Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Serbian New Year's and Splavs

I celebrated New Year's on January 13th, last Friday, with some Canadian and some Serbian friends as a bar called Pirana. There was a great live band, we had a front row and centre table (reserved in advance as otherwise you will always stand, on any night really), and the mood was definitely celebratory. Ordinarily going to a bar for a New year's party would not be much to remark upon; however, this is not just a bar.... it is a splav.

A splav is a bar on a boat on the Sava (or Danube). I work at an NGO. I was somewhat jokingly informed that I was a "splav ┼żene" (splav woman) and that I ought not be attending such establishments. Apparently during the Milosevic era the splavs played turbo-folk (nationalist Serbian folk music combined with dance music) and their clientele were supporters of Milosevic. As an example one of the most famous turbo-folk singers Ceca was married to Arcan, organized crime boss and commander of paramilitary forces who went to war in Croatia and Bosnia. I say "was married" because Arcan was murdered in a shooting at the Hotel Intercontinental.

Society was polarised between those who supported Milosevic, watched Pink TV, listened to turbo-folk and went to splavs and those who demonstrated in the streets, did not listen to turbo-folk or watch Pink TV, and did not go to splavs. Who knew a night out on the town could become so politically complicated?

Although Milosevic was overthrown on October 5, 2000, splavs are still considered by some to be the domain of those who belong to the radical party, support Milosevic and disbelieve the war crimes allegations, as well as elements of organized crime. I think that those who demonstrated in the streets against Milosevic and the wars hold the turbo-folk listening others responsible for the isolation of Serbia, the NATO bombings, and the lingering presence of organized crime. There were two Serbias. As an outsider, I cannot pretend to completely understand, or be able to verify anything, about this particular societal polarization. I never knew that the type of music to which one listened could define so much about political beliefs. I can say: Pirana was fun and the music (Serbian top 40 mostly) was good. Unfortunately the smoke was so thick that by 2am I couldn't stop rubbing my eyes and coughing, and so had to make an early end to my Serbian New Year.

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