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Biljana Kovačević-Vučo

One of the leading figures of the struggle for justice and human rights in Serbia, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco, has died today, at the age of 58.

A lawyer by profession, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco put her knowledge and skills at the service of justice in an outstanding way. She became an human rights activist in 1992, when she founded the Council forHuman Rights of the Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrade, where she headed an SOS helpline for the victims of political and ethnic discrimination, as well as discrimination at the workplace. Since then, her work towards the defence of human rights focused primarily on providing justice. In 1997 she founded YUCOM, the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights. Among her achievements, she and her team at Yucom successfully sued the Serbian state at the European Court for Human Rights, having it condemned twice for violating human rights (the Yucom website does not provide detailed information about the cases), as well as having won a case against Serbia on the UN Human Rights Council, the case of the journalist Zeljko Bodrožić.

With Sonja Biserko and Natasa Kandic, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco was one of the most prominent defenders of the need for Serbia to assume and come to terms with its involvement in the wars in the 1990s. She was also on the frontline of the struggle against the Serbian nationalist sectors. Throughout her life as an activist, she revealed to be an example of great courage, never allowing the numerous threats and all sorts of intimidation with which she was routinely faced to prevent her from carrying away her mission.

This is a great loss for Serbia, for democracy and the cause of justice and human rights. May her example be followed by the new generations in Serbia.

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Dobrovoljacka Street case: can Serbia provide a fair trial?

The arrest of Ejup Ganic in London last Monday, 1st of March, could not have happened in a more symbolically charged moment: exactly 18 years after the independence of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the same day when Radovan Karadzic was presenting, at the ICTY, his own version of the Bosnian war, while in Serbia a debate is ongoing about a parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica.

While the coincidence of dates between the Independence day and Karadzic’s opening defence statement at the Hague should be seen as a ‘lucky strike’ for the Serb authorities, this case cannot be reduced to a mere diversion, which succeeded in overshadowing Karadzic’s statement upon the public opinion, in Serbia and in Bosnia, as well as internationally.  The significance of Ganic’s case is that it represents an attempt to lend credibility to the absurd claim that in Bosnia the Serbs were conducting a defensive war. Although the case against him is not likely to have any impact on the outcome of Karazic’s trial, it will certainly have a significant impact on the debate in Serbia about the parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica, and most importantly, on the relations between Serbia and Bosnia and the on the stability of Bosnia, where general elections are to be held next October.

Ejup Ganic was arrested by the British authorities at the demand of Serbia, which issued an arrest warrant against Ganic and 17 other persons, conspiracy to murder, in the Dobrovoljacka Street case, about the attack against a JNA column in Sarajevo, on 3 May 1992.

This incident occurred a month after the beginning of the aggression against the newly independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, carried out in the initial stage by the JNA, and it happened during an extremely tense moment. The day before, the JNA had launched an offensive against Sarajevo, which was halted by the Territorial Defence. The JNA in turn kidnapped the President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, at the airport which was under its control (for a more detailed description of the context surrounding the Dobrovoljacka Street incident, please click here). At the time of the incident, Sarajevo was already under siege for almost a month, and it remained besieged by Serb forces until February 1996, after the end of the war.

Although the context of the incident is well known, there is some uncertainty about the attack of the column, which was withdrawing from Sarajevo, under an agreement brokered by the UN in exchange for the release of Alija Izetbegovic. It is not established whether the attack was spontaneous, as Jovan Divjak, then deputy commander of the Territorial Defence, and who was himself present at the scene, declares, or whether it was launched by superior orders, emanating, as the Prosecution of the Special Court for war crimes of the Republic of Serbia alleges, from the Presidency of Bosnia itself, in which Ejup Ganic was serving as acting President, due to the kidnap of Izetbegovic.

Ejup Ganic’s arrest, and the warrant against 17 other Bosnian personalities reveals how, 18 years after the beginning of the war, battles over the interpretation of its causes and impact of the war in Bosnia are being fought, with the judiciary as one of its most important battlefields.

