Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Shoes of Another

So usually I have no qualms/queasy spots in my mind about used clothes. In fact examining my wardrobe here, the overwhelming majority of things are second-hand. And their second-handed-ness is part of their allure. I like that these clothes carry other memories.
But (and there is always a but), I bought some used shoes in Kosovo. This isn't a story of medical mishaps or anything of that sort (Mom, please don't worry--nemoj da brineŇ°). In fact I'm perfectly happy with the shoes. Except that I can't stop thinking about the question of whose shoes these were before. and is that person still alive? have they become a displaced person, someone who left their life (including their yellow trainers) behind? am I walking around with the leftovers of war on my feet? the spoils of war? I want to ask my shoes "are you two innocent?" which I know is totally foolish because my shoes can't talk. They can't tell me where they've been, or what they saw or how they feel about the current round of negotiations between Belgrade and Pris(h)tina. But people can.

This, I know is a rather strange way to begin talking about Kosovo. But indulge me a little further. On Wednesday we went to a lecture at the Faculty of Political Science--here in Belgrade--(which was an entirely different story. Two of the most popular/most contested football teams were playing each other (that evening!) and the entire city was carpeted with riot police. that felt really strange to me), but the lecture dealt with issues of responsibility as a political category, which when boiled down stems from this logic: guilt is purely personal (I and I alone can be guilty for the crimes I commit), where as responsibility, in addition to being personal, can also be collective. Her argument was that citizens (the people the State acts for) by nature of being citizens must hold themselves responsible for the actions of their State. She told the story of a colleague of hers who calculated how many bullets could have been bought with the tax money she paid to the State of Serbia during the war years. Is she responsible for those bullets?

One of the things which unsettled me the most in Kosovo was actually the reverse of an experience we had on one of our first days here in Belgrade (which was also uncomfortable then). On exploring the market just up the road from our faculty, two young guys jokingly gave us the "ward off evil" sign when we told them that we were Americans, saying "US, NATO [something in Serbian sounding negative]." Some graffiti around town also shared similar sentiments (although perhaps less jokingly). It made me uncomfortable, to be tied, just by virtue of being an American, to something I as a 10 year old, didn't really feel responsible for, and which was clearly a significant part of their childhoods (while not being definitive in mine). In Kosovo, on the other hand, after visiting the statue of Bill Clinton, waving over a unbelievably congested intersection in Pris(h)tina, holding a document symbolizing the NATO resolution to bomb Serbia over activities in Kosovo, we went to a monument to the Jashari family--Adem Jashari had been a prominent KLA fighter/leader and died with his family in a JNA ambush of his house. The place itself was spooky, two bullet ridden houses with a constructed three story walk-way, so that we, as visitors could see into all three floors of the house where the infamous battle happened, into the rooms where the family died. Down a ways from the houses were the graves of the individuals who died, with two armed guards (at all times), and lots of granite. A huge portrait of Adem hung from the eve of the house (as well as looked out over Mitrovica and one of the squares (I think by Mother Teresa Bulivard) in Prishtina). Behind the destroyed house (which you could see through holes through the house) was a playground, and the house of the two (?) surviving family members, who moved back, and now live, and raise their family literally a stone's throw from the houses. The house/shed/room which separates the museum/preserved? houses and their living spaces are two rooms full of things which were in the now destroyed house which have been removed for safekeeping--from tables, to a motorcycle. The man who was giving us the battle's blow-by-blow, repeatedly thanked us, as Americans, for visiting them, and for bombing the Serbs.
In both of these interactions there wasn't really any space for personal opinions about the bombing. What I realized, walking out of Wednesday's lecture, was what made me so uncomfortable was that both of these interactions were asking me(/sticking it staring in my face) to acknowledge my responsibility (or their perception of my responsibility) purely by being an American. Certainly the lecture didn't make accepting these responsibility any easier--but I hadn't quite known how to put my finger on what made me so uncomfortable as we departed from the Jashari  complex.
and I guess that's what my shoes ultimately keep walking me back to. back to responsibility. as an American or a citizen of any State, or/and more broadly as a person. and where, once I can carry this responsibility, will it take me.
But for now, I've only got the shoes.

No comments:

Post a Comment