by Ljubica LETINIC
RUNDEK: We had a concert within the Beer Fest; the atmosphere was pretty rambunctious and drunk, and although the idea was to play in front of audience that did not necessarily come to hear our sort of music, because that evening we shared the line up with several bands, and despite the fact that the Beer Fest uses music to promote beer, not the other way round, I really enjoyed our concert that evening. During the concert there was a small incident between the security guards and the audience, and at this point I'm not sure who fared worse, the security or the audience, but in general the atmosphere was good, just like the first evening of the festival, when we took a stroll on the Kalemegdan Fortress and when people greeted and treated us. The second evening, after the end of the concert, our manager had a sense of foreboding and wanted us to get in a van and go straight to the hotel with a Police escort, but we had fun on the backstage; we were joined by friends who had been at the concert, so that the party continued for another few hours. When we went towards the hotel I stopped to have a photograph taken with some fans, and that's how I fell behind the group and continued later with two or three women, from Belgrade, towards the top of the fortress. In Knez Mihajlova Street, in the middle of the crowd that was streaming home after the end of the concert I heard someone scream "Ustasha". And then a couple of kids, I did not get a chance to count them all, ran towards me, hit me a couple of times... But passers by immediately jumped to help and chased them away. The police immediately showed up.
Those girls took me to the hotel and at the hotel they told me that the cut on my forehead looked pretty bad and that I was better of going to the hospital and having it stitched up, just in case. I went to the emergency hospital where they took care of my cut. Two police detectives found me at the hospital and I told them what had happened.
What about the policemen who were on the spot of the attack?
They chased the kids and my guess is that they probably later could not find me in the crowd.
That moment, when in the midst of the crowd you heard someone shout "Ustasha", you knew they were shouting at you?
Not right away, but they were too close for me not to figure out soon enough. I saw a kid, I think a kid, a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, going towards me. I said "what the f..k do you want?" and he hit me. That blow made a cut on my forehead. The girls who were around me got in their way. They were very courageous and I am grateful to them. Everything happened very quickly.
Did you fall on the ground?
No. I tried to protect my head with arms and waited for everything to end.
How long did it last, altogether?
It is difficult for me to estimate how much time is needed to inflict ten or so blows, but then they came back one more time...
First I recalled an interesting detail from the biography of Muhammad written by a Marxist. Maxime Rodinson says that Muhammad as a wise leader cyclically recruited youth for military campaigns in which they every few years got tired, released their aggression, and amassed slaved and loot - essentially a fight of young stags for females. Thereby he gave to that usual youthful aggression a form that was useful, if not to the attacked side than for sure to their society. That's what came to me - look how hooligans always do the same crap. Tabloids contribute to such attitude by continuously emphasizing aggression, hypocrisy and avarice.
It seems you did not want to give publicity to the Belgrade incident?
We have always felt welcome in Belgrade and I had the impression that because of music fans, perhaps the best fans we have, it would be silly to convert the whole thing into an inter-ethnic clash or to give fodder to those in Croatia who would like to again fan hatred.
Did you hear what happened later in Croatia?
Yes, they attacked a bus near Rijeka. That incident is perhaps related, or perhaps not, but it was one of the factors that prompted me to accept this interview, as initially I was inclined to keep everything quiet out of concern that it would result in hateful newspaper articles or headlines. On the other hand, if I keep quiet, that's bound to prompt rumors, which can also end badly.
How did you explain the whole thing to yourself? Don't you think it's a social symptom [sic]?
Well, it is likely that in a main street of a normal city, in a normal time, a group of kids would not attack a gentleman in his fifties unless they wanted to steal his wallet. In a normal situation I could understand only such motivation, theft. The fact that they attacked me and shouted "Ustasha", indicates that the situation has been poisoned.
In Sabac and Nis the audience treated us even more nicely than usually, probably because of the Belgrade incident. I believe they felt some sort of shared shame. Another indication of that shame is the fact that many individuals called me and apologized. People in Serbia or Belgrade do care about contacts we have established. They realize that those contacts should be preserved, that they are bridges that should be reconstructed that that is the only thing that makes sense.
In 2000, you played in Serbia for the first time after the war, and since then you have been their guest fairly regularly. What sort of changes have you seen in Serbia during that time?