It has been argued by many observers that this arrest is a clear example of the abuse of justice for political purposes. I agree with such assessment, but I don’t think it’s enough to merely state it, as it can be argued against it:

  1. that under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, it is legitimate on the part of the Serbian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes to launch an investigation on this case, and that Serbia is now a democratic state able to offer a fair trial;
  2. that, with the current government, Serbia seems to be finally coming to terms with the past, with the arrest and extradition of Radovan Karadzic, and now the debate about a parliamentary resolution condemning the Massacre of Srebrenica as evidence of such process; while the Special Prosecutor has been investigating and prosecuting cases involving perpetrators who are Serb citizens.
  3. Finally, it can also be argued that both the Prosecutor and the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court are autonomous from political power, and that we should resist analysing the behaviour of states as if they were monolithic, homogeneous entities, because they’re not.

Starting from the third point, it is important to note that, although the state is certainly not an uniform creature, it is also true that when people in different positions of power share the same mind-set and the same perception of national interests, it is logic consequence that their values make their actions converge for an outcome that seeks to reinforce such mind-set, confirm those shared values and contribute to the perceived national interest.

Indeed, a closer analysis reveals that what is in fact happening is that the state of denial in which post-Milosevic Serbia has lived is being replaced by a more subtle trend, launched after the controversial ruling of the International Court of Justice, in 2007, absolved Serbia of the charge of genocide, merely condemning it for failing to take measures to prevent the genocidal act occurred in Srebrenica and for failing to punish genocide by failing to arrest individuals indicted for war crimes by the ICTY, and exempting the Serb state for any financial compensation towards Bosnia. The ICJ ruling has both released Serbia from the burden of guilt and, as Sonja Biserko and Edina Becirevic have stated, provided “a frame for Serbia to stick to”, which is “evident in domestic courts speaking with one voice that Serbia and its army have never had anything to do in Bosnia.”

This trend is the product of a significant communion in the way the current ruling elite in Serbia, the Special Prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, and the court’s judges are dealing with the legacy of the Bosnian war, and consists basically in responding to internationally imposed constraints linked to the interest in joining the European Union by abandoning, on the one hand, the strategy of denial of the Massacre of Srebrenica, while, on the other hand, highlighting Serb victimhood, which results in the establishment of an apparent moral equivalence that will preserve the Serb national narrative of the Bosnian war, depicted as a Bosnian civil war in which the Bosnian Serbs were primarily acting in self-defence. This trend is also shared by the ruling elite in Republika Srpska, as is clear, among other things, by the term officially used there to define the war: Defensive-Fatherland war (odbrambeno-otadžbinski rat).

In this narrative, Serbia, as a state, is both exempted from any responsibility in the war, which represents the continuation of Milosevic’s argument at the time; and portrayed as the perennial protector of the Serbs, independently of where they live. Indeed, it is common practice that the Interior Ministry of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska reports, not to the Bosnian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes, but to his Serbian counterpart, on grounds that the Bosnians are not dully investigating crimes in which the Serbs were the victims (this is confirmed by the Serbian Special Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic in this interview).

It is in this context that the process against Ejup Ganic should be seen. The President of Serbia himself confirmed the link:

“I believe that the Serbian parliament will soon adopt a resolution on Srebrenica and it would be a great mistake if only the ruling majority were to vote for it,” Tadić said.

He remarked that all the dilemmas on whether one or two resolutions should be adopted and whether it was a genocide or a crime “have missed the point,” which is to say that the people are not to blame.

“Serbia must distance itself from that crime, because there were also mass crimes against the Serbs,” said Tadić.

The president added that the Serbian court system has proven that it can process war crimes and prosecute its own citizens who participated in them, like for example the trial against members of the Scorpions, a paramilitary unit that was involved in the Srebrenica massacre, but that it does not want to take over every trial.(B92, 7 March 2010) (the second resolution mentioned by Tadic is supposed to specifically condemn the crimes committed against Serbs).

The ability of Serbia’s courts to provide a fair trial is, however, denied by the outcome of a number of war crimes trials recently held at the Special Court. In April 2009, the Humanitarian Law Centre, which has been systematically monitoring all war crimes trials, published a report (Trials for war crimes and ethnically and politically motivated crimes in post-Yugoslav countries), in which it indicates important flaws:

The Supreme Court of Serbia continues with the practice of setting aside first-in stance convictions for war crimes, significantly reducing terms of imprisonment of those convicted and affirming acquittals, which gives rise to the suspicion that the reason behind these decisions may be political.

