Thursday, April 30, 2009
The history of Kosovo is a long one, going back to at least the 14th century. The Battle of 1389, between the Serbian and Ottoman Empires, was fought on a field near Pristina (the capital). The Battle is an important symbol of Serbian independence to Serb patriots and nationalists. In fact, 1389 is also the name of an underground Serb nationalist group, which protests the seccession of Kosovo. Their grafitti is all over Belgrade, with things like "Kosovo is Serbia" and "Kosovo is the Heart of Serbia." Kosovo is also considered the Holy Land of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the territory is full of natural resources.
During the Kosovo War (1998-1999), Serb nationalists and Kosovar Albanian paramilitaries fought over the territory. That ended when NATO excuted its bombing campaign, making the point that everyone should cut it out. It was pretty awful, a lot of refugees and IDPs - Google it for yourself, I'm too tired to write about death, destruction and disruption now.
There are about 2 million people living in Kosovo and there is about a 90% ethnic Albanian majority, 10% Serb minority. Not sure how much I believe these figures, seeing as that there are over 100,000 Roma who live there, not to mention other national minorities - I don't know how much of the Albanian's majority was manipulated. It is so important to look at things objectively and critically in this entire region. Official languages are Albanian and Serbian. Albanian looks pretty crazy- I was trying to pick up the basics earlier. They have umlauts over their E's and what looks like 10 syllables in every word. Also, Kosovo is "Kosova" in Albanian. So, in Serbia, if you are really pro-independent Kosovo, you can say "Kosova" and people will know your position on the issue. If you say "Kosovo i Metohija," then you are probably a Serb nationalist.
I'm hoping to learn more about the different stances on Kosovo's independence. As an American, it's so easy to get caught up in my country's foreign policy & perspective and support Kosovar independence wholeheartedly. Living in Belgrade for a while has made me think, "No - Kosovo is Serbia!" I'm curious to see what it will be like there - will I be welcomed as an American? Or will they tell, "We're fine thanks, we don't need you or the UN anymore - let us run our own country now."? Not sure how much of that I can gauge in a day and half, but maybe the people on the bus will speak English and I can discuss it with them.
I decided to accompany my roommate Gaby to Kosovo this weekend. We're going to Pristina, the capital, early tommorow morning and coming back Saturday afternoon. She needs to go there to do an interview for her project and I thought it would be better if I went with her. I got in touch with the Women for Women office, but they are closed tomorrow, because May 1 is International Labor Day. :-(
I have a meeting with my project advisor in two hours, out at the Palace, and I have a few errands to run before then. More later & I'll write about Kosovo when I get back!!
P.S. What is all this about swine flu? Hype? Seeing that there are visa regimes for Serbians in nearly every country and hence, they don't do a lot of international travelling, I think I'm pretty safe. Now, go wash your hands. With hot water and soap. None of that Purell nonsense. Seriously. Go wash them.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Well, you're probably wondering why I am not there right now. I wish I could see you, but your Tante is going to send me some pictures soon! I'm not there because I am a crazy person and decided to spend a few months studying and traveling in the former Yugoslavia. You'll learn more about geography and history when you're older. It's complicated stuff.
Soon, you will get to go home from the hospital and be with your whole family! Unfortunately, I still have a few more weeks (forunately, I am not in a hospital). I am living in a big city called Belgrade, where I am working on an independent study project. I still have two weeks to finish the project, but it involves interviewing people, reading a lot of books & articles and writing the research paper.
I had two really good interviews today, with people who have fancy titles and big offices. It was neat, but also stressful. I am always worried about asking the wrong questions or sounding uninformed about the topics I am researching. Luckily, people are very accepting and welcoming of me as a student-researcher. They think that it is awesome that I have the interest to come here and study, and I consider it a great opportunity too. Even still, it is hard to find people who will meet with me, or even respond to my emails & phone calls. Usually, I need someone to pull strings for me! My advisor, who knows everyone(!!), helps me to set up the appointments. You probably think that it is all very silly - you are probably right.
Take care, baby Shane!! I will be home at the end of May and seeing you very soon after!
Волим те! (Love you!)
