‘Stay home, I’m begging you… because I love you!’ The President’s mantra was floating from the screen. It vibrated from that same hypnotic frequency reserved for the transmission of selected brainwaves circumstantially confined into messianic isolation from the destiny of the mortal souls. It was that same frequency granted to the “Chosen Ones” and “Saviors” that throughout history shaped the dark side of mankind. The anomalies in the recent geopolitical positioning of Serbia have caused that the frequency is no longer considered an exceptionality. It has instead become the mainstream channel of communication with a peculiar style that, forged into the presidential figure, has mutated into something between Hugo Chavez, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Sai Baba, and Charles Manson.
During an hour-long homily, very few useful scientifically based expert opinions or practical recommendations were shared. It was a psychedelic turbo-folk improvised session, mainly containing self-promotion and future electoral propaganda. In other words an expression of what it means to have a complete and absolute power over one country and its institutions. Therefore, as soon as we heard him saying ‘I love you’ we knew it was time to switch on to the ‘Fuck it’ mode. It was a very natural instinct. In the last 30 years of our lives, this hasn’t been the first state of emergency declared. As a matter of fact, my friend leads 4 to 3 in this particular Master’s title competition between us. I missed out on the one declared after the Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic assassination but, by being there that night in Belgrade, I have ‘luckily’ managed to avoid letting him extend his lead to 4:2. We were the only guests in the café and, taught by the previous experiences, decided to go for the ‘Another Last Supper’.
We ran down to Skadarlija just to find out that most of the restaurants were closing down. Although the curfew has still not been declared you could smell it in the air, together with a spiced blend of coal, paprika, garlic, and fear. Luckily, given that my friend is an essential part of the interior design of several Belgrade’s kafana, we managed to get the table in one. Not that the dinner reservation was needed. In this otherwise crowded place, there were only three other guests. At one table, judging by the accent, a center European tourist couple caught in the love in the time of corona and, at the other, a Spanish businessman, lost in translation, were sitting. We were the ‘local foreigners’ as my friend observed, bringing in our refugee background into the picture.
While keeping the safe distance, we ordered some wine and cevapcici and immediately forgot that the entire planet was confined into isolation. Not knowing what the tomorrow will bring was a part of our baggage for many years now and switching back to the ‘Fuck it’ mode was quite automatic, despite the ‘forced’ normalization we’ve both been submitted to, during the rare periods of stability in our lives. It was not until the waiter came back with our order that we started to talk about the ‘Tomorrow’. They, the same as most other cafes and restaurants, were reducing staff and probably closing down.
My friend owns a small transport company. Until today, the business was doing well. Just some weeks ago, they both a new car. I could tell he was worried, so I asked what he was going to do. The tone of my question carried the notion of 4 salaries in the times of 0 economic activity. And there it was. In his answer was the essence of the ultimate human condition. ‘Fuck it! … I will send them home and give them a 10% raise.’ He smiled with the confidence of a man who knows his Machado, because ‘Only a fool confuses value with price’.
In these times, while national-paternalist prophets and neoliberal androids are speculating over the most optimal cost for the best possible return in terms of future power this suffering may provide them, here is a formula that should be on the table. Once this is all over, before doubling or tripling up to get back to the pre-corona levels of production, quality should become a main standard of measure. This is a good time for pruning. Same as before, and like any other orchard, the economy will benefit from letting more nutrients, air, and light into its dens treetops. Hence, instead of going back to the imperative of ‘More, Bigger, Better’, let’s simply restart from ‘Better’. The 10% feels like a good start of the Brave New Better World, that grows out of care and compassion, where no President has to suffer in love.