To all our readers and friends in Dubrovnik: keep your children and household pets indoors today. Dick Cheney is in town.


The rebirth of irony?

This blog will be one of the least timely to remark on the long-running response to the impressively vicious performance by Stephen Colbert at the White House correspondents' dinner last week. This is a yearly event where journalistic insiders slap backs with their sources, and timid humor is traded in the name of appearing to be self-effacing.

Colbert broke the rules, brilliantly: he is a comedian who self-consciously pretends to be a right-wing ideologue, and was speaking to a roomful of people who unconsciously pretend not to be. Video of his performance is available at several spots, including this one. The correspondents' jaws dropped while the president's teeth clenched, and while his routine was ignored by major media (who preferred a tepid routine where Bush exchanged spoofs of his own illiteracy with a lookalike), it has been widely feted in the political blogs.

Was it a comic routine that went over the heads of its audience? A critical moment showing that a comedian is the last person left to speak truth to power? A provocation with unanticipated results? I was impressed, myself -- it seemed like a rare sign of life from a media culture that too often seems to be drowning its own unique blend of blandness and vulgarity. Much of the discussion I have seen of the event has seemed rather predictably pro or contra, but there is a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion on the wonderful Radio Open Source, hosted by Chris Lydon. It is available to be downloaded for your listening pleasure.


I have just heard on B92, no written articles to link to yet, that Miroljub Labus has given his resignation as deputy premier in the Serbian government, giving as his reason the suspension of accession negotiations with the EU because of the most recent failure to arrest and extradite a prominent genocide indictee whose name everyone knows. He will also recommend, in the spirit of gestures which appear to be a compromise but are in fact pointlessly self-defeating, that his mysterious disappearing party G17+ withdraw its ministers from the government but continue to support the government in parliament.

If any interesting articles on this appear, I will add some links below.

Here is B92's news report, with comments.

Coming: Another war crimes trial

Domestic prosecutors in Croatia are waiting for a decision on the lifting of immunity (expected in seven days), and will then be charging Branimir Glavaš with war crimes against the civilian poulation around Osijek committed in 1991 and 1992.

Update: The commentary by Dragan Antulov (Drax to his many fans) is the lead item at Index.hr.

Inspirational pizza-related thought for the day

The next time you make pizza, instead of making a tomato sauce, try just slicing a few onions very thinly and carmelizing them in olive oil, adding a bit of paprika or rosemary at the end. Spread the carmelized onions over the dough like you would the sauce, and then add whatever you like to add on top. You will be delighted by the result.


Lifers imitate artists

Probably few people would have heard of the film director Slobodan Praljak if he had not received wide international publicity in another role, as the commander of the forces which destroyed the monumental bridge in Mostar. The Internet Movie Database lists three films under his credits (two of which are documentaries from 1990), in addition to a bit part as "himself" in the 1995 documentary The death of Yugoslavia, where he appeared alongside some much better-known performers. The Croatian film database lists just one film, Povratak Katarine Kožul from 1989. I have not seen the film and do not know much about it, but it would appear to have been a serious production: screenplay cowritten with Abdullah Sidran, soundtrack by Arsen Dedić, and a cast which includes some very well respected actors. Unless there is some important information missing, though, it would appear that Mr Praljak's film career was brief and not much celebrated.

Now he believes that he has the opportunity to find a new audience, though. AFP is reporting today (sorry, I don't have a link) that he "intends to show four movies he directed in order to prove his innocence" as a part of his defence before ICTY, where he is accused of war crimes. These would appear to be more documentaries (docudramas, perhaps?) where he is playing "himself," and AFP's description specifies "In one film Praljak, portraying himself, depicts his role in preventing a group of soldiers intending to kill imprisoned enemies. In another he calms an armed Muslim who enters his office demanding compensation for his destroyed house." The reviews will be an unusual format, but then depending on how one counts, showing four films at ICTY will either double or multiply his potential audience. He has already offered the Tribunal his views on ethnonational physics.


"First, we believe that suing our fans is destructive and hypocritical"

Here is what Steven Page, known as the frontman for the Barenaked Ladies, has to say about the response by a group of Canadian artists to the efforts by record labels to limit the use of music. Thanks to Boing and Boing.


Every few months we gather round and uncork a nice kratošija to mark the passing of yet another deadline for the arrest of Ratko Mladić. This one came and went much like the previous ones, except the weather was pleasanter and the rumours planted in the media less interesting. Last time around we had the image of special forces (not) surrounding [choose one or more of the following] a) mountain chalets, b) apartments hidden in the jungles of Novi Beograd, c) border regions of Macedonia, or d) the Russian Federation. This time all we have is the arrests of a few vojnih lica, with promises of more as long as they are either retired, from RS, or if possible both. This is all the same to Mladić, who by now is well used to other people facing difficulties on his behalf.

Now, nothing characterizes politics in Serbia better than inertia. Inertia (I have learned from my daughter) describes not only the tendency of immobile objects to remain immobile, but also the tendency of an object moving in a straight line to continue moving in a straight line. This is one reason that I think that the arrest will be coming (no prediction when) after all: the decision by the European Union to tie the continuation of negotiations on accession to progress on this arrest has set in motion a chain of events which has forced even the Serbian government to behave as though it has some responsibility for the future of the state. But the longer it takes, the less it will matter.

A thesis about transitional justice: it matters to the extent that it is about marking a break between one political order and a new one, which uses the opportunity to characterize its relationship with the previous regime, the nature of its commitment to the rule of law, and the values that distinguish it from its predecessor. To the extent that it is about taking certain individuals and slowly moving them from hiding places to places of confinement, it loses its symbolic appeal as quickly as the people to be moved lose their influence over the day to day fates of the people around them. For some time people asked (although they largely knew the answer) "where is Ratko?" Increasingly people outside a few small, interested cliques are asking (probably more than a little disingenuously) "who is Ratko?" By the time a trial gets under way, if it gets appreciable publicity at all, there may be little interest in the answers it offers to the question "what was Ratko?" A corrolary to the thesis: transitional justice is only transitional if it takes place quickly enough to influence transition. By the time the restoration begins, transitional justice is mostly a long process of lightening a bit of ballast.

In this respect, the interrupted trial of Slobodan Milošević will probably have the net result of damaging future efforts. It is not that there is any overwhelming sympathy for the departed indictee: the desultory sendoff he got shows that well enough. Rather, the long and inconclusive process has come to symbolize a whole set of blocked or diverted initiatives from October 2000 onward: from political and economic reform, to the rebuilding of regional relationships, to the reanimation of public institutions, to the fading of the nineties-vintage criminal elite, to this, there is an inescapable sense of incompleteness and futility.

The question will always remain open as to whether more direct means of settling accounts might have had a greater effect at least in the short term. My inclination is to dismiss such talk as a retrospective fantasy of revenge. More to the point, as observed long ago by old Mr Yeats, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." The more that setbacks and delays contribute to general disillusion and resignation, the easier the job for the folks who are waiting in the wings and plotting their return. This little story, recurring every few months, is just one of the more visible symptoms.

Form over content

It was time to give East Ethnia a new look, wasn't it? Lacking the technical ability to create a design of my own, I used somebody else's -- using this neat tool called PsycHo, which allows you to input preferences and get ready-to-use code! There are still some things I need to figure out, and of course there are links to be restored, but this should be done over the next few days. There should be a bit of time then to get up to speed with a little content, as well.