Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The state flower of Arkansas is Pyrus coronaria, known to you and me as the apple blossom. It is known as "The natural state," and its state songs are "Arkansas" and "Oh Arkansas." It is home to the Razorbacks, was once home to the Glaciercats, whose place was taken by the also defunct RiverBlades and is still home to the (what else?) Arkansas Travellers. At one time it was home to the Arkansaurus fridayi, but now the state mammal is the white-tailed deer, while as far as I know there is no state reptile.

The official state siledžija, although he was armed and financed by another state entirely, is the late Željko Ražnatovic, known to many as Arkan. About this last one, my friend Chris Stewart has just published a biography. I saw an earlier version of the text, and found it to be one heck of a story. Maybe you will enjoy it too.


Please allow him to introduce himself

With what sense of awe I saw his head
towering above me! For it had three faces;
one was in front, and it was fiery red;

the other two, as weirdly wonderful,
merged with it from the middle of each shoulder
to the point where all
converged at the top of the skull

with apologies to the great John Ciardi


Mixing it up

Larisa Ranković, known to us all as author of La Lara and Yahti, has a new blog on media, Media Mix. Add it to your bookmarks and enjoy.

Department of electoral antipromises

Hey, Tomislav Nikolić has a great idea! Wouldn't everyone love a Russian military base?

Where I come from they call it "cioppino," and not "halaszle"

Is it really the case that Riblja čorba is skupina non grata in Banja Luka? Is there a bizarre parallel with the case of another person who, back in the days of early frost, was in another group with Mr Čorba?


Primavera di bellezza

The image here is from the promotional material on the flap of a book. Unless you either a) follow political satire regularly, or b) are a confirmed member of the far-right establishment, you have not heard of the book. The title of the book is Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. If you have a passing knowledge of history, then you already know that Mussolini was not an American leftist, and that this can be taken as a sign of the cluelessness of the book's author. And who is this author? Chances are you have not heard of him either: one Jonah Goldberg, target of a variety of comically insulting nicknames, son of a minor literary agent who became the not so secret inside source in former president Bill Clinton's sex scandal, and recipient of a series of sinecures in the system fondly known as "wingnut welfare," whereby extremists are guaranteed an income and institutional support regardless of the (stunning) modesty of their talents or their (catastrophic) records of failure (e.g., Doug Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush).

I have not read the book and do not expect to read it. Life is too short for tasteless meals, bad books and ill-fitting shoes. Some other folks have been reading it with much of the expected hilarity that comes from the wide gap separating the author's sense of his own intellectual scope from the evidence available on the page.

Still, the line from the flap copy struck me: "The quintessential liberal fascist isn't an SS stormtrooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore." You will probably neither know nor care why the author thinks he knows so much about (at least female) grade-school teachers. But he certainly knows nothing about education. At Swarthmore College, and I suspect also at Brown as at every other institution in the region, a student cannot get an education degree. They can major in a recognised discipline with an accompanying concentration in education, after which, if they want to teach in a public school, they will take another programme to get an education certificate. The reason for this is state policy: education boards do not want to hire teachers with education degrees, but teachers who have demonstrated mastery of an empirical field in addition to receiving a separate education qualification (private schools will take teachers without the education certificate, but require them to have a masters' degree). This fact is pretty much known to everyone who has worked in higher education or passed through one of its institutions, if they were paying attention.

Ordinarily it would not be a big deal for a person not to know about the undergraduate programme at a small college in Pennsylvania. And ordinarily posh institutions would be fair game (when I was an undergraduate at Swarthmore, people still remembered Spiro Agnew having called the place "the Kremlin on the Crum" -- but then at least Mr Agnew was not wholly ignorant, he knew the name of the creek that passes by the campus). But there are exceptions when: 1) a person is claiming omniscient knowledge he obviously does not have, 2) a person is building a whole theory on an insulting image that has no basis in fact, and 3) a person is making a sweeping characterisation of a group of people about whom he knows nothing.


New frontiers in advertising

Practitioner of the world's second-oldest profession Aleksandar Vučić must retain some influence of the days when he was in charge of censoring media. Here he coquettishly demurs to read the title of the book he is promoting to the hostess of the TV program which has, for some reason, invited him.

The book in question is by an author who has 214 entries in the catalog of Narodna Biblioteka Srbije. This means that: 1) he is rather more productive (fecund? logorrhaeic?) than your humble correspondent, and 2) a perusal of the list is bound to offer a couple of opportunities to give a bitterly ironic smile.


Shallow reflection on the passing of Ike Turner

Ike Turner was undoubtedly a bad person. But he was also a great musician.

So go figure.


Nostalgija za danas

Here is a nice view from Kališ, if you like it. Courtesy of the lads at Belgrade 2.0. There is good fish soup to be had in the direction the people in the photo are looking.

Њезин живот у иноземству

Could this correspondent's heartwarming satisfaction be related to the fact that she has found a home in London's midl-klas?

Update: In a freakier take on immigration today, what is with stories about swan theft? This is a new one.

Update II: Informed sources tell me that the legend about immigrants roasting the delectable swans of London's parks can be traced to another time and place -- Vienna in the 1950s, when it was launched against Roma from Romania. Apparently it makes its way to be used against people from Slovakia and Poland in London in the 1970s and 1980s, but these days it is a stereotype against Kosovo Albanians. As far as anyone knows, there is no evidence that anybody has ever actually nabbed and cooked a swan, regardless of the nationality of the person or birdie.

Scholarly insight of the day

A friend directs me to this gem. This is from the (English language) comments section of B92 news, povodom the testimony of the legendary political sociologist Anthony Oberschall in the trial of Vojislav Šešelj before ICTY:
A sociologist is a worthless job. You can find communist-leaning sociologists. Fascist ones. Feminist ones. Chauvinist ones, and so on, and the libraries have whole sections on their theories on society, and so many of them differ in their views. This is the first time I ever heard a sociologist giving evidence in so-called trial. The prosecutors are scraping the bottom of the barrel here because where else can evidence of someones opinion be used to convict someone? What a joke.
Professor Oberschall was engaged as a witness along with Yves Tomić (not a sociologist, but a good fellow all the same), who was identified by the court as "Ives Tomić" and by the accused as "Yves Thomas." Mr Šešelj has his own thoughts on the length of expert reports.


Nice guys finish

I do believe that this is the first time that Geoffrey Nice has spoken to the press at length about the Milošević trial on which he was lead prosecutor, his disappointments, what may have been harmful decisions in the construction of the indictment and presentation of evidence, and još mnogo štošta. The interview was carried out by Augustin Palokaj. Thanks to Lara and Andras.


Dušan Veličković is now the editor of Evropa magazine, and they have a stylish little online edition, with contributions by many of your favourite writers.

Q and A with East Ethnia

So, did you finally get your phone service?

Amazingly enough, I was ready to give up, to send a note to my friends at BT saying thanks for your effort but they were not sufficient to overcome your compulsion to constant repeated failure and let's drop it, I don't want to be your customer after all. Then I got back from my weekend away, and lo and behold, there was a working phone line in my flat! On a Sunday night, which means somebody worked after 5 on a Friday! Not a drop of the promised internet, but a working phone line, yes.

A weekend away? You did not simply stew in your misery?

Stew in my misery indeed. Friends from Leicester came to London where we watched a thoroughly mediocre theatre performance with friends from Canada, followed by a fine Turkish dinner. Then I made my first trip out of London to spend the weekend with them. Many gastropubs were sampled. The castle of Lady Jane was visited. There were places Azra would have enjoyed and places Lajoš would have enjoyed. Wine was drunk. Conversations were dragged out. It was delightful. A boy cannot do battle with bureaucracy day in and day out, you know. Harumph.

