Thursday, April 17, 2008

Salt City

Some places in Bosnia and Herzegovina get a bad rap. And, to be honest, i am sometimes guilty of supporting those unfair judgements. I just spent the last two days in Tuzla. As a leftie green, the obnoxious coal plants and heavy industry that pollute a large portion of northeast Bosnia pain my soul. The relics of Tito's industrial revolution are much uglier than his inspirational anti fascist revolution.

It's true, the air quality in Tuzla isn't one to be desired. But peeling back some of ugly layers one finds quite a few fascinating things about this city of salt.

Tuzla was once a lagoon in the massive Pannonian Sea. When tectonics shifts in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania caused a massive fault, the water retreated...creating massive underground salt lakes. For this reason alone Tuzla has been a constant settlement since Neolithic times. Extracting salt has been a traditional for literally thousands of years.

That almost caused a doom day for Tuzla. Tuzla was famous in the former Yugoslavia for its salt. Everybody used Tuzlanski Sol. They flushed, pumped and extracted enough of it, though, to see the city literally start to sink into these underground lake systems. Tuzla has, by default, become the Pisa of Bosnia.

Leaning buildings and all, the old town of Tuzla has an interesting charm. I won't go on about Mesa Selimovic and the handful of magnificent artists that have come from Tuzla. What struck me most about the place was the people. Tuzlaci are pretty fucking cool. It's the one city in my beloved adopted home that still resonates of brotherhood and unity. It is, perhaps, the last remaining truly multi-culti city in Bosnia.

That last statement may ruffle a few feathers in Sarajevo...but although i love sarajevo and it certainly has a remarkable soul, it is not the melting pot it once was. And, sadly, many outsiders have resettled here and seem to have an obsessive need to mark their newfound territory like wild cats spraying a warning to others to keep a safe instance....or else!

It's true, though, that amongst my raja are an even number of orthodox, muslims, catholics. But most of them would consider themselves an endangered species. By that, I mean first and foremost they are Bosnians, which, to my utter disbelief, is not permitted in this country. What a farce. In a country named Bosnia and Herzegovina it is a legal impossibility to call yourself a Bosnian or a Herzegovinian. That is absurd. That is Bosnia.

But let's get back to Tuzla. I had a drink with Jasmin Imamovic, Tuzla's mayor. Regardless of one's political orientations, i always find it refreshing to hear a Bosnian politician talk about ALL his or her constituents with the same affection.

I went two days without hearing a nationalist comment. I went two days without thinking about who was who or what was what. It simply didn't come up. Not that it's a regular topic amongst my friends in Sarajevo, quite the opposite really. But i feel that at times it is hard to escape it here. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Tuzla has maintained quite a mixed population. "Others" number 19%. Others meaning, i assume, the forbidden title of being simply Bosnian. Mixed marriages or otherwise. 28% are Orthodox, around 18% Catholic and the remaining 35 Muslims.

Nobody brought it up though. One's nationality seems highly irrelevant in Tuzla. I read it in a strategy document that i picked up at the municipality.

In many ways i felt at home because of that. Minus the coal plants and DITA factory, Tuzla would be a pretty groovy place to be. I promised myself i would visit more often. And i invite you to do the same.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Protest...Or Not?

I have been asked several times now why I haven't been to the ritual Saturday protests. It's a fair enough question so I'll try to give you a fair answer. The thing is, I'm really not entirely sure why.

I have been a 'protester' since I was 18. My first one was a sit-in at the capital building in Tallahassee, Florida when i was a first year student as Florida State University. The state planned on raising tuition for in-state students, which were already painfully high. So we took to the streets and after some provocative rhetoric from the then governor Lawton Chiles, hundreds of us walked into the state capital building, sat down, and occupied the building for a few days. It was exciting. It has a sense of purpose. And better yet, they didn't raise the tuition for in-state students.

Since then, I have participated in protests around the world. I have marched at the World Social Forum in Brasil where 150,000 of us protested the World Economic Forum - where the world's wealthiest gather to discuss how to alleviate the poverty in the global south - and the negative effects of economic globalisation.

In Edinburgh there were 300,000 of us marching against the G8 meetings. It was so good we took two laps around the city. The next day we held an alternative forum to talk about OUR solutions and ideas.

In Athens and London we protested the invasion and occupation of Iraq at the European Social Forum in the tens of thousands.

Against the war in Yugoslavia i marched in 1992. It was the spark that led me here.

I have been consistently disappointed by the lack of resistance and protest here. Now that it has finally been born - I have this sense of displacement. Of energy I think. I don't think one should protest just for the sake of it. At least for me, I have to FEEL it. Be moved by it. Driven to action.

Perhaps as I get older I tend to be a bit more analytical. I have asked myself time and time again why are we really protesting - and will we get the desired effects if our 'wishes' are granted. The answer in my head comes up, well, blank.

I wonder if Samir Silajdzic and Semiha Borovac are the real problem, or just a small part of it. I wonder why we don't protest for our grandparents, who built this country, and the lousy 150 KM a month they get. I wonder why Brankovic or Silajdzic Senior doesn't bother us more than what i consider to be tiny fish a big pond. Is it an excuse? Maybe. And perhaps not a very good one.

I think a part of me doesn't believe that we are willing or ready to go 'all the way.' Are we ready to boycott, sacrifice our self interest, and stand in solidarity with each other? Something tells me we are not.

I am not of the school that protests or marches have to be well organized and or even have a head and a tail. I believe in spontaneous and organic peaceful resistance and civil disobedience.

If i peel back a few emotional layers I think i get a few more answers too. I remember when the Americans invaded Iraq. I was angry. And then our apathy made me even angrier. Who knows the horrors of war better than us in Sarajevo. No one took to the streets. No one seemed to care. I was upset.

I was at the European Social Forum in Athens with the first ever Bosnian delegation to attend an ESF. Although the Balkan left tend to be a bit more militant for my liking, it was a nice gathering of people. The ESF usually ends with a massive, but peaceful, protest. Amongst us 'lefties' are always a small band of anarchists - many of whom represent the militant left. They traditional smash McDonalds windows or a multi-national bank or two. Their numbers are usually quite minute - but they always make the 7 o'clock news. The Greek police chased them down this day, and began to teargas them. The brave militant anarchists, as always, decided to hide amongst the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters. The police continued to teargas us. Women, children, grandparents. It was aweful. We pleaded with them to stop. Italian peace knicks started screaming 'Fascisti!' at the anarchists. Boris Siber and I watched all this expire. Then an anarchist, the one opposed to police oppression and state sponsored violence, took the rock intended for the riot police and launched it at the head of an old Italian man. He was two metres away. He fell to the ground. His brain oozed onto the pavement. The left had attacked the left.

I left disgusted and really pissed off. What the fuck was that all about!?!?! It made me rethink a lot of things. And still, much of it is not sorted out in my heart and head.

I have been very active in environmental issues, and have been quite vocal too about certain problems and the people creating those problems. I felt as if a movement was starting and we would start fighting fire with fire. I was excited...and proud. When the fire got hot - i found myself in court and being threatened... and my fellow activists were no where to be found. No one called. I had no support during the months of my trial where i was being sued for slander after daring to speak the truth. Not even pat on the back for support. The line went silent. The movement went dry. I felt bitter and betrayed. Not because i was in court or being sued or threatened. But because i believed that we were in this because of the deep principles we believe in and that sacrifice is often needed to achieve our goals. I was prepared - and still am - to pay that price. I found it utterly discouraging to learn that my mates did not.

Maybe somewhere in my sub conscience i now balk. But the people on the streets are my friends. Ones that i have a deep respect for and, in principle, totally agree with.

I do feel that we, the 'left' have not yet offered a viable alternative to anything. We need to be just as tenacious, organized and have vision like the ones we oppose do. We need to get on the ball and quick. Part of this, of course, is taking to the streets. But is that enough? And are we doing the other things required to bring about true change? There are no Obama's on the horizon here...I am anxious to see who will be the one. Is it Bojan Bajic? Danis Tanovic? Reuf Bajrovic? Adi Arapovic?

