Saturday, September 19, 2009

To be Gay in Serbia: Kind of like to be Albanian (or Roma, or Hungarian, or....) in Serbia

Hi folks! Well, it's been quite a while since I've posted anything-not since the end of April, to be exact, so I guess that makes 4 and a half months now. Unfortunately, I can't say this post will mark the beginning of regular postings again, either. I am right now probably busier than I've been any time in the last year and a half, and probably will continue to be "that busy" for at least the next 2 months, if not longer. However, while the blog may still be on "indefinite hiatus", rest assured that I have no intention of giving it up! My goal is that, once my current responsibilities I'm taking care of have finished, I will be able to bring the blog back, bigger and better than ever. But that's a ways off, and for right now, "good intentions" are about all I can promise. With a little luck and a little time, hopefully they will become realities. most of you know, the Serbian National(Social)ists and their buddies out there just loooove to demonise Albanians (and usually Croats and Bosniaks, too), often painting Serbs-by inference and/or direct claim-to be everything their "enemies" aren't: Kindly, civilised, Godly, tolerant to a fault, unprejudiced, non-violent (except when absolutely necessary-wink wink!), etc., etc. A real "Royal Race of Saints", as it were. Of course, like all "Haters", they whitewash or ignore completely that their own lot are often at least as bad if not even worse than those they hate on (and that's not even taking into account the fact that often a lot of their calumnies against those they hate are often exaggerations/disproportionate representations of bad things people do not only in their culture, but in most other cultures to begin with).

A good case in point, as often happens, can be found in the "blog" of our ol' "buddy" Julia Whor...., er Gorin. Back in 2007, she made a couple of posts "exposing" what a rampant bunch of homophobes Kosovar Albanians supposedly are (the old "One Bad Apple IS The Whole Bunch" ploy, a favorite of "Haters" everywhere). Now, I won't deny that Albanian society, like A LOT of societies the world around, still has a long way to go with the "modern" issue of how it deals with the gay members of it's society. But as for the idea that Serbs-even the relatively "cosmopolitan" denizens of Belgrade-are conversely somehow or another wonderfully enlightened and non-homophobic (and even La Julia herself has been known to post an essay or two showing herself to not exactly be the most "gay-friendly" of folks out there)? Wellll....I'll let this article speak for itself:

Serbian gay parade is called off

'We're waiting for you' poster in Belgrade
Belgrade is full of posters telling participants: "We're expecting you"

A Gay Pride march in Serbia has been called off after police told organisers they could not guarantee its safety.

One of the organisers said Serbia's prime minister had urged them to switch Sunday's rally from central Belgrade, but the proposal was "unacceptable".

President Boris Tadic vowed on Friday to protect the participants.

Anti-gay groups had threatened violence if the march were allowed to go ahead. "We're expecting you" posters had been stuck around the Serbian capital.

"Pride parades are traditionally organised in the main streets of big cities," said one of the organisers, Dragana Vuckovic.

It is "unacceptable" to stage the parade in a "field", she told the media.

The Republic of Serbia has capitulated. We have not
Gay Pride organising committee

The decision had been taken after a meeting on Saturday with Prime Minister Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic.

Nationalist and religious leaders have opposed a Serbian bill banning discrimination against homosexuals.

The ultra-nationalist Serb Popular Movement 1389 hailed the cancellation of Sunday's march as "a great victory for normal Serbia".

"In our city infidels and Satanists will not pass," it added.

Homosexuality in Serbia is still far from accepted, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade.

The gay scene is underground and members of the community are regularly the target of discrimination.

Belgrade's first gay parade in 2001 descended into chaos amid widespread violence by mobs of protesters - with television images of bleeding participants and police firing rubber bullets broadcast around the world.

The organising committee of the planned Sunday march will certainly keep up the pressure, says our correspondent.

"The state has failed the fundamental test," it says in a statement. "The next exam period is approaching fast. The Republic of Serbia has capitulated. We have not."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Still here!

