So Long Mustafa. A Great artist passes

An excerpt from “Everything for Love,” WC Turck, available on Amazon and at barnesandNoble.com

Mount Trebevich loomed high above the school and city center. Smoke drifted lazily from the Serbian trenches there. Those trenches could see up and down every street and alley in Sarajevo. They weren’t shooting today, despite the clear weather. They didn’t have to. Fear and unpredictability were as formidable to maintaining the siege as bombs and mines and bullets.
It was dusty and cold inside. The walls were covered with graffiti, so much that it seemed like something of a work in progress, a final assertion of a dying city, or the cynical conscience of the world. The building became a living history of lives that faded like echoes. There were declarations of love, calls to revolution, an homage to Che Guevara, filthy words and phrases in a dozen different languages and scripts. There were sketches, cartoons, Rock bands, rap verses, poetry and bits of prophetic wisdom like:

Ever since Tito died the world has gone to shit!
Elvis


Hasan was waiting for us in one of the first floor sculpture studios. The room was empty. Everything that could be burned had been pilfered. The books, desks and easels were all gone. Hasan looked so forlorn surrounded by that emptiness. He looked up smartly as we entered. His face was filled with worry.
“Where have you two been?” he asked.
“It’s my fault,” I said. “I had to deliver some things to a friend at the hospital and we got held up.”
He said we were late to meet with one of Sarajevo’s premiere artists. His name was Mustafa Skolpjak. He lived in the Academy of Arts building across the river. We hurried across the Princip Bridge, the spot where a young Slav nationalist had assassinated the Austrian archduke Ferdinand in 1914, beginning a series of events precipitating the First World War. The academy was an odd looking building with a prominent silver dome. At a glance it appeared abandoned. The tall windows had been blown out and shells had punctured the dome. The once carefully manicured lawns were overgrown with tangled weeds.
The heavy wooden door groaned loudly on its hinges. For a moment we stood in a narrow channel of daylight, illuminating part of a long staircase to one side, and a dark hallway to the other. We followed the hall past deserted studios to the small office where Mustafa lived.
“So would you like to meet Sarajevo’s greatest artist?” Hasan asked.
“Besides you and Nadja?” I winked, with a grin. He chuckled and said something about going into politics as he knocked at the door.
There was a long pause before a shadow disturbed the sliver of light beneath the door. I had read a good deal about Mustafa in the Press back home and was expecting someone fiery and philosophical, someone who exemplified the defiant persistence of the Sarajevo Arts community. Instead the man who opened the door was rather short and kind of dull. He had a thick, brushy mustache and heavy gray stubble. He smiled broadly when he recognized Hasan, though it seemed a terrific effort for him, as though it was not at all a natural act.
In jeans and a beat up leather jacket, his hair somewhat askew, Mustafa was more like a character from a Kerouac novel than anything else. He was quiet, hardly an egoist like Picasso, and certainly not the swashbuckling sort like Hemingway. At first impression Sarajevo’s greatest living artist was rather mundane.
“You’ve gotten big,” he rubbed Sulejman’s head. He invited us inside, apologizing that he had nothing to offer.
Stepping into the studio was like stepping into a small attic crammed with undreamed of treasures. The air was stale like an attic and filled with dust that hung like constellations among nebulous clouds of cigarette smoke. Midday sun flooded through a translucent sheet of UNHCR plastic covering a small window. The light was quickly scattered by abstract constructions of colored glass collected from around the city. Renderings and small paintings covered the walls or were stacked around the room. To one corner a mattress was braced between two burgeoning file cabinets. A tiny sink was filled with dishes and a pair of socks. Below the sink was the obligatory collection of buckets and jugs. At the end of his cluttered desk was a giant stack of magazines and newspapers from around the world. I mentioned that I read articles about him in America.Mustafa_Skopljak_vertikala
”America,” he pondered. He stroked the stubble of his square jaw. “What do they say for me in America?”
“Mostly how you’ve led Sarajevo’s art scene, and how you’ve triumphed and found inspiration in the war.”
“Hmm,” he considered. “I don’t find inspiration in the war. Other people’s words. I only find survival, but that doesn’t pass the time quite so well, and certainly doesn’t feed the soul.”
“All of these magazines and newspapers have stories about Mustafa,” Hasan motioned to the stack on the desk.
“Amazing,” I said.
Mustafa seemed almost ashamed of the attention. “It was only necessary to destroy a nation and murder two hundred thousand people so that I could become famous.”
We all looked to the window as a shell exploded on the mountain. The long, low rumble could be felt through the floor. It shook free more of that ever-present dust, but there was more to the sound. It made Mustafa’s life and talent so fragile and fleeting. Like every other man in the city he was a soldier, and if the Serbs tried to take the city his celebrity would afford him no special privilege. A single bullet or shell could instantly extinguish his rare gift. The artists of Sarajevo were a brave and resilient bunch, but they were also mortal.
We didn’t stay long at the academy. Mustafa was a private man, and despite his graciousness, our visit was something of an intrusion. Besides I was still suffering from the day before and wanted to go home and take a nap.
Hasan was headed back to school. Sulejman wanted to meet his mother at Markale (pronounced MARK-A-LAY), but Hasan didn’t want him to go there alone. The boy begged me to go with him, but I wasn’t really interested. Hasan could see that I was beat and scolded Sulejman about pestering me. With that Sulejman pouted and complained that he was sick and tired of sitting in the house with nothing to do. Out of sympathy I relented.
The Markale outdoor market filled a small square just off Marshal Tito Street, at a place where the street was at its narrowest. Markale was protected on three sides by the high walls of surrounding buildings. It was more than a market. It was an integral part of the city’s social fabric. Neighbors met to swap news and gossip. That simple function was even more important during the war.
Hardly a year had passed since a Serbian mortar slammed into the market killing sixty-eight, but old habits were hard to overcome. Within days of the attack Sarajevans returned to reclaim the market. As Sulejman and I crossed the street it was already jammed beyond capacity with shoppers, beggars and gawkers. I recalled Serbian assertions that the Bosnians had inflated the number of dead by dragging out cadavers. As packed as the market was on any given day it was a miracle that only sixty-eight had died that day.
Shopping was, of course, a relative term in besieged Sarajevo. People were crowded among the tightly packed tables, ogling a pathetic offering of goods. There were putrid looking chicken and pigeon carcasses, some washes with bleach to kill the smell. Not that it mattered. Even at ten or fifteen marks for a scrawny one the price was well out of reach for most. The NEW YORK TIMES some months earlier had celebrated the falling price of food in the city. Over the summer a pound of beef had plummeted from around a hundred Marks to twenty-five. The paper failed to mention that twenty-five marks represented one or two month’s income for most families. Prices fluctuated wildly with the fighting. A single egg might cost a few Marks in the morning, and go for six or eight or ten by afternoon.
Nadja was at the back of the square, looking over a paltry collection of small vegetables grown in the many war gardens that sprang up around the city. I stepped across the small crater punched by the February shell to reach her. It struck in a corner reflecting the full force of the blast into the square, turning tables and body parts into lethal missiles.
Nadja and Hasan had just been paid for the month with a carton of smuggled Drina cigarettes, or roughly the equivalent of one small chicken. She was haggling over a pile of little potatoes, scrawny carrots and some mangy garlic cloves. I gave Nadja a twenty Mark note, but the old Gypsy woman behind the table complained she couldn’t possibly make change for that. Nadja was a shrewd negotiator and managed enough vegetables to make a pot of soup for the next couple of days. She stuffed the precious goods into her tattered purse and, clutching it tightly, hurried out of the market.
“Did we do good?” I asked.
Nadja nodded. “I’m satisfied.
The street opened to a wide boulevard. Cafes had sprouted along sun drenched sidewalks as an assertion of the city’s undying spirit, as if the war was a distant thing. But reminders of the war were never very far away. There was the shriek of a patrolling NATO warplane, a firefight on the mountain and the grating annoyance of a passing UN tank. Just beyond the fringes of the cafes, where patrons chanced a Mark for a moment of normalcy, disowned refugees and the homeless begged for mercy or some small hope from those who had lost both a long time ago. Only the dead or the insane could truly escape the war, and at every given moment everyone in Sarajevo teetered at the edge of one or the other.

So long, Dear Friend

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21 years ago today

Excerpt from the memoir by Revolution and Beer’s WC Turck “Everything for Love.” Dedicated to my wife of 21 years…41e+6tsee9L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_

We hope, we hope, we hope. We hope, because it is the Knight that does battle with the cold and agonizing emptiness that surrounds and fills us. It is that emptiness which, in the absence of hope, is poised to crush and devour us. Only hope, and its cousin, love, defends us. They are comfort to our hearts and a curse to our intellect. They are our salvation and our burden. We need hope to exist, and therefore we drink it in madly. Hope was in desperate supply in Sarajevo, and it was the one thing I was determined to give Ana, but I wondered if it was proper to offer such a thing. It felt like a fertile branch floating upon an uncertain ocean. Was there a promise of approaching shores or of the unrelenting sea?

There were few sights that spoke of the siege as graphically as the hillside cemetery above the soccer stadium. Then thousand wooden markers, ten thousand mounds of earth, ten thousand dead nearly bisected the city. It was a community in it’s own right, if one defines a community by its common bonds and needs. Bound by death, their only need was remembrance, for they had long ago lost the need for justice. New graves quickly overtook the old ones and replaced the grove of tall willow, pine and maple that once shrouded the cemetery. The bones of those older graves lay scattered on the muddy ground. The city of the dead was slowly taking over the places for the living.

I detoured among the graves that evening on the way to Ana’s. I often walked among them trying to find some commonality among them: between them and me. I read the names, if there were any, and the dates of their births and deaths. Some were decorated with curiously personal trinkets, flowers, poems, letters, children’s toys and more. Many were simply forgotten, or were simple mounds with no marker or name. BOSNIA-SARAJEVO FOOTBALL STADIUM

Near the stadium I found the grave of IRMA GRABOVICA, born 1982 and died 1993. Nearby lay HUSEIN KAROVICH, born in 1938. Beside the grave of twenty-two year old IZET BEGICH were two anonymous graves. Further on PAVO BLAZHEVICH, A Catholic Croat lay beside ZLATIMIR TEZICH, a Serb, and KASIM MEZHUR, a Muslim. Kasim and Zlatomir’s graves were so close together I wondered if in life they were friends.

It was quite dark when I reached Ana’s building. The night was brisk and moonless night. The Milky Way was bright and splashed across the sky. Ana waved from the window and hurried downstairs and into my arms. She was eager for me to meet a friend who had been crippled in the first days of the war. A battle erupted northeast of the city and spread along the lines. Despite the fighting we headed for Bare, a working class neighborhood on the northern edge of the city.

Bare was in a fold two blocks below Ana’s building. It was pressed between a communist-era hillside cemetery and the Serb lines on an adjacent ridge. Ana and I were thankful for such a dark night, as the squat, widely spaced apartment blocks were fully exposed to the lines.

We went quietly, never speaking above a whisper and tensed for the punch of a sniper’s bullet that would come quick and silent. There wasn’t much in the way of cover, just the occasional wreck amid trash strewn empty lots.

“Chetniks,” Ana whispered, “no more than three hundred meters. There is no wind tonight. We must be careful. They can hear everything up there.”

“Who are we visiting?”

“My good friend Cico. It is important that you meet him.”

ZIP! A bullet ripped the air close by. Ana and I were instantly racing for the cover of a nearby doorway. The night fell silent once more, but Ana and I refused to move. We were holding tight to one another. I could feel her heart beating madly through her coat. There was terror in her eyes. Her face, half consumed in shadow, was suddenly pale. billturckbosnianwar

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“My nerves. I’ll be fine. I think it’s safe now, but we should hurry.”

Cico’s building was close. The building was dark, but for the flickering glow of candles through translucent UNHCR plastic covering the windows at the back of the building. We ran until we reached the open door. Ana called up and a huge figure appeared at the top of the stairs. Candle poured light across a man’s face.

Even from the bottom of the stairs I could tell that Marko Markovich, Cico’s father, was a good soul, a beer and pretzels sort of guy. The candlelight painted the map of a difficult life upon his simple face. He leaned over the rail to help light our way with the candle. A welcoming smile came to him when he recognized Ana.

“Hey, Ana! Kako ste? Shta ima?” His rich deep voice filled the stairwell. Woven within was the elation of a man momentarily rescued from despair.

“Nemam nishta,” nothing much, Ana replied breathlessly. “Kako ste vi?”

“Dobro sam,” very well, he nodded meeting us on the stairs. He greeted Ana with a huge one-armed hug, nearly lifting her off her feet. “Ah, the daughter I always wanted!”

Ana introduced me. Marko welcomed me with a big handshake and hearty pat on the shoulder.

“Come, come,” he said. “It’s warmer inside. You must forgive me but I have nothing to offer.”

The apartment was tiny, much smaller than Ana’s. It was cluttered like most wartime apartments, and a bit of a mess, for which the sweet-natured Serb kept apologizing as he lumbered around the place. We found a seat on an old couch. Beautiful red and black Oriental blankets were thrown and tucked over the most worn places. The room had a strange character, as though it was as much a memory of someone that had passed as anything else. There was an air of clumsy preservation, in which a woman’s touch had been staged or recreated. That sense hid at the edges of the candlelight, like a memory fading with time. Ana was expectant, less about Cico and more as if there was something she needed to confirm here.

He said something about the last place being wrecked by a missile, and they had not settled into this place yet. Ana and I shared a smile. Marko was as awkward as a schoolboy with a crush.

“You will have some tea, both of you,” he said, leading us by candlelight through a narrow hall into the living room.

“Please, no,” said Ana. “You have much too far to go for water here.”

“Nonsense. It’s freezing outside.”

“A small cup then,” she relented.

Ana and Cico were friends before the war, but not as close as they were now. They lost touch for a while. It was then that Cico’s life changed forever.

The first weeks of the war Cico was riding in a car with some friends. One of them was playing with a gun when it went off and blew away part of Cico’s left foot. It was a terrible wound, but at the hospital it hardly compared with those missing arms and legs, with guts hanging out or faces shredded. There were dozens as badly wounded as Cico and dozens more that were hurt much worse, with casualties mounting by the hour. What remained of the hospital staff was hopelessly overwhelmed. The best he could hope for was a simple bandage. Infection set in quickly and the doctors did their best to save as much of the leg as possible, but without the proper medicines all they could do was amputate more and more of his leg in a vain effort to stay ahead of the infection. After the last operation doctors told him he should be prepared to lose the entire leg.

I looked around the room and remarked how sad it seemed. It was as if another soul was in the room with us.

“It’s Cico’s mom. You could feel her even stronger in the last place. She died when he was small of kidney failure. She was in terrible agony…I just can’t imagine.”

We could hear Cico on the stairs. He was hollering at Ana for interrupting the best pool game he’d had in weeks. He clumsily negotiated the clutter in the hall on a pair of silver metal crutches. He was tall with thick dark hair and bright playful eyes. Cico had a huge grin on his face. It dissolved the moment he saw me sitting beside Ana. Our introduction was no less awkward. He was very obviously jealous.

They caught up with neighborhood gossip. One girl was a refugee in Germany, and a kid from school had been killed on the line a few days earlier.

There was shelling to the south. The dull rumble drew concentric rings across the surface of my tea. Now and again Ana would touch my leg and ask if I was all right in English. Each time Cico took note. He leaned to Ana.

“Why don’t we hit the American over the head and steal his money,” he smirked in Bosnian. Ana fought the urge to laugh.

“Really?” she replied.

“And why not?”

“Cico, he understands everything you say.”

His eyes went wide with surprise. “Everything?’

“Everything,” she said. He looked sharply at me and blushed as I nodded.

“I, uh, I only joke,” he stammered.

“That’s okay,” I winked. “Ana suggested we mug you if you won big in pool!”

From that moment Cico and I were friends. Ana seemed terribly relieved and went back to her conversation. Gossip was the only real entertainment left in the city, and the scandalous stuff he had about who was sleeping with who was golden. For my part I marveled at Ana and the intensity she brought to every relationship. In her embrace I knew I could forever be safe from the treachery of the world. As for Ana and Cico, what passed between them was rich and pure, and much deeper than simple friendship. For Cico, by the way he looked at her and hung on every word, I knew it was nothing short of love.


Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray with Jack Hammond and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “A Tragic Fate: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Risking Everything for Love, 20 years ago today…

An excerpt from the memoir by WC Turck, Everything for Love, available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com:

