Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's autumn!

And I have learned how satisfying it is to crunch leaves.
And all the trees are my favorite shade of yellow.
And fall's namesake finally makes complete sense.
And I know this is hardly eloquent but everything is so pretty!

Fun fact: autumn in Serbian is jesen

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Today, October 31st/Halloween, is my first ever daylight savings time day! I got an extra hour of sleep last night or an extra hour of work time this morning because it is merely 8:30 here and yet it feels ever so slightly later. Hawaii doesn't have daylight savings time frankly because it's unnecessary; season changes are so minuscule rendering time change gratuitous. So next march I will 'spring ahead' like a novice for I understand it is more tedious to lose an hour than the reverse, but right now I'm blissfully enjoying a 25-hour Sunday.

And to amplify the affair, here is a superb moment of The West Wing which considers the farce of this very matter:

I believe Tony lost a bet with Josh earlier in the episode and that is the reason he asserts the house in which he works after his introduction. Prijatno (enjoy)! And Happy Halloween to one and all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Since I wrote that last bit about the younger generations (that conditions are livable so the youth are apathetic), I have also realized through my homestay and their extended family that they (the youth) are not solely responsible for their apathy; their parents and grandparents went through a great deal of strife in their lives and they want a better, meaning less violent and negative, life for their descendants so they seem to avoid instilling a strong political or social sense in them. Yesterday my host deda (grandfather) dismissed the football game played in Belgrade the day before when Mima was at the table and when she left he brought it up again. He only speaks Serbian but he indicated that it wasn't a topic to discuss around Mima because "ne mora da zna ti stvari", she doesn't need to know those things. She is just 10 years old, but this isn't the first time I've seen parents spoil and protect their children to give them a more ideal life than they had growing up.

And with this in the mix, I think a way to reverse this inactive trend is for the parents and adults to begin putting more emphasis on addressing these issues but something even more radical would have to take place before the youth would stand up for their rights in the manner they did 15 years ago. And perhaps the most effective and efficient way would be through warfare, political turmoil, or a serious challenge by a competing nation threatening their well-being. But the other problem is that that isn't likely because other countries don't really have the reasons to put up a fight like they did 15 years ago, and even if they did, countries like the US wouldn't because we have entangled ourselves in too many foreign affairs as it is (just as George Washington advised not to do!) and especially with the issue of Kosovo ever-present. And something like political turmoil couldn't happen now because it wouldn't be allowed to. Even though the government is partially corrupt and not doing anything very substantial to benefit Serbia, I can't imagine how they would get away with launching a dictatorship or drastic political agenda which could inspire some rebellion in the youth. The best thing that has come out of the government in the last ten years is fair elections which is a good step towards democracy just not enough to render the entire system democratic.

I don't think anyone really looks into the future much as people live day by day or moment by moment so the the youth would be no exception meaning I don't think the youth realize the long term suffering that their apathy entails. My host family and their younger friends (late 20s, 30s) have a negative view on basically all social, political and economic problems facing Serbia and how the government is facing them so they are aware of the issues, they just don't really bother with proposing an alternative which is certainly not unique to people in Serbia.

Please note that all of this is conjecture formed from a multitude of inferences/experiences. It is an ongoing investigation!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New law against hooligans

Though extending the detainment period to 30 days doesn't seem too beneficial, any measures implemented this quickly shows that the parliament considers this a priority.

No matter the new restrictions, however, there is a major problem that lies in the judges in Serbia. They are not appointed by the government nor are they supposed to represent a particular party but their low wages have stirred corruption into their system which is why after the Pride parade and Genoa football match only a handful of hooligans were tried. Either the judges will be bribed by the accused's fellow hooligans or something they value (their life, family, friends) will be threatened by the same motley crew. And there have been cases in recent day where judges or their families were murdered, their houses burned, or children kidnapped. And since the judges are not protected by or affiliated with the government more than any other citizen, it doesn't appear difficult for the side with least deserts to win the judge's verdict.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ck update

It's been a while since I explained what I've been up to service-wise, so here ya go!

