‘Bursac, you and your wife are to leave Banjaluka by the morning! You’re not really safe here.
More precisely, we can’t guarantee you will be safe.’
Galveston, Texas. I’m looking out to the Gulf of Mexico. Somewhere below is Latin America, the new continent. Behind me is the full force of North America, beginning right there with Texas. Cuba is, of course, on the left. Mexico on the right. A view of 10 thousand miles. At the doorstep of the non-aligned, to the background of neoliberal capitalism.
I let the tepid water lick my bare feet. I remember that piss is a cure for all sorts of stings. The warmth of the water reminds me of piss. The sea.
Our seas are different. We pretend it’s not that cold when we go in, from Ulcinj to Piran. We shiver and shout at our loved ones that the temperature is just right.
You don’t need to pretend here. The sea water is really lukewarm. Then again, you can’t swim, even if you wanted to. The Atlantic shallows melt into the horizon, and the horizon into large tankers’ sterns.
‘Bursac, you and your wife are to leave Banjaluka by the morning! You’re not really safe here. More precisely, we can’t guarantee you will be safe.’
A police inspector told me this at dawn, 4:25am on July 8th 2017. A sunny morning continued, fitting for July. What didn’t really fit July in Banjaluka was my column ‘Does Banja Luka Celebrate the Srebrenica genocide?‘. Banjaluka really was planning to celebrate the genocide that year, and with some sort of chetnik parade at that. They gave up after my column, though they’ve asked for my exemption from existing in the parish in return.
I remember I was nomading around with my wife that summer – from Slovenia to Montenegro. We’ve turned our exile into a summer vacation. We were hosted by dear people in Liznjan, Rijeka, Pula, Mljet, Vis, Podgorica, Sombor, Sarajevo… You can be exiled and still get a tan, I thought. Of course, you need friends, and I’m looking across the Gulf of Mexico and realise I have a sea of friends, all over the world.
Another wave of piss over my legs.
‘Bursac, can you tell us exactly what you wrote about our general Mladic!?’, an inspector asks. We’re in a police station which resembles more of a hangar, and a lot less a stereotypical office. Above the inspector’s head hangs a photo of Mladic and an icon of Sveti Sava.
‘I wrote he’s a war criminal. And he is.’ I say, and I can already hear I will have to say it again.
‘Louder, loudeeeeer’ – the inspector shouts. I’d come to him to report a death threat. It was the tenth, or the fifteenth. I’ve stopped counting.
‘A WAR CRIMINAL! HE’S A WAR CRIMINAL!’
As I was leaving the station, I was watching the cars, spat with sand and puddles. These people don’t go to the sea. Never, or very rarely. Where their freedom stops, mine begins.
There was no third wave. I’ve retracted my feet from the lukewarm water, they’d properly starched already. A seagull flies in loops with a cormorant. They’re fighting for fish, I guess. We don’t have that many cormorants. There are more on the lakes. I saw one at Prespa. And maybe along the Opatija promenade, though I’m not sure.
‘Bursac, your parents and ancestors would denounce you if they knew of your betrayal. You became a servant to the ustashas and the balijas. Balijas* the most.’
One of the editors of a patriotic newspaper and TV channel and news portal wrote to me somewhere on social media. He’s the editor of everything in this world I’ve temporarily avoided by coming to this Galveston. And in that world, there was a newspaper which used to be called The Krajina Voice, and it became The Srpska Voice. Its motto, a terrifying sentence – Always by its people. Not by the truth, not by justice, not even objectivity. No! Always by its people. It was frightening, and uncomfortable.
They get to say what my ancestors will do in their graves?!
Maybe they’ll really turn?
Then I remembered my grandfather, first fighter, carrier of Spomenica (Commemorative medal of the Partisans). My grandmother, my mum’s parents. My mother and my father. They are all dead – one way or another they died or were killed for the idea of self-management socialism and the non-aligned who are now somewhere below my feet, over the horizon, behind the Liberia tanker, towards South America.
A sigh of relief, they can be proud of me after all!
Many people have asked me how many threats I’ve received? Many. I’ve had to leave the city I live in twice. They’ve destroyed property, threatened my family. And the worst of all, really the worst – a brief, printed note in my mailbox. On it, the names of my nephews, the name of their school, their class. I didn’t even know which class they were in. It’s really odd – you get embarrassed for not knowing the class the kids are in, and the shame overwhelms the fear of the threat.
And so it goes. I guess.
We can only keep going!
Credo quia absurdum! Or maybe because I can’t really do anything else, except write pitiably.
It’s all from the tepid waters of the Gulf of Mexico!
Dragan Bursać, philosophy professor, columnist, and journalist. Regular columnist for Al Jazeera Balkans and the Radio Sarajevo Portal. Author of a short story collection, PTSP Spomenar, and winner of numerous journalistic awards.
*derogatory term for a Bosniak.