Guerrilla Radio, published by NationBooks, is the remarkable story of B92, a Belgrade radio station founded in 1989 by a group of young idealists who simply wanted to “play rock ‘n’ roll and tell the truth.” As Slobodan Milosevic led his country into four Balkan wars, B92 became the leading voice of resistance for those who opposed his dictatorship. In a moving account of life inside Belgrade, Matthew Collins describes how the station’s founders survived four shut-downs, economic hardship, armed gangsters and NATO bombing, until the dramatic overthrow of Milosevic in October 2000. The following is an excerpt from chapter four. Click here for info about Guerrilla Radio, including how to order a copy online.
The first thing to hit you was the noise. From a mile away it sounded like a thousand screeching tires–a road race, like the Monte Carlo grand prix, circling round and round tight cobbled corners, or a distant football match, with angry fans screaming their displeasure at some poor refereeing decision. Then closer, and the shrill silver whinny, a piercing sheet of sound bursting from thousands of whistles, was underpinned by the queasy low moan of cow horns blowing a mournful bass counterpoint in unison. And then the people: too many to count, a rolling surf of faces and bodies, each chanting, whistling, blowing hard until they had to catch their breath–and smiling, positive, innocent again with a sudden flush of wonder; a lost emotion inexplicably rediscovered.
A frail, headscarved old lady halted the marchers and passed out home-baked cakes. A ruddy-faced pensioner threw down cans of beer and packs of cigarettes from his fourth-floor balcony. A woman cradled her child in one arm, gazing down on the city’s children, brushing away tears with her free hand. Tears welled up in the marchers’ eyes as they saluted her with whistles and arms aloft. From every towerblock, people were waving and cheering, showering the crowd with tiny strips of torn paper.
In the middle of it, a phalanx of funky drummers, woolly hats pulled low against the chill, stepped jauntily to a samba beat bashed out on cheap East German drum kits, while fellow marchers banged along merrily on saucepans and cheese graters and tinny, tinkling cowbells; anything they could pull out hastily from a kitchen cupboard and carry along to make some noise, to shatter the silence, to synch to the beat which declared: We are here–now listen.
It was a carnival of resistance. Belgrade had woken up and opened its eyes. From nowhere, an intrepid spirit had sprung from the concrete boulevards; a hardy winter flower blossoming on barren ground. Everywhere you looked, someone was plotting and planning, trying to outdo the rest with the most outrageous and telling strike at the heart of the regime; the blackest joke, the most audacious allegory.
Across a frosty quadrangle and down the yellowing corridors of Belgrade University’s Faculty of Philosophy, a bunch of students, clad in jeans and sportswear, were working on their daily newssheet, the Protest Tribune, and arguing, laughing, joking, while upstairs their comrades huddled in sleeping bags–the night shift, snoozing lightly for a few hours before it was their turn to resume command.