My first tour was with my band from Zagreb which we named "Darko Rundek band", after the singer from the old rock band "Haustor". That was a big decision for me, as before that only "KUD Idijoti" had played in Serbia. My first concert was after the fall of Milosevic, I never played in Serbia during his rule. However, people who brought Milosevic down sang and were inspired by my songs, among other. It is sad that people in Croatia do not realize how much resistance Milosevic faced from the very beginning and that in Serbia people fought against Milosevic's policies with much more dedication than anyone fought against Tudman in Croatia. At the same time when, with a lot of shooting, barracks were emptied in Zagreb, columns of tanks headed for the center of Belgrade to squash demonstrations of the opponents of the war. "Ay Carmela" and "Sejn" were among the favorites during those three months when "Otpor" protesters stood non-stop in the cold. It made sense to go to Serbia, when we are connected, my songs and people. In 2000 from the Croatian point of view that was a blasphemy and could be seen as a form of treason, above all due to ignorance.
After the incident you were contacted by the president of Serbia Boris Tadic who requested to meet you. How did you receive that request?
He contacted me via Dr. Nebojsa Krstic, a former member of the rock band "Idoli", who is now president Tadic's advisor for public relations. I had never before talked with a president of a country, so I thought it could be interesting, above all as it would give me a chance to ask him a few questions and get an impression of how he views his responsibility. On the other hand, I know Krle from the early eighties and our "new wave" and as far as I know they are an urban, cosmopolitan team, just like me, and are not zealots, nationalists or criminals.
How did your coffee with the president go?
It was less private than I thought it would be. We had coffee in the patio of a cafe in Knez Mihajlova Street. Tadic was proud of the fact that as a president he can have a coffee unimpeded in any café in the city. The meeting started with his apology, and it was not the first one I had received. There were quite a few apologizes, really, starting with the doorman in our hotel.
What exactly did Boris Tadic say?
He told me that he apologized, if that meant anything to me, and that he was very sorry that it had happened.
What was your response?
Hooligans. That they were hooligans, and that in these dark times, unfortunately, such things can happen anywhere. I reminded him of my age and the wallet and wondered out loud what one could do to make sure that such hooligans at least drop their offensive slogans, for starters.
You spent an hour together. What else did you talk about?
About respect. I wanted to remind him of what I deem essential, respect and reevaluation of one's role in a given moment. And one's responsibility for one's own life and the type of energy and relations you generate around yourself.
That in Srebrenica is horrible, and I feel it as a wound on my own soul. That's what must be said about Srebrenica first. Secondly, officially that crime is the act of Bosnian Serbs and based on that interpretation, legal and cold, he cannot as a president of a different country apologize on their behalf. I think that it is sensitive, given his office, to apologize on behalf of someone who is not under his jurisdiction.
Officially, facts indicate that Belgrade had jurisdiction over Bosnian Serbs.
He could apologize as a Serb for something that was done in the name of Serbdom, but it is questionable whether he could have done it as the president of Serbia. Such an act could be interpreted as a territorial claim.
Yes, but he did not take that option either. Let's leave that as an illustration of a wider Balkan hypocrisy that rules after a general slaughter.
The whole war was hypocritical and we share that. All of us, participants in these wars. I read Hebrang's [former minister in several Croatian governments] interview in which he commented on Mesic's speech in Knin. Hebrang says that crimes were not prosecuted and that consequently the president cannot condemn something that hasn't been processed by the judiciary. Thereby he brings into question capabilities of the legal system, including his own.
This region is still digesting consequences of a war. But the whole world, outside this region is at the crossroads. Everyone speaking out publicly shares great responsibility. Whatever you say will be placed either on the side of generosity and responsibility, or on the side of avarice and arbitrariness. Individually people are not worse or crazier than in some better times for humanity, but laws, of the sort of law of great numbers or tendency of an era to be governed by some third laws, are going towards increasingly darker times. In order to change that direction one day we need experience that takes care of the preciousness of one's own life and its meaning, the presence of something greater than us, something that our lives serve. That is something people in the past recognized though religion, tradition and much more ritualized modes of living. Today we are under influence of an anti-traditionalist civilization that is personified in the American model, which rejects spiritual and moral authorities opting for the uncivilized free individual instead. And then it turns out that greed is the only law that justifies all means. They say that our will to survive feeds Moon. But if our individual survivals are not concentrated, unconscious, disoriented, left to the basest instincts, more and more such individual survivals are needed to feed the Moon. And that brings about mass catastrophes, wars and all that trouble.
Everyone can contribute to preserving the substance. How?
That is the question we must ask every day. And those who ask will find the answer.