Because I cannot help myself

Vanessa Paradis performing "This will be our year"

What was I going to put up? LDP's new year TV spot?

Oh my, Francesco has a new year song as well.

Sretna nova godina

The remainder of the day, and hence the year, will be divided between grading papers (down to the deadline, again!) and cooking. Our menu for this evening:
  • Mushroom soup in the style of the Hungarians, if they were Japanese
  • Lentil salad (this is supposed to bring good luck)
  • Ruska salata
  • Stinco di vitello al vino
  • A bunch of fruit and cheese
The goal this new year, as it is every new year, is to cook so inefficiently and make a meal so engaging that midnight will come and go without any of the guests noticing.

However and whomever with you are celebrating, a happy new year to you and yours.

Srđan Vrcan (1922-2006)

Sad news to end the year. This text arrived last night from Christophe, friend of East Ethnia. The text of the obituary is by Srđan Dvornik:

Srđan Vrcan was professor of sociology at the University of Split, Croatia. Born in 1922, he was the head of the Chair of Sociology at the Law School of the Split University from 1961 to his retirement in 1990. In 2003 he was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus. He also taught at graduate and post-graduate studies in Zadar, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Vienna, Rome, Pecs, Berkeley, Sacramento. For many years he was a co-leader, together with the German professor Rudolph Siebert, of the seminar "The Future of Religion" at the Inter-University Centre for post-graduate studies in Dubrovnik. He presented the results of his scientific researches at conferences and symposia in Rome, Florence, Bergen, Dresden, Moscow, Berlin, Paris etc.

He was the Chairman of the Croatian Sociological Society. Through three consecutive terms he served on the Executive Board of the International Conference for Sociology of Religion in Lille/Paris. For many years he was on the Editorial Board of the journal for sociology of religion Social Compass, first published by the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), later by the Sage Publications (London). He was among the founders of the journal for social issues Pogledi (Views), which was published in Split from 1969 to 1990. He was also on the Editorial Boards of journals Sociologija (Sociology, the journal of the Yugoslav Sociological Association) and Revija za sociologiju (Review of Sociology, the journal of the Croatian Sociological Society).

The main field of Vrcan's scholarly interest was sociology of religion. On that subject he published the books Raspeto kršćanstvo (Christianity Crucified, 1980, co-authored by Boris Vušković); Od krize religije do religije krize (From the Crisis of Religion to the Religion of Crisis, 1986); Faith in the Swirls of Transition (Vjera u vrtlozima tranzicije, 2001). He studied social inequality (Social Inequalities and the Modern Society – Društvene nejednakosti i moderno društvo – 1974); the relationship between sport and violence (Sport and Violence Here Today – Sport i nasilje danas u nas, 1990; Sport, Violence, and Politics – Sport, nasilje i politika – 2003); as a co-author, he participated in two studies of voting behaviour (A Raid on Voters – Pohod na glasače, 1995; Packaging Power – Pakiranje vlásti, 1999); he was also a co-author of a study of youth (Position, Awareness, and Behaviour of the Young Generation of Yugoslavia – Položaj, svest i ponašanje mlade generacije Jugoslavije, 1986). He also published hundreds of scientific and review articles, articles in newspapers and interviews, which makes him one of the most productive Croatian sociologists.

Vrcan's particular merit is establishing and development of the particular sociological disciplines such as sociology of religion, of sport, of politics, of the youth, and of elections and electoral systems.

Srđan Vrcan actively supported democratic civic initiatives; thus, he was among the founders of the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative, the first political civic initiative in the communist Yugoslavia (established in early 1989). He participated in many civic education activities, such as summer schools for democracy and human rights, and spoke at many public panel hearings on relevant political issues.

The photo is from an interview with Rade Dragojević in Zarez, in which Vrcan discusses his research on football fans and politics.


Revenge served clammy

It is not necessary to have any sympathy for Saddam Hussein -- who was a revolting thug -- to see the futility of his rushed and widely publicized execution. Alive, the only people to whom he presented a danger were those who might be mentioned in the evidence he could give in trials that will now not be conducted. Dead, he is a monument to his failed trial and the fictional government that has now taken its useless revenge on him. Some people will now try to turn him in a martyr, which can only further increase the level of violence in the world. As far as deterrent effect, his killing ought to prevent the survival of the sort of political movement he developed about as much as the hanging of Mussolini did.


Ford passing on the right

How surprising to see Gerald Ford dominating the news. He lived a long time, and during his brief, accidental presidency, he showed himself to be not an especially capable politician. His pardon of Richard Nixon set a precedent for impunity that has been called upon several times, and won him the undying gratitude of the handful of people who circulate between high positions in Washington. He plucked Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney out of obscurity and set their bizarre mix of sadism and ressentiment on the world. It is a wonder that he is remembered at all.

He did, however, have a sense of humor.


Some preelection music

Discipline kičme, "Političari virusi"


I'm back from my brief Balkan sojourn, partly unpacked with gifts properly distributed to their intended recipients. While there are many good things about being back at home, one that stands out is the ability to shower for longer than five minutes, without being confronted by the dilemma of whether to shower or shave today. Regular blogging to resume as soon as the inspiration strikes me.

Photo: Eric takes a moment for discussion with the youth of Niš.


Great moments in tailoring

Hrvoje Petrač led the search for innovative uses of religion at the moment of his sentencing for kidnapping. Despite repeated instant messages, God could not be reached for comment.

Update: Loyal reader AR drops a note to point out that the text which Mr Petrač cited a bit selectively does not promise so many good things for him.

Election slogans

A few of the election slogans I have seen around (not all parties have begun media campaigns yet), with cheeky commentary:

DSS-NSS-Palma -- Živela Srbija ("Long live Serbia!," or alternatively, "Serbia lived!")
Jes da je živela određeno vreme, a vi se možda time ponosite, a?

G17+ -- Stručnost ispred politike (Expertise before politics)
It is not clear to me why any party would want to highlight its inability to do politics. The slogan might seem to call to mind some other things that G17 has put ahead of politics, which would not be so beneficial for the party.

DS -- Život ne može da čeka (Life cannot wait)
Is this a slogan for a political party or for a cosmetic product?

LDP i ostali -- Od nas zavisi (It depends on us)
Who thought that it would be a good idea to bring up the image of dependency in a slogan?

The phantom PSS -- Srbija ima snage (Serbia has energy)
I always thought that this slogan, the same one they used in the last election before the party leader hightailed it to Russia to avoid prosecution, should be "Srbija ima snaje." True and appealing, at the same time.

Noted at the bus station while waiting for my luxurious ride to Niš: the buses that claim to go to Sarajevo but in fact go to Lukavica no longer have a little sign in front saying "S. Sarajevo" ("Srpsko Sarajevo"). Now the sign says "I. Sarajevo" ("Istočno Sarajevo").

Pozdrav iz Beograda

(written Friday; posted when I found an internet connection)

I arrived on Thursday, after a more or less okay trip. Belgrade looks much the same, at least what can be seen of it through the fog. It looks like posting will be intermittent for a while -- we thought that we had resolved the question of internet connection in our palatial vračarska garsonjera, but in the meantime the building changed cable providers, which means we are back to step one. There are promises that this can be quickly and easily resolved.

From the first moment I began to encounter the things I like about Belgrade, which include:
Friends and family: Here they are. As it turns out, though, some of them have jobs for me to do.
Burek: This week about 93% of the people in Serbia will celebrate sv. Nikole, which is a "posna" slava (not a good thing), but as a side effect the bakeries have burek with mushrooms (a fantastically good thing).
Beogradski rokenrol: over the next two days at SKC, we have Partibrejkersi, Disciplina kičme, Obojeni program and much much more.
Beogradski radio: Every station, including the ones I don't like, has its individual character. Here is an idea for a društvena igra: look at the face of a taxi driver and try to guess what station is playing in the cab. Your guess is certain to be wrong.
People on the streets: There they are.
Of course, in addition to the things that I like, there are also other things. The first major success of the special prosecutor for war crimes, last year's Ovčara conviction, has been reversed by the Constitutional court. Last summer, when it seemed as though the far right might be returning to power, this sort of thing looked like a strategy of stretching out the cases until everybody could be pardoned; now that it seems like the upcoming elections will probably just bring a reshuffle of the balance of power between DSS and DS, it is less clear what the judges are trying to do (or prevent from happening). Maybe they would like the trials to last forever?

