Undercover at the Miss Ex-Yugoslavia Pageant

I wouldn’t unremarkably enter a beauty pageant, however this one is special. It’s a battle for the title of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia, beauty queen of a rustic that now not exists. it’s thanks to the country being “no more” that our shoddy very little contest is occurring in Australia, over 8,000 miles from wherever Serbia and Montenegro once stood. My fellow competitors and that i square measure immigrants and refugees, returning from completely different sides of the conflict that split Serbia and Montenegro up. It’s a weird plan for a competition—bringing young girls from a destroyed country along to be objectified, however in our very little diaspora, we’re accustomed contradictions.

It’s 2005, I’m 22, and I’ve been living in Australia for many of my life. I’m at Joy, AN empty Melbourne club that smells of stale smoke and is found higher than a fruit-and-vegetable market. I open the door to the room, and once my eyes comply with the fluorescent lights I see that young girls square measure rubbing oil on every other’s thighs. Apparently, this is often a trick utilized in “real” competitions, one we’ve hijacked for our amateur version. For weeks, I’ve been making ready myself to square nearly naked before of everybody i do know, and it’s come back around fast. As I scan the shiny bodies for my friend Nina, I’m aghast to examine that every one the opposite women have dead-straight hair, while mine, due to AN passionate styler with a curling wand, sounds like a wig fabricated from sausages.

“Maybe we will straighten it.” She brings her hand up to my hair cautiously, as if hugging a surprised lamb. Nina could be a European country exile in an exceedingly skirt. As a contestant, she is technically my contender, however we’ve become go on the rehearsals leading up to the pageant.

Under Nina’s tentative pets, the hair doesn’t provide. It’s been sprayed to remain like this, presumably forever. I shift uncomfortably and tug on the hem of my skirt, attempting to tug it lower. rather like the hair, it doesn’t budge. In my language, such micro-skirts have earned their own graphic term: dopičnjak, which accurately suggests that “to the pussy”—a precise term to tell apart the dopičnjak from its additional conservative subgenital relative, the skirt.

Though many folks barely speak our tongue, all folks competitors square measure ex-Yugos, for higher or worse; we have a tendency to come back from Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenija. I be part of a voice communication during which go women yelling over each other in slang-riddled English, recalling munching on the salty peanut snack Smoki after they were very little, agreeing that it absolutely was “the bomb” and “totally sick,” superior to something one may realize in our adoptive home of Australia.

The idea of a beauty pageant freaks Pine Tree State out, ANd ex-Yugoslavia as a rustic is itself an oxymoron—but the mix of the 2 makes the deliciously weird Miss Ex-Yugoslavia competition the best subject for my picture category. I desire a undercover agent. Yes, I’m a part of the ex-Yugo community, however additionally I’m a misanthropical, story-hungry, Western-schooled film student, so I’ve gone hugger-mugger among my very own folks. i do know my community is strange, and that i wish to urge high marks for this exclusive glimpse at intervals. although I’ve been deriding the competition to my film-student friends, rolling my eyes at the ironies, I actually have to admit that this pageant, and its resurrection of my zombie country, is truly gesture at one thing deep.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m not simply a movie maker seeking a story. this is often my community. i need outsiders to examine the external body part of ex-Yugoslavia, as a result of it’s my face, and also the face of those women. We’re quite news reports regarding war and group action.

“Who prefers to talk English to the camera?” I raise the area, in English, whipping my sausage-curled head around, as my school schoolfellow Maggie points the camera at the opposite contestants backstage.

“Me!” most of the women say in unison.

“What’s your opinion of ex-Yugoslavia?” I raise Zora, the 17-year-old from Crna Gora.

“Um, I don’t grasp,” she says.

“It’s complicated!” somebody else calls out.

As a movie maker, i need a neat sound-bite, however ex-Yugoslavia is unwieldy. Most of my fellow contestants square measure confused regarding the turbulent history of the region, and it’s tasking to clarify in an exceedingly shell. At the terribly least, i need viewers to grasp what brought North American country here: the wars that consumed the Nineties, whose main players were geographic region, Croatia, and Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Herzegovina—the 3 largest republics at intervals the Yugoslav Federation.