This tendency, which is restricted to defendants of Serb nationality, is reinforced by the tendency by the Trial Chamber to benefit Serb defendants with mitigating circumstances invoked to reduce the time of their sentences, despite the seriousness of the crimes involved.

Referring to the Skorpions’ case, mentioned above by Boris Tadic, the report states that:

In 2008, the Supreme Court reduced the term of imprisonment of the Scorpions member Branislav Medić from 20 to 15 years although he was sentenced for murdering at least two Bosniaks and active participation in the execution of all six captives. The Supreme Court affirmed the acquittal of Aleksandar Vukov, another member of the Scorpions unit, despite the fact that evidence heard during the proceedings conclusively proved his criminal responsibility. Since the Supreme Court is the highest last instance to decide upon prosecution appeals concerning the responsibility of the defendants, with all appeals being heard by one single chamber, always made up of the same justices, there is a real risk of arbitrariness in delivering final court rulings (p. 94).

And about the Bytyci brothers’ case:

This trial is on the whole very unusual. Indicted were some accessories that had a secondary role in the commission of the crime and no charges were brought against the immediate perpetrators, co-perpetrators, true helpers and those who gave orders (abettors). All these point to the fact that the whole procedure was initiated and organized in order to fulfil, at least to some extent, the request of the American administration that the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, American citizens, be prosecuted. In the final outcome, this trial served to protect some high-ranking officials of the Serbian MUP from criminal responsibility and mock justice“. (p. 99)

Other misconducts have consisted in randomly ordering the psychiatrical assessment of witnesses whose testimony could contribute to the conviction of the (Serb) defendants, as in the Suva Reka case:

complying with the authority and legal opinion of the Supreme Court, the trial chamber in the Suva Reka case ordered the psychiatric assessment of a significant number of witnesses, including all those who were ready to give full account of what they saw and heard about the incident which is the subject-matter of the indictment. Approximately 100 of the witnesses examined by the court said they had no knowledge about the incident the defendants are charged with, although the incident resulted in 49 people killed and took place in broad daylight [12:00 no on], in the very center of a very small town, in the immediate vicinity of the institutions where witnesses happened to be at the time of the incident. The court did not seek the psychiatric opinion on any of these witnesses, but of those witnesses who were willing to say in court what they had seen and heard, which is a non sense and absurd.” (p. 95)

Furthermore, the defence of non-Serb defendants is seriously impaired by the reluctance of potential defence witnesses to come to Serbia to testify, as was clear on the Tuzla Column case. The defence witness have funded reasons to fear being themselves arrested and tried, bearing in mind the  bad-faith with which Serbia is using the international and regional mechanisms of police and judiciary cooperation.

The Tuzla Column case is a very relevant precedent, in what regards the case here in appreciation, the Dobrovoljacka Street case. The defendant, Ilija Jurisic, was convicted to 12 years for ordering the attack against the JNA convoy in May 1992, which resulted in 51 deaths. According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, guilt was not established beyond reasonably doubt.

Justice is usually represented as a blindfolded woman wearing a sword on her right hand and a weighing scale on her left hand. In Serbia, however, an accurate portrait of Lady Justice would include only the sword. This is why  Ejup Ganic’s extradition to Serbia would constitute a gross injustice.

This brief analysis can only lead us to the conclusion that in Serbia, transitional justice is being subverted to such an extent that, instead of contributing to a wider process of regional reconciliation, it is, on the contrary working towards deepening the tensions in Bosnia. The possible approval by the Serbian parliament of a resolution about Srebrenica cannot be therefore interpreted as a sign that Serbia is finally coming to terms with its recent past, but rather as a merely tactical move towards European Union accession. This, in turn, should lead us to raise important questions about the prospect of Serbia’s European integration.

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On your Journey East, have a Slice of Serbian Politics!

