Unbelievable, part two

A lack of government and police control on all levels, had a huge increase in crime rate. Also, nearby wars in Croatia and Bosnia didn’t help. Underground market of arms became flooded with military armament and ammunition. That caused a drop in prices – I was told that you could buy a hand grenade for 10-20 DEM, automatic riffle (Serbian version of Kalashnikov) for 150 DEM, pistols depending on a caliber between 30 and 80 DEM. One bullet was about 1 DEM. I guess even more dangerous weapon was available because there were few murder attempts with mobile rocket launchers and RPGs.
Weapon was followed by drugs. I was reading in newspapers that, while cocaine was still a privilege for the rich, marijuana and heroin were never as cheap. And, which is worse, it was available everywhere. I will never forget when I’ve seen a young couple, no more than 16, he was so doped that he could hardly walk, while she was having a crisis, shaking and still holding injection with syringe on it… And it was 2 p.m. in a very center of Belgrade, near one of the theatres.
Criminals appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Shaved heads, muscly, with sweaters tucked in sweatpants, often armed, in expensive cars and half naked girls around them, they meant trouble. I knew half a dozen of guys from my neighbourhood who were in some sort of crime – drug dealing, robberies (in Serbia and abroad), shoplifting, extortion… They were not people you would like to mess with. Many of them were killed. In one year only, five of them were killed in the area where I lived. Some of them in a broad daylight. All of them from automatic weapon. One night I returned home late from a party and found the entrance to my building demolished by hand grenade. On a Serbian New Year’s Eve (January 14, 1994, after Julian calendar) I was going home just before midnight when fire from all kind of guns and riffles started. I could see tracing bullets flying over the sky, I could even hear them buzzing. From a building next to mine, someone fired 5 magazines from Kalashnikov, one after another. Back then, celebration sometimes meant life threatening situations.
Then, everything became more cruel. An entire family was murdered (including a dog) in their apartment just because someone thought they have a lot of money stashed there. People who did it were caught few years later, after they committed few more similar murders. An retired army NCO, who just returned from Croatia (when regular army retreated), had seen one night someone taking off windshield from his car. He took a sniper rifle and killed thief on spot. He ended up in jail of course, but this just shows what were even ordinary people being ready for. In this case, PTSD was probably involved (more about it in next chapter) but we didn’t know anything about it.
But more often, criminals were killing each other. There were several clans operating in Belgrade and they were in war with each other. In time, one clan raised above them all, and took over all (or almost all) major “businesses” in Serbia, but mostly drugs. They became very strong and survived even change in political establishment in 2001 (after Slobodan Milosevic was removed from power). And they assassinated our prime minister in 2003. After that, most of them were either killed or are serving life sentences.
But crime was not a sign of criminals, only. People, desperate for money and means for life, did all kind of things illegal. Some doctors didn’t want to operate or even give treatments if they weren’t payed in cash. Teachers were giving good marks for money, professors in some universities were selling diplomas or even passing a tests. Getting a permit for building a house or even extending it, required transferring of certain amount of foreign currency to some official. We called it “under the table”. And police was not what it used to be. One of the longest streets on Belgrade, Boulevard of King Alexander became one of the biggest open markets in a city. People were selling smuggled goods on cardboard boxes or directly from parked cars. One day, while I was going home from work, I have seen a police officer approaching a woman who was selling a variety of Milka chocolates on a cardboard box. Police officer looked at her and without a word put his finger on a 400g (one pound) pack of chocolate and waited a moment. She looked at him and eventually said that he could take it, with resignation shrug on her shoulders. He just grabbed it and put it under his uniform jacket and left. A lot of my friends who were caught violating traffic laws, gave some money to policemen and in return they were never fined. Luckily, not all of them were corrupted, I knew few policemen who were fair and honest, trying to do their job surrounded by crocodiles and vultures…
Back then, if you were smart and wanted to live, you must have been very careful. Sometimes, even stepping on someone’s toes in crowded bus could end up with you looking down the muzzle of a gun. Or being stabbed… It happened often.
I don’t know how we, my brother and I, managed to go through those times without being attacked or injured. Part of it was probably our inner sense for trouble that was warning us when something was in stake. I could say for myself that I escaped from some troubles by just being sober, cool headed and self confident in potentially dangerous situations. And I know that my martial arts training helped that, too.
labovic this is a scene from a Danish movie “I Kina Spiser De Hunde”; there was a criminal gang from Balkan involved in a story and, even though they are all actors, this is how they really looked like during 90s πŸ™‚

I swear, you could walk for hours without seeing a single person smiling. Sometimes, it would be days before you yourself find a reason to smile. Happiness disappeared from our lives. Newspapers were full of bad news, war and poverty. Strangely, bad news were always sold well, from journalist’s point of view. People, being under pressure from their own troubles wanted to read about someone else’s misfortune. Their problems then probably felt easier and they could say ‘well, it could be worse’. You know what I mean.
These days sometimes I hear people talking about someone else having problems with boss on work or with other person who can influence their existence. And often I hear something like ‘no way I could accept that, I have my dignity’. I just laugh on that. Those people doesn’t know what a reality might do to person’s mind and will. One of my friends told me back then that he has met his high school teacher one day. Digging in a garbage can and taking a piece of bread from it. My friend was so shocked, their eyes met and they recognized each other. His teacher muttered something, put that piece of bread in a bag and turned away. I’ve seen grocery shop owners demanding from their underpayed workers to work longer hours without being payed; tiny girls 18 years old or younger, working illegally in same shops and carrying sacks heavier than they are. Strong will is melting like a butter on a hot pan when you don’t have a choice. Homo homini lupust est, seen too many times.
All the troubles we as a nation were suffering brought on surface the bottom of society – criminals became celebrities, easy money and the ways to get it became the highlight of many, people of low moral became role models of young people. If I was ever trying to imagine a better way of destruction of society, I wouldn’t be able to think of all that struck us. We were having several TV stations and on all of them you could see “turbo folk” (a weird and stupid version of folk music that doesn’t even deserve to be called “folk”) TV shows, senseless political discussions, prophets who were looking at cards or stars (one of them was rolling a big golden ring on his finger, claiming he can predict future) telling us when and how life is going to be better. Newspapers were not anything better. As a nation, we have been exposed to a mass brain washing – Serbia is always right!, Serbian people are the best people on world!, The rest of the world hates us, they envy us and they want to destroy us! – it was screaming through all media while only minority of people really had the opportunity to travel abroad and see the life outside our country. Also, under UN sanctions, many countries introduced visas for us (with conditions so hard to fulfill that it became futile to even try) and we could forget about travelling. Except for people who had families abroad or were working for few companies who still had some business connections in Europe or else in the world.
All of the characteristic signs of Belgrade whom I knew since my childhood, disappeared or has gone ‘under cover’ – rock, blues, alternative and classical music scene almost ceased to exist. They were pushed away from mainstream media to languish in few small clubs. One of my friends, jazz drummer, told me that he started playing turbo folk music in weddings. That money was his only income, otherwise he would starve. As a comparison: it would be like if you would ask a university professor to write articles about celebrities for some yellow press.
Many returned from war torn areas in Croatia and Bosnia – as refugees or soldiers. Many of them under impression of what they have seen there, the worse of civil war. You could see them walking in uniforms, sometimes armed. Sometimes drunk. We didn’t know much about PTSD – it was something we were listening about, something that affected American Vietnam War veterans. But this time we were having our own veterans. I couldn’t find any official data about suicide rates – I doubt anyone had enough money or will to conduct that kind of research – but people talked.
To finish this chapter I will try to summarize: destruction in society was so severe that even now, after about two decades consequences could be still seen. I doubt we will ever recover. It will never be as it was before and something new, heavily marked by the events from 90s, will continue to exist. It is better now but will never be as good as it was before. Probably not in my lifetime.

It was not all that bad. There were shiny examples that gave back the hope that troubles will not last forever. In a worse days of crisis, our sportsmen – basketball, volleyball and water polo players – got quite a few medals on European and world championships. In Olympic games in Atlanta in 1996 basketball team lost in finals from the USA team and won silver medal (not to mention few gold medals from European Championships). Volleyball team got bronze and Aleksandra Ivosev won two medals in shooting.

Slowly, a new generation of young people grew up, stronger and more prepared for troubles than we, who were born earlier, ever will be. People who didn’t have anything, decided to fight for their future and make their lives better. I am not happy with the pace things are changing in Serbia but every now and then I am glad to be denied. We learned one big lesson: no matter how bad situation is and how severe circumstances are, they can never last forever.
Recently I have read a status on a Facebook page of one of my friends: “Person is defined by patience when it has nothing and by behavior when it has everything”. What can be more true than that?

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20 Responses to Unbelievable, part two

  1. Furie says:

    Okay, I just got to the end of the first paragraph and I’m like “Whaaaaat?” Murder attempts with rocket launchers??? I was already mind boggled by the last post in this series and seeing that was just… confusing to be honest. It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I’ve worked around and for some dodgy people in the past (none of whom have ever been at the level where they’d attempt to take out politicians though).

    I’ve reached the end of the Crime section now and you never think about the mental toll this takes on the regular people. You expect the gangs and corrupt coppers, and even that people would have to break a few laws to keep themselves afloat. But the combination of everyone being on edge and having access to military grade hardware?

    I think I’m going to come back to this one in the morning, and give the next section as good a read as the last post. It’s getting late now.

    • gdare says:

      I’ve read about that murder attempt in newspapers. Even a victim, who survived the attempt was a shady kind of guy, doing shady business, and assassin was hired by someone to whom he owed money. Now it is even hard to remember everything because all those events are kind of blurry in my mind. That narco cartel that I mentioned did horrible things and their ‘headquarter’ was just a couple of hundred meters from where I lived. One day I was passing by and there was a Ferrari parked in front. The first Ferrari I’ve seen in my life. I also remember that later it was discovered that they were having about 400 kg of heroin in a safe deposit box in one bank. I mean, how is that possible that no one knew about that!!!
      One day I was going home from one early afternoon kendo training, having my bamboo swords in a green bag. A kid who was playing nearby, came to me and asked is that an RPG launcher in a bag. I said no and then he proudly replied ‘Oh, but my father has one at home’…

      • Furie says:

        Bloody hell. Adds a whole new meaning to “My dad could beat up your dad” doesn’t it.

        I’m still getting over kids in say Saudi Arabia having access to assault rifles and posing with them, and I’ve known about that for a couple of decades. That seems unreal to me. And then you said rocket launchers and I just can’t quite get my mind to accept that say the butcher down the street has a rocket launcher over his mantle. It seems ridiculous, like the set-up for a complex joke.

        • gdare says:

          It was like this: at the beginning of a war in Croatia, Yugoslavia still existed and federal army mobilized reserve to try to maintain a peace between rebelled Serbs and Croatian national militia. The idea was not that smart because from that moment a federal army became a target for attacks from militia and a full scale civil war started in no time. On a way back, military police was trying to prevent reserve soldiers to bring back arms but it was hard. There was no official border there so smuggling things over was easy.
          It was similar in Croatia, too. Long after the war was over, I was visiting a family in Croatia and one of my friends told me a story about a guy from his neighbourhood who fired an RPG to a nearby hill during some celebration. Song has got him or something…. πŸ˜›

  2. kimmzifoo says:

    I just got here, and I read the one before this, and this one.
    I’ll be honest – I know very little about this, I was not taught in school, and I didn’t hear anywhere else. I know that war is devastating and it completely changes countries and the people within, but I’m speechless and just what you and your countrymen had to endure. I’m amazed at what your family got through.
    It does make you stronger, if you can survive it. But it leaves scars that do not disappear, and sometimes people forget that. Sometimes, wounds do not heal and people, they don’t recover. We all have our problems and the worst things that happen to us are the worst – for us – but I cannot imagine going through life like that and emerging from the other side at all, never mind coming out to be a well rounded, kind, sane individual.
    I’ve always respected and admired you, and honestly this leaves me a little in awe.
    Without meaning to sound as though I enjoy hearing of your woes, I do look forward to reading more parts, if only to understand history a little more.

    (I’m sorry if this is not all that coherent, I’m having trouble communicating eloquently lately).

    • gdare says:

      This is completely coherent, don’t worry about that. Glad to hear from you.
      You know, sometimes when I’m thinking about the past and what we as a nation and me personally has been through, I wonder is that a bless or a curse. I’ve seen both sides of life but that doesn’t make me too happy. Maybe if I had peaceful life I would be more happier even if half of that happiness would be a lie. You are right about scars, they define a person. Sometimes I am sort of proud of myself for going through difficulties and never giving up but down on a bottom line I would be happier if I didn’t have to. Human nature, I think.

  3. Words says:

    I’m shell-shocked reading that! While we saw lots of reporting about the war it never touched on the impact on people, on society; and the aftermath. I’m so glad you are now able to talk about those times. It’s incredibly important for people to read and see the human side of things, not just the politics. Thank you!