“I am fast to inform anyone WHO asks that I realize beauty pageants stupid which I’m competitive for the sake of journalism. However, i’m still a personality’s living within the world, and that i would love to seem hot.”

Like several families, mine left once the wars began, and just like the remainder of the Miss Ex-Yugoslavia competitors, i used to be solely a child. Despite the passage of your time, being a part of AN migrant minority in Australia, speaking Serbian reception, being only too aware of dopičnjaks, I’m embedded within the ex-Yugoslavian community. Yugoslavia, and its tiny-skirt-wearing prone folks, have weighed upon Pine Tree State my whole life.

Most of those young girls stirred to Australia either as immigrants seeking a more robust life (like my family, WHO came from Serbia), or as refugees fleeing the results of the war (like the Croatian and European country girls).

“Why square measure you competitive for Miss Ex-Yugoslavia?” I prod Zora. “That’s wherever I come back from,” she says, trying down, like I’m a stringent teacher. “And my oldsters wish Pine Tree State to.”

In the student film I’m creating, I arrange to contextualize the footage of the Miss Ex-Yugoslavia competition with my very own story. I’ve place along some home footage of Pine Tree State in Belgrade, before we have a tendency to stirred to Australia. The footage explained aged 2, in an exceedingly blue terry-cloth romper two-handed down from my cousins. I’m before of our worn building on the avenue of Revolution, motility with pride on the hood of my parents’ small red rescript, with my very little legs crossed sort of a exciting grown-up’s. To accompany these scenes, I’ve inserted voice-over narration, which says, “The Belgrade I left continues to be my home. i used to be born there and that i arrange to die there.” however very, although i favor the dramatic means it sounds, I’m undecided it’s true. Would i actually return to it poor, corrupt, dirty place, currently that English comes easier to Pine Tree State than Serbian?

I am fast to inform anyone WHO asks that I realize beauty pageants stupid which I’m competitive for the sake of journalism. However, i’m still a personality’s living within the world, and that i would love to seem hot. I’ve had my body waxed, I’ve been tutored the way to walk down a runway, and I’ve eaten nothing except celery and tuna for weeks, within the desperate hope that it’ll scale back my fatty tissue. I’ve replaced my nerdy glasses with contacts, and I’m the fittest I’ve been in my life. A secret, embarrassed very little a part of Pine Tree State that forever needed to be a blue blood is flapping with hope. I’ve reverted to childhood habits of desire attention, and, for a second, I forget all the items I dislike regarding my look. As I observe my fake-tanned, shiny body within the mirror and smile with my colourless teeth, I think, What if somehow, some way, I really win Miss Ex-Yugoslavia? I enable myself to dream for a flash regarding being a topped blue blood, just like the ones within the Disney tapes my pappa would get on behalf of me on the black market in socialist Serbia and Montenegro.

This extremely amateur competition is that the production of a person named Sasha, WHO organizes social events for the ex-Yugoslavian community. He has managed to collect 9 competitors aged sixteen to twenty three WHO identified regarding the event through the ex-Yugo grapevine: a billboard at the Montenegrin doctor’s workplace, an ad within the Serbian Voice native newspaper, their oldsters, chatter within the Yugo clubs wherever youngsters visit connect with the community.

Sasha is Serbian, like me. Earlier nowadays, he was active round the club together with his slicked-back hair and animal skin jacket, ordering folks to line up the runway. I pointed a camera at him and, sort of a hard-hitting journalist, asked, in our language, why he set to stage a Miss Ex-Yugoslavia competition.

Sasha turned to the camera with a practiced smile and aforesaid, “I’m merely attempting to bring these women along. What happened to Serbia and Montenegro is, sadly, a wound that is still in our minds and in our hearts. however currently we’re here, on another planet, therefore let’s treat it that means. Let’s be friends.”

