This morning I was at the OPIC conference downtown. OPIC is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and it would take a while to explain what that's all about, so never mind. The key thing here is that Romanian President Iliescu was giving a speech, so there was a lot of security. Metal detectors, people frisking you with wands, and guys in dark suits with the little radio thingies in their ears standing along the wall. For some reason it made me think of Belgrade in the fall and winter of 2001. At that time Claudia and I were living in central Belgrade, in a little apartment on a street called Dositiyeva. That's in the Dorchol neighborhood, which is right downtown, near Republic Square and the National Theater. It was a nice enough neighborhood and a nice enough street, but there was nothing special about it. Except that right around the corner lived a guy named Vojislav Kostunica, who at that time was President of Yugoslavia.
Kostunica had been a law professor, and he'd never made a lot of money. He lived in a little two-bedroom apartment in a pretty ordinary apartment building in a good but not great neighborhood. After he became President, he kept on living there. Part of this, I'm sure, was to continue to project the image of being a simple, honest man of the people. That was part of the reason people voted for him: because they were sick of Milosevic's arrogance and corruption. But part, I think, was because he was a conservative sort of guy, and stubborn, and just didn't feel like changing his ways. Anyhow, because he didn't want to move, the security had to come to him. So every day I would leave our apartment and walk around the corner and there would be two security vehicles, parked right in front of Kostunica's apartment building. (Which was literally two doors away from us -- one building down, turn a corner, cross the street.) What made this interesting was that there were two completely distinct sets of security for him: the white jeep guys and the blue Toyota Camry guys. The white jeep guys sat in a big white jeep, and they were goofs. They spent all their time smoking and reading magazines. Sometimes they rolled the windows down and started conversations with pretty girls who were passing by. They always had the radio on. I never actually saw them sleeping, but sometimes they'd be obviously and visibly bored, slumped in their seats, morosely nursing a cigarette, staring vacantly out the windows. Mostly, though, they read the sports pages of the newspaper; it really seemed like they spent several hours each day doing that. After a while I started waving hello to them. They always waved back. I think they welcomed any diversion, however trivial. The blue car guys were something else again. They wore dark suits and they sat in a blue car with tinted windows. I think it was a Toyota Camry, though I couldn't swear for sure now. It was a nice car, anyhow, but sort of nondescript. And the guys inside never moved, so it took a few weeks before I even realized they were there. When I did, I started watching them. They didn't play the radio. They didn't smoke. They didn't read the newspaper. And they never rolled down the window to yell greetings to pretty girls. They just... sat. Sat in that car and watched. I never even considered waving to the blue car guys. Obviously these were two sets of bodyguards, but who was hiring which? The Republic of Serbia vs. Federal Yugoslavia? Municipal Belgrade police vs. Secret Service? The military? I never found out. Eventually Yugoslavia liquidated itself (it's "Serbia and Montenegro" now, with both countries having an option to leave after 2006). His country having disappeared, Kostunica lost his job and became a private citizen for a while. The goofy guys in the white jeep went somewhere, and the motionless watchers in the blue car went... somewhere else. But lately Kostunica has won election as Prime Minister of Serbia. And he's still living in that apartment. I wonder if they're all back again?