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Rachel and I went with her. I haven't tried any restaurants in Belgrade yet, so I was really excited. The place was divine. It's apparently popular with the expat community and the very courteous waitstaff provided us with English menus. It was a short menu, mostly Asian fusion, which was something I didn't expect. But, everything sounded so wonderful - we decided to each try something different.
I started with the corba dana, the soup of the day: carrot soup with madarin oranges and sour cream. It was good - sort of creamy, but not heavy. It was something I wouldn't normally be too interested in, but it was actually good. But my entree.... ohhh...
A perfect steak, with marinated figs and wasabi sauce, over rice. It's going to haunt me. It was one of the best dishes I have ever tried. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The figs were sweet and the wasabi gave it a kick, but neither overpowered the steak. I thought the rice with steak was a little weird, but I think they were trying to continue the Asian fusion theme. It went well with the wasabi.
Gaby started with a platter of prosciutto with blue cheese and quince and had chicken curry for her main dish. Rachel had Tom Yum (Thai) soup and grilled salmon with sweet chili and coconut milk. Their dishes looked good too, but mine was definitely the best. :-) Hopefully, she'll need to review another restaurant next week!!
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The web address is still the same (http://lzkblr.blogspot.com/) and I'll still be posting updates from my travels! Stay tuned...
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Fashion is just one of many layers of [pop] culture in the Balkans. I hesistate in identifying a mainstream, but there are definite underground/sub-cultures. The early 1990s brought not only sanctions to Serbia, but also the music phenomenon of turbofolk. It's traditional Balkan folk music themes mixed with techno, with many associations and stigmas, such as Serb nationalism, objectification of women, etc. Here is a sample video (viewer discretion advised, it's not G-rated!). The video is of Ceca's hit "Nevaljala" (meaning "rascal").
Enter: Glam power couple.
In 1995, Ceca, the goddess of turbofolk, married Arkan, who was the leader of the Serb paramilitary group "Arkan's Tigers." A notorious criminial, Arkan was assassinated before his trial in 2000 - about 20,000 people attended his memorial. Ceca was later arrested in 2003, for her allegede connections to the assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić. Ceca's wild popularity, especially her fan base in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, is often criticized because of these ties/allegations.
The street adjacent to mine, Strahinica Bana (Страхиница Бана), is densely populated with cafes, bars, and nightclubs - it is the place to see and be seen. It's widely referred to as "Silicon Valley," because of all the cosmetic surgery visible on the patrons at places with names like "Insomnia" and "Plastic." As I walked through the Valley the other night with some friends, my friend Bojan kept a running commentary about the money on the street: the golddigger girls, and their "wannabe gangster" boyfriends. There is organized crime here - I want to know is if their boyfriends are actually gangsters. Walk Strahinica Bana at night and in just a few blocks, you can see Jaguars, Ferraris and the rest... contrasting starkly to the Yugos, Trabants and other exhaust-spewing, socialist-era vehicles typical on the streets of Belgrade.
Living on one of the most beautiful streets in Belgrade, I feel at home. Skadarlija reminds me of quiet tree-lined streets in Washington (although the hundreds years old cobblestones throw me off a bit). Our rent, while outrageous in Belgrader terms, its comparable to rents in DC. I can afford to get coffee in the cafes and could dine alfresco a few times a week in any restaurant. But when I see the cars, the girls and the "gangster" boyfriends, I'm reminded of this glamorous, intriguing league in which I'm trying to coexist.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I forgot that English is quite a common language - so every expat and foreigner (not to mention all the locals who found the 11:30 service convenient for them) was there. Before Mass began, I overheard Italian, French, German, Dutch, Indonesian - and those were just the languages I recognized. The people in the congregation represented the most diversity I've witnessed here - it was really neat. The celebrant welcomed what I think was the entire Italian diplomatic mission to Serbia and spoke to them in Italian in his opening (this church also has Masses in Italian). The family sitting next to me was Korean - they brought Korean Bibles for the kids to read!
It was a pretty normal Mass. After the service, the parish priest brought out a HUGE basket full of dyed eggs for all of the kids. There were a ton of toddlers there, they were really cute. They were all so happy and excited - I wonder if they were headed home to another big basket... full of chocolate...?