Politika announced today that it has placed on the web site of the Narodna biblioteka its issues from 1903 to 1941. Just 65 more years of digitizing, and it will be possible to read recent articles from the paper online as well, which every other major paper in the country offers.

On Sunday it is off to Niš. The fog, I might add, is gorgeous. I woke up this morning and looked out the window, and thought maybe someone had come in and closed the shades while I was sleeping.


Svuda prođi

I'm travelling today, back at you from the sunny Balkans, if I find an internet connection.


Demokratski blok

Does anyone remember the parliamentary speeches by Dragan Marković - Palma, parliamentary candidate on the DSS list, when he was a member of parliament on the list of the Stranka srpskog jedinstva? That must be because they have not been well documented.


Stipe u raljama života

Follow Index and Neretva River for the developing brouhaha over stupid remarks Stipe Mesić may or may not have made in 1991, and a set of responses ranging from the inadequate to the self-incriminating, none of which makes any of the people involved look too good at all.

Update: All the same, Catherine has found grounds for pomirenje. Between Mesić and the ubiquitous Mr Thompson.

A gdje bješe taj CK?

Nikola Kavaja could have been a pioneer in terrorism in 1979, if he had known where the building he wanted to smack a plane into was located (hint: it is the only building in a huge expanse of grass). Or so he claims. He claims a lot of other stuff too, in a fascinating interview with Christopher Stewart. Some of the stuff he claims might even be true, however it sounds. But the old fellow can tell a story, he can.


Two criminal cases

Vojislav Šešelj began his diet on 11 November, and ended it today. So he stuck with it just under a month, longer than I usually manage such things. Of course, he and I have in common that hunger is a choice for us, which distinguishes us both from the people who were forced into poverty when Šešelj was in power.

In other news, a mere seven years after his murder, prosecutors seem ready to bring to an investigative judge the case of the killing of Slavko Ćuruvija. Says the special prosecutor, "all indications are that it was a political killing."

Photo: Vojislav Šešelj is welcomed back to the ranks of the gluttonous by the members of Midnight Oil and ZZ Top.

Some survey results

Here is one from Danas, on the basis of a survey of 1700 potential voters by the "Scan" agency, as reported by the funnysurnamed director of the agency, Milka Puzigaća:
DS: 20%
SRS: 18%
DSS-NS: 17%
G17+: 5%
SPS: 4%
SPO: 3%
Matters change when the results are calculated on the basis of respondents who say that they are certain that they will actually vote in the election. Then it looks like this:
SRS: 28%
DS: 25%
DSS-NS: 17%
G17+: 5%
SPS: 4%
SPO: 3%
So the main difference in comparing all respondents with likely voters applies to the results for DS and SRS. This is because the highest percentage of SRS supporters (75%) declare an intention to vote, fewer supporters of DS and the LDP-based coalition say so (60%), while only half (50%) of SPS and SPO supporters declare they will vote. The reporter for Danas, R.B., did not give figures for DSS supporters -- R.B., are you reading this?

I say 1) it's too early to make predictions, and 2) the track record of preelection surveys in Serbia does not give much reason to treat results of this type as anything other than a curiosity, good for half a beer's worth of conversation. At the same time, it hardly offers a reason for headlines like the one accompanying the article by Radovan Borović (hey, wait a minute--R.B:?) in RFE-RL, "Šešeljev štrajk povećao popularnost Radikala." No it hasn't, and the higher of the potential results is still lower than their most recent result.


International cooperation

Did the "Zemun clan" plan to assassinate former Croatian PM Ivica Račan as a way of returning the favor of assistance from Croatian criminal groups in the assassination of Serbian PM Zoran Đinđić? Novi list reports that they did, and Račan says that he received similar information.

Background on the news item of the day

For anybody who is interested, here is the report of the tzv. "Iraq study group" which was released today. And the cartoon version is here.


More on the Dutchbat medal

The award of medals to the Dutchbat 3 soldiers who abandoned the civilians they were obligated to protect has certainly got a response! Participation in the “Aferim!” campaign (linked in the previous post) promoted by the student radio station of Sarajevo has been worldwide in scale, and there have also been press responses. This modest site has not been immune from it, either, since I posted an item on the issue yesterday. Usually East Ethnia gets somewhere between 100 and 150 visits a day. So far today there have been over 1500 visitors (and it is not yet noon here!), nearly all of them from the Netherlands, with a wide variety of responses being left in the comments. Some people are expressing agreement, some offer a different perspective, and some disagree quite vehemently. Of the ones who disagree, there seem to be a few who are under the mistaken impression that the whole issue involves somebody’s mother – I am not quite sure where this association comes from. Leaving those remarks aside, the comments offered in defence of the soldiers of Dutchbat would seem to call for me to define a position more precise than simply outrage at the awarding of medals for abject failure.

First of all, in what does the responsibility of Dutchbat consist? At bottom, in dereliction of duty. Their job was to protect the civilian population, and when the moment of decision came, they decided to protect their own personnel instead. Some of the arguments in defence of Dutchbat come down to pointing out that an effort to protect civilians would have put the soldiers at risk. This can only be persuasive if one fails to distinguish between soldiers, who take on risk as a condition of their employment, and civilians, who do not.

This is of course not the whole story, and a whole variety of other failures (as well as factors contributing to those failures) are detailed in the NIOD report, as well as in other places. In addition to political and military failures and misunderstandings, there were cultural ones, many of them detailed by Guido Snel in a very interesting reflection.

A more persuasive objection has to do with the unenviable situation in which the Dutchbat forces found themselves. The elements of this are summarized in the announcement of the NIOD report. In essence, the unit had poor instruction, poor information and communication, and inadequate support. Some of this was the result of vagueness in the conception of the UN “peacekeeping” mission in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and some of it was the result of decisions made by military commanders from Dutchbat and from forces commanded by the military of other countries.

Some of the problems have to do with problems endemic in the activity of “peacekeeping” itself. In situations in which there is no peace to keep, the activity can – and does – easily devolve into auxiliary support for the warring parties, and peacekeeping forces can easily be used as a secondary strategic resource. Many of the problems have to do with a lack of political will on the part of the UN and the most influential international political actors to take any action that went beyond giving the appearance of concern. That is to say, some of the responsibility for Dutchbat’s dereliction of duty can plausibly be transferred to other actors. This does not diminish the obligation of the commanders to act in accordance with international law and in the interest of the people they are bound to protect. How well this obligation was carried out is illustrated in the photo in the post below, showing colonel Kerremans raising a glass with Ratko Maldić. Živeli, a potom više nisu.

Probably it is the case that minister Kamp saw the distribution of medals as a gesture of reintegration of the soldiers, some of whom must have been traumatized by the obvious failure of their mission, and some of whom were deterred by their commanders from doing what a soldier is obligated to do. This sort of situation may call for therapy, certainly calls for action against the commanders and review of procedures. But a medal on the chest of an accomplice is a slap in the face to the people who trusted and depended on the forces that failed them.



