Andrej Nosov

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Andrej Nosov. Photo by John Feffer.

Andrej Nosov, President, Youth Initiative for Human Rights

On joint projects between Belgrade and Pristina

We’ve developed some new initiatives between Belgrade and Pristina, including an art gallery, Rizoma, which opened last year. For the last two years, we’ve been trying to use cultural workers to promote a different relationship between Pristina and Belgrade. For instance, we’ve supported artists doing joint projects. They do the art. We just manage the art.

Why is this relationship key? When the war in Bosnia and Croatia happened, the intellectual elite in Serbia was against it. There was organizing in Belgrade, and independent resistance to Milosevic. The NATO intervention happened at the moment when the Serbian anti-war intellectual elite failed to respond. Many independent intellectuals, worried about their security and safety, decided to join a “nationalism-lite” project. They’re not war-criminals or war propagandists. But they produced a kind of nationalism. They didn’t have a clear mind about the past, about what Serbia did.

So, in 2003, we created a project to establish communication between young people in the third sector scene here and in Pristina. We have had some success. At that time there was no bus between the two areas. Now there are five busses. Of course, this is not just our success story. But the point is that the communication has been built up, between Albanian artists and Belgrade, between Serbian journalists and Pristina.

On youth education

We do a lot of youth education, building up the capacities of young people. Young people don’t know how to think analytically and to take a critical stand about things they get served in the schools. They only follow the school books and reproduce what is in the book. We work with young politicians, with students, young NGO activists.

There is a core of radical youth who defend Serbian actions in Srebrenica, support Bosnian genocide. They don’t have political responsibility. They were not involved. They have simply heard stories from their parents, from the educational system. They learn that Serbs are the best, Americans are crazy people, and Muslims are 200-year-old enemies. When I was 14 years old, my father explained to me that our house is in the middle of the world. Everyone who needs to go somewhere has to go through our house. This idea of Serbia as a trans-European place is very important. These radical kids have never traveled abroad. They haven’t even gone to Belgrade.

There is research that shows that only five to seven percent of Serbian young people are using Internet properly, which means that they know, for instance, how to use Google. The figure for the nation as a whole is 12 percent. Only one to two percent of young people really know how to use the Internet to find information.

We’ve had a discussion for the last three years about how to reach local young people. We’ve tried several models. But all of them are preaching to the converted. In the last year, we’ve tried to make our activities cool. To commemorate the 15th year since the occupation of Sarajevo, 25 young people from Belgrade and 25 from Sarajevo got together for three days of parties, educational events and cultural exchange, breaking barriers among post-war generations through cultural connections while at the same time talking about very important issues such as legacy of the war past of Serbia.

On Serbian attitudes toward Kosovo

Everything has changed in Serbia from the point of view of economy, of understanding difference, of inter-cultural discussion. But in connection with Kosovo, nothing has changed. Even politicians now are more radical about Kosovo than Milosevic ever was. The current prime minister is the keeper of the Milosevic ideology. The president is a scared person. We now need someone to say that the revolution is over and we are in a new stage. But there is no person with that kind of courage.

Serbia doesn’t have the power to go into Kosovo and that’s a good thing. Engagement with NATO and the EU and the UN on these policies is the key thing.

Serbian political unity is based on corruption. When you destroy some of the corruption circles, you can destroy national unity. That’s what happened when Zoran Djindjic opened up the circle. His three years or so of reform helped Serbia to see that it is possible to go in a different way. Djindjic started a process that Kostunica cannot stop. The current Serbian president can only slow down the process a bit. People have a bigger salary now; they can travel. They don’t care anymore about those things. But the political elite is trying to use Kosovo because there is still a part of the population – say, 40-50 percent of voters – who believe that Kosovo should be the primary issue. According to the polls and the research that has followed up on them, these people are part of what we call the ‘lost generation.’ Take my parents, for instance. They spent 20 years of their lives watching Milosevic, sitting at home, and believing in the wrong things. Their kids became revolutionaries. Djindjic came to power, and my mother no longer had a job. So, 25 years of life have been destroyed.

