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March 28 2011

Macedonia: Personal Steps Against Economic Crisis

Written by Filip Stojanovski

Bojana Jankovska blogs [MKD] on how she deals with the economic crisis at a personal level: make a deal with family members to use electrical appliances during “cheaper” hours of the day, possibly cancel central heating, locate the cheapest neighborhood store for regular grocery shopping, and lock your credit card in a drawer. Influenced by the Croatian self-help book, “Financial Rebirth,” [CRO] she considers canceling the credit card, so she would “no longer pay interest on things she can comfortably live without.”

September 28 2010

Europe: “Mapping Stereotypes”

By Veronica Khokhlova

Via Dr Sean's Diary, “a series of maps of Europe mapping the (supposed) prejudices of various nations […] and, for some reason, also of gay men” by “Bulgarian visual artist, graphic designer and illustrator Yanko Tsvetkov.” Also, “What European Tribes Think About One Another” - at eXile.ru; a similar map of Europe as seen by Croatians (HRV); and by Ukrainians from Western Ukraine (UKR; via Lyndon of Scraps of Moscow).

September 21 2010

Slovenia: Severe Floods and… Surfing?!

By Filip Stojanovski

While severe floods plague Slovenia [SLO], Balkan portals from Croatia to Macedonia keep republishing a video clip named “wakeboarding in Ljubljana at 1am,” showing a car towing a surfer through the streets and passing by a dry cleaning sign.

September 05 2010

Bosnia: Puppy drowning Video Girl Caught by Police

By Juliana Rincón Parra

Bosnian police have found the girl who appeared on YouTube video throwing puppies to a river,  thanks to animal protection organization's tips and online citizens who helped pinpoint location and identity of the young girl from video footage.

July 16 2010

Croatia: Official Zagreb Protest Blog

By Filip Stojanovski

We don't give Varšavska is a blog in Croatian and English set up by the civic activists who object to usurpation of public space in Zagreb with latest information about mass arrests from the perspective of protesters.

Croatia: Protests Continue Following Mass Arrests

By Filip Stojanovski

Protests in Zagreb continued in spite of the attempted crackdown on Thursday. Croatian state TV reported [CRO] that police arrested 142 protesters so far, including some who returned to the controversial construction site after being released from detention. Marcell Mars, one of protest leaders, scheduled [CRO] a rally and march to the seats of major political parties for Friday evening. Bloggers such as Mihela Hadrian call [CRO] for civic disobedience towards the “corrupt gang” of politicians who cater to war profiteers.

July 15 2010

Croatia: Police Breaks Up Peaceful Protest in Zagreb

By Filip Stojanovski

Croatian police earlier today broke up a peaceful protest against usurpation of public space in the center of Zagreb and arrested at least 11 civic activists. The Twitter feed with the street name #Varsavska is the main source of immediate info and photos.

Civic associations Right to the City and Green Action have been blocking the Varšavska [= Warsaw] street for months in order to prevent the demolition of this public space — a pedestrian zone — in order to build a ramp for the underground garage of a private ‘lifestyle centre' [CRO] at the very center of Zagreb. Their work has been supported by thousands of citizens who would show up at numerous protests, and cultural events organized in the reclaimed public space.

This morning the Police arrested the core group of protesters to make way for construction crews to cut down the “undesirable” trees in this pedestrian zone. Protest participant tmedak tweeted [CRO]:

News from the police van: 11 persons arrested for passive resistance #Varsavska

He also posted a photo of the police moments before they started the “enforcement.” Other participants and witnesses used phone calls, Twitter, Twitpic and yFrog to share immediate info and photos from the event.

Croatian police deals with the protesters. Photo by Mario Mikic.

Twitter user topssy documented the event through photos:

Infopunkt published a video clip from the scene on YouTube

Twitter user krunovidic addressed [CRO] the selective use of force in this case:

I expect the police to do the same to the peasants when they block the roads next time, and use the same methods as with the crew of #Varsavska

July 14 2010

Montenegro: Hero's Welcome for YouTube Star

By Filip Stojanovski

YouTube star Ekrem Jevrić Gospoda was given a hero's welcome upon his arrival in his native Montenegro on July 11. His fame also grew when, allegedly unrelated to his status of YouTube star, he also took part in a photo-shoot for a renowned fashion brand.

At the Podgorica airport, Jevrić was greeted by local camp singer Purašević and “hundreds of fans and relatives,” while tens of entertainment portals and TV stations from the Balkans — including from Macedonia — reused a video from the event, also available on YouTube.

