It’s been 17 years since I left Serbia for London. Like so many others, I came here for a few months, to study English and literature and to wait out the Yugoslav wars. Like so many others, I didn’t notice the point in time when I crossed the invisible line to enter that in between space, where one ceases to really ‘belong’ to any single place, writes Almir Koldzic.
So, it took me by surprise that just before the opening ceremony, which I was about to watch with my family and their guests in Serbia, I ended up feeling excited and strangely responsible for what was about to unravel in the eyes of the watching world and my hosts. This, in spite of the fact that like many of my friends, I ended up thinking of the Games as a badly timed event that, coupled with the cuts, threatened to erase huge chunks of support and funding for various groups of people I deeply cared about, especially for refugees and cultural workers.
To start with, the ceremony made no sense and I thought here we go again – this is going to be a Terminal 5 like fiasco wrapped up in a few surreal recreations of our glorious past. A few moments and shots of rakia later, we were all into it. Dazzled by the lights and unavoidable bling bling, we happily went along with the flying Queen, umbrellas, bikes, monsters. It was chaotic, eccentric, funny, creative and packed with historical and cultural references, some of which also flew over our heads. It made no difference.
Naprotiv [on the contrary], my Mum said. She liked it precisely because it was nothing like the Chinese militaristic routine, which depended so much on everyone following the script and no one standing out. This seemed so much more spontaneous and free flowing. The neighbour liked that the stereotype of the “traditional” and “hierarchical Britain” was exchanged for a more modern and energetic one. My sister and her friend, both doctors, were touched with the celebration of the NHS, Great Ormond Street Hospital and disabled children singing. My father loved the flying bike and references to a simpler way of life. And I, now feeling a bit proud and so ridiculous for it at the same time, concluded happily that as a story of migration and fighting for rights, it reminded me of so many things I loved about London (like the clip showing a lesbian kiss, sneeking it into the places that would have never allowed it on TV).
But there was another shy thought that I tried to formulate for my mum the following day. The values that were presented at the ceremony – diversity, equality, creativity, inclusion, responsibility towards the other, sense of humour – made London look like one of the most exciting and vibrant cities of our times. It made Britain look like the country facing forward, where the cultures and people of the world meet and interact to create so many possibilities. Even as aspirations, these are the things that offer some hope, make us think of some better future. In some strange way, it also reminds me of what Yugoslavia could have been, had not the values of multiculturalism, equality and togetherness been replaced with the nationalistic bestialities.
“I didn’t think of it at all”, my mum responded. “Maybe because ever since the 90s we have been such a different society.”
Almir Koldzic is the co-director of Counterpoints Arts – a new creative hub producing arts and cultural projects relating to refugees and migrants.