Archive for June, 2006

Total Perspective Vortex

MoneyIt sometimes helps to put things into perspective, if for no other reason than to make readers miserable once again and to make G17+, a Serbian political party with a monopoly over monopolies (i.e. our economy gurus), look bad:

There has been $1.3 billion of foreign direct investments into Serbia in 2005. Some of the biggest individual “investments” were purchases of Apatinska pivara (a brewery famous for its Jelen pivo) and Niš Tobacco Industry (DIN, famous for causing cancer), which speaks for itself.

Albeit twice as big of a country, neighbouring Romania had circa $6.5 billion FDI in 2005. Slovenia, a country of two million souls, was at $1.7 billion in 1995!

It has been a long tradition in Serbia to compare our standard of living and political maturity to our neighbours. Seeing Romania and Bulgaria join the EU before Serbia hurts a bit. Seeing them go through transition without major welfare sacrifices is promising, though.

(much of info via Blogoslovenia)


June 27, 2006 at 11:01 pm 2 comments

Juxtaposed Bannings

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First of all, spectator sports make people more passive, because you’re not doing them — you’re watching somebody doing them. Secondly, they engender jingoist and chauvinist attitudes, sometimes to quite an extreme degree. — Noam Chomsky

Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical PartyIt is almost ironic how prematurely the World Cup ended for a country which lived on life support for so long. Losing 6:0 to Argentina is the perfect red herring, but let’s recap Serbian recent history:

  1. Serbian Radical Party, a far right Serbian political party (their leader pictured on right) entered the Parliament.
  2. Wolf’s Hunger, a Serbian black metal band, was invited to play at Exit Fest 2006 (a music festival in Novi Sad, famous for their quality, size and ideology).
  3. Serbian Radical Party members insulted another member of the parliament, calling her all kinds of names on ethnic ground.
  4. An anti-fascist organization from Novi Sad announced Wolf’s Hunger is a neo-fascist band.

After the initial hype about the incidents in the parliament, one of the Government parties organized protests and collected signatures to ban the Serbian Radical Party for their repeated hate speech. Their efforts turned out fruitless, but it did make me wonder what it takes to ban a party from participating in the government, or a band from playing at a festival which receives some governmental help and is kind of sanctioned by the local government.

On one hand, I won’t stand for curbing the freedom of speech, and if you asked me what I thought of the Serbian minister of justice, Zoran Stojković, I would go into detail about how he convicted some dissidents for verbal misdemeanor back in the 1980s.

On the other hand, war mongering and promotion of hate and discrimination on ethnic grounds is certainly not productive, and I am not sure it can go by without serious consequences in a country such as Serbia. The country lacks a substantial level of democratization, and the government needs to start functioning through political parties, not in them. I think we still have a long way to go before we institutionalize democracy.

So, proposal to ban the Radicals is now water under the bridge, but it probably wouldn’t be too feasible to try anyway, as they have a solid following.

On the other hand, just the mistake of getting Wolf’s Hunger to play at Exit disappoints me, although I think they won’t play after all. Last year they pussied out of commemorating the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. This year, they almost let a guy who thinks that “national socialism has good aspects” play with his band…

June 19, 2006 at 9:34 pm 4 comments

Best of Službeni list

Službeni list is a 62-year old official gazette of the Yugoslavian (now Serbian) government. It publishes laws and treaties of the country, not as much to make them more transparent, but mostly to keep the populus up-to-date on what they need to know.