Gastropubs, you say?

It's some sort of English cultural thing. They're pubs, but they are operated by gastroenterologists. The effect on the customer is strangely reassuring.

You are getting a reputation as a battler with bureaucracy. Is this deserved?

It is undesired. What can I say, normal people get smacked with a hammer in the head, they fall unconscious. In me it awakens this nagon of persistence that must always be lurking behind my usual sybaritic laziness. This is probably a personality defect. Pure laziness would doubtless make me a more attractive human being. But then, without it, I would not have spent ages trying to figure out turbofolk, or three days making cassoulet, or most of the other things that are in the end sources of pleasure.

Dismissive of so many victories?

As my grandmother would say, victories schmictories, maybe it would kill them to do their job right.

So, is this it? Are your bureaucratic sagas done with, and can we hope that at some point you will give us something interesting to read?

This bureaucratic saga is not done with yet , sadly. I have a phone but no broadband. Then there is the whole matter of my seething dissatisfaction with Barclays bank. But I do sense an end to it, indeed. And this may do it for a while, but there will be additional bureaucratic treats for faithful viewers of Eastethnienders in the near future, including:

  • Getting visas and entry clearance for the rest of the family, and a nice British job for one distinctly non-British worker
  • Bringing a doggie onto this island which proudly claims (on the Defra web site, no less) to have been "rabies-free for a thousand years" (q.v. Miroslav Krleža)
  • Enrolling one brilliant girl into one excellent secondary school

But yes, indeed, I will promise you more material on Balkan politics. Heaven knows it is more fun to be known for writing about that than for whining about feckless agencies and corporations.

So, all this complaining, do you even like the UK?

Like it? The pubs have "guest ales." There is fresh salmon on every corner. The halal butchers have delicious lamb (shanks! get shanks!) and the posh ones have tasty critters every day. The comical radio broadcasts leave me delighted on a regular basis. There are dramatic radio broadcasts based on the Russian revolution in which the proletarian characters are given Northern accents ("Ere come the effin Mensheviks, blimey!"). There are fascinating things to read over people's shoulders on the Tube. How could I possibly fail to like the UK?

Well, all right then. Hope you will do.

Appy to do. Cheers, mate.


More BT: Reasonable people might ask, WTF?

Today was spent in constant contact with BT, which does not imply that contact with anybody else has been made possible. The story: on Tuesday, I am promised that service will certainly begin on Wednesday, a mere four weeks from the time when the order was placed. On Wednesday, the service does not begin. On Thursday, your humble correspondent sends an angry note to his friend at BT requesting a joint effort to prevent intervention by Ofcom (the question of why regulatory agencies in this country have all borrowed their names from cheesy Margaret Atwood novels may be addressed at some other time). Later in the day a promise is offered that the situation will be addressed sometime before your humble correspondent bids farewell to a drooling senility. On Friday morning, your humble correspondent is told that service may already have begun -- it has not. He is then told that engineers have located a fault somewhere in the distribution network and that the problem will be repaired without an engineer having to be let into his home. He decides that there is no point in waiting at home, and so heads off to the office. On the way out the door, there is an engineer having to be let into his home. He does his mumbo jumbo, leaves, comes back again, does some more mumbo jumbo, and assures your humble correspondent that although his number has been changed, he should have service now. The existence of a dial tone appears to confirm these claims. Your now enthusiastic correspondent tries to call his wife and daughter -- no such luck. He tries to call his own office to see whether the line is working -- no such luck. He tries to call his own number from the mobile to see whether it rings -- no such luck. He calls his friend at BT again, we will see.

Working hypothesis: belatedly picking up the spirit of rebranding that once led a previous government to try to remove from the landscape every single pretty thing, BT has decided to repackage itself as the one-act play that Franz Kafka never wrote.


BT phone home

So it seems that BT is now promising, but firmly and sweetly promising, that I will have phone and internet service tomorrow. With the proviso of course that sve što su u stanju da brkaju najverovatnije i hoće, majke im kraljevske. But when that milestone is reached it is entirely possible that this blog may receive regular updates once more.

In the meantime, how does a poor boy remain in touch with the world? It is not easy, but one way is by sitting in my office, where today I received a quick lesson in the comparative culinary thrills of London and New York from a well-versed student. Another is by leaving to get a sandwich from the student takeout place, where another student introduced me to the works of his very charming heavy metal band.


Hazmat, kompromat, agitprop and other names for short-lived dance music outfits

It has been a while since there was any point in commenting on anything in Glas javnosti, but here I just wanted to point out that although the author of this brilliant expose of the Hazar threat to the non-Hazar threatened gives his name as Vlada Sinđelić, this is clearly an invented name made by combining a mysterious word from a sign in front of a building in Kneza Miloša and the name of a bakery not far from the legendary Gvozden. This is probably confirmed by the initials of the author "Vlada Sinđelić" being given at the bottom of the text as "E.G." That could be Eoseph Goebbels perhaps, but it ain't me.


Is Veliki mokri lug the new Mali mokri lug?

You might as well ask whether Prague is Prague.

Games people play

For your daily dose of cultural anthropology of sport by Özgür Dirim Özkan, don't miss his new Bosnian Football Culture blog. Also available in Turkish.


What a silly Dzugashvili

The theme of next year's convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (yes, the acronym is what you think, but no, it is not pronounced that way) is "The Gender Question." This harks back to the legendary Eighteenth Congress of 1936 when they solved "The Woman Question" and made a great leap forward toward solving "The Nationalities Question." On each occasion, they received $64,000.


We apologise for the inconvenience .....

BT's promise that telephone and internet service would begin yesterday was of course not met.

Apparently similar issues have been faced by Cory Doctorow, Brian Turner, someone named Matt, and Bob Jones, along with, I am sure, countless others.


An explanation

As much as I would like to say that the reason there has not been any posting here is that I have been working so hard. While there has certainly been some work going on, this is not the reason. Rather it is that I am waiting for my friends at BT to bring the magic of telephone and internet to my gracious new home. This should be resolved within the next couple of days, and we should back with running commentary on the delights of the Balkans and the west Balkans very soon.


Livin' large with Eric

Eric is preparing to move into his small but stylish new flat tomorrow. Soon things will be finally out of suitcases, and sheets and towels will be purchased!


Oh yes, IFCCS

The site of the new Institute for Comparative Conflict Studies has now launched. I have worked with these fine people a little in some earlier programmes they did in the Balkans, and now they are setting out, ambitiously, with their own organisation. It's worth a look.


Prohujalo sa veprom

Wild boar is delicious. But it might be said that wild boar taken with automatic weapons is not really in the sporting spirit. Nor are many other elements of this story.


Golden bear and crno jagnje

Hurrah for ETF and my alma mater. It would be delightful to see more universities from all over the region doing this.


Ponovo su oduševljeni građani dočekali oduševljenog političara s oduševljenjem

Politika really needs to be congratulated for the rapidity with which it has settled right back into the role of a proper regime paper, not too loud and scandalous, but not too reliable either, at least as a source of factual information (by the same measure, of course, this makes it fantastic as a source of other types of information). The lead headline is increasingly a summary of what position good citizens are expected to advocate for the day, and occasionally one will run across gems like today's lead photo. It is captioned "applause for Milorad Dodik at the basketball game between Partizan and Barcelona in Belgrade." I see Dodik with his arm up and his pancetta out, but close as I look, I cannot see anybody applauding. Or is it visible only to the editors of Poltika, Tinkerbelle, and folks who really wish it?