When we start blogging, we are usually motivated by our will to communicate, to share our stories and our opinions with others outside our small circle of friends and acquaintances. Then, even in blogs with a small audience like this one, as we get feedback from our readers, a strange sense of community starts to develop and we get to feel close to people whom we otherwise might never get in touch with. While this does have a negative side, as any experienced blogger will tell you, it is mostly a positive and rewarding experience.

Then, of course, there are also the occasional visitors, who come through search engines, and who, for the most part tend not to stay. For instance, my posts on Belgrade dogs and their human protectors has attracted considerable traffic. Every now and then, a person concerned with abandoned dogs contacts me to know whom to speak with in Belgrade, but for the most part this traffic is composed of people looking for a film suggestively called “Dog with two girls from Belgrade” :-))). I of course benefit from these unwanted visitors, because each visit makes my blog more visible in search engines, therefore increasing the probability of interesting people coming here. More important for me is the fact that my posts on the film “Resolution 819” are on the top of my posts, and that the English translation of Hasan Nuhanovic’s text about this film “History as Written by Other People” (thanks to Owen for the full translation) is linked on Wikipedia, not because of me, but because I think what’s at stake is important enough to get as much visibility on the internet as possible.

Then, there are the other blogs with whom we find common cause, and slowly a small network develops, as already established blogs link you and sometimes even write a post promoting your blog, like Greater Surbiton and Americans for Bosnia did for me. This is the essence of networking and the most rewarding aspect of blogging. This networking thing takes time, of course, and sometimes neophyte bloggers can’t bear the frustration of not being read or commented, because they fail to realize that blogging is not only about writing, but also, above all, about reading, thinking about what you’ve read and giving feedback in direct or indirect ways. This is what makes blogs relevant, because this is what makes ideas spread.

So, it’s now my turn to introduce two new blogs that as a reader I find very worth following:

A Slice of Serbian Politics, by Sladjana Lazic, offers a progressive perspective about Serbian politics and society. Sladjana, whom I have the pleasure of daily discussing Balkan politics, as she is my colleague at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, belongs to an uncompromising liberal perspective that, despite being a minority in Serbia, is proving to be a moral force for positive change in the country.

The other blog I would like to draw my readers’ attention to is Journey East, by Christine Bednarz. Although I don’t know Christine personally, I recognize myself in her blog. She is a Master student with a strong taste for travelling in the Balkans, exactly the same spirit that led my to create my own blog, and, like myself, she writes in the first person.

With these blogs around, kept by young researchers focusing, like myself, on issues of identity, nationalism, and justice, I feel in very good company. So, on your Journey East, do have a slice of Serbian Politics, and then, of course, a Turkish Coffee 😉

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Time Out

My regular readers are probably by now asking whether I forgot the password to my blog, or something like that. I have spent some time travelling and was also busy taking care of things that took most of my time and mental space, and because of that the blog has been a bit (a lot) neglected during this month.

The good thing about blogging is that there are no commitments, we write what we want when we want to, however, after a while, when we having a regular audience and people commenting, we realize the blog is not exclusively ours and we feel we need to correspond to the readers’ expectations. For a long time before I had my own blog I was commenting regularly on other people’s blogs, so I like that feeling of my blog not being totally mine anymore, but rather a space where some people feel comfortable coming to.

That works as a stimulus to write better, but sometimes it can become also perceived as a pressure to write more or to keep a regular pace. Usually I tend to write long texts, and it’s very rewarding to realize that some of the visitors actually read them all, instead of just skimming through. Time is limited for everyone and nowadays with so much information available most people lost the habit of spending more than just a few seconds in a text. Being myself a slow reader (and a slow writer), I appreciate it particularly that people come and read my posts, so I think it’s better not to write anything than to publish texts that would represent for the readers a waste of time and for me a source of embarrassment.

I intend to come back and start blogging regularly again soon, hopefully with renewed inspiration.

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Italy sliding into fascism.

neofascismoitaliano

In a seminar that I attended last year, there was a lecture on the problem of corruption in Serbia. When we got to questions and awnsers, an Italian professor made the following comment: “Well, at least you manage to get your garbage collected”. Far from dismissing my worries about the seriousness of the problem of corruption in Serbia, this comment made me reflect on how weak is the italian state and how fragile is italian democracy.