So why am i not on the streets Saturday afternoons? Ne znam. But believe me, I think about it a lot. Maybe I'm just waiting for that feeling. I'm not making excuses - i really don't have one to make.

peace my friends

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cities of the Imagination

I, like many of us, have a considerable amount on my plate these days. It's turning out to be a busy year. But I'm starting to feel a bit of crunchtime. Let me tell why. I have been known to be one of the greatest procrastinators on earth. This unfortunate flaw has, however, trained me to be an impressive 'last-minuter.' Well over a year ago the editor of Signal Publishing from Oxford contacted me. We met in London several months later. The proposal he put on the table was one of the most interesting and challenging ones of my short writing career (if i can call it as such).

Signal Publishing is a brother of Hurst Publishing based out of the UK. They have produced an incredible series of fascinating cultural and historical episodes of people and places worldwide. Signal's idea was a marvelous one. The series is called "Cities of the Imagination - A Cultural and Literary Companion to" this case - SARAJEVO! They have done Milano, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Rio, Hong Kong, Sydney and dozens of worlds greatest cities.

I was tickled pink that they wanted to do Sarajevo. I was honoured that they asked me to do it for my newfound hometown. Then reality set in.

This is a very real book. And one that HAS to be done right. It's not a tourist guide book. It's not a tiny and vague depiction for an improv publisher. This is the big league. One of their main target market is Ivy League schools in the US - Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown. Students and professors alike, through this series, are supposed to get a detailed, accurate and intimate experience of the city they are studying.

Perhaps this has intimidated me a tad. I think about the book constantly. Its contents. Different angles. Untold stories. The heart and soul of this town. I have written volumes in my head and a mere few chapters have evolved onto my screen via the same keyboard i am writing to you all from.

So now my deadline is approaching. This year is the year. I have to bring all these random thoughts together in a more cohesive manner.

The task at hand is not to write yet another historical depiction of Sarajevo. I do not want to talk about Ottoman occupation but rather the wonderful cultural influences and customs of the Ottomans. The Austrian annexation of BiH is often only seen through a historical or political perspective. We so rarely look at it as the Europeanization of Sarajevo. Tito's regime is all to often weighed by strong arguments from both sides whether he was a true dictator or magician in holding Yugoslavia together. But so few speak of the socialist cultural revolution that took place and the great artists and movements that this grassroots revolution created.

I certainly don't want to talk about Markala, the Vance-Owen plan, or Mitterand's visit to Sarajevo. I want to show the world how Oslobodenje printed the news every day of the modern worlds longest siege. How the Sarajevo Film Festival was born in 1994, the war theatre, the Miss Sarajevo contest....and how all these things shaped the post war cultural rennaissance. I need to show how these events, directly related to human experiences and not political ones, created the films of Danis Tanovic and Jasmila Zbanic and why the Sarajevo Film Festival has become as popular as it has. Where does Aleskander Hemon find his true inspiration...what makes Faruk Sehic and why did Namik Kabil come back from driving a taxi in LA to create the impeccable films and documentaries that he has.

So my message to you my dear, as citizens of this great city, despite all the stupid shit that goes on here, we have a serious task at hand. I kindly ask you to consider your comments carefully. I would love your help. Tell me your ideas. It's your city too. What we're lookin' for is nothing ordinary....quite the opposite actually. I want to tell stories of the water fountains, of the zanatlija, of tucano kahva, how we hid the Haggadah from the Nazi's, of the Ilegalci, of our forgotten poets, of Mak Dizdar writing Kameni Spavac in Male Daire, of Teta serving food to the poor on Bistrik....about what makes the heart of this city beat.

For those of you who would care to share....i welcome your ideas and thoughts. I won't necessarily comment on many of your suggestions as I will try simply to process them and see where, if at all, these things can fit into my semi coherent concept.

This could be fun. And let's keep in that way. Remember the title of the series, Cities of the Imagination. No politics. Cultural and Literature. And also beware that there is a limited space, so let's focus our ideas on the true best of the best. I know there is enough to write about to keep me in the 1,000 page range - but thank goodness, I don't have to produce that much!!

I patiently await your calls. peace my friends....and....vozdra!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Malo Morgen

Yesterday the entire political structure of the European Union agreed to a binding 'third industrial revolution' to reduce dangerous greenhouse emissions. The aim is to cut them by 20% by the year 2020.

Today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, our government - the same ones that claim to be dedicated to European Union integration - will begin plans to construct many coal burning plants and dozens of hydro electric dams. Henceforth, drastically increasing CO2 emissions.

European integration? Values? Principles? Vision? Alternative energy sources? Science? Reason? Malo morgen.

The leaders of Europe are convinced and concerned enough that climate change will bring about food and energy shortages, security issues - that they are voluntarily taking the lead in addressing the problem.

The political elite here should just hand our shovels to us. After all, we are just digging our own graves. Bravo Heco, Silajdzic, Brankovic, Dodik, Bicakcic, Orucevic, and company. Thanks for paving the way for disaster. We were getting bored anyway without the bombs and bullets flying.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There's no place like home

I have some friends from the UK visiting Bosnia this week. They came 3 years ago as tourists and have been coming back every year since. This time they are here to look for land. They are ready to sell their homes in England and move to Bosnia. Let me tell you why.

We all sometimes give this place a hard time. And sometimes, well, it deserves it. However, i realized (again) today just how much magic this place really holds. Listen. These folks from Norfolk, a city just to the northeast of London near the English coast, want to pack up their lives and come to here. Sounds crazy, I know. But there is something to it.

We chatted today about many things. Amongst the unavoidable topics of discussion with us ferners is the mysterious pull Bosnia and Herzegovina, and particularly Sarajevo, has on many of us. Lots a reasons always come up. But the bottom line is that Sarajevo, and indeed most of BiH, is a place that can quickly and easy feel like home. Not home because things are just like the way it is wherever we have come from, but home because their is an ease, a comfort, a strange but powerful feeling that one is safe here.

Now I know after the death of Denis (and not to mention the brutal war where we slaughtered each other) that may sound strange. But take a look from our perspective.

I lived in Nahorevo for almost five years. For you Sarajevans who don't know where that is (and there are many...shame on you :) ) Nahorevo is a tiny village about 6 kilometres to the north of pionirska dolina tucked in a tight valley just below Bukovik Mountain. It's a fabulous place. And one that I am grateful to have called home for so long. I often rode the bus to town. So did 6 year old first graders.

Their parents had no concerns allowing 6 year olds to take public transport to town and to walk to school, unattended, on their own. They were never in danger, really.

On one of my trips back to the United States I was in Toys-r-Us looking for a present for a friends kid. It was just after the war in Bosnia and most of my thoughts and actions were as if i was there. There was a little girl looking at a toy out of her reach. I, as any good Bosnian would do, naturally stepped over and handed her the out-of-reach toy she was eyeing. I also began to speak to her...that too, seemed perfectly normal - to address a person standing next to you.

Several seconds later her terrified mother lunged towards her. She grabbed her little girl and whisked her away from me. Security guards followed me the entire time i was in the shop. I left the shop feeling like a child molester. I was shocked. Then sad. And later angry. This is what has happened to us in the west. We can't even talk to or help our community's children.

My friends have two small children. Both of them attract attention here like bees onto honey. People smile, grab, hug, laugh, squeeze, play, tickle and pamper these kids to death. My friends can't believe it. We have such a strong love and compassion for children here...and a generous openness towards children that is a rare gift in the western world.

And for foreigners, a place where you feel your children are safe is a place that feels like home.
We also chatted about how the word kidnapping doesn't even exist in the Bosnian language. We chuckled at the mahala mentality of many....because it reminded us that despite its occasional annoyance, our mahala's actually serve as a checks and balance system. Although social pressures can sometimes hinder individualism, it is these same social pressures that somehow creates a value system that is geared towards community rather than authority. These social 'norms' forces us take responsibility not just for ourselves but for our children, family, and honour.

