Posts Tagged ‘ Current Events ’

Congratulations, Bosnia!

Congratulations to Bosnia (and Albania).  Finally, the European Union reached agreement today to revoke visa requirements for Bosnia and Albania.  The decision will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union on December 14, and citizens from Bosnia will be able to travel to the Schengen countries without visas beginning December 15 this year.

A passport from Yugoslavia was considered one of the best in the world.  Yugoslav citizens could travel freely unlike their neighbors in the former Soviet Union.  After the wars in the 1990s and political chaos in Albania, a strict visa regime was imposed.

Serbia and Montenegro were given visa liberalization on  December 19th last year (see post “Serbia Moves Forward“).  This created problems in Bosnia because many citizens hold two passports.  Bosnian Croats also hold Croatian passports, and Bosnian Serbs have Serbian passports.  This means that in the past year, the Bosniak (Muslims) had the biggest travel problems in the country.

So… congratulations to Bosnia for achieving visa liberalization.  It might not feel like a huge change for many citizens, due to holding other passports.  The economic situation in Bosnia is dire and most people cannot afford to travel abroad for vacation.  Visa liberalization, however, is a symbolic step for the entire country.

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Wasting Serbia’s Environment

Fruška Gora, a mountain and national park in Serbia, is visible from the city of Novi Sad where I lived last year.  This area is an oasis next to the city, filled with picturesque monasteries, camping sites, and hiking trails. Fruška Gora was designated a national park in 1960, and its forests contain more than 30% lime (linden), the highest concentration of this species of any mountain in Europe. The mountain hosts a very rich natural environment, filled with rare plants, animal and endangered bird species, and a network of permanent springs.  The entire area is bursting with potential for eco-tourism to showcase its natural beauty, next to Serbia’s cultural capital.

After my enjoyable time in Novi Sad, I read an article in Balkan Insight today with great displeasure.  In September, Serbia changed its Law on Environment, putting national parks like Fruška Gora in great danger.  These amendments, according to the article, “relate to the protection status of national parks – instead of one level of protection that covers all parks, a range of protection levels has been introduced.”  Incidentally, Serbia has been accepting nuclear waste from the rest of Europe, which is most likely being temporarily stored in closed off mines.  The idea, as explained by Nikola Aleksic from the Ecological Movement in Novi Sad, is that this hazardous waste will be transferred to Fruška Gora.  The waste can be placed in the hollowed out tunnels and hangars in the mountain that were built during World War II. Parliamentarians are expected to vote on these changes this month, which the Serbian Ministry of the Environment insist have nothing to do with Fruška Gora.

I am extremely disheartened to hear this news.  These amendments will affect all of Serbia’s national parks, so of course these changes will affect Fruška Gora.  As a potential Member State, Serbia must work diligently to ensure that its environmental legislature complies with EU standards. This will be no easy task, as these proposed amendments are not the only evidence that Serbia does not respect its natural resources. The Organisation for the Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Serbia has also identified that Pancevo’s industrial complex is dumping waste into the Danube River, Novi Sad’s oil refinery is contaminating ground water, as well as large quantities of inadequately stored waste. The National Environment Strategy also points out other areas of concern in Serbia, including air pollution, soil degradation, unsustainable forest management, and a lack of recycling.  During my latest trip to Novi Sad, I searched all around the city for a recycling container before I found one forgotten bin.

Serbia’s environment suffered along with its recent history.  During the Yugoslavia era, there was heavy industrialization in combination with inefficient and wasteful use of natural resources. The breakup of the country in the 1990s resulted in an economic collapse and a lack of proper investment in the environment.  The consequences for Serbia’s environment today are grave.

I hope that political leaders in Serbia vote against these amendments, which will lower (already low) standards for national parks in Serbia, as well as the environment as a whole.  I believe that this is a complete step backwards as Serbia strives for full European integration.  Now is the time for policy makers to look to the future of the country in every sector.  Although they have made some progress in adopting EU standards, there is a huge difference between passing and implementing laws.  Serbia has to make its environment a priority.

Five Months Until the New Government?

The recent general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on October 3, 2010, but the process of forming a new government is far from finished.  Reports from the Central Election Commission show that the number of invalid ballots for the election of members of the state presidency, and also other levels of government remains high. These reports show that more than 100,000 ballots were invalid for members of the Presidency alone, which is 100 percent more than all previous elections thus far. The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) has requested a thorough investigation due to the high number of invalid votes for the Bosnian Serb President, and in response to the marginal win of SNSD Nebojsa Radmanovic over Mladen Ivanic of the PDP.

 

The Central Election Commission began a recount of votes in several polling stations on October 15, 2010, in the presence of election observers.  It is necessary for 38 polling stations to recount the ballots for all levels of government and 19 polling stations must count the ballots only for certain levels of government. Then the Central Election Commission is currently trying to determine the results, which means consolidating the numbers from ordinary polling stations, polling places where voters voted absentee,  electors who voted by mail, etc.

 

The formation of a new government after general elections in BiH has been a lengthy and difficult process in the past.  Aside from the setback of the invalid ballots, it may now take weeks or even months to form new governments at the state level, in the Federation of BiH and in the Republika Srpska. It remains to be seen how much time it will take the 2010 election winners to agree on power sharing and whether or how a coalition will be established.  Judging from the past, High Representative Valentin Inzko voiced doubt that a national coalition would be formed before February 2011.

 

Image from Radio Free Europe

 

Balkan Connections

A railway company named Cargo 10 is ready this October 1st to open its newest project – a new train connection in the Balkans, from Ljubljana to Istanbul.  This project will provide the Western Balkans with trains that are faster, more modern, and in compliance with EU standards.  Cargo 10 was founded by Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and Bosnia (FBiH and Republika Srpska separately) and Macedonia also decided to join.  The first step of the project, costing 100 million EUR, will be used for the restoration of the railway lines and the purchase of new electronic engines.  The second loan, valued at 200 million EUR, will be spent on the development of additional routes.  According to Radio Srbija, some of these projects will include,  “the modernization of railway line Belgrade-Subotica-Hungarian border, which is in the north line of Corridor 10. By the end of the year, works on the electrification of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad-Bulgarian border railway are to begin. Next year, two railway bridges, namely those in the towns of Paraćin and Novi Sad respectively, will be built. Negotiations with Russia on a loan of 600 million USD for the Belgrade railway junction and for the building of the Valjevo-Loznica railway are expected.”

Last December, Belgrade and Sarajevo reopened its direct railway connection after 17 years, which was a huge step for the region.  Trains in the former-Yugoslavia are old and slow, and in desperate need of modernization as these countries strive for EU membership.  Serbia’s visa restrictions were lifted at the end of last year, and BiH hopes to join the Schengen White List soon.  The countries in the area need more coordination and joint business ventures like Cargo 10 and travel around the region should be encouraged, for tourists from the rest of Europe as well as for citizens from these successor states.    Ticket prices will be much cheaper and travel times will decrease by about one third, which will result in further economic development of the countries involved.  I believe that Southeast Europe needs a physical connection like this railway line in order to overcome differences of the past and to forge ahead to a prosperous and stable future.

Sources:

BBC article about the Belgrade-Serbia line (opened in 2009)

EUobserver and Radio Srbija on the Cargo 10 project

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.

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.

Introducing the Annual Sarajevo Film Festival

Sarajevo is filled with anticipation for the annual international film festival that begins today July 22 and lasts until July 31, 2010. The festival will take place earlier than normal this year because Ramadan is in August, and they are expecting about 100,000 visitors for the event. Tourists have arrived in the city, posters advertising the festival hang in every shop window, and men are hard at work setting up outdoor stages and rolling down red carpets. The program is mainly focused on Southeast Europe but will feature films from around the world, and several theaters around the city will show the films all day long.

The website boasts that this is the 16th year of the event, but those from the city know that the festival has a longer history. According to the website, the festival was founded in 1995 after the siege, and the cultural event helps to “recreate civil society” in the city. However, film students from the city tell me something different. The festival did in fact take place during the siege and was organized by Haris Pašović, a theater and film director from Sarajevo. Pašović organized the first Sarajevo film festival in 1993 called “Beyond the End of the World.” The city had no food, water or electricity, let alone projectors and screens to show films. Somehow by petitioning the international community, Pašović received around 200 films from around the world. He found a projector and a generator, and hundreds of people waited out front of the National Theatre for tickets, despite the constant sniper fire around the city.

In the article he wrote in Oslobodjene newspaper that accompanied the festival program in 1993, Pašović addresses the city under siege and the people being annihilated. After comparing the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims to the Holocaust and Jews, he writes “Sarajevo is the city in which the world of the twentieth century, the world to which we were born and brought up, has died. In other places the dying is taking place. Here we live beyond the end of the world.” This statement reflects the title of the festival, and he describes the fundamental human need for art, even (or especially) at a time of war. He states that being constantly close to death means longing for things like art and love in the strongest way.

Pašović did not worry about picture quality or sound at the 1993 Sarajevo film festival. The list of international supporters was very long, and the organizers stated in their newspaper program that they “could not promise anything.” It did not stick to the schedule, and many of the promised films and guests did not show. In 1993, there was no glamor, parties or red carpet. This is a striking contrast from this year’s festival which will honor special guest Morgan Freeman, and other stars will be whisked off to Dubrovnik for post-festival parties. The glossy program and efficient box offices today seem well rehearsed after many years of this annual festival. The organizers of the festival have changed, and so they write that the festival began 16 years ago and they do not mention its start in 1993. I wonder how the “Beyond the End of the World” festival felt for people of the city- they risked their lives for a bit of culture in a time of war, and heard gun shots outside as they watched films from around the world. I am happy for the city of Sarajevo, that they have come so far since the end of the war, and that they host such a well-attended international event. However, as I walk around the city and see artsy foreigners claiming to be emerging directors with their bold clothes and oozing confidence, I cannot help but to wonder about the humble beginnings of the festival in 1993.

Sources:

Sarajevo Film Festival Website

Haris Pasovic- The City Engaged

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Hjorth, Daniel and Monika Kostera, ed.  Entrepreneurship and the Experience Economy.  Copenhagen Business School Press, 2007.  (Found on Google Books)

Note:  I will be attending films from this region, including Years Eaten By Lions, Sevdah for Karim, On the Path, As If I am Not There, Together, The Flood/Kapitalism, I Even Met Happy Gypsies, as well as Lebanon.  The website contains a synopsis for each film.  I look forward to writing about Southeast European film in a later post.

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