I had a very productive meeting at work today where I was able to voice some grievances in a positive manner and that has proved effective since I already have designed two projects in addition to the weekly tasks and events with which I'm involved. One is to bring together a bunch of representatives of NGOs in Serbia because a lot of them are invisible to the public and primarily for networking resources so these organizations can begin to work together. Now each NGO seems to work separately to achieve similar goals which could be more effectively achieved with combined efforts so I thought let's use ck's space to introduce them and let them discuss their platforms to see how they can better each others actions. Then I thought after these NGOs meet privately in ck without public admission, we could host a public open discussion on Decempber 10th (Global Human Rights Day) where the NGOs dealing with LGBT, Roma, women, workers, and education are represented and can inform the public of their mission and the public's rights. Many people in Novi Sad, primarily the youth, have lost hope in the government and therefore don't even know their and others' rights and I've been taught and now firmly believe that education is the first step to action for if people don't know what they need to fight for the fight will never commence! After voicing this idea I was told that a debate of this manner was attempted last year with just one discussion point (lgbt rights) and only a few people showed up. To remedy this, I suggested organizing an open kitchen dinner and perhaps a short documentary or exhibition which dealt in the field of human rights. To my happy surprise this idea was very well-received and I’ve already begun work on it.

The main cultural shock I've experienced in my organization is the lack of efficiency. The contributing factor for this is the polako/kada vreme (we have time) mentality that Serbs possess. And since this organization deals with many different activist groups, artists, bands, etc, there are always people just walking into the house which stirs up the environment and takes so much time away since even after they leave it takes more time to refocus on the task at hand. Along the same line, their meetings are completely impromptu. If someone they need to talk to stops by, we will go into the adjacent room and discuss the matter right then and there. This has provided ample frustration from my end and that of Jakob, the other constant volunteer, since we are not informed prior to the meeting of the issues being discussed so we cannot prepare properly. As such we feel unqualified to speak up since we feel like we didn't know enough about what they were discussing. During the meeting yesterday they considered political education and ways to implement it in ck. As always, they got off track and began debating other matters. Jakob and I were frustrated that they began a new thought before finishing the previous one so our ideas were washed away before they could be heard. To counteract this I spoke up and suggested my networking idea and related it to the Human Rights day. From this I learned that I actually am qualified to speak up and that it's best just to throw my ideas out there as long as I've thought them through because they are more possible than I realized. Good learning lesson methinks! I still am hesitant to speak out at times because I haven't been working there for long and my ideas might have already been done or suggested but I think they are beginning to respect and trust me more which in turn builds my confidence.

The second program I’m working on is brainstorming discussions, seminars, exhibitions, documentaries, and workshops for ck’s week of anti-fascism built around November 9th (Kristallnacht, Night of Broken Glass, 1938--look it up!). At the meeting yesterday people deliberated over what to do and how to include the most people and all sectors of the population. Most of the suggestions tossed around about anti-fascist informing activities were so gloomy and though I admit it is a dreary, yet important, topic, I felt like adding something more fun and uplifting that would get the public's attention and succeed in spreading information. I suggested something creative like an afternoon in the city center for dancing, drawing, painting and other art mediums where we could have a few tables with information laid out and a giant white banner that passerbys could express themselves on or write their thoughts regarding this topic. Ck is about five minutes from the center by foot so there aren't as many people as in the city center who walk by making this location more accessible. In addition to these projects I'm still working on renovating the upstairs room into a public library/infostore, still running the kitchen each week with a larger and more varied audience each time, and still showing Miyazaki films (side: Castles in the Sky this week brought in even more than Totoro so ck wants to stretch this theme into November as well!), so still thoroughly busy and enjoying it.