This may sound like hogwash to some...but despite the many liberties found in the western world, we have lost one precious thing because of it - close knit communities that both protect us but at the same time gave us obligations towards that same social network. The western world is on its choice. And that may spell the death of a nation.

When we lose those bonds we also lose some of the intangible boundaries that define the rules of the game naturally laid out by ones group. I hope we don't lose that here.

Sarajevo is a home away from home. And for many of us is becoming a safe haven from some of the evils that are tormenting us from the so-called west.

Does that sounds really fucking weird?


Thursday, March 6, 2008

CNN breaking (and slanted) news

This isn't a blog about this side or the other. It's not about occident and orient. Not about Jew and Muslim. It's simply about right and wrong. And quite honestly, i just don't get it sometimes.

The last month has seen over 120 Palestinians die. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is as bad as its been since 1967. This should move us. But it doesn't.

A few hours ago a Palestinian gunman penetrated a Jewish seminary in the West Bank and killed at least 7 people. Both horrible. Both wrong.

I am truly amazed on how 'we' in the west can be so one-sided. The death of a Palestinian child is almost the 'norm' and it may get mentioned in the news, perhaps a little more than the football match between Arsenal and Man United.

I watch CNN quite often. Not because I like it but because it offers me perspective. Just as AlJazeera or Euronews does. The flashing yellow BREAKING NEWS signs have been lighting up our living rooms for hours. They will continue to do so for many days. Condi Rice will call it a barbaric act of terrorism. Yet the murder of Palestinian innocence is met with 'both sides must show restraint' and 'we regret the death of non combatants.' It's fucking disgraceful. It should make us really fucking angry. Not because it's about a Jew or a Muslim - but because it's wrong, just plain wrong.

This attack will be met with bloody revenge by the IDF. There will be more carnage. More mothers will grieve the lost of their child. And the western media will continue its slanted reporting. Especially the American media. It's just not fair.

I don't have an anti-semitic bone in my body. Nor an anti-Islamic one. I don't view things within those narrow confines. Nor do i group people by the God they worship. The sad thing is, we have lost so much perspective on the Palestinian issue. We can't understand the readiness for violence expressed by many Palestinians. Even though its all they've known since 1947. Not a single generation since then has been raised in a normal environment. Not many haven't been raised in a refugee camp. None of them have tasted freedom.

The Israeli's deserve no less. On the contraire. But we continue to justify the extreme violence used by the collectively traumatized Jewish population, which, by the way, was our making. Perhaps it is guilt support, sort of like Dutch funding for the Srebrenica area.

All i know is that the Palestinian conflict should weigh heavily on our conscious. But sadly, it does not. I don't think any of us can claim that we don't have blood on our hands. And for that I am truly sorry. I am sorry and ashamed that we pretend to walk the high moral ground whilst turning a blind eye to their suffering. Or in America's case - helping one side against the other, instead of wielding its power and influence fairly and justly to create a viable peace.

No Jew or Muslim in Jerusalem (the place so many deem holy) will sleep well tonight. I don't think they have in a long time. Shame on CNN. Shame on us all. Sleep well my friends. The Palestinians won't.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bijeli Karton

Hmmm, I'm not sure what to write about today. I have a few things in mind. Why, for example, haven't i been to the protests. The joy of registering, or trying to register, oneself as a foreigner at the local police station. The fun I had translating, or rather interpreting, Laka's eurovision song. The snow storm that has nipped us in the butt. So hard to choose. I usually have a 'need' to write about something...but today is different for some reason.

Let's try my day(s) at the police station. Here it goes.

As a foreigner here in BiH, we are obliged to 'register' ourselves at the police station. Of course,at no point or time does anyone ever inform you of this. You have to figure this out all on your own. So when you cross the border or fly into Sarajevo, there is no mention of this 'legal' obligation to register yourself and get this coveted white card.

After figuring out which police station i had to visit I made my first of many attempts to 'register' myself. When I entered the station across from Tito's Barracks in Sarajevo there was a big sign on the reception door that insisted 'you must check in here before going further.' I, logically, did so. The cop looked at me like i had six heads...shrugged his soldiers and curtly asked me 'so why are you asking me, that's in room 4!.' Well, i thought, at least i got the information i needed. Room 4!

Off to room 4. I pass several no smoking signs screwed into the wall, barely noticeable from - you guessed it - the smoke filling the hallway from every single policeman that i encountered. So much for law and order huh. But the real treat was soon to come. Room 4. Just opening the door sent smoke bellowing out into the hall. A lone woman, chain smoking, handed me an uplatnica and a sort of guarantee letter that my 'host' had to fill out for me. So basically i had to get a notarized guarantee letter that I would be staying with my fiance and pay 5 KM into their account. What efficiency. So off I went.

So because the flat is registered to my punac and not my draga, i had to ask him to get the guarantee letter signed and ovjeri-ed in the municipality. Fairly painless. Got it done by the next day. Returned to the smoky station. This time, however, i went directly to room 4 like i was told last time. Out comes the same guy from reception, yelling at me for not checking in with him. Confused, i apologized, try to explain and figured it would be better to shut up and just get to room 4 as soon as possible.

This time the boss was there. The woman, still chain smoking, sat in the other chair....not doing much of anything. I handed in my paperwork, just like a school kid who had finished an assignment on time. He looked at me bewildered. "What is this?' he asked. "the papers you require for me to register myself' I replied. He shakes his head. Pulls out a list. Hands me a carton and a checklist of papers i need. "when you have all this, then come back.' I looked at the woman. No reaction. I told the gentleman that i was there yesterday and this was what the woman gave me. No further instructions. No checklist. No bijeli karton.

She flat out lied and told him she told me everything I needed the day before and went back to making love to her cigarette. I was given the bijeli karton, a form that was proof that my host was actually the owner of the property where i was staying - which, of course, had to be ovjeri-ed at the opstina. I needed a copy of my passport and a copy of the page with the stamp signifying which date i last entered BiH (if one did at all receive a stamp upon entering).

Hmmm. More than I thought. The Croats have a simple and effective system. Why are we so complicated. Then i chuckled at myself. We love to make things difficult for ourselves. We employ half the country with our difficultness.

So off i went back to my punac. To the copy kiosk. I went back for a third time a few days later. Two ovjera's, two photo copies of my passport and my stamp, one bijeli karton. All done. I was told to come back in a few days to get my stamped bijeli karton. We love stamps here. Nothing is real without them.

I thought I would be able to run in, grab my stamped bijeli karton, and get on with my day. The line was out the door and down the smoky hall. Several people cut in line and just went in ahead of all the people queuing. I knew that all i had to do was go in, take it and leave. I struggled to bring myself to just go ahead of everyone and do it. I started and stopped. Started and stopped. I couldn't do it. Damn America. They programmed me so i can't even skip the queue for christ sake.

So i waited. And waited. Observed the smoking policemen upholding the laws of the land. When i got close to the door i noticed two things. First, there was a complaint box - one that not only had never been opened but that had complaint box (for foreigners) written in Bosnian and cyrillic. That helps, huh. The second thing i noticed is that this department for the registration of foreigners had ALL the instructions, ALL the documents, EVERYTHING written only in Bosnian. What the hell, i thought?! What about all the Turks, Chinese, Germans, Americans, French? How the hell could they figure out anything? The simple answer is, they couldn't. You're screwed.

But if we get pulled over whilst driving by a lollypop holding drot, we have to produce a bijeli karton. And most foreigners ask 'But what bijeli karton?' And then the policeman snidely remarks ' you know you have to have a bijeli karton to be here!" So even though we don't need a visa to be here...we sort of do. And to be quite truthful, its almost more difficult to figure out how to get a bijeli karton than to process a visa.

