The Rise of Populism, a pamphlet (2008-2013)
This image symbolizes the independence of Kosovo, seen from the Serbian perspective. People are scared and feel victimized due to an international chess game of geopolitical power and interests. They are afraid of the outside world that they don’t understand. While Kosovo is burning in the background, the future and the destiny of the country are uncertain. People are suffering, forcing them into the ideas of radical politics. They hold on to Serbian identity policy, a nationalist frame of reference.
Half an hour after taking this image I got terribly beaten up by a dozen ultra-nationalists near the US embassy in Belgrade. As a representative of the international media, in their eyes I was the personification of evil that was inflicted upon the Serbian people. I was personally held responsible for the loss of Kosovo. From a nationalistic point of view, I really do understand these hooligans. Except that I am not a nationalist.
After that incident at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, I had enough of Balkan politics and decided to focus on daily life in Belgrade. Especially the life I encountered among my friends: a small alternative group of young people with whom I feel home.
As a result of the economy and high unemployment rate, most of my friends are still cramped in their parents’ homes and frustrated by the inability to travel. They struggle to emancipate themselves through music, juggling and fine arts. Basements in old buildings and rooms in former factories serve as art studios and alternative clubs. In this particular scene, one’s friends are the most loyal audience and the most sincere critics. Besides that, the spirit of a non-profit creative network is backed by skills developed in necessity; to improvise, share and guard each other’s back. The people often spend their evenings outside, in the city’s parks and forests. The lack of privacy in their homes combined with joblessness helped turn the aforementioned public spaces into every night forums for socialising and discussing topics that range from politics to technology and uniting different ideas into initiatives – for earning money or overcoming problems, big and small.
I’m not a fatalist, but sometimes I wish I was. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have any influence on life, on fate. It’s easy to wallow in your own misery, holding the other responsible and accountable. Sometimes I’m insecure, I am frightened by the ratio of philistinism questioning my financial security, my pension and my future perspective. I have no answer because the future is vague. When this insecurity reaches the max, I think of my friends in Belgrade where these questions are irrelevant. They are used to abide their fate.
My friends in Belgrade, who grew up in the ‘dark’ 90’s, are definitely cosmopolitans. Their childhood was marked by the nationalist rhetoric of the Milosevic regime and the economic constraints of the international embargo. My cosmopolitan friends are nowadays a minority in Serbia, they believe in an open society, without nationalism and Serbian identity politics. Personally I have experienced the 90s as a time of unprecedented freedom, the end of history in terms of living in an almost completely globalized world without nationalism. It is remarkable that so little is left of this ideology in the Netherlands. I feel that we are increasingly looking for our own identity and our own culture, to differentiate ourselves from the others. When I tell my friends in Belgrade about these developments they respond with disbelieve.
As a result of this, I feel that my world became more complex. It hasn’t only to do with the current phase in my life. I am 35, I strongly have the feeling that playtime is over. Somehow society is expecting that my next step will be a serious, well considered one to set up a sustainable future. Besides these expectations there is also something else going on, I am referring to the consolidation of the right-wing political debate, the anti social way people interact with each other in the public domain and the sensational way media is reporting on current events. The way people protect their own small world, referring at national identity and nationalism. Not taking the broad perspective into account, certain solidarity and common interests. Everything seems to revolve around provocation, indignation and sensationalism.
I don’t feel comfortable with these developments. In my surroundings I am looking for grip and metaphysical values. Together with friends I bought a small farmhouse in the province of Groningen, the northern and most rural part of the Netherlands. Inspired by the previous owner, who led a hippie – like life in a house without gas or running water, surrounded by a wild garden, we created our own little utopia.
From our farm we examined local traditions and crafts. We became friends with our neighbours who showed us their perspective on life. As outsiders we were incorporated into the local community. As in Serbia, it is not big arguments or grand gestures, bu the human dimension where I feel at home. This feeling of having a home makes it easy to have an open attitude towards a complex world.
The Noord-Polder is an area with large agricultural industry, monoculture with endless horizons. It is nearby the Waddenzee, a sea registered on the UNESCO world heritage list. But also near the large coal plants in the Eems habour. Our neighbours, farmers with huge ultramodern agricultural companies gave us new insights into their perspective of running a farm. A perspective, which counters with ecological agriculture and small-scale farming. The question of where our food comes from starts here. Whether this is a fair start, is debatable. Our neighbours also have questions. The market, the capital system in which they have to produce more crops for less money, forces them to work this way. From their perspective, I understand they operate in this system. They simply want to farm, but I doubt if this is good. It is interesting to notice that the idyllic Dutch polder landscape which is our national heritage, the fundament of our identity, can’t provide in food supply. That the idyllic Dutch polder landscape had a regeneration towards universal agricultural landscape that can be found everywhere in Europe.