Mil Vukovic recalls some speeches from her life.
I witnessed a lot of political speeches in my early life. I say witnessed rather than heard because I remember them taking place in front of me but I cannot recollect any of their content. Our school choir was best in town so we were asked to sing at all major city events to mark various revolutionary and war anniversaries and national holidays. We were accompanied either by a harmonica or entire military orchestra.
The running order was set – a song or two at the beginning, then possibly a dramatic recital, a speech and then a closing song. The speech was the centrepiece. Often delivered by a local politician or even a military person, they could have lasted between 40-60minutes. To me they differed in only one aspect – whether we could sit down during the speech or were forced to stand up throughout. The latter was obviously a very unpleasant experience and as such memorable. Not to mention that we had to be absolutely still and silent, like a frozen backdrop. Probably one of the reasons I don’t remember any details of those speeches was because they never delivered any news or opinion. They were always typed on many pages and read out loud in a static monotone. The body of the speech-deliverer was neither the message nor the messenger but mere static carrier. We, children, knew it, and we endured it.
Many years later my professional career took me to the annual conferences of the UK’s three major political parties. The conference season starts with Liberal-Democrats, followed by Labour and ends with the Conservative Party Conference. An inexperienced conference goer, I burned my energy quickly during the first leg of the season and by the time we got to the Labour Party Conference I was already feeling exhausted and feverish. Still, the excitement of attending the conference of the party of government at the time kept me going for the next two days. But my immune system gave up on the day of the key event of any conference season – the leader’s speech. Once again I was engulfed by the detachment from the body of speech. While Tony Blair was delivering his famous “Education, education, education” line I was in bed glued to the TV sneezing with temperature in a guest house at the back of Brighton Media Centre. Back in London I managed to see Blair at the Despatch Box. My memory escapes me again regarding the content. But I remember watching from the Visitors’ Gallery his whole body being in a light spasm stemming all the way from his feet as if being in a very slight relevé’. I felt finally connected or as Blair said in that conference speech: “To be in touch is to be in sympathy.” In this case I would add, in sympathy with the body.
Tony Blair speaking of the ‘tingling apprehension’ before PMQs in his last appearance as the Prime Minister at the Dispatch box.
Born in former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Mil Vukovic is London based double agent working as a policy and communications professional and dance artist and choreographer. Her current choreographic interest is concerned with uselessness of dance.