While the troops commanded by Ratko Mladić (price: 600 million Euros) carried out the massive killings in Srebrenica, the Dutch peacekeeping troops who were there to protect the victims did nothing. Today the members of that infamous Dutch battalion were presented with medals by their defence minister. Minister Henk Kamp says that in trading thousands of civilians under their protection, for summary execution in exchange for fourteen Dutch officers, Colonel Thom Kerremans and the rest of Dutchbat III "did their utmost." As Mr Kamp is doing, no doubt. Here is a site at which you can send a postcard of congratulations to the Government of The Netherlands, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Sarajevo, the brave soldiers of Dutchbat 3, and the Netherlands Ministry of Defence. Bravery is as bravery does, after all.

Sevdah on my mind

A friend of a friend of East Ethnia is a friend of a friend of mine, and Damir Imamović is a friend of music as well. The page linked in the last sentence is nicely designed but still awaiting its content. However, there is another page at Myspace where you can see who the musicians are, find out about upcoming performances, and download three examples of "fusion sevdah." About those upcoming performances, one of them is 12 December at the Terazijsko kazalište (two days before I arrive in town, na svoju veliku žalost). There is hope for all those people unfortunate enough not to be in Belgrade that day: they can buy the group's album for a mere nine and one half Euros, less than the price of your average published work in the social sciences.


New (to me) in the blogosfera

Obviously I will have to be updating the link list. I haven't done it in ages and hope to do it soon. In the meantime, you will probably enjoy the culinary and musical explorations at Dumneazu.

In other news that will force me to deal with my aging link list fairly soon, the Serbian Mess blog has a new name and location, or so one hears anegdotally.

Being of sound mind and body

The Serbian Radical Party gave a public presentation of the political testament of Vojislav Šešelj. The fact that he is not dead only presents a problem to those for whom the distinction between the living and the dead is meaningful. Dakle, not for SRS.


Spectres and their terrorist aspirations

In a dramatic warning reported by the BBC, "The US government has warned of an al-Qaeda call to attack US online stock market and banking services." The warning "was said to be in revenge for the continued detention of suspects at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay." But wait: said by whom? And why would al-Qaeda take revenge for detention of suspects when if there were any evidence that these suspects had anything to do with al-Qaeda, charges would have been filed against them?

It turns out that the guilt of the suspects is not the only thing for which there is a lack of evidence: "A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Russ Knocke, said there was no evidence to corroborate the threat."

Now, I thought I had heard one of the most foolish phrases of my life at a recent conference I attended where somebody proposed something he called "spectral terrorism," which he defined as the consequence of terrorism in an environment where there is no terrorism. Yes, you read that correctly -- it is a fancy way of admitting that you are giving an entire presentation about something which does not exist at all, while at the same time demonstrating no shame for wasting everybody's time by talking about nothing. But here is a new one from the same Department of Homeland Security spokesman: "aspirational threat." Now, you all know what an aspirational threat is: it is a bichon frise growling at a lion, a threat that is not a threat at all, in fact, it is nothing.

Says the Department of Homeland Security spokesman, the warning was issued out of "an abundance of caution." Or possibly, an abundance of something else.


Academia goes to the movies

This just came in the old e-mail. I doubt that I will get myself organised in time to respond, but maybe one of you will, yes?
From Slavic Review: Call for Papers: Borat: Eurasia, American Culture, and Slavic Studies

Few recent works of literature or film have made Eurasia as central and, perhaps, as flagrantly irrelevant to the American experience as Sacha Baron Cohen's hit film, Borat. In many respects this movie touches on key aspects of our discipline and expertise, and it also marks the distance that "Eurasia" has traveled in the American mentality since the appearance of other epoch-defining films (From Russia With Love, Doctor Zhivago, The Manchurian Candidate). Slavic Review invites its readers to submit contributions for a cluster of scholarly essays on Borat. Contributions may use the methodologies of any discipline so long as they relate in some substantial way to Borat and to interaction between Eurasia and the West.
Length should not exceed 5000 words. Contributions will be peer reviewed and must be received by the end of March 2007. If you have questions, please contact the editor, Mark Steinberg, at slavrev@uiuc.edu.


Partnership for what?

The wire services are reporting from the NATO summit in Riga that Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been invited to the Partnership for Peace, a sort of ante-chamber for eventual full membership. The NATO statement pointed to the "importance of long-term stability in the Western Balkans" and acknowledged the progress made so far by Bosnia and Heregovina, Montenegro and Serbia." It called on Bosnia and Serbia to honor their commitment towards the Hague war crimes court and announced it would monitor progress on the matter.

After turning a blind eye to Karadžić and Mladić for over a decade, NATO didn't have much credibility left to lose in the Balkans -- but it has somehow, inexplicably, managed to gamble away even that little bit.


Delić istine

Just follow the links .... From today's report from AFP (no link, sorry) on the response of the Serbian Radical Party to the opening of their leader's trial in the Hague comes this sentence:
"While Vojislav Seselj is practically dying in The Hague, the trial was opened as if nothing is happening," said Bozidar Delic of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).
Božidar Delić, now, that is a name known to TV fans everywhere as the retired general who found a hobby in his golden years of appearing repeatedly as a defence witness for Slobodan Milošević. Is he representing SRS now? I am not certain, but came across this account of a meeting in March, which was attended both by representatives of SRS and by the former TV personality Mr Delić. The sponsors are listed as the "International anti-NATO Movement," together with something called the "Serbian neo-Gaullists."

But follow the links, and one gets to the "National-European Communitarian Party." Their newsletter features a portrait of Ernesto Guevara, no neo-Gaullist himself, on the masthead. But perhaps El Che was a part of their "National-Bolshevik current." The party also has a link to "the situation in Serbia," which leads to a placeholder noting that the page no longer exists. Then this page autotransports the browser to a site listing a variety of activities of the group, including a heartwarming essay finally telling us the truth about Stalin. Oh, and also to the Serbian intifada. From Vladivostok to Reykjavik, preko Milvokija, bre.

But where is Waldo? I mean, Boža.

Not so much

Later than most, we finally watched the Borat film over the weekend. Our expectations were mixed, no doubt. On the one hand, we expected a lot of puerile humor and exploitation of naive subjects (but were mostly unworried about any possible sullying of the reputation of Kazakhstan). On the other hand, we were primed by a variety of media accounts presenting the oft-disguised Mr Cohen as a guerrilla comic who exposes the dark side of American life by appearing to be foolish enough to share the prejudices of his interlocutors. At the same time, saddled by disappointing experience, we arrived with the awareness that efforts to inflate characters developed for sketch comedy to the scale of the large screen usually fail.

The end result, comparing the actual viewing experience to our expectations, is that the film has a little of all that and not enough of any of it. What is disgusting is often amusing, if you like that sort of thing, but not overwhelmingly or hilariously so. What is exploitative is apparent, but not mean enough that anybody seeing it would actually care. As for the biting political satire, well, Borat unearths the surprising fact that racism exists, but there is nothing there that anybody did not already know. He has a couple of interviews with minor ex-politicians, but uses only a few seconds of footage from each; these interviews must not have gone well. In sum, what comes across on film is a bit smarter than, say, Candid Camera, but neither as revealing nor as feeling as Tito po drugi put među Srbima. There are a few moments that stand out from the howling pack of moments: most of these involve people indulging Borat for reasons unknown, but the rapidly shifting response of a rodeo audience to his rants is truly scary, and a group of drunken fratboys is distressingly recognizable.

We left the screening thinking of ways in which somebody with a similar idea might produce a truly impressive film. It would probably not be a popular hit, then. If the producers made a "making-of" documentary parallel with the film, though, that might be really fascinating. As it turned out, I walked into the theatre thinking I would disagree with Darko, but walked out agreeing.

Montenegro as it... might be?

Real trains...

For those who have not been to Montenegro, but have watched the latest James Bond, this might be a bit of a dissapointment. The high-speed train from Switzerland to somewhere in Montenegro bears little resemblence to the Montenegrin railways today and would lose its attraction somewhere along the line of the 30 hours long journey. And the hotel is also not quite the Hotel Crna Gora... But it seems that Montenegrin tourism will profit and Casino Royal is already invoked in Montenegro's advertisment . Sorry, just no evil lair there (except maybe Radovan Karadzic's).