I think the political situation in Italy is not having the attention it requires. Italy is a fascinating country, and if I had to briefly define its main features, creativity would come on top. The italian society shows an extraordinary tendency for inovation, while being able to also keep its more traditional features. This caracteristic explains why Italy is such an attractive country, having a privileged image in the imaginary of western societies as a place where tradition and modernity stand side by side. This romantic image of Italy, with its fantastic monuments, cities like Florence and Venice, fashion, Ferrari, nice food, beautiful women and handsome men makes it easier to downplay the worrying signs that are coming about the erosion of democratic values.

Politically too, Italy has been on the vanguard of inovation. It was in Italy that fascism was invented. Although Mussolini never managed to have the degree of control over society that Hitler enjoyed in Germany, his defeat did not mean the erradication of the fascist ideology. The post-war political system was caracterized by a significant degree of disfuntionality, which led to the collapse of its party sistem, under the weight of corruption and the penetration of organized crime at all levels of society. The void gave the fascist forces a golden opportunity to emerge, and, since the appearence in italian politics of of Silvio Berlusconi in 1993, the pattern of italian politics is one of polarization between the radical right (with the moderate right having practically disapeared) and the left forces, which only manage to win by forming fragile negative coalitions, but seem to be powerless to respond to the challenged posed by the populist appeal of the radical right.

This became particularly clear with the victory of  the neo-fascist polititian Gianni Alemanno, member of Alleanza Nazionale in the local elections for Rome’s city council, who vowed to expell from the city 20 000 roma immigrants. The problem of immigration is being used to exploit fear within the population and to make it less resistant to the erosion of key features of democracy. As usual, gipsies appear as a point of minor resistance, due to the prevailing prejudices among the population and their marginal existence. Blamed on the increasing levels of violence, they are now the target of extremist violence. The fact that Italy faces a serious problem with immigration is not at stake here. That problem is indeed being welcomed by extreme-right politicians whose power is built largely upon their ability to expoit fear and prejudices. Thus, it is not surprising that incidents like burning alive a homeless immigrant from India, to which my friend Max Spencer Dohner raised my attention.

From last year, the signs of how Italy is increasingly sliding into fascism are becoming more and more visible:

At the level of foreign policy, in Berlusconi fascination towards Vladimir Putin and Russia;

Internally, the recent emergency laws allowing the creation of citizen street patrols, after three episodes of rape that outraged italian society. Please note that, dramatic as these crimes are, they are not representative of a rise in crime, as it happens that the number of sexual assaults fell last year. Here, the fears associated with the crime of rape converge with xenophobia, as the alledged authors of this crime were immigrants.

The technique  is to make use of a climate of sentimentalism and tension, induced, in great extent by the media, which Berlusconi as a media tycoon and Prime-Minister has largely under his grip. The right moment is seized, thanks to the disregard for the normal legislative procedures, to which I have already pointed out in the case of Eluana Englaro, where, through an emergency decree, the government tried to defy the sovereign decision of Italy’s highest court, thus also the principle of separation between legislative, executive and judicial power.

Berlusconi’s contempt towards democratic principles is also clearly patent in the aproval of laws granting the President, leaders of the upper and lower chambers, and Prime Minister (the four highest offices of the state) immunity from investigation whilst in office, just in time to avoid investigations to his own activities.

Now, it’s the right to strike that comes under attack, with the approval draft law to restrict strikes in the transport sector.

To this we could add Berlusconi racist and sexist comments, which reveal a deep comptemp towards equality and tolerance, but are very much in accordance with his style of  (frustrated) ‘macho latino’, which makes him appealing to sectors of the italian society, still too much dominated by the tradicional patriarchical model.

The resemblances between the current political situation and that of non-democratic countries are growing. This is particularly worrying because, as I have said in the begining of this post, Italy stands out as a very innovative country in the field of politics, and it’s experiments sooner or later have an impact also on other european societies. In this sense, Italy can be seen as a ‘lab’ for political scientists and commenters in search of new and old fashion tendencies…

The question that this process raises in my mind is: in which point of decay does a political system stop being democratic?

