Archive for August, 2010

The Dismal Future of Crete

Long before the Greek economic crisis was a permanent fixture on the news, the UK-based Minoan Group planned to develop  the northeastern area on the island of Crete.  The 1.2 billion euro project will create six tourist villages, three golf courses and luxury holiday resorts on land leased by the declining Toplou monastery.  As one of the largest tourist development projects in Greece, the resorts will provide around 3,500 jobs when completed, and perhaps keep young people from leaving the country to work elsewhere in Europe.

The Future Site of the Luxury Developments

During this time of recession, I try to convince myself that this development project is one logical solution to strengthen the Greek economy through tourism, and to simultaneously strengthen the European community.  However, it is difficult to ignore the negative impact this large luxury tourist destination will have on an island with such a rich history.  The largest island of Greece, Crete was the center of the first advanced (Minoan) civilization in Europe.  Is it some kind of joke that the development company is called the Minoan Group, as they plan to destroy the sites leftover from this Bronze Age ancient civilization?   Today, the island of Crete still has many sites that have not been archaeologically excavated that would provide Europeans with insight into their roots.  The island was farmland during antiquity, and the Neolithic and Minoan farms, terraces and fields are still visible on the island of Crete.  The golf courses and development would only cover up this landscape.

Overall plan for the different tourist locations

Furthermore, this project will cause irreversible damage to the Crete environment, which contains some of the world’s most rare plant species, due to the semi-desert climate of the island.  This part of Crete is supposed to be protected by the Natura 2000 decision, which designates areas in the EU for conservation.  Development is directly in opposition to the Natura 2000, and this tourist village far from the present-day tourism on the island would wreak havoc on the natural beauty of the island.

The Minoan Group has careful answers to all of the concerns of those against this project.  They say they are going to keep the golf course with brown grass, and that they will produce their own water.  This development project will only cover a percentage of the island, but once completed, I’m sure the resorts will expand.  Development in this area is not sustainable because of the lack of water, and already hotels have failed in this location.  With this luxury resort on the opposite side of the island from the current tourist destinations, it will only be a matter of a decade or two before the entire island is developed for foreigners.  The beginning of advanced European civilization, an environmental hotspot, and the location of well-preserved archaeological sites will be long forgotten underneath the golf courses and “tourist villages.”  Despite the need for economic recovery, this is just way too tacky.

(Top Image) A Future Golf Course

The plan for the golf course and conference center

Please visit the Minoan Group website for more information, or this petition site where over 10,000 people have signed against this development project.  Other sources for this post include this wordpress blog post by HomeboyMediaNews and this article on the Travel Daily News website.

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Tourist Tips: Sightseeing in Sarajevo

I think Bosnia is Europe’s best-kept secret.  Someday, I believe this beautiful country will be filled with tourists, so I almost hesitate to write this post of encouragement.  However…for those who are interested in visiting Sarajevo, here are my…

Top 6 Sightseeing Recommendations:

  1. Baščaršija –No tourist will miss Baščaršija, or the old city, which is designed in the Ottoman Turkish style.  In the middle of the narrow stone streets one finds Sebilj, which is a wooden fountain that sits in what tourists call “Pigeon Square.”  Take a drink from the fountains located around the city because Bosnia has very high quality water that comes fresh from the surrounding mountains. Baščaršija is the best place to drink a strong Bosnian (Turkish-style) coffee, to eat ćevapi with a side of kajmak, or to buy hand crafted copper souvenirs.