This is a lot of information but it's probably the only update I'll have time for this week so enjoy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Expanding on the mentalities behind controversial issues

Last week I wrote a fairly detailed response to an email I had received that contained multiple clarifying questions about the Pride parade and the mentality behind it and other controversies. Thinking back on this email I realized that the answers would be good to share with everyone not just that one curious individual so here is a paraphrased version of what I said:

Homophobia has become a topic openly discussed when dealing with the ramifications of the Pride parade. My host father is completely democratic in most respects but on my third or fourth day living with them, homosexuality came up in a conversation while we had dinner with his entire family and all of them were either homophobic or apathetic to the situation and they shared their opinions with me. When I was hanging out with Jill's host sister, she showed us videos of the bloody Pride parade 10 years ago and when we showed her videos of gay pride parades in San Fran and New York, she exclaimed, "it's like a party but what are they celebrating?" Though she is our age she and her friends all have some degree of a homophobic mentality. The hooligans that caused the mess in Belgrade and now Italy are categorized as youth so they also are apathetic or homophobic even though in general it is the youth who best bring uncomfortable topics to light. In interviews that were translated for me on Sunday, most of young people expressed disgust with the parade and what it stood for. My host mom's remarks on the subject were perhaps most interesting because she described how she would love her daughter (10-year old Mima) no matter "how she is" but she would never express that opinion at work because she could be fired! She followed this with a hesitant laugh and she doesn't speak English very well so it could be an exaggeration, but her husband was nodding his head and said that it's never good to talk about controversial topics with people you don't know well because there could be consequences. In this sense controversial issues are not much discussed but in a confidential or informal manner, but when these subjects emmerge in conversation it is practically guaranteed that a heated debate will soon follow.

The most unfortunate aspect of this and other controversial issues is that there doesn't seem to be enough people wanting to think forward as my co-workers or Ceca and her friends do. The older generations seem to reminisce of Tito or just feel that Serbia is in such a mess that they prefer not to think about it; the middle-aged men and women have the most amount of people trying for change maybe because they really lived through and caused Milosevic's demise but still a lot of them seem to have run out of motivation; and the youth who have the ability to change this and other mentalities just don't seem to care. And that's what I'm most puzzled with. They are the ones suffering in the long run from not demanding change in education, in governmental leadership, in controversial topics (homosexuality, roma, kosovo, etc), in the economic standard, in the chance to be apart of the EU, and yet although everyone our age and slightly older has been very kind to us, they lack the energy that existed ten years ago with OTPOR (the central group in charge of taking down Milosevic) and other activist groups. I really don't get it, but somehow all the young people I've met (outside of ck13) have no ambition to do much with the government, Serbia's problems, or even their own lives. My hypothesis for why they are not more active in society is that it is not necessary. Or not yet at least. That is to say that things now are fine, they're livable, they'll get by, get a job, have a family, and they are not in fear of having bombs dropped on them or being led by an unruly dictator. Things aren't good but the need for change doesn't appear as urgent to them as it did to the youth ten years ago. But since they have less tension now they should seize the opportunity to have the police behind them and try to move forward with change. So in the long run I honestly don't see the negative views of homosexuality or the roma changing sadly because I don't see enough support for great change. Through ck I am exposed to people who strongly advocate for change so I'll be sure to talk to those individuals and observe how and why their messages aren't catching, and if ck and other like NGOs continue to reach out and inform the youth of Serbia then more people will take initiative. Here's to hoping!

Please email me if there are other questions you have regarding my blog or Serbia as responding to questions helps with my personal clarity and grasp on situations here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Totoro: a universal charmer

The past few posts have showcased some problems facing Serbia and now I will lighten the mood with my favorite Japanese director: Hayao Miyazaki! CK has film screenings three times a month that fall under one category, and since it was my turn to choose the topic, I picked the three Miyazaki movies we could find with Serbian subtitles. This ties into another dramatic difference between America and Serbia: while they both have copyright laws, Serbia does not enforce them whatsoever. On my first night in the homestay, my family told me about the films and tv shows they owned and it was quite a selection (every episode of Friends, a dozen or so Serbian or Balkan films, at least a third of the total Disney film library). After doing some searching for this dvd or vhs collection, my tata laughed and led me to their family computer, opened a few folders, and there they were. Everything they said they owned downloaded (what I consider illegally) from various pirated databases. He continued his explanation saying that most of them were downloaded by his friends and passed along to him since the internet in our neighborhood is very weak. They have put the majority of the movies and tv shows onto discs so they don't have to stare at the computer screen to watch them but I was quite shocked that this was the practice by every individual in Serbia.

