earthmovers’ revolution: Serbia

Beyond the destruction of civilian property in crises and conflicts, I’m interested in the archaeology of struggle in general – how authorities control, how people resist, how resistance evolves, what evidence survives, what institutions and individuals remember… (Maybe it just gives me an excuse to shoot ruin porn and talk about revolution.)

Since British cultural heritage activists are pessimistic about the potential for positive social change, and since Ukraine has just joined Serbia and Turkey in being a bulldozer revolution, I thought I would look at the role of earthmovers in these social movements.

I’m not (yet) suggesting that we should use earthmovers, but they should remind us of the potential for resistance and change in much worse circumstances.

I was in the home of the Bulldozer Revolution, Belgrade, when Gezi Park erupted. People there were bewildered when one of the Turkish state’s conspiracy theories blamed Serbian revolutionary Otpor for the Gezi movement. However, they were delighted when Turkish (citizen) resister Çarşı took a bulldozer into battle against the Turkish state; they even depicted their own bulldozer in their Gezi solidarity protest art.

Unemployed disabled machine-operator Ljubisav Đokić ‘ha[d] been protesting for ten years’. “Đo” Đokić ‘would get beaten, swallow lots of teargas and then [go] back home without achieving anything’. On the 5th of October 2000, at the peak of the revolution against Slobodan Milošević’s nationalist communist regime, ‘I thought hard this time and decided that I would be more successful if I took my bulldozer with me’.

Excavator Joe's scoop (c) Blic, 5. Oktobar 2010

Excavator Joe’s scoop (c) Blic, 5. Oktobar 2010

Excavator Joe's scoop (c) FoNet, 5th October 2000; b92, 4th October 2007

Excavator Joe’s scoop (c) FoNet, 5th October 2000; b92, 4th October 2007

Excavator Joe (Bagerista Đo) ploughed his International 538 bucket loader/scoop into Radio Television Serbia’s headquarters (RTS HQ), then the crowd of civil resisters stormed the building. The next day, Milošević resigned.

Traces of [regime] attacks’ on Joe and his machine remain ‘visible very clearly on the excavator itself’. Joe is still poor; and, although or because the scoop has become a popular symbol, Serbia’s new democratic leaders have ‘not helped [Joe] repair‘ the broken-down “bulldozer”, so he has had to put his iconic machine up for sale. Đokić plans to share the auction money with ‘orphans and people in need‘.

Unsurprisingly, Joe is a heroic figure and his excavator itself is a worshipful icon.(1)

illustration of 'the Joe excavator in all its glory [Džo bagerista u svom punom sjaju]' (c) Darko7United, Vukajlija, 6. Mart 2011

‘the Joe excavator in all its glory [Džo bagerista u svom punom sjaju]’ (c) Darko7United, Vukajlija, 6. Mart 2011

It also appears to be a crushing point of comparison for less heroic figures in Serbian public life, such as these ‘auxiliary excavator[s] [Pomoćni bagerista]’ in suits and ties with shovels and wheelbarrows. (I think it says something vaguely like “that which you cannot excavate, I shovel”, but I’m not sure; I am sure a Serbian-speaker will explain the error of my ways to me in no uncertain terms.)

'Auxiliary excavator [Pomoćni bagerista]' (c) SerbianStyle91, 18. Oktobar 2011

‘Auxiliary excavator [Pomoćni bagerista]’ (c) SerbianStyle91, 18. Oktobar 2011


1: It’s easier to depict and more recognisable, so it’s a very functional symbol.

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