Romantic story of the day

I went last night to a lecture, which was really pretty good. At the reception afterward, I met a young couple, both of whom are former students at my present institution. They said that they had met, and their understanding for one another deepened, when they were given the job of preparing a joint presentation on Stjepan Radić.


Glas gadosti

Since nobody reads Glas javnosti (what, no market for the respectable sister of Kurir?) I may as well point this out. Every few days they come out with a new installation of what the murderer and drug dealer Milorad Luković - Legija said. Or what their anonymous writers wish he said. In any case, the link invites online readers to buy a printed copy of the paper if they want to follow along.

No, I didn't think so either.


U kandžama druge zime or whatever

Although I am not an admirer of the prose of Marko Vidojković, this taste comes from a lack of delight with his aesthetic. I have not reached the conclusion that, apparently, much sillier people have, that his narratives and his commercial success are the result of a massive conspiracy to, erm, well, I can't be sure here, maybe to compel young people to enjoy novels that I enjoy much less than they do? To deflate the natural popularity of agitprop (never did an ersatz art form have a better name)? Better to let Ivan Čolović explain it, I'm sure.


Avoid cretinous people: Lessons of a life in decontextualised science

Say what, Dr Watson? The fellow who, together with Francis Crick, received a Nobel prize for writing up the research of Rosalind Franklin, wants to stay in the public eye until it notices him, then wants to run away. He has had several rounds of controversy over the years for such things as going around the world suggesting to people which pregnancies, in his opinion, ought to be terminated. This time he has really put his mitochondria in it too. Here is the passage behind the latest inflammation, from Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe's profile of Watson in last Sunday's Times:
He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody but Watson himself, the remarks resulted in charges of racism. Institutions in England, where he was on a speaking tour to promote his book Avoid Boring People: And Other Lessons from a Life in Science, have cancelled his appearances. Then he got booted from his job, and has now fled England with his vestigial tail between his legs.

So as my dear friend would say in response to this sort of situation (actually: almost any situation), WTF? These are ideas that have been abandoned by everyone except a few professional provocateurs. Even if they were viable ideas, the relationship between "intelligence" and almost anything else -- such as skill, judgment, charm, decency -- is sadly pretty much nonexistent. And to see an eminent scientist going around promoting them, apparently not having dedicated a second's thought to their sources or implications? Has the world turned into the sort of place where people put fruit on pizza?

There are a couple of things going on here. The first of them is the constipated belief that a willingness to put forward ill-informed, foolish, extreme or merely offensive hypotheses can somehow be confused with "openmindedness." This belief is certainly widely held, especially among people who have never been compelled to confront the consequences of what they say or submit it to review (or who, like Watson and perhaps Marlon Brando, have been exempt from review for years because of their celebrity). The second is an approach more confined to intellectuals working in narrow fields -- I would be happy to say that this is a syndrome only among physical and natural scientists but of course it is not -- in which the criteria of that field are taken as the only ones that matter, even with regard to topics that have nothing to do with the field. In my research area, maybe this is best represented by lawyers' views on history and morality (sorry lawyers, but think about it, you wouldn't want these things constructed according to legal principles either). And for Watson, of course, it is treating highly dubious and very much predetermined findings about "intelligence" as though they were falsifiable lab results.

To offer a concrete example: can we attribute Watson's casual and ignorant racism to his DNA? It would be hard to think of any way that this could be achieved. In Watson's own words, "I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said." Rather, it is a result of his warped values and intellectual laziness, encouraged by a scientific community that subjects some of its members to peer review while treating others as if they were peerless.

It is certainly true, for reasons having not only to do with genetics, that nobody can control how they are born. Those people who are very fortunate can influence, if not how they die, at least how they might be remembered when they do. This might be elementary, even if not to Watson.



Prepare to have greatness thrust on you, by Kal and Rambo Amadeus:

East Ethnian greetings from Northwest London

Yes, your humble correspondent has not been with you for a while as he begins to get himself settled in [do they really call it The Big Smoke? Why, when smoking is forbidden in most places?]. I have still not found a home, but expect this issue to be resolved soon. Fortunately, the friend at whose place I am staying does not seem inclined to tell me to leave just yet. Work, however, has begun, and I have a lovely office with a panoramic view of the chemistry labs. There is a lot to do, but for the first time, all of it is in my field, so it is hard to be anything other than delighted. And although my experience of the city has been mostly confined to my office and the local pub, this in no way prevents me from making the following observations:
  1. All those people who say the food is bad here are gravely mistaken. In particular, the Phoenicia Market on Kentish Town Road is about as close as we mortals come to paradise. There is also the place with the fine looking fishies, but it always seems to be closed.
  2. This idea that Americans have that other countries have cheap and efficient rail service has been thoroughly debunked, at least if we take England and Serbia as our test cases.
  3. Everybody has the most adorable accent.
  4. I must acquire the middle class male uniform, which would seem to consist of a) striped suit, b) blue shirt, c) no tie, and d) one of those mobile phone contraptions that people strap to their heads.
  5. The pub is the living room of the neighbourhood. This is a good thing.
I think that would be it. Exoticism is a fine cultural practice, and I hope that none of my UK-ish friends will be offended by it.


Proeski killed in car crash

Those of you who follow Balkan pop as avidly as Balkan politics (of which there was a lot at yesterday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg) will be saddened to hear that Tose Proeski -- sorry, no diacritics where I write -- was killed in an accident on the Zagreb-Belgrade highway. He was just 26 years old.


For what it's worth: One Balkan blog fewer

In response to a campaign by net users, news reports say that Google has closed down the blog run by the remarkably atypical Novosadjanin Goran Davidović (although if you ask me, it was right there three minutes ago when I checked). Fans of the jovial little fuhrer can still, if they do not find his blog, visit his personal site or read this little profile bz Milan Laketić in Politika. So no worries, there should always be plenty of Goxy to go around.

My own feelings on the campaign to take the guy off the net are a bit mixed. I don't care for Nazis even a little, and my position on censorship is that it should be reserved for that small category of things that can be proven to be dangerous. Legal standards are vague (for an interesting application to an obscenity case see the exchange between the minority and the majority of the US Supreme Court in Miller v California from 1973). On balance I would have to argue that the "redeeming social importance" of sites by Mr Davidović and people from groups like his is that they provide a source of information about these groups. Of course Google (which runs Blogger, where both this blog and Mr Davidović's blog are hosted) is not a government institution, and is legally free to publish or refuse to publish anything it chooses.


Horst veselje

The fascist threat to Novi Sad does not appear to have amounted to much this time around. Several hundred people attended an antifascist meeting, where they listened to speeches and went to place flowers on a monument to victims of fascism. Police had promised to prevent the announced march by the members of the neofascist "Nacionalni stroj," and then arrested about 30 of the tonsorially challenged fellows when they created a provocation by throwing things at their opponents and the police.

It might be interesting to note what the neofascists intended to do: since the antifascists were going to commemorate a monument, they planned to put flowers on a monument to the nineteenth century politician Jaša Tomić. Tomić was not such a major figure: aside from murdering a political opponent, he is known for trying to lead an independence movement against Austria-Hungary and for being a founder of the Radical party in Vojvodina. There is a monument to him because the Radicals control the municipal government. There is also a village named after him, which was flooded not so long ago.

