The image of Serbia

Some quotations from a panel discussion at the Media Center in Belgrade today on the topic of "Serbia and its image," organized by the magazine Vreme and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, as reported by B92:

Roksanda Ninčič, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "It looks as though nobody cares about the future of this country, nor its citizens, and with that in mind, not for its image either."

Predrag Marković, historian: "The regime of the nineties succeeded in ruining our image, with unbelievable speed. It is not possible for anybody to understand how an order could be given to destroy the only two cities that the world knows about, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik."

Dubravko Koledić, journalist for the German Press Agency (DPA): "The image of Serbia has been meaningfully damaged by the number of votes the Radicals get. The image of Serbia has been spoiled by the premier, Vojislav Koštunica, because he will not cooperate with the Hague. That is what is said by an ordinary person, not an institution, and that is what is written on an ordinary internet site. So, we affect our image ourselves, we are responsible and not even God can help us with that."

Srđan Šaper, marketing executive and erstwhile pop star: "I think that a retrospective revalorisation of the Tito period is going on, not only because people lived better then, but because they had a clearer sense of national identity, that is they identified more with what was then Yugoslavia than they do with what is now Serbia."

The report only gives these brief passages from the three participants (it is accompanied by a photo in which there is a fourth person, the moderator, I suppose). It would be interesting to see the complete texts. But what seems striking from the quotations that the journalist chose is that they are not transparently about image at all, but about concrete concerns.


Housekeeping: Some new links

Some people might be interested in a few of the sites I have added to the link list since first posting it. These ones have been added:

Amitai Etzioni: Reflections by the sociologist of the same name.
Chase me ladies: I believe this a satirical site from Hong Kong.
Dnevnik ulice: Some darn fine urban essays from Mostar.
Here's what's left: Left takes on US politics.
Manic net preacher: European politics, accent on the economic.
Pestiside: "The daily dish of cosmopolitan Budapest."
Reportage: Journalism from South Asia by Joshua Newton.
Transition trends: News from countries in transition wherever they may be.
Turkish torque: Social and political commentary by Ugur Akinci
Viewropa: A group "Euroblog," politics, culture and tutti quanti.

I think that's all of the new ones.

Kosti u mikseru

A lot of the news from Serbia this week has to do with real or imagined political conflicts about how to confront the recent past. But that is not enough for today's ambitious politicians. They also want to refight the Second World War. And why not, when Richard Burton, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles fought it so well?

What, you say? Well, this: before the Serbian parliament is a proposal that would declare the Partisan and Četnik movements of the WW2 era to be equivalent. This is the same sort of bad idea about "reconciliation" that inspired Ronald Reagan to visit Bitburg, Franjo Tuđman to develop new symbolic schemes for Jasenovac, the Burger King to relieve the Freedom Fries of their feudal obligations, and a host of other misguided gestures in which the bodies of the dead are exploited for political gain and the whole spectacle is promoted as if it had something to do with "peace." But clearly it is a burning issue for a parliament that has nothing meaningful to do, led by a government for which paralysis is a political principle.

The whole nonsensical business was either sidetracked or revealed, depending on your politics, in yesterday's debate (there are varying reports in B92, in Danas, and in Blic). DSS deputy Dragoljub Kojčić made his contribution by telling deputies from Montenegro to go back there, instructing Muslim deputies to "respect my history!" and praising his daughter's ideological interventions in her third-grade history lesson.

For good measure, he also called SPS deputy Ivica Dačić a "Četnik in a tetrapack." No, I don't know what that means either, but chances are it raised the level of the debate.

Update: One of the best responses I have seen on this comes from Ivan Torov, who is for some reason now writing for Политика. It's right at the other end of this link.

Shouldn't we all join the pop cult?

It has been a long and arduous wait, but finally, the fifth edition of Pop Kult is online (to my British friends: no, this is something else).

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Attractive features include: Jelena Milić's column "Impotencija i provincija," Ivana Kronja on turbo-folk, an essay on Dinko Tucaković's film Rubber Soul Project, Ljubiša Rajić on elites, and a good deal more.


