Prediction of light posting

The chronic computer problems that I thought had been resolved have returned. Apple is promising me a new hard disc, but in the meantime posting here will be fairly light. It would certainly be nice if this takes care of the problem!


Quote of the day

Lino Veljak, interviewed by Milanka Šaponja-Hadžić in Monitor:

"...if somebody justifies a crime committed half a century ago in the name of the nation they proudly belong to, then in moral and human terms they lose the ability to condemn the crimes that others commit against their nation today. And when everybody does it, then everything is relative and nobody is responsible. How many times have I heard, both in Croatia and in Serbia, at the mention of some massive crime committed in the nineties, the counter-question: and what did they do to us? They justify their own crimes using the crimes of their legionary comrades who fought on the other side, and it all serves to make people forget how that legionary brotherhood solidarily enriched itself on the suffering of their own and other people. They did not fight one another, they fought against the civilian population. The proof of it is the brotherhood and unity that flowers in Scheveningen, which people in our countries hardly know about. Unfortunate and naive people defend criminals and profiteers, who are either directly or indirectly (by means of their colleagues on the opposing sides) contributed to their suffering. The hero Gotovina, the hero Pavković -- and these so-called heroes, quite rightly, cynically laugh at them. That's a tragedy, in the spiritual sense even greater than the tragedy brought on by destruction in the war."

The rest of the interview is at Monitor's web site.

See, nothing in the bunker

So ... presumably in order to prove that they have nothing to hide, today the defence minister, his deputy, and the head of the military general staff gave reporters a tour of the secret bunker at Topčider. This either demonstrates that rumors about the place being used to hide ICTY fugitives are not true, or contributes to speculation about where they moved them in order to facilitate the display.

Modest contribution to the "anti-Americanism" debate

At the reliably interesting online magazine Open democracy, Dominic Hilton has a reflection on anti-Americanism in Europe. Mostly he is trying to dismiss the phenomenon as a shallow fad, claiming that "most America-thumping is pathetically hypocritical, embarrassingly imbecilic, perilously ruinous and, worst of all, as derisorily fashionable as those ludicrous woolly boots everyone’s presently sporting." I don't think I completely buy the argument (it's not improved by the name-calling or the marginal sources), though he is probably right to see a good measure of scapegoating and posturing at work.

I'm ludicrously unqualified to address the question of how Americans are treated from personal experience, since at home my students ask me what country I am from and compliment my English, while in other countries natives stop me to ask for directions. This is probably some vague effect of personal appearance, go figure. So other people have to write those essays about how waiters reacted to them instinctively and how their hastily poured water stands for the disorder in the world. But I can say that I have never experienced the hatred of America and Americans that it has become so popular to claim. That is not to say that there is anything like universal receptivity. From a purely informal perspective, I offer a typology of critiques (not anywhere near exhaustive, of course):

Objection to US politics: No need to list the reasons people object to policies practiced by the US government, especially the current administration. To the degree that the critique is centered on specific current acts, it seems more like an invitation to conversation than an expression of hatred. People who are neither dishonest nor paid representatives of the government should be able to accept the invitation.

Resentment of economic domination: Sometimes the US is taken to stand for the general frustration with the new globalised economy, which is not surprising for either empirical or symbolic reasons. Depending on where the critique is coming from, it can be perfectly valid. Since I am not the head of a large well-connected corporation, I regard this one too as an invitation to conversation.

Assertions of cultural superiority: There are people who will claim to be more civilised, have an older and fancier culture, and so on. That's nice, we have bigots at home too. Ours aren't interesting to listen to either.

Avoidance of the overmarketed product: So much of the zasićenost with America seems to revolve around popular culture, with the oversupply of music, television and film products from this country. Language and production budgets probably have a lot to do with this (it is much cheaper to buy an hour of TV out of syndication than produce it), and a lot of what the US exports is genuine lowest-common-denominator material. But too much America is like too much of anything else. I doubt very much that anything other than good competition will reduce the influence of this very successful export. But there are a lot of reasons it would be good to see reciprocity here, and US media markets open to more than just reruns of British series on PBS.

