Magazine article The New Yorker

YUGOSLAVIA, 1991; LIFE DURING WARTIME Series: 6/7

Magazine article The New Yorker

YUGOSLAVIA, 1991; LIFE DURING WARTIME Series: 6/7

Article excerpt

In February, 1991, I got an editorial job with the magazine Nasi 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 Kova'i with Davor and Pedja, two friends who also worked for Nasi 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. …

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