Fake Hotels...

...and real ones

Dont fear the reaper

The trial of Vojislav Šešelj began today, with the accused represented by David Hooper as his own remaining energy, constrained by a melodramatic attempt to demonstrate that hunger strikes are available even to the morbidly obese, is being spent in the effort to think up evocative names for the tribunal judges and prosecutors which he has not already used. The way things are going, he remains well behind his colleague Branimir Glavaš in the effort to transform the putrefaction of the flesh into publicity.

Meanwhile, the preelection season has been marked by one protected witness offering selective testimony against a few of the people with whom he communicated when he was a conspirator, and by the police demonstrating that on instruction, they can produce a limited number of fugitives.


Rentacops gone wild

This video was taken by a student at the UCLA library. It shows campus police repeatedly using tasers against a student. An officer threatened to use the weapon against another student who requested a name and badge number. What is a taser? The name is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle, and it is designed to stun a person by discharging an electric current into the body. Its intended use is to allow law enforcement officers to stop a highly violent individual without a high risk of causing death. It is on these grounds that such taser advocates as the company that makes them (duh) and several police agencies that use them (the RCMP, for example) defend their use. Controversies over their use have to do with their ability to cause death when they are used against people with certain medical conditions, such as heart conditions, and with incidents like this one at UCLA, in which they are used solely for intimidation against people who clearly and obviously present no danger at all. That is why organizations like Amnesty International highlight concerns about abuse of this weapon, and advocate that their use be suspended.

UCLA has done pretty much nothing to address the incident, other than repeatedly administering electric shocks to acting chancellor Norman Abrams until he issued a weaselly statement blaming the student for being attacked.

I am a graduate of the University of California, having got two degrees at the Berkeley campus. During my years there I provided them with a lot of free and below-market labor. It is a system with a good deal to be proud of, a fantastic faculty, outstanding library collections, an often okay record in dealing with a hostile state government. The administration when I was there did not generally contribute to the quality or reputation of the institution, and now that condition seems to have reached metastasis. As much as I believe in public education, this system is not getting one penny from me, ever.

Update: Was it enough for Norman Abrams to demonstrate that he is not capable of carrying out the job he holds? Apparently not, assistant UCLA police chief Jeff Young also had to show his complete lack of familiarity with the appropriate use of force. Does the Taser Corporation recommend using their device as a "pain compliance technique"? What kind of compliance is expected from a person who has been immobilised by pain? Here is the LA Times showing why the officers involved, their commanders, and Norman Abrams, who have already disgraced themselves and the institution that they represent for no apparent reason, should be fired and prosecuted:
Several local police agencies — including the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department — allow officers to use Tasers only if a suspect poses a physical threat or is acting combatively.

The sheriff's policies expressly say deputies can't use Tasers simply to move someone.

"We look for assaultive conduct," said Bill McSweeney, chief of the sheriff's leadership and training division "We generally don't use the Taser on passive resisters except when an individual indicates explosive action to follow, such as a verbal threat."

But UCLA police are allowed to use Tasers on passive resisters as "a pain compliance technique," Assistant Chief Jeff Young said in an interview Friday.

See the comments to this post on the highly charged atmosphere in Houston and Slovenia.

Another update: Does the UCLA police force screen its employees at all? Then perhaps they might have known why officer Terrence Duren was fired from the Long Beach Police Department. Or they could have used the evidence that was immediately available to them based on incidents at UCLA when he choked a student with his nightstick, and when he shot a homeless man. Or is a long history of complaints considered a positive recommendation?

Low-end imperial tourism

I do believe that this video is the most tasteless thing to which I have yet linked from this blog, at least in the video category. Not that I haven't tried. "Sonne, strand and šljivovic," apparently.


History in the Making

In case you did not already have the urge to spend your holidays in Kosovo, the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Trade and Industry launched a nice website. Better than "Discover Wild Beauty" or "The Mediterrenean as it once was", the slogan is "History in the Making"... Not that wrong, but usually tourists are just not very enthusiastic to witness history in the making. Other suggestion might be "Where status really matters" or "Travel to Kosovo: Standards and Status" or "When you want to leave your holidays from a different country you go to: Kosovo"


Zar je zločin citirati ludake?

Testifying for the defence of Milan Martić at ICTY, Smilja Avramov said .... actually, who cares what Smilja Avramov said?

Democratic values and procedures

Certainly no democratic party is ideal. Still, I am not quite sure what my distinguished colleague was thinking. Even if I am a little bit charmed by his relativisation of the instrumentality of epic poesy.

Musical interlude

I'm off today to Washington to attend a conference and distribute quarters to the unemployed Republicans thronging the sidewalks. In the meantime, enjoy Rambo Amadeus and Kal, "Dikh tu kava" (featuring the vocal of Dragan Ristić).


Clueless in the Balkans, fall 2006 edition

When I was an intern at the Open Society Institute in 1997-98, my boss, Arthur Helton, had me draft letters to Bob Gelbard, the Dayton czar of the Clinton administration. They often started, "Dear Ambassador Gelbard, Bosnia is at a crossroads." Today, Bosnia really is at a crossroads. The best indication for that is that even the EU has noticed.

Yesterday, EU defense ministers met to discuss troop reductions in peacekeeping missions (read: Congo and Bosnia, with customary good timing).
"A decision to reduce troop strength is under consideration," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the meeting. "The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina allows this."
Source: AP, Concern over Kosovo delays EU decision on cutting Bosnia force, International Herald Tribune, November 13, 2006

But then he went on to say that a decision should not be taken before next month, and actual withdrawal not begin before February.

If the situation in Bosnia "allows" troop reductions now, why wait till February? Because the UN has just postponed its imposition of a Kosovo status until after the Serbian elections, to be held at the end of January. Solana's people must have forgotten to brief the current EU presidency on these things, though:
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who chaired separate EU foreign ministers talks with Ahtisaari, said the U.N. envoy's decision to delay would not harm efforts to bring lasting stability to the Balkans.

"We are not afraid it will destabilize the situation," he told reporters.

In other, related news, Bosnia's High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a man who spent his entire period in office trying to undo as much as possible the legacy of robust international action in Bosnia, is now calling on his overseers in the "Peace Implementation Council" to think twice before confirming the decision, taken last June, to close down his office by June next year. (The PIC meets in February for that purpose; many observers thought it would just rubber stamp the closure without much debate.) The OHR is scared that its entire exit strategy of having an association deal with the EU signed soon is about to collapse since the Serb Republic is reneging on its part of and agreement on police reform. Next step: the EU will define down the "non-negotiable" principles of the reform (which had already been agreed last year) to make a "deal" possible. The first to suggest that option? None other than the High Representative, who -- with a straight face -- told a press conference last month that he had never heard of the idea that police regions should cross the entity boundaries except around Sarajevo.

Watch this space for more weaseling from the OHR and the EU.

Special fantastic thing for our friends in London

This comment came in, I think, to an earlier post about TF, though I don't know which one:
Turbo folk, in my opinion, has killed the real values of our region. One of those values is Sevdah music (in its original shape and form).

This is why I am putting my best efforts into resurrecting this and promoting it around London and the rest of the world as much as possible.

Let me know what you think of our project.

Check out the sites! The first has general information about the group, its schedule, its performances and goals. The second reports on their nastupi in and around London. Next time I am in the city of night and fog, I hope to catch them. Are they visible from Gazette Tower?

Thank you, Mirza!


On the universality of declarations

The European Court of Human Rights will have to decide whether European military forces are bound to respect the human rights of people in places where they are involved in international operations. The British government says it is not. At issue is a case by brought by the family of two boys, Gadaf and Bekir Behrami, one of whom was injured and another killed when they happened upon cluster bombs left by NATO forces.


Apsolutna vlast apsolutno goji

Let history record that on this day, Vojislav Šešelj went on a diet.


Gish Jen in Beograd

This just in from a friend of East Ethnia, Gish Jen's experience at the Belgrade Book fair:
I have seen crowds before, but I was taken aback by the Belgrade book fair, where some 15,000 people attended my opening address. A few days later, too, at the airport lost and found, I watched an officious frown break suddenly into a smile. "You're a writer!" the woman behind the counter exclaimed and, as others watched enviously, produced my bag. The power of writing! During the fair, a reporter asked whether writers in the United States were like writers in Eastern Europe and, when I said I didn't know, volunteered, "Here, writers are gods." Well, that's a difference, I said...
The rest hides behind a registration screen at TNR, the patient are welcome to sample on.


Možeš i da gubiš snagu kao kada gubiš glavu

Now that the unindicted Donald Rumsfeld is being replaced the just barely unindicted Robert Gates, the next head to roll is that of John Bolton, who has been impersonating an ambassador to the United Nations.

Update: Did I say unindicted? Too soon.


When there is trouble in the village, count on Josip Broz to help.



Who knew that the first head to roll after the midterm elections would be one from a Francis Bacon painting?

(Image courtesy of WebMuseum)

A good day for democracy

Yesterday, George Bush's America died. Voters pushed members of his party out of state offices, pushed them out of the majority in the House of Representatives, and depending on the results of two very close races in Virginia and Montana, may also have pushed them out of the majority in the Senate. There are still two years left in his term, but the capacity he once had to operate as if he were in a one-party state is gone.

I would have to be a lot taller to get proper historic perspective, but let's hope that this administration is the bizarre aberration it appears to be, one horrifying detour from this society's path to democracy, an aggressive and ultimately failed effort at restoration by a residual clique of hardliners on its way out.


Nikolic's visions

Nikolic outlined the other day just on how he envisages his "Greater Serbia" to be in an interview (see also here) with the good old Kurir. In response to Agim Ceku's visit to Montenegro he argued that Serbia should impose sanctions (and visas...). When asked about how this would be for Serbs in Montenegro, he noted that they would come to Serbia, just like Serbs from Croatia and Kosovo...

I vi biste ostavili na cedilu Srbe u Crnoj Gori prekinuvši sve odnose a predstavljate se kao njihovi zaštitnici?
- Svi koji su Srbi, pobeći će u Srbiju. Svi treba da dođu ovde.

I to je vaše radikalno rešenje?
- Zašto da ne? Pobegli su i oni iz Hrvatske i sa Kosova i Metohije. Sve će to Srbija da izdrži. Majka mora da prihvati svoju decu. Oni neće da njima vladaju Albanci

Pixels, justice and mediascape

Gavin Simpson and Sameer Padania have a question:
GV Eastern Europe editor Veronica Khokhlova has pointed to debates about video footage of atrocities in the past. However, in the realm of Balkan blogs, many of which are cross-linked on sites like East Ethnia, there seems to be something of a dearth of examples of vlogging or other home-grown initiatives dedicated to reconciliation.

How might video be used in this or other situations? As training or education materials? As evidence? To promote reconciliation? What role can citizen journalism play?

I know there are a lot of people reading who are a lot more involved in the media and exchange scene than I am. What do you think? Video za pomirenje? Any interesting projects out there that you know of?

Chronicle of a death sentence foretold

I am guessing that I may not be the only person who is underwhelmed by the verdict against Saddam Hussein, which was timed to be announced just before the midterm elections in the United States.

Not to confuse the matter: he is undoubtedly guilty, not only of the crimes with which he was charged, but of a lot else as well. But the character of the process and the conditions under which it was carried out leave a lot to be desired. And the sentence of death by hanging calls up both bizarre images of ritual sadism and a despotic tradition of offing the people who occupied power previously – both images which do more to revive the character of Saddam Hussein’s rule than to point toward any sort of vision of a democratic or just future. This kind of a punishment is the act of an insecure regime.

One way of thinking about transitional justice is as a performance: a new regime demonstrates its capacity, in contrast with its predecessor, to apply the rule of law and settle the controversies surrounding its arrival to power in the process. By providing a fair trial, they embody the distinction between an old despotism which exercised summary justice and a new legal state which does not fear its opponents’ evidence and arguments. By providing a public trial, they create the opportunity for a forum on the legacy of the past in the process which Mark Osiel calls “making public memory, publicly.” To the degree that they (in the words of Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson) “stay the hand of vengeance,” they demonstrate their commitment to be constrained by legal rules.

The Saddam Hussein trial failed on all these points. The charges were selective, standing in the way of producing a comprehensive account of the character and actions of the old regime (not all of which would have reflected well on the occupying power or the current paragovernment). The court and government manifestly failed to control the proceedings, maintaining neither the loyalty nor the security even of the officers of the court. The fear of what might come out in the course of the proceedings was such that the trial was broadcast – but with a twenty minute delay, to allow for the editing out of inconvenient moments.

As for the rule of law, there is no such thing in Iraq to be represented in a trial, a fact of which the occupying powers who are obligated by international law to maintain public services and public order are no doubt aware, regardless of what their representatives say to the press.

There are probably not many people in the world more deserving of severe punishment than Saddam Hussein. It is only in the context of a misbegotten fiasco like the occupation of Iraq that his conviction on charges of which he is guilty could be made to appear like another desperate and empty act of revenge.


Šetnja da divljoj strani

I have been fairly quiet, I know, since trying to follow the returns on the constitutional referendum in Serbia this past weekend. Of course, here in the United States we are having elections as well, and they are the first ones I have been optimistic about for a long time. Here in Massachusetts, it looks certain that we will reverse the curse that has given us a series of Republican governors (three out of four of them embarrassing disasters) since 1990, electing instead the first really inspiring figure to emerge from outside of the machine in ages. The House of Representatives is pretty well certainly moving out of the hands of Bush's party, and it looks like there is at least a fighting chance of getting a majority in the Senate as well. These are midterm elections, which means that the same malicious dolt will occupy the presidency for another two years, but he will be considerably weakened in his ability to take revenge on the country that despises him and is about to hand him a large-scale repudiation.

As a part the anticipatory celebration, and thanks to Jane at the blog Jezero vatrenog kera (or is that Jezero kera koji je dobio otkaz?), Lou Reed has a gift for us: the anti-Iraq war remix of Walk on the wild side.



Today Clifford Geertz, a great thinker and researcher, passed away. Coincidentally, some nasty racist also died on the same day. East Ethnia cares about one of them.



Both RIK and CeSID are projecting that the final result will show that the referendum has succeeded, based on their random samples of returns. Meanwhile, RIK claims that there were no major irregularities. CeSID claims otherwise, and the pro-boycott party LDP has been collecting evidence of irregularities, one piece of which was posted by Viktor Marković. More detail at Bojkot.

50%, ipak

CeSID is now estimating that turnout was 50% one hour before the official poll closing time. If the competing figures follow the pattern set so far, RIK's numbers will be higher. For the referendum to pass, a majority of registered voters must have voted yes, which means that the overwhelming majority of votes will have to be in favor.

Image: Turnout at 7 PM, according to CeSID.

Update: B92 is reporting (only by audio now, no text to link) that CeSID's estimate is that the referendum has succeeded, based an analysis of a random sample of polling places.

Marginally related to referendum; more important news

One of the nice things about following ongoing news is the possibility of a surprise. Today I have had B92 running all day, and since today is Sunday that means listening to one of my favorite music programs on the planet, Žikica Simić's Dole na uglu. Today he is featuring the work of an artist I have never heard of before, Howe Gelb. This is wonderful stuff! Apparently he is playing a concert in Belgrade next week, at Dom omladine. Lucky Belgrade.


As the second day of the referendum on the constitution continues, CeSID is reporting turnout at 33.1% at 2 PM. The comparative figures may be more interesting, since they show the highest turnout in Kosovo (unsurprisingly, since the huge gap between the number of residents and the number of registered voters generally produces distorted election results) and in Belgrade (also unsurprisingly, since the proposed text continues the centralization of resources and political power in Belgrade). Unless there is unusually high turnout in the last hours of the afternoon and early evening, this makes it look likely that turnout will not reach the 50% + 1 threshold. If this turns out to be the case, it might be understood as supporting the following theses:
1. Serbia does indeed new a new constitution, but citizens are not so excited about about approving one that was prepared in a hurry and without a wide-ranging process of consultation.
2. There is resistance to proposals which do not involve some decentralization of power.
3. The effort to cast a political question as a question of patriotism (with the famous clause on Kosovo) has not succeeded, and it is possible that the currency of patriotism has been overdrawn.
4. Types of consultation matter; some of the anti-referendum sentiment may derive from the fact that the text was designed to satisfy the leaders of the major political parties, not the citizens.
What happens in the event that the referendum does fail? First, this probably means that the government fails as well, which would force the calling of new elections. But this only changes the situation marginally, since the plan was for elections to be called anyway, probably in December. Second, the process of generating a new constitution has to continue. Law professor and former high judge Zoran Ivošević sees two ways in which this can be done: either renewed voting on the same text, or the calling of a constitutional convention. The second option is probably more promising than the first.

Views: Estavisti favors the referendum, read his reasons why. Serbian Mess does not, and also has reasons.

Image: Turnout by region at 5 PM on Sunday, according to CeSID.

Update: The Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) has bigger numbers than CeSID. They estimate that turnout at 6 PM is over 47%, and also announced that they have decided (suddenly?) that rather than closing polling places at 8 PM as planned, they would keep them open as long there are people near them. Meanwhile, CeSID is beginning to give information about irregularities in voting. Could a last-minute change in the rules turn out to be one of them?



It is true I have had nothing so far to say about Serbia's new constitution, on which a referendum is being held today and tomorrow. The text itself has been discussed elsewhere, and I agree with the people who point out that 1) it has some good elements and a lot more bad elements, and 2) the procedure by which it was adopted leaves a great deal to be desired. All in all, it is a fairly amateurish legal document, produced in a hurry and very much influenced by the parties of the Milošević regime, SPS and SRS, without whose support it could not pass.

The procedure adopted for the conduct of the referendum is also a bit odd, and there has been ongoing controversy both over the lists of voters and over the fact that voting has been scheduled over two days. A few oddities in the voting have been reported, but if there are to be any huge objections they are more likely to come tomorrow, as the two-day time frame opens a lot of space for various types of manipulation. If there is to be any stuffing of ballot boxes, this will probably happen overnight.

Right now it looks like the referendum will more likely pass than not, but we can be certain about the result probably sometime tomorrow night. Although there have been some high passions both for and against the draft, I have not taken a strong position. The letter of the law matters only when situations encourage somebody to insist on it, and the practice in the country has often been either to ignore laws or to use and interpret them very creatively. A lot more will depend on the habits and orientation of the government that will be elected after the referendum, probably in December, than on legal constraints which will bind the members of the government only formally.

Update: That prediction at the beginning of the last paragraph may well be wrong. Not only Milić, but also Milić reports turnout at 19:00 at 17%. This would make it unlikely that more than 20% would have turned out on the first day, though who knows what will happen on the second day (if something similar happens, the referendum fails). Their report also lists irregularities reported by LDP, as does Index. Surely LDP is not the only available source?

Update2: CeSiD is reporting the first day's turnout as 17.5%. This is the lead story on the Bojkot site, and it is followed by cautions from both Marko Blagojević and Srba Branković to keep in mind the obvious point that there is no precedent for the two-day voting schedule, and that what happens tomorrow may be different from what happens today.

Darko Rundek, "Ruke"

With thanks to whoever put this on JuTube.


Professional courtesy

Thanks to friend of East Ethnia AR for sending along this item. Much has been made of the failure of US forces to participate in apprehending fugitives indicted for war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Could that be because those forces have been violating international humanitarian law in Bosnia-Hercegovina themselves, at the Eagle base in Tuzla?

I would comment on the item, but anything I could say seems sort of beside the point. Which is perfectly clear.

Old wine in new bottles

Are you one of the millions of readers who has been desperately searching for the Belgrade blog but not finding it? That is because it has a spiffy new location.


Welcoming a new Balkan blog

I once tried swimming in the Neretva River. My goodness, it was cold.


Trendsetter Montenegro

By abandoning the tricolore two years ago, Montenegro might have become a trendsetter. Replacing the boring red, blue and white with some more inspiring creatures has apparanetly given some in my home country of Luxembourg an idea. Rather than an eagle, an MP in Luxembourg has suggested to change the flag and introduce the historical lion to the flag.
I would suggest that all countries should get rid of the tricolore and replace it with nice pre-French revolution flags. My requirement would be one animal per flag minimum (Montenegro again outdid it, two!)


My constitution is bigger than yours

At the well-known beacon of wisdom, the Belgrade law faculty, Kostunica proved that he knows where the word count button is in Microsoft Word.
The result: the new constitution is twice as long as the old one: 206 articles and 101.450 characters. Milosevic's constitution has only 135 articles and 50.503 characters. But we all know who really had the biggest one: Tito. His constitution has 254,894 characters (in the Slovenian version--could find the Serbocroatian version online) and 406 articles.


According to the latest survey by CeSID the referendum on the new constitution in Serbia might actually succeed--some 57% of voters said they'll surely go to vote for the constitution and another 24 % probably will. The primary motivation for voters appears to be a sense of civic duty (I guess the voters in France and the Netherlands last year are much worse at understanding their civic duties when they voted against the EU constititution). Considering the content of the next Serbian constitution, this is better news than the motivation being enthusiasum for substance. And, only one in ten supporters in the survey do so because of Kosovo.
For a good blog calling for a boycott see http://www.bojkot.info/


Things to do with construction leftovers

And why, indeed, should Slovenia not have its own island?


Hodzic & Zelja vs. the Vegitarian threat

Some might have been following Richard Gere's adventures in the Balkans recently, trying to caputre Mladic etc. Now he has been the victim of the most foul kind:
As Fonet reports, "Gere becomes ill from the smell of cevapi" so what is done? The cevabdzinicas of Bascarsija had to be close for Richard Gere. Let's hope this is not a precedent and after smoking bans, there will be cevapi grilling bans haunting the Balkans.


Now that torture is legal

Excuse me, the rule is now to call it "harsh interrogation." In any case, there may now be people wanting to join the U.S. Torture Corps.

Possibly of interest to anybody who regards the use of violence against suspects in an interrogation as necessary: I have recently been rereading an old favorite, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, by Fred E. Inbau, John E. Reid and Joseph P. Buckley (3rd ed, Williams and Wilkins, 1986). This book is more or less the standard one used in the training of police detectives, and interesting in its own right mostly for its semi-hard boiled style (a little Nathaniel West, a little Erving Goffman, some Quentin Tarantino, simmer without stirring...). Inbau, Reid and Buckley are openly in favor of all kinds of deception and psychological tricks, and ofer a wide variety of suggestions for achieving them effectively -- peruse a file with nothing in it, pay attention to the distance between chairs, that sort of thing. They draw the line at two places, though. First, at the use of techniques that "would cause an innocent person to confess" (how well they achieve this is a matter of intense debate, and there is some good evidence that the techniques they suggest are more likely to produce coerced-internalized false confessions than they think). Second, they absolutely draw the line at the use of force or the "third degree," including threats and promises, both on the practical grounds that these techniques are likely to produce false information and on the legal grounds that confessions which are not voluntary are more likely than not to be rejected by courts.

