Tag Archives: Balkans

Yugoslavia as Science Fiction

PictureOver the past two years, a collection of photographs of WWII memorials from (the former) Yugoslavia has made the rounds on social media. Popular sci-fi and fantasy blog io9 reported on it and this post from Crack Two appears to have been “liked” over 173,000 times on Facebook alone.  And here is the same article, with more or less the same perspective, on a blog from BiH. This process of “re-discovery,” however is to me the truly fascinating aspect of this phenomenon.The authors of these articles, as well as those leaving comments, repeatedly refer to the monuments as “bizarre,” “haunting” or, at best, as “modernist,” which one can safely interpret to mean “weird.” This commentary is essentially an inversion of the Stalinist insistence on “socialist realism.” We are now surprised that a society once existed, some long ago civilization which we relate to as though it were an artifact of Tolkien lore, which was capable of producing abstract representations of real events. What does it say of our societies that in the second decade of the 21st century, we consider symbolic representations to be “strange?”

Why does ArcelorMittal hate Bosnia?

Pollution, people and tombstones in Zenica.

Owned by the Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest steel producer—creating some 93 billion USD of revenue as of 2011. Granted, steel is an essential building block of the modern world yet ArcelorMittal’s obscene profit margins do raise the question of “how are you possibly making this much money?”

Turns out, profitability margins are greatly aided by the economic pillaging and environmental destruction of a still-recovering-from-war southeastern European locale: Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The central-Bosnian city of Zenica has for decades been one of the industrial centers of the region. The steel mills in the area, prior to the outbreak of the 1992-1995 war, employed some 25,000 people—a shining beacon of the Yugoslav state’s productive capacities. Today, owned by ArcelorMittal, that number is just over 3000—with the company actually looking to downsize even further, according to local union organizers.

Yet the story here is not (so much) about the bargain-bin prices at which foreign multinationals have purchased massive industrial complexes across the former Yugoslavia—often only to dismantle and sell them off in parts.

No, the bigger story is about the massive ecological disaster zone that the company has transformed Zenica and its steel mills into, which, even at the height of their Yugoslav-era production, did not produce a fraction of the pollution they do today. The footage speaks for itself. Continue reading Why does ArcelorMittal hate Bosnia?

Women’s Rights in Bosnia: An Interview with Aleksandra Petrić

In the 1990s, Bosnia-Herzegovina became synonymous with the horrific violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide which characterized the country’s experience within the broader dissolution of the Yugoslav state. In particular, the systematic rape and sexual violence of Bosnian women during the course of the war has continued to remain pertinent both in international legal affairs and as the subject of major Hollywood productions. Despite this, Bosnia remains a sort of static metaphor for bungled international responses to humanitarian crises—with solid, critical analyses of present day conditions being rare.

Frustrated by this fact, I recently reached out to Aleksandra Petrić, a Bosnian women’s right activist, blogger and Twitter friend. I wanted to hear the view from the grassroots level, as it concerned the question of women’s rights in Bosnia since the end of the war, the development of feminist activism in the country and its relationship with the emerging queer and LGBT scene. It is my hope that readers (especially those who have followed our coverage of women’s and feminist issues) will find Petrić’s wealth of information as engrossing as I did. In this respect, I should like to draw particular attention to Petrić’s discussion of how allies in Canada and elsewhere are able to assist the important work ongoing in Bosnia today (Question #10). We have provided a link to a central database in English, which provides contact information for a variety of groups around Bosnia, as well as individual links to many of the groups in question (though only a few these, as of this writing, had web pages which were both in English and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbia [BCS]).

Finally, a big hvala (thank you!) to Aleksandra for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions with incredible detail and knowledge on this very important subject.

1. Can you tell us about your human rights and women’s rights activism? What sorts of projects have you been involved with and what are you currently working on or planning?

I became active in civil society sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina about 16 years ago, through Helsinki Citizens Assembly (hCa) Banja Luka, a local NGO that is part of a broader peace and human rights network at the international level. Together with hCa activists from Tuzla, I worked on establishing hCa Youth Network of BiH, the initiative that strived to connect young people throughout BiH to work together on promotion of peace, nonviolence and multi-cultural values, as contra-balance to ethnic and nationalistic public discourse. This was a challenging task, as communication and travel between the two BiH entities was almost non-existent, and war rhetoric was dominant in the public. We offered something different for young people that were tired of hate toward “those different from us.” The Youth Network gathered more than 100 local youth groups, and facilitated many successful actions, such are youth conferences, art workshops, pre-election youth voice campaigns, anti-corruption campaign, cultural festivals, etc. Although mainstream media did not support these activities, Youth Network became recognizable and accepted as alternative to nationalistic groupings of youth. It fulfilled its mission, and exists today through capacity building and resource information center for youth. Through my work with young people, I became interested to empowerment of women, and work on gender violence prevention. Since early 2003, I became active in NGO “United Women” Banja Luka. I am working with my colleagues on prevention and fighting gender based violence against women, and empowering women in governance and decision-making. We combine direct services for women in need (free legal assistance, SOS telephone, safe house, psychosocial support), education, action oriented researches, and legal and public policy advocacy in our work. Continue reading Women’s Rights in Bosnia: An Interview with Aleksandra Petrić

Balkan Voices: Anti-Austerity Protests in Montenegro Heat Up

Translation and contextual information by Konstantin Kilibarda

Montenegro has been ruled by the same political party, the Democratic Party of Socialist (DPS), for the past 23 years. Along with the government of Belarus, Montenegro has the dubious distinction of being the only country in Europe that hasn’t seen a change in government since 1989. In the past several months an unprecedented wave of protests has hit the country, with workers, students, NGOs and citizens mobilizing against the government. The growing movement has called for the government to resign by 15 May 2012 or the organizers plan to escalate their campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. The movement’s demands include a call for an end to criminal privatizations, free post-secondary education and a serious confrontation with organized crime and corruption in Montenegro.

Below are two translated interviews with Janko Vucinic, head of the Niksic Steelworkers Union and a key trade union official in the Union of Free Trade Unions of Montenegro (UFTUM) that originally appeared in the independent dailies Vijesti (The News) and Dan (The Day). The first interview deals with the lead-up to the last mass protest held last week (5 May 2012). The second interview deals with the position of Montenegrin workers in light of May Day. Images accompanying the text and the accompanying captions help provide further context to the protest movement.

Thousands attend 5 May 2012 rally in Podgorica, Montenegro protesting government austerity, criminal privatization deals, high level corruption and the erosion of worker, student and citizens' rights.

Continue reading Balkan Voices: Anti-Austerity Protests in Montenegro Heat Up