The rays of spring sunshine raising the spirits of the winter-weary
Belgraders remind us that April 15th, the date set for the re-opening
of the Tasmajdan Park, is drawing closer.
When this day comes many a Belgrader will rub his eyes in disbelief at what he or she will behold.
No, this centrally located park will not bewilder us with ideas or dedication to the Serbian surrealists nor will the most dreamlike thing about it be that it might be opened according to the announced schedule.
On that day Belgrade will witness the opening of its first 100% proof foreign sponsored monument, no less than a three meter tall statue of a former Azerbaijani president!
It all started last July when the Azerbaijan government announced that it
is willing to help the always-short-on-cash Belgrade and donate two million
euros for the reconstruction of the decaying Tasmajdan Park.
Their only condition?
A grandiose statue to Heydar Aliyev, the longtime ruler of the country and father of the current president Ilham Aliyev. Playing first unwillingness and then lawfulness by setting the "proposal" at the hurriedly convened Commission for the naming of streets and squares as well as voting itself in favor of the new monument, the Belgrade City Government took the money without much deliberation.
After all what is moral integrity and promotion of positive values compared with two million in hard cash? For our city fathers, obviously nothing.
There are several reasons for which this offer should have been if not rejected
than at least sent back to be altered. A sincere gift calls for a level of modesty;
if we cannot expect from bureaucratic machineries to act according to the biblical
"let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth", there are (for some of us)
limits to the arrogance of the donors.
When the Japanese donated money for new buses or when the town of Basel sent us its old trams (which were better than our younger models), they merely put out a few plaques reminding us that we have friends in the world.
The American embassy was less modest when in return for its one million green notes given for the restoration of Dom omladine moved in its American Corner and renamed one hall to "Americana".
While it is hard to be against Japanese, Swiss or the Americans in general, putting no less than a 3m tall statue of a single person who died just a few years ago would in any case be highly questionable. And what a person that was!
Until his death in 2003 Aliyev ruled his oil-rich republic for more then 30 years, first as a communist and then as the first democratic president, but with little change in his strong-arm attitude. He left his office to his son Ilham who praises his fathers and his own rule by donations with a catch in poor countries, such as Romania, where recently Bucharest accepted the same arrangement.
To mask things - but actually managing to make this even more more surreal -facing the
old authoritarian ruler will be the equally tall statue of Milorad Pavic, one of the most
read contemporary Serbian writers who passed away last year.
The connection is made by Pavic's best known book "Dictionary of the Khazars" since the Azeri claim descent from this ancient people. Whatever Pavic, an erudite professor of early modern Serbian literature and the writer of several post-modernist masterpieces, would have to say about his statue being put next to the KGB Major-General, I bet would be interesting and would involve his mysterious and slightly ironic smile.
Like all of us he would be above all surprised, maybe he would even like this unlikely combination, but I'm sure that an intellectual and epicurean like him would have been much more contended with, for instance, a life-size statue seated on one of Tasmajdan's benches.
In whatever way the Azeri sculptor envisions the gigantic Pavic, his statue is there to stay.
But what will we do with president Aliyev's monument when one day his dynasty is overthrown?
How are the free thinking Belgraders supposed to feel about this monument and the ideals it
stands for? Did anyone think that a monument such as this belittles all the existing monuments?
Now our kids will justly think that Dositej or Vuk paid a hefty amount for those nice monuments
they have. Furthermore, does this mean that anyone who has enough money can buy a piece of
Belgrade's public space? And why stop now?
The door has been opened for the Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheikhs or American businessmen, all are welcome to donate and have their personalities commemorated in out streets. That little integrity and pride this city had is now sold at a bargain price. The moral code of our time which can be described as "anything for hard currency" will be immortalized in three meters of bronze.
Are we so poor that we have to sell our city centre to anyone with money? No we are not, but we are so cheap and greedy that it can be sensed even in faraway Azerbaijan
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