In the clip, apparently at a request of a female journalist, the singer-songwriter whose song about the daily grind ‘cursed' working women because they can't take care of children, explains that “Women work. All our women work all over the Gray World,* women work,” and adds that he's not really bothered by that fact.

But, the man whose video currently has over 3.9 million views on YouTube, complained that he didn't make any money from that, because he's not paid per view, so “it's all for nothing, all for free, and maybe in the future, later we'll make something.”

In addition, a few weeks ago, numerous Balkan portals spread the news that Jevrić shows up in a menswear photo-shoot as a tailor. One of them, SerbiaNet, also published [SER] an audio clip with an excerpt from a telephone interview [SER]. According to Jevrić:

I worked for a big and famous billionaire, with famous brands, called Dolce & Gabanna. I was standing in front of a pub [in my suit] and he was passing by and asked me “Are you an Italian?” I said “Excuse me, but I am not, but I am quite close to Italy.”

Then they said “Would you allow us to take photos of you and take your telephone number, and we'll call you in ten days if you are accepted.” And then they accepted me and offered 500 USD per day to work for them. I worked two days, and got a thousand dollars. A car would come to my house and take me there, and then take me back home by car, and so. They also told me that they might invite me again to work for them, and what do I know…

The interviewer also tried to provoke conservative Jevrić about the openly gay status of Dolce & Gabanna, but to his credit the singer-turned-model ignored the issue.

* Possibly this is a reference to the common South Slavic idiom “the White World,” meaning abroad, far away, used in folk stories.

May 31 2010

The Balkans: Violent Treatment of Animals

By Sinisa Boljanovic

The civil war that was waged in the former communist Yugoslavia during the 1990’s resulted in several hundred thousand people killed and almost a million refugees. After the war, crime and various forms of violence became a regular occurrence in the countries of the region. Victims have mostly been different national and religious groups, the gay population and Gypsies. Recently, animals have also become a target of the bullies. Almost every day some dogs or cats are being exposed to torture by cruel people who record their cruelties and publish the video on the internet.

In mid-April, a lot of people in Serbia were shocked by a terrible video of violence against a female dog which was shown by TV channels. An anonymous monster cut off the dog’s paws and left her to lie in the puddle of blood in one of Belgrade’s street.

On that occasion Goran Paskaljevic, a well-known filmmaker and president of the association for animal protection called SOS Animals, said this to the daily newspaper Blic:

I am shocked that something like that could happen. I expect that the police will find the culprit, even though the victim is not a human, but an animal.

He added:

Those who could carry out such a monstrous act against an infirm dog that couldn’t commit anything bad are dangerous for people as well.

Blogger Dragan Jakovljevic wrote a very sad post, in which he asked the female dog called Mila to forgive the sin of the mankind:

[…] ”Each sin, even the smallest one, affects the fate of the world,” said the old man Siluan. And each virtue does, too: because a victim - in this case, a female dog Mila - is not alone anymore. Tens of thousands of people are offering their help and searching for the monster. Their voices are currently saving this planet. Thanks to them, I dare look into Mila’s eyes, at least on the only endlessly sad [photo] which has appeared on the internet these days, and say: “Forgive, if you can.”

Since one woman found Mila under her car and took her to a veterinary clinic, doctors gave the female dog the first aid. Now Mila is recovering from the wounds and waiting for an operation in Germany where she should get the prosthetics on her legs so that she could walk again.

Just a few weeks after the event, a new disturbing video of violence against a kitten appeared on Srdan Stankovic's page profile (the video has since been removed).

A couple days ago, lawyers of radio and TV station B92 brought a criminal charge against him. Also, a group “Sprecimo nasilje nad zivotinjama” (Stop Abusing Animals) has been created on the Facebook. This group already has more than 44,000 members. Their message is:

STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST ANIMALS!!!
If you love animals, please help save them from cruelty!
If you love animals, join the animal rescue team in your community!

Animals have feelings, just like you or me. Treat animals like you would want to be treated if you were them.

The question is: where are the roots of more and more brutal violence in Serbia?

Dragan Popadic, a social psychologist, said on the web site of Radio Free Europe that the civil war is not the only reason. He added:

That is part of the problem. But I think that we are supposed to look for the roots of violence in something that is present in the current situation. In my opinion, there are no reactions to violence […]. Tolerance towards violence, a tendency that some forms of violence are seen as good violence is tremendously polluting our everyday lives, leading to these excessive and brutal forms of violence.