Interview with special prosecutor for war crimes

In this week's edition of the magazine Vreme, Dejan Anastasijević interviews Vladimir Vukčevic, the special prosecutor for war crimes. Mr Vukčević discusses his ambitions to establish credibility for more trials to be carried out domestically, criticizes the political actors who denounce his work, and coyly announces that he has some cases he cannot discuss.

The original article is available from Vreme, and for anyone who prefers an English translation, I made one.

Fun with fugitives

One of my favorite headlines from a Serbian newspaper I vaguely recall from the beginning of 1995, when international negotiators were promoting a peace plan for Croatia. They came to present the plan to Slobodan Milošević, and the headline the following day was "Milošević did not say either yes or no." So what did he say? Everyone had to guess.

Here is some competition in today’s Blic. Dejan Vukelić has an article titled “Prosper offers for Karadžić and Mladić to be tried in Serbia.” The characters so far: Pierre-Richard Prosper is the US ambassador at large for war crimes, and Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić are fugitives charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina. So already we have the question: how can Mr Prosper make an offer in the name of an institution he does not represent, and how can Serbia try non-citizens for crimes committed on the territory of another state?

Next character: somebody named Borko Đorđević, a person I have never heard of, but who is identified in the article as a “respected surgeon from the United States.” Apparently Dr Đorđević has a plan to enlist the aid of former US president Jimmy Carter and negotiate the surrender of the two fugitives. There is no word as to whether Mr Carter knows anything of this plan.

Are you with me so far? Good, because now it gets weird. The article goes on to say, "…if Mladić and Karadžić were to surrender to our [Serbia’s] authorities, Prosper said that he does not exclude the possibility that they be tried in Belgrade…” Did Mr Prosper say this? Apparently not: the journalist was told this by "the minister for the diaspora in the Serbian government Vojislav Vukčević.” And how did a person with the title of “minister for diaspora” (whatever that is, it cannot be an office that has authority over this field) learn this? "He says that he heard Prosper’s position listening to a conversation between him and Đorđević’s lawyer.” So apparently Mr Prosper did not make an offer: he told a lawyer representing a third person in a (presumably) private conversation that he "does not exclude the possibility” of something happening over which he has no authority – he did not say either yes or no. This was told by a fourth person, Mr Vukčević, to a fifth person, the journalist who wrote the article for Blic. Just to make things clearer, the article concludes with statements from several people confirming that none of the people named so far have any authority to decide in this matter.

What happened here? Probably nothing, but everybody has to guess.

Update: Radivoje Petrović has more in Политика. Apparently this effort has been going on for a while, and includes a campaign to build an all-star defence team for Karadžić and Mladić, which would be led by the well known attorney Alan Dershowitz (the paper renders it as Дрсовиц). They also have a photo of this Dr Đorđević, who seems to be a plastic surgeon in Palm Springs.

Update 2: Now it is Novosti's turn. In her article, Dubravka Savić adds that conditions include, in addition to the high/powered legal team, a guarantee of pretrial detention in private lodging in Belgrade and the opening of an ICTY branch office in Belgrade. Have these negotiations already begun?

Update 3: With the morning come statements from people who actually have responsibility in the matter. B92 reports that Mr Prosper told the Beta news agency that "the whole story is completely untrue" and denies ever having contact with Dr Đorđević. The chair of the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Rasim Ljajić, says "there is not even a theoretical chance" that the two could be tried in Belgrade and does not regard the story as serious.


Holiday music from North Ethnia

Okay, I understand that at least here in the USA, it can be a little difficult to enter a public place at this time of year without hearing atmospheric music of the "holiday" genre. Fine, but why does the genre have to be so narrow? And really, bells, was it Pavlov who determined that the experience of shopping is enhanced by pop songs with bells?

Thanks to Viewropa, here is a nice alternative. When I played it, my beloved spouse called from the other room, "Irish or Balkan?" Postmodern Polish, actually. (The link is to a somewhat slow-loading mp3 file, 3,8 MB.)