So I listened to foreigners from close and afar complain about this 'system' and how it didn't make any sense. But dzabah...we all had to stand there nonetheless. My turn came. I entered to see the chain smoking woman - guess what - chain smoking. She wasn't doing anything, again or perhaps still. The friendly man handed me my bijeli karton with a smile.

I left the police station, smiling and smelling like a ash tray. It was as if i sat in a podrumski kafana for six hours. But i had my bijeli karton. Next stop - biro za zaplosavanje. I can hardly wait. Wish me luck.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

A massage from God

No, not a message. A massage. Yes, you read correctly. No, I'm not crazy. Let me explain. While many of you 9 to 5ers were 9 to 5ing it, I took a walk in God's country.

At the end of the 18 kilometre valley of the Drezanka River is her sacred source, Crni Vrilo. Mother Nature had practically washed, ripped, tumbled, and crushed most of the path to the source, but a bit of free climbing and scree hopping and we found ourselves in our own little mecca.

I laid down on a large rock just a few metres from the 20 metre waterfall that rumbles beneath a 600 metre face of sheer limestone. The rock was warm. The breeze generated from the pounding water cool. The droplets of water on my body refreshing. The perfect blue sky inspirational. The aroma of Herzegovina's wild spring herbs healing. The rock face above me humbling. I closed my eyes and drifted far off.

My journey took me to our ancient ancestors. I imagined the lives of the indigenous Illyrian tribes that freely roamed these precious lands for ages. Our pagan forefathers and mothers worshiped the rock i was laying on, the sun glaring in my face, the sky i was staring at, the water running past me. They did not see themselves as being separate from these godly things, but rather an integral part of them. And they, therefore, treated the great gifts of Mother Nature as one of their own.

Then i opened my eyes and struggled to focus. My mind and spirit had merged with my surroundings. It was a momentary end of separation. I saw the harsh karst of Herzegovina giving way to the gentle but steady water. A tree bend itself to reach the light blocked by a pertruding cliff. The stone calmly slip aside to permit water to pass it by. A vine lend its leaves to lizards and insects. The sand courteously sharing its space with a patch of wild thyme.

It all just worked. They lived and let live. There were no frets. No qualms. It was, is, and always will be harmonious.

The warm rock continued to beam energy into my back and my legs. When i came to i felt as if i had been in a wellness centre for a month. A miraculous of, GOD, Pacha Mama, Allah, Mother Nature, however you'd like to call her.

With my new found energy I hopped, skipped, and jumped to the ledge above the waterfall. The rush of the water was deafening, yet peaceful. It was obvious that very few hikers or climbers had ever been there...but after a few minutes, i realized it was more than i thought. In wonderful Bosnian fashion i found the trademark of the Balkan male in the middle of God's country, perched on a water source in one of the most complicated and tricky places in Herzegovina - a ROSTILJ. Yes, even here, in Mother Nature's wellness centre, i found a metal rostilj. I smiled. Took a photo. And made my way back to the car.

What a heavenly massage i had today. I highly recommend it to everyone.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I had a dream last night. Well, i have one probably most every night....but i don't always remember them and i more rarely write about them. Why is this occasion different? I'm not really sure to tell you the truth, maybe it will make sense by the time I blurt it out on the keyboard.

I very often engage in public debates with myself -- acting as both me and, let's say, Minister of Energy Vahid Heco. It's always quite civil when talking to oneself, perhaps that's why i prefer dreamtime debate rather butcher balkan dialog our 'leaders' are so well versed in.

I find it quite interesting how events of the previous day, things we see, read or smell, manage to sneak into our dreams. I am currently working on an environmental status report that the Swiss Embassy has sponsored. I have spoken to a lot of people, traveled the country to see first hand what IS - and what is NOT - going on. Of the many recommendations that i made (like BiH ratifying the Aarhus convention and the formation of an Environmental Protection Agency at the state level) was the dire need for this country to create an integrated strategy for development in all key sectors -- agriculture, tourism, energy, metal industry, protected areas, and whatever other relevant development 'changes' Bosnia has.

So in my dream I was at this conference that the Austrian government is organizing to promote their country's modern building and energy technologies (they really are hosting this conference in Sarajevo soon). I was sure that the Austrians organized this conference because of the big hoo-ha over the battle for monopolizing the energy sector in BiH.

It has been interesting to watch the media take sides over who are the good and bad guys in this electric tug-of-war. Avaz against Safa and Heco. Dani and Oslobodenje against Radoncic, Bicackic, and the Delta corporation from Serbia. They have all horribly missed the boat, completely ignoring the main point of all this mess. The main issue being that WE DON'T HAVE AN ENERGY STRATEGY, so how on God's good earth can we possibly even talk about flooding EVERY river in the country without a strategy, environmental impact assessment, modernisation of existing infrastructure and technologies. No one is asking SHOULD we build a dam on the Neretva or the Una, but WHO should build one on the Neretva and/or Una. They've conveniently managed to feed us a hot potato, keeping the real issues under the table and the somewhat irrelevant ones in our face - day and night.

So the Austrian companies, back in my dreamworld now, are going on and on about how wonderful their technologies are. How green. How advanced. How low impact. I was there, twitching in my seat. I couldn't hold it in any longer, I had to stand up and speak. So i did. It goes a little like this:

"We all appreciate you coming here and showcasing modern and green technological developments of Austrian companies. We also know why you are here. Austria, well aware of the rich resources this country possesses from your 25 year occupation of some hundred years ago, is bent on having a piece of it back. We know APET and many other companies have already divied up the booty in Bosnia. You've found your local 'partners' who have assured you they can 'work things out, ne sekiraj.' Are you aware, sir, that - for example - ZE-DO Canton had already agreed on the borders of a new Tajan Nature Park in Zavidovici? That Canton had already dished out illegal concessions on the water protected area within the proposed boundaries of the park to an Austrian company in partnership with Edhem Bicackic. The local community of Zavidovici spoke up against this and held a public debate. The results of this public debate were NO DAMS in the park. Full stop. The people spoke.

Did you know, sir, that only a few weeks after this rejection at both the municipal and cantonal level for the construction of an Austrian mini-dam, that the borders of the Tajan Nature Park were mysteriously changed. And, I'm sure you'll be astonished to learn, the new boundaries skirt around all the proposed mini-dams that your beloved Austrian company would like to build. Would that be possible in Austria, sir? Would the government blatantly ignore the will of the people and the decision of the regional parliament in Austria? We all know the answer to that, sir.

So my question is, what would the Austrian public feel about an super aggressive policy of Austrian companies - who all work with the highest level of criminals this country has ever produced - damming this entire country AGAINST the general will of the people? AGAINST all European Union regulations? AGAINST the Aarhus Convention? AGAINST any rule of law? AGAINST any shred of decency and morality?

Mind you, sir, the occupation (the Austrian one, i should clarify) did, in fact, end almost 100 years ago. The fact is, sir, that not one dam could be built in Austria without a comprehensive strategy. NOT ONE dam could be built in Austria without an environmental impact assessment that is independently approved. NOT ONE dam in Austria could be built if the people were against it.

Why then do you come here with your double standards fully knowing that this government is inherently corrupt. Why push European principles on us if the very core of new European principles are being completely ignored. Water is our Oil. Water is our future. Our life. We don't want to destroy it all, especially to give you cheap electricity.

Yes, sir, we do need to expand our energy capacity. And yes, sir, their is great potential for this country to develop its energy potential and create jobs. But this must be a process. What we are asking for is simple: Obey the laws of this land. Respect the will of its people. Insist that our government conduct a democratic and transparent process. Understand that although the prostitutes are giving our natural resources to the highest bidder, they do rightfully belong to the people of this country.

If you are so keen on our electricity then help us with your green technology to build solar energy fields in Herzegovina. To build more wind turbines in Livanjsko and Kupresko Polje. To modernise the country's existing infrastructure. To help us create an alternative sustainable energy strategy. To help us conduct a lawful and scientific impact assessment.