Unfortunately, the gazette is self-financed, so full texts are not available online, but they do keep an overview of all their editions. I browsed around a little and here are some of the headlines which caught my eye (semi-random), followed by my comments:

  • Year 1945, Act 16: Decision (decree) of awarding Josip Broz Tito the title of Marshal of Yugoslavia.
    Tito was the only person ever to hold this highest Yugoslavian army rank.
  • Year 1948, Act 805: Bylaws of teaching content at economics departments of the universities in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.
    Unfortunately, I don't have the text of the entire act, but I imagine educational program was tweaked a bit to reflect the new economic reality.
  • Year 1969, Act 196: Decision of the ban of import and distribution of books "History of the Albanian party of Labor".
    Tito had enemies in the least expecting countries. One of them was Enver Hoxha. Both websites are top-notch!
  • Year 1980, Act 552: Decision of the ban of import and distribution of "Der Spiegel".
    Tito spent significant time hospitalized and died in 1980, it was a tough year for national security.
  • Year 1991, Act 482: Order of the ban of establishing so-called border crossings within the territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
    Everyone and their dog declared independence in 1991. The government also started using the term which marked 1990s in Serbia: so-called ("border", "independent country", "peace keepers", "independent media", "journalists", "students", "protestors", "democrats", "NATO", "War crime tribunal", "United Nations", "Earth"…).
  • Year 1991, Act 682: Regulation of Yugoslavian standards of ceramic tiles.
    Somehow somebody somewhere decided it was really important to standardise ceramic tiles in 1991.
  • 500 billion dinars billYear 1993, Act 814: Decision of changing prices of certain goods back to a certain level.
    1993 was a year of hyperinflation in Serbia. The banknote on the right illustrates why prices (cene) were mentioned in every edition of Službeni list at the time.

I will now try to survive 2006.

June 8, 2006 at 1:17 am 3 comments

Vicious Cycle

Gotz and MeyerFellow blogger's post about racism made me think of an interesting phenomenon: whenever an American asks about racial dynamics in Serbia, a Serb will almost never fail to point out that Serbs are not racists. It is partially true: Serbia did not have institutionalized racism in its modern history and that's one thing we are better at than the almighty Americans. But…

Some ten years ago I was travelling to the seaside from Belgrade. As the train was still in the station, being fashionably late on departure, I stood in a tight train corridor, engaged in a passionate discussion. All of a sudden, a Romani (Gypsy) boy climbed into the wagon and approached us, begging for money.

I didn't make much out of it, but just moved a bit and lift the hand above my shoulder, gesticulating at him to pass. At the same moment, the boy, without changing his facial expression one bit, turned around and raised his shoulder in protection. He thought I would hit him. When I told him to pass, he relaxed, went around me and never looked back.

I was trembling with horror and noticed my friends were deeply shaken as well, just thinking about what went through that boy's mind. He couldn't have been much older than 8, but how many times has he been punched in the face by an adult that he interprets, without showing fear, my hand gesture as an attempt to hit him?


June 5, 2006 at 2:09 pm 3 comments

Hide and Seek

Women in Black logoFeminists say that causes for war and domestic violence come from the same place, and Serbia doesn’t stand good on either issue. As wars are not fought over trenches, but over land on which actual people live, Balkanian mothers have given birth to many a soldier who went beyond the call of duty and is now wanted for war crimes.

I will not pretend I know what goes through minds of people who order or execute mass killings, but it inevitably happens. Two of the most notorious living war criminals, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, happen to be on the run, and also happen to be the responsibility of the Serbian government.

I already talked about how their freedom means suspension of EU stabilization talks, but as of June 1st, it also means that the Serbian government will not get $7,000,000 aid from the USA. As this money, which is not a great amount at this day and age, was not coming out of goodness of America heart, I see this as tiny little economic sanctions. The sad thing is that Serbia now officially does not cooperate with the ICTY.

If the government and its institutions were more transparent, I would perhaps be able to explain this phenomenon, but as I don’t know anything of substance, I can only speculate for possible reasons… which I would love to do, but I’m afraid I don’t have enough tea to help me through it . You might be of better luck at this blog.

Still, I don’t believe we should arrest them for hard currency, nor for the European Union or Carla del Ponte, albeit it would be nice to please EU or del Ponte. They should be arrested to show respect for the basic human rights, for all of the victims and because its not nice to have dangerous criminals running around. It would also be a hard hit at militarism and senseless nationalism that is still plaguing Balkans. Perhaps it would also help curb domestic violence.

June 4, 2006 at 5:07 am 1 comment

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