Posts Tagged ‘ Serbia ’

Siberian Summer Camp (for Serbs)

Some Serbian parents need a suitable environment for their children who struggle with discipline, structure, and patriotism. Russia offers the solution: military camps to learn the Cossack way of life.   Parents have three options of camps, which are far from civilization in Siberia, and last for three weeks.  Children learn how to throw grenades and use other weapons, to survive in the wilderness, and to sing patriotic songs. Not including the plane ticket, the camp costs 200 euros.  This is a small price to pay because the children will surely come back transformed.  If you know a naughty Serbian child, please see the website for more information. http://www.ladsistema.ru

Source: e-novine,com

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.

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

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.

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

Kosovo Orders 300,000 Inaccurate Textbooks

According to a recent nine-month study by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, there are an alarming number of mistakes in new Kosovo textbooks. This is certainly not surprising. It was my trip to Kosovo last summer that first influenced me to think about nationalism in education in Southeast Europe, which is now my main focus of research. I took a bus from Serbia to Kosovo in April 2009, a little over a year after the declaration of independence. Already Kosovo was creating a new national identity through billboards, signs, and statues.

Gračanica Monastery

Visiting a Serbian friend in Gračanica provided me with a valuable insight into the life of the Serbian minority in the country, which is currently less than ten percent of the population (CIA World Factbook estimates the following ratio: 88% Albanians, 8% Kosovo Serbs and 4% other ethnic groups). My friend worked for the United Nations so she did not live like the majority of the population (UN passport, nice apartment), but after living in Kosovo for almost a decade working for various human rights organizations, we had a very interesting conversation.  Gračanica is known for its beautiful Serbian Orthodox monastery, which was founded in the 14th century and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Judging from the look of the houses, stores and the town in general, this was not a place of luxury. Electricity and water shortages are a problem here as in the rest of the country and the population struggles to make ends meet.

The most alarming part of the conversation that day was her description of the school conditions. After decades of conflict, the Serbian minority migrated into a few enclaves scattered throughout the country. The problem with this is that the town of Gračanica ended up incredibly over crowded. The local school could not support the current number of students, so the solution was to have students attend the school day in four shifts. The result was that some students ended up starting their school day at six in the morning, and some went until six in the evening. None of the groups had enough classroom time to learn very much. The children’s learning was extremely affected by the ethnic divisions in the country, because the Serbian families understandably wanted to live in a community together. This day led me to investigate how they teach history in Kosovo. I found out that Serbian schools teach completely different history and geography lessons then the Albanian schools down the road, ensuring that Kosovo will remain divided for generations to come. Eventually this trip would influence me to write my master’s thesis on education policy reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is my favorite country in the former-Yugoslavia.

BIRN survey investigated the new textbooks that the Kosovo Education ministry ordered for 300,000 students. They analyzed 16 textbooks used in schools and found many mistakes such as out of date maps and even the wrong dates for the birth of Napoleon and Alexander the Great. BIRN states that the textbooks are overloaded with facts and contain many mistakes, and this will negatively impact learning in the country. Interestingly enough, the study showed that many schools are teaching their students with maps depicting Serbia and Montenegro as one country with Kosovo as a part of Serbia. Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia in 2006 and I would have guessed that after the declaration of independence, maps would change immediately to proclaim Kosovo’s new status. The children in Kosovo must be pretty confused about where they live.

An outdated map of the region (pre-2006)

According to the BIRN article, the mistakes do not end with geography; they are also found in biology, history and civic education textbooks. Some students learn that there are six continents, not seven. Eighth grade students learn that Latin America is the world’s “third largest territory” after Asia and Africa. The study also noted that students have to learn 60 to 70 dates or facts in each lecture, which is unrealistic and leaves no time for critical thinking. As far as I can tell, education in the former-Yugoslavia highly depends on rote memorization of facts and very little on critical thinking in general. The textbooks also contain various interpretations when teaching about the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Sixth graders learn that “to participate in fighting the infidel” is one of the five Pillars of Islam (the most important set of rules for Muslims in the Koran) instead of the ‘Shahadah’ or testimony of faith. Jusuf Thaci, the BIRN report’s author, said: “It can be easily noted that this promotes hatred, which is not in accordance with the law in Kosovo.” Most alarming is the fact that a great deal of time is spent teaching about the enemies of the Albanian nation whereas other important events, battles and movements, are just noted briefly without giving much background information.