"Chasidic Dance," by the Warsaw Village Band

Enjoy! And do have a look at the group's web presentation at this address.


Those of you fortunate enough to read Italian might find this interview of Christophe Solioz by Luka Zanoni interesting. He is working on a metaphor for the international presence in Bosnia-Hercegovina modelled on Freud's concept of "interminable analysis." The metaphor raises a good number of potential questions for exploration: Is "nation building" a form of therapy? Who is being treated, and for what? Do any of the parties willingly see themselves as therapist or patient? Maybe the issue could be raised of whether the insurance program covers the sessions?

Generally I am not fond of psychological metaphors as a way of discussing social phenomena, but this seems potentially very rich.

CIA: Keep clear of military interrogation practices

All right, I know this is no revelation, but it seems increasingly clear that there is a good deal of friction between career intelligence people at the CIA and the policy people dominating the Bush administration. We already knew this from the earlier semipublic conflict over who claimed what country had what weapons. Adding to the expanding pile of revelations, today the New York Times reports on a CIA memo to employees in Iraq from August 2003. The memo advised CIA agents that prisoners held in Iraq were in military custody, and warned them against joining in any excesses by the military, telling them:

"if the military employed any type of techniques beyond questions and answers, we should not participate and should not be present"

Complaints by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding the military's treatment of prisoners were made public last week. Administration people might state publicly that the torture scandals are the product of some enemy or left-wing cabal --but they know that their opposition comes from responsible people in the government.

Fellowships for women human rights journalists

The call for applications has gone out from the International Women's Media Foundation for women journalists covering human rights to become the first holder of the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship. The fellowship involves a residency at MIT's Center for International Studies, with the opportunity of spending time at the Boston Globe or that other paper in New York. The application is available here, the deadline is 25 February and the term of the fellowship is from September 2005 to May 2006. A biography of Elizabeth Neuffer is here. Her book, The Key to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda, can be purchased here.


Everyone off on technicalities?

B92 is running a statement by the lawyer Tibor Varady regarding two suits involving the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ: 1992-2003), now the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG: 2003-sometime soon). The suits involve a genocide charge filed against SRJ by Bosnia-Hercegovina and a genocide charge filed against NATO by SRJ.

Mr Varady's basic argument in the suit filed by Bosnia-Hercegovina is that the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in the case because SRJ is not the legal successor of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ: 1945-1991), and therefore not a signatory to the conventions that give the court authority. What he is hoping is that the court will find that SRJ did not have standing to sue NATO for that reason, which would make it possible to argue that Bosnia-Hercegovina could not sue SRJ for the same reason.

Did you get all that? It's all a lot of good sophist fun if you are a lawyer. The essence of it is that if Mr Varady is right, the outcome does not depend on the merits of the cases.

Update: Good thing that last sentence was premised "if Mr Varady is right," because it seems like he is not. In February 2003, the ICJ ruled that the issue of successor representation of SFRJ in the UN could not be raised as a substantive argument regarding jurisdiction, because it did not affect SRJ's obligation to abide by international law. Thanks to Andras Riedlmayer for drawing my attention to the ICJ ruling, which was announced here.

NE Ethnia: Boston more diverse, region still segregated

A report in today's Boston Globe summarizes the findings of a housing study in greater Boston by Kennedy School professor Guy Stuart. Although the region in general is becoming more diverse, the picture changes when one looks at where population growth is taking place. To wit:

"Nonwhites and Latinos are moving to satellite cities in large and disproportionate numbers. While 15 percent of the region lived in satellite cities in 2000, for example, 34 percent of the area's Latinos resided there. The study listed the satellite cities as Attleboro, Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Gloucester, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, New Bedford, and Worcester."

As the population in the satellite cities grows, the cities are becoming more segregated since "whites who departed either moved to another community or shifted to blocks where whites already had been disproportionately represented." These other communities include suburban towns, where the population of the average block was 93 per cent white in 2000. The article concludes:

''If these trends continue," Stuart said, ''satellite cities will become more racially and ethnically divided, as whites either leave or move to enclaves that are already largely white, in the face of a rapidly expanding nonwhite and Latino community." 