  4. gdare says:

    Human side of things is a a second thing I think of when I hear that sanctions are imposed on some country or when a war starts somewhere (first I try to understand the reason). Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan…. I doubt we can fathom even a bit of suffering ordinary people are having in those countries.
    Thank you for reading, first long posts from me after few years πŸ˜€

  5. Hard times..yes they where. I was a kid in 90s but I remember very well how the most of us where poor. And in West media propaganda we Serbs where the only one to blame, they showed us like killers, monsters,.. About doctors I think they still ask for money to operate someone. Here where I live it’s not much better situation, although it’s one of EU countries πŸ˜€

  6. Mit says:

    When reading your first, a flash bumped in my head reminds me of time when I was a kids, my sister and I used to have bullet shells as our toys. My uncle had a gun at his house like many other men. One day I was so scared to hear from my neighbors that my uncle had a fight with a man so the man was calling for his friends and relatives come to our house. My sister and I had to run to a neighbor’s house to avoid them. Luckily nothing serious happened after that. And I must say that I am so happy that guns and other kinds of military weapons have been confiscated and banned.

    A war never really ends – I’d heard that from my dad when he talked to his friends about their old days at battles and about our daily life. Bad things continued coming after that – crime, drugs and whatever you name it… However “no matter how bad situation is and how severe circumstances are, they can never last forever” – that’s so true. We have to move on and make a change for a better situation. I’m happy to see many things has change quickly in my country and as you said, it’s happening in yours.

    • gdare says:

      Country is defined by a quality of life of society. And society in its core has a family. If a family lives good and is strong then a country grows up strong. We all need to make our lives better and grow stronger then everything will be better.
      Easier to say than to do, though….

  7. in my comment on the first part I’ve said that this situation is quite similar to the situation which we live in Syria ,but after I read this part, the situation here a hundred times worse
    Violence has spread in Serbia, but I would call it a local violence, you do not see an American person or a an Australian or the Saudi or even Afghans .
    They came in order to fight under the name of a religion that they do not know anything about at all, they recruited and by people whom planted malicious ideas in their heads only to achieve their own agenda.
    i asked my self every day , is that really that one day would come and peace will return to my dear home .
    My friend so sorry for saying this words , but i pray from the depth of my heart that one day will come and all those terrorist would return to Saudi Arabia (the largest financier of terrorism in the world) or to Turkey (the country which entered thousands of terrorists to Syria) , so sorry my friend for this wicked wish ,but we are drowning in blood .

  8. “destruction in society was so severe that even now, after about two decades consequences could be still seen. I doubt we will ever recover”
    I feel every word , they are painful words , it made me cry ,Oh my God how many decades we need in order to overcome the effects of this crisis, i love my home , I love every person every leave every stone in Syria ,and don’t want to see it destroyed .

  9. again and again so sorry every body here especially WandersmannMy you advised me to stay a way from the malevolent tone ,but I’m tired,i am desperate , it is very hard to feel that you are a stranger in your home , you don’t even dare to say to them to get out of Syria because they may cut your head.

    • gdare says:

      I will reply here to all of your comments.

      I know how you feel and I understand that. And yes, situation in your country is much worse than it has ever been in Serbia. And I must say I am, selfishly, glad for that because no one deserve to go through what you are going now. I am glad I didn’t have to look at ruins that was my hometown because destruction was never that bad. I lost one friend in war and that was more than enough. And there was only one person that tried to threaten my family because of our mixed nationality and I managed to sort that out.
      Also, I understand how you feel about foreign soldiers in your country. Back then when NATO bombs were dropping all over Serbia, I’ve found strength in me not to hate American, British, German, French,… people because they had nothing to do with that. I didn’t agree with politics of their governments (and I still don’t) but I had and still have friends in those countries and I know they are good people. But politicians doesn’t have nationality – they are all the same.
      As I mentioned once on your blog, you are going through hard times and you need to survive. Once when all this is over, I hope you will find a way to have peace in your heart.

      • I don’t meant my friend that i hate American or British people or any other nationality,like you i don’t agree with politics of their government , i have American, Serbian, British friends and i love them very much, but i hate those terrorist, i think they don’t deserve any respect. I hate those whom support them,but i should confess there is no body to blame but ourselves, we committed a big mistake, we shouldn’t resort to weapon, i think the first time young carried weapon our revolution dead.. “i hope you will find a way to have peace in your heart” pray for me gdare to find that peace, i think that you are the best one who can understand me.

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