These inaccuracies matter. They will affect generations to come unless someone steps in to fix the curricula problems at a national level. The international community and the NGOs involved in Kosovo should take a lesson from Bosnia. When the Dayton Peace Agreements were signed to end the war in Bosnia, no one thought about education. It took seven years after the war for anyone to address the need for education reform and the little progress has been made so far. Generally speaking, I would think it should be easier to reform the education system in Kosovo based on population statistics. Unlike in Bosnia where there are sizeable populations of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats all competing through nationalist rhetoric and three separate curricula, Kosovo is almost 90% Albanian. With a little help, the Ministry of Education in Kosovo should be able to reform this one set of textbooks. The Serbian populations should also receive supplemental materials that address their population in more detail. With such a large number of mistakes and inaccuracies, irrevocable damage was already made. Taking a lesson from Bosnia, reform action must start NOW in Kosovo. After all…children are the future.

Source: Kosovo School Textbooks Fail Accuracy Test by Shengiyl Osmani [http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/main/features/28254/]

Balkan Barbeques are Serious Business

When I lived in Serbia, a friend asked me, “Is it true that in America, you barbeque with gas grills?” I responded that some people use charcoal grills but others use gas-fueled grills in their backyards, and my friend laughed in complete disbelief and horror. In the Balkans, barbeque (роштиљ, roštilj) is serious business. The first time I ate barbeque with Serbs was in the United States. I could not believe how much meat they cooked for only 8 people, and I waited in hungry anticipation as they seemed to grill for hours, covering the grill completely several times with meat before we were allowed to dig into the meal. Suddenly, the typical American style cookout of hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad seemed pathetic in comparison. Later, when I lived in Serbia, I had the good fortune to attend several barbeques with friends. I loved to watch as Serbian friends literally built the barbeque in the grass, and tended to it with care and expertise. Lately, two of my friends traveled to Bosnia and Serbia and I helped them plan their trip. I told them to look for pljeskavica and ćevapi and I felt inspired to research a little more about Serbian barbeque and what makes it so delicious.

Helping with the rostilj in Valjevo, Serbia

Surprisingly, I learned a lot from the New York Times with this article. Previously I thought the secret to the wonderful burgers in Serbia (pljeskavica) rested in the way the people tend the barbeque, or perhaps in delicious toppings of cream or pepper-based spreads. This article explains that the secret to a Balkan burger is in the type of ground meat used to make the patties. Each chef has their own secret, but it seems to me that most in the Balkans use more than one kind of meat, unlike in the United States where we only use beef often with a dry result.

One version of the pljeskavica

Of course, these pljeskavica would not be complete without the unique toppings that exist in the Balkans. My favorite was urnebes, which was a type of salad made from pavlaka and chili peppers, which gave it a sort of pink color. Pavlaka is also a typical topping by itself, and it is a sour cream-like product like crème fraiche.  Cabbage, lettuce, onions, etc, are also popular.

I learned that the pljeskavica was invented in Leskovac, Serbia where they have an annual festival honoring the burger. The festival also includes a contest to create the biggest pljeskavica. According to one journalist who visited the town, the contestants prepared a pljeskavica that was 53 pounds with a diameter of 56.7 inches. Currently Seymour, Wisconsin holds the world record for producing the largest hamburger after cooking an 8,266 pound burger at Burger Fest on August 4, 2001. When the journalist told this fact to the chefs of Leskovac, they rejected it, claiming that it is not possible to make such a big hamburger if cooked correctly. One thing is for sure- burgers/pljeskavica in Serbia are very large, and as my friends in Novi Sad joked, they only get bigger as you travel south in the country.

Competition for the largest burger patty

Another treat of meat that I miss dearly is ćevapi, or ćevapčići (which is the diminutive). The word comes from the Arabic word kebab, and the dish arrived during the Ottoman Empire expansion into Southeast Europe. Sarajevo makes the best ćevapi, which is grilled meat formed into sausage-like rolls. Nothing beats sitting in an outdoor café in Sarajevo and eating this dish, served with onions and lepinja, which is spongy Turkish flatbread that is also put on the grill. Sometimes ćevapi is served with kajmak, which is another unique dairy product that is difficult to explain.  It is something in between a cream and a cheese, and it tastes good on just about everything (I’ve eaten it on burgers, bread and even corn on the cob). Once again, the secret lies in the mixture of ground meat.

Cevapi, lepinja, and onions

According to the NY Times article, there are many places to try pljeskavica in New York City, due to the number of immigrants from the former-Yugoslavia. Somehow, all of the different ethnicities can agree that Balkan barbeque is the best. The most noticeable difference is that in New York, you will pay around $10 for a burger that would cost $2 in Serbia or Bosnia, but they are worth trying. As I plan to move to Bosnia in two months, I am starting to get very hungry.

%d bloggers like this: