Balkan Stories: Beautiful Brokenness
Not So Popular's Josie Carder & Alannah Francis chat with Serbian writer and textual artist Ana Seferovic and LGBT Activist, Christian Orthodox Theologian and violinist Nik Jovcic-Sas after their exclusive PEAKS performance. We delve into the confusion of being Balkan, the region's 'beautiful brokenness' and its untameable energy.
Not So Popular: A great collaborative performance this evening! Ana, your poetry opened up the bitter-sweet world of childhood from the perspective of growing up partially in a war-torn Belgrade, and Nik your Kafana-style violin-playing heightened the emotion in the room. Especially, combined with your diasporic story that you shared of growing up in the West Country - it was extremely powerful to hear both of you come together through Not So Popular.
We're wandering, what brought you hear tonight? What did you want to show Londoners about the Balkans?
Nik Jovic-Sas: I wanted to bring variety and a story. What I love about this evening is that we have here the diaspora, emigrated Serbs and those who have no idea what they're getting themselves into! At the moment, we see a lot in the media of people talking a lot about those coming from Romania, Bulgaria and further within the Balkans. The balkans is being represented as a kind of monolithic hoard of people coming over to England, who are backwards. But actually what we are showing here is how diverse and amazing the culture is that exists in that region. We are telling the beautiful stories behind this place, and our stories are important for us as emigrates or those in the diaspora.
Ana Seferovic: What brought me hear tonight? I don’t know... I came a bit later to the UK - I wasn’t born here, but my father came here during the 80s, so I am a bit lost in-between two worlds, living here in the West and in Belgrade. I've been thinking a lot about what does it mean to be Serbian, or for that matter what is means to be anything. For me though what is very interesting is that mixture of sad and happy, sunniness and darkness and brokenness - but beautiful brokenness that we have in the Balkans. This beautiful brokenness I see everywhere might be a weird mental state in which we Balkan people are; we find beauty in being broken, and this is the subject of everything I write, the stories that I share. It's the beautiful brokenness that I wanted to show tonight...
My purpose is not about the whole balkan victim thing at all, I’m trying to bring our stories into a very modern context, as something that is part of this world and belongs to this time - and not an exact guide to what balkan is.
NSP: There was a line you read tonight 'But the border is open now, so cross it'. Is our ability to cross and transgress national boundaries nowadays that you're referring too? You between England and Serbia? Who is crossing the border?
AS: That line is not just for us in the Balkans, it’s also for western people. Westerners in a globalised world have kind of opened the borders from themselves, for example good passports, but more than this it is a mental state, a mental border, you have to cross. On both sides, everyone needs to cross the border between cultures, and not just by having a passport. These are inner borders.
NJ-S: That's what’s amazing about having a balkan night like this evening: the more you try to define what the balkans is the more difficult it becomes. For example you have Slovenian culture which is very germanic, to turkish culture which is more middle eastern, but they are both within that ‘thing’ of balkan. When you try to somehow define and give borders to one nationality and culture, you discover within that a multitude of endless subcultures.
AS: Yes, exactly. I’m also currently writing a whole column about being in 'the world in-between’. Non-man’s land. I do enjoy living in that no man’s world personally being between London and Belgrade, but I also believe that the Balkans is also that in-between land, it lies between east and west. We somehow can never find out what it really means...
NSP: Interesting! If you had to though, how would you describe the Balkans - what does it mean to you?
AS: Anarchy! There's a Balkan philosopher who argues that balkanisation is seen as something negative (the splitting of things apart), but he reclaimed the term by saying it’s the perfect example of anarchism. For me, this anarchy is at the core of balkanness. It’s why it’s difficult for me to answer the question what does it mean being Serbian - because I really don’t know. And even if I know, I rebel against it. I am always rebelling against my own conclusions and identity. Total anarchy. It forms a kind of constant tension, an internal conflict which fuels my creativity.
NJ-S: Yeah, there's a strange tension in the balkans, especially so when the borders to the balkans opened up more in the 19th century, and when western europeans spoke of them as wild animals. They called it savage Europe. This has become a big part of balkan identity: we say ‘I’m not the savage, wild animal’, whilst also being the wild, savage animal.
AS: Yes! I am a savage animal and I love it.
NJ-S: I must also admit, one of the words I often use to describe the balkans is wild; it's a place that can’t really be tamed, it has this certain energy. But it's also as much Greek as it is Turkish, Bosnian as it is Serbian - it has a wild energy we all somehow tap into. It might be why we are all totally crazy...
NSP: We find that the best people, the most fun, are a tad crazy! So, how did you both come together creatively - why do you think the violin and poetry mixed so well?
AS: Nataša Cordeaux brought us together - so we were 'forced' to produce something, to colloborate, and actually everything fitted perfectly! Nik's playing of traditional Kafana music represented Belgrade's decadence alongside my broken representation of Belgrade. The photographs also on display by my artist friend Sanja captured everyday gritty Belgrade. It all worked because Belgrade is made of layers of new and old, new wars, old worlds.
NSP: It's amazing, despite the wars and the sadness we've talked about and seen in your performance, you both seem like very happy people and the music tonight feels so too...
AS: We are happy - everything’s falling apart, and somehow it’s so funny. There's an irony, it's a dark comedy. However I don’t find balkan music that happy; there’s also a melancholy in it that you dance with and laugh with. There’s a layer of sadness, brokenness.
NJ-S: So much of our culture is - from food to music - has vibrancy and is punchy. But I'd say even at its happiness moment, there is that brokenness. Just because we seem happy doesn’t mean we don’t feel every bit of pain and sadness from those with have lost. Even that which is the sweetest thing is somehow bitter.
NSP: To sum then?
NJ-S: The Balkans is an undefinable energy, a beautiful brokenness, it’s life! We’re wild and crazy, and that’s what we’re exploring today - haha!