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One year of blogging at Café Turco

This month my blog is completing one year since it was launched. Time for an assessment…p1230683

This is a small blog, in one year I had just a bit more than 15 thousand visits, and, although my audience has been steadily growing, it seldom goes above 100 visits a day. I really don’t mind that at all and to make that clear to anyone passing by I have left on my side bar the number of visits. It is the fact that this is a small blog that allows me to have comments without prior moderation. This gives me a particular pleasure, since I find the interaction of readers through comments very stimulating, and I am very glad that steadily my posts started receiving more comments, sometimes simple messages of people that liked what they read, sometimes more elaborated comments, most of them relevant. The cosy environment of this blog clearly made it unattractive to hate comments, because I don’t usually get those, but when I do I erase them because I don’t like trouble makers coming here and disrupting this nice environment.

The year that is now drawing to a closure was very intense and rewarding. I travelled a lot, worked a lot and met very interesting people. I tried to reflect that in the contents, by writing about different subjects, sharing my experiences and my perspective. I wish I had written more, but living things intensively has a side effect, stress, which sometimes makes it harder to focus, and the fact that I am not using my own native language, Portuguese also makes it harder to express myself, and I’d rather not post anything than to say dumb things or commonplaces. I guess this is rather common, most bloggers pass through this, and eventually this feeling goes away, inspiration returns and I really don’t think we should make our blogging an aditional source of stress, when we can avoid that (sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when nasty people comes with their hatred and tries to defeat us through exhaustion, but in those cases, our sense of duty provides us with a resilience unknow to such people).

The best about blogging is that the absense of an editorial filter allows us to get in touch with people and ideas which wouldn’t be so easily accessible. Furthermore, the possibility to establish informal networks with other blogs very widely expands the impact of each of those blogs. The interaction thus created can be very rewarding and stimulating.

So, to conclude, I am very happy with my cosy blog and would like to thank my readers, regulars and passers-by, as well as the writers of the blogs that have linked me, in particular Marko Attila Hoare, from Greater Surbiton, who wrote a very nice post that helped boost my audiences, and Daniel from the Srebrenica Genocide Blog, whom I really admire for the way he is devoted to the cause of keeping alive the memory of the Srebrenica genocide.

Plans for the year that is about to start: lots of them, but mostly I hope to start writing more about my own country, Portugal, since it is so under represented in english language blogosphere.

Now, some posts that I think are good enough (well, at least the photos are good enough):

April 25th about the politics of memory, or rather the politics of oblivion of Portugal’s fascist past;

Srebrenica some impressions on my trip to Srebrenica last July;

Defending animals’ well being in Belgrade some impressions about a city where I feel particularly at home;

and Why Serbia? in case someone may be curious about…

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Happy birthday Tintin!

Tintin, the famous belgian reporter, celebrates 80 years today.

tintin

I could never miss the chance to congratulate him!!!

I am very attached to Tintin. I had my first contact with the french language through Tintin, trying to read my brothers albums. Then when I was 18 I got my first regular job at a Tintin shop. It was a nice job, where I learned how to overcome my shyness and deal with all kinds of people, which in turned help me a lot to understand human nature, not to judge people for their appearence and to always look on the eyes, smile and be pleasant to the invisible workers who attend me in the shops or at the supermarket.

My favourite character is the Captain Haddock, because, unlike Tint476047691_a8431c161f_o1in who is self-rightous but sometimes too perfect, he is a person with a lot of flaws, but has his heart on the right place. Haddock is not the only alcoholic.  Milou, aka Snowy,  has a particular taste for Whisky, especially the scotch brand ‘Loch Lomond’, and, like Haddock, he also has to face king_ottokars_sceptresome moral dilemmas, as when, in the album King Ottockar Sceptre, when he has to choose between a tasty bone and the famous Sceptre, a decison on which depends the survival of Syldavia, a small nation somewhere in the Balkans.