Yes, friends, despite appearances to the contrary, I'm still here, and as time permits, still trying to keep at least something of an eye on the "haters". Unfortunately, an insanely crazy schedule ever since Dec. 2007 shows no signs of abating, or at least not for about another year or so. Which means that also unfortunately, a lot of the "great ideas and good intentions" I have will have to remain largely that: ideas and intentions, at least for the time being. Simply put, I'm just about stretched to the limit. And as I have no regular contributors, unlike a lot of blogs, to help me out, I really can't make any promises, at least on the short term, for anything I might do on or with the blog. Well, other than this-that I will absolutely NOT either quit the blog, or put it on hiatus. The work I set out to do when I started this blog (and that'll be two years coming up at the end of July-that's just 3 months away!) is still there, and will probably always be there. And as long as it's there, I'm going to keep doing it. I have to.

Just a few short notes....

One, I'm well aware that the article I posted in the March 4 entry didn't reproduce right. I will try to correct this as soon as I can find another source for the same article.

Two, despite a world in economic crisis, Kosova appears to be growing in economic stability with every passing month. Most major countries of the western world recognise her (many right from the get go), and the total list of countries that recognise her seems to be growing with each month.

Three (and lucky for me!), the "Haters" seem to be running out of steam, at least somewhat. A lot of their posts these days are rehashes of the same old libels against the Albanian people, not just Kosova Albanians, and using the same old tired tactics that smart people either have caught on to already, or are catching on to. But one thing seems clear-they seem to be slowly accepting (even if they won't admit it) that Kosova will not be some sort of "Balkan Biafra". It's not about to be reabsorbed into Serbia-now or ever. It is here to stay, regardless of whether one likes it or not.

So that's it for now. As I've said in the past, I fully plan on continuing with the blog, and with the video version of it I started doing last fall. Just a matter of things in my life losening up enough for me to do them the way I want to do them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Paving the way: A Kosovo hero's path from rebel to road-builder

PRISTINA, KOSOVO - There aren't many places in Europe where a minister of transport is a national hero whose name is sung in folk songs.

But Kosovo is not an ordinary place. The country, a year old last month, is where Fatmir Limaj is succeeding at a job everyone else here has failed at: building roads.

Mr. Limaj is in many ways a Kosovo story. In 1998, he took up the gun as a rebel leader, won the first real Kosovo Liberation Army battle against Serbs, and became known as "Commander Steel." He was arrested and later acquitted at The Hague for war crimes. Today, he wears dark suits and patent leather shoes, and cuts ribbons – and deals – over fresh concrete and macadam.

In 2007, when Limaj became transport minister, only five miles of four-lane highway existed in Kosovo. Last year, he built eight miles, instituted 24-hour work sites, and is now overseeing the construction of eight additional miles of four-lane roadway.

Kosovars love it. Limaj views the transport ministry almost as a personal ministry, a calling to build a country. He's read Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope," and seems to offer a "Yes, we can" message to cynical Kosovars weary of unmet promises and muddy roads. With rebel credentials in the majority-Albanian society, Limaj has knocked heads, found consensus with contractors, and mobilized a workforce. He regularly drops in on sites at midnight or later. Last year, a TV crew filmed him directing work at 3 a.m., showing the country that change was indeed under way.

"I'm restless by nature, just ask my wife," he says. "Building a country was a dream of my generation. Now, I'm living that dream, but there's a lot to do.

"Our people are hard workers, but they need a good manager to channel their energy."

Upgrading donkey paths to modern highways

An executive from a Western nongovernmental organization, who has lived in Kosovo for several years, describes Limaj as "one of the good ones.... His methods aren't typical, but they are practical, and probably what Kosovo needs right now."

Roads in this agricultural society have been so haphazard and poor that travelers from northern Europe routinely got lost, even in recent years. A 21st-century road infrastructure means development. Yet a decade after NATO intervened, and despite a highway budget, little was done. Village roads remained primitive, unpaved, and a nightmare in winter. The main "highway" from the airport to Pristina was two-laned, donkey-laden, and potholed.