I came home and made a stratta with scallions and ham. Not an Easter feast, but it was a good brunch. I'm definitely missing what I'm sure will be a great Easter meal at home... especially mashed potatoes!! We've been watching Travel Channel specials on South Asia all day, so I think we're paying a visit to Wok to Walk, the one Asian take-out place in Belgrade tonight. A bit nontraditional, but then again, so is my life in general.
Happy Easter! Sretan Uskrs! Frohe Ostern! Joyeux Pâques! Buona Pasqua! Zalig Pasen! Selamat Paskah! May the Risen Christ fill our lives with his presence and peace!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Rachel, Gaby and I went out to Ušće today. It's a blok over in New Belgrade. There is a park/field along the Sava river and there is a new shopping center, which just opened a week ago. We took the bus across the river and walked around the park for a bit, then went to the new mall. There was a Benetton/Sisley, Marks & Spencer, Sephora, Guess, Time Out (like the Serbian A&F), etc, plus lots of very, um, Euro stores. Even though it was the same as any American mall, it seemed so big and loud and crowded to us - it was very overwhelming. Malls are a new, but popular, concept here. We haven't been shopping in a while, so we just walked through in a daze.
Ok, ok, back to McDonald's. We were at the bus stop and there was a poster for McDonald's - this one.
It called to us. We needed McDee's, STAT. Luckily, the bus stop we were getting off at is near the Belgrade McD's, so we went. Like any McDonald's, it was unexplainedly and unreasonably crowded, but I managed to get some fries. I was so happy - they were just like the fries in the States!! It was like tasting America. As we were eating, Madonna's "Like a Prayer" came on... the irony was a little too much for us to handle.
"Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone / I hear you call my name / And it feels like home."
P.S. We also tried the prolećne rolnice, the spring rolls, they were really good. I hope they add them to the menu in the States. The Spicy Criss-Cross (Iks-Oks) Potatoes will be ordered at a future time.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Today is International Roma Day. Here in Belgrade, there is a big celebration going on in Republic Square. I saw a big stage and lots of performers - there were kids performing a traditional dance with some older men playing music (mostly accordians & tubas!!).
Here are Sec'y Clinton's remarks....
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Love from Beograd,
Belgrade 07 April 2009
The Roma people from the slum in New Belgrade that have been removed on Friday, spent a fourth night in a row in the open, as most of them refused the offer of Belgrade's Government to be placed in shelters.
The local government came out yesterday with a temporary solution to put children, women and the elderly in shelters, orphanages and other institutions where they would have food, bathrooms and a warm place to sleep. But, none of the 47 families accepted this offer, because they were afraid it would separate their families, and because the city does not have any plan for their men, who are able to work.
Some residents from other Belgrade slums, accepted to try to live in shelters. So far, three mothers with five children who lived in the largest slum in Belgrade, the so-called "carton city", under the "Gazela" Bridge which crosses the Sava river, arrived to the "Drinka Pavlovic Orphange" and during the day, a single father and his four children will also join them.
Roma from the New Belgrade slum say that they will continue the protests until the local government finds a permanent solution for their housing dilemma. Since Friday, they have slept in tents supplied by humanitarian organizations and are sitting by the fire. If it starts to rain they plan to sleep in several vans that they have borrowed from friends.
The local government decided to remove their slum in order to embellish the space surrounding the Universiade Village, a luxury estate complex built for the competitors of The Universiade 2009, which will be held in Belgrade this July. Belgrade's local government had planned to move the Roma families to Boljevci, a suburb of the city, but local residents protested and set fire to housing containers where the Roma were supposed to be temporarily accommodated.
As one of the possible solutions for all Serbian Romas, the government is considering "The National Strategy for Roma People", whose draft was adopted five years a go. The assistant of Human and Minority Rights Minister, Petar Antic told B92 that the government should urgently adopt the complete Strategy. According to the information from the Ministry of Health, 75 per cents of Romas in Serbia live in inadequate and unsanitary settlements.
Temporary Housing Solution for Belgrade Roma
Belgrade 06 April 2009 Jovana Gligorijevic
Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas announced that he will today meet OSCE and UNHCR representatives, in order to find a solution to the problem of 47 Roma families who now find themselves homeless, after their slum near Universiade Village was demolished on Friday.
Belgrade's local government had planned to move the families to Boljevci, a suburb of the city, but local residents protested and set on fire housing containers where the Roma were supposed to be temporarily accommodated. There were no serious incidents, partly because representatives of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, OSCE and the World Health Organisation were present.
