Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bits and pieces, Yugonostalgia

I've been a bit lazy with blogging, but two stories recently have caught my attention (I'm going to do a cut and paste job here):

Balkan train rolls again in landscape of memory

Creaking and swaying through a landscape of bitter memories, the once beloved Belgrade-Sarajevo train goes back on the rails this weekend, nearly 18 years after war stopped it in its tracks...A magnet for day trippers and lovers, it was a place where Yugoslavia's state motto of "brotherhood and unity" came alive.

Ljilja Kraus, a Belgrade teacher in her 40s, said she used to take the train four to five times a year in the 1980s. "I had friends there, I used to see when the next train is going, call up my friends and just hop on," she said. "A train journey is something special, you can walk around, meet people, let the sounds of the engine lull you to sleep. It's a kind of intimacy that only exists on a train."

"There was that special bond between Sarajevo and Belgrade not only because of the same language, but because of the same mentality," she said.

And in other news, Tito's grandson has been elected chairman of new Serbian communist party.

"Josip Broz, a grandson of the former Yugoslavian communist leader Josip Broz Tito, has been elected chairman of a newly-formed Communist Party of Serbia, local media reported.

Broz said the new Communist Party would be a modern leftist party and support Serbia's integration in the European Union.

He said that the program of the party would inherit the experience of its predecessors but would take into account modern realities.

"We accept everything that was good and reject everything that was bad," Broz said.

"For instance, our party will respect the freedom of religion in contrast with the former Communist party whose members had to be atheists," the politician added.

No doubt about it, these stories brought back a certain sense of Yugonostalgia. Sure, they're not much-a train running between two cities is hardly a cause for celebration. Likewise, a name doesn't equate a good political group. But us humans are symbolic creatures and the symbolism of it all put a bittersweet smile on my face.

I then attended a wedding over the weekend when the topic of Tito's grandson came up. It seemed like I wasn't the only one there feeling Yugonostalgic. I know that many of us, especially children of mixed marriages, felt as if they'd lost their identity in the war. A few still refer to themselves as Yugoslavian. It might seem silly, since its been nearly 20 years since the existence of such an identity, but if you ask me what I am I will tell you: I am bosnian, I am half muslim half serbian, but above all of that-I am Yugoslavian.

P.S On another totally unrelated note, I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy our weddings. Nothing beats dancing, drinking and singing your lungs out to old Yugoslav anthems. I've been walking around humming "Bolje biti pijan nego star..vino ne zna da smo nekad bili sretni par.." to myself for the past few days.

P.P.S On a more related note, I found a good article on the emergence of Yugonostaliga in the balkans and abroad. Its worth a read.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chomsky, Vulliamy, and Me

I would urge anyone who has the time to check out and support Ed Vulliamy's open letter to Amnesty International regarding Chomsky's annual lecture on Human Rights. It is an open, honest and deeply passionate piece of work. Vulliamy describes his own experiences in Bosnia during the war, as a witness to the crimes that took place in the Prijedor Region. With heartfelt emotion he condemns what he rightly sees as Chomskys denial of these crimes.

Chomsky has since penned a response, and it is quite underwhelming. There is none of that humanitarian concern that is felt in Vulliamy's letter. Rather, in a cold and didactic manner, Chomsky attempts to deny and dodge Vulliamy's charges. Chomsky starts off by writing:

"It is a nuisance, and a bit of a bore, to dwell on the topic, and I always keep away from personal attacks on me.."

Firstly lets just get one thing straight Chomsk, it is not a personal attack. He is not suggesting that your hair looks bad. Rather it is a justified condemntation of some of the views you have shared on the Bosnian war. Secondly, there is no need to act like your too cool or slick for this. This is human rights and peoples lives we are talking about, not some neighbourhood gossip.