On the same web page, a Serbian ballerina, writer and blogger Jelena Tinska said:

The Vietnam syndrome has taken over the rule of Serbia, somnambulists stroll over the streets, young boys kill girls. The man who cut the legs of this dog, tomorrow he will cut the breasts of his girlfriend if she cheats on him, because he is a psychopath. Therefore, insane [bullies] are walking over our cities, but they have also been punished.

Serbia's neighbor Bosnia and Herzegovina is also facing violence against animals. According to Sarajevo’s daily newspaper “Oslobodjenje”, this past March there was a series of protests in Sarajevo which were organized by an association called “Friends of animals.” Direct pretext for those protests was a terrible video shot by three young people and published on Facebook. The video shows how these boys are setting a notorious pit-bull terrier on an infirm stray dog, and how the bloodthirsty animal is tearing its victim apart.

A lot of bloggers from this country reacted to the video very harshly.

Blogger zuti__karton wrote in her post titled “How monstrous can we be?”:

[…] The only fair law is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and everyone should be treated according to this law […] then I’d like to see who would repeat such a crime. […]

[…] These are just some of the cases of violence against animals… Only God knows how many others there are… Is anyone asking himself how monstrous a creature we can be, how primitive we can be. Can we be even worse? I think we can, because we are people, not animals. […]

[…] We often kill for the sake of fun, out of jealousy, for money or for similar senseless reasons. We wage wars because misters from TV tell us to do that, because someone has this or that kind of name, because someone is black and someone else is white, because of the damned colors. […]

Medo_Lee wrote:

[…] Protection of animal rights and taking care of animals is typical of western, democratic, civilized and prosperous societies and we are so far away from that level.

Human is the worst animal and a proof of that is what's happening to us. […]

Blogger Mafa has a totally different opinion. He published a short post titled “Violence against animals is justified”:

Look at what these little monsters [dogs] have done to a young man… One of them bit off his leg. This young man will never be able to walk, not to mention play football :( He doesn’t have enough money to buy a Sony PlayStation, so his life is, to say the least, destroyed. Why did the dog make him disabled? Why? How could this dog be so cruel :( if the man had had a pit-bull, like Kemal, it's certain that he wouldn’t have experienced this misfortune. :(

Croatia has almost the same problem as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On March 4 this year, daily newspaper Jutarnji List published an article about brutal violence against dogs and cats in the cities of Vinkovci and Vukovar:

Newspapers are often full of articles about the abuse of animals. Every time people are shocked by the brutality of violence. So citizens of Vinkovci were upset on Wednesday when a dog with severe scalding injuries of its nose, head and back was found in the center of the city. There was a thick wire hoop tied around its neck. […]

[…] A few days before, association “dr Ivan Rostas” warned about one case of animal abuse, this time, against cats in Vukovar. They received the disturbing news from Vukovar about cats that were being exposed to brutal torture by a group of children and several adults from the nearby apartment buildings. They also published photos of a cat whose eye was torn out and another cat whose tail was cut off. Poor animals had also been exposed to stones and slingshots.

Animal fans and online activists from Croatia have created Facebook groups, too, in which they invite people to join them in protection of the animals.

A devastating fact is that in all of these countries there are laws for protection of animals but, unfortunately, they are not applied in practice.

May 01 2010

The Balkans: Online Hit Song Highlights the Diaspora State of Mind

By Filip Stojanovski

In April, the biggest internet-related music sensation for the people from former Yugoslavia and especially the related diaspora has been the song “Kuća, poso” (Eng. “Home, work”) by the “star of Canada and America” Ekrem Jevrić Gospoda, originally from the Plav-Gusinje region of Montenegro.

Here I live in the City of New York
I live and work, but only work

Home, work
Home, work
Work, home
This is what I know
I know nothing
And where can I know

Oh New York, may darkness kill you
Because you let a woman rule
You contain a whole lotta dogs
A whole lotta concrete
And battalions of women march the streets

But New York become a city of light
Get rid of all the women that work
They lost the children, the greatest treasure
Hey New York, you great city

The official version of the video reached over 1.8 million views on YouTube within a month of its release, with a total of over 2.3 million views together with various duplicate versions and remixes.

In comparison, the official video for the global hit single about New York City, “Empire state of mind”, by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, has generated 39 million views within the 6 months since its release - 7 million per month on average.

Facebook and Twitter users from all ex-Yugoslav countries, including Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia spread the link, turning the song title into a meme. The phrase in the song title is an ordinary colloquialism designating the never-ending routine of daily grind during a life devoid of meaning. Sarajevo group Zabranjeno Pušenje (”No Smoking!” in English) used it in its 1999 song “Pos'o, kuća, birtija” (Eng. “Work, home, pub”) about a gray, wasted life after a lost love.

