Aleksandar – The Vandal Boy
By Milka Domanović and Lisa Crinon
The Belgrade block 72, that is all what Aleksandar has. It’s his country, his religion, his moral. Within few huge grey buildings this street smart photographer built his survival code, because streets are often borders.
The concrete landscape of the Belgrade blocks in the new part of the city one can either love or leave. But rarely anyone who was born there leaves it. Blocks are not the most beautiful child of Serbia’s capital, but the unruly one, that is different, that never changes. Aleksandar Kenjalo, called Sale, 26, grew up in the block 72, the so called New Block, although it has not been new for a while. He cannot imagine growing up or living in another part of the city, not even another block. The streets between the blocks are borders. They divide business, life style. Sale finished high school under the pressure of his family and became a photographer, but has never worked as one. He prefered to be street smart and find himself a job. “Most of the young people from the block are not interested in working legally and earning an average salary of 300 euros per month. They often find ‘their ways’ of making more money”, says Sale. He never considered leaving the country, going abroad and trying his luck out of the block, out of Serbia. “Blocks are life. I don’t know nothing but those blocks. Whenever I need something, I turn to the blocks, whenever I miss something, only friends from the blocks can bring it back to me.”
Serbia is where “Partizan” is
As a teenager Sale founded the fan club “Vandal Boys”, which supports one of the two major football teams in the country “Partizan”. This was actually his first contact with the outer world. “I have never left Serbia, except for the football game in Bosnia”, Sale says proudly. It was brave back then, to oppose other fan groups, which are also supporters of “Partizan”. He admits he had no idea how violent that can become. “I didn’t think it could go that far. Some of my friends lost their lives in the clashes with other fans of ‘Partizan’”. After those tragedies, Sale felt responsible, because he thought he could prevent it. But today he is still a “Vandal Boy”. People learned to stick together within the blocks and groups they made and don’t hesitate to get into a fight outside of the block or the group. A block is defining its inhabitants maybe even more than a country, more than a nation, more than a religion. “Who is my family – of course my sister, my mother, my grandmother. But my friends from the block are the fourth member of my family.“
People who block
A huge amount of people in a small space – people in the block differ in so many ways, but in the end their conservative views bring lots of them together. For example, many of them think homosexuals don’t even exist. Sale is aware of the fact they do exist and they are, as he says, everywhere. And it seems he does not have a problem with that. However, when it comes to the yearly gay parade in Belgrade, a strange mixture of homophobia and nationalism appears – Sale went to almost every gay pride, but not as a supporter. “The gay parade in Belgrade – they are striking the core of our Serbian identity as if we were a nation of faggots. And we won’t let that ever happen.” It seems like a block has its own opinion, philosophy and that rarely anyone is ready to question it, to defy it. People don’t want to leave it, but when they do, this block identity remains.
Sale sometimes regrets it didn’t turn other way, that he didn’t get educated. He is pushing some of his younger friends to study hard and to have a chance to do something with their lives. Still, he doesn’t see he had a choice and that he had his own life in his own hands. The block has it. And he is particularly pleased with his life, but afraid that it is time for him to get serious. “You live here, surrounded by all those fools, a lot of them, you go to the match, you meet the fools from the rest of the city, and there is no way back. You know what you know, if you manage in that circle, you are good.”
- The new part of the Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Novi Beograd, was built after the World War II. It is a typical example of socialistic architecture – everything is huge and similar.
- Its construction started on 11th of April 1948. Before that, there was nothing but the swamps and the field. The municipality of Novi Beograd was founded four years later.
- It was the biggest construction site in the whole country and became “city within the city”.
- Around 200.000 people – students, young people, workers from all over the country were involved in construction works in the first 3 years.
- Huge, concrete buildings devieded into blocks were mainly made for working class moving form the land to the city. For a while it was also considered as the biggest bedroom in the former Yugoslavia.
- Nowadays it is a home for more than 250.000 people and has more and more modern buildings, mainly for companies.