Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Skopje's Stara Carsija

Greetings from Skopje!
For far the city has treated me really well! It seems wonderfully relaxed and a cool place to live, although many locals I've met don't seem to agree with me. Already I have bought some wonderfully authentic Macedonian apparel and have had what is certainly the best burek in town. I even have an appointment at a (very) reputable Macedonian hair salon which is a little nerve wracking but shouldn't end in disaster since they cut my Academic Director's hair and did it quite well I must say.

This morning I woke up early and went on a three hour personal photo excursion to the "Stara Carsija" which is the historical Turkish-style bazaar here. Here is a VERY small sample of what I found. . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mitrovica, "The Curse of Kosovo," & Photos

Yesterday we went to Mitrovica, a divided city separated by the Ibar River. It is one of the most volatile areas of Kosovo and has been the site of numerous violent incidents. I actually don't have any photos from my visit their because quite frankly I didn't feel comfortable having my camera vi sable. The Southern (Albanian) part of the city was fairly normal and we met a cool NGO called "CBM" (Community Building Mitrovica) that runs a rock-and-roll school that brings together both Albanian and Serbian youth. We decided to cross the bridge into Northern (Serbian) Mitrovica. Immediately you are transported to the 1970's in Yugoslavia. Everything is only in Cyrillic and only Dinars are accepted. There was a sense that people were looking for just the smallest excuse to beat the living daylight out of us. We sat at a cafe and within 10 minutes the two tables nearest to us were packed with intimidating and thuggish Serbian men. It was no coincidence and I must say I felt far more tension than I've felt in even the worst of New York's neighborhoods.

On the way back to Prishtina we stopped at the site of "The Battle of Kosovo" where the Serbians defeated the Ottomans and also Milosevic made a famous speech that ignited the current situation in Kosovo. There is a (heavily guarded) monument to the Serbian soldiers which bares the following inscription:

Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage, And comes not to fight at Kosovo, May he never have the progeny his heart desires, Neither son nor daughter! May nothing grow that his hand sows, Neither dark wine nor white wheat!

Here are some photos from Kosovo. . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gjakove Kolonija

Today was a very intense and busy day. First we visited the OSCE in Gračanica, a Serb enclave 20 minutes from Prishtina. Every time we drive anywhere, I feel as if I am on the edge of death. The custom for passing a car here is to wait until there is a solid white line and an approaching car in the other lane. You next swerve into the other lane and accelerate at fullforce towards the approaching car until you change back at the very last second. In Gračanica, we visited the monastery, which is under constant armed guard, and surrounded by barbed wire. We also saw a refugee settlement there built from Russian shipping containers. The conditions were terrible, but little did I know what was coming next....

We drove for two hours to Gjakovë, possibly one of the most bombed areas of Kosovo during the war. We drove past countless roadside gravestones: here it seems like the war was just yesterday, and the only thing that reminded me that it was about 10 years ago were the trees growing out of the rubble of many bombed-out buildings that we passed by. We turned down a dirt road into the Ashkali\Egyptian\Roma settlement of Gjakovë, by far one of the poorest in Kosovo, if not in all the Balkans. There we visited the Bethany Christian Services which is doing good work in attempting to promote education in the community.

What is particularly disturbing about the settlement is that it is built quite literally in the very middle of a toxic pile of constantly burning rubbish. Although the trash fumes have killed 7 people in the community since the war, it is also really the only means of survival for the community, whose children sift through it to find scrap metal to sell or sometimes even food to eat. The only water sources are wells located perhaps 10 feet between improvised outhouses and the trash-pile. The children of the community were quite open with us, but there was a sense with the adult residents that we were just another group of foreigners to roll in and out without offering a solution to their problems. Supposedly the government will give the community houses to replace the current make-shift shanties, but I am very skeptical and think it won't happen has they promise. Even if it does, it won't solve the water supply issues.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Selected Photos

(Preshevo Valley, Serbia)


Boka Kotorska

(Njegusi, Montenegro)


Saturday, June 20, 2009


Quote from Albanian communist music text: "The great deal of the cultural artistic traditions of our people are a direct expression of the great care which the Party of Labour of Albania, and Comrade Enver Hoxha personally, have shown towards them."

Today we had a wonderful lecture from a professor from The New School who was the former Media Regulation Minister (0r something like that) in Kosovo. We learned all about "The Brooklyn Connection," which I never had heard of before. Apparently when Kosovo was left out from the Dayton Accords, the subsequent revolution was financed by Albanian immigrants in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Yonkers. There were even plenty of Albanian immigrants who travelled back to Kosovo to fight with the KLA for independence.
After the lecture we took a cab into the city to goto what I assumed was another NGO visit. The cab driver came pretty close to kicking us out (if not worse) because he thought Kumjana, my teacher, was Serbian. After she volunteered that she was Macedonian he opened up a lot and we somehow found out that he spoke Turkish, so I had a conversation with him. We pulled up to the NGO (?) and met a guy who worked there. We had a pretty normal chat in the garden about how his organization, "VETËVENDOSJE!" advocates -and translates to- "self determination." In other words they'd like UNMIK and other international orgs to allow Kosovo to govern itself. After his presentation, it began to pour and so we went inside to look at photos from the group's... events.

It turned out this was no NGO, but actually one of the most infamous activist groups in Kosovo with quite an intense reputation. They deface UN cars by changing the lettering to "FUND," the Albanian word for "The End." They also forced the UNMIK building to evacuate and have thrown paint "malatov cocktails" at it. They even cut off the air-stalks from all the UN vehicle tires and mailed them to the UN with an "illegal parking" notice. We all got fantastic Alabanian\Kosovar nationalistic teeshirts courtesy of SIT. Mine says, in Albanian, "We are one," and then lists all the provinces of Greater Albania. The guy presenting has a court-date in 2 days... when we wished him luck, he laughed and says he doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of the courts and wouldn't be going.

After the presentation, I met my accordion teacher Raif's friend Ylber, who is a very prominant local musician, conductor, and producer. It looks like through him I'll be meeting the Minister of Culture later this week and also be able to goto a taping of a popular local TV show. I post on those things if and when they happen though.

Nis to Prishtina

Nationalist phrase of the day: "Serbia from Beograd to Tokyo"
On the second to last day in Nis the Roma community threw a big party with us. It was great fun and was complete with American hiphop, but also classic Roma music like "RedBull SexyBull" and "Duma Duma Ja." I also got a chance to play my accordion for everyone and one friend of mine, Sali, sang a bit (although he was reluctant).

The next day we went to the Preshevo Valley, an Albanian enclave within the borders of Serbia. The police and army presence was VERY noticeable as we walked to the OSCE (A European security watchdog org) mission to Serbia office in Bujanovic. We learned about what they do and how they try to prevent violent spillover from Kosovo. It was also interesting to learn that the media is a primary security issue for the area since they sensationalize any potentially ethnic-related issues. We also went to an English language library that was interestingly staffed only by people who lacked any knowlege what-so-ever in English. Finally we visited a bilingual media outlet. We couldn't eat in the main kafana cafe because it was a security risk as it's owned by the local Serbian Radical Party leader.

The bus back to Nis was a bit late to the bus-station so my Academic Director, Kumjana, asked a guy at the station "Is the bus late, is something wrong?"
He Replied: "It will come"
Kumjana: "Is it late?"
Offical: "Of course it's late"
Kumjana: "How do you know it will come?"
Offical: "Because it's always late"

Kumjana then asked why they just don't change the timetable, which I thought was an intelligent question. Anyway... the next day (this morning) we left for Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo as the Tour D' Serbia began in the Nis city center. The drive was uneventful although the border was rather intense. Serbia doesn't officially recognize the border since they still consider Kosovo as part of Serbia. There is only a small police checkpoint on the Serbian side where a guard saw my accordion and asked if we are a band. Soon after, we found ourselves surrounded by barbed wire and heavily armed soldiers. In kosovo it seems like every other building and every other vehicle belongs to an international organization: the UN, UNMIK, OSCE, KFOR, etc... Our hotel is very nice and right next to the American University. It did take a few minutes, however, to clear the cows from the hotel driveway to allow us to pull in. The night set in to the sounds of a call-to-prayer and later a Roma wedding on the next block playing Tallava synthesizer music.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Niška Banja, topla voda - za mangupe ziva zgoda

Greetings from Niš!

Unfortunately I don't have any photos to share just yet. Nis is a bit more of a traditional city than Podgorica. We got here by van driven by an amazing crazy driver who had to move his scythe out of the trunk to make room for our bags. The drive was really amazing and went through some incredible canyons. The driver was rather... Balkan - so we were either going to arrive very early or not at all...

We arrived in Nis alive and met the homestay families. I'm living with a Roma family in the neighborhood of Mala Beograd (or something like that). There are two grandparents, a mother, and a 16 yearold named Saija. There is also a neighbor named Salin who has been a very helpful translator. He also happens to be Saban Bajramovic's nephew. Today we are all going to Niska Banja together.They have been really nice to me, and I think are even maybe a little too eager to make sure I'm comfertable as most host families seem to be in a homestay situation. They've been feeding me A LOT and my host mother says that she wants me to go home fat. . . She also polished my boots while I was out of the house to the point where they are more polished than when I got them. I gave them a book which is now on display on top of the TV. More later on the family...

The quality of the lectures here has been excellent and we have talked a lot about Europian Integration and ."dealing with the past" here. I also think I maybe decided to write my research paper on music's role in constructing new national identites in the post-Yugo republics.

We goto Prishtina on friday where I should have more regular internet avalabilty.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Fuck Himalayas!"

Today we had our Montenegrin "wrap-up" session where we discussed everything that we've learned here. To summarize, basically we talked about the EU's involvement with "democratizing" Montenegro, specifically related to the corruption that is here. We also talked about the Montenegrin's unsure identity and how Montenegrins who identify as Serbians must be included politically. Finally, we talked about how there is no agreed-upon history here in terms of the conflicts in the 1990s and how steps must be taken to reveal the true histories.

What was special about this session was that we decided to do it in a mountain village called Njeguši where the founder of modern Montenegro was born. It was incredibly beautiful and located in a mountain plateau 40 km from the sweltering capital city of Podgorica. After our conversation we headed into Lovcen Natl park for what I can honestly say were the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. From the top of the mountain we were on, we could see all of Boka Kotorska, the Adriatic, Croatia, and even the feint outline of Italy. I took a panoramic shot, but my computer here isn't fast enough to assemble it. The view of both staggering mountains and sea was incredible. Our group leader\"Academic Director's" reaction to the sight was "Fuck Himalayas..." and I must say I agree with her.

Meeting Milo

So yesterday we met some Montenegrin students and I called one of them tonight to hang out with her and her friends. We went out to a cafe and chatted: it turns out her dad used to be in the Montegrin version of the CIA. . . She mentioned how Prime Minister Djukanovic (who we have been learning about in a rather negative light) likes to go out and dance to Turbofolk (chalga) music at night and we jokingly suggested that we should go find him. She didn't blink an eye and said sure. So we followed her around Podgorica to what seemed to be a very popular bar. Of course Milo Djukanovic wasn't there. . .

But she told us not to worry, he'd arrive in 30 minutes. And much to our amazment he did! Because her dad used to be in the Montenegrin intellegence service, she knew all Djukanovic's bodyguards and once he entered the bar she was able to convince them to let us meet him. They asked "They're American?" She replied yes.
"Do they have any weapons?" No.
"Ok, we'll trust you"

And so we negociated our way through a human wall of bulky Montegrin bodyguards to meet Djukanovic, wearing a fashinable tight black tee-shirt of course. We shook hands and took a photo, and that was that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Podgorica House Rules

These rules were posted in my room here in the thriving(?) and certainly sweltering Montenegran capital of Podgorica. The hotel is pretty nice and comes complete with a kitten not bigger than a foot long.

Appreciative guests have to behave according to house rules that are administered:

The guest gets the room according to the prominent hotel -tariff with the obligation of denouncment in the books with valid documents. The eventual deficiencies or damages in the room, as well as more valuable personal stuffs or higher amount of money the guest has to denounce or leave it on the reception desk. Suspicious guests and guests inclined to different kinds of excesses are not welcome.

The guest is given a bill for the services that are fulfilled, and the eventual praises or objections the guest enters into the book of impressions and reclamations or he informs proper Ministry through contact phone.

The stuff of the hotel is available to the guest for all his demands that are possible to fulfill. The current preservation of the object is done every day and in accordance to the valid Categorization Law and rules which are related to the category that the "Ambiente" hotel disposes of.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Perast: Montenegro

Nationalist quote of the day: "Speak Serbian so the world can understand you."

On the plane to Austria (for my connection) I happened to be sitting next to three Albanian Kosovars. I got friendly with one of them and he told me all about how America is the greatest country in the world and how if there's ever a problem it's ok because he owns an AK47 and ammo for it too. . . .

Greetings from Crna Gora! It's been a really busy few days and I didn't have internet access in Perast: the small town on Boka Kotorska where I was (near the Adriatic). We had the class orientation where we discussed the next 6 weeks. It looks like things will be really serious and incredibly busy, but I will come out of it having a truly full understanding of the most recent Balkan wars and the Roma rights situation. We watched all six episodes of the "Death of Yugoslavia" documentary which I recomend as a great introduction to everything. The craziest quote from it was Milosevic's reaction to Slovenia's secession from Yugoslavia during a heated meeting. He said "Those stingy Slovenians: they just left to check out of their hotel early and save a night's pay"

In Perast our classes were in the most amazing place: we did everything on a patio under a canopy of grapes with a view of the bay. The town smells amazing: obviously a bit like the sea but also kind of spicy. Our acedemic director, who is essentially the main professor, is incredibly knowlegable and I really respect here abilty to be serious in class but then at night hang out with us as a friend.
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