I had one last chance, and it was a long shot. In fact, it was unlikely to work out the way I hoped, but what choice did I have? If it failed I knew that I would lose Ana forever.
I barged into the marriage bureau startling the women there. One of them screamed and hurried to find a guard. The others could do little more that protest feebly as I went to the cabinet and pulled out the marriage file on the British journalists. In an instant I had it open and had my journal out.
“You must leave here or we will have you arrested,” one woman complained. I ignored her and quickly copied the citizenship document.
“One document can say both things?” I asked. The blond-haired woman nodded. Johnson at the embassy had already said that I could get the citizenship paper. That was the easy part. Near the center of the page I inserted the line, “In so far as this embassy is aware Mr. Turck is not married.” Nothing about the statement was untrue. I wasn’t married, and the embassy had no idea one way or another. It was a long shot, but it was all that I had.
There was shooting in the plaza again. In fact there was a lot of shooting, but there was no time to worry about it now. I had to get back to the embassy no matter what, but as I stepped from the bombed-out storefront two bullets struck the wall beside my head. I dove headfirst back through the window and crawled up against the wall.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, my frightened breaths exploding in the empty shop.
Every heartbeat thundered in my ears. I laughed, realizing how close I’d come to being killed. Fear was a weight I could ill afford, that is if I really wanted to be with Ana, but it was a weight that kept me from moving for some time. I fought it and threw myself into the open, letting blind momentum decide my fate. I was immediately at a dead run. Ahead of me, past the hotel and a Ukrainian APC on the road, death stalked from a thousand empty windows. A rifle shot thundered in the plaza. I shouted and strained to cover the last few yards before collapsing against the back of the hotel.
It was dark and cool inside the hotel. The place was empty, as usual. A few journalists kept to the shadows and relative safety of a small bar at the back of the cavernous lobby. Bosnian snipers were firing across the river into Grbavica now. The gunfire reverberated with muffled, hollow reports, like the dull throbbing of a kettledrum.
I hated it there. The hotel was a monument to the hypocrisy of war. The Serbs left the place more or less alone, despite that nearly every other building in and around the plaza had been destroyed or heavily damaged. The upper floors were gutted, and the Serbs took occasional pot shots at the front of the building to rattle and warn the foreign Press and diplomats who stayed there.
The Holiday Inn had always had something of an unsavory reputation. The squat yellow and peach building looked as if it had been dropped by accident among some of Sarajevo’s best known and most beautiful architecture. There were rumors that the owners had made some arrangement with the Serbs and local mafia. The relatively cosmetic damage to the place only tended to bolster its nefarious reputation.
The American delegation to Bosnia was on the third floor. It was called an embassy, but only in the loosest possible terms. Next door to the embassy the Newsweek correspondent, a rather miserable looking fellow, was working on a story. A Bosnian guard slept in a chair in front of the embassy. A fully loaded assault rifle threatened to spill from his lap. I quietly slipped past the guard into the embassy, surprising several intelligence officers who scattered quickly as I entered. A tall blond diplomat stepped forward, blocking me until they were gone.
“Dave Johnson(not his real name), First Secretary.” he said with all the sincerity of a used car salesman. He listened impatiently to my story. “So, you’re getting married. Fantastic! That’s just great. No problem, we can give you whatever you need.”
Johnson gave the paper a quick review and nodded.
“I’m sure this will be fine,” he said. “We’ll type it up. Why don’t you come back in the morning?”
“Dave,” I said at the door, “do me a favor and get an office in a better neighborhood. Every time I come here I get shot at. I’m starting to get a bad impression of Sarajevo!”
There was a woman I knew in the lobby. Her name was Fahira, an impeccably dressed business-like woman in her mid forties. Her reddish blond hair was flawless, and held in place by copious amounts of hairspray, that must have cost her a fortune to attain through the black market. Fahira was sitting before one of the hotel’s tall windows staring out at the desolation of her city. She was there most days, hoping to make money as a translator, but no one cared about Bosnian much anymore. I sat down beside her, and knew better than to ask her how business was. She hadn’t worked in many months and was growing more discouraged by the day.
“I thought you might have gone by now,” she said, without looking at me.
“Soon, I hope.” I said nothing of Ana.
“I think the war is lost.” She said dully. I didn’t reply. “When the world no longer cares what happens here, when the Chetniks know the world is looking the other way they will come and slaughter us.”
I let the topic go. I was in no mood for politics.
“How is your daughter?”
“She asks for things. What do I tell her?” Fahira pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. She counted them and thought better of having one. She put them away and huffed. “I think that I have ruined her. When everyone else was starving, I could still afford food. We always had money, you know? Now we have no food, nothing. I almost wish that something terrible would happen, then perhaps someone will come and I will make a little money for her.”
I sat with her a while longer, though we didn’t say much. She did most of the talking. I stood and looked out into the plaza. The sun was setting and I didn’t want Ana to worry.
“Well,” I said, not looking at her, “good luck to you.” Fahira nodded slightly and looked off across the plaza.
Rain came that evening, falling over the city as a soft sigh that grew to a gentle whisper. By the time Ana and I left for Nadja and Hasan’s it was pouring. It was a cold autumn rain, that danced upon tiled rooftops and gurgled into failing and overburdened gutters…


The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.


CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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