interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007

In your latest work ‘A Picture of Orient’, two people are sitting on a carpet, drinking a Turkish coffee and talking about the Balkans and its oriental traits. Why?

The scene is a reconstruction of oriental social gatherings, made up of some elements which are also typical in the Balkans, a region heavily influenced by the Orient, or the Ottoman Empire actually. An Oriental carpet is a piece of my family’s heritage. Drinking Turkish coffee is an everyday ritual in Serbia.

The Balkans has always been a bridge between the West and the East. It is a place where Europe is behind you and you are standing in the shadow of the Orient. Like the Orient, the Balkans has been promoted as something strange, the other, in the West. It is a synonym for unreliable, irresponsibility, corruption, cruelty, violence and wars.

Making "A Picture of Orient", my intention was to show that our prejudices about the other, even about ourselves, are inevitable, despite open minded approaches. I believe that all our impressions are determined by certain patterns. The aspiration for making patterns drives our mind.

What is your definition of Orient?

Orient is a mystery, intrigue, conspiracy, area of conflicts. A place that attracts and yet frightens me. Speaking in pictures, Orient is a situation, like when the jeweller in Tunisia kicked me out from his shop because I didn’t want to bargain. At the same time, it is the astonishing beauty of the mosque in Jedrene, and the Turkish beach where Western European woman are laying naked and sunbathing, while completely covered women are swimming nearby. Now, in the process of globalization, Orient is becoming a utopia.

Going back to the Balkans, and Serbia in particular, there are reminiscences of 'exotic' influence everywhere. There is also the phenomenon of ‘turbo-folk’: surgically enhanced, almost naked woman with erotic stage movements, screaming their hearts out. What is all that about?

In Serbia, everyday orientalism surrounds two opposite notions of ‘Balkan’ and ‘Europe’ and adds up to a process of negative self-definition. Turbo-folk is an extremely unwelcome, derogatory reminder of Balkanic primitivism. As a controversial phenomenon it is closely related to a rise of nationalism and the wars during the 90s. Turbo-folk flourished in an unproductive society without style and perspective.

Does it still exist?

Unfortunately, it does. For instance, one of the most popular turbo-folk stars Ceca Raznatovic had a big concert last January, organized by the Serbian government. Four years ago, she was suspected of collaborating in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and was three months in a prison.

In my opinion, as I've already said, turbo-folk is connected with political conflicts. Although, the civil wars are behind us, the Balkans is still a region of high tension.

I always had a feeling that the past is more important to the region than looking into the future. During the civil wars, as an excuse/reason people were talking about events that happen centuries ago. What do you think?

Questioning historic events is in the very nature of historical science and it took root in all the countries of Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism. However, questioning historic events is quite different from falsifying them, which was typical in former Yugoslavia.

Selective memory and systematic oblivion were important ingredients of the civil war. In less than half a century, Yugoslavia faced two radical revisions of its history. The first took part in 1945, with the triumph of communist ideology. Nationalists who came to power in 1990 launched the second major revision of the nation’s history. Extreme views, so typical for the Balkans, ranged from ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ to ‘Yugoslavia as a dungeon and illusion’; from ‘Workers Self-management’ as the ultimate form of democracy to ‘totalitarian Socialism’.

Today, the citizens of former Yugoslavia are being deprived of their past fifty years in exchange for a construct of the national memory. Distortion, erasing and hiding the history of the World War II became especially obvious.

In Serbia, the winning party changes everything, names of streets, squares, monuments, and state insignia. For example, one of the central streets in Belgrade, 27th March Street, no longer exists. Its name has been changed.
March 27th 1941 was a display of the people’s will, a rebellion against fascism. Someone decided that this day was an invention of the communists, a historical error that should be erased. So, we erased this event when the whole free-minded world celebrates anti-fascist actions.

What is the name of that street now?

It is Queen Maria Street now. She was known as a big benefactor and wife of the assassinated King Alexander I of Yugoslavia.
But the main problem is that instead of facing up to our past we are reaching for new myths.