You dodge most the accusations, and then throw in a few arguments that have nothing to do with the letter at hand. I know this isn't going to mean much, because really why would you care about what some young woman like me thinks, but I have lost a lot of respect for you. On the other hand, I never knew who Ed Vulliamy was before, but I have gained a lot of respect for him. It takes great courage and compassion to put yourself right in the middle of a war zone, expose what you have seen, and then care enough to passionately condemn those who have trivialized the suffering and loss of life.

Chomsky, I understand you've had similar letters in the past and have reacted in a very much similar way.  Well let me tell you, it is easy to write about human rights abuses with cold, jaded intellectualism-it is not so easy to witness and fight against them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Grinch who stole media

He owns 60% of the world's media.
And 70% of Australia's.
His mother is actually rather lovely.
And despite his best efforts, we still have journalists left with honour and integrity.

So who is he? You guessed it, he is the Grinch who stole media, and he goes by the name of Rupert Murdoch.  And now he is planning on making a few extra bucks by introducing charges for content on his online newspapers. In order to encourage folks to pay up, he is also considering removing stories from Google's search index.

Rupert dear, is your rich ass not rich enough already? The beauty of news online is that it is free and easily accessible to all.

But then again, really who am I to judge? We all have to struggle for those extra few dollars. (Or those extra few billions). It's a daily hussle in this is cold, hard world. One day you could be sitting on top, the next day you might not afford  to fly your private jet. That is the sad reality people!!!!

Plus the outcome of this might just be that less people read his crap. And wouldn't that be a sigh of relief :)

Apart from stifling media freedom around the globe, Rupert also enjoys running his mouth on every goddamn issue under the sun:

Mr Murdoch took a swipe at US President Barack Obama, saying he was "going badly".
But his comments on the Prime Minister were the most striking.
Mr Murdoch described Mr Rudd as "delusional" for thinking he could shift global thinking on climate change and accused him of being over-sensitive to criticism.
He also said Mr Rudd seemed more interested in running the world and not Australia.

Why oh why do you think your political opinions are so important? Oh thats right, because 33% of those who recieved their news primarily from Fox thought Weapons of Mass Destruction had been discovered in Iraq. (As Rupert says, he doesn't tell the editors what to write, but he does "choose the editors.")

Our ever-so-classy Aussie-born Grinch also hit back at the ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, who recently likened News Corporation to an empire in decline (all of a sudden I like this Mark Scott dude):

Mr Murdoch says Mr Scott's push to launch an international TV service to rival CNN and BBC World is folly.
"Spending $800 million putting Australian culture and didgeridoos around the world is huge over-reach," he told Sky News."

I'm sensing a little jealousy, tinged with a tiny bit of-oh dare I say itracism there Rupert?? Or atleast disdain for Australian and Indigenous culture?

I can just imagine what you were thinking: Those Aboriginals with their didgeridoos! Don't those bloody people realize Pussycat Dolls are the only acceptable form of entertainment!

You shouldn't worry about that though Rupie, even President Obama is racist...Don't you agree?

One song seems to come to mind..

"You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel...."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What we have lost, and what we have gained..

We lost peace, instead we got war.
We lost socialism; we recieved capitalism, and a government run by criminals and thiefs.
We lost brotherhood, unity, and love between the people. We gained nationalism and hate.
We lost guaranteed employment and regular income; instead we have mass unemployment, and irregular pay for those of us with jobs.
We lost our freedom to travel the globe, we gained visa requirements for every country we might want to step foot into.
We lost our independence; instead we gained dependence on the west, and NATO planes over our heads.
We lost our connection with the balkans, we gave into balkanization.
We lost the ability to choose our own path, we've got someone else to do it for us now.
We lost worker's holidays and vacations by the coast; we gained foreigners on our beaches, while we work holidays for a bit of extra cash.
We lost free universal health care, we gained privatised health and medical expenses.
We lost free education, we recieved university degrees for those who can afford them.
We lost respect and moral, we gained dishonour and fraud.
We lost one language: Serbo-Croatian. We gained three-Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian.
We lost commradeship for all, we gained elitism for a few.

In the words of graffiti sprawlled on a Belgrade wall: when we were commrades, we lived like kings.

