Sunday, June 24, 2007


Viewing these photos of people cleaning up the streets and adorning the buildings with enormous American flags for Bush’s visit to Albania; I had a bit of a flashback of another famous presidential visit to the region; Clinton’s visit to the Bosnian town of Tesanj.

Of course, President Clinton only visited Tesanj in the imagination of the filmmakers of “Fuse.” Fuse tells the story of the people in the town trying their best to present a perfect image of themselves for the visiting “godfather” as the town’s mayor refers to Clinton.

Fuse is a dark comedy; often focusing on the naiveté and obtuseness of the international community; and of the mayor’s almost fanatical attempt to present an idealized version of the town. But at the heart of Fuse is a story of the war; and no matter how hard people try; or want to; they cannot escape the painful memories and aftershocks of the war.

“The war” is presented most vividly in Adnan; a dead soldier who haunts his father’s memory. Every night, the father, Zaim has a conversation with Adnan. From their house, his two living children, Faruk and Azra watch their father talking to himself with a mixture of concern (mostly Faruk) and embarrassment (mostly Azra).

Adnan’s ghost is not simply the haunting of his father; he is a symbol of the war and its destruction. Yet, for the international community’s representatives who have come to oversee Tesanj’s preparation for Clinton’s visit; Adnan’s ghost does not exist; and all it represents is best to be forgotten about in the name of “reconciliation.”

The international community is represented by a German officer, who for some reason (most certainly comedic) speaks with an over the top British accent. He loves to hear himself talk, and his prone to giving good intentioned, but long and pretentious speeches.
The more serious and in command he tries to appear; the more preposterous he actually appears. For all the impression of authority and command he tries to exhibit; he is actually the most naïve character in the entire film. For some reason, he allows Velija, mafijaso from central casting, into his inner circle; believing him to be just a local man who is in charge of the town’s “multi-ethnic choir” (which is in actuality, a multi-ethnic group of prostitutes that Velija pimps out).
He is not a bad person, he is at his most genuine when after a morning run he attempts to have a small talk with the town’s mayor in Bosnian; he is clearly struggling trying to think of what the correct word to use is; and this scene it shows a rare vulnerability in him. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or not, but this one scene where the officer is not barking orders or stating mindless platitudes; is one of the few scenes where he does not have on his military uniform; but instead is in a simple jogging outfit. The German officer is uniform is a symbol of the international community who ignored, or through arms banned, prolonged Bosnia’s destruction; and who then after the war, ran the place; without perhaps a full understanding of the country. Out of uniform however, he is just one man trying his best; although he knows that he is certainly in over his head.

As part of the town getting ready for Clinton’s visit, the German officer has ordered some “cross entity bonding” (okay, he doesn’t word it that way exactly, but you get the idea) between firemen from the Federation and those from the RS. At first, the firemen, Faruk and especially his friend Hamdo, are weary about their new colleagues; and Hamdo naturally wants to know what they were doing during the war. While Hamdo is reluctant (to put it diplomatically) to work with the Bosnian Serb firemen, Faruk is more open to the possibility. Just as they are about to meet their colleagues from the Federation, Stanko and his partner have a similar discussion and thoughts about meeting Faruk and Hamdo; with Stanko’s partner being just as set against meeting Faruk and Hamdo as Hamdo is of meeting them.
Tepidly, Faruk and Stanko shake hands and a sort of awkward small talk occurs between them. After a short while, Stanko gives Faruk money and asks him to buy him diapers for his baby from a store in the Federation (all Stanko has are lower quality diapers from Russia.) Touched by Stanko’s vulnerability, (he is a very proud man, who is unable to provide even basic necessities for his child) as well as feeling sorry for the baby; Faruk agrees. This is a small gesture, but there is something very heartfelt and genuine in the entire incident.

On the surface, it appears that the town is ready for Clinton’s visit, accounting books have been burned, the local high school choir learns (sans the one “ugly” child) learns “House of the Rising Sun.” American flags (with the stars accidentally colored red) are revealed; the streets are scrubbed clean; and there is even a fake show of reconciliation between the mayor and some reluctant Bosnian Serb villagers for the sake of the German officer.

Yet, for all of the idealized version of the town they are about to present to Clinton, Adnan’s ghost still haunts his father and a fuse is about to be lit.


Lake said...

Don't forget to see a photo of George W Bush blowing a kiss to Albanians:

Owen said...

Shaina, excuse me for going off at a tangent. I've just been reading about the Plan de Sanchez proceedings before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

I'm not clear whether there was ever a formal admission of genocide by the Guatemalan government in response to the charges made against it by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The saga has many echoes of the course of events during and after the Srebrenica massacre.

At the time of his death I found the sentimental focus on Ronald Reagan's personal affability rather off-putting, remembering his support for the actions of Rios Montt and some of his comments at the time. I have to say that the philanderer Clinton seemed to have a rather better appreciation of what morality actually means than the folksy old actor.

Shaina said...

Thank you for the Guatemala article. I remember reading an article on the topic of genocide; and they listed several examples of genocide & massive human rights violations in the latter half of the 20th century; including Guatemala; and the Guatemalan case was the only situation that I was completely ignorant about.

Are there any good books on this subject?

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