    Sebilj

  2. History Museum (Historijski Muzej, Bosne I Hercegovina) – Visitors should go to the History Museum when they first arrive, which is located across from the train and bus stations.  This museum hosts a permanent exhibition on the siege, which provides a better insight into the country’s recent history.  The exhibition is small and tasteful, and visitors follow a chronological path from the breakup of Yugoslavia.  Photos show how the city looked during the war, displays explain every day life during the siege, and a section devoted to the life of children during this time is particularly moving.  The museum is located not far from the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, which sits on the former “Sniper’s Alley.”  (Zmaja od Bosne 5, 08:00 – 15:00 daily, Tickets: 2 km)

    History Museum, Siege Exhibition

  3. Latin Bridge and Museum of  Sarajevo 1878 – 1918: This bridge, which was formerly called Princip’s Bridge, was the location of the spot from which Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on 28 June 1914.  The museum, which is right next to the bridge, better explains the event which triggered World War I and Sarajevo during the Austro-Hungarian period (1878-1918) in general.  The museum is small but worth seeing.  (Zelenih beretki 1, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sat: 10:00 – 15:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Latin Bridge

  4. Jewish Museum (Muzej Jevre BiH): This museum is housed in the Old Synagogue.  The building did not suffer much damage during the war because it is set back in a courtyard, and it actually protected collections from other museums.  The displays explain the fascinating history of the Jewish Community in Bosnia through the Communist period.  This community is a special interest of mine and I was fascinated to learn more about their history in the country, especially from their arrival in the mid 16th century through the 19th century (Read here and here).  My only complaint is that the museum does not talk about the important humanitarian role the Jewish community during the war.  Nearby visitors can walk past the Markale Market, which was the site of two massacres during the war, the second of which prompted NATO air strikes.  (Velika Avlija bb, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sun: 10:00 – 13:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Inside the Jewish Museum

  5. Alija Izetbegović Museum: I was very curious to look inside this small museum which is housed in an old town fort and dedicated to the former president (1st president) of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The museum victimizes the country of Bosnia, and praises the leadership of Izetbegović and his “intellectual contributions” like the Islamic Declaration.  Mostly, the museum is like a shrine, containing valuable gifts from other world leaders, his old uniforms, and quotes of praise for his leadership.  Since this museum requires a walk up a steep hill, go a little bit further to the old fortress for a great view of the old city and river.  Walk through Kovači Cemetery where Izetbegović himself is buried.  (Ploca, Seasonal hours, Open at 10:00 daily and closed on Sundays, Tickets: 2 km)

    View from above Kovači Cemetery

  6. Vrelo Bosne: Even a short trip to Sarajevo should include some of the breathtaking Bosnian nature.  The best way to enjoy the forests and streams surrounding the city is to visit Vrelo Bosne, which is a national park located at the source of the River Bosne on the outskirts of Sarajevo.  The park is filled with paths and over streams, waterfalls and ponds.  There are a few cafes nearby, and this shady spot is perfect in the summer.  The park is an easy tram ride away from the city center until the end of the line, and then for 15 km, a horse drawn carriage will deliver you to the park itself.  The 25 minute tram ride is also a nice way to see the different neighborhoods of Sarajevo out the window on the way.

    Vrelo Bosne

Enjoy Sarajevo!

Language Lessons

Many of my friends and family from home ask me the same question:  What are the differences among the Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian languages?  I understand their confusion, because last year I studied Serbian language at the Centre for Serbian as a Foreign Language at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia.  Lately I speak of my commitment to improving my Bosnian language skills now that I live in Sarajevo.  Most people in the United States still think of the language as Serbo-Croatian, and always I carry a pocket Croatian dictionary in my purse.   This probably sounds confusing to many people, so here is a brief explanation for clarification.

For centuries, the dialects of the South Slavs have developed independently with slight regional variations.  By the mid-19th century, writers and linguists worked to standardize the language, and they began to call the unified language Serbian-Croatian (or Croatian-Serbian).  In 1918, the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia named the language Serbo-Croato-Slovene, making the previous efforts to create a supranational language official.  In 1929, the names of the country and language were changed to Yugoslavia, in order to eliminate ethnic divisions among the people.

Communist Yugoslavia did not solve the language issues, but it suppressed ethnic tensions to some extent.  In 1954, groups of Serbian and Croatian intellectuals signed the Novi Sad Agreement, which stated that Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins speak the same language with some differences in pronunciation.  Many Croats were uneasy with this declaration, and viewed it as Serbia’s attempt to assert political dominance over the region.  Following the political pressures in the 1980s and 1990s, the forced merging of the languages ended, and speakers called the language whatever they wanted.  The wars surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia emphasized differences among the people, and language politics became very important.

It is impossible to provide a short explanation of language politics in the former-Yugoslavia.  However it is most important to state that Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Montenegrins can easily understand each other, despite the different names for the language.  In a recent B92 article, a Croatian linguist states that everyone in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro are speaking the same language.  She speaks of how emphasis on small regional language differences is a mask to spread political intolerance.

Constantly, I am reminded of my Serbian professor who told me that in the former-Yugoslavia, the small differences matter most to people.  Although everyone can easily understand one another, language is an important factor of national pride.  In Bosnia, everyone has the right to education in their “own language”  and differences are emphasized.  In Serbian schools, children are taught in Serbian in  the Cyrillic alphabet.  Similarly, schools with Bosniak Muslim or Croatian majorities emphasize their own regional dialects and spellings. For example, Serbs say uvek and Bosnians say uvijek (always), gde and gdje (where), lepo and lijepo (beautiful).  The differences are hardly noticeable in conversation, but greatly matter to teachers and parents when it comes to educational and classroom settings.

In conclusion, most people would agree that the people of these four countries speak the same language.  Internationally, this language is usually called Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian to be as politically correct as possible.  International organizations are working to ease the tension over language in the Bosnian education system.  For my own purposes, it does not matter that I studied Serbian language last year and now I live in Bosnia.  For the purposes of my CV however, I can say I speak three languages when I really speak only one.  🙂

My collection of books- Serbian dictionary in Cyrillic, Bosnian dictionary, pocket Croatian dictionary, Serbian workbooks, Bosnian workbooks.....

For more information, please read the recent B92 article on linguistics here. (In Serbian)

Also, wikipedia provides explanation on the differences between Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian here.

Sarajevo Film Festival Review

Without wishing to sound redundant of the film descriptions on the website, I would like to point out a few regional films that I saw last week at the 2010 Sarajevo Film Festival. As previously mentioned, the festival holds a large international appeal, with visitors and films from all around the world.  The festival was well organized, and tickets ranged from 2.5-7 euros.  Based on my interests, I mainly watched films from Southeast Europe.

Na Putu

In my opinion, the idea for the plot of Na Putu (On the Path; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany and Croatia, 2010) was extremely interesting.  The film portrayed a young couple Luna and Amar, very much in love,  living in Sarajevo and trying to have a baby.  Although from Muslim background, they do not attend mosque or practice their religion.  After getting fired from his job, Amar accepts a well-paid job at a Wahhabi commune.  The viewers watch as this fundamentalist Muslim community influences Amar’s personal beliefs, and inevitably, his relationship with his wife Luna.  I found the character development to be very weak in this film, and it is hard to believe Amar’s drastic transition.  However, the film is valuable in that it teaches something about the Wahhabi community in Bosnia, and how they clash with the moderate Muslims in the country.  Although I am not very familiar with this group, the film prompted me to do a little investigation.

The fundamentalist Wahhabi movement is a radical group which preaches a ‘pure Islam.’ It originated in Saudi Arabia in the early 18th century and preaches religious intolerance towards other religious groups, including moderate Muslims.  Wahhabi Muslims first came to Bosnia during the war to fight on the side of the Muslims, and many have remained in the country since.  They preach about a traditional Islam, have some schools around Bosnia, and even have operated a terrorist training camp in Southern Serbia.  According to one article, there is a growing number of Al Qaida sympathizers in Bosnia.  According to another article, Islamic studies experts consider this group a threat, and that most of their support comes from Saudi Arabia.  The article also states that according to intelligence sources, Five of the ‘9/11’ attackers had served as Wahhabi sponsored fighters in Bosnia.   Although I cannot comment on the accuracy of the portrayal of this community in Na Putu, I felt that the film provided a fascinating insight into the lives of Wahhabi Muslims in Bosnia.

