We Seem to have Forgotten our Antifascist Traditions

Milica Tomić in Conversation with Andreas Stadler

AS: In recent years you have made some strong comments on the “politics of memory” with your artistic work, particularly with your Monument Group. Why is this so important?

MT: Racism today is directed against Muslims. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten our antifascist traditions – especially here in Belgrade. I have come to realize that we have fascism everywhere today. Here in Serbia, in Switzerland, in Europe, and beyond. Today, you cannot create monuments of stone or concrete anymore. Therefore, I’m much more interested in living monuments that irritate and change our memory. This is why in my work One Day I selected five public places with a clear, but almost forgotten antifascist  history. I visited these places eight hours a day for two months and stood there for several hours with my gun, unnoticed.

AS: What do you think this means?

MT: It reveals a terrifying apathy and the fact that people don’t try or even want to break a consensus, even a potentially dangerous one. In this case the consensus is that we don’t want to acknowledge antifascism as being part of our tradition. It also reveals that the image of uniformed women has been eliminated along with the historical role that women had during the Second World War. The classical notion of war is that it is a continuation of politics. I regret to say that nowadays we are trapped in a permanent war against others. America’s Taliban are Serbia’s Kosovars.

AS: How did you experience the decay and the disintegration of Yugoslavia?

MT: Let me start by saying that in the Eighties we were comparably well off, saturated and even depoliticized. After the very political Seventies, the Eighties marked a conservative era. We witnessed a revival of theology, orthodoxy, and religion. My generation wanted to be part of the “Western World,” with new styles such as punk and new wave, and we wanted to bring new artistic practices to Belgrade and Yugoslavia. For me, Yugoslavia was a synonym for “Belgrade highlife” and happy times at the seaside.

AS: What gave rise to nationalism and disintegration?

MT: I don’t exactly know, but I always knew that I could not believe in the new ideology of the “Serbian nation”. All of a sudden, a majority was in favor of boycotting Slovenian products. My first political emotional shock was the 1989 massacre, in which police officers killed thirty-three people in three days.

AS: How did you deal with the events?

MT: It was very difficult for me, because my environment and the people I liked had completely changed. Suddenly I was in opposition and part of a minority. I realized this particularly in 1996, when we demonstrated against Milošević’s police forces. I understood that my comrades solely demonstrated against the symptoms, but not the causes. They fought for the wrong reasons and asked me “to go to Kosovo”, but I wanted to be a citizen alongside my Kosovar neighbors, who I perceived to be citizens as well. That’s how I learned to become political with my art. But I became an emigrant in my own country.

 

MILICA TOMIĆ  Visual artist; her work has been featured in exhibitions in Sydney, Belgrade, Warsaw, Istanbul, San Antonio (TX), and Brooklyn (NY), and was the focus of the Serbia and Montenegro Pavilion at the 2003 Biennale di Venezia; studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade.