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Bosnia’s protests: Made in Dayton

By Blog Admin, on 10 February 2014

Tuzla_riots

Photo: Juniki San CC BY-SA 3.0

While much media attention has focused on Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina too is experiencing waves of mass protest against corruption and stagnation. The roots writes Eric Gordy lie in the unsustainable political system established at Dayton in 1995.

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel, where we were generally a bit sheepish to be attending our conference (the deciding factor was that it was big enough for all of the participants, the down side was its odd business history and the fact that the main conference room was also where former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadžić liked to hold his soirees with the media). A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us.

 Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds.

 Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts.

 The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

 I could go on with vignettes. I have lots of them. But these sorts of scenes might be thought of as the background of the protests that began last week in Tuzla, developed into police violence by Thursday afternoon, and spread across Bosnia’s larger entity, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina partly in the form of mob vandalism by Friday. (more…)

Danilo Kiš and the soda siphon

By Blog Admin, on 23 April 2013

Danilo Kis Serbian Literature Great Men Stamps

Marina Kalezić/Srbijamarka CC BY-SA 3.0

Guest contributor Mark Thompson explains why he wrote Birth Certificate. The Story of Danilo Kiš.

In Belgrade in October 1993 to research a a book about the media in the Yugoslav wars, I stayed with a friend who shared my enthusiasm for the fiction of Danilo Kiš (1935-89). This friend suggested I should take a break from lies and propaganda to meet Kiš’s former wife, Mirjana Miočinović, who was a public figure in her own right, thanks to her fierce denunciations of the Milošević regime and its supportive crew of nationalist intellectuals.

Mirjana kindly invited me to the flat she had shared with Kiš before their divorce in 1981. As I sipped rakija and struggled with my Serbo-Croatian, an object on a chest or sideboard caught my eye; it was an old-fashioned soda siphon painted decoratively with names in Cyrillic. Then the object itself altered imperceptibly, when I recognised it as the original of the siphon in Kiš’s great and plangent story, “The Encyclopaedia of the Dead”, about a woman’s discovery of a miraculously complete biography of her father, whose recent death she is mourning.

Near the end of his life, the old man—a retired land surveyor—had taken up painting:

…he painted all day, unflaggingly, a cigarette dangling from his lips. (And in the silence we could hear the wheezing of his lungs, like bellows.) On the aquamarine background of a large soda-water siphon he painted the names of Belgrade cafés in the lettering he had once used for maps: The Brioni, The Bay of Kotor, The Seagull, The Sailor, The Daybreak…

The story had resonated deeply, no doubt in part because I had chanced to read it for the first time only a few weeks after the death of my own father. The sight of the ur-siphon, several years later, rippled around my nervous system like energy.

It took a decade longer to understand that frisson for what it was: the essential thrill of mimesis. For the representation of a remembered item, imbued by Kiš’s craft with emotion, surpassed the original in vividness and significance. (Kiš wrote the story in Paris; I read it in London; the syphon itself never left Belgrade, presumably.) The thrill was intensified by the circumstance, in Kiš’s story, that the siphon was an element in an impossible imaginary biography: it belonged in a fiction within a fiction. And yet the fictional item—so deftly conjured in the story—seemed more real than its three-dimensional analogue. Which was, after all, just a hand-painted soda syphon. (more…)

Milošević and Šešelj in the dock: contrasting psychologies of power

By Blog Admin, on 7 January 2013

Photo: ICTY building, The Hague Wikimedia Commons

 The defences offered by former top politicians and generals of trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) can seem like rambling political bluster. However, examined more closely, they offer a revealing glimpse into different psychologies of personal power. argues Kristen Perrin

There are moments when the proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are more closely followed by mainstream media than usual.  This commonly happens when events inside the courts are tumultuous enough to warrant international coverage, reminding some people that the war crimes tribunals relating to the Yugoslav wars of the mid-nineties are, in fact, still going on.  A recent example was the closing statement Vojislav Šešelj, former leader of the Serbian Radical party, gave the ICTY in March 2012.  Šešelj’s behaviour in the court was notorious by this point – he had gone on a hunger strike, refused to attend his own opening statement while defending himself, and taken multiple opportunities to distract, delay, and otherwise interfere with the progress of his trial.