Until you do that, sir, or at least WE do it...


Well, that's how my dream ended. A brave speech in my sleep. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. I have them in my stomach now. I honestly believe that the monopoly of this country's natural resources by a few political parties is by far the biggest prevara since the Dayton Accords. Save the Neretva. Save the Una. Save ourselves.


Monday, February 25, 2008

I hate work

Ahhh, seems like spring is here. I know, I know...i shouldn't have written a word, now we'll get snowstorms until May. But you must admit, 17 degree celcius on february afternoon in Sarajevo is a nice treat.

Usually by this time we're either still in a deep freeze and paying ridiculous gas bills or we are sludging around on wet, muddy, slushy, icy streets that the zimska sluzba have so kindly
'cleaned' for us. And regardless of whether we're in a deep freeze or slush mode, the city often chokes us with smog. Living up on the hillside where their are no apartment blocks, I get the delicacy of coal smoke. When's the last time you inhaled a deep breath of low quality coal. Let me tell you, it burns deep - real deep - into the belly of your lungs. Not to mention that is scorches the cilia off of the inside of your nose like napalm.

But like i said, it's a gorgeous day, so let's talk about that. There is one thing, well many things really, but for the sake of this blog let's say 'one thing', that i love about this place. We'll march on like little wooden soldiers during the rain, cold or snow. Come just a hint of nice weather and I get the impression that the entire city calls in sick. Cafe's spring to life....the dusty chairs and tables that have occupied the basement or cafe corners are brushed off and placed in the basking sun. Waiting line only if there is even a slight ray of sun beaming in on the location. I'm not sure if its the coffee culture (which, of course, makes the world go 'round. Not love, like they told us when reading us bedtime stories as children), or the "i don't give a shit about work culture.' Either one....i love it!

So its almost noon, 17 degrees and sunny and this fool is writing his blog. I shall save my comments for a more darker time of the day my friends. So i leave my work, fully embracing the 'kafa, boli me neke stvar za posao kultura', to sit on carsija and have a 1 KM bosanska kafa with rahatlokum. Life is good. Do believe. Vozdra.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Captain Charles Boycott

The Balkans seem to be going up in flames these days. The streets of Beograd were in mayhem yesterday... today Mitrovica... tomorrow Sarajevo? For rather different reasons than Serbia or our other entity (I hate to call it 'lesser', like many here do), yet another street protest has been called in Sarajevo. To be quite honest....i'm not expecting much, nor is much of anyone I suppose. There seem to be larger issues overshadowing our dissatisfaction with the appaulling performance of this government and the disturbing social anxiety that continues to and creep and crawl under our skin.

I spent the new year of 2006-07 on Ireland's most western point, Achill Island in County Mayo. My ancestors first came to the states from this area, in the aftermath of the Great Famine (as it was called) that plagued Eire from 1845-48. My great-great and few more great grandfathers was a cobbler. He made boots. When he stepped off the boat in Ellis Island, New York in the mid 1800's his services were immediately put to use. They shipped him off to make boots for Union soldiers fighting the civil war. Famine to war. What a party, huh?

Achill Island is what Croatia is trying to sell itself as...."Ireland, the way it once was." Achill is indeed old Eire. When i first visited many years ago I crossed the bridge from the mainland and climbed through the green rolling hills towards the bay. Over a small foothill the mighty Atlantic opened up before us. A little boy, with wavy blond hair, was bouncing on his horse drawn carriage through the sand. The Atlantic wind blew both the boys and horses hair in this fairytale the way we all sort of idealize Ireland to be. I got out at the 'bus stop', looked around, and found only a pub. Imagine that. I, of course, sat and had a Guinness as one does when in Ireland. Do as the Romans, right?

Some of you may wonder how the hell i drifted so far from my original theme. Well, the thing is, i haven't really. In fact, I'm just getting to the fun stuff. Now western Eire accents can be tricky even for east coasters...let alone for a third generation Irish-Americans. The pub was silent with the exception of some soft jig tunes on the radio. Men reading newspapers, drinking pints, and smoking ciggies. I could have been in rural Bosnia, I thought to myself. Except the beer here was much better.

The bar tender unenthusiastically asked me what i fancied. A thick brown meal in a pint glass was put in front of me ten minutes later. The art of Guinness pouring in Ireland is not taken lightly. The gentlemen next to me eventually lowered his newspaper and peered over the top of his hanging glasses at me. Uninspired but what he saw, he again lifted the newspaper which covered his face.

Through the crunch of the sports pages a coarse, island accent rang out, 'you know lad, you Yanks ought to know a t'ing or two about this here island. During the land wars in the 1880's there was a right bastard of a state agent named Captain Charles Boycott. He sucked the people dry with his high rents and forced many onto the streets. Parnell, god rest his soul, instructed us not to react with violence but to not work his land, deny him of his harvest, and leave his stables and houses to fall in ill repair. So you know what we did son? We walked out on the bastard. Now he in turn called called out the army and police. He shipped in labour from other parts of Ireland, brought the Orangemen here to harvest what was rightfully ours. We kept our word though, like true Christians. We didn't raise a hand. And in the end, his army and foreign labour cost him more than the harvest was worth. By the time the Land Wars were over, all of Ireland had begun to use the word BOYCOTT as a term for organized isolation. There's more to life, son, than a few shillings in yer pocket. You gotta do the right thing, ya know. Ya gotta stand up to these greedy bastards who try and bleed the people for all their worth. Remember that son. Boycott started here on Achill Island. Don't you ever forget that."

To say the least, I haven't forgotten. In fact, it has been a way of life for me since the early 1990's. Unknowingly following in my ancestors footsteps, I have been a major boycotter for almost twenty years now. Coca Cola. Kraft. McDonalds. Wal-Mart. Nestle. Monsanto. Exxon. Shell. If their hands are dirty - I don't touch the stuff. If they don't care for their employees, why should i care for their stockholders? Their profits are never enough. Their means of gaining them are immoral. They are replacing the oppressive monarchies of times gone by and we are their serfs.

Now most folks here think I'm nuts. Waiters just shake their heads at me when i send back the Olimpia mineral water they bring to me. What's wrong with Sarajevski Kiseljak damn it?!?! But it has been a proven method, particularly in the past few decades - of opposing both corrupt and inhumane corporations and governments. Money is power. Power is money. Or so they think at least. And as long as they do, we need to hit 'em where it hurts.

Protest has been worked into an art form in many places around the world. The global south is becoming especially aware of the power of boycotting of products. Hundreds of universities in the US and UK have forbidden the sales of Coca-Cola on their campuses because of Coca-Cola's horrendous human rights record in India and Columbia. Coca Cola, for the first time in many decades, recorded lower profits due to conscientious buyers.

It is a powerful tool. And one that opens ears and eyes.

This may mean not having some creature comforts or having to do without some things we may like. But extreme circumstances often require extreme actions. It may take a bit of digging and prying, but every one of our dear politicians is knee deep in one company or another. We need to find out who, what, where, when, why and how.

The cheapest and easiest of things often turn out costing more than we could ever imagine. Why feed those who oppress you? If there is something we can do, we must ask ourselves what that something is. If there is nothing we can do, we need to ask why not?

Friday, February 15, 2008


It never ceases to amaze me how often people are utterly incapable of viewing things outside of their own little boxes. Bosnia, of course, is no exception to the rule. The more I think about it, though, we, in fact, seem to be the exception to most rules. We here in the lovely Balkans are all a bit mental. Heck, even Sigmund Freud concocted the concept of psycho analysis driving along the road from Dubrovnik to Mostar. Something in the air here either stirs the genius or idiot in us. I'm afraid the latter applies to most of the government of BiH. Let me tell you why. Listen.