The reason the Nacionalni stroj cares about Jaša Tomić one way or the other is because of an old screed he wrote which gives a sort of eclectic apologia for antisemitism, where he blames the problems of Serbia on old-style market economics, Benjamin Disraeli, and a bunch of other vaguer things. The tradition of domestic antisemitism in Serbia is pretty thin: aside from this text, there is basically a stringing together of bad translations of religious texts by Vasa Pelagić, and not much else until Nikolaj Velimirović wrote something up while hanging out for a few months in the SS barracks at Dachau waiting for his pal Ljotić to get him sprung.

It is a good thing that people managed a public demonstration against the resurgence of fascism. I have had a couple of minor encounters with the members of these neofascist groups with bombastic names, and the greatest threat probably does not come from these small packs of scared teenage boys, whatever they may symbolise. But then fascist movements have never come to power on their own, it has always happened through the indulgence of more "respectable" politicians who were cynical and clueless.

Follow your eels

Packing up. Spending time with the family. Leaving for London early morning. Next posts to come once I set up shop.


Seven years

Remember that seven years ago it seemed that the Milošević regime had ended with the participation of, among other things, a fellow with a bulldozer? You could be forgiven if you did not. The fellow with the bulldozer is selling it, for 90.000 Euros. And why not? People have sold the legacy of 5 October for less.

Irony, anyone? The person who was minister of information for Milošević in 1996 and 1997 is now the director of RTS, where the famous bulldozer was directed in its day. But you knew that.

Sveti Džimi ubija aždahu

If the Serbian government is really taking advice from this fellow, expect brinksmanship, extremism and provocation. If their goal is to vanquish dark heathens, as well as pagans, apostates and impostors, though, this should be their guy.


Home office follies: They never end!

Hey, remember those documents and that letter the good folks in Sheffield wanted me to wait twelve weeks to receive back? Here I get this message from them that says:
Dear Applicant

Your letter and original documents have been returned to us undelivered.
We are having trouble sending these out to you as the package is so big.

Would it be possible for you to arrange a courier to collect these? We will hold them here until we receive a response from you.

Kind Regards
[name mercifully redacted by me]
All right now, from the top: 1) my name is not "Applicant," 2) if you did not have a clue what to do with documents that you requested, such as the original certificates for my degrees, why did you ask for them?, 3) are you aware of the trust that is placed in you when people send valuable personal documents, and what is implied by your cavalier attitude toward that trust?, 4) is there special training a person can undergo to achieve a level of incompetence so monumental?

For your notational crudite, and not for your sheep

Okay, fine, I am all for government agencies doing what they can to communicate with the public. While the US State Department is not as shrouded in secrecy as some other agencies, including private companies that make US foreign policies with no disclosure or oversight at all, a start is a start. And a bad start is a bad one. Shall we begin with the name? Dipnote is presumably meant to convey something like "note about diplomacy." State Department, will you trust me if I tell you that it does not come off with that connotation? As for the content, well, they have only begun, but it does not say much and about what it says there is not much to be said.

Having said all that, offering information at all is probably a step in the right direction. Offering timely and useful information with a degree of interactivity and pointers to additional information would be a bigger step. Real dialogue and openness would be too much to hope for, and then the source providing it would be a different source altogether.


Of NATO-states and quasistates

My friends at Open Democracy asked me to comment on the froth around the Kosovo negotiations, so I wrote a little something.

Headline of the week

From Politika:

Како ће Срби прихватити ПМС

It's actually an article about the prospects of a new political party. Which might want to think about a different name. If not, let's hope they will accept it about as well as anyone else.


Quote of the week

Tomislav Nikolić, Serbian Radical Party, quoted by B92: "'Serbia has to be divided between democrats and radicals,' citizens have to decide between two large parties, and 'there is no room for the existence of some third, with an unknown profile which will in the end decide which of those two parties will be in power'."

This came in an article about how Novi Sad mayor Maja Gojković has distanced herself from the party since taking office, but it does sound like Mr Nikolić is speaking in the general sense. Is it time for people to ask, finally, which side they are on?

Vi me ne razumete mladi gospodine / ja strašno volim vaše životinje

It is a while since this blog has memed, but we have been caught with one by everybody's favourite coturnician blogger Bora. He is asking for experiences with animals, so there is no way I could not comply without the help of my daughter. Azra's answers go first, followed by Eric's:
An interesting animal I had

A: Lajos, my cute little Schipperke.
He is always up to something. He is a little naughty. A dog may not be so interesting by “type of animal” standards, but by doggie standards he is very interesting.
He is also about as well travelled as any other dog around. He has been trans-Atlantic 8 times so far, and he’ll be continuing to go trans-Atlantic for quite a while. He has been driven across the USA. He has been to many countries in Europe. Pretty much everywhere I go, he goes with me.

E: We used to have a horse named Amigo. Although his name meant friend, in fact Amigo had kind of a mean sense of humour. When we would take visitors for a ride on the beach, whoever was riding Amigo would get the surprise of breaking away suddenly from the group, running out into the water, and getting thrown in. This was the only kind of nestašluk in which he ever indulged.

An interesting animal I ate

A: Ostrich. I had it in a goulash, and it tasted great! Ostrich goulash was my favorite food for quite a while.

E: I love the Bambi paprikaš at Lovac, and also at the Čuburska lipa restaurant which is operated by Josip Broz, who shares a name with his famous grandfather.

An interesting animal in a museum

A: In the Harvard Museum, there is this enormous turtle/tortoise (I’m not sure which) shell from a prehistoric turtle/tortoise. It’s big enough for an average person to climb in and move around comfortably (though they wouldn’t be able to stand up). I always love seeing it.

E: The monkey house at the Belgrade zoo is always a treat. Partly for the monkeys, which are always up to something sort of humanesque. But it is best when there are a lot of people there, who try to get the attention of the monkeys from the other side of the glass. It is not always possible to tell which animal is on display for which.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

A: I gave my dog a swimming lesson. We would go to the beach and drop him in the water. He would immediately doggie-paddle (ha-ha) towards the shore. We’d have to ambush him, and then he would go swimming around, sneezing in protest. Eventually, though, he learned to like it. I wish he’d known that from the beginning!

E: I don’t know why this question keeps giving me images of dissecting frogs and the like in high school biology. That job always disgusted me, everything from the implicit cruelty and pointlessness to the smell. Strangely, when I put herbed butter underneath the skin of a chicken, it doesn’t bother me a bit.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

A: There’s a type of frog that lives in Australia that makes its nice cozy home in a toilet. I think that’s about as interesting a natural habitat as you can get! Before toilets were invented, they had to make do with murky swamps.

E: I don’t know how interesting they are, but they have a lot of charm and are nicely suited to the limits of their environment: prairie dogs!
The practice, I think, is to tag other bloggers with an instruction to respond. I think what I will do instead is just encourage people to respond if they feel so inspired.


Nenad Bogdanović, 1954-2007

Today the mayor of Belgrade, Nenad Bogdanović, died after a long illness. He was smart, modest, decent and energetic, and gave an idea of how political life might be different if every public official was engaged with their community and had the ambition to do the right thing. The first directly elected mayor of the city leaves it behind cleaner, better organised, and better connected with the world around it than it was before he started the job.

Credit where it is due

If anybody has been following my ongoing visa saga, note the difference here. The timeline of receiving entry clearance is as follows:
  • Friday -- Receive HSMP visa approval letter; fill out online application for entry clearance, gather documents
  • Saturday -- Ship off application, documents and passport to UK consulate in New York
  • Monday -- Receive confirmation from Federal Express that materials have been delivered
  • Tuesday -- Receive e-mail from consulate confirming that materials have been received and offering an estimate of how long the process takes
  • Wednesday -- Receive e-mail from consulate notifying me that approval has been given, telling me that materials have been sent back to me, and giving a tracking number
  • Thursday -- Receive passport with entry clearance and return of my documents
Reliable and swift information, no delays, no problems, no complaints. That is the way it is done. I'll bet they could learn to do that in Sheffield too.

