So, how did you realise your idea?
I must say, as I was getting ready, I didn’t have a single clue as to what will happen. I went to bed around midnight and set my alarm clock to 3:45, I think. Previously I packed a rucksack with only a couple of things – some dry biscuits to get through the day, research papers with the condition of each tree, empty paper, markers, petiton lists, some rope, and… well, that was it. I called a taxi from home, and went out. Oh, yeah, and I wore three layers of clothes, it was around and below zero degrees Celsius those days. On the road I stopped by a kiosk where I bought two bottles of water, and some newspapers, in case I had nothing to do.
But I guess you didn’t have time to read them.
True, I only had time to look at the front page. Anyway, I told the driver to take me to the Depot (small flea-market-style shopping centre on the Boulevard), where some of the trees had already been cut down, and from there I walked upwards with the research paper in my hand. I passed many trees before I even opened the research paper, and it somehow happened that I stopped by plane tree no. 198.
And the rest is history.
You can say that again – it seems like it’s been ages since then.
So, you chose the tree according to the research, right?
Yes. Although there was a large plane tree, approximately the same size and age as this one just up the street, which was, according to the research, perfectly healthy, but I didn’t go to it. I guess that would’ve been to easy… Moreover, the petition was formulated: “I ask that Plane Tree No. ____ in King Alexander Boulevard be given proper care as proposed in the research done by the Faculty of Forestry (01-152/1) on 10 January 2008.” There was no place or time to change that. And it turned out that this choice was good for more than one reason. So, I chose the tree, put my rucksack beside it, put on the vest and started to act upon my idea. It must’ve been around 4:15 by this time. I took the existing steel fences, four of them, with no markings or labels, and arranged the around the tree. I paid utmost attention to the arrangement, filling the gaps I created by rearranging the fences I left. They were quite bulky, too. I had to lift them with my forearms, like a forklifter. They left bruises for a week. I tied them together with some rope and wrote four pieces of paper saying: “These fences without labels were taken temporarily from public ground for the use of the protest and petition. Please do not remove them.” I put one on each fence.
Well, that trick definitively qualifies you as a lawyer. Did you manage to finish all that in time?
I guess timing was also crucial. Yes, I had just finished when the first patrol cars and felling teams’ trucks appeared and went past me. They started from the point where we tried to defend the trees the previous day. I was later told that a huge cordon gathered around those poor trees because they expected the protesters to be there – but only a couple of grannies came, or so I heard. My move was a complete diversion. Nobody knew what was going on, including myself.
Did the police notice you standing there?
Definitely. I saw them looking at me as they went past. Later, one of the protesters, also named Vladimir, who went to the site of the previous defence around seven told me he heard one policeman telling another: There’s a guy defending one single tree down at Đeram (green market near the tree).
So, he was the first one who came to see you that morning.
Actually, no, that was around seven, and I was there almost three hours prior to that. Around five there were three guys going home from a whole night’s partying, and they were the first to sign the petition. Simple passers-by.
How did the police react to your protest?
We politely greeted each other when they came. There were three policemen around me at first, with a stern posture but without any anger; some were even smiling. And not cynically. I emphasize all this because in the first two days, with all the protests and rage and shouting, both sides were quite bewildered, but not now. One of the cops with a more senior rank looked at the text on the fences, saying: “Nice, nice, it has some style in it.” There was another one, junior in rank although a bit older, who talked a bit more, saying he himself prefered the idea of planting new trees, or asking me for reasons of my protest, my profession, etc, sometimes more formal, sometimes more relaxed, and he ended with: “True, we have different opinions, and are on different sides, but you have my full respect for standing up for your beliefs, really.”
End of Part One 🙂