Syldavia is threatened by its bigger and stronger neighbour Borduria, a contry dominated by a fascist regime with expansionist ambitions. (I was in Montenegro for first time in May 2006, for the referendum for its independence. There were lots of journalists there and I found it very funny that Montenegro was compared by many among them to Syldavia… an imagined Balkan country as a model for a real one!!!)tinb

Published in 1938, this book can be seen as a criticism of fascism and follows the tradition set earlier in The Lotus Bleu. Interestingly, Hergé was allowed to work during the period of Nazi occupation of Belgium, and this book was not censored, although Tintin in America and The Black Island were. Hergé’s political conservatism is well known and lots of pages have been written about it, in debates about the political contents of his books,  the near-total absense of women in his stories, not to mention the mystery of whether Milou was a male or a female dog, etc, etc.

Oliveira da FigueiraNowadays, what fascinates me most in Tintin is the possibility that its books offer us to get an insight of the prevailing prejudices of his time and their evolution. The case of Tintin in Congo is paradigmatic of this, with Tintin shooting and even blowing up wild animals and fulfilling is ‘mission civilizatrice’ by lecturing the local children about Belgium (in a later version Hergé depicts him teaching maths). The evolution is clear in The Blue Lotus, where Hergé actually engages himself to fight prevailing prejudices about the Chinese people and to denounce the japanese expansionist ambitions and the behaviour of the West. I could go on, but time is short and after all there were 24 albums!!!

(Oliveira da Figueira, the only portuguese to appear on Tintin’s albums, is the quintessencial portuguese)

Another sign of how much we have evolved since Tintin was created is the famous phrase that Tintin’s public was everyone from 7 to 77. Now that Tintin himself is 80, I imagine him as one of those old men who love to tell stories about what it was like when they were young.  I am sure he tells them in a very lively way, getting emotional now and then when he remembers his companions of adventures, Haddock, Milou, the famous opera singer Castafiore, his trip to Tibet in search for his friend Chang, not to mention is account of his trip to the Moon, and how stupid those conspiracy theories about the landing on the Moon being a fabrication of Hollywood…tintincast

In a way, Tintin could be the embodiment of the XX Century (which was, by the way, the name of his employer).

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Merry Christmas!

dsc_0175For my regular and occasional readers, my wishes of a Merry Christmas!

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Mosque arsoned in Republika Srpska.

INTERNACIONAL-BOSNIA-MEZQUITA

My friend Jasmin Caucevic, from the blog Jasmin’s Heart, asked me to write something about the mosque that was arsoned in the village of Fazlagića Kula, in the east of Bosnia. This village belongs to the territory of the Serb entity of Bosnia, the Republic of Srpska.

The Mosque was set on fire during the night of 7 to 8 December, by ‘coincidence’ the day of Bajram.

The fact is that, if you make a quick google search, you will find other episodes of extremists’ violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I have been in Bosnia three times and crossed eastern Bosnia twice by bus, on my way to Sarajevo. On my first trip, last year, I was impressed by the amount of damaged and arsoned houses. I was’t surprised, but still one thing is to read about it or watch it on documentaries, another is to see for myself . The war was over for more than a decade, but still there were so many signs. However, I also saw many newly built or recently restored Mosques. Their reconstruction is part of the efforts to reverse the effects of genocide.

The arson of this Mosque, which had been built in 2003,  after the old one, centuries old, was destroyed during the war, is only the latest on a series of incidents that occur too frequently in ‘Republica of Srpska’ , in areas where displaced people are returning, such as grafitti spraying with racist or threatening messages, vandalism of monuments, threats, assaults, ransacking of returnee’s homes.

In this case, an anonymous  phone call had been made some days ago threatening the president of the local medžlis, saying that someone was going to « massacre the ustaše and the balije and set Fazlagića Kula on fire ».

However, serious as these violent actions may be, they fit a wider pattern.

The Human Rights report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Sprspka states:

“”””The entity and local authorities in the Republic of Srpska do not engage themselves in facilitation of the repatriation process. The authorities should provide the repatriates with employment, health and social insurance, conditions for education of their children, and the conditions for maintenance of the cultural and religious traditions. Not a single local community in the Republic of Srpska had provided any of these conditions as yet.
Avoidance of responsibilities on the side of the authorities is but a part of the political strategy intended to allow the return of the least possible number of non-Serbian repatriates (Bosnians, Croatians, Rhomanis) to the territory of  the Republic of Srpska, and that strategy seems to be carried out successfully.