Yet last year, Limaj's ministry paved or repaved nearly 500 miles of highway – adopting a strategy of connecting villages with one another and with key arteries.

"It was so much road that we all started to wonder why it hadn't happened before," says Artan Mustafa, political editor at the Express newspaper. "Obviously, one reason is because Limaj has power. No one can say to [Commander Steel] that the road won't go through here or there. He tells you, you don't tell him."

Speaking in his office near the new parliament building, Limaj explains his passion for his homeland. "I feel that 24 hours a day. It was a dream of my youth, to have a free country," he says. "If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that freedom was impossible. But God gave us the opportunity."

Fall of Wall a test of patience

Limaj's own story began when he was a student leader in the early 1990s. The Berlin Wall had fallen, but Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic had revoked Kosovo's special status in Yugoslavia. The Albanian, 90 percent of the population, lived a second-class existence under brutal police-state repression – checkpoints, arbitrary killing, torture – as Serbs revived a deeply felt national myth of Kosovo as their spiritual heartland, something disallowed under Yugoslavia's longtime leader, Marshal Tito.

"The rest of Europe was moving in ways unimaginable to us," he says. "The spirit of East Europe was everywhere. People in Europe were breathing easier. But for us, the opposite was happening. Europe was moving forward, and we were moving backward."

Public debate wasn't allowed in the new Kosovo and students rebelled. "We wanted our voices heard in federal Yugoslavia," Limaj recalls. "We wanted to warn the center how dangerous the program of Milosevic was, to stop this crackdown."

For a decade, Limaj and Kosovo waited as the political and spiritual leader of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, reacted to Serbian tactics with a Gandhian strategy of patience and nonviolence.

A tipping point for Kosovars arrived with the US-led Dayton peace deal on Bosnia.

"After Dayton, all our hopes and dreams fell," Limaj says. "That Milosevic could kill with impunity for years, then present himself as a man of peace ... this was totally depressing for us. There was no hope. We saw what he was doing here. It's true, if a normal person has choices, he would never choose war. But it was either leave Kosovo, or organize ourselves to resist."

Limaj faced justice and earned respect

The former commander plays down his KLA hero status. But Limaj was the first to switch KLA tactics – characterized by guerrilla skirmishes in villages and hiding in the hills – by confronting Serb forces in the open. His units eventually held two main highways and sheltered 85,000 people, a hospital, and a radio station.

Last week, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague offered its first verdict on the Kosovo war. Four Serb generals were found guilty of using systematic force against civilians. But the tribunal acquitted then Yugoslav President Milan Milutinovic, citing Milosevic as mainly responsible: "In practice, it was Milosevic, sometimes termed the 'Supreme Commander,' who exercised actual command authority … during the NATO campaign," stated chief judge Iain Bonomy.

Milosevic died in his cell at The Hague in 2006, during his defense against genocide charges in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Limaj's time at The Hague remains a sensitive one. He was arrested for crimes while serving as KLA commander of the Llapushnik region. He denied guilt, but agreed to face charges. "As much as I didn't agree with the accusation, I felt it was our responsibility to respond," Limaj says. "So I said I would go to The Hague, and was sure justice would prevail."

It was a lonely, worrisome time for Limaj. When he was released in 2005, he bitterly criticized Kosovo authorities for a lack of logistical legal support that he felt would have shortened his trial. "I was not going to be a man afraid of justice. But in a situation like that, you have a million thoughts running through your mind."

When Limaj returned, thousands of Kosovars made a pilgrimage to his home. Two attempts to run for mayor of Pristina failed. But Prime Minister Hashim Thachi gave him the transport ministry, which he relishes.

What Limaj took from Obama's "Audacity of Hope" was the new president's community organizing in Chicago. "He went house to house to understand the people, their hopes and dreams, so by the time he ran for president could speak to everybody."