“Do you think that we’ll all get along?” I asked, hoping he’d address the wars he was tiptoeing around.

“I don’t grasp, however I’m willing to undertake. i’m solely fascinated by business, not in politics.” He checked out the camera to iterate, to form certain he wasn’t antagonizing any party: “I say that for the record, i’m solely fascinated by business and zilch else.”

His interest in business is therefore keen actually, that he’s creating Pine Tree State provide him my footage when tonight. he’s getting to build a videodisc of the pageant, break free my documentary. not like my film, with that I hope to encapsulate the troubled history of Serbia and Montenegro in underneath 10 minutes, he intends to skip the politics altogether. Instead, he can combine footage {of North American country|folks|people} women in lean outfits with popular music genre so sell the videodisc back to us and our families for $50.

Now it’s eight o’clock, and also the peace Sasha hoped for reigns within the room. Here, women facilitate one another with their hair, they attach safety pins to hemlines, and share Band-Aids to prevent blisters. The event was presupposed to begin AN hour agone, however we have a tendency to square measure still looking ahead to audience members to be seated . There’s a guard WHO is looking every guest with a hand-held sensing element downstairs, and that i suspect it’s taking see you later as a result of all the gold chains square measure setting it off.

My cameraman, Maggie, asks Pine Tree State quietly WHO she ought to be obtaining the foremost footage of, meaning, who’s doubtless to win this thing? i feel it’ll be Nina from Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She’s not soft and fresh-faced like Zora from Crna Gora, however she is definitely one in every of the foremost stunning competitors. She is extremely skinny, with huge eyes, high cheekbones, and a pointed chin. Nina strikes a chord in my memory of the young lady in Disney’s the tiny imaginary creature WHO seems to be Ursula the witch in disguise, that is to mention, she’s each engaging and a bit dangerous. At rehearsal, she nonchalantly mentioned entering into a fight with some women at a club, to the awe of a number of the additional puritanical competitors (myself included). Nina is smart, in some ways additional mature than the remainder folks, and I’m at the same time drawn to her and repelled by her. along with her gaze that’s forever calm, nearly unergetic, she makes Pine Tree State feel particularly neurotic and peculiar. and he or she isn’t nervous regarding going onstage to ogled—she’s got a transparent purpose in mind: “Definitely the price tag,” she tells Maggie once asked regarding her motivation for competitive . The winner of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia can receive a price tag back home, to whichever a part of that former country she needs, and Nina is itch to go to Sarajevo, that she left 10 years agone once it absolutely was a bloody mess.

“The horrors of war square measure usually one thing folks keep to themselves; they’re the secrets that wake them up at midnight, not topics to be mentioned on a Fri night out, once turbo-folk music is pumping.”

Partly, it’s my guilt—for not experiencing war primary, for having been born in Belgrade rather than Sarajevo—that makes Pine Tree State crave Nina’s fondness. My family left not as a result of our lives were at risk, however as a result of my oldsters needed their daughters to own opportunities bigger than those offered in period of time Serbia and Montenegro. i do know that Nina and that i share ex-Yugoslavia, however the piece that belongs to her is additional broken than the piece that belongs to Pine Tree State. i ponder if she feels this injustice too, if she features a want to penalise Pine Tree State for the privileges I had, as I, deep down, feel a desire to be penalised.

“I will quote being slashed by a Serbian bomb if that will be smart for the film,” Nina offers, and as Maggie pivots her camera to face her, there’s a knock at the dressing-room door, and Sasha pops his head in. Tina from Slovenija, the sole blonde among a ocean of brunettes, addresses the camera in English, like AN on-the-ground communicator.

“That’s Sasha, the organizer of the event.”

“Just fake the camera isn’t here,” I say, with slightly of irritation, as I’ve explained this a couple of thousand-fold already, and that i have a selected vision for this film, namely, for it to seem sort of a fly-on-the-wall masterpiece of experimental cinema.