The stabbing death of 17 year-old Denis was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camels back. It snapped in half rather briskly one might say. And it was a long time coming. People here are so incredibly drained by the endurance of our 'leaders' to mock, cheat, lie, steal and be the most arrogant and incompetent groups of schmuck's this place has ever seen. And no, I'm not is that bad.

Now Denis' death finally gave some people the kick in the ass we've needed since, let's say, 1995. We have been sleeping for a long time. The silence like a cancer grew, so say Simon and Garfunkel. And it's killing us. It's already killed Denis. But let's move on to the point.

The protests and the hype around them continues to swirl, dive, and jump off the lips of most people - particularly the media's. It has stirred dialog. Good thing. The bad thing is the dialog itself. It's friggin unbelievable. To listen to Samir Silajdzic, the governor of Canton Sarajevo , belch and scream in a frenzied panic attack at the organizers of the protest was almost like watching American soldiers wailing at soon-to-be Guantanamo inmates as they were tied up like wild boar in Kabul. His appearance later on national television sealed that opinion of him. He is ranting, arrogant, deep-in-the-box, sort of guy. He disgusted the country.

That was nothing, though, compared to our Premiere, Nedzad Brankovic, who made an appearance on FTV's Posteno (Honest) with Duska Jurisic. Talk about thinking in a box. This guy is beyond any creative words that I can muster....shit, he'd even challenge Bill Maher or Kurt Vonnegut to find adequate words for this baboon. Not only is Brankovic arrogant and stupid...he's downright cruel. He lashed out insults, lied, made outrageously absurd accusations, lied again, and basically laid it on the line for us all.

HE is in the TVRDAVA. WE are outside of it. HE calls the shots. WE are his peons. HE can do what he wants. WE simply have to put up with it. OUR voices are not necessary...being that WE elected the mother fucker. He basically told 'his' people, 'FUCK OFF, MY SHOW...DEAL WITH IT!' Does this sound familiar to anybody? Can anyone say George Bombya Bush?

The thing is the only perspective most of these politicians have is from their TVRDAVA. They can't see us through the walls of their political palaces. They are too high. We are too low. Out of sight, out of mind as they say. Whoever they are. The thing is their walls are both physical and mental. Brankovic, for example, just before the conflict of interest laws were put into force, made millions. He feels neither guilty nor responsible for that, he said so on national television. He built his tvrdava as did many of his cronies. Most of them have big walls surrounding their even bigger homes. They think it's so we can't look in, but it's really because they don't want to see out.

They go from one tvrdava to the next. Walled homes to walled offices. They are not responsible for anything that happens in between these two tvrdava's. They are blind to it. Or at least seeing impaired. They lined up for the media to let us know how concerned they were about the situation that has brought thousands of the people they represent to the street:

"I am not responsible for this."

"I do not have any jurisdiction in this matter."

"I can not feel responsible for what is happening in our country."

"I have no legal mandate to do anything about anything."

"It's your responsibility, not mine!"

"I am not....I am not....I am not...RESPONSIBLE.

OK, so we heard you. They're not responsible for anything that happens in this country. They're not responsible for anything at all. Fair enough. So my question is....why should war criminals be held responsible then? Why should delinquent teenagers be responsible? Why should drug dealers be responsible? Human traffickers? Tax evaders? Well, they shouldn't, should they? We should embrace our anarchy with open arms and stop hiding behind the false mask our politicians like to call democracy. I must say though, I find anarchists to be much more civilised than most 'democrats' these days. My apologies to the anarchists.

It is said that any government is merely a reflection of the people. It's a harsh and brutal look in the mirror. I can't say i disagree. The thing is...if they are simply a mirror, then we can smash that mirror, n'est pas? We can throw a stone in the still lake. We can tear down the emotional walls that have locked us in for so long. We can take back our lives and our communities.

They will resist, fear not. They are scared...that's why they are lashing out. I have been to dozens of peaceful protests. Hundreds of thousands of us can peacefully march and there will always be a small handful who will throw a rock or punch. We know what will be reported on CNN and BBC. But the one thing they can never take from us is the truth. They can frame us. They can accuse us of manipulating youth, the media, the masses. And of course they think that way, because that is exactly what THEY do - day in and day out.

Their walls will come down only when ours do my friends. We must not only talk the talk, but be ready to walk the walk. We must understand that there is no ONE right way to go about this. Some will protest loudly from the crowd. Some will write. Some will lobby. Some will make music. Some will be angry. Some sad. The recipe is simple....all of our frustrations that we project outwards are a mere mirror. We are the solution as well as the problem. They are us.

The TVRDAVA's must be brought down. But don't forget, there is more than one way to do so. I understand the urge for violence. It is in our nature. But who was more successful, Che and Arafat or Gandhi and Mandela? Full respect to Che....but....

They will continue to ignore our cries, have no doubt my friends. But we must learn to hit them where it matters most to them. And that is two places. The pocket and the ego. The pocket is easy - boycott. I'll talk more about that in my next blog. The second is easy too. Sending them home (or preferably to jail) will deflate the largest of ego's. You voted them in. Vote them the fuck out! They are willing to go as far as they need to to reach their goals. Are you? Are we as committed to a democratic society as they are to fortifying their Tvrdava's?

Gil Scott Heron once said....'no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Gotta work for peace. Gotta work.'


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Monkey see, monkey do

Yesterday afternoon about 20,000 people took to the streets of Sarajevo. This town has not seen a larger protest since the anti-war gatherings in front of the parliament building in 1992. That same day, a long 16 years ago, two of the first victims of what would be the longest siege in European history were killed. Yesterday the masses gathered to protest another kind of killing, one that horrifyingly mirrors the current state affairs in Sarajevo and indeed all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A few months back a taxi driver in the nearby town of Visoko was killed by a 17 year-old kid. A few weeks ago three underage boys doused an old woman with benzin and lit her on fire as she was returning from the bakery. She died a few days later from the burns. A few days ago three young men, one under the age of 18 stabbed a 17 year-old to death on a crowded tramway for no reason whatsoever. No one intervened on the tram. The underage boy, after murdering one of his peers, went home to the comfort of his warm home and bed. There are no laws on juvenile violent crimes, except that they get to go free. There are no centres. No punishments. No justice.

This fact has been well known to our beloved government. They have been too busy fighting for their respective thrones to bother to notice the 26 violent crimes committed by underage boys in Sarajevo alone. All of them home with mom and dad, walking the same streets they terrorized whilst our 'leaders' fight for the hefty booty from BH Telecom, Elektroprivrede, and the abundance of national resources that they consider personal property.

I was moved by the show of support for young Denis. I was pleased to see the anger spill over into something other than apathy or kalishnikov toting thugs. They were angry that no one did anything to stop it. They were, and are, angry that this government is so acutely inept that juvenile delinquency is becoming an epidemic. I am not surprised by this though, let me tell why.

Although this outpour of emotions in undoubtedly the most positive collective expression since the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, i fear people are not seeing it fully through to the core of the problem. Yes, there is an alarming growth in the number of violent crimes by 16 year old boys in this country and in particular, the capital city of Sarajevo. The answer for our politicians, however, is that we must build jails and detention centres to punish them. Perhaps part of the solution, but certainly not addressing the real problem. The real problem is the utter moral bankruptcy of our community. Complete and utter bankruptcy.

Our children have been taught that in Bosnia and Herzegovina no one is responsible for anything, let alone their own actions. We teach them that if you lie, cheat, steal, or murder that you're more likely to become premiere than to go to jail. We have taught them that ultra violence is tolerated or at the very least justified because of what someone else may have done to deserve or provoke it. Remember what mama always said, 'two wrongs don't make a right.' Never have. Never will. But we forgot to teach our children that.

Our schools are segregated. We want to teach our 5 year olds that they should be separated from each other because our parents read the bible and the other the q'uran. The thugs and criminals of our society can regularly be seen having coffee with our ministers. Having a beer with our policeman. I'm not exaggerating to say that you can even find some of them working side by side with our highest ranking 'representatives.' These have become the role models for our youth. Be ruthless. Use your smarts to cheat the system. Intelligence means how to get ahead at any cost...and if that means stomping on anyone and everyone in your way, so be it.