The Roma, who lived in an illegal settlement where 50 of 350 ramshackle homes were razed to the ground by bulldozers on Friday, were not present at the scene of the protests.
They spent the weekend in the open, waiting for the issue of their accommodation to be resolved.
Belgrade city authorities, who ordered the demolitions in order to make way for an access road to in Universiade 2009, met with international organisations and ministries, and agreed to provide temporary accommodation.
Mayor Dragan Djilas announced on Sunday that he would ask the police to launch an investigation to find those responsible for setting fire to the container houses in Boljevci.
At an emergency press conference called over the case, Djilas said that the Roma from the razed settlement would temporarily be accommodated in centres for abandoned and orphaned children in different areas of Belgrade, as well as in nursing homes. The first of those to be temporarily accommodated, as of today, are women and children.
Removal of the slum started on Friday, when its residents blocked a major road in New Belgrade before crossing the river to protest in front of the Belgrade Assembly building.
"Several dozen citizens of Belgrade cannot hold the rest of the city hostage. They were settled there illegally, and it is necessary that they move from there so that a new boulevard can be built for the development of that part of the city, and for the events that will be held there," said Djilas on Friday.
However, Citizens' Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic voiced severe criticism of the demolition of the slum dwellings, saying that bulldozers and police cannot solve the problem of Roma settlements, "nor do they implement the Roma decade in Serbia".
"It is quite clear that it was necessary to prepare such measures in advance, identify those who have a right to adequate emergency accommodation, prepare that accommodation, and avoid the use of force and a situation where citizens and children of Roma ethnicity find themselves on the street“, said Jankovic.
Monday, April 6, 2009
The trippiest, bluest bathroom you've ever seen...
*to be continued*
Sunday, April 5, 2009
We had a pretty miserable bus ride from Zagreb. We had to wait at the border for almost two hours - maybe there is only one customs officer working on Sundays?? So, it took us forever to get here... the bus was sooo hot, we didn't have any food and, at one point, we stopped for a bathroom break and the toilet cost five Euros! Five Euros to pee! That's crazy!
I'm living in a small apartment with Rachel and Gaby. The neighborhood is called Skadarlija (Скадарлија) and it's beautiful - it's the bohemian quarter of the city. I came down here one afternoon when I was here in March and I love it. There are a lot of nice restaurants (nice = white tablecloth) and cafes along the street. It's a cobblestone pedestrian zone, with a lot of nice trees and benches and such. It's also a short walk from Republic Square, which is the center of the city. In all, really nice, but I can definitely see that we're paying for the location with our rent money...
Our apartment is great. We have a big living area and a small dining room/kitchen. Actually, not really a kitchen - more like a minifridge and a hot plate. We have one bedroom with two beds (I'm sleeping in the living room on one of the pullouts). I'm very happy to have my own space again!!
Tomorrow, we'll be changing some money (the value of the dollar is killing us - what is going on over there?!), shopping for some stuff for the apartment (like laundry detergent), and starting work on our research. More later!!
Love from Belgrade,
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I'm waiting to meet with my AD to see if my independent study project proposal will be approved (or not). I've spent the last few days carefully constructing a final proposal about my work on Roma issues. The entire proposal is seven pages and includes an introduction to my project, a literature review, my research methodology, resources at my research site, a timeline of my project and interview questions. Many fingers are crossed... I will be under a lot of stress if this doesn't get approved in this meeting!
My tentative title is, "Social Policies towards Development and Roma Integration in Belgrade: A Case Study of the Proposed Gazela Resettlement Project." I will be studying how social policies towards the Roma people are applied in Belgrade and how these policies influence the integration of Roma people with the greater community. Currently, there is a movement to relocate the inhabitants of the Gazela settlement, a slum located under the Gazela Bridge. I am using this situation as a case study to learn more about the proposed resettlement project and how social policies (regarding welfare benefits like housing) are applied and can help the Roma people be empowered and become integrated in the city of Belgrade.
That's a lot condensed into one paragraph and it's probably horribly vague and confusing to you... at this point, I've stated and restated my research goals so many times to myself and to the AD that even I'm not sure what I'm studying anymore. Eh.