In 1997 at the Venice Biennale, world famous performer artist Marina Abramovic, performed Balkan Baroque, which included among others, a performance entitled „How we in the Balkans kill rats“.
All dressed in a white doctor’s coat, Abramovic tells the story of creation of rats that, when placed unendurable conditions begin to kill each other. In the end, only the strongest rodent survives. During the history, Balkan has been divided into many small states that were often in mutual war, fighting with each other, killing each other off and devouring each other like rats, only to have the ‘winning’ rat. Since the migration of Slaves in early 7th century the region has historically been ravaged by warfare whether between the small Balkan states or against the Austria-Hungary’s or Ottoman’s occupation.
A metaphor for the history of the Balkans
The last wars in Balkans were during the desintegration of Yougoslavia. And once again, the majority of states wanted to be the winning rat, the one with the biggest ethnic state. The good example is Abramovic’s native state, Serbia. Serbia as a state, since its inception in the thirties of the nineteenth century is constantly preparing for war and Serbia was in almost constant conflict with all neighboring states and all the surrounding nations even during the period of mutual state Yugoslavia. Whole modern history of Serbia from 1804 till 2003 is tainted with violent political upheavals. During the war in the nineties, Serbia was maybe the most impressive example of the desire to be the winning rat, but it was far from being the only one with these ambitions.
Shame of war
The performance also included the act of self-purification of Abramovic who scrubbed for days cow bones, scraping the last bits of meat from them and weeping as she sang songs in Serbian. She explains her personal suffering and attempt to remove loads of personal and collective unpleasant past: „It was summer in Venice, the smell of bones was unbearable. The whole idea of washing bones is impossible. You can’t wash the blood from your hands, as well as you can’t wash the shame from the war”.