Next up is to confirm travel plans and get those students in London taken care of.


Eats shoots and leaves

We have a ton of maslačak. If anyone has any tasty recipes for it to share, they will be ever so welcome in the comments. I already know that chopped up and mixed with tomato in a salad is just delightful.

Spoken but unmarched

The police in Novi Sad have decided, after all, not to permit the march that the local neo-Nazis had planned to mark, of all things, the birthday of Heinrich Himmler. But racist fools will still have a safe place to meet, regardless.

Addendum: Marko Jakšić is no relation to Duško Jakšić or Boža Jakšić, both of whom merit the highest admiration. And Goran Davidović does not want you to call him Führer, please.


Chlorine and anarchy

It would be a fun little tidbit for any cheeky chronicler of politics (for example, Wonkette) to note that the Kennebunkport Bushies are not adored by the fellow who maintains their swimming pool. Of East Ethnian interest may also be the fact that the same guy's brother made this fine documentary film about anarchists and other folks in Zagreb.


Less time on the sidewalk

Starting January, it will become a little bit easier for people who are not in power or under indictment to travel to EU countries from Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Every little bit.

News that's fit to click

It has been about a year, and now the NY Times has decided to abandon its experiment of charging for access to some items. No surprises there: experience has shown that web users are often happy to buy goods and services online, generally willing to tolerate advertising that is not too intrusive, but mostly resist paying for content. Considering that most of the content for which the Times was charging was opinion articles by their columnists, they were faced with the fact that there is plenty of material of better quality available for free.


Do novih pobjeda radničke klase

I have just been informed that the Home Office has reversed its previous decision and decided to issue me an HSMP visa. Next steps: applying for entry clearance, making travel plans, and getting my butt over to my fab new job. After that, I must learn to say things like "flat" and "cor."



Make thee mightier yet

I do believe that I may have said in a previous post on my deepening relationship with the UK Home Office that their refusal of my visa application and my grounds for appeal are "too boring for any of the readers here." But did I prove that? I can, you know. Below is the text of the appeal letter I sent to my friends in the HSMP office in Sheffield, which will arrive to them by express courier on Monday (and has already arrived to some of them by e-mail).
14 September 2007

Highly Skilled Migrant Programme
PO Box 3468
Sheffield S3 8WA

Re: Request for review of application [right, I'm going to give you my case number]

To the members of the HSMP team:

I am in receipt of your letter of 28 August 2007 informing me of the decision on my application for an HSMP visa [secret magic number]. I believe that the HSMP team has reached an incorrect decision based on misinterpretation of the documents provided, and am therefore requesting reconsideration of the application for the reasons set out below.

The decision was based on an interpretation of the documentation I provided under the section “Previous earnings.” Allow me to address the contentions made in your letter of 28 August individually:

1. The letter claims that "the evidence does not corroborate the wage slips." It is difficult to follow the logic of this contention, since the wage slips are evidence, and their function is to corroborate, not to be corroborated. The wage slips do establish that the income claimed was earned, and the letter does not claim otherwise. It is unclear what is meant by corroboration in this context, since there exists no other evidence of what is contained in the wage slips aside from the wage slips themselves, which were provided to your office in accordance with the guidance notes for application. They clearly set out the amount of my salary for each fourteen-day period covered by each wage slip, the amount deducted for state and federal taxes, payments into federal and private pension schemes, medical insurance, and the amount deposited into my bank account.

2. The letter claims that I "have not provided an original tax return that corroborates individual earnings for the full period claimed." Here again it is not possible to discern from the letter what the HSMP team found to object to regarding my tax return. The only basis I can use for response is the half sentence offered in the letter. What follows is my detailed response based on what the HSMP team’s conclusion might have been, as derived through an exegesis of the half sentence in the letter:

a) Is the tax return original? Our tax return was filed electronically, which is done by an increasing number of people in the United States as it accelerates the process, simplifies the procedure of filling out the famously complicated forms, and reduces the potential for error. This practice is explicitly encouraged by the Internal Revenue Service as a matter of policy. Since the entire process takes place through electronic transactions, there is no "original" paper document. Rather, when the procedure is completed, the software produces a PDF file with the completed return, one copy of which is sent electronically to the Internal Revenue Service for processing, and one copy of which is downloaded to our computer. If we had filed our taxes using paper documents, we would still not have the original document as this would have been sent to the Internal Revenue Service, and we would have saved a copy for ourselves, as is the normal procedure. The copy which taxpayers save for their files is accepted as evidence of income and taxes paid by every existing relevant institution, including banks, mortgage brokers, and the Internal Revenue Service itself.

b) Is the document a tax return? The document that was provided is what is called a “tax return” as defined by the US Internal Revenue Code, and is referred to as such by taxpayers, accountants, banks, other financial institutions, and the Internal Revenue Service itself. There exists no other type of document which is referred to universally as a “tax return.” Under the definition in the Guidance Notes for the HSMP application, the document provided is also a tax return. The obvious and unavoidable conclusion is that the document is a tax return.

c) Is the tax return individual? There are three options available to taxpayers filing returns in the United States: they may file an “individual” return, file as “married filing jointly,” or they may file as “married filing separately.” The option of filing an “individual” return is not available to taxpayers who are married. My wife and I filed a joint tax return. This is what is done by the overwhelming majority of married couples, particularly if they want to take advantage of joint tax deductions for charitable contributions or child allowances, or if they own property in common. As the status of “married filing separately” involves twice the paperwork, it is generally used by people in less common circumstances, such as married partners who have widely differing individual property holdings or individually owned income-producing assets. Our tax return was prepared in accordance with the US Internal Revenue Code as the most complete and succinct statement of our family income. It may be the case that we could have filed separately when reporting our 2006 income, but 1) at the time, I did not know that I would be accepting employment in the UK, and 2) even if I had, I would not have known about the Byzantine interpretive strategies employed by the UK Home Office. I do not believe that the UK Home Office has the authority to penalise US taxpayers for complying with US tax law.

In any case, I corroborated my individual earnings with two pieces of additional evidence: 1) my wage slips covering an entire twelve-month period in 2006 and 2007, and 2) the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 "salary letters" which are sent to each member of the faculty by the president of Clark University (my employer since 1997) giving details of salary for the coming academic year.

d) Does the documentation cover the full period? I provided documentation of earnings over an academic year, which is how salaries are calculated by my employer. Income tax returns cover earnings over a calendar year. The guidance notes for the HSMP application do not specify that the periods covered by two types of documentation need to correspond exactly with one another. They request income documentation for 12 of the preceding 15 months, and they request the most recent available tax return. Since tax returns are filed in April of each year to declare income for the preceding calendar year, there is no possibility of providing that type of documentation for income earned during 2007. Since most of the period between January 2006 and December 2006 does not fall within the 15 months preceding the HSMP application, that evidence is not suitable for submission. Here the HSMP staff appears to have invented a rule which is not stated in the application instructions, and would contain fatal internal contradictions if it were. The contention in your letter of 28 August is arbitrary, and it contradicts the published guidance.

3. The letter claims that two of the supporting documents provided state "your expected salary and they do not state your actual salary for the period claimed." The two documents in question are letters from the President of Clark University, Dr John Bassett, informing me of my salary for the 2006-2007 and the 2007-2008 academic years. These letters are sent each year to each permanent member of the faculty at Clark University, as they are at nearly every other university in the United States. According to US employment law and the rules of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), these letters are legally binding documents with contractual status. As the president of the University, Dr Bassett is the highest ranking administrative officer of the institution, and under the university statute does not have the authority to discuss vague expectations in this type of communication (although he may do so in other contexts, such as addresses before a public audience).