There is no right to be loved by everyone. Some level of rejection is justified, and some level is bound to exist whether it is justified or not. My inclination is to consider the rapid putrefaction of America's image in the world as a call to make America a better place. But that is probably just idiosyncratic.

Who is at Topčider?

A few months ago, two young soldiers were killed at the Topčider military base in Belgrade under circumstances that have not been explained to anybody's satisfaction. The media speculation that surrounded the incident included revelation of a secret underground complex that had been built at the site during the Tito period. Today B92 reports that Ratko Mladić's chief bodyguard, one captain Branislav Puhalo, commands the Guard Brigade at Topčider, a fact which military people seem to be denying but would seem to be normally a part of public record. Nobody seriously doubts that the military is protecting Mr Mladić. So is he the secret that is being guarded at Topčider?


Linguistic fun for journalists

I'm peeking through the daily papers from Serbia and Montenegro, and it seems that every one of them has an item about the planned marriage of Britain's Prince Charles. This is probably not because of any great enthusiasm for the royals, but because the orthographic rules in those places convert foreign names to their phonetic equivalents. This lets them run the story under the headline "Princ Čarls se ženi Kamilom," which can easily be read as "Prince Charles is marrying a camel."

Cultural heroes of our time

Among them has to be counted Klaudio Šturman, a butcher from Rovinjsko Selo, who has invented a ćevapčići making device that can produce 300 kilograms of ćevapčići in an hour.

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Klaudio Šturman and his fabulous invention

Mr Šturman expects his new device to considerably lighten the work burden of his colleagues, who up until now have had to make their ćevapčići one at a time.

Cheap flights?

There may be nothing to this, and all the stories are vague, but there seems to be talk of the low, low-fare airline Ryan Air setting up a hub in either Belgrade or Niš. That would be convenient.


In praise of Ludost

It would seem that Ludost has decided to discontinue and remove her excellent blog. She has posted a farewell essay, but it will only be available for a little bit longer.

Dragi Erazmo has been a favorite site since I first had the good luck to stumble across it, so that daily pleasure will be missed. But of course there are plenty of ways to write and no obligation to do it in this format. What is surprising is that there are so many people, some of them quite good, who are willing to write for an indeterminate public every day, for which they receive nothing in return.

It will be cause to celebrate if Ludost returns to this format in some incarnation, and in the meantime we can hope for articles and books (remember those?).

Wearing the popular culture threat, snugly

For your headless and armless fundie friends, the ultraright magazine National Review is offering these lovely t-shirts for sale. They feature a provocative slogan and a picture of some guy. And they cost $19.95? Filthy!

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Wonkette has additional commentary.

Tracking the journalistic threat

News is already pretty widespread in the US about the Bush administration paying journalists to offer opinions, and in one case, it seems, even hiring a dubious character to come to press conferences disguised as a journalist in order to ask Mr Bush planted questions. The cocktail of political conspiracy and gossip is lots of fun, really.

But there is no reason for the EU candidate countries to lag behind! That must be why Croatia's Protuobaveštajna agencija (POA) has put so much work into following the tracks of Globus editor Igor Alborghetti.

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Apparently their original purpose was to show that Mr Alborghetti was a French spy. It turns out he was not, but did you know that with a bit of rearrangement and altering only one letter SZUP can be changed to SPUŽ? Suspicious! They did, however, find that he had a conviction for a very minor drug offence in 1986. Surely this knowledge contributed greatly to the maintenance of public order.

Četnik memorabilia

The previous post about another proposed law declaring Četnici to have been antifascists (next up: a law declaring cats to be giraffes) inspired loyal reader AR to send me a collection of photos from the galleries of the Ravnogorski četnički pokret of Brčko. I think they are too large to display here, but they do provide, as AR says, «evidence of the deadly intersection of the RCP's cherished voelkisch pageantry with religious fanaticism and genocidal ideology.» The Ravnogorci share their unique vision with us here.

