Beograd

I didn’t make it to Sarajevo, much as I had wanted to catch their film festival in August. But I did still get to see a lot of this guy, Gavrilo Princip. Who’s he? He’s the Serb nationalist who shot Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, ultimately leading to the first world war. There’s so much to unpack from his story – his resistance to centuries of colonization, the trouble he had identifying smart political moves, what it is to be locked in a cycle of violence. For six generations here, everyone has known war.

So the part of his story I want to write about is #landback, because just like in the old country, the land in Canada is one of the most contested things about the place. We started 2019 with an RCMP tactical team forcibly removing First Nations folks from their land in January.

It was never ours to begin with, but I know most people get pretty freaked out when we start to talk about the land. So much of our understanding of property and value and security is tied up in land, and I understand why. It’s why my family moved to Canada in the first place. Their future here was to be peasant farmers, tenants in a poor country with a limited land base – that meant the rents would always be going up. In Canada, they were able to buy a house – my Baba Kata always had an incredible garden, and it fed the family – which gave them financial security and physical security. They never had to worry about the Turks or the Austrians or the Germans or the Russians or whoever over the last century running an army through the land they owned.

When something has to do with our family heritage, we say it’s Nasha. It should be spelled nasa but I couldn’t find the s with an accent circonflexe on my phone. Anyway, I’ve wanted to understand more about our/nasa relationship with land, and that’s the key insight – it’s security. Safety might even be a better word.

On my way to Dubrovnik from the airport, I got a ride with a cabbie named Ivan – just like my maternal great grandfather. Stari Ivan was the one who moved his family to Nanaimo. Cabbie Ivan and I talked about the rent, about a corrupt global property market, and how impossible it is to imagine buying. What else do two millennials talk about? Cabbie Ivan’s options are totally different from Stari Ivan’s, and his response to the prospect of a lifetime of tenancy is the same as mine – resignation and resentment. It seems every global city is on the same course towards becoming a haven for capital investment while the folks who actually live there are reduced to transient units of labour. Beograd certainly felt like it was heading that way – BTW that city is the new Berlin, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s totally gentrified. Invest now, while the hip warehouse lofts of Savamala are still available!!

What did that safety ever mean, when it was built on stolen land? And, now that safety is off the table for our generation, what do we do? Gavrilo probably would have preferred to light a match and watch it all burn – but we saw how poorly that worked out, especially for the very people he was hoping to help. If I could choose, I’d much rather have the Squamish nation for a landlord in their proposed Kitsilano development than giving half a paycheque to Brookfield Asset Management each month. Whatever we do, we need to think hard about who we’re trying to help and who stands to get hurt. With nothing to lose, our new generation of tenants are going to be the ones to give the land back, I hope. Let’s make sure we get it right.

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