For the reasons stated above, it is apparent to me that the HSMP team has misinterpreted the documentation which was submitted to them, has rejected documentation without valid reason, and consequently reached an incorrect conclusion in considering my case. I am therefore appealing the decision and requesting that the case be reconsidered.

Please permit me to remind you that my application was submitted with a request for urgent treatment, and that I request that my appeal also be treated urgently.

Thank you for considering my appeal.


Dr Eric Gordy
Only hope (also, glory) stands between me and a positive decision. We shall see.


Make muster 'gainst the foreign hand that's raised to the Rose of England

The appeal of the Home Office's decision went off to them today. I will keep everyone posted on my long road to gastarbeiterlichkeit.

For the record, perhaps I should note that I am not a terrorist, have never committed a crime, and always clean up after my dog.


The triumph of bureaucracy over matter

Well, it took some doing, but I finally got from the Home office notification of the status of my visa application. It turns out I was refused (Jelenko, gdje si?), for reasons that I believe I will be able to contest. But let's get to the first step: how does one receive information about the disposition of his or her own case? It turns out that it can be done in several hairpulling steps:
  1. Ask to be informed.
  2. Fail to receive a reply.
  3. Ask for intervention by the complaints unit.
  4. Receive a bewildering variety of contradictory replies, some stating that the case has already been taken up, some stating that the case will be taken up in the future, and some stating that the case cannot be taken up.
  5. Ask to be informed again.
  6. Fail to receive a reply again (repeat two times).
  7. Find the address of the head of the Border and Immigration Agency.
  8. Ask her to intervene ("Hej ministre, jel mogu da dobijem jednu garažu za svoj bend?").
  9. In the meantime, continue to receive correspondence telling you that it is impossible to be notified of the status of your case in less than twelve weeks "due to security reasons."
  10. After a short interval, receive the document that they were obligated to supply in the first place, along with a note stating that informing applicants of the status of their cases in a timely manner "is not common practice and has been done on this occasion exceptionally."
The details of the matter and the grounds on which I will appeal are, I do not doubt, too boring for any of the readers here. But there is a nice little gem in the letter I finally did receive, which contains the passage:
You may request one reconsideration of your application. This will be carried out on the basis of exactly the same information provided in your original application. If you wish us to review our decision, you should clearly set out the reasons why you believe the decision is incorrect in a letter to the HSMP Team or complete the review request form available on our website: www.workingintheuk.gov.uk. This must be sent within 28 days of the date of the decision. Please note that any review requests received more than 28 days after the date of the decision will not normally be accepted and any verbal request for a review cannot be considered as valid.
Considering that I was able to be notified of the decision within 17 days only by virtue of the extraordinary intervention of a powerful individual, and that otherwise the Home Office seems to insist that twelve weeks is a reasonable amount of time in which to be notified of decisions, an interesting possibility arises. Since weeks, if they are calculated using base-10, generally last 7 days, and since 12 x 7 = 84, and since 84 - 28 = 56, it looks as though somebody has calculated a way to deprive every applicant of the right of appeal by design.

Quod erat zajebatum.


Your dreams made real

Everybody has a dream. Mine is to introduce the guy on the label of Jagodinsko pivo to the guy on the label of Birra Moretti. Vlade Divac aims a bit higher than me, and wants to use his new foundation to secure homes for people who are still living in refugee camps (might he have an object lesson for his younger colleagues?). And some other people's dreams may be better left alone.


Neither sleet nor snow

Bless their little hearts. The Home Office, after being informed by me that the claim that was made in their previous communication with me could not possibly be true, sent me this corrective note today:
Dear Applicant, Your documents and letter were actually sent back to you by airmail on the 28th of August. Please allow up to twelve weeks for delivery.
Twelve weeks to receive a letter! What dread postal service dogpaddles off Albion's shores?


The sporting life

The NCAA proposes the following nine indicators of "good sportsmanship" (their definition is hardly free of solipsism, but is nice and concrete):
Good Sportsmanship Indicators:

  1. Respect for officials - student-athletes raise hand or arm to signal a foul.
  2. Student-athletes shake hands before and after the contest.
  3. Unsportsmanlike behavior violations are addressed appropriately.
  4. Inappropriate conduct by coaches has consequences.
  5. Appropriate recognition when competitor gets injured and is forced to leave the competition.
  6. Fans, coaches and student-athletes are held accountable for negative behavior.
  7. Fans are enthusiastic supporters of their teams but respectful to opposing teams and their supporters.
  8. There is a respect shown by all competitors for the opposing team.
  9. Gamesmanship by coaches or players is frowned upon.
One of the images that appears frequently in the list is that of the "student-athlete." In that spirit, here Darko Miličić applies, in his explanation of his team's dismal performance, what he has learned in his courses on obstetrics:


Continuing to hold

More fun in communication with the Home Office. Although they did not respond to my request to confirm that they had received my application, they did inform me over the phone (no, they did not call me) that my application was refused. But they did not inform me of the reason, which would matter because it would determine whether I am able to appeal or have to submit a new application. Today they informed me, sort of, that an official notification was mailed to me over a week ago. In this message, they told me that the letter had been sent to me "in the envelope you provided" (I did not provide an envelope), and gave me a tracking number (which was the tracking number under which I had sent my materials to them). This leaves me in a dilemma as to whether it is worse that the Home Office 1) fails to provide information, 2) provides incomplete information, or 3) provides inaccurate information.


Holding pattern

I expect to be back with caustic comments about news stories written by other people fairly soon. In the meantime, I am out of my old job and office and not quite into the new one. Nothing will happen there until my friends at the amusingly named "Home Office" (do they eat chicken-fried steak there?) come through with a visa.

Why a complex visa application instead of a simple work permit application, you ask? I would happily answer that question, if I understood the reason. And just how complex? Well, that I can answer.

They want the originals of my undergraduate and graduate diplomas, which means pulling them out of their frames and devising a way of sending them to Sheffield. They want paycheck stubs covering an uninterrupted twelve-month period, with a calculation of the value of earnings over that period in colourful UK currency on the date of the last paycheck stub. They want a letter from my undergraduate institution certifying that courses were taught in English. This is a partial list. How secure do I feel sending this pile of documentation to a post office box in Sheffield? Let's just say that earlier this year they lost the passport of a dear friend of mine, and that even on request they will not acknowledge receipt of my documents. Perhaps it could be objected that a week is not sufficient time to acknowledge receipt of a package, or that two days is not sufficient time to respond to a simple e-mail inquiry. A number of other premises could be viable here. How often has it happened that people who appear to be inept are in fact merely bashful about their competence?

This may be something of a rush introduction the joys of UK bureaucracy. In any case, my Balkan friends seem to be delighted that "they do this to Americans too." They do!

I have meanwhile come to terms with the prospect that I will arrive at my new job late, and remain trusting that I will arrive at all. In that spirit, the office I never believed would be reasonably clean is now wholly empty, and today the car is getting its last bit of loving care from our mechanic, after which I will wash it and sell it.

And readers will forgive me, perhaps, if I seem a little distracted?


Letnji raspust

Observant readers will have already noticed that I have not been posting here much of late. The reasons for this are nothing unusual: I have been pretty busy here in Belgrade, and the preparation for my new job and our move is fairly intensive. So this has not left a lot of time or energy for posting.