This article, written by Croatian journalist Ivica Basic, says it best :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chomsky, puffing the magic dragon perhaps?

On a few blogs recently I've read about Chomsky's denial of Bosnia's concentration camps. To be honest, I've heard something to this effect before, but never really paid much attention to it. I don't believe much of what I read in corporate media. I know how things can be skewed or taken out of context, and certain groups make it a hobby to smear political commentators such as Chomsky. Reading about it at Samaha's Blog and The Srebrenica Genocide Blog though, I decided to do some research of my own. I found an interview of his on the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia, that seemed to get off on an okay start:

Danilo Mandic: Last month marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the bombing of Yugoslavia. Why did NATO wage that war or I should say why did the United States wage that war?

Chomsky: ...the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated..

I don't doubt that the US-led NATO bombing was more out of self-interest than humanitarian concern. Afterall, nobody seems quiet so eager to bomb Sudan in order to save Darfur. So I'm thinking, maybe my pal Chomsky has been misunderstood. Maybe accusations levelled at him of "downplaying" the crimes in Bosnia have just been taken out of context?

The topic then swtiches to this famous photograph:

Chomsky goes on to say:

"Well, you know, it was investigated and carefully investigated. In fact it was investigated by the leading Western specialist on the topic, Philip Knightly, who is a highly respected media analyst and his specialty is photo journalism, probably the most famous Western and most respected Western analyst in this. He did a detailed analysis of it. And he determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted and, near the thin man was a fat man and so on.."

Um seriously Chomsk, my man what is it..marijuana? LSD? Maybe some magic mushrooms?

I don't know how else to take your claims. Help me out. Everything else I've read of yours I agree with. But that it was a refugee camp and that it was reporters who were behind the barbed wired, and people could leave if they wanted?

I guess I must've missed the memo that the photograph was fraudulent. Here I was thinking that the man in that photograph, is a survivor who travelled to the Hague recently to witness the proceedings against Karadzic. Silly me.

I would love nothing more but for that photographs to be fake, I would rather it be all made up, than real. I would love if the person in that picture was in a refugee camp, and not a concentration camp. I would love if all the horrors of the Balkan wars never took place. Who wouldn't? But unfortunately, it's not reality. (And P.S your "western specialist" friend must be smoking something even harder).

I, like many many others, lament the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. I wish there was a way to re-unite our countries again. But the concentration camps and the genocide that took place during the Bosnian war is not a figmet of western imagination. Trust me, I know.

You can read the full Chomsky interview here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

There had always been ethnic rivalries...

I have a lot of things on my mind at the moment. I wanted my second post to be about the war in Afghanistan, or about the UN’s damming report on the living conditions faced by many Indigenous Australians, or the piece of trash journalism on TV tonight about the Indigenous communities around Uluru (unfortunately I didn't watch enough of it, as my dad refused to watch "that propaganda").

I wanted to write about any global or contemporary Australian issue..

but here I am again, writing about the Former Yugoslavia.

I wonder what happened to make a neighbour turn against a neighbour?

In school I read that there had always been ethnic rivalries in the Balkans. I came home and told my parents this. They scoffed. What ethnic rivalries? They said. There were no ethnic rivalries-we lived there, we know.

It's an all too familiar story. It reminds me of a documentary I watched on Iraq. An Iraqi woman tells that before the war, no one cared who was a Sunni or Shiite-to do so was considered backward or primitive. And then at the outbreak of the war, the two groups turned on one another. The western media again play it off as, "there had always been ethnic rivalries."

To those who have never been in a war, or whose countries have never experienced such strife, it must all look a bit too barbaric. Of course it couldn't have been all alright..of course there must've been some rivalries..because if there weren't, how can you explain what took place?

Well yeah, I guess it must look that way. How can you explain what happened? Short answer: you can't.

