A media parable by Novica Milic.
After the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia, when, as it seemed to me, every jerk was founding no less than a state for himself (or at least a political party for his buddies from the local pub), for a while I had believed that the only state I would support would be the one called the United States of Free Shops. That kind of state-exterritorial, between the borders, full of excellent spirits, trinkets, parfums, candies, good cigars, and high technology, with excellent prospects for trade and business of any kind - had been on my mind until the Holy Saturday, when I had a nightmare, a dream, in any case, charged with insomnia. Hark!
At the moment when I became the global dictator (which demanded much time, great sacrifice, and my and other people's limitless renunciation), I banned the television. I considered it an invention of evil to such an extent that, compared to it, everything else, including the global dictator of course, came as a real blessing. I banned the television instantly, dismantled its cables, burned its screens. I ordered that its towers should be pointed down to the abyss of the earth instead of scraping blue skies. Although I knew my job was almost finished, I did not withdraw right away. I let the former pictures of me fade in the minds of people who anyway started growing blind no sooner than they were deprived of images. In the meantime, I had the rumour spread about my different faces. I have always had so many of them that, to tell the truth, they were the only thing I was incapable of controlling completely.
Still, this allowed me to step down from the throne as an almost unknown person. The very night I sneaked out of my palace the members of my guard died in fighting among themselves. In some parts of the world, mostly around the big markets, some riots arose, but the number of the dead was not higher than in the cases of an average earthquake which happens once in a while. Some loafer in the port would look closely into my face, perhaps trying to remember my moustache, and then he would just give up. As I predicted, my earthly kingdom dissolved into the mess it had been for all this time: into various states, small and big. Since I was still popular, neither the new goverments elected by the people, nor the ones set up by lot or by disintegrating armies, dared bring the television back to life for many a month. People started listening to each other. Even some poems which praised ears were written. When people regained their sight, they saw all the dread of their recent history, in which they mistook the invisible for visible, and vice versa. As for their future, I let them to themselves, so happen what may. I have no illusions about the world.
The retreat from power, the stepping down from the throne, marked my zenith. That is not likely to be noted in the chronicles of this sad planet, but I have even fewer illusions about the chronicles. Throughout the long lasting complicated negotiations, that were anulled in the very moment of their completion, with the guarantees of secrets which only I knew, my greatest wish was about to be fulfilled. Namely, I founded the United States of Free Shops. These are the zones of free trade, situated on the frontiers, between the borderlines, so that they are out of reach of the states. They are exterritorial, which means that they are everywhere: in the East, North, West, and South.
Therefore, from a despot I turned into a salesman. The transformation itself was not as radical as some shallow minds might imagine. After all, something had to be given up; I cannot claim to be in love with the profession of a grocer. But my vision of the state outside of the state, of territory without territory, of the border between the borders, that is - my vision of freedom on earth, not in heaven - had to rely upon something real. Freedom makes sense if it is the freedom of abundance. Free shops should exist not only for the sheer reason of breathing in the free air around them, but also for the possibility to shop there. Only that warranted long and prosperous life to my extraordinary creation.
In my US of FS at first I kept what had existed there before. However, at the same time, I devoted myself to clearing various stupid forests, to arranging wastelands, to removing garbage dumps. You cannot even imagine to what extent the borders are impassable, deserted and dirty. States do not care at all about what is in between them, they only want the fortification. Would you believe me if I said how much money I made in only one week by selling dog's shit collected in interborder zones? You would not believe it if I said that out of empty recycled cans, sold for a song, I managed to obtain the fresh influx of the full ones. So I succeeded in putting to work several border factories in different parts of the world, of course, and providing for their production for several years ahead. I would not bother you with telling how I managed to hire a few intercontinental airlines to work only for me, owing to the sheer exchange of coins left behind by impatient travellers in airport corners of my stores. Finally I bought out for myself even the companies specializing in the rapid delivery of small cash. Where there were no airports I used to pour small nickles on my customers out of big rubber bags, which for them always was the prime and unexpected attraction. People are children, and this lottery that I organized unevenly but still regularly, attracted them as a magnet. There were more and more of those who decided to camp around my stores, waiting for weeks for the money from the sky. However, the most persistent were not the most rewarded. The merits are being shared in my accounts differently.
Everything was owned by the anonymous company, US of FS, which was, of course, ruled by my firm hand. The business spread so wide that after a few months I was in posession of a whole army of managers, market and finance advisers, executives and section managers, not to mention the whole net of distributors. Within a year, some of the smaller states on the edge of the planet became completely dependent on me. Soon the same happened to the big ones. The entire branches of their economies worked to satisfy the needs of their citizens; however, these citizens shopped in my stores. At times it was difficult to persuade regional leaders that their interests lay in renunciation of a part of their sovereignty. If the question "is sovereignty edible?" appeared to them not persuasive enough, more efficacious, "tender" methods were bribery and threats. When it came to powers that considered themselves more global, I had to assure them that I was still in possesion of secrets I had no intention to renounce if everything was all right.