Volver con la frente marchita

Juan Perón had a hard time with landings. When he returned from exile in 1973, his reception at the airport had to be held up while the different factions of his supporters continued their gunfights. His reburial in a new place has not gone well either. In the street battles that accompanied the event, in addition to dozens of people being injured (there is dispute over how many by bullets, how many by other means), the general's stylish old Fiat also bit the dust (photo). Why was the old fellow being buried again anyway, after a rest of 32 years with only three interruptions? It was to meet the demands of a woman who claims to be his daughter. Although el primer trabajador had no children with his two wives, he was involved with many people, some of whom were of childbearing age, so who knows.


This is just messed up

I don't know what to make of this. But my first response is: whacked out racist fantasy heavily influenced by the original Willie Wonka film (the one with Gene Wilder, not the one with Johnny Depp doing Michael Jackson-as-Wonka).


Borat se vraća kući

I'll admit that as much as I enjoy an occasional dose of the character, I have not rushed off to see the film, since I figure one joke can only be stretched out for so long (case in point: the Bush administration). But now I may be changing my mind, since it seems to offer the opportunity to celebrate the return of Kazakhstan to its glorious Balkan kolijevka. Catherine explains how....

PS: Curious to hear some Kazakh music? Imagine finding it in a gulag.


With all of the trouble in the world, it is reassuring to see the football fans of Čačak taking resolute action to address the global shortage of idiocy.


U-turn in Iraq?

Ever since it became clear that no WMDs would be found in Iraq, building democracy in Iraq has been the declared goal of the occupation, and its post facto justification. Is this about to change?

A bipartisan working group under former Secretary of State James Baker has been looking at the options. (Big surprise: none of them are good.) Baker has dropped hints, some less subtle than others, that this whole idea of democracy is just a distraction from stability in Iraq. According to a piece in today's Sun, the commission -- or at least Baker -- buys the canard that Iraq is essentially a sectarian conflict, a product of multi-ethnicity, which is of course the most popular "explanation" of what's happening there. The implications are clear: dictators are alright as long as they hail from majority groups (Bashar, move over).

On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," Mr. Baker was careful to say he believed the jury was still out on whether Iraq was a success or a failure. But he also hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was "democratic" and one that was merely "representative."

"If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success," he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. "Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative," the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

100% Pamuk

Congratulations to the brilliant Orhan Pamuk, who has been awarded the Nobel prize for lterature.

Vic dana iz Danas-a

Gost u restoranu naručuje doručak:
- Želim dva kuvana jaja, jedno gotovo sirovo, a drugo tako tvrdo kuvano da se jedva može jesti, dve kriške tosta, jednu jedva malo pečenu, drugu prepečenu, jedan komadić maslaca da bude otopljen, a drugi ravno iz zamrzivača, šoljica kafe neka bude slaba i mlaka, a sok od narandže podgrejan.
- Ali, gospodine, to je vrlo komplikovana narudžba. Biće je teško ispuniti.
- Ne bi trebalo da vam bude teško, to ste mi juče servirali.

Maznuto od Danas-a, 12. oktobar 2006


A dal se to pita na slavi?

Repeatedly asked by reporters to clarify the status of the ministers from the G17+ party who have resigned their positions but continue to occupy them, prime minister Vojislav Koštunica replied:
"All these questions you are asking, I will gladly answer them some other time. Allow me, the question we are discussing today at the Academy is much, much more meaningful, regardless of any type of journalistic curiosity, than the questions you are asking. That question is absolutely secondary both in its essence and formally, compared to the fact that Serbia has finally received a new, democratic Europan constitution and that afterward democratic elections will be called. That is the only thing that matters."
"Four legs good," continued the prime minister, "two legs bad."


Great post-election moments, RS edition

Milorad Dodik, who runs the one-party statelet inside Bosnia known as Republika Srpska and who is the only Bosnian politician to have both a vision for the country and the mandate to implement it, was asked on the BHTV show Javna tajna Thursday whether he would wish to become Bosnian prime minister. He replied, according to BBC Monitoring,

Sarajevo, well, what you still have there is an unconsolidated political climate, which absolutely does not leave much room for creative people--and I believe I am one of those--to show [their potential]. I want to tidy up and organize the Serb Republic in order to make it the incontestably more developed part of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the future.

Creative people would be wasted on Bosnia's central institutions, in other words. Is that why he said in the same interview that he might send Nikola Spiric there?

Great moments in devotional orthography

Not to pile on Politika (which I increasingly enjoy reading, especially on Sunday) or anything, but friend of East Ethnia Mirko sends in this tidbit I had never noticed from the bottom of the web page. As near as I can tell, aside from the occasional ad and the symbol for Swiss francs (which would look silly as цхф), the only Latin script that appears on the page is in part of the daily religious calendar. The Lord prints in mysterious ways.


Great moments in translation

One of the interesting phenomena I was able to observe on my visit involves the long march of Politika back to respectability and its historic position as the premier newspaper in the area. Last Monday, they initiated a strategy of reputation-by-association, running a special additional section (in English) of articles selected from Sunday's New York Times. It's a nice section, and undoubtedly useful both to people who want a glimpse at international media and to people wanting to keep their English language skills in shape. In the interest of achieving that second goal, the section contains a box at the bottom of the second page, prepared by the Institut za strane jezike, with translations of some rare or new English expressions. A very nice idea altogether. The first item in their little glossary was:
butt brushes -- sudaranje kupaca u suviše uskom prostoru

I never knew this! Nor did my students. But I like it.

He's baaack

Why no posts for a week, you may or may not ask? Your humble correspondent was globetrotting to glamorous destinations. Beograd, Niš ....

The trip to Belgrade was for a conference (sponsored by the Association for the Study of Nationalities and the Forum za etničke odnose) organized by distinguished Ethnian (and according to Slobodna Evropa, "britanski ekspert") Florian Bieber. Simply fantastic stuff, and many perfectly charming people. In the meantime, there were the interesting elections in BH on which TK has been leading debate here (imagine! politics in an election!), and Serbia got a constitution written overnight and approved by a Parliament whose members had not had the time to read it, to be followed at the end of this month by a referendum which could easily go either way. In response, the courageous leaders of G17 resigned their positions but did not leave them.

It is always a pleasure to go to Niš, to which the buses get more luxurious each time I go. This was a short visit, but I think our project (about which more when there is concrete news) is really moving forward. It is surprising that more people do not go to Niš. I am not saying that everybody needs to visit, just everybody who loves peppers.

So now I am back, and between home and work I will be resuming my normal syncopated rhythm of posting. Thanks for your patience. It looks like the United States was a complete disaster while I was gone. Lunatics shooting schoolchildren? Congressmen schtupping teenage boys? What on earth?


All for democracy, as long as I get elected

Voters in Bosnia's general election yesterday (October 1st) pushed the system to its absurd--but logical--extreme: it looks increasingly likely that Željko Komšić from the non-nationalist SDP might be elected Croat member of Bosnia's three-member presidency, with a substantial chunk of his vote coming from ethnic Bosniaks. The reason is simple: while the three co-presidents are representatives of Bosnia's three constituent peoples (Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks), voting is organized by entity. Residents of RS vote for the Serb member while residents of the Croat-Bosniak Federation vote for the Croat and Bosniak members. The SDP recognized that it stood no chance of winning against either incumbent Sulejman Tihić nor indeed Haris Silajdžić, whose victory last night was unexpectedly convincing, so they presented a candidate for the Croat member. Incumbent Ivo Miro Jović, who made a scene at the TV studio and insulted journalists there, announced that "Ivo Miro Jović will be the Croat member of the B-H Presidency or the Presidency will cease to exist," in a remarkable display of his understanding of how democracy works.

Expect preliminary results for the parliamentary elections (both at entity and central level)sometime tonight local time (press conference announced for 9pm).