That will be a task in Kosovo, still divided between Albanian and Serb. "Kosovo's intentions are humane… we don't want to harm or do damage to others… but allow everyone live together in a new state."

Limaj's biggest test may be ahead. Having won hearts as a man who gets things done, and whose name has been added to a centuries-old Albanian heroic folk song – he must now finish the airport road, as well as a new road to Skopje, and navigate construction difficulties. "He's won the initial battle, but now is the real test," says a UN official.

Mr. Mustafa, the editor, adds that "Everybody loves Limaj, but I also long for the day when an ordinary civil servant can give an order, and it is followed."

Original, by Robert Marquand, can be found at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


              GËZUAR PAMVARSISË!

(For those who don't speak/read Albanian, the words under the stylised illo of Commandante Adem Jashari mean more or less "Uncle, it's done!", and "Happy Independence")

And lest we be accused of not being gracious towards the "opposition", we also wish them a Happy Kosovar Independence Day too....  ;-)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still alive and kickin'! Upcoming projects, and a little bit on "Blago"

Hi folks! Just a short post to let you know that yes, I'm still here, and yes, the blog is still going, albeit it's been in sort of a "hibernation" mode the past year or so. Unfortunately, my life's situation hasn't changed, so working on the blog has had to become sort of a "lesser" priority for me over the past 13 months or so, much as I'd like it to be different. That'll change eventually, but not for some time to come. But I have no intention of "letting it go" or "giving it up". Even though the "haters" have somewhat cut back their attention on Albania, Kosova, and the Albanian people in general (mainly because most of them seem to be of a right-of-center political persuasion, and hence seem to be a little more occupied with the political situation here at home right now....), they haven't given up, and they probably never will. So there still needs to be a voice calling them out on their crap.

One thing I will mention, though, is that I'm working right now, as time permits, on a definitive series where I profile the methods of the "haters" to sway the opinion of those who are not informed or are " on the fence" on the subjects of Albania, Kosova, and the Albanian people. Because they do have an identifiable, systematic methodology for trying to sway people over to their side and their way of thinking, and I think if one is aware of it, and of the false paradigms that its based on, one can do a lot better job of refining one's "BS" filters when one sees an example of it, and can better let others who might be swayed know it for what it really is.

Lastly, a few words on the Blagojevich scandal here in the US. It's interesting to me that if you look at Albanian-related web boards and blogs, you find little about this. To be honest, most Albanians I know just didn't-and don't-care about it. Now I can guarantee you that if the Illinois governor had been of Albanian descent, the Serbian National(social)ist blogs and web boards, not to mention folks like La Julia, Svetlana, Mary Monster, etc. would've been all over it like the proverbial "white on rice", saying how it proves that all Albanians are liars, crooks, etc. As for myself, I don't think ol' "Blago" did what he did because his parents came from Serbia. American history (and sadly Illinois history-and I say "sadly" because I'm an IL native) is replete with such malfeasance. Race or ethnicity I believe has nothing to do with such things. But I do think that maybe his whole attitude when he got caught (not to mention when he was doing the naughty things he got caught for) is a product of his being raised around a Serbian National(social)ist cultural milleu (his dad was a former Chetnik, among other things). Just take a look at all the whacko claims he made in his defense, claims that others were out to "get him" for this, that, and the other thing, the bizzare statements about calling the Clintons and WI governor Jim Doyle to testify on his behalf, proposing Oprah to be the next IL senator, etc., then compare them to similar "tin foil hat" statements made by Slobo, Seslj, Karadzic and others in the Hague, and it doesn't take a whole lot of straining the eyes to see the similarities. Frankly, not even during Watergate did I see people (including Tricky Dick) make quite such outlandish claims in an attempt to deflect guilt (OK, some of Nixon's statements did come pretty close, I'll grant). And that's all I have to say on the matter other than, for pete's sake Illinois, this time try and pick someone who's actually HONEST, hard as that may be to do!