This type of behaviour was not new to the ICTY, and was in some ways comparable with that of Slobodan Milošević when he represented himself.  Looking at transcripts from his trial, we can see that Milošević’s strategies were not mainly driven by the idea of making a legal defence, but were politically and historically charged.  This is common in ICTY trials, and its implications have been widely discussed.  However, few researchers have used ICTY transcripts to study the cognitive patterns of those on trial – that is, taken examples from the transcripts to paint a picture of the thought processes of these individuals. (more…)

Milan Mladenović’s street: does a Belgrade alternative rocker belong to Zagreb’s cultural heritage?

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2012

Bělehrad, Terazije, odpolední provoz

Photo: Aktron / Wikimedia Commons

An initiative to rename a Zagreb  street after Serbian ‘new wave’  rock musician Milan Mladenović raises complex issues about Croatian cultural identity, finds  Catherine Baker

In 1990, Milan Mladenović and the rock band he fronted, Ekaterina Velika, was part of a vibrant cultural scene – the Yugoslav ‘new wave’ – that connected large cities throughout former Yugoslavia. Bands and their fans regularly visited the major metropolitan centres of Yugoslavia’s six republics as routinely, taking their mobility for granted.

 In 1992, when the route between Zagreb and Belgrade had become a notional line crossing an international border, a front line and a UN protected area, Mladenović was among eight musicians from Belgrade alternative rock bands (EKV, Električni Orgazam and Partibrejkers) who formed a supergroup called Rimtutituki in support of the Serbian movement to resist conscription. Their one recorded song, Slušaj vamo (Listen here), is probably the most significant protest song of the Yugoslav conflict:?

 Two and a half years later, in 1994, Mladenović was dead at the age of 36. He would be remembered as a musician who had refused to be co-opted by nationalist politics, and as part of a music scene that had to be re-situated within new wartime and post-war forms of cultural memory.

 Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, the music of Mladenović and his counterparts in the Yugoslav new wave – novi val in Croatian, novi talas in Serbian – has formed part of a complex of everyday cultural references turned identity markers. The new-wave scene was irreducible to any republic, future nation-state, or ethno-national culture. Even as it played on and fixed images of particular cities and their urban ‘asphalt’, mobility around the country gave it meaning. Novi val and novi talas, with that mobility and that country gone, would come to stand for a moment and a milieu where the difference between those who said ‘novi val’ and those who said ‘novi talas’ was of no significance. (more…)

Karadžić trial: If I were a prosecutor

By Blog Admin, on 30 October 2012

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić has presented evidence in his defence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – it almost amounts to a second prosecution case, finds Eric Gordy.

Evstafiev-Radovan Karadzic 3MAR94

Photo: Evstafiev via Wikicommons

If I were a defence lawyer for Radovan Karadžić – currently on trial for genocide and war crimes at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague –  I would be inclined to offer the advice most defence lawyers offer to defendants in criminal cases: do not present a defence unless you have to. The prosecution is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defence does not have to prove anything to get an acquittal – all the defence has to do is raise doubt. When it starts presenting its own evidence, it raises the risk of providing additional material for the prosecution.

This is especially the case if the defendant is, like Radovan Karadžić, guilty. Prosecutors love it when this kind of defendant decides to offer a case. It becomes a second prosecution case, offering the prosecutors both new evidence and the chance to introduce in rebuttal evidence that they were not able to introduce when it was their turn.

So let’s have a peek at the some of the evidence that Karadžić submitted on 15 October in his defence. He gives us a written statement by Blagoje Kovačević, a Republika Srpska Army (VRS) colonel who ranked high among the commanders in the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. (more…)