I believe Serbia is like Germany after World War II, and Kosovo is like Israel. Serbia needs to “suffer”, not in a real way but in a moral and political way for what we did to Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. We don’t have this suffering in Serbia. Our politicians play like they are Swedish politicians.

On gay pride

The first attempt of a Pride parade was unsuccessful. The 2001 episode – during which a group of gathered activists was severely beaten up by a nationalistic crowd lead by an Orthodox Church priest in uniform – proved that Belgrade is still very closed for such an event. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the six years since, and no attempt of organizing Pride has been done after 2001. Then there is Croatia, where social opinions can be quite polarized: on the one side is (former president) Franjo Tudjman and the Ustase (fascist) ideology; on the other, a contingent of urban youth who are more liberal than any other young people in the region. For me, Gay Pride is an important issue. There is Gay Pride in Zagreb every year, protected by police and supported by some liberal political elements. This is still just a dream in Serbia.

On Albanians

Albanians are treated as enemies by all communities in former Yugoslavia. Serbs are the worst, but also when you go to Bosnia and Croatia, you encounter the same feelings toward Albanians that people have toward Roma. If you’re Albanian, you can only be a baker, a housecleaner, a person who does dirty jobs. Albanians can’t be intellectual – at least, that’s how people perceive Albanians. We need to change this kind of perception of Albanians, especially amongst young people.

In the Albanian community, especially in Kosovo, there are very few people who think critically about Albanian responsibility for the war. They have a victim identity. Serbs say they are the victims of Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Christianne Anampour. Albanians are saying the same – i.e., that they, too, are a victimized society. There is no reflecting upon what happened in 1999, in 2004. There are only a few intellectuals in the Albanian community willing to speak about these issues. They say they are afraid of what people will say because of Albanian suffering during 1999 and during the Milosevic apartheid era.

On Europe

All people in the Balkans see Europe as gastarbeiter, as guest workers. Europe means easy money and easy travel. There is no connection with European values and identity, with trying to be part of something because you believe in cultural, social or political movements, the legacy of Europe. If you ask people in Serbia, “Do you want to be part of Europe?” 90 percent say yes. If you say, “Do you want to have a law against discrimination?” only a few people say yes. The key problem with Balkan democracy is that we see Europe and modernization and moving forward in terms of money. The amount of money I have is an indicator of my European success.

The EU and the United States have spent so much money in reforming structures here. Buildings have been renovated. We have computers. Serbian officials went to a couple seminars. Some of them went abroad to see how administrative structures function there. They became modern yuppies. But then, when you come to municipality to do something, the procedure that you need to go through is the same as in the time of Milosevic. The way they treat you as a citizen is the same as it was in the time of Milosevic.

For instance, I went to the municipality to get a form, and I saw a very young officer. She had a table with lots of paper and a flat-screen computer. But the computer was covered and she was using paper. When I asked for the form, she said, “Fill in the request.”

I asked, “Can you turn on the computer and print out the form?” I was pissed off because I had been waiting for 45 minutes.

“Sorry,” she said, “I can’t turn on the computer. We’ve had troubles with the computer because the database was destroyed because of something or other.”

The next time I went to the office, computer was on, and I was said to myself, “I’m going to get that form.”

But she was playing a game on the computer.

On Americanization

In Serbia, the majority is against all those values connected to Americanization. It’s not just because Clinton started the bombing in 1999, or because Bush went into Iraq. After all, the protests against the Iraq War attracted only 25 people. The anti-American protests in reaction to George W. Bush’s statement on Kosovo were huge because they were organized by the state. The American way of living is not presented in Serbia. Serbs want black and white, just like Americans do. So, for the majority, Americans are bad and Russians are good. Some small minority believes the opposite, that Russians are bad, Americans good.