Steffan Chirazi
Krist Novoselic
Publisher Title Transcript
Kerrang! Nevermind The Bosnians… Yes

NIRVANA bassist CHRIS NOVOSELIC should be hanging out in Seattle enjoying his new-found fame and fortune - but he's not. The man with the Croatian heritage has instead been visiting the war-torn hell of the former Yugoslavia. STEFFAN CHIRAZI takes dispatches from the front…

In the last week of January this year, Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic took a six-day trip to Zagreb in Bosnia-Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia). Novoselic's family roots lie in this troubled and turbulent area. This story is from an interview conducted with Novoselic about the visit and the charity for which Nirvana subsequently did a show in San Francisco, the Tresnjevka Women's Group.

"The whole issue of the Bosnia-Herzegovina War is something I've been following since it started back in '91," says Chris.

"A few months ago I met Bob Guccione Jr from Spin (US 'alternative culture' magazine), and he said, 'Hey, you should do a story about the whole thing we'll fly you over', which was great. I went over and met a lot of relief groups, and one of them was the Tresnjevka Women's Group, who help victims of rape.

"Tresnjevka is trying to form a structure to help these women. They are totally a volunteer group; they do their nine-to-five jobs, plus help Western relief organisations channel their aid, and I was astonished at their energy. I thought I should do something about it.

"So, with my position, putting on a show was the most natural thing to do. I had gone to a refugee centre, and was just at a loss. It scrambled my brain; people everywhere sleeping on mats, lining up for food - people stuck in limbo with nothing to live for, chased out of their homes. Everybody has a horrible story to tell. It was unbelievable.

"When I got home to Seattle, it took me four days to readjust. We live in this utopia, comparatively. People here get active, then go home at night, watch TV and have dinner, make their house payments, their car payments… and this was an epic situation, an enormous eye-opener.

"It's shocking, the violation that many of these women have to endure, and the children that are born of rapes - a lot of women die from multiple rapes. There's a sense of astonishment at the inhumanity of the men who perpetrate these crimes - I mean, how they could get aroused or anything?"

He sighs, exasperated even thinking about it.

Did Novoselic try to see that side of the war, the savage, male-animal side?

"No - they would have killed me because I'm Croatian. Rape is a war crime, so no one would've admitted to it. I was gonna travel around Croatia, but then the Croatians mounted an offensive and things got ugly. I know if I had gotten into the wrong hands, they'd have seen my last name and figured where I was from."

Novoselic was to make a yet more sinister discovery.

"Most of the women who are raped don't come out into the open, due to cultural pressures. There have been instances of the men killing these women, because of the shame they've brought on their family.

"The whole situation over there is chaos. People are struggling to survive, let alone get counselling for rape and abortions, that's how dire it is. Women aren't speaking out because they're taught not to speak out; that's why we're supporting this women's group.

"The men regard the women's role as staying at home, having children, keeping house, and now there's a total system breakdown - they treat women like dogs, and are violating, raping and murdering them.

"These problems won't go away when the war stops. Women will be coming out who hadn't come out from rapes years and years before, so they hopefully will be able to get counselling."

Women's rights are taking a battering in this so-called 'progressive' era: the Pro-Life movement's turning up the radical heat all the time. Novoselic is aware of all this, but can still see light at the end of the tunnel.

"I try to be aware of things. Women are making strides, but there's still a long way to go."

The abortion issue is one that Novoselic has strong feelings about.

"In the last Presidential election, the lines were pretty much drawn: Bush represented the anti-abortionists and Clinton the pro-abortionists - and Clinton got elected.

"I think a lot of people are pro-choice - there's a silent majority. I mean, abortion is a convenient thing, and we live in a convenient society. It's a shame that women should have to have abortions, but it's their bodies, and their right to do that. I'm never gonna bear a child, so I don't have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. It's too bad we can't push more sex education or contraception out there to help."

Does Novoselic feel that the Western media purposely minimalises coverage of these issues?

"It depends what media you take in; there's a lot of issues they try and cover, but they still have to get their commercials in there too. People have short attention spans, so everything's kinda kept down to exciting little soundbites. The media aren't totally blameless for that state of affairs."

Of course, it must make Novoselic happy that the media will talk to him, and print his views about this whole issue, simply because of Nirvana's fame?

"What we're basically doing is exploiting the media and the profile we have in the public eye, but in a positive way."

Some might say that's simply making yourself feel good about doing something 'right on'.

"Yeah, it does make me feel good… and what's the point of being successful if you can't make something good out of it? There are lots of people who don't use their position to say anything - although there again, our band is first and foremost a simple Rock band.

"I personally am involved in a lot of issues, but I don't wanna play the rock 'n' roll pundit! I don't wanna be the guy who has something to say on every issue and play every benefit, cos that just isn't right. I'm not mentally capable of it - I'm just a bass player in a band, who thinks that the general public is apathetic about what's going on in the world.

What issues were there on tour that you saw, which would've otherwise escaped your attention?

"Going to South America and seeing polluted rivers and shanty towns, going to Eastern Europe and seeing thick coal smoke choking the streets and settling on buildings, London having such horrible air quality… It's not good management at all!

"I just got some property down in South-West Washington State, and a timber company wants to spray the existing trees and kill them, so that fir trees can grow instead. All those chemicals will get into the water and of course affect the wildlife - the birds, elk, coyotes…

"It's short-term profit - that's the only motivation. It's cheaper to throw the stuff in the river than to treat it, or to implement technology that bypasses the antiquated system in the first place."

The nice thing about the San Francisco benefit show (organised by Novoselic following his visit) was that it hit a large audience, many of whom didn't know anything about the Bosnia-Herzegovina situation.

"That's a really idealistic approach, but the bottom line was to raise money. It's a show that Nirvana, Disposable Heroes, The Breeders and L7 did, and instead of keeping the money it'll go to bring relief to the rape victims.

"There's all kinds of idealistic things. Maybe some kids will walk past who don't really think about those things, but they'll think it's cool and maybe something will come out of it maybe they'll start getting active. That's the total best scenario.

"I'm sure there are people who went just to have a good time - and that's fine, they have every right to do that. At least we got their money too…"

© Steffan Chirazi, 1993