[in Arbeit, Stand 25.05.2020]
Der nördliche Balkan, das ehemalige Jugoslawien, dessen Nachfolgestaaten: Dort hat der Fotograf Wolf Böwig seit Anfang der 1990er Jahre wiederholt umfangreiche Reportagereisen unternommen, zuletzt im März und April 2019. So ist ein Archiv aus Bildern, Skizzen, Tagebüchern, Collagen und Eindrücken entstanden, in denen sich die gravierenden politischen und gesellschaftlichen Veränderungen dieser Region im vergangenen Vierteljahrhundert widerspiegeln: die Kriege, die nationalen und ethnischen Konflikte sowie der Wiederaufbau bis hin zur jüngsten Flüchtlingskrise.
Doppelheft und Ausstellung verstehen sich als eine erweiterte Dokumentation dieser Reportagereisen in den Südosten Europas. Ihr roter Faden ist der Reisende, in die Orte dieser Region eintauchende Fotograf. Der Augenzeuge vertieft seine Wahrnehmungen durch eine vielseitige Kenntnis der Literatur zu dieser Region und ihren Konflikten. Und kehrt immer wieder mit der Frage zurück: Warum?
Der Aufbau ist wie eine Reiseroute gestaltet, die um emblematische Orte kreist: Jasenovac, Popovac (Kroatien), Belgrad (Serbien), Visegrad (Bosnien), Pristina (Kosovo) und Gevgelija /Idomeni (Grenze Mazedonien/Griechenland).
Die Fotografien werden um Collagen des Fotografen, Texten von Ivona Grgurinović, Marko Dinić, Habbo Knoch, Pedro Rosa Mendes und Skizzen von David von Bassewitz erweitert. Sie bilden eigene Perspektiven, um sich der Region zu nähern.
Das Ergebnis ist eine Assemblage – eine Verbindung aus verschiedenen Zugängen, die neue Perspektiven auf die Räume der Gewalt und deren Verarbeitung eröffnen. Sie reterritorialisieren Landschaften im Bewusstsein der Betrachter, indem Orte, Grenzen und Routen über die Zeiten hinweg oszillieren – wie eine Resonanz auf die Zerstörung der Moral in den Kriegen der 1990er Jahre und deren bis heute ungeheilte Wunden.
Her days were numbered
Pedro Rosa Mendes
“Our days are numbered”, Grandmother would tell me whenever I sought her comfort against the pains of life, “Day One is the date you earn your truth”.
In January 1942, the Germans moved a group of women and children from Šabac to the camp in Staro Sajmište. All men and boys had been shot before. They were all part of the Jews from Kladovo: a larger group of Jews that got onboard the boat Uranusfrom Vienna in end-November 1939, down the Danube. Their plan was to reach Sulina, and from there, Haifa. The group later moved onto four ships of the RTC (the Yugoslav River Transport Company), and entered the port of Kladovo on 10 December 1939, taking shelter for winter after calling in Vukovar and Belgrade for coal.
They never made it to Eretz Israel. Backdoor manoeuvers from the Chamberlain Government -loyal to a policy of appeasement with the Arab nations that kept Jews from getting to Palestine- prevented the ship Hilda to ever get to Sulina. The Jews coming from Vienna were still stuck in Kladovo when Hitler occupied Yugoslavia. They were first moved to Šabac, then by train from there to Ruma. From Ruma to Zemun, women and girls were forced to walk in the freezing cold, weakened by hunger and beatings
The day after my grandmother’s funeral, I received a small sandalwood box accompanied of a short handwritten note: “May the ashes free the truth. Day One. Yours, always, R.”
The box contained five objects:
One. An old three-striped flag, red-yellow-violet from top to bottom, with a three-pointed red star in the middle yellow stripe. That was the flag of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. To the right of the red star, it bears the handwritten word “Belchite, Aragón”.
Two. A Browning pistol, with “M.Demajo” engraved in rough Cyrillic characters in the grip.
Three. A drawing by a child, representing some houses in ruins, and four planes above, dropping bombs. A few persons sleeping, or dead. Horizontal, anyway. On the back of the paper, handwritten in the same calligraphy, “Bombardeo de mi Pueblo en Brunete” and “Ruma, Feb.42”.
Four. A few pages of an issue of Dimitrovac, a bilingual newspaper published during 1937 in both Serbo-Croatian and Spanish. The Dimitrovac, edited by Veljko Vlahović, was the official publication of the Dimitrov, one of the most famous Yugoslav batallions that integrated the International Brigades.
