Today was an incredibly interesting day as we were able to meet with both the US Ambassador and the President of the 67th UN General Assembly, who was also the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Bosnian Parliament.
The embassy was altogether a very interesting place. With much less security than at the Embassy in Bosnia, we were sent through metal detectors, but got to hold on to all our belongings, besides phones. As we walked into the conference room we were meant to be in for the next two hours, a dreary idea, we were greeted by American chocolates (Hershey’s, Reese’s, and my personal favorite, Mr. Goodbar) on our seats, along with an awesome pin that shows the the Serbian Flag and the American Flag. Needless to say, they had all won us over.
We first got to speak with Ambassador Kirby, who has been a diplomat for over 34 years and has lived in 16 countries. He spoke mostly to the way in which the country currently runs. The state owned enterprises do little for state’s own good, mostly corrupt and do not benefit the majority of people. He also spoke to the fact that if Serbia was able to “normalize” its relationship with Kosovo, than it would be able to join the UN in a similar way East Germany and West Germany did before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. One thing we keep repeatedly hearing from speakers is how Serbia has long term plans to join the EU. Ambassador Kirby finally gave us a timeline when this might happen. Ideally, they would have all infrastructure built by 2018 in order to apply for ascension for the year 2020, so that they could make it into the 2021 budget cycle. Yet, they one thing that really struck me about Kirby’s observations of the country was he warning he gave: when trying to fix problems, especially as part of the international community, one cannot draw parallels across the globe, or even a continent, no two problems are the same and will never have the same solution.
After the Embassy visit, we walked through the rain in our nicest clothes to the Center for International relations and Sustainable developments. This may have been one of my favorite visits yet. Vuk Jeremic was the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Serbian Parliament, representing the Democratic Party. However, much cooler in my mind and more recently, Jeremic was the President for the 67th UN General Assembly. Most of what he talked about was focused around the Millennium Development Goals and their deadline quickly approaching.
While the 8 MDGs did some good, they were not all completed. Jeremic has a plan to implement as many as 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented via the UN after the current MDGs expire. He hopes to see them meet all MDGs, while also focusing on protecting the environment and a global social cohesion. MDG education was simply ing on sending kids to schools, not ensuring that they also had textbooks and decent teachers. Schools are not just about money, they are about numbers, one can’t just build a school and leave. The infrastructure must be built before one can leave. This is where the SDGs hope to fill the gaps.
Jeremic also sees religion as playing an integral role in initiating successful dialogue. However it must be in a secular way. These groups have a lot of power and can have a positive impact on the future. One example might be the current Pope. Though he leads Catholics around the world, I see much of what he says applying to humans in general.
Our final, and biggest assignment, of this study abroad is our Disputation. It is essentially a form of debate where three teams are set up to debate in pro, con, and judge. The question that my group was fortunate enough to receive poses the question about the executive power of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and its role in BiH. The OHR was written into the Constitution with the Dayton Accords, nearly twenty years ago. They were sent in to keep an eye on BiH leadership and corruption within the gov’t. They were able to exercise their rights of Bonn Powers which meant they could remove anyone, even a President (there are three [one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat] at any given time) from office. However, they gave up those powers in 2006 and have done very little for the country since. Our disputation question asks whether or not they should pull out and what the consequences would be for BiH. The Pro side will argue for OHR to pull out of the country, the Con side will defend the role of OHR, and the judges will pose difficult questions to both sides.
Naturally, this is a very difficult issue that I have not even really begun to explain, though have done my best to sum it up clearly in as few sentences as possible. We are unsure of the side we will have to take , so in preparation we must research all sides. This is a very interesting and tedious task, one I am not used to as I have had very little experience with similar activities. I am absolutely learning something very new everyday and, depending on how the final goes, I am considering joining ModelUN this fall!
However, this does not mean that each day has been easy. I am in a team of five, each person who is unique and has a lot to offer the team, yet we really struggle to perform at our best everyday. Our Professor spent part of a lecture on how groups perform and the pattern in which that will come. First you form, then storm, norm, and finally perform. Though we had some very harsh storms at the beginning, we began to norm, yet we still seem to be on the brink of storming and performing, which seems to have become our default norm.
Trying to write one cohesive paper, let alone form an excellent debate is a new challenge everyday. Throughout all the work we have done together, we always seem to run into the issue of appearing to see things from different points of view. There always seem to be anywhere between two and three view points. It is constantly flip-flopping, but today I had quite the realization. We are Bosnia.
We all come from different backgrounds and have different opinions, yet we manage to form into two or three groups and storm against each other until one decides to give up and let the other two have their way for the time being. But then the next day, another problem comes up, and without compromise, one or two groups get their way by steamrolling everyone else.
And this is exactly what we have been studying for the past four weeks. We have had so much dialogue about why and how it got this bad. We have even gone so far as to write an entire paper on a plan for BiH to begin to have a more civil society through civic duties and conversations. Yet here we are, sipping our espressos and eating our sopskas, so far removed from the situation, falling into the same trap that they have. I am mortified at our hypocrisy.
Tomorrow, I would like to moderate my group with the hopes of finally being able to integrate everyone into one conversation without the idea of being on different levels or opposite sides of the coin.
Today, we visited The Communist Museum here in Belgrade. It was actually inside the former HQ for Communists and their interrogation needs which was eery, but it was very interesting to learn more about how Communist Yugoslavia really affected the citizens in the region. After reading “Burn This House” I saw Tito portrayed as a hero and savior to many people. I had no idea, I suppose this is my fault since I did not even bother to google it, that more than 56,000 people were killed and many more were placed in Tito concentration camps. As many people were affected by the good side of Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia, just as many were losing family members overnight to camps, or being given away as traitors by innocent family members, who just wanted the torture to stop. It was similar to other memorial museums I have been to, yet I was not prepared in anyway. Of course it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Holocaust or Srebrenica memorials, but as I was expecting a museum praising the communist times here in Belgrade, I was definitely a little shocked.
On a lighter note, we found a 24 hour falafel place that I am addicted to. Two of my favorite jewish folks I’ve let here told me it is the best they have had out of Tel Aviv. I’ve been thinking a lot about the foods that I would like to be able to make at home, and though it’s not necessarily regional, falafel is definitely one of those foods, as I`ve realized how shitty the dining hall stuff is…. Fauxlafel as it has been officially dubbed by Jennie. Regionally, I will definitely be eating a sposka salad everyday for the rest of my life, but would also love to learn to make burek, trufije, and koh. Burek is a sausage wrapped in filo dough and deep fried, very specific to the Balkans. Trufije (sp?) are boiled apples filled with walnuts an cream and are to die for. I can’t even begin to describe koh but it is heavenly and when I figure out how to make it, you can all try it (all i know is there is dough and cream involved).
Over the last two days, we had the honor of having the organization CANVAS (Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies) to train us in planning nonviolent actions. They also happened to be a part of Otpar! which was the organization that overthrew Milosevic in 2000. There is a really great documentary that I actually watched sophomore year of high school when I was working at Peace Camp one summer. It is called “Bringing Down A Dictator” and is the story of how they overthrew the dictator of Serbia. Basically these dudes are celebrities and you should definitely watch the documentary. They basically walked us through all the steps of identifying who your target audiences would be and how they would react with different kinds of authority. It was all very familiar as far as nonviolent action training goes, however I have never seen the topic presented so well. All of their activities were very well planned out and we were even given the opportunity to plan our own action around some kind of issue.
The issue that my group chose was the free streaming and downloading of online media (in favor of it). Our arguments were mostly about how many people can’t afford the luxury of buying all of their music, while streaming/downloading is so easy and accessible to anyone with the internet. Internet providers often sanction users with limited bandwidth or fines, and ICE can give the worst offenders jail time. Our Dilemma Action (which is something that puts the authorities in an awkward position so that no matter what they do, it makes them look bad) was having famous artists put their on Pirate Bay for 72 hours to be free for download with a donation to LA and Chicago public school music departments to buy them new instruments and raise wages for music teachers. In this nonviolent action, the artists have agreed to upload their music, and public school children are getting an opportunity that they would not have otherwise received. ICE cannot intervene on the side of the artists because they have willingly put their music, and if they try to stop people from downloading and donating than they are taking opportunities away from kids.
CANVAS usually trains groups of people over the course of five days, instead of two, and with real action campaigns in mind. That was the one issue with building our campaigns in two days and without being extremely passionate about the cause. It was difficult because we didn’t know too much about most of the issues presented so often struggled to piece together good actions.
Some cool facts about nonviolent action:
– major nonviolent campaigns have been successful twice as often as violent resistance campaigns
– violent: 26% success rate
– nonviolent: 53%
– nonviolent is ten times more like likely to end in durable democracy
– violent: 4% success rate
– nonviolent: 41%
Overall, being in Belgrade has been spectacular! As soon as I drove into the city, it all felt very familiar to me. In a way it reminds of Seattle. The Danube runs through the entire city and there are hills on all sides which makes walking very difficult, though we haven’t used public transportation yet. The taxis and alcohol are very inexpensive because this city is built around clubbing. All of the clubs are on boats because originally the taxes were much cheaper on the water so hundreds of clubs opened literally on the water. Of course the city caught on pretty quickly, but boat clubbing had become a thing that Europeans from all over come to experience on the weekends! Pictures of the city to come!
The last few days have been spent traveling through BiH. On Monday, we traveled south to Mostar, a city just on the border of Croatia. It played a large role in the conflict of the 1990’s because it is a city that is completely split between Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats Catholics, with a few Serb Orthodox up on the hill. It is also known for its famous bridge (pictures to follow) that is about 50 feet over the river and provides for a stunning view from the lake. Locals will collect money, about 20 euros, and then jump off the bridge for show. Mara and I were at the right place at the right time and were able to see a man jump off, he was incredibly graceful, despite knowing the water he was going to hit was freezing cold. In one of our books, they said that heads used to spiked to the bridge until they fell into the water, which after seeing the bridge, gave me an eery feeling, that must have been quite a horrific site at such a beautiful river.
The next stop on our list was Banja Luka. This is the capital city of Republika Srpska. The big deal about this is that BiH is divided into two entities, The Federation of Bosnia and Repulika Srpska. After the war, the Dayton Accords gave the Serbs 49% of the country, with the remaining Bosniaks and Croats receiving 51%. this means that while Sarajevo and Mostar are in the Federation, Banja Luka was our first experience with a majority Serb population. And it was surprisingly different. One of the TAs Mladen told us that they do not like Americans because of the intervention, or lack there of, during the war. However they assume that most American tourists do not understand the conflict, so they do not impose hatred upon them. Yet, I still felt very uncomfortable simply walking around, which led me to the realization that if I was ever to do long term travel, I would seriously consider dying my hair brown. However, the city was having a music festival in the old fortress that was free with a book donation to the city’s mobile library. Thought we did’t have a book, there were hundreds of Bosnian hipsters partying outside. We also found some really cool new bands, one of which is called Iced Beer in Serbo-Croat. Still working on finding them on the inter-webs… stay tuned.
Being in Belgrade, even just for one day, has been amazing. Last night we ate dinner in the Bohemian Quarter at a delicious restaurant. Through the rain, a group of young men were belting out the songs that the restaurant’s band was playing, so naturally they were given free beer. There is so much live music in this city, it is amazing! Even at the beach, with restaurants lining the boardwalk, there was an awesome band playing Caribbean music. The best advice I have had while being here yet is that if you are somewhere where the music makes you uncomfortable, you are in the right place in the Balkans. The beach itself, Lake Ada, was stunning. There were thousands of people on it (as it was the weekend), but the water was perfect and we were able to rent paddle boats for 30 min for only about $5.
I separated myself from each truth about the beginnings
of rivers, trees, and cities.
I have a name that will be a street of goodbyes
and a heart that appears on X-ray films.
I separated myself even from you, mother of all skies
and carefree houses.
Now my blood is a refugee that belongs
to several souls and open wounds.
My god lives in the phosphorous of a match,
in the ashes holding the shape of the firewood.
I don’t need a map of the world when I fall asleep.
Now the shadow of a stalk of wheat covers my hope,
and my word is as valuable
as an old family watch that doesn’t keep time.
I separated from myself, to arrive at your skin
smelling of honey and wind, at your name
signifying restlessness that calms me down,
opening the doors to the cities in which I sleep,
but don’t live.
I separated myself from the air, the water, the fire.
The earth I was made from
is built into my home.
*Madzirov is a poet from Macedonia, born into a family of the Balkan Wars