For that reason the authorities in the majority of cases tolerate the incidents directed against the repatriates and their assets.
The incidents are usually recorded, but the background of them is not being investigated, nor are the investigations against the perpetrators being initiated.

In certain cases the authorities themselves violate the rights of the repatriates and their proprietary rights, all towards the goal of preventing the repatriation process, or of inducing the repatriates to leave their homes and leave for another entity or another country. “”””

This makes it a lot easier to understand how could such serious incident occur. There are clear signs of impunity towards whoever may want to intimidate the returnees.

Human rights activists are also targeted. In July, Branko Todorovic, Executive Director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, and his family received death treats:

“””on July 22, 2008, around 2 p.m. an unknown man called the office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska and said that “huge amounts of money have been given for the assassination of Mr. Branko Todorovic and his family as he has permanently heavily criticised powerful persons from the police and the prosecutors office”. In order to show the seriousness of this threat, the man listed many details and situation showing that he has carefully followed Mr. Todorovic and his family since couple of months.“”””

Branko Todorovic has received similar treats in the past. These are credible treats. In February 2007 Dusko Kondor, the founder and director of the human rights education section of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska was shot dead on 22 February 2007 at the door of his apartment in Bijeljina. His daughter was also injured in the attack.

From these few informations, it is not difficult even for an accidental reader who may not even be able to point Bosnia on a map to realize that the Serb entity of Bosnia is a very oppressive place. Its moderate voices are repressed or even supressed, while relativism and appeasement of serbian nationalist in the West give its radical elements and fake moderates a sense of impunity that leads them to keep the project of Greater Serbia alive, as is the case of the systematic threat of secession by the ‘Republika srpska’ leaders.

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Nationalism, Uncategorized, Violence

Catching up my blogging…

I haven’t been a good blogger lately, but today I decided to put some order in the blog, I tend to be a bit messy, because i’m always running against the clock, I don’t know why, I guess it’s because there are so  many things I always want to do, time is never enough, and I do get lazy sometimes.

So, for a start I decided to update my blogroll. Although it is polite to link blogs taht link ours, that’s not a criteria I apply, because it would be like buying favours. I’m grateful for all the links I get, but mostly what matters is the feeling of reward that I get when I see that people who don’t know me come here and read what I write, or look at my photos, and then think the blog is good enough to be recomended. I don’t write for myself, I do it because I like to share my impressions and my ideas with others. I like it and I need it.

Today I’m linking Modernity Blog , Martin in the MarginsAirforce Amazons, Limbic Nutrition (sorry Jonathan, I really should have linked you long), and Max Dunbar. Except for Limbic Nutrition which is written mostly in Serbia, all the other blogs are from Britain, a country that I have never visited. I think that gives the measure of how much reading blogs can help us expand our perspective. Thanks to my decision to start blogging in English instead of using my own mother tonghe Portuguese, I have been able to connect myself to people that I would have reached had I kept blogging only in Portuguese. I’m glad also to realize that I have readers who are interested in whatever I may write about my own country, and I have been pushing other portugues eblogges to start writing in English too. Up to now, I have only managed to convince Jelena Markovic, who created my sister blog Invisible Sights. For her too, as for me, the blog is helping her a lot to reach people abroad and getting attention to her work.

I have always loved to read, and I always love to give books I liked to read, especially when they are cheap. Sometimes when I go to the supermarket I look at the promotions, and among the many books who shouldn’t ever have been published because they aren’t more than environmental crimes (all the threes wasted to print them…) I find there true pearls. I think I have already given about 10 exemplars of Aleksandar Hemon The Question of Bruno (only 3 euros in the supermarket), and about the same number of Danilo Kis The Enciclopedia of the Dead (only 4 euros, sometimes 5, depending on where I buy them). I always take care to know if the recepients deserve such treasures, I don’t give them to everyone. I’m sentimental, what can I do?

So, of all the blogs I’m linking today, if I had to reccomend only one, it would be Max Dunbar. He is a writer and I’m his fan. Thanks to his blog, I also got to read the poems of Rachel Fox, whose site I linked some time ago. His blogroll also includes an excellent list of blogs and sites with good stuff for people who like to read.

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