And five. An incomplete piece of text, possibly an entry of a play, handwritten in a piece of brown, dirty paper with the stationery of the Kolarac Foundation: “[Day One] RAHEL – For the experience of the Professors in Medicine has known, and proven, that madness does not consist only in the sadness of a maniac, which prevents him to speak, and deal with People; or in the passion of a frantic person, who tears himself, and wants to offend those who present themselves to him; but as well on fixating the mad his imagination in a certain, fixed Point, to which he remains invincibly bound; in a way that he only shows his alienation when his Point his touched upon, speaking properly and righteously to everything else” (sic).
In the Battle of Belchite, the XVth International Brigade managed to secure the Aragon Front, albeit to the cost of heavy losses within the Yugoslav battalions Dimitrov e Đuro Đaković.
The scribbled fragment of a play corresponds, roughly, to a passage from Title X of the Regulation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of the Kingdom of Portugal (1774). Title X rules the Holy Inquisition procedures in the case of “The Prisoners, who go insane in prison”.
Through inquiring some friends in the Academy of Sciences, I got to learn that in the end of 1941, a group of distinguished prisoners in the Banjica Camp (intellectuals, university professors, scientists, bankers and financiers too, all mostly Serbian), organized dozens of lectures about different topics of their knowing and expertise. The fragment of play might have been performed there, or written to be.
Through other acquaintances among the remaining community of “Serbian of Moses” in Belgrade, I was informed that Mihailo Demajo (or De Maio) was a Sephardic Jew. Born: Smederevo. Father: Isak De Majo, officer in the Army, killed in 1912 in Uroševac by an Albanian Arnanti. Mother: Raža Pinto, born in Subotica, residence in Sarajevo, Banjski Brijeg. Profession: teacher of Spanish. Mihailo volunteered in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He used his knowledge of Ladino, the language of Iberian Jews, to contribute to the Dimitrovac with poems and, mostly, political commentary.
Novak and Milenko have no eyes to see the surface of the war: shattered windows, fields laid waste, mutilations, blood, explosions, concrete and flesh splitting apart. For this reason they are more sensitive for the devastation of its depths: war is an erosion of the individual’s most intimate space, the erosion of the one place in which individuality can be constructed (…). War is ultimately a gradual loss of oblivion: the obliteration of the boundaries that define the true human condition. What does this mean? The lost boundary of dehumanisation can be characterized as a complete loss of references, that is a confusion of reference points, their disappearance, or worse, their irrelevance. (…) Given this complete loss of reference points, the body (…) has been desecrated by aggression and adulteration, leavingbehind only the memory of its former normality.“
Pedro Rosa Mendes, The End of Humanity: Angola
To escape: a verb bringing to mind action, movement, speed, breathlessness. Yet, a great part of escaping is waiting, and perhaps it is that stretch of wait that is too unbearable on the body.
To escape also brings to mind the night and the protection of darkness. But here they are in day light; everything too visible.
Life, noisily, goes on. Mothers breastfeed their babies to stop them from crying, children find laughing in the minutia of the earth, a stone, a snail, a tree to play hide and seek, men and women chatter, argue, go silent, then sing: some kind of song from childhood, some kind of tune that makes them feel like they know who they really are. At night fall, timid fires give a comforting glow to the sky and bring the thought of lost bright cities. People kiss their loved ones, they make promises to their children; they say goodnight with an unspoken hope for tomorrow.
I observe closely my hands, thinking of how so many other women are, at this precise moment, observing their hands. I observe them closely for signs of aging, spots, scratching looking bits of skin, I look for proof of a loss of strength. (I have always failed to observe what remains the same – the lines of the palm – since, for very private reasons, I’ve always been skeptical about what our bodies predispose us to.)
Every woman keeps a close observation of her hands and knows that every thing she does, every job, every child bore, every man loved, every person cared for, every bag carried with remaining belongings; every gesture made will show in her hands.
I could tell you a personal history: of how I am the child of refugees, of how, in a different time, a different context, with a different language and different language codes, my mother and father, my grandparents, my uncles, my cousins, fled from war and difficulties of various kinds. I could tell you how much they were sure they still had a future and that’s why I’m here, where I am now, writing in a shielded, bright cafe, warm and with a view. Only the sound of the wind through the cafe’s glass paneled walls, and the sight of a large cloud swirling fast in mysterious shapes above the sand of the beach, remind me of what my parents taught me: that nothing can be taken for granted, that anything can change at any moment. That tomorrow I might need you. Or you. Or you.