Albert Heta, curator and artist
On art and conflict
Recently, the communication between Serbia and here has been flowing more openly. In 2006, when the Stacion Center for Contemporary Art organized two symposiums – one called, “Cultural Policies as Crisis Management?”, the other “Altered Identities: On Nationalism and Contemporary Art” – we aimed to question cultural policies implemented here and in the rest of the region. Until then, that kind of communication had been happening only in an incognito fashion. People were going there, they were coming here, but only in an underground way. We wanted to make this communication more open so that other structures in society could benefit, thus encouraging the overall emancipation process. We definitively don’t see ourselves as part of an official mainstream political process. We don’t want to say that we are simply bringing an artist from Serbia as part of some official process. Even considering the larger potential of intervening in the cultural scene in terms of emancipation or education, the cultural scene remains at a basic discursive level. At the same time to not challenge the immediate situation in front of you, or to embrace a sort of escapist strategy, is problematic. Artists have positioned themselves as an irrelevant presence in society. They act as an ornament, a decoration. It’s hard to compare this context with any other in the region. Here, the reality of the situation hits you in the face every day. And every day, there are provocations. What does it mean if you continue to organize events that ignore this reality? The inability to reflect is not a projection of a culture of abstinence; rather, it is a lack of ability to hold or even articulate a position.
In critical situations, art doesn’t function! During war, during bombings – there is no artistic practice. Survival is the only practice.
Even the opposition movement in Serbia is problematic. Many were upset at Milosevic not because he waged wars but rather because he failed to secure the objectives of those wars, or win to them. Take, for example, the famous Belgrade protest of 1997, as witnessed and labeled by WIRED Magazine as the “The Internet Revolution”, when the Serbian police were beating opposition demonstrators in Belgrade. The demonstrators were chanting, “Go to Kosovo!”, meaning “Don’t beat us – beat them!”
We are now in the fluid process of the creation of a new identity, a Kosovar identity. This is a very complicated process. At one time, the Serbs were calling us Shiptars, and the people of Albania, Albanians. Sometimes they would say, “You two are different.” Then they would say, “You are creating one Albanian country.” But the big question is, will the people who defended their own identity – the Albanian identity – for 50 years now have to give up that identity in order to have a state? This requires a sort of emancipation of thought. The present political elite never presents this as a process of the cultural and political kind. It fakes the process, or simply ignores it.
People here didn’t seem to have a lot of problems with the Ahtisaari process when it introduced the model of decentralization. They didn’t seem to have problems with other issues that looked to them as too complicated to understand. But they immediately saw a problem when they understood that they now they had to give up their flag, their identity. When you organize a wedding here, you carry a flag. They asked, “We cannot carry a flag anymore?” The same politicians that had once said we fought for this flag and with this flag – now they are saying something different. One principal of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s ceremonial oath was: We are fighting for this flag, we fighting for reunification of Albania.