“Are you women ready?” Sasha says, in his accented English, staring straight at the camera, confirming that this can not be a fly-on-the-wall masterpiece in any case. He clears his throat and continues his down-the-barrel address. “Now, you all grasp there’s only 1 winner tonight,” he says, and that i imagine he’s ready this speech in order that he will embody it in his $50 videodisc.

“You square measure all stunning,” he says with gravity, sweeping across the area with one arm. “But my job is only—for one winner. To. . . provide her the crown. He pauses, as if confused by his own clumsy flip of phrase. “That is my job. you have got 5 minutes,” he says solemnly, in haste exiting the area and shutting the door, as AN excited cry rises from the women, WHO rush to place the finishing touches on their outfits.

I raise Maggie to follow Sasha and capture some footage of the club filling with many folks. She comes back minutes later, with a distressed look. She says she opened the door of the employees lavatory, and interrupted 2 businessmen snorting hard drug. those that have seen the mafia pictured in well-liked culture would be forgiven for thinking that 0.5 the folks at Joy tonight square measure concerned in social group. And considering however brutal the Yugoslavian wars were, AN observer may additionally wonder—how several of those tall, strong men, in their animal skin jackets and unfastened shirts, were concerned within the violence?

I peek out of the room door to observe the patrons, WHO have all paid $35 a price tag and square measure stringent the free glass of champagne they were secure on arrival.

I know that a number of the folks during this area, all dressed up, smoking cigarettes and knock back Šljivovica plum strong drink, were ethnically clean from their villages. after they were fleeing to exile camps, starving underneath confinement, or huddled in basements to avoid bombs, may they need guessed they’d find yourself here years later, in an exceedingly club on the opposite facet of the planet enclosed by ex-Yugoslavians from all sides of the war? nonetheless here all of them square measure, waiting to select a queen among the young girls WHO can before long be parading their flesh onstage, in an exceedingly country wherever bodies aren’t at risk of being blown up. If they’re thinking these items, folks aren’t spoken language them. The horrors of war square measure usually one thing folks keep to themselves; they’re the secrets that wake them up at midnight, not topics to be mentioned on a Fri night out, once turbo-folk music is pumping.

The one that is aware of these secrets best—what folks did to 1 another within the war—is sitting out there tonight. From my viewpoint, I will simply build her out, her serious frame returning into focus through a cloud smoke smoke. It’s my mother. She’s at a table enclosed by her friends, and each currently so, as if she’s Marlon Brando within the Godfather, somebody comes up to her. They’re spoken language, due to my mother’s standing as beloved counselor, I am, by default, revered within the community, too.

“Dr. Koka’s older girl is competitive tonight,” folks square measure spoken language to their friends. i do know it already, folks square measure resolved to cheer loudly after I take the stage, out of affection for my mother.

I spot another member of my crew, Luke, WHO I’ve noncommissioned to record sound. “This is sort of a Kusturica film,” Luke says with glee, after I wave him over to the room. He’s a lover of the Serbian director WHO is understood for the surreal depictions of ex-Yugoslavians. Luke appearance around at my community, clearly hoping a pig can seem and begin gnawing at the bar, or that somebody can smash a bottle over his own head.

Sasha waves—it’s time. the primary stage of the competition, Casual Wear, is actually simply a chance to urge up onstage carrying a skirt and a T-shirt advertising Sasha’s Yugo events business. At the eleventh hour, Nina comes up with the genius plan of fastening the front of our T-shirts in an exceedingly knot, permitting North American country to indicate off our midriffs, and at an equivalent time to quietly sabotage Sasha’s conceive to flip North American country into commercials. we have a tendency to follow her lead. As we have a tendency to rehearsed, we have a tendency to walk single-file out of the room. there’s no actual “backstage” space, therefore the audience will see North American country as we have a tendency to walk out and exchange line at the facet of the stage, waiting to be introduced. Already, it’s embarrassing; as all eyes communicate North American country, we have a tendency to hear the whooping calls of boyfriends, family, and friends, and also the whistles from strangers, whereas we have a tendency to stare straight ahead.