I would add that housing is not the only area where division is apparent. The pattern was obvious in our previous home in Worcester, where expanding and culturally vibrant immigrant communities are almost entirely excluded from the Soviet-type political structures, and live on blocks which are ignored by the financial and business structures. Meanwhile the businesses which would be in the city center (bulldozed long ago to buld a chronically failing shopping mall with a large and generally empty parking garage) were migrating across the border to the strip-mall section of suburban Shrewsbury. As we used to tell people trying to find us, "We live right where downtown would be if there were one."


There is no statute of limitations

The former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been charged in the disappearance of nine people and the murder of one, and placed under house arrest pending trial, the BBC reports. Judge Juan Guzmán has also determined that Pinochet is mentally fit to stand trial, reversing previous findings by Chilean and British courts. Other charges remain pending against him.

The decision has been welcomed by Chilean human rights organisations for obvious reasons. Of course, it also has implications elsewhere in the world for aging killers seeking to wait out the charges against them. Pinochet has been relying on the fact that as time goes by, his memory and physical condition deteriorate. As time goes by, the willingness of his former associates to stand between him and justice deteriorates too.

Poison is as poison does

Certainly by now everybody knows about what seems to be, now there is no doubt, the attempt to eliminate the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko by poisoning.

Juan Cole reminds us that "the annals of modern history are replete with failed poisoning attempts that backfired," and gives an overview. It includes the Wile E. Coyote-worthy CIA schemes against Fidel Castro. It also includes that fascinating poisoned umbrella tip used against Georgii Markov in 1978, apparently the only success on Professor Cole's list.

DW: Enthusiasm for EU declining in Croatia, or not

Today on Deutsche Welle there is a report desribing a decline in enthusiasm for joining the European Union in Croatia. A survey (DW doesn't source it, however) shows support for EU accession declining from 72.4% in January to under 50% in November. They cite analysis (okay, two individuals) attributing the decline in support to European demands for the extradition of Ante Gotovina and for the return of refugees.

The piece might be saying too much based on too little: surveys are notoriously unreliable in this part of the world, even though a big shift like this might be hard to attribute to sampling error. And one would hope for a wider variety of sources, especially since both analyst Radovan Vukadinović and foreign ministry official Hijadet Bišćević seem to be echoing official positions. At the same time, there are enough expressions of real frustration with EU criteria in all of the candidate countries so that the perspective that DW's report offers cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Pink provocations

Responding to an earlier event in which a Serbian architecture student provoked an incident with his poorly conceived street performance of appearing on Zagreb's main square with a large portrait of Četnik commander and World War II era collaborator Draža Mihailović (he received a short prison term for disturbing the peace and was sent home), a Croatian hacker has got his material onto the site of the sleazy (and privately owned) Serbian television network RTV Pink. B92 carries the text, which seems fairly innocuous considering the effort involved:

"Greetings, Greater Serbia. We would like to have our own text on your national television. If you can take photos on our square with Četnik leaders, we can also appear on your national television with our own national symbols.

"Greetings to Stevan Vranešević who so courageously took his picture in the middle of Croatia. Thank you for the hospitality which our basketball players got in Belgrade. Warm greetings from Croatia.

After that the story continues in a warm and fuzzy tone. RTV Pink did not delete the message, telling visitors to the site in a postscript that they did not consider the purpose of the message to be destruction but communication (Note: This information is from B92, the Pink site was not reachable Monday morning, probably preopterećen). Responses to the message among B92's visitors who posted messages are also distinctly not outraged. Here are some examples:

"I welcome this gesture by our dear friends from Croatia. It demonstrates that Pink is the national television of Serbia. Who watches RTS anymore?"

"I think that this is the work of RTV Pink. Željko [Mitrović, head of RTV Pink] uses any means to attract attention."

 "One more sign that on both sides there are normal and, thankfully, humorous, young people."

