An Ode to Fake News: The Life and Adventures of Baby Andrija
Andrija and I were born in the same city. Some forty years of distance and everything they had brought about determined our different fates.
My childhood was cheerful and calm. The “Dragan Kovačević” kindergarten – the central preschool institution in Nikšić at the time – and its beautiful yard just behind my building were the perfect sanctuary for a boy. And yet, every once in a while, sadness and gloom would come over me at the sight of Dragan’s bust. He had been killed at the age of almost 15, the kindergarten teachers used to tell us, during the break-out from enemy encirclement in the Battle of the Sutjeska. The son of the great Nikola Kovačević had died on the same day as his uncle Sava, and a dozen of their closest relatives.
Andrija’s childhood is different. He was born in a time of turmoil, confusion and the pandemic. Like all other children today, he has been prevented from going to kindergarten so that the society might get rid of this dangerous virus as soon as possible.
The knowledge of the police torture and brutality against baby Andrija hit me like a bolt from the blue. It’s the same people who had killed Dragan, I thought. I was so angry, I admit I could have killed for this.
And another shock followed. Later, while I was looking through the footage of the Nikšić riots, I noticed a pair of familiar eyes in the crowd. A woman pushing a baby stroller there in the front rows. Branka. Andrija’s mother.
As inappropriate as this might sound, for a moment I felt just like when Branka and I used to exchange glances in the high school’s backyard. Those furtive glances, carried by the tunes of Marin Mišo Limić and his band Stijene. Zorica Kondža singing that R’n’R… The way glances are sometimes exchanged between a senior and a freshman.
Branka was stately and proud, all steeped in her principles. She was pious, yet somehow gracious about it. She didn’t mind that I didn’t care much about religion – such were the times and our family circumstances. Alas, something else came in our way, I forget what, but we did not go further than those glances.
I continue reading Facebook posts – even the elected representatives of the people have been writing about it – while chaos explodes in my head: pepper spray in his mother’s eyes, Andrija’s stroller pushed and toppled. Some of the more composed participants came to help, but were stopped by the police. Again brutally. My heart pounds like crazy, I am in a haze of sorts and can almost hear baby Andrija muttering: “Ustashas, Ustashas”. I am unable to get the image of the injured baby boy (a hero, just like Dragan) and the sound of his crying out of my head. What kind of people beat up a baby in a stroller? Fortunately, some other, better people called an ambulance to help the mother and child. The worst has been avoided.
I was no less furious when I saw some people writing that the photo of the injured Andrija was a lie. Raskrinkavanje.me – truth-lovers, my arse! I quickly checked – the CIA – they didn’t even bother to hide it. Making up the news, and then debunking it for money. Filthy, see-through cons. Like the ones from Sutjeska who killed Dragan, I thought… No, even worse, because those people at least had some morals of their own. Here I recognized some familiar faces from Nikšić. “Dreadful are the roads to be taken to make money out of conviction”, Arsen Dedić’s lyrics playing on the radio helped me define the issue at hand.
While thinking about what to do, I was interrupted by the next song on the radio:
“I said to myself, what a nice junkie, I’m going to talk to Branka,
Let’s have a drink, you strange but funny man”.
I gave a harsh laugh and sprang into action… For Andrija! PS: The actual fake news that was spread about the injured baby boy is less extensive than our fictional account, but all the “facts” regarding the “fate” of the child and his mother have been taken literally from the accounts that proliferated this “content”. Moreover, the allegations about us and other colleagues who debunk fake news have been taken over from several online fake news proliferators.