across the Balkans, after almost a decade of bloodshed and vengeance
that killed as many as 125,000 people in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The noted Serbian visual artist Milica Tomic, for
one, is concerned. She calls the statues "a dangerous joke in which
history is being erased and replaced by Mickey Mouse."
In Medja, a farming village about 12 miles from
Zitiste near the Romanian border, city officials are frantically
lobbying to raise money to erect a bronze statue of Tarzan. The
statue will pay homage to Johnny Weissmuller, the actor and Olympic
swimmer. Residents say he was born in Medja in 1904 and proudly show
off his birth certificate at City Hall. When he was a baby his
family emigrated to the United States. There, he went on to global
stardom playing the loin-clothed ruler of the apes and booming out
his distinctive ululating yell.
On a hill in the war-torn city of Mostar, Bosnia,
divided by an Ottoman bridge separating Bosnian Croats on one side
and Bosnian Muslims on the other, a bronze and gold-plated statue of
the actor Bruce Lee was recently erected by a group of activists.
They aim to bridge the ethnic divide by paying homage to a man who
brought cultures together and embodied the fight for justice.
The statue is now in storage after its bronze
weapons were vandalized. Both Croats and Muslims complained that the
likeness of Mr. Lee, a martial arts icon, was a provocation because
he was pointed at them in an aggressive martial pose. This prompted
his creators to rotate the statue in a neutral direction.
And in Cacak, southwest of Belgrade, plans are
under way to build a statue of a former topless model, Samantha Fox,
a Briton who recorded the hit song "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" and
who captured local imaginations when performing in the town.
Officials boasted that the statue would be larger than Rocky, but so
far the only sign of Ms. Fox's likeness is an empty pedestal in a
local art gallery, with the word "rumors" written on it.
Here in Zitiste, the statue of any figure from the
United States, no less such an iconic all-American film character as
Rocky, would seem an incongruous presence. The United States, after
all, led the NATO bombing campaign in 1999 after the Serbian
strongman Slobodan Milosevic defied international pressure and
clashed with the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo.
But Bojan Marceta, a 28-year-old local cameraman
who raised 5,000 euros (about $7,300) to commission the statue, said
Rocky was a universal hero and far more deserving of respect than
Serbia's own recent leadership.
"Nobody from the wars of the 1990s or from the
former Yugoslavia deserves a monument, because all our leaders did
was to prevent us from progressing," said Mr. Marceta, who
celebrated the unveiling of the statue in August with fireworks at a
public concert. "My generation can't find role models so we have to
look elsewhere. Hollywood can provide an answer."
On a recent day, as a group of local children
looked up at Rocky's bronze six-pack abdomen and giggled, Mr.
Marceta said the nearly 20-foot-tall statue - created by a Croatian
artist and financed in part by a local chicken farmer - was a cry
for attention from a place the world had forgotten.
That cry has been heeded, at least for now. Dozens
of television crews from as far away as Japan have descended on the
town. Even Sylvester Stallone sent the people of Zitiste a personal
video message from the jungle set of the latest Rambo film,
expressing joy that his character continued "to have an impact in
Not all of Zitiste's citizens are convinced.
"I don't like Rocky - it has nothing to do with
this town, and the money could have been spent on something we need,
like a new school," said a retired farmer, Buka Sandor, 70,
furrowing his brows. "We are just showing off."
In Medja, Tarzan's soon-to-be new home, Dragan
Pusara, an assistant to the mayor, said he hoped that the brawny
likeness of the town's native son, Johnny Weissmuller, would bring
luck and investment to Medja, after devastating floods.
He said Tarzan was a fitting icon for Serbs
because Tarzan had been put in the jungle with nothing and, against
all odds, managed to survive. Tarzan, he added, would transcend the
ethnic divisions of Medja - home to Serbs, Hungarians and Serbs of
German descent - because "he belongs to everyone."
"After World War II, hundreds of displaced people
arrived here with their families and one piece of luggage, and they
needed to be strong to survive just like Tarzan," he said.
Whatever the opinions of local residents about
their new Hollywood talisman, some sociologists explain the
glorification of nonpolitical Hollywood icons as the outgrowth of an
identity crisis after the wars of the 1990s, when the lines between
oppressors and victims were blurred.
When a Belgrade municipal authority recently
appointed a jury of artists and intellectuals to commission a
monument to the victims of the wars of the 1990s, the jurors could
not agree on whom to honor. Mileta Prodanovic, a Serbian writer and
painter who was on the jury, said the commission's failure reflected
the ideological vacuum left over from the time of Mr. Milosevic.
"These Hollywood monuments are a subversive
response" to the governments of that time, which they are mocking,
he said. "People realize that many of our soldiers in the wars of
the 1990s were criminals who stole, robbed and killed. So people are
searching for alternative role models and this is a healthy
rejection of nationalism."
But Ms. Tomic, who also served on the jury, said
she feared that these new heroes imported from films and popular
culture were just an excuse to avoid facing up to the bloody history
of the Balkans.
"This turning to Rocky or Tarzan is unhealthy and
dangerous," she said. "We need to find a way of representing our
grief, our responsibility and our despair. "Until we do that, Serbia
cannot come to terms with the present and the future."
Foto: Filip Horvat for The New York Times
Yo Adriatic! A statue of the inspirational
film character Rocky Balboa now graces the village square in sleepy