This tells me that it may be time to give East Ethnia a well deserved rest. I'll be leaving the site alone until at least September or so, when I will be resurfacing in a new location. It is also possible that I may put some time into conceiving another type of web presence, after three years of this blog. Keep your eyes open, I will either reappear here in the same format or announce something else.


Lazy person's guide: How to walk your dog in Belgrade

  1. Go down stairs to the kafić that somebody very thoughtfully put in the space between your building and the one next.
  2. Release dog.
  3. Order coffee, chat with neighbours.
  4. Order another coffee, chat some more.
  5. Repeat as necessary.


Za stan spreman!

Last week it was a prominent ex-legalist who was inviting folks to a fancy new Serbian-American war in Kosovo, if you recall. And who is willing to come with him on his wild ride? According to a survey by CeSiD (press release downloadable here, item as reported by B92), "around 70 percent of respondents are not willing to enter any kind of armed conflict over Kosovo, while 12 percent, most of them housewives and pensioners, consider it necessary to enter into war with the Albanians or with the international community." This core of support should not be underestimated.

Toothbrushes with celebrity

Prokleto dobro znam that I have not been updating much in the past several days, apologies to those resilient readers who keep dropping by here nonetheless. I cannot claim to have as good a reason for closing up shop as the ones offered by a fine Greek deli which offers outstanding toast in Minneapolis.

Most of the time here has been spent in gentle work. A little bit of preparation for my fabulous new arbajt, a bit of hanging out with the very beguiling Palestinian-Israeli conflict transformation group that has begun its visit to the region, a bit of writing, and a lot of the intense warm-weather research activity that goes by the name "sitting around drinking beer with friends."

Last night I made an arduous trek by wild Ikarbus to visit a dear friend in distant Žarkovo, beyond the mountaintops of Banovo brdo. Among his guests was a charming young fellow who knew every lyric, every incident, and every detail of the life of Bob Dylan, which put me in a position to try to dream up answers to questions like "who is Mr Jones?" Surprisingly I found that I had reserves of knowledge of which I had not been aware, or else a good capacity to make stuff up.

As far as I can remember, I have never felt that kind of relation to celebrity. But it may be time to pick it up.



Perhaps we will know on Thursday, and perhaps we will not. Either way, RFE/RL is carrying the rumour that Feral Tribune could be returning through the good graces of, of all corporations, the prodigal monopolist WAZ. That would be half-good news, I suppose.

Update: Turns out the rumour is half true -- same story, different sponsor.


Shorter version: Responses to Tadić's apology

More responses here, here, here and here. Also check out Viktor's response.

Isn't our boy well mannered?
DSS: President of the Republic, who's that?
Center politicians in Croatia: That was sweet.
Right politicians in Croatia: Maybe, but he's still from Serbia, isn't he?
Serbian NGOs: He's starting to get good at this.
LDP: More, more.
SRS: If that stuff was so bad, why were we so well compensated for it?
SPS: If only we had known about this guy earlier.

A week without Feral

Amidst all the responses to the demise of Feral Tribune at the hands of selective application of tax policy, Boris Dežulović corrects a few errors (as we know, the last number was not the first to fail to reach the kiosks), and offers a short history of the paper and its rotating cast of enemies. And he concludes:
"If tomorrow for the fifth time Feral does not make it to the newsstands, and if there is no Feral next week either, or ever, Croatia will not be the same -- that could be a pathetic obituary for Feral. But we all know that is colossal foolishness: Croatia will be exactly the same, only there will be nobody to tell it."


Report from the pijaca

Fresh ginger root: yes! Coriander: yes, but you have to ask Milanka a day ahead, or perhaps come on a Saturday. Everything else: in scads. Even the fish situation appears to be in a state of constant improvement. I do love me some Kalenić pijaca.


Strawberry field

There are few things as pleasant as a good coincidence. Much to my gratitude, the daily reading in the tazbina includes Novosti and Press (one day I will find out just how they knew to switch from Kurir at the opportune moment), and perhaps my campaign to get them to include Pravda (the domestic edition) may one day succeed. So today's lunchtime discussion included an overview of the lik i delo of Dragan Marković Palma, including an account of this revealing interview in which we find out why Chopin never came to visit him. Then a bit later in the day a friend sends in a fine defense of the honour of Svetozarevo in the form of this notable Discipline kičme cover by Jagodina's own Crni lilihip. Better than the original? I don't know, but not bad at all.

Department of foregone conclusions

If you want to know who murdered Slavko Ćuruvija, spend the next couple of days keeping an eye on the airports, train stations, bus stations, and cash payments for rented apartments in Novi Beograd. An unnamed informer in the office of the special prosecutor decided, by way of Novosti, to tell those of the killers who have neither left the country already nor are protected by occupying a high position when their arrests are supposed to take place.



All right, there may no longer be a Manjež, but there will always be a Nick Lowe. Courtesy of Szalonna magazine, here is a piece of his new nosilac zvuka. Call me an umoran starac if you must.


Eighty eight years after it first became possible, Kurt Waldheim has died. His legacy will be an inspiration to liars, necrophiles, knaves, twits, hohštapleri, whelps of underachieving cattle and Nazis everywhere.

A short detour into tragedy

No big drama. Last evening I drop by to see a friend, we sit a while, at some point we think we might get something to eat. And where to go? He suggests Manjež. I say, oh, is Manjež working again? He says yes, I say well, you can always go to Manjež.

Historically this last statement was true. You could always go to Manjež. It was the sort of place where you would go if you didn't know where to go. If you were walking in the area you would swing by, because the probability that some group of your friends would be sitting at the tables on the sidewalk in front was reliably high. The place was always dirty, its WC like a scene out of Trainspotting, and their food would always just barely cling to this side of average. The beer was BIP (a local acronym, BIP = Bedna Imitacija Piva). But it was cheap, the crowd of people mixed and welcoming, and before you sat down konobar Draško already knew what you wanted. Manjež was a rare reassurance that whatever else was going on, something was always right with the world.

Last year the place was closed down for remodelling, and the people who did the job could have done a lot worse. They did not fill it with neon and chrome, or turn it into a casino, or stick fountains everywhere. It seems like there was a serious effort to recapture the atmosphere of what Manjež may well have been at some time, a beokafana period piece of the kind in which the characters in an Alfred Hitchcock film might dine while waiting to shuffle onto a train full of hidden murder weapons and a vaguely menacing border guard. They did not raise the prices much, and the food was just fine.

All the same, Manjež is no more. It has never happened before that on a pleasant summer evening, I sit with a friend at a sidewalk table and we are the only people there. Nor that opera arias waft gently though the windows. Nor that we are not repeatedly approached by the local stray cats (what did they do to them?). Konobar Draško is nowhere to be seen. People: Manjež is not Manjež without konobar Draško. More than this: Belgrade is not Belgrade without konobar Draško.

There is one more unremarkable spot in the city, and the world is just a little bit poorer.


Advice you can't really argue with

Ah, so pleased to back in my palatial beogradska garsonjera. Everything is just as we left it except for one thing.

There is a colorful new sticker in the lift advising children on how to behave while sampling that high and frequently operational technology. Next to the useful instructions on how a child should, in case of emergency, phone the gradsko stambeno preduzeće using only an oversized teddy bear, comes this piece of indisputable advice:
A boxing match in the lift?
The lift will be a severe referee!
It's true, I think.