Anywho this is the practice used to get movies to the youth viewers at CK, so the film selection depends on which Serbian subtitles can be downloaded and in my film choices Kiki's Delivery Service drew the short stick for lack of pre-existing subtitles. This week we showed Totoro, next week is Castles in the Sky, and the last week is Spirited Away. Personally the first, third, and Kiki's are my favorites and so I'm glad that I get to show them twelve time zones from where they were shown to me. Going into this week I was ever so hesitant about the turn-out for Totoro. The Serbian young people I'd talked to prior hadn't heard of it and when it was attached to manga animation some seemed less interested. But to my great surprise every seat was filled and about ten or twelve people were sitting on the floor! I sat in the back by the technician so I could try to assist if anything were to go wrong though my assistance would hardly alleviate the problem but this view allowed me to see the whole audience and their reactions. And they loved it! There were constant giggles and "awwwws" throughout and for those of you who are familiar with it, when the town was searching for Mei without success I noticed some sniffles coming from the audience. When the last measures of the Totoro closing titles song were versed and the lights switched on, the room was buzzing with pleasure and as people exited many asked when the next one was and said they would definitely attend! I'd like to think that I have brought this art form to Serbia and spread joy through Miyazaki's genius, but regardless, this screening was a success and hopefully the two to follow will continue this trend.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Belgrade Pride Parade

Yesterday was the first gay pride parade held in Belgrade in ten years since the last one resulted in casualties. Though dozens of people were injured, no person suffered as much damage as the city itself did. Belgrade was completely trashed: shop windows shattered, stores looted, cars and archives burned, liberal democratic offices broken into, vandalism, etc. The people responsible are referred to as hooligans in Serbia but for some reason that term makes me think of a mischievous child who knows no better, and the 'hooligans' certainly knew what they were doing as they acted through the same neo-naxi organized crime units who were illustrated in "Sisanje," described in my last entry. By the end of the day it was reported that there were 6,000 hooligans and 5,000 police officers around the city trying to stop them. 1,000 of those police officers were in three rings encircling the park where the parade took place.

Ceca, our program director, has been an activist of all kinds her entire life which is very admirable and inspiring. She was amongst the group in the park parading and fortunately she has made it back only emotionally wounded. We met with her this morning to discuss the parade and she had quite a few interesting things to say. Even though she was in the middle of all the madness, she wasn't actually able to see any of it as there were so many police directly around the park. Ceca has been at all of the major Serbian protests in the past twenty years including, but not limited to, the 1996 and 1997 youth riots, the take-down of Milosevic on October 5th 2001, and the 1st and previous Pride Parade. She noted that a major change between those and the one yesterday was that the police were on their side. The minister of police stated that according to the Serbian democratic constitution, everyone should have the equal rights so the police were there to protect the Pride paraders whereas, on the riots leading up to October 5th for instance, the police severely -- and sometimes excessively -- beat those who acted against them. To Ceca, this flip of the political alignment proved that the parade was a success but she is the first to admit to the terror that ensued throughout the city.

I think the most alarming difference between the US gay pride parades and the one yesterday is that those protests were led by the youth of America which facilitated the change to be made as the mentality was developing through the newer generations. But in Serbia the youth are the ones acting against it and other right wing beliefs and doing so in the most dramatic and destructive way possible. And if the youth, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, cannot even accept, how do they plan on ever being considered for admission to the European Union which everyone whom I've talked to has said is the first step to dramatically changing Serbia for the better. I'm probably simplifying the issues significantly and I really don't know the extent to all of the countless issues Serbia has before it will even be considered for ascension into the EU but it was really disheartening to see the news footage yesterday with people around my age throwing bricks at the police to get into the parade.

