Belgrade Week

What was happening in Belgrade, Serbia, in the second week of July 2006?

I should know, because I was there. But luckily for us the comics artist Aleksandar Zograf, aka Saša Rakezić of Pančevo, Serbia, drew a weekly diary of goings on in the city for Belgrade-based news magazine Vreme.

It’s a great and really innovative piece of commissioning by Vreme, and a great body of journalistic commentary by Zograf – and I think some of the strips have been collected in book form too.

According to Zograf’s strip from July 2006, the US performance artist Laurie Anderson had performed in Belgrade, and I was visiting (to speak at a Council of Europe conference, although Saša is not asking me about that here). Meanwhile, at various locations around the city, the cult film sequel We Are Not Angels 3 was being shot.

Saša came in to the city to interview me. We had coffee on the pavement outside the Hotel Moskva on Terazije in the city centre, as you do.

Here’s a rough translation of the first page at least:

A lot happens in the city over the course of seven days. Laurie Anderson gave a concert, with Serbian translations of all the songs projected onto a screen. She also sang about how people stutter at the beginning of a word, and never at the end: ‘In the end it’s too late to feel fear.’ These are exactly the details you would expect Laurie Anderson to single out to sing about. The British writer Tony White is also in Belgrade. His book Another Fool in the Balkans mostly talks about the contemporary scene in Serbia and Croatia. None other than Paddy Ashdown, the former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has written an unfavorable review of the book, objecting to White’s not talking about ‘mountains where there are still wolves and bears; pristine forests that man has not cut down; dizzying canyons and majestic rivers. Every mountain produces a local type of cheese and every village has its own dance…’

In the first speech bubble I’m laughing at Ashdown’s pompous review: ‘Wolves, bears, cheese . . . Ha ha ha!’ Then, ‘A couple of years have passed since my last stay in Belgrade and I notice only minor changes – it is good that the sidewalk in the center has been raised, so cars cannot take up pedestrian space. Small changes that seem to be a hint of major changes yet to be made in this country . . .’

When Saša sent these JPEGs through at the time, I was stunned by the likeness of me that he had managed to capture in the profile drawn at bottom right of the page. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was stunned by how much it looked like my father (who sadly died a couple of years later); a resemblance that I hadn’t quite acknowledged before seeing Saša’s drawing.


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