Corruption and immorality are infectious at every level. Most things seem to function here on who you know and how much you slip them under the table. The buildings may have been rebuilt. Some of our roads paved over. Our system of values, however, is bleeding us to death. It is our no-so-silent cancer that drives us to the highest suicide rate in Europe. Highest unemployment rate in Europe. The most corrupt government in Europe. The largest percentage of youth who want to leave the place of their birth in Europe. Heroin and drug use has skyrocketed. And now we are climbing to the top of the latter for murders by youth in Europe.

We continue to not ask the right questions, though. We keep looking for the drug dealers or detention centres to ease our fears or end the misery of our children. But the misery of our children does not come from the lowly dealer. It comes from our homes. Our communities. Our government. Monkey see, monkey do. Are they much different than us? Are these violent youth the scum of our collective or simply a reflection of it?

Our apathy has got to stop. Our finger pointing has got to stop. Our anger is good. Let us have the wisdom to channel this aggression - and indeed to help find ways for our children to channel their rage. If i were a teenager, I would, quite frankly, be out of my head with rage. I would rebel. I would be disgusted. Disappointed. Feet betrayed. Their rage and misguidance should be a flashing neon sign to all of us that we are not doing our jobs well at all.

We will see change and hope only when we, as individuals and a collective, are finally ready to take FULL responsibility for the mess we are in. For the moral bankruptcy that we have let overtake every aspect of our society. And believe me when i tell you my friends, we are in the shit and we are in it up to our eyeballs. Do believe.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Down goes the anarchist

I am 37 years old. Most of those years if the mass went right, I went left. And, of course, visa versa. Not much has changed really, or at least that's what i like to convince myself of these days. I have been 'unofficial' - statistically, legally, administratively - for well over 15 years. I don't own a home. Don't pay taxes. Don't have health insurance. No pension plan. No college fund. No eggs nest. Nada. Nista. Nula.

I have a feeling that is all about to change. My semi-nomadic, slightly anarchistic lifestyle has downshifted over the years. I actually own a car that works and isn't over 20 years old. I bought a lovely piece of land in the hills behind Sarajevo (although i still struggle with the concept of land 'ownership', but i figured it'd be better not to wind up on a reservation like many other like minded rainbow warriors). The land, of course, is not registered in my name, simply for the fact that i really don't exist anywhere. So how could i possibly own land then, right? Luckily my better half, although we really dance to most of the same drums, in this respect, is night from my day.

At 37 i am getting married, inshallah. Never too late, huh? So what is this rambling all about...i guess i should get to my point. The wedding is 6 months away. Plenty of time a normal anarchist would think. Wrong. Dead wrong. I've recently learned of the 'paper process' ahead of me...and lord have mercy, my reasons for living outside of the system lit up like the red light district in Amsterdam for me today.

Part of this fun process is to get me recognized by the state. Even though the state doesn't necessarily recognize itself, we have to be recognized by it. So it goes.

There are police forms. Employment forms. Contracts to be signed. Diploma's to be translated and notarized. Birth Certificates too. Medical check-ups. Aids tests. Criminal record checks. And i've just skimmed the surface, no shit!

Today was my ljekarska ovjerenje. For you ferners, that's my medical check-up, certifying i am healthy and worthy enough to be a duly employed and married person of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was a rainy day today. When i pulled up to the ramp at the dom zdravlje (medical clinic) to park, i quickly found out that i was horribly mistaken. This was not a parking area, 'couldn't i tell', screamed the ramp guard at me. I pulled my dumb foreigner card, apologized (unheard of by Bosnian males), and offered to turn my car around and get out of everyones way. This always works for me. After an apology and admitting he was right, i got a front row parking space....yup, behind the ramp. I went from idiot to VIP in a matter of seconds. I love this place.

Trying to find ones way through the labyrinth of Otok's dom zdravlje turned out to be relatively painless. The crumbling steps and hovered masses bearing the rain to have a fag was a familiar site. I found the desk i was supposed to find. The woman was extremely pleasant, and with a big smile took 150 KM from me. I had heard all the rumours about the medical check-up, and how it was as easy as passing a tehnicki pregled (vehicle inspection) in Bosnia. Just pay and done deal. Full stop. I wasn't expecting that today to be honest though, and that was a good thing. For my 150 KM i received a little piece of paper with 7 room numbers on it. That was to be my day, visiting 7 rooms for my eyes, my urine, my blood, my blood pressure, my mental state....the whole nine yards.

For some reason there were mainly men waiting with me. They fidgeted endlessly...which i later realized were nicotine fits. It also made me think that if this was a typical day for workers to get medical checks for their work permits -- why were there no women? A question one could ask about most things in the Balkans. Where are the women people? They are our backbone!

The psychologist seemed to enjoy chatting with me very much. That took the longest. I thought she'd bust out a coffee pot and we'd chat for the rest of the day. But what can you do, she's the boss, right. Then i went to the lab. The woman didn't even lift her head, just took my little piece of paper and started scribbling in the massive notebooks that they love so much here. She passed me a white plastic cup with the number 45 written on it in blue marker and told me to sit down over there to take a blood sample. The nurse extracted my blood with utter perfection. Then i was off to the toilet.

I didn't really have to pee, but i managed a few drizzles. Outside in the main hallway was a small tray stand, with about 50 other plastic cups filled with urine. Just sitting right there in hall. I added mine to the bunch and inspected my little piece of paper. It made me think of my crazy friend Chuck, whose musical talents have created jingles such as this one...

'when you're in, you're in. But when you're in urine, you're in urine.' Disgusting, yes. Clever, absolutely.

The x-ray of my lungs was next in line. The doctor told me to take off my shirt and step over to the machine. I didn't get him at first and he got pissed off rather quickly. I played my foreigner card again and he apologized. His anger immediately disappeared as well, funny thing. It was cold, but painless nonetheless. Off to my EKG. This was fun. Shirt off again, this time i understood. As the nurse was preparing the 'gear', which was no doubt a relict from the 1980's at best, she proclaimed herself a mahalusa (which is basically a gossip goddess). That she was. The questions rolled off her tongue with no shame. I enjoyed it...and answered each one of her 25 questions thoroughly. She knew my life story when i walked out 3.5 minutes later. She had obviously done this before.

The eye doctor was a special treat too. The book they held up for me to read was so yellow and aging that i was certain that it had been read to a child when i was, indeed, a child. The corners were tattered, the front cover torn and hanging on for dear life. Then came the numbers on the far wall. Before i could start reciting the numbers i saw she covered that eye and switched to the next. She asked me to read the same numbers, which i had remembered, so didn't even really need to look at the board at all to pass my eye exam.

Then came the finale. Little medical history. Blood pressure reading. Listened to my lungs, all normal stuff. Then the shirt had to come off again...and by now i could have said it in satrovacki (sort of like the Bosnian version of cockney) if they had asked. I had to walk about, first on my tip toes, then heels, the bob up and down and do squats. I felt like i was in PE in the 3rd grade and Mr. McIntyre was yelling at us to go faster.

After almost three hours it was over. No harm done. Had told my life story. Shed myself of a bit of blood and urine. Dueled with a psychologist. Exercised with a doctor. Read children's books. Watched grown men squirm in their seats dying for a cigarette.

I am now ready for the courts and police. Trying to bring yourself to life after 15 years of being neither here nor there won't be pleasant - but it'll at least give me something to write about.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Oprah's choice

After opening the headlines on sarajevo-x yesterday that read 'federacija u mrak do 2015' it took all my strength to keep myself in the seat i was in. In fact, i had the urge to jump out of my skin. Last year I wrote in a START article that it was just a matter of time before those threats came to light. The same happens all over the world, old scare tactics die hard in the energy sector. But I have decided to research this subject even more...and therefore need a bit more time to dismantle and dispel the myth that the federation will be in the dark by 2015 if we don't build a hydro electric dam on every free flowing, potable waterway in the country. So stay busters coming soon.

