Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

We received reports of atrocities; we published photos of decapitated corpses, and an interview with

Issue of 2006-06-12
Posted 2006-06-05

In February, 1991, I got an editorial job with the magazine Naši Dani (Our Days), and instantly left my parents’ house, where I had, embarrassingly, lived until the age of twenty-seven. I rented a place in the Sarajevo neighborhood of Kovaċi with Davor and Pedja, two friends who also worked for Naši Dani. Our previous experience was in radio, so we had to learn quickly how to bring a jolt of immediacy to a biweekly magazine. Alas, we soon had a chance: one of our first issues was devoted largely to the demonstrations in Belgrade, which Slobodan Milosevic crushed with tanks. It was the first blood spilled by the Yugoslav People’s Army, and we knew that the flow would not stop there. By spring, the war in Croatia was well on its way. We received reports of atrocities; we published photos of decapitated corpses, and an interview with a Serbian militia leader, now awaiting trial in The Hague, who once promised to gouge out Croatian eyes with rusty spoons—as though regular spoons were not bad enough. At first, such horrors could be treated as exceptions to the rules by which we lived our lives, particularly since the Yugoslav-Serbian and Croatian authorities kept promising that everything would return to normal. But we soon began reporting on Army trucks transporting arms (their cargo officially registered as “bananas”) to the parts of Bosnia where Serbs were the majority. We covered parliament sessions and attended press conferences at which Radovan Karadzic and his henchmen made not so veiled threats. Everyone but us was preparing for an all-out war.

The more we knew, the less we wanted to know. Convinced that we were merely trying to live our lives normally, we embarked on a passionate pursuit of hedonistic oblivion. We danced a lot. We dropped enormous amounts of money into slot machines, which were rigged so as to preclude even a statistical possibility of our winning. One of my favorite methods of denial was to get stoned and watch Vincente Minnelli’s “Gigi,” often bellowing along (“Gigi, am I a fool without a mind or have I really been too blind”). Pedja and I got drunk and crooned along with Dean Martin, one of the great practitioners of international hedonism. We spent one splendid spring Saturday in our garden, devouring spit-roasted lamb and smoking superb hashish, until we were so high we would have floated away like balloons had we not been ballasted with the meat.

And then there was rampant, ecstatic promiscuity. The whole institution of dating seemed indefinitely suspended; it was no longer necessary to go out before hopping into bed. A few exchanged glances were sufficient to arrange intercourse. Indeed, there was no need for a bed: hallways, park benches, the back seats of cars, bathtubs, and floors were just fine. There was no time for relationships on our Titanic. Those days of disaster euphoria were a great fucking time, for nothing enhances pleasures and blocks guilt like a looming cataclysm.

By late May, however, it had become difficult to maintain this state of hysterical oblivion. A dealer we’d used as a source for a story on the Sarajevo drug market had gone home to Croatia, got conscripted, and then called us, somehow, from the front line, leaving a frenzied message: “You cannot imagine what is happening here!” He didn’t leave his number in the trenches, and I don’t think we would have called him if he had. Then Pedja went to report from the front, only to be arrested and tortured by Croatian forces. After his release, he moped around for days, his bruises slowly changing from deep blue to shallow yellow. Finally, I sat him down, pushed a tape recorder in front of his face, and made him tell me about his experience: the humiliatingly stupid good-cop, bad-cop routine, the twisted testicles, the gun in his mouth, etc. When he finished, I ritualistically handed the tape over to him and said, “Now put it away and let’s move on.”

But there was nowhere to go. In July, I quit my job and went to Ukraine, just in time for the August putsch, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent declaration of Ukrainian independence. When I came home in early September, Sarajevo was deflated, the euphoria exhausted. One night, I went to the Olympic Museum café, where my friends and I had often hung out, and watched glassy-eyed people stare into the distance, barely speaking, some of them drugged, some of them naturally paralyzed, all of them terrified by what was now undeniable: the war had arrived, and we were just waiting for death. Soon, that war assumed positions in the mountains around the city. By the time the siege started, I was in Chicago, dealing with the American version of oblivion. But that is another story.

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