My dad asks himself now, Was there really no hatred? Were we living in a bubble? Maybe it was different in the villages? But ask Ex-Yugo after Ex-Yugo, and they will tell you the same thing. They were drinking coffee with their neighbour one day, and at war the next. No one has a proper answer as to how things unfolded, where they went wrong.

When the propaganda started, my parents thought it would all die down. When the tensions started, my parents thought that they would eventually subside. Even when fighting broke out in Croatia, they thought that it couldn't happen in their own home town. These were people they grew up with, went to high school with, worked and laughed with. No matter what was going on elsewhere, it couldn't happen here.

I guess the lesson to learn with the Balkans is that propaganda is always dangerous. Always fight against it. You might think that those who stir the flames of ethnic hatred are idiots, but even still: never let them get to power.

My parents had their wedding in Omarska in '86. They were a "mixed marriage." There were Serbs, Croats, and Muslims present. Some in mixed marriages themselves. In the videotape I watch all are happy, singing, dancing, laughing. Who would think that a few years later, Omarska would be the site of one of the biggest concentration camps in Europe since WWII?

One man in that videotape, one of my parents' best friends, was murdered in the very same town where he once celebrated their wedding. The rest have literally been dispersed all around the globe; far away from their families, old friends, and what once used to be their homeland. What was one country, became 5; and now 7. Driving past Omarska last year, my dad asked my mum if she wanted to stop-go inside the restaurant where their wedding was once held. My mum answered, "And why on earth would I want to stop there?"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Uhh..what? Crimes against humanity will only get you six years these days

Yesterday, Radovan Karadzic made a mockery of the International Hague tribunal by refusing to show up to his own trial. The court had to be adjourned as a result. Today, convicted war criminal Biljana Plavsic will be set free after only serving 6 years of an 11 year sentence.

The original allegations against her? Two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and one count of violations of the customs of war. However, after reaching a plea bargain with the prosecution, she pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity and the rest of the charges were dropped.

Her most famous photograph is of her literally stepping over the dead bodies of bosniak men to greet and congratulate war-criminal Arkan. She was thought to be a psychopath by the ultimate psychopath himself, Slobodan Milosevic. Yep, the brutal butcher of the Balkans, thought her to be crazy. She was the first woman in history to be accused of genocide. Yet only six years after she was first convicted, she is now free to return to her Belgrade apartment and live out the rest of her life.

“'Sweden did not hand down the sentence,' Reinfeldt told reporters after the cabinet decision.

'She was sentenced by an international tribunal that took into account that Plavsic cooperated with the tribunal,' he added, saying that was a likely reason she was given an 11-year sentence, not a life sentence.”

All I want to know is..what about the tens of thousands of Yugoslav civillians, mostly croats and bosniaks, killed in the war? What about those tortured, beaten and starved to death? What about those who lived the last moments of their lives imprisoned in barbed-wire concentration camps? What about the thousands of bosniak women who were brutally raped, and lost their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers in the war? If one count of murder can get you life, 6 years for a convicted war criminal seems to be a cruel joke.

She was also apparently met in Sweden by the prime minister of republika srpska, Milorad Dodik. Is he insane? Well, clearly. I just didn’t realise that fascists from the 90s still held power in the former Yugoslavia. Oh, the Balkans still have a long way to go. I think I must be living in a bubble, surrounded by those who do not care about nationality, because it seems like there are plenty more people who do.

I will now leave you with some Biljana Plavsic quotes:

“I would prefer to completely cleanse eastern Bosnia of Muslims. When I say cleanse, I don't want anyone to take me literally and think I mean ethnic cleansing. But they've attached this label, 'ethnic cleansing,' to a perfectly natural phenomenon and characterized it as some kind of war crime."

"[That the Bosnian Muslims were originally Serbs] is true. But it was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse, it simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes."

"We are disturbed by the fact that the number of marriages between Serbs and Muslims has increased [...] mixed marriages lead to an exchange of genes between ethnic groups, and thus to a degeneration of Serb nationhood."

Such a warm and lovely lady, that biljana!