by Viktor IVANCIC
A similar sort of reaction, although on the so-called micro-level – was typical for the inhabitants of European cities between 14th and 18th century, who resorted to draconian preventive measures in panic defense against looming epidemics of plague. “Paupers will bring trouble here unless some sort of decree is urgently issued. We are working on expelling them from the city and are not letting any beggars from outside in the city,” a municipal clerk from Tolouse wrote in 1692. Later, when the “popular will” received legal support, he expressed his relief: “We have started breathing cleaner air since the decree ordering incarceration of the poor has been issued”.
Chronicles record that numerous inhabitants of Milan walked the streets of their city in 1630 armed by handguns “that allowed them to keep at distance anyone they suspected of being infected”. That was the time for hysterical precaution measures, absolutely futile from the modern perspective: letters and money were soaked in vinegar, fires were started in intersections in “attacked” cities, people, clothing, and houses were disinfected by strong fragrances and sulfur, people walked streets during epidemics wearing bird head masks whose beak was stuffed with fragrant spices. French historian Jean Delumeau, who analyzed the fear of the plague in his book “Besieged City”, especially emphasizes collective reaction to “the other”, a potential enemy and source of danger that does not deserve any scruples. “The other is dangerous, especially if he has already been struck by the arrow of the plague; in that case he is either imprisoned in his house or quickly moved to a quarantine or sorts, set up outside the city walls”. In the situation when plague runs rampant, all scruples are set aside – citizenry turns to executions of “suspicious” persons, with general, open or tacit, support of the mob.
Now, it’s time to return to the Croatian 21st century, more precisely to 2001, to the November night when the apparition of Prime Minister Ivica Racan materialized in the primetime national TV news broadcast. He opened the door of his office and there solemnly and histrionically received Nina and Ela, HIV-positive girls. The visit was broadcast by the Croatian TV. The Chancellor hugged one of the girls, brought her face next to his and – followed by the camera – walked for a few long minutes with one of the girls in his arms in front of his desk. Then, firmly, he addressed the respected viewers: “HIV-positive children should be treated as any other children!”
Six months later, this Racan’s appeal has turned into an absolute failure, which as a rule happens to most of his other “initiatives” once they face reality. Dear viewers - by chance living at 14 Brazilska st. – deflected the “danger” from Nina and Ela with as much indifference as the residents of European cities in 16th or 17th century dealt with the branded individuals or those who were suspected of being infected by the plague. Although not the most important one, one of the reasons for unanimous rejection of Racan’s humanitarian appeal was that he did not address the “dear viewers” from the real space, but from the center of a made-for-TV spectacle whose humanitarian tinge had only one purpose – to boost Prime Minister’s public image. The lie was tangible and, paradoxically, acceptable for most. As all of us know that when cameras are not around Racan does not hang out with “the poor”.
Besides, the December of 2001 was marked by a sort of fake collective catharsis in which practically the whole society eagerly took upon itself the agreed role in self-portrayal, diligently simulating its own humane nature. The citizens of Croatia, spurred by the aggressive media propaganda, conceptualized by the political leadership of the country, collected enormous amounts of money for the “Inner ear action”, assisting children with damaged hearing, while the Prime Minister in those ten days – besides HIV-positive girls – visited mentally disabled kids and kids living in poverty, kids with sight problems, all of that with an entourage of selected journalists. Yours truly endured a decent public beating (including the decision of several marketing agencies to pull their adds and stop advertising with Feral Tribune) after he, in the midst of deafening unanimity, dared express skepticism regarding the virtual image of the humane nation that terrorized the whole public space. It seems that the key heretical paragraph was the following one: “This humanitarian action that was, in the case of artificial inner ear implants, massively and euphorically embraced by Croats, among other has the purpose of creating a self-image of Croatia as a society of good people. Voluntary contributions for the creation of a myth are the more generous the more that myth is removed from reality. Namely, the Croatian society, outside the collective illusion, is facing increasingly radical expressions of selfishness, violence, intolerance and all imaginable modes of intolerance with respect to disabled, endangered, different and general ‘minority’ persons”.
Last week, the “silent march” of homosexuals in Zagreb, their first daring attempt to take a public stand, after many decades, left an indelible impression. If it weren’t for an army of special forces policemen and armed guards, a massacre would have taken place in Zrinjevac. This way, everything ended with only fifteen injured persons, one tear gas grenade and hundreds of savage insults hurled at “the others”. Proper citizens, those who after 50 years of being dogmatic Communists discovered benefits of fundamentalist Catholicism – have recognized in homosexuals carriers of “spiritual plague”, hated polluters of “healthy environment”, suitable objects of attacks that serve as outlets for amassed aggressive impulses of our walking bombs, this time without suitable justification (endangered state, wartime suffering, historical frustrations…). The persistent shortage of Serbs, the ideal generic “other”, is an unprecedented threat for the Croat society. The situation is that much worse because the “problem” that brought the faithful to their feet and made them reach for their baseball bats and curses, the problem of homosexuality, and the problem of HIV-positive persons and those suffering from AIDS, that is the problem of reappearance of the plague, has been resolved in Europe, unless we are referring to the seventeenth century.
However, in the region where we are currently working on implementing “centuries-long yearning”, there is a certain dose of flexibility regarding the measurement of time. Thus Glas Koncila in its most recent editorial, which is supposed to be the official view of the Catholic Church in Croatia, openly advocates violence against “lepers” who participated in the Zagreb gay-parade. “It is a deception that homosexuals, by fighting for legalization of their ‘marriages’ are fighting for their human rights, because human rights are only those that belong to all humans”. Therefore, homosexuals are not “humans”, or at least cannot be humans according to the hygienic cannons of the Catholic Church, just as Nina and Ela cannot live at 14 Brazliska St. according to the criteria of their potential neighbors.
The illusion about the “humane nation” - a society of good people that continuously takes care of the endangered categories of the population, or those that simply differ from the majority, collapses into mud under the burden of daily events, while the authorities are not trying to figure out how to clean the mud, but merely how to survive and pull out of it. It is typical that the denouement of the case with HIV-positive girls, who were pompously received six months ago in Prime Minister’s cabinet, in the presence of cameras and TV lights, did not have any effect on the residents of 14 Brazilska St. That is only a new example of a tragic lack of connection with reality.
Unfortunately, the Croat reality, in spite of what the TV claims, does not sit in the government offices in Marko’s Square, but raises its head at 14 Brazilska St. The father figure, so noble, humane and caring, that pressed the face of the HIV-positive girl against his own face, is nothing but a mask of a mask. In reality, the mask has the shape of a bird head, with beak filled with fragrant spices.