Montengrans and other ans

If Serbia is RS, then the inhabitants of Montenegro are "Montenegrans". Well, at least this is to whom Rumsfeld talked to: Rumsfeld holds talks with Montenegrans after that trip, he is going to talk to Serbans, Croatans and Bosans. Luckily, he is not visiting the Republic of Sata.

It's RS after all

ISO has reconsidered and accepted the initial proposal of the Serbian government, which is a lot better than the earlier compromise solution of SS.


Kandidat za Oskar

This year's entry from Serbia into the Oscars competition will be Sutra ujutru, directed by Oleg Novković from a screenplay by Milena Marković. The original songs for the film were written and composed by Miroslav Mitrašinović, the optimistic miner from the documentary Rudarska opera, produced by the same couple. The film tells the story of a returnee from Canada who comes home, and meets his old friends and problems in a big way. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the more distinguished pieces of contemporary dramatic film from the area (Full disclosure: I had a very tiny role in the production of the film -- revising the translation -- and Ivana and I have translated a couple of other projects for Milena and Oleg, who are our pals. But we do not have any influence over film juries.).

A ko vas traži?

Is EU accession going to lead to a huge migration of labor from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK? The UK Home Office seems to be planning for the eventuality, and probably has plans to try to limit what they (may) anticipate to be an inflow of 60K to 140K workers. Gallup's survey in Bulgaria suggest otherwise: they find about 46K people saying that they intend to seek employment abroad, and Britain is not their first choice. Most would prefer to go to Spain, Germany, Italy or Greece. Alan Travis is listing for The Guardian a number of research studies showing that, for a variety of reasons, the UK is not all that attractive a destination for employment migration from SEE. A government that is declaring its hostility in advance is probably not enhancing the attraction. If there is unfounded anticipation in Britain, it may be because people are expecting the influx of workers from Poland to be repeated. If so, there is a crucial difference being overlooked: there was already an established Polish community and network in the UK, and there is nothing approaching that level of ready-to-use connections from Romania or Bulgaria.

In a similar pattern, there are some signs that the direction of the India-UK "brain drain" might be starting to move in reverse, as people become attracted to an environment that is dynamic and where they are less likely to encounter growing forms of "profiling." These are probably not the same reasons why a large number of people already in Britain express a desire to leave.


Defending Magyarity

For the electronic world, there is a new Hungarian cuisine blog. For Worcesterians (but also worth a trip from such distant spots as Boston), there is the recently sampled and very fine indeed Anna's Kitchen.

Immodest revision of obscene proposal

This is truly appalling. It is a "compromise" that codifies violations of the Geneva Conventions and gives them the appearance of law. Read the analysis by Marty Lederman, who also provides the proposed text. Then vote against any member of the US Senate who favors this monstrosity, and if you have any cash to spare, donate it to their opponents. Did you ever believe that you would see the day on which torture was legalized?



The lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz has filed over 40 cases against writers who have considered the Armenian genocide in their work, accusing them under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code of insulting "Turkishness" ("Turkianity"? "Turkitude"?). Today he lost one more case, against the novelist Elif Shafak. The value of Article 301 aside, the frequent repetition of cases like this would seem to raise the question of why Mr Kerincsiz believes that he is defending a culture by incessantly attacking the people who contribute to it.

The last plane to Moskva

Today's arrest of Marko Lugonja, one of the people accused in the conspiracy to harbor Ratko Mladić (a "jatak," which is of course different from a "hohštapler"), took place at the Belgrade airport, on a plane which was getting ready to depart for Moscow. This might be interpreted as a sign of desperation on the side of the fugitive wannabe, who wanted to get out any way he could. Or it might be interpreted as a sign of supreme confidence, taking a regular flight with a ticket and all.



Okay, so Gyurcsány Ferenc is a liar. But he does not seem to be too upset about this. And nobody seems to be bothered by his Hugh Grant penchant. But people are angry, or at least desirous of television equipment. As may be expected, Erik D'Amato is ready with a constitutional solution.


Zlatko Brzina

In other film-related news, Richard Gere is in Sarajevo, where he seems not to have impressed folks much.



Imre Kertész’s novel Fatelessness is a unique piece of work, and it impressed me. In contrast with his other works like Kaddish for an unborn child, which is self-reflective to the point of claustrophobia, this one is told in the voice of a teenage boy who is, sometimes shockingly, not reflective at all. And in contrast to the overwhelming majority of works in (what I guess has to be called) “Holocaust literature,” it proudly and aggressively refuses both melodrama and moralism. In that respect the work is paralleled by the work of only a couple of other writers who treat the period – Tadeusz Borowski, and perhaps to a lesser extent Primo Levi.

Kertész explained some of the motivations for this approach in his Nobel lecture in 2002. He was confronted both by his own ambivalent memory and by the demonstrative nature of much of the existing literature:

“The experience was about solitude, a more difficult life, and the things I have already mentioned - the need to step out of the mesmerizing crowd, out of History, which renders you faceless and fateless. To my horror, I realized that ten years after I had returned from the Nazi concentration camps, and halfway still under the awful spell of Stalinist terror, all that remained of the whole experience were a few muddled impressions, a few anecdotes. Like it didn't even happen to me, as people are wont to say.”


“In the free marketplace of books and ideas, I, too, might have wanted to produce a showier fiction. For example, I might have tried to break up time in my novel, and narrate only the most powerful scenes. But the hero of my novel does not live his own time in the concentration camps, for neither his time nor his language, not even his own person, is really his. He doesn't remember; he exists. So he has to languish, poor boy, in the dreary trap of linearity, and cannot shake off the painful details. Instead of a spectacular series of great and tragic moments, he has to live through everything, which is oppressive and offers little variety, like life itself.”

One of the elements in the book that makes the strongest impression is the way in which the main character, before his deportation a detached and ironic lad, but in all instances a model of orderliness and obedience, accepts so many of his experiences as reasonable and tries to adapt. A good deal of the book’s tension comes from the contast between what the lead character does not know and the reader does. This acceptance weakens as he weakens in the camps, but does not really collapse until he returns home to Budapest. There the varieties of misunderstanding he encounters leads him to realize (as Kertész put it to the Swedish Academy in 2001) that he has been in exile from a homeland that has never existed”.

This leads to the conclusion, as shocking as it is gentle, in which the narrator expresses what sounds like nostalgia for the horror he has experienced: Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that, the happiness of the concentration camps. If indeed I am asked. And provided I myself don't forget.” If the image of "happiness" in such circumstances still shocks, that was the author's intention. "I took the word out of its everyday context and made it seem scandalous," says Kertész. "It was an act of rebellion against the role of victim which society had assigned me. It was a way of assuming responsibility, of defining my own fate."

I am not certain that all of those factors which made the novel so unique and impressive come through in Lajos Koltai’s film of the novel, its title shortened to Fateless. The film is shot (very much in the style of István Szabó, with whom Koltai collaborated as a cinematographer before this directorial debut) in nostalgic sepia tones, the story told slowly and aestheticized. Some scenes which I interpreted as crucially important are left out or shortened – for example, the conclusion of the main character’s conversation with a well-meaning liberal journalist on his return to Budapest. One sequence is added, though it is not clear what it adds – after the liberation of the camps, an American sergeant tries to persuade the main character not to return home. All this is additionally puzzling, since nobody can accuse the screenwriter of messing with a badly understood text: Kertész wrote his own adaptation. But there is something odd about seeing the work of an author who defined Spielberg’s Schindler’s list as “kitsch” presented in a style that seems just the littlest bit Spielbergesque.

This is not to say that I don’t recommend the film. It is interesting on in own level, and has some well considered beauty. I would recommend it (like a lot of adaptations) more as a supplement to the book than as a substitute for it.

Cinema 320 is showing the film at Clark University this week. After the last projection (3:40 PM on Sunday in the Jefferson Academic Center, room 320), I will be leading a discussion for anyone who is interested. If you are around, come on down.