One could object that the song has misogynist overtones, but it also expresses the existentialist angst felt by nostalgic immigrants or guest workers unaware of Camus or Socrates. During his first concert, the author says that he wrote the song to explain to his people about stuff that the Americans cannot understand.

The unique interpretation style and appearance have incited various types of reactions, from praises to insults, such as comparisons with the howling of the White Fang in a comment to the official video, to labeling him as “The Balkans Borat” in a copy of a video report [CRO] from a live concert in Queens.

There Mr. Jevrić performed as supporting act to lascivious Bosnian turbo-folk star Selma Bajrami. YouTube user MegaMotika said in a comment to this video:

The man is truly a star: not everybody can get 1.5 million views in 15 days. He became popular, and the fact that everyone laughs is another issue. The man is a showman.

This newly acquired fame has provided tangible benefits: that video also documents the receipt of a honorarium in cash. It does not contain a direct statement by the singer - allegedly, he asked for $1000 for an interview. Gospoda’s nickname means “gentry.”

March 17 2010

Macedonia: International Women's Day in the Blogosphere

International Women's Day is not an official public holiday in the Republic of Macedonia, but is widely observed through interpersonal interactions and at some workplaces, through sharing of small gifts or organizing celebrations. This year, a number of bloggers used the occasion to draw attention to gender issues or for congratulatory posts aimed at women in general.

From March 5 to 8, UNIFEM office in Skopje organized

…the first film festival in the country dedicated to women’s rights and gender equality. Under the title ‘Women’s Rights Nights’ the four festival nights combined: screenings of documentaries developed by women directors that are portraying life stories of women and girls, and debates on related topics.

Incited by the debate on women and tradition/religion after the screening of the film “Look at the World Through My Eyes”, gender expert Kristina Hadzi-Vasileva reflected [MKD] on her blog feministik:

…The discussion strayed toward the issue of wearing a hijab and [whether such a choice is personal or a result of conditioning]… We seem to forget that the headscarf is just a part of the external markings of religion, and that religion is a component of tradition. Religious rules play a large role in forming lifelong habits which pass from generation to generation as “tradition.” In that context religion and tradition gain a new aspect, as they become included in the community's cultural identity. And that is the essence of the problem: how to change/better the life of women when the change involves the overly sensitive issue of identity.

In this case, religious norms mark the cultural identity of a woman's community. The punishment for disrespect of the community can range from being branded as traitor and excommunicated, to punishment by murder. We have to ask how can a woman decide to change her position in society when the risks involve loosing her children, family, loved ones, home, money… or being mutilated or murdered.

Women suffer pressure and control because they are charged with carrying on the identity of their community to the new generations. Women are expected to maintain the cultural identity by giving birth and basic education to the children, therefore they are under pressure to fulfill certain norms - to dress and marry in a proscribed manner, to have certain number of descendants, to eat, drink, work, move and live in a certain way - or else.

We also have to clearly distinguish between the basic meaning of religion as spiritual need and comfort, and fundamentalism.

Fundamentalist movements seem to have grown into the most important social movements worldwide lately. In fact these are political movements with dominant religious or ethnic imperatives. According to [British scholar] Nira Yuval-Davis these can be based on holy books or experiences related to charismatic leaders, presenting themselves as the only valid form of religion, ethnic culture, the truth. Fundamentalism can manifest as upholding traditional values or as return to the true/original sources…

Fundamentalist constructions of social order essentially rely on control over women and the patriarchal family model. Paradoxically, some women find comfort or sense of accomplishment or empowerment by fitting into the fundamentalist movements. Even though they have the lowest status in the religious institutions, women remain their most active members, acting as guardians of the emotional and moral well-being of the family (NYD). Religion can also be a way for women to find place in the public sphere, or for self-realization of unqualified female workers.

Fundamentalist religious and political leaders consider the ability–the right–of women to control their destiny and bodies as direct threat to their authority, and very few women would dare to act in a way that would mark them as betrayers of the holy religion and/or customs.

If [in this context the word] religion is used as synonym for fundamentalism, and fundamentalism is politics, we have to conclude that its the politics that prolongs the oppression of women in Macedonia.

Under this constellation of forces it would be too much to expect that every woman have to fight for her freedom on her own, as some disputants noted. Help is needed, but is it welcome?