"I would say this is done with style. This text on the site of RTV Pink automatically raised the quality of the site, at least in the cultural sense. Greetings to all Croats and Serbs who fight with words, irony and other intellectual weapons."

"Interesting news. I think that it is (unfortunately) a very telling sign of the (present) distinctions between 'us' and 'them.'"

"Pink is not the national television but a national vision. Pink is all of us ... the kid really hit the central point of the Serbian nervous system." 
"This is the continuation of war by other means. These kids were raised in the nineties on the programs of 'national' television and 'national' textbooks."
 "Bravo! This can be taken positively. On both sides there are good and competent hackers. I hope that in the future we will also compete in better disciplines. You remember the eighties and the competition between the Zagreb and Belgrade cultural scenes. What is more, I hope this will lead to better understanding of the need for internet protection. Nobody can learn anything from photos with Draža, but from 'hacking' sites they can! Greetings to people in Zagreb and especially people in Split!" 

There are certain to be more comments (the link again, right here) as the day goes on.


Sunday breakfast

I made these for breakfast, a recipe of my own devise. Maybe not your traditional breakfast pancakes, but my daughter likes them.

Corn pancakes

1 cup of corn flour (any corn flour will do, so don't go wasting money on the fancy stuff)
3 eggs
a splash of sparkling mineral water

4 or 5 scallions, chopped up
a handful of parsley, chopped up
some bell pepper, chopped up (even better if you have some roasted ones laying around)
whatever cheese you happen to have, cut into little cubes
a spoonful of Vegeta or some other dubious MSG product
olive oil

Mix together the corn flour, eggs and mineral water until you have a semigloppy mess. Add in the chopped stuff and cheese and mix some more. Mix in the Vegeta. Drop the mixture by spoonfuls into a pan with hot olive oil and fry them up until they are the color that fashion houses label something like "earth tone." Serve them and eat them. They are nice with yogurt, Eros Pista, olives, feferončići, or whatever else you may have.

Update: Azra says, "Yummy. Tata didn't explain what feferončići were, so I will tell you instead. Feferončići are yummy spicy peppers. They are hot, and the Macedonian ones are the best. Have a spicy time."

Your political beliefs are spreading

Elisabetta Povoledo reflects on the question that has been confounding all of us: "Is Nutella left- or right- wing?" Nutellologist Gini Padovani has the answer:

"All generations have appropriated Nutella - they all feel as though it belongs to them. It transcends generations. It is national-popular," he said, referring to a concept coined by the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci. "Today we would call it bipartisan."

This happens in a context of ideologisation of taste, which Padovani says is a uniquely Italian phenomenon, arguing, "It's only here that people say that a shower is 'left' while a bath is 'right,' jeans are 'left,' a jacket is 'right,' or that Nutella is 'left' and Swiss Chocolate is 'right'."

This all makes perfect sense to me, even though most of my politics are "left" and most of my tastes are "right." Which makes me a centrist, doesn't it?

Thanks to the brilliant Edin Hajdarpašić for bringing this to my attention.

New on East Ethnia: A list of links

A small thing, yes. But look down the page on the right, and you will find that I have added a link list to the site. Since I am not terribly proficient in things computer, this took a bit of digging around for scraps of HTML (thanks to Coturnix for a big chunk). For some reason typing bits of letter combinations into brackets has made me feel accomplished.

Guarantee: Every link has passed through a rigorous process of me looking at the site and deciding whether I like it or not. Suggested additions always welcome, of course.

Tough on crime II: Run-ins with scissors

In Philadelphia, a ten-year old girl was placed in handcuffs and brought into the police station because she had brought a pair of scissors to school, according to the Associated Press. No, she did not threaten anyone with them. But apparently she violated a shool rule according to which scissors are considered to be potential weapons. Every ten-year old reads the variations on rules that get thought up, right? Because otherwise it's into the cuffs. After terrifying the girl, according to the report, "Police officers decided the girl hadn't committed a crime and let her go." Really.

I have just got no comment on this utterly avoidable display of brutal stupidity involving at least two state agencies.