Madhouse couture: ultranationalists go fashion

The infamous Belgrade bar where war criminal Radovan Karadzic once drank Bear’s Blood wine and sang hymns to himself, opened its doors to an unusual fashion event, featuring Slobodan Milosevic, George W Bush, Condoleeza Rice and of course, Jesus and Judas

The kiss of Judas: Dr Dabic (left) and Serbian President Tadic

The weekend before Belgrade’s scheduled (and ultimately cancelled) gay pride parade, extreme right-wing group 1389 took a break from organizing violence against gay people by organizing its own fashion show. The venue for the event was Luda Kuca, an illegal bar located in a decrepit shack on the margins of New Belgrade. Luda Kuca means “madhouse”, an appropriate name for a venue willing to host a fashion event organized by neo-fascist street thugs.

In the “about us” section of their website, 1389 boasts about their “willingness to accept casualties for the sake of Serbia’s salvation.” It seems that whoever did Luda Kuca’s interior decorating shares the group’s 1990s fetish for violence and war. The bar is filled with framed photographs and psychedelic oil paintings of Serbia’s most notorious war criminals. A large portrait of General Ratko Mladic (extradited to the Hague earlier this year) in green army fatigues hangs on the wall opposite the bar. An imposing photograph of Slobodan Milosevic, looking square-jawed and purposeful, greets you on the way to the toilet. A framed portrait of Radovan Karadzic (also on trial in the Hague) in a clownish bow tie sits beside a row of sugar shakers. The only non-Serbs on display are Colonel Gaddafi and Che. Intensifying the whole unintentional horror movie vibe are the rows of grey apartment blocks next door, which are numbered in dripping red paint.

Karadzic/Dabic: Luda Kuca's poster boy. On the right, a smiling general Mladic takes off his cap

Until a few years ago, one of Luda Kuca’s regulars was Radovan Karadzic himself. Living disguised as a bearded new age guru and calling himself Dr. Dragan Dabic, the war criminal charged with genocide and crimes against humanity managed to escape detection for many years. While in hiding, he made his living as a vitamin sales rep and alternative medicine practitioner. Among Dr. Dabic’s more impressive practices was his technique for restoring fertility to infertile men by cupping their testicles in the healing palms of his hands. By day, Dabic rejuvenated sluggish sperm and healed the sick, at night, he drank Bear’s Blood wine at Luda Kuca and sang nationalist folk songs about himself accompanied by the gusle, a traditional Balkan instrument. In July of 2008, someone blew Karadzic’s cover, putting an end to the testicle healing and the sing-a-longs.

Perhaps the neo-fascists in 1389 were intuitively attracted to fashion. If fashion and ultranationalism seem like unlikely bedfellows, it’s worth reviewing 20th century history. The fashion industry has a long, embarrassing past with various fascist and right-wing movements. It is well established, for instance, that Coco Chanel spent the duration of WWII shacked up with a Nazi officer at the Ritz in Paris. It is also known that Balenciaga designed a wedding gown for Franco’s daughter, and that Dior amassed a fortune selling his clothes to the wives of high-ranking Nazis. Beyond the overlapping history, it isn’t hard to identify other parallels between fascism and the mainstream fashion industry: both share an obsession with youth and physical beauty, which in both cases can encourage conformity and the exclusion of undesirables.

Judaas, Juda-ah-ah! Take that, Lady Gaga (1389 YouTube still)

Yet 1389’s collection, like that of so many other dull young designers before them, is limited to a line of lame graphic t-shirts. Unlike most other young designers before them, 1389’s t-shirts are inspired by hate, homophobia and war criminal worship. The “fashion show” consists of a bunch of uncomfortable looking teenagers wearing stiff white t’s printed with images made using Photoshop.

1389’s frat boyish leader opens the show by talking about how great freedom-loving Luda Kuca is for hosting this important artistic event. Soon, the hollow-eyed models begin parading themselves in front of the eager crowd. Scenes depicted on the t-shirts include: film director Emir Kusturica sodomizing George W. Bush while Slobodan Milosevic watches, Condoleeza Rice sprawled naked on a couch with a spent Bush, and Serbian President Boris Tadic cheek to cheek with Dragan Dabic in a reimagining of Judas and Jesus.

The musical accompaniment is provided by an angel-faced young a capella singer who bungles the lyrics to a Russian hate anthem. But the skinheads and washed up Chetniks in the audience don’t even notice, so moved are they by the fashion show. Unfortunately for 1389, they’re the only ones. Despite the fact that the press release for the event states that the group expects “a great number of journalists to attend to report on the greatness of our artistic expression”, no one writes a single word about it anywhere. Right-wing groups may be on the rise in Europe, but on this Sunday in Belgrade, it becomes evident that only the drunken patrons of this illegal shack called the madhouse give a shit about ultranationalist fashion.