Belgrade Culture Clash
by KY KRAUTHAMER
I was going to write that a Kosovo new media organization’s decision to pull out of this weekend’s culture/tech event in Belgrade illustrates the clash of two value systems. On reflection it seems more like the clash of two facets of one system.
Kosovo 2.0 had planned to participate in the Share Conference, an array of “cutting edge” events and performances today, tomorrow and Sunday featuring, among many others, Russia’s Voina art collective, former Wikileaker Daniel Domscheit Berg, and SF writer Bruce Stirling.
It’s certainly a good thing, all in all, that such an ultra-hip event is being staged in Belgrade. It’s the second year for Share, and actually Belgrade is the natural place for such an event. Belgrade is the most fertile ground for cultural experiment anywhere in the western Balkans. Belgrade seems to me the only true, if still only potential, metropolis among the Yugoslav successor states. And one flavor of the city is the persistence of solid, nationalist/conservative opposition to the policy of European integration, EU and/or NATO membership especially.
That aspect of Belgrade life reared its head when the Serbian National Movement Nasi organization threatened to mount a protest at if Kosovo 2.0 participated in Share. Nasi, “Ours,” incorporates parts of the 1389 group of hard-core nationalists, notable for using social media as platforms to mount attacks on a gay-pride parade and other manifestations of un-Serbian behavior.
The far right’s clout in Belgrade is such that city officials canceled the pride parade in 2009. No surprise then when Kosovo 2.0 decided to pull out of Share:
“The Share Conference aims to share progressive ideas in the fields of society, technology, music and new media. However, after the Nasi movement invited ‘patriotic’ Serbian individuals and organizations to participate in a protest to prevent Kosovo 2.0 from presenting, our staff felt like its personal safety was in jeopardy. For this reason we were forced to cancel our participation.”
One visitor commented on the announcement, “I think this [decision to pull out of Share] was needed to bring some of those who work for and/or read this website back down to reality. Nothing personal against anyone or against this organization, but many internationals take an extremely naive approach to this problem (ie. they treat the tension between Serbs and Kosovars like a segregated kindergarten class).”
Another argued that Kosovo 2.0 should not have given in to the hate mongers:
“I am very sad that you decided not to participate. In my opinion you should have gone forward with the presentation and fought for your freedom of speech and against this triumph of fascism. Our whole life in the Balkans is one big ‘security risk,’ and if you agree to a life like that, things are never going to change.”
I can partly understand the first commenter’s point. There is an element of well-meaning internationalism to Kosovo 2.0, which seems aimed chiefly at young people – the site is sponsored by a handful of Western donors and clearly some money has gone into it. The paradox is that both Kosovo 2.0 and Nasi are using the tools of new media to communicate. Of course, Nasi and like-minded groups are also prepared to use physical means, like marches and protests. Belgrade looks likely to continue as a place where high-tech tools are utilized in the service of a range of causes, with a definite Balkan tang.