So I will answer a fellow bloggers request to talk about the US elections. It will, i thoroughly agree, have an impact on the world and henceforth the little central Balkan state we call home. This will not be a political analysis but rather what i consider to be a very interesting point of view -- an American who left the US for philosophical reasons...maintained family and friends ties in the land of his birth....adamantly opposes the bulk of American foreign policy....and yet cherishes the spirit of justice, change, and free thinking that he inherited from his American upbringing.

I'd consider this the most important election of my lifetime. I was born in 1970, raised by one liberal democrat and a more centrist democrat. It became apparent to me as I reached adulthood that the word liberal in the United States is a dirty word to many. To be 'liberal' for me always meant more about justice, women and minority rights, universal health care, equal and fair access to education, and embracing the melting pot that I believe makes America special, than anything else. For many, I learned, liberal simply means more government intervention, more welfare checks, supporting gay marriages, and get this...this was the latest i heard on a radio talk show when i visited the states recently. It's a show that millions of Americans listen to....i couldn't believe my ears. Check this out...'liberalism is the satan that is destroying our country. Liberals, who promote homosexuality, pedophilia (I'm not kidding) and spread AIDS have finally been dealt a lethal blow. God's answer to liberalism (and he didn't mean neo-lliberalism), to fight this disease infecting our American society, is Islamic fundamentalism. This is God's punishment to us, he has sent the hordes of these Islamic extremists to punish us...' The show went on for hours...and at times i didn't know whether to laugh, cry or shoot myself on the spot. According to the talk show host, it would have made everyones lives easier if we 'liberals' would just commit mass suicide. But we decided to torture the evangelists a bit more though and stick around and spread AIDS, molest our children, and to antagonize both them and the extremist who have been sent by God to kill us.

So why is this the most important election in my lifetime? Well, for one, I have never witnessed America more split than i do today. Politics or political affiliations never really mattered that much between friends and family....but believe me today is a different story. The country is divided, bitterly so....but I think that is a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to gain more perspective and to re-check our values as a society. Eight years of Bush, Cheney and his finely tuned corporate and military machine have shaken the country to its roots. Thank goodness for that! Seriously.

There is no lack of hype about all the possibilities of 'first's' happening in American politics. Hillary Cinton could be the first woman US president. Barack Obama could be the first African American president. Mike Huckabee could be the first evangelist minister to become president of the most powerful country on earth. The first two excite me...the third scares me a bit - although I must admit that although I think his political views are 18th century puritan, he does seem to be a genuinely nice human being. Mitt Romney on the other hand, a sly and cunning former governor of Massachusetts, seems more to me like a weaslesque corporate clone. The only decent republican candidate, and indeed he is a decent man, would be John McCain. He certainly has the ability to reach both parties and bipartisan compromises. And although he's been in Washington DC for 25 years - it may have hardened him, but it certainly didn't break his moral character. For that, at the very least, he has my respect.

But let's get back to the exciting part....the Democrats. Many Bosnians love the Clintons, as do many Irish, Palestinians, Vietnamese, Albanians and Chinese. Clinton certainly did have a way with successful foreign diplomacy and despite the charade over his oral-sex affair - the US did seem to stand with two feet solidly on the ground in more ways than not. Bush quickly erased that...and that bothers a lot of Americans in a very big way. The Democrats just want Bush out - and out for good. With Bush and his depleting number of followers comes the onslaught of corporate America, whose loyalty lies with their only god. Profit at any cost. ANY cost. Full stop.

I wouldn't complain if Hillary Rodham Clinton was our next president. I wouldn't be able to boast, however, that i help put her there. A quarter of a century of the Clinton/Bush political dynasties scares the shit out of me. It's too much. Politics are a dirty game anyway, let alone when you have two families calling the shots for a potential 28 years! Hillary has some good ideas about the economy and health care- I am particularly fond of her Green Jobs approach. The world is changing, and we must adjust to that change or it will certainly adjust us. I think Green Jobs, in creating new technologies for energy, particularly in the auto and electricity fields, could create a heck of a lot of jobs. Spain and Germany are Europe's leader in that field, and employ an impressive number of people in creating and building solar and wind technology. Hillary would - no doubt - quickly bandage our badly damaged reputation with what would need to be the best Secretary of State the country's history. However, we mustn't forget, there are a tremendous amount of Americans who absolutely hate Hillary Clinton. They really despise her. I won't go into why right now.

That leaves us with Oprah's choice - the half Kenyan Muslim half Irish American Christian Barack Obama. The American dream in motion, isn't it?! I know that many often use the cliche's of fresh change...A Washington outsider. .. Not part of the political establishment. He is energetic and a great speaker -- and can at times sound like JFK and at times like MLK. I admire them both. He certainly has a perspective that no other legitimate presidential candidate has ever had in the history of US elections. Never has a half white / half black man stood before the American people and won the support of them both. He has moved the young population like no other president has done either. But again, a man's colour or race shouldn't have anything to do with who we vote for. I fully agree. And that exactly what he has done, transcended the race issue which has been a thorn in our side since the evil days of slavery. What swings me to the Obama camp are several things:

: if you look at the close inner circles of the Democratic intellectual elite -- the ones who were largely responsible for the successes of the Bill Clinton era -- they are almost entirely backing Obama. That speaks volumes to me. Abandoning the Clinton camp could not have been easy - but they did, and in large numbers. The support Obama has with both the democratic establishment and those dreaded 'liberals' who won't and can't be corralled by the powers that be are impressive to say the least.

America is a divided nation. And I'm really not kidding. I know good friends who aren't on speaking terms with their siblings because of this great political divide. Obama seems to attract black and white, young and old, working class and middle class. He's aware that many things in the US are horribly broken...and indeed immoral. I honestly believe that he has the ability to bridge that gap. Perhaps his young political career hasn't earned him enough enemies like the Clinton's have managed to. That can only be a good thing.

for me, America must make grassroots changes. The culture of consumation. The cultural imperialist attitude. The worlds top polluter per capita. Our ultra-capitalist principles that are destroying lives not only in America but across the global south. We need to put many things back into perspective. We need to be kinder to our own people and indeed our global neighbours. We need to be fairer, more ethical, and take the lead in creating political and economic harmony instead of leading the world in destroying them. His campaign is based on hope. And one thing i've always had through all my skepticism, criticism, and even, indeed, hope. Kurt Vonnegut, I feel, would share the same sentiment. So it goes.

I have no doubt that a democrat will be in the white house come next year. Whether its Hillary or Obama remains to be seen. Perhaps they will go in tandom, another first. My educated guess would be that Obama would possibly run as Hillary's VP should she take the Democratic nomination. If the cards were swapped, however, I don't think Hillary's (or Bill's) ego would allow her to take the back seat to the junior senator from Illinois. In that case, John Edwards is a good bet for Obama's VP candidate - a dynamic duo to take on corporate America and their Washington lobbyists. I am not naive enough to think that this election will fix what is wrong with America. It could, i sincerely hope, pave the way to get American moving in any direction other than the one that Bush has dragged us kicking and screaming through.

I must admit, though, that the American election process is rather perverted. The sheer amount of money spent on these campaigns is absurd. But what we will see in 2009 is what many of us hope is a serious and fundamental change to American society. The time has come. And from universal health care, alternative energy sources, intelligent foreign policy, and perhaps a tad bit of respect for the document that has given the guts and glory to the world's longest standing democracy. Bush and Cheney have shit and pissed all over the Constitution of the United States. That offends me. What offends me even more is that the very principles of that document which they chirp on about like parrots....freedom and liberty, are misused to manipulate, bully, kill, conquer, and humiliate people in every corner of our globalizing world. That, my friends (inshallah), will come to end in 2009.