A love letter to Palestine, written for German audience

Čitano pre izvođenja predstave „Cement Beograd“ u pozorištu Maksim Gorki, u Berlinu.

In July 2011, I traveled to Bosnia with a couple of friends to attend the memorial of the Srebrenica massacre. Among the 500 of us walking 60km to Potočani there were also people caring “scary” black flags with Arabic letters and singing Islamic chants, so we didn’t know what to expect – not only because of our fragile secular bias but mostly because me and the four other kids from Belgrade were the only Serbs there. We knew, as much as the people around us, that the thousands of innocent people killed in Srebrenica were killed in our name so naturally we knew our presence could upset someone. That is why we were not surprised when after we arrived to Potočari memorial grounds at the end of the two-day pilgrimage, one woman dressed in black approached us. She probably heard the rumors of Serbs being there and now she wanted to meet us, looking at each of us in the eyes, one by one. She asked if we were the kids from Belgrade and we reluctantly said, yes. Then she told us that her son was executed there by the Serbian army but then she continued to say that we are her children now. And then she hugged each of us. I felt humbled and shaken but I knew I didn’t go there to be relieved of guilt.

Thinking about that day later, and why I did go to Srebrenica, I remembered something I have learned in the hospital for treating addiction some years earlier. I spent five years in that hospital and one of the first things any drug or alcohol addict needs to learn is the difference between guilt and responsibility. It is there that I learned that surprisingly, guilt has nothing to do with remorse. It’s only purpose is to maintain the status quo. I don’t mean that addicts are faking feeling bad just to be able to continue with their addiction, but quite the opposite. The feeling of shame and guilt is so unbearable that you simply cannot think about what got you to get drunk or high again, and that’s why you can be certain you will repeat the act. Funny as it sounds, to change the behavior takes thinking and thinking is one thing you cannot afford when you are under control of guilt. Remembering this, I realized why I traveled to Srebrenica – to see this people, to hear their stories, to look them in the eye. I didn’t go there to be relieved of guilt; I went to face the horror and learn the responsibility. That responsivity got me to write this letter today.

Cement Beograd, the performance we are going to watch tonight is a performance about remembrance. About fighting to remember the past we forgot and the future that never happened. It begins with the quote from the Woody Guthrie’s guitar “this machine kills fascists”, as declarative attempt to erase the division between the symbolic act (of writing something on the guitar or saying it on stage) and the actual act (of fighting fascism, also by literally killing fascists). The story we watch in the performance is a story of a ruined city, just after the liberation from the occupation. The new society is built, based on utopian values of mutual care and the right to self-determination. Of course, the first event that comes to mind is the liberation of Belgrade from the German occupation in the Second world war but no concrete names are ever given and the people we see on stage are dressed in adidas and contemporary clothes – so we are never really sure if the story happens in the future or the past. One word echoes: remember.

But my reading of my own play, and the performance we made together, completely changed when I saw the atrocities unfolding in Gaza in the last couple of weeks. Watching our performance today, I cannot see it any other way but as a love letter to Palestine. I realized that the past we no longer see is the not the Yugoslav past, but the middle east past; and the future that might never come is the Palestinian future. Of course, with that came the bitter realization that the Woody Guthrie’s machine from the beginning of the performance – if performed in the theatre that gave its full and unequivocal support for the party in the conflict committing the genocide, not it’s victims – will stay nothing more than a symbolic gesture and the words will be empty. We will keep on being revolutionary, multy culty, and radical on stage, but off stage there will be no room for Guthrie’s machine (nor Heiner Muller’s) but instead we will continue (to the shame of the named authors) supporting the murderous contemporary neo liberal war machine running amok.

For us to get out of the deadlock we are in now, we need to learn something from the (ex) drug addicts and the alcoholics – we need to get rid of the guilt. The question is not should we keep talking about Holocaust, but if – in our remembering of the traumatic Event that is carried through years by guilt and shame – there is still room for thinking about how did we ever get there? Watching representatives of Israel in UN wearing yellow patches commemorating Holocaust WHILE justifying the genocide they are committing, begs the question: do we (you and me) “remember”, just in order to forget how we let a whole nation get dehumanized through propaganda, ideology and the discourse of “light and darkness” and then calmly watched them get exterminated?


Milan Ramšak Marković

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