The past is another reality, increasingly

Nasty comments have already been made by East Ethnia about the law in Serbia declaring the Četnici, collaborationists from the second world war, to have been antifascists. Now, Asaf Bećirović reports in Oslobođenje, Dušan Sladojević, president of something called the «Ravna Gora movement of the fatherland of Srpska,» wants the parliament of Republika Srpska to pass a similar law. Young rightie politician Goran Sikima has an original idea: «We can just copy the law that was passed in Serbia.»

Mr Sladojević defends his interpretation of who was on what side in that war with the unassailable argument, «they have documents about that at Harvard's institute.» Note: The link to the article is above, if somebody made this quotation up, it is not me.

This initiative is likely to go only so far—there is not much chance that even if the RS parliament were to pass it that it would be approved by the federal parliament. Also it is likely to have only very limited material consequence on its own. But the ripple effect could be greater, since the existence of groups that might have a reason to seek redefinition of their role in processes of violence is not limited to the second world war era.


Culinary report of great importance

Well, we finally got around to trying the place I coyly suggested we might get to last month. My loving wife and daughter decided that a good place for a birthday dinner (39! But my sister called and told me that to her I am always 12.) would be Boston's only Albanian restaurant, Cafe Apollonia at (yes) 146 Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale, beyond even Jamaica Pond.

Our best expectations were confirmed, and we are delighted to say that the Hysi family operates a wonderful little place. Francesco, they have byrek! The menu looks traditional, but chef Marlon Hysi makes them with the innovation you might expect of a Cordon Bleu graduate, which he is. Ivana's Trofte Tave was baked in wine and tomatoes over carmelised onions, Azra's Qebaptore were excellent čevapi, but served over a bed of seared eggplant and peppers, with a thick yoghurt sauce and rosemary mixed in with the meat. I would describe the lamb stew with polenta that I had, but then you would ask me for a bite and I would have to disappoint you. The wine list includes Frankovka from Croatia (good stuff) and also Birra Tirana from Albania (which we didn't try).

The place was not at all crowded, maybe not surprising for a Monday. But they are far out of the center of the city and worth knowing about. We will certainly pay them a visit again!

The Beba saga continues

I've yet to see the whole interview, but Tuesday's Blic has Vladimir Popović agreeing that the military has been protecting genocide indictee Ratko Mladić for years, that this was far from secret in the government, and suggesting that the fugitive may well be in that mysterious and fatal object at Topčider.

So people will probably continue talking about Mr Popović for a bit longer.


IT'S UP!!!!

The first Carnival of the Balkans, that is.

Balkan carnival #1 on its way

I am just going to take my doggie for a walk, then the first edition of the Carnival of the Balkans should be up for your reading pleasure by midafternoon EST. I'll announce it here.

New! Improved! Deadlier sins.

It's hard to know how to sin properly in these values-oriented times, and Richard Jinman reports in The Guardian that it is also important to keep up to date. A BBC survey shows that of the seven deadly sins originally set forth by St Thomas Aquinas (at least he is still current, considering that the tune "St Thomas" first popularised by Sonny Rollins is in the repertoire of Joshua Redman and Cubismo!), only greed still holds any currency. Sloth, gluttony and lust are strictly venal. Our friends at The Guardian offer a handy comparative reference guide comparing the original list of pale gases to the survey results:

Seven deadly sins
1 Pride
2 Envy
3 Anger
4 Sloth
5 Greed
6 Gluttony
7 Lust

New sins
1 Cruelty
2 Adultery
3 Bigotry
4 Dishonesty
5 Hypocrisy
6 Greed
7 Selfishness

BBC presenter Ross Kelly tries to put the changed sin hierarchy in context, explaining that "We're less concerned with the seven deadly sins and more concerned with actions that hurt others. For instance, we're less bothered about anger than we are about cruelty; and, while many of us actually enjoy lust, we still frown on adultery." Meanwhile, the Reverend Tim Silk, a C of E minister, adopts a more straightforward marketing perspective, recognising that "whether we could ever find seven we all agree on is anyone's guess."