“Perfect Strangers” 2: Joshua Cohen and Muhadem Bazdulj

On Wednesday 27th June the second discussion with the Triple Canopy group was held in Colegium Artisticum. This session was focused around the Arizona Market just outside Brčko.

The discussion was led by American novelist and contributor to Triple Canopy, Joshua Cohen, and Bosnian writer Muharem Bazdulj. The topic of the Arizona Market was introduced to us by the moderator, also a member of Triple Canopy, Sarah Resnick.

Colegium was a little less crowded than it had been for the first discussion . Adela Jušić gave a lot of involvement and we were joined by Jusuf Hadžefezović, a well-known international artist based in Sarajevo.

The Arizona Market is a sprawling collection of stalls selling anything from door handles to women and heroin. The U.S military was involved in establishing this area of free trade in 1995 after the end of the war. The discussion circled the significance of this effective black market and what it meant for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Joshua asked how the items on sale could reflect the desires inspired by the desperate needs of the people. He quoted William Burroughs in talking about Tangiers in “Naked Lunch”; ‘a place where nothing is allowed, everything is permitted’.

One response to this was to say that the market was taken as normal. The same woman who made the comment said that she felt afraid driving past the market to see the crime that was pouring out of it.

There was much discussion about corruption in the country, that people were all too aware of the fact that their newly imposed taxes were not going to the places they were supposed to and so there was a normalized incentive on small levels to cheat the higher powers. Acknowledged was a spirit of anarchy in the Bosnian people. This included talk about the criminal activities in the market. If you can give 10km to a policeman and get away with it then you will. It was normal for some seller not to turn up at the market because they had been arrested the day before, yet this was no deterrent for the other sellers, they would sell until they could get away with it no longer, hence the availability of prostitution and drugs. American soldiers were the primary demanders of prostitution, pirated DVDs etc. We discussed political change, the possibility of political change in a climate where the people are seen not to be able to look after themselves. Would change at all be possible if those imposing change, imposing the freedom of exchange, also imposed the demand for solicit behavior? What was not discussed was political development without the presumption that being fundamentally wrong the country needed a complete rethinking supplied by outside parties. This inspired talk about the inability of America to sustain its own society ideologically and practically and yet giving itself the right to monopolize other areas of the world.

The conversation continued thus like with a few central speakers and occasional input from different parties. Unfortunately I had to leave the discussion before I could see it to its end.

Kirsten Mackie

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