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2021-04-28 Knut and Gzim

I live in the municipality of Taeby (Täby), which is one of the northern municipalities in the Stockholm region. Around Taeby, there are several publically organised several art sculptures, statues and monuments. One of them is based in the area of Taeby shopping mall (Täby centrum) and called “Gzim and the frozen lake” (Gzim och den frusna sjön). In this post, my ambition was to write about why I find this statue more interesting compared to many other ones in the region. 

The statue of a sitting boy with hands on his mouth was made by Knutte Wester, famous in Sweden for his art about children affected by wars and conflict zones. During the end of the 1990s, as the war in Kosovo was going on and the overall unstable and hostile situation in Serbia was taking place, a large number of  Kosovo Albanians were searching for refugee and protection in order to escape crimes, killings and other atrocities committed by the Yugoslav (Serbian) army and police forces.

At the end of the 1990s, Sweden participated in a UNHCR action by evacuating around 3600 Kosovo Albanians and offering them protection in different facilities around the country. Many other Albanians came to Sweden from other parts of Europe where they were seeking asylum status since the Swedish government at the time was more open and willing to help refugees and asylum-seekers in general. Among those who came via Norway after being rejected was Gzim Dervishi, who met Knutte at one refugee facility in Boliden, part of the Skellefteao (Skellefteå) municipality. 

“Gzim and the frozen lake” near Taeby shopping mall

Being among refugees was one of Knutte’s art project since he wanted to focus on children who have grown up in war zones and conflict-based traumas. According to several sources, Knutte established a closer relationship with Gzim who, before coming to Sweden, had already been in other camps in Europe. After, among other things witnessing a massacre,  Gzim was glad about being in northern Sweden in Skellefeao area and dreamed about becoming a football player. In Boliden camp, Gzim learned to talk Swedish, with a northern accent, with the help of Knutte, whom Gzim often visited in his art studio. 

One day in the winter of 2003, Gzim asked Knutte if they could go to a nearby lake because Gzim wanted to tell him something special. After coming to a lake, they sat down on a bench near a frozen lake. During that moment, Gzim informed Knutte that his family had their asylum application rejected and that they would be deported to Kosovo. Gzim started crying and Knutte experienced it that “just as the lake was frozen, the boy’s dreams got frozen”.  

This moment became unforgettable for Knutte, who eight years later decided to make a sculpture about it: 

“It is not a sculpture of a person, but a memory of history that the time has transformed into a metaphor. At the time when the sculpture was shaped, the boy had already moved away and went further in life. But now there were other people, other benches and other lakes that had frozen to ice”. 

The statue was created by Knutte in 2012 and originally placed in the city of Vaesteraos (Västerås). A second statue was later placed in Skellefetao (Skellefteå) and the third one came to Taeby in 2012. 

Knutte and Gzim met also in 2012 each other later in Kosovo, when Gzim was 17. During their meeting, they had to communicate by using English since Gzim could not speak Swedish as good enough as during his early childhood. And before that, a movie about Gzim was made in cooperation with Knutte. 

Another interesting story about Gzim and his statue is the one I read in the local newspaper Mitt i Täby (In the middle of Taeby). Here, one can read about a senior resident Ingrid Wolf and how the newspaper reported about her special hobby – needling beanies for Gzim. 

The article’s title is “Ingrid does not want the boy to freeze”, where one can read about how Ingrid is making a new beanie for every week. in the article Ingrid states that: 

“I am needling during several evenings per week and I have several beanies at home, which is good because the beanies are placed during one to four days. After that, somebody takes them down and for me, it is a way to keep on.” 

2021-03-04 Good humans in the time of evil – Đorđe Balašević

Via Wikipedia

Two weeks ago, it was confirmed that musician and anti-war activist  Đorđe Balašević died from the Coronavirus. In general, Balašević was known and popular across former Yugoslavia. He was born and grew up in Vojvodina, the northern part of Serbia, which together with Kosovo used to be one of Yugoslavia’s autonomous republics. 

Balašević was famous during the 1990s for his anti-war and anti-Milošević regime behaviours. Even before the war started in 1991, his song “May there never be war” (Samo da rata ne bude) was recorded in 1987. The song was connected to contemporary developments in the Socialist Republic of Serbia and social unrest in the Autonomous Province of  Kosovo, in which “the Milošević myth” as a “protector of Serbs” was created. Also, the song was played before the war in 1990 and 1991 as via the Yutel  channel

A tribute to Balašević in Sarajevo made on Vijećnica (Sarajevo City Hall) that was destroyed by the Bosnian Serb Army in 1992. 

In 1984, a TV-show called “Vojnici” (Soldiers) was made about a unit in the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). Balašević made the music for the show and also participated in a shorter role of a soldier.  Seven years later, the YPA basically became a “Serb army” and operated during the war and aggression against Croatia in 1991. 

A military show starring a future anti-war activist

Balašević, who served in the YPA and saw it as a civic duty as many others from Vojvodina province, made a famous statement in 1992 when he said  “fuck the YPA” as a name of his novel. During 1991 and 1992, he made several concerts in Serbia with anti-war, anti-regime and anti-nationalism messages by promoting peace, unity among ex-Yugoslav peoples and countries, and democracy.

Balašević during an anti-war concert in Sava Centar, an event and exhibition place in Belgrade. His concerts were often filmed by B92 TV and Radio studio that was one of the oppositional and anti-Milošević regime channels.

After the 1990s and all “Yugoslav wars”, Balašević continued his musical and activist work. During the end of the 1990s, as in 1998, he made concerts in Bosnia and Croatia. He became known as one of Serbia’s first artists who made a Sarajevo concert under siege by Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav military units during 1992-95. 

Balašević’s death has been manifested and discussed during the last weeks as via Twitter. When searching on Balašević, one can find many tributes and support for him, his music and activism. This includes everything from candles and meetings in Novi Sad, where Balašević was born, to singing on squares as in Split. 

At the same time, there has also been very negative and mostly ignorant criticism of Balašević. The most ignorant comments and reactions were made by more nationalist and even fascist Serbs seeing Balašević as a traitor. Less ignorant but more controversial comments were made by individual Kosovo Albanians, as a former minister of foreign affairs Petrit Selimi, seeing Balašević as a former Milošević supporter.

Balašević indeed made mistakes by believing that Milošević was a good guy who will “save Yugoslavia”. But at least, Balašević realised in time that that was not the case, while millions of others never did. 

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