Saturday, September 10, 2011

Političar i Porodica

I have so much to say that I don't even know where to begin.

Around 8:00 we were picked up in two black Škodas with tinted windows and taken into a gated community to have breakfast at the house of a local member of the Serbian Parliament. Nenad Čanak, leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, had originally invited us for some sort of lunch discussion, but various reschedulings pushed us to this morning.

I have to admit, sitting behind the tinted windows and listening to the europop/electronica as the driver wove through slower traffic made me feel like I was in some sort of B-roll gangster/heist movie.

Čanak invited one of his fellow MPs (Aleksandra, whose last name I've already forgotten) to eat breakfast with us. The meal was huge, and none of us (not even your dearest Pera Ždera) were able to finish all we had been offered. But despite the pork, game, sausages, ham, and other delicious food on the table, the real meat of the morning was in the conversation.

Čanak started by asking if anyone had any questions, which I stupidly thought was an honest plea for questions. Instead he quickly dived into a quick lecture on Balkan history and Serbian politics starting around the late nineteenth century. He talked about how every tiny nation emerging in between Austro-Hungary and the receding Ottoman Empire had a concept of "Greater ____." The idea was familiar to me from not only my reading about Serbia but also my research about Greece before MiniTerm this year. Every very-minor power had conflicting territorial claims that were far, far greater than they could ever dream of holding. But it was these claims that gave the new nations hope.

One part causing this and one part caused by this, the Balkans, especially around Serbia, is pretty ethnically mixed. So mixed that there's no way that any contiguous national borders can ever include all Serbs or exclude all non-Serbs. This wasn't too big of a problem under the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and later Tito's communist Yugoslavia, since statesmen just shoved them all into the same nation and called the problem solved. But when "Brotherhood and Unity" fell apart, Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, and Albanians couldn't divorce peacefully like the Czechs and Slovaks did.

Čanak protested the war, and led hundreds with him in his cause. He was jailed and drafted as a result. He was sent to Vukovar, Croatia, which the Serb-run Yugoslav National Army sieged for nearly three months. The war wouldn't break him, and he returned to protest the Kosovo War and to help in the October 5th Revolution (Čanak called it a coup) that brought down Slobodan Milošević.

Like Nikola, Čanak would consider himself a realist, but unlike Nikola, the only future he sees for Serbia is continued European integration (If the EU still exists, he qualified). The only way to settle border disputes and "Greater ____" ambitions is to make borders irrelevant. Who will argue over the precise border between Serbia and Kosovo when they both follow the exact same laws and customs?

Also like Nikola, Čanak seemed jaded about the prospect of today's Serbian youth. They care more about partying and living for the present, they only join political parties so they can work their way up and earn a job, they see politics as a means for themselves rather than something greater. I hope, for Serbia's sake, that he's wrong on this one.

For the record, there's so much more that Čanak said, and so much complexity to everything I've already mentioned, that there's no way I can do it real justice. There's no substitute for the man himself in full swing.

(Remind me to post pictures from the breakfast sometime tomorrow. It's late and I'm too lazy to find my USB cord.)

Around 4:00 this afternoon, we all walked to a small café/restaurant and prepared a few short sentences in our simple Serbian to introduce ourselves to all of the host families. Mine was:
Ćao! Zovem se Tucker. Moj srpski nadimak je Pera Ždera. Ja sam iz Severne Karoline. Imam osmanaest godina. Ja sam jedinac, i volim da čitam.
or, in English,
Ciao! My name is Tucker. My Serbian nickname is Peter the Eater. I'm from North Carolina. I'm eighteen years old. I'm an only child, and I like to read.
These few phrases were taxing my Serbian ability, but the audience was appreciative anyway.

I met my family, the Lukićs. Ivan and Sandra (another Aleksandra, I know, I know...) are my host parents, and Nikola and Dušan, eight and five years old, respectively, are my little host brothers. Nikola knows English far better than I know Serbian, which embarrasses me a little. Ivan's fluent in English and Sandra's pretty close. Both of the little boys were shy at first (as was I) but we bonded over flicking a bottle cap across the café table.

On the car ride over, the boys asked me many questions, only one or two of which I could comprehend and answer, and most of which went without Ivan or Sandra's translation, since they were trying to drive and to hold a more intellectual conversation with me. Dušan began calling me "Duck," which I guess I won't stop him from doing. After registering my change of residence with the local police office, the Lukićs took me to their wonderful home in Telep, a neighborhood of Novi Sad that I hadn't visited yet. There I met Meda, their giant labrador retriever, the only member of the family who understands less Serbian than I do (I was pretty quick to learn "sit").

Ivan, with a straight face, sat down with me outside and told me that he would always address me by Mr. Jones, that I would always refer to him as Mr. Lukić, and that I wasn't to refer to or look at his wife at all. The boys, he said, should always be called "the offspring," though I could number them if I needed to differentiate. Fortunately, a previous Bridge Year student had warned me about Ivan's very dry sense of humor, so I smiled and played along. He later called the offspring over and told them that they were to call me Mr. Jones, so now when they want my attention they have a choice between "Duck" and "Meesterdjons!" After dinner, Ivan put on Mr. Jones by Counting Crows (which, incidentally, is as old as I am) and Nikola danced along.

During our car ride, Nikola noticed my very simple string-and-bead bracelet that we made at Bridge Year orientation, and after dinner he gave me a bracelet that he had woven out of string earlier. He then came up with a big pair of scissors saying something in Serbian, so I decided that I'd trim the bracelet with his help, instead of vice versa as he had been planning. Dušan then called me over to the computer to play Angry Birds: Rio with him.

Ivan and I discussed a variety of topics, from politics to books to computers, until we both got pretty tired. I was about ready to go upstairs to bed, when I realized I had forgotten about my host family gifts! I dove into my suitcase and pulled the protective packing (spare socks) off of two bottles of Cackalacky sauce, which Ivan and Sandra seemed to appreciate. They say they'll try it out tomorrow, so here's to North Cackalack.

My bedroom is great- I'm upstairs with shelves of books, magazines, and VHS tapes, and sharing the floor with me is nothing but the billiards room and the balcony.

Tomorrow, I'll get pictures of the family, the home, and the dog. For now, bed!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You got to meet Čanak. He was a powerful voice back in 1991 when the whole mess started. Very smart guy.