People at my CK (service placement) just had a heated discussion about the parade's "success." Though most claimed that politically it was successful as the police were protecting them which leads one to think that the government backed this action, others contorted that the damages done to Belgrade and the enormous number of hooligans (6,000) who came to Belgrade to show their angst could hardly be classified as successful. Those with the latter opinion went on to support their claim by explaining that the hooligans consisted of youth from all over Serbia -- youth here is considered from the ages of 15-35 -- came to Belgrade to express their extreme discontent with the government and the lack of change in the government over the past 10 years since Milosevic was taken down and democracy (allegedly) began. People are indeed very disappointed with the government as the only sign of a change to democracy has been fair elections, if only the people being elected were capable of fixing a country destroyed by war, corruption, despair, racism, organized crime, a poor education system and economy, the list continues... But the hatred exemplified yesterday was not just anti-government; the specific issue of lgbt rights is a sore spot for nearly everyone in Serbia partly because of religion and also because just twenty years ago being gay was classified as a mental illness in Serbia and according to B-92 (a local news station) 70% of Serbs still consider it as such. And honestly that's just a sickening statistic to me. Anyway that shows how all of the destruction yesterday came from a myriad of social and political problems in Serbia.

More articles:

Friday, October 8, 2010


I don't know how to describe my thoughts after the film premiere of Šišanje (Skinning), but I'll try. On our second more extended trip to Belgrade, we saw an excessively graphic movie that dealt with the increase of youth violence in Serbia specifically through the rise of the "skinheads", a group of white supremacists who identify themselves with shaved, tattooed heads and combat boots. In Serbia -- and other parts of Europe I presume -- this ideology brings forth that of neo-Nazism with the Roma population as the targeted minority. It goes without saying that this movie was absolutely sickening, but the most unnerving aspects of this experience were seeing clans of people with bare scalps take their seats and hearing laughter during sections where we were repulsed beyond words. There was an indescribable knot of pain and distress that our group couldn't shake when leaving the theatre, and honestly it hasn't dissolved since.

I know very little about this issue but my host family and co-workers have informed me of its continuing prevalence in Novi Sad and Belgrade. According to them there was a large-scale attack on one of the major Roma camps in Belgrade a few years back and at the time newspapers and other media outlets looked to it as a social problem and excused the skinheads for lack of sound judgment. Now, fortunately, it is considered a more serious political issue and though their beliefs are unabating, there have been fewer violent instances. This movie also highlighted the corruption within the police forces through their ruinous cooperation with the skinheads and cover-up of their hate crimes.

This anti-Roma mentality is hardly shared solely by the skinheads. In fact, most people I've talked to have negative and sometimes slanderous remarks in regards to the Roma and their way of life. When we mention that helping the Roma is our focus next semester in Nis, people often can't help but automatically show disgust. Obviously these people wouldn't dare to act on their aversion as the gang in this film did, but just seeing variations of this distaste in most everyone is simply sorrowful. I'm ashamed at how little I knew about this issue before I got here and how little I still know as each new opinion just adds a new layer of prejudiced information and leaves few traces of validity. Perhaps this can be a topic for study before we move to Nis in three months.

The film took four years to be realized, in part because of serious threats from skinheads throughout Eastern Europe. If you are interested, here is the trailer:

There are English subtitles which we weren't so lucky to be granted while watching it, but somehow we understood nearly everything. As terrible as it is to admit, violence has become a universal language.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Healing the natural way

Last Friday I felt a cold front approaching, both in the weather and in my immune system. On Saturday it became evident that indeed the common cold had found my Serbian hideaway and on Sunday the hoarse intonation unveiled itself. I didn’t have the usual medicinal forms or healing nor did I have my mom by my side which seems to expedite the process, but I had a fruit market on the corner of the street, the option of soup with every meal, and plenty of reading and reflecting to keep me occupied in bed. And I exploited those resources: I ate a fruit and soup with every meal, I made an effort to talk far less than usual, I washed my hands six or seven times a day to try my best not to infect those around me, and I read a gem of a collection of essays. Today is Thursday and I can say with certainty that my minor malady is through! Though Kirkland Signature’s Nighttime medicine was missed, it seemed triumphant that I conquered this cold bez (without) manufactured products. I have a feeling that my first white winter will come with a myriad of sniffles so I will try to continue this attentiveness to health. And I hope that you all will stay healthy as well! Cao cao