She stayed with me until she moved to Notting Hill

Actually, my guess it that whatever it is, it wont be Notting Hill. Too expensive, and we prefer to mix with a lower class of people. Also, it seems clear to me that if there is any benefit to living in London, it is the opportunity to be in a neighbourhood with a funny sounding name, and "notting" is in the 49th percentile, considerably below "shoreditch" and "tufnell." But if anybody has a suggested location (postal codes, please -- the search engines ask for them) for places where residence is not too obscenely expensive, schools are good enough for our brilliant daughter, and the atmosphere caters both to doggies and gourmands, then we will grateful for suggestions.

This is, by the way, the "news" I have cryptically mentioned a couple of times. Our little family is pulling up its carefully cultivated Massachusetts roots and will be adding its own little brdašce to the London Balkanscape. The Ethniette will acquire one of those accents you hear on late night radio saying "oh seven hours, Greenwich mean time" (I intend to keep my Northwest monotone, thank you very much), Sig.ra Ethnia will ply her trade in that foreign land, and I will be Senior Lecturer in Southeast European Politics at UCL's dear old SSEES. As for Lajoš, the vet has stuck one of those horrifying chips into him, so now he will have the added marginal utility of being able to store phone numbers or recipes or something.

Of course I am absolutely thrilled to join up with the outstanding existing faculty there and with the hugely talented people who will be coming in at the same time as me. Add to this the incredible crew of people at other universities in London and elsewhere in the UK (you know who you are), and it is not hard to see where the new Balkanological paradise is coming together. As much as it is the džob of my dreams, I will do my best never to become one of those things they call an "expat." More of a gastarbajter, I should think.

The coming year will be tough. The family will be separated for some portion of it, and we will have to learn to like jellied eels. But mostly I am stunned by my good fortune, and constantly remembering the pop song line, "when you come from a background of bargain bins, you're bound to fear it ends where it begins." It still seems improbable to me, sitting as I am here in Budapest with three weeks worth of stinky t-shirts and socks from the student trip drying to the eclectic sounds of Radio Petöfi.

My colleagues in the Clark University sociology department, who I hope will come to visit us in London, have been informed. I still have to resolve with the administration under what conditions I will be departing. And I told the students who were travelling with me, who were very sweet in offering me their congratulations and a parting gift of 250 grammes of espresso.

The Yugoslavia pavilion at Auschwitz

The way that the Auschwitz museum is set up, just about all of the exhibits are at the first camp, Auschwitz I (and not at the very much larger Auschwitz II - Birkenau, which is where the large-scale killing for which the place is known was committed). At Auschwitz I is the main exhibit hall with artifacts trucked over from Birkenau for display, some barracks restored as exhibit halls, and a row of the "national" exhibits in former barracks. The "national" exhibits are prepared by specialists from the country represented in the space, and in many it is clear that a good deal of thought went into the selection of display materials, thematic emphasis, the distribution of emotional and historical clues, and many other factors. It is also clear that all of these exhibits are regularly updated and revised. All except one, which has obviously not been changed for a good twenty years, and is not likely to be changed any time in the foreseeable future.

The Yugoslavia exhibit is on the top floor of a barrack that is shared with the very razzle-dazzle Austrian exhibit (which centers on the dangers of nationalism). The first room presents general information on the period, with many photos repeated from the main exhibit hall a few buildings away. There is a very little bit of information about the 24,000 people from Yugoslavia who were put in the camp. Some of them were in a resistance organisation, if you want to know more about that or how resistance organisations functioned, or how the Yugoslavian ones related with the others, you will not find out from the exhibit.

The second room gives a general presentation, very NOB-centric, of the occupation and war in Yugoslavia. Some crimes, some collaborators, and a whole lot of Partisan heroics. The passage of time makes this emphasis more interesting, since this is now the only site at the museum where the myth of massive resistance is preserved. The visitor is able to follow the growth of Partisan divisions, peek in at AVNOJ, trace the expansion of liberated territory. The exhibit ends with a big photo of Tito signing the new constitution of FNRJ.

Since the country that designed the exhibit no longer exists, and since the museum site does not have extra barracks for the countries that have come about in the meantime, the Yugoslav pavilion will probably remain a fascinating relic of Communist historiography for some time. I left the hall torn between the feeling that some good historians could probably (without the sponsorship of any government) do much better on the one hand, and the urge to sing Partisan songs on the other.


Soon to be back and ethnier than ever

Greetings to East Ethnians the world round from the charming Krakow airport. The last students were seen off this morning, and now your humble correspondent is off to a (dare I say well deserved?) three days of vacation in lovely Budapest, from whence posting shall recommence. I believe that in the last post I said something cryptic about the possibility of there being news. Hold fast, it will come.


The blog silence to come

Gave my last lecture to the student group this morning, and we are preparing to leave on our study tour Tuesday. Much of the time I will be out of the range of electronic communication, so the next couple of weeks should be a good time to sample the lovely blogs on the list to the right. I expect to resurface, thoroughly exhausted, in Budapest on 8 June, at which time I may or may not have news to share.


Department of excessive reactions

We all get frustrated when trains are late, but it seems some people get really angry.

And no, they never did run on time. That is just a myth.


Danas ti je divan dan

A happy 18th birthday to Radio B92! Let's say you had an impressive childhood as a precocious, brilliant and defiant youngster. And let's chalk up all that Ballantine and "Big Brother" stuff to some adolescent wandering. And let's hope for a stellar and productive maturity.


Marija Šerifović and the "new Serbia"

In the comments to the previous post on Marija Šerifović and her Eurovisionary song "Molitva," I linked to another blog that labelled the song a "turbo-folkić," and Bganon argued that "any association is wide of the mark." It seems Vesna Perić Zimonjić agrees. Writing in the Independent, she puts Marija Šerifović in the context of social and political conflicts in Serbia, describing the celebration of her award:

"Belgrade exploded with joy the moment her victory was proclaimed, with thousands taking to the streets, honking car horns and waving the Serbian flag in the capital's central Republic Square until dawn.

Such outpourings are typical when the country's basketball or water polo teams are victorious. But this was different, for it was the first time the proverbially macho Serbs had done the same honours for a young female singer - let alone one with Serifovic's unusual fashion sense."

I am not sure I can say how much importance ought to be attributed to her "fashion sense," which seems to range from K.D. Lang to Bryan Ferry. But it's all good if it supports the characterization of her victory gesture, "Her clenched fist victory salute was widely seen as a show of defiance by the forces in Serbia that stand in direct opposition to the ultranationalists and their policy of isolation and hostility to all minorities."

Maybe that offers a sort of background for the silly argument between the Unija Roma Srbije (in whose campaign Šerifović participated, and in which her mother is a member and her uncle an officer) and the Srpska Radikalna Stranka (of which, they claim, her grandfather is a member) over which political party can claim credit for her singing. She says she is not a member of any party, but that did not seem to distract the party leaders much.

Catherine also has a roundup of press coverage.

Update: It ain't Balkanology without essentialism, right? Here is Frank Tiggelaar's English translation of an article from the Dutch NRC Handelsblad about macho countries and ideal women. Or is it macho women and ideal countries?

Yet another update: Uh oh, bilo bi dobro i meni da pogledate the comments to the previous post, where Paul points us to charges that "Molitva" is lifted from the Albanian hit "Ndarja" by Soni Malaj. And did the unfortunate Scooch pinch a tune from DaRiva?


Readers write!

One writes in with a happy story -- Marija Šerifović, representing Serbia with the song "Molitva," has won at Evrovizija. Apparently that means that Serbia will host the competition next year. That should be fun.

And one writes in with a bizarre story about leech smuggling. The estimated value of 8849 leeches is 722,000 Euros? Apparently leeches are a profitable business. Who knew?