Hemicharot [The Chemist] quoted the Bible (Corinthians, 11) as an example of a backward tradition and ranted against the shortsighted right-wing-Christian female bloggers, ironically wishing them fulfillment of their ideological prerogatives of “many babies, personal and family success of their pillar in life [the husband], and pleasant Easter fasting during the organized parties with ancient Macedonian newly-composed music.”

These celebrations are considered a ‘remnant of communism' but continue to be practiced in earnest by the public administration (run by political parties which declare themselves anti-communist) and some time escalate beyond providing a free meal for the female staff, into women-only excursions abroad. For instance, a weekend tour of Istanbul, as organized by a public enterprise from Skopje.

Referring to another aspect of this phenomenon, kuzevski asked via Twitter:

Why everybody thinks that 8th of March is the [only] day when a woman has the right to go out to a restaurant without restrictions from her partner?

And bvelkovska replied:

This is the way of older generations who cannot give up socialist habits. I don't know any contemporary women who celebrate the 8th of March in a restaurant :)

Singing Skopjans released a cover of Yugoslav New Wave anthem [”She's waking up”] as a reminder that “8th of March is not a day for flowers, restaurants and shopping, but a day to celebrate women's rights… and to start thinking about who, how and why creates policies without taking the female factor into consideration, from anti-abortion campaigns, to campaigns to create mothers of the nation or projects to erect monuments exclusively to males.”

On the other hand, Veles Scouts presented flowers [MKD], Psihoterapija posted a romantic song [CRO], Lepa Angelina posted a romantic movie clip, while Archeological Diary combined [MKD] a translation of a poem by Moroccan poet Kamel Zebdi [FRA] with the song “The Message” by Linda Pujol [ESP].

Pero Nakov b.b. stressed [MKD] that the real star of nuclear fission was a woman, Idda Noddack, L'Ami du Peuple translated an essay by the Danish socialist Marie Frederiksen Women’s struggle and class struggle through four posts (1, 2, 3, 4) [MKD], Darjan Radenkovic published [MKD] a short story about family violence, and Surface Surtuk quoted David Herlihy about the not-so-ancient historical origins of patriarchy.

In the meantime, the anonymous author/s of the new blog Happy 8th of March [MKD] posted photos of several street sculptures of “trendy girls” with “ideal,” Barbie-like proportions, installed by the Ministry of Culture in the center of Skopje. Someone accessorized the statues with books and labels saying “I am not a sex object,” “I got a scholarship for Harvard,” and “Nobel Prize Winner.”

Two bloggers addressed the issue of Woman's Day from analytical perspectives.

  • Pretpriemac [The Entrepreneur] advocated [MKD] bridging the gap evident from the official workforce statistics between the level of activity between men and women, with over 30% difference.
  • Sead Dzigal, one of the authors of the media blog Komunikacii, republished [MKD] his research from 2005 on representation of gender in advertising, combining it with a video by Jean Kilbourne.

February 20 2010

Croatia: A New President, A New Path

On Friday of last week, Ivo Josipović took office as Croatia's third president, replacing outgoing two-term president, Stjepan Mesić. The BBC ran an extensive article covering what the new president symbolizes as well as the hurdles that Croatia faces in getting ever-closer to EU membership in 2011 or 2012. But, let's look at what bloggers are having to say about this large change of power that has coincided with Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, suddenly stepping down last year and completely withdrawing from politics.

Funky Business writes (HRV) of the inauguration:

I very much liked today's inauguration of the new president. The whole ceremony was very culturally active, upscale and European.

On a previous post, the day the results were announced, Funky Business also wrote (HRV):

Croatia has elected justice. Croatia has chosen light. Croatia has chosen a better tomorrow. Croatia has chosen educated, European president. Croatia has chosen wisely. Finally!

Others are more cautious as fra gavun (french melt) wrote (HRV):

Tonight I am happy, happy but not euphoric. Happy because I was not disappointed, happy because he won the mind.

Naturally, there are detractors, such as some of these comments (HRV), especially one by Vidi pisme ove (see this song):

All this is just a performance, nothing more…
we are all long since bought and sold…
politicians are just actors, who work in someone's script…
anything we do not choose, unless you want to watch the show or not,
that's all…

And it is echoed by a longer comment by Dosanjani:

Although I was too young to have participated in them, I remember the elections in the former Yugoslavia when we were offered the party candidates - on a piece of paper of five to six so that you, choose the selection. It is the same now.

Josipović has a daunting task ahead of him as Croatia is in a massive recession and the country has very large goals to reach EU membership. It is understandable that comments haven't been terribly forthcoming from Croatians at large as they wait to see if new leadership will bring new economic growth and stability.

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