In time I connected some of the big oases of duty-free trade with modern highways that wound between the states and attracted both the shoppers and those who were just ordinary tourists. My idea of seeing all the states in one trip literally came into being. Ordinary people were glad to see more than they could before for the same money. On the contrary, as the demand increased, the offer became more reasonable. The highway network I drew upon the planet spread further than the networks of the most developed states. When some of the advanced but tiny dukedoms and principalities offered to join the US of FS, the whole rush of similar demands came from middle and big democratic states. In many Euro-Asian, Pacific and Atlantic capitals people came out into the streets and refused to go home before the national referendum on that issue was promised to them. I had to take care that some of the largest strikes (in which the international solidarity proved an effective thing) did not penetrate into my chains of production and distribution. Since Anonymous Society (S.A.) functioned globally, it was not much of a problem to remove the reserves, although not effortlessly, and prepare myself for something I have mostly been talking myself into. I say "mostly," because human nature can act in an unexpected manner; in it there was some spontaneity which I thought long lost in the past of this hard, dumb and so predictable planet.
Various problems came up. Many of them I solved as they came, but some were of the structural kind. The imminent spontaneity of human nature meant not only the human need of abundant freedom, but also crime, murder, robbery. At first I could solve these problems in agreements with local authorities, whose police squads would come whenever summoned by my people to take away the guilty. Later on, I simply had to establish the secret forces of order. Shop assistants were trained to do that kind of job, which my shoppers liked very much; they admired the fact that there was no police force on my territory and yet order was preserved. Of course, I had to pay off the dangerous gangs, some of them in advance - justice always joins hands with a dose of power. The press, which, except in the beginning, was not swept away by my enterprises, attacked me maliciously off and on. I got a bad reputation owing to certain shares I bought.
Nevertheless, once the publicity is in your control, you attract its eye, since it most gladly stares at things that are none of its business. Hell raisers of all kinds appeared in the states which I predicted to be oases of danger in my global net. The uprisings broke out, whereas - horribile dictu! - the fashion of secret, underground television spread more and more. That started when some disheveled and repulsive dudes found a way to activate the relays and the subterranean ex towers. Up there you can cut them, disturb their signals and suffocate them, but not the molehill of images spreading under the soil, stones, and even water. As my experts showed to me, the whole intestinal network grew out under the big boards which support the continents. All my attention, efforts and activities focused upon the destruction of chaos and insanity, in which the remaining so called independent states ardently assisted, could not stop the disaster which reckoned with human curiosity. My supreme manager started suggesting the return of the hateful machines on the market. They told me that it is better to join them than to wave hands in the air like a Don Quixote. The dismissal of workers, and the more draconian measures I introduced, were of no avail. On my desk grew piles of reports saying that many parts of S. A. acted against my directions and decrees, against my global power, that is - against me. My old friend Captain Hook, who had followed me in all my enterprises and whose loss of an eye, an arm, an ear, and all his teeth, had been adequately compensated (I bought for him the best steel teeth ever; their clang always makes me shudder), suggested an old and tested solution: putting all the authority in one's hands.
I stand at a turning point. While I was sipping my favourite bourbon this morning, behind a shelf in the huge office in my Eastern residence a curtain accidentally fell off and I saw something I could not at first recognize. Its lower half was made up of all human parts - feet, knees, and thighs. The upper part of it was a cluster of cords. Instead of a head, this thing had a monstruous combination of tubes, insulators, and tentacles. It looked like a beetle and shivered with fear before my astounded eyes. I jumped and seized the part of the thing which would be the neck on a normal person. My grip grew stronger with my desperate insight. "I cannot explain how the cameraman broke in and came all this way through," the head of my security confessed humbly while his deputies were arresting him. "The beetle," I said. "They pass even through invisibility."
I was left alone; now I am finishing the second bottle of bourbon. I have already signed the decree of the general state of emergency. I will suspend all the institutions and the regular civil rights. I will take over the authority on the whole planet. Thus S. A. comes out in the limelight. What then? I am not for the US of FS anymore, and it has been for a long while the only form of authority I was ready to invest my life in, be it my real or my so called life. In fact, I am good for nothing. The picture of me strangling the cameraman with my bare hands, made a moment ago, has already travelled across the world. He had managed to emit it before I crushed him. The nations around grin at my swollen face and pale cheek. I have to do it by myself, from the very beginning, at the point where I thought that the end finally came.