the negotiations that are supposedly leading to a new government? The market is not the best metaphor to describe these negotiations?

Bargaining and lying are done in the market. So they lie that Washington, Belgrade and Brussels do not participate in the market negotiations about our independent stall. Nope. But you and I participate.

Our nationalism, I want to tell you, was born in the market, our capitalism is a mixture of the constitution and theft on the scales, our democracy is a butcher who sells entrails bleached in a bleaching agent, our transition was a robbery at a truck market, our academies are antique markets and universities are flea markets, 1-euro stores, in our parliaments sit buyers, who sell us only sometimes second-hand, and as a rule third- and fourth-hand democracy, foreign diplomats in our countries behave like white people in an oriental market.

All in all: we just need to learn a little more of that should and would and we are ready for the European Union.

(The opinions and views of the authors of the columns are not necessarily those of the CdM editorial staff)

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