Zajedno (Together), a documentary from Croatia (2009), featured other underrepresented communities in the region.  The film seemed rather low-budget, and it mainly consisted of interviews about the relationships of different people and couples.  For example, a lesbian couple is followed, and one can see how they act differently in Zagreb than in a smaller town in Croatia.  Many people are not accepting of their relationship.  The film also centers around members of the handicapped community in Croatia, and their limitations in society.  This film was not my favorite, but was valuable and even funny at times as various couples commented about love and relationships.

A Scene from Sevdah za Karima

I found Sevdah za Karima (Sevdah for Karim, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Croatia 2010) to be a gem of the festival.  The cinematography was artistic and interesting, and the character development believable and subtle.  Viewers witness the feeling of despair that young adults had in Bosnia immediately after the war.  The film centers around Karim, a Muslim man from Sarajevo.  He seems to be in his twenties right after the war finishes.  He is a failed philosophy student, trying to provide for his sister.  Despite the fact that his parents were killed by a mine during the war, and that Karim himself lost a leg from a mine, he took a job clearing mines in the mountains of Bosnia.  Obviously, this was not an easy film to watch.  The whole audience held their breath as Karim and his colleagues cleared mine fields.  They were not always successful at this highly dangerous job.  Karim had many friends who got mixed up in drugs and violence after the war.  Also, many of his friends from work decided to take jobs with the US military deployment in Iraq.  As a young person currently in my twenties, I thought about what I would do if I were in the position of the characters in this film.  Sevdah za Karima shows how the war continued long after the peace agreements were signed.

A novel by Slavenka Drakulic

Lastly, the best film that I saw from the region last week was Kao da me nema (As If I am not There, Ireland 2010).  The film was based on a book by my favorite author, Slavenka Drakulic.  She is a journalist and author from Croatia and has written many books and articles about the region.  I respect her ability to include just enough personal information into her writing about life in the former-Yugoslavia.  Her books are extremely insightful and well-researched, but they are enjoyable and read like novels.  This film was based on the book As If I am not There, which is called “S” on the English translation.  S. is the initial of the main character of the book… a young teacher in her 20s from Sarajevo, who accepts a job in a mountain village school in Bosnia.  One morning she wakes up and is told to board a bus and leave her home.  Women listen as the men in the village are killed, and they are forced to board buses and live for many months in a camp run by Serbian soldiers.  The film follows this school teacher, as she was selected for the “Women’s Room” in the camp, subjected to constant rape and violence.  The story shows how she survives this horrible part of her life, and how she deals with the emotional aftermath.  The novel and film both begin with this aftermath – S. is in a hospital in a foreign country, trying to deal with her newborn, unwanted child, that only instigates horrible memories.

I felt privileged to watch this film at the festival.  Many of the actors were present, and my idol Slavenka Drakulic herself.  It was actually the first time she herself saw this film based on her book.  Sitting in the theatre, I have never in my life felt so affected by a film.  I felt completely paralyzed in my chair, unable to turn away from the horrible actions taking place on the big screen in front of me.  In fact, a noticeable amount of people actually left the theatre, unable to watch.  Despite the difficulty of this film, it was perhaps the most powerful film I have ever seen and I would recommend both the book and the film to anyone interested in the wars surrounding breakup of Yugoslavia.  Usually I like books better than the films based on books, but I felt that in this case, both the film and the novel had something different to offer.  In the book, readers witness more character development as they read the most intimate thoughts of the main character.  A film cannot provide such detailed thoughts.  However, the visual aspect of the film forced the viewers to watch the events taking place.  Although the book described the same horrible events, I was able to keep some distance while reading that I was unable to maintain while watching the film.

All in all, I immensely enjoyed the film festival, and I hope to attend next year.  Films from this region are not so accessible in the United States, and this was a great opportunity for me to watch some of the best films from Southeast Europe with English subtitles.

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