Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The trip to Bucharest should have taken about 9 hours….if you want to arrive by 5:30 PM, you leave by 8:30 or so….or that’s what I thought at least. With a Romanian colleague and driver, our trip started not at 8:30 (as we had agreed the day before) but more like 10:45….we had to make a few stops in town to pick up a few things for the Romanians. I do understand this. Transportation, when under individual control, is a scarce resource. People just aren’t as mobile as they are in the US. When you have a car at your disposal and you’re just supposed to be home by the end of the day, you take advantage of this personal taxi.
Of course, the American in me would have gotten up early and run those errands so we could have hit the road by 8:30 or 9 AM at the latest. We even stopped to buy some braided bundles of “special” red onions. Coming back, I lost count of the number of horse drawn wagons I saw. Easily, there were more than 50...loaded with wood for winter, crops or stone. Or, simply transporting people from one place to another. Driving at night can be dangerous and not because of horses and wagons but because of poor road conditions and fool hardy drivers.
It was almost 9 PM by the time I was in my room at the Hilton. So much for my plans for an early evening and good night's sleep before getting up at 5:30 AM to be ready for my 6:30 pickup.
Why is Romania being admitted to the EU? Even the Romanians wonder. Most seem to say the country should just take advantage of the offer and not worry about it. Still, there are probably some very tough economic times ahead. I’m not sure the EU can strong-arm the Romanian gov’t into taking decision economic actions that will be needed. After all, look at the reluctance of the French. My Embassy driver to the airport, as I tried to bait him to comment on EU membership, just kept silent. I think that's a telling comment.
I asked him about a meal from McDonalds and whether he and his wife ever ate there. No he said…the food is nice but it’s too expensive. This from a guy who has what is usually a plumb job…good benefits and pay….and McDonalds is expensive. A meal for one person could easily cost $4-7 in Bucharest. That's about the same as in Peoria--which means in their economy it is expensive. Even when I dine at McDonalds, I have a tendency to get the $1 double cheeseburger and a $1 drink. I eat a few fries from my kids' Happy Meals because they never finish them--and I avoid taking in too many extra calories. My driver did tell me he liked KFC better, though he usually didn’t go there either.
My flight today started really well. TAROM airlines, the official airline of Romania, does code-sharing with Air France and Delta. As luck would have it I was on a TAROM flight from Bucharest to Paris. They couldn’t issue my boarding pass for Paris-Atlanta but I didn’t worry. The TAROM flight was to depart at 9:25. They actually closed the door at 9:17 and pushed back minutes later and we were in the air by 9:29AM. WOW! That’s effiecient. Or maybe we were just lucky that day. The plane was clean and the flight attendants were friendly. I couldn’t ask for more. Well, how about a seat in Paris for Atlanta? Apparently there was some sort of computer snag and about 20 people didn’t get seats, though they were in the computer. Again, go figure. I have a seat now….it’s 47E….a middle seat on the VERY LAST row. Probably the worst seat on the plane because it's a middle seat and doesn't even recline. I’ve never had this sort of seat before. To top if off, CDG is a MESS. I’ve never seem such a goofy, comical and sad organizational situation. I took a bus from the TAROM fight to the terminal….another bus to get to another terminal….still another bus, after a security check, to get to the gate area my flight would leave from. I like the French…I think we’re more like each other than any other people. The French are just as prideful and full of themselves as are Americans. Of course, there are differences in the objects of our pride. I’m drafting this while I wait to depart. (It's almost T'giving and I don't want to sound ungrateful for what I have in life. I am so blessed with family and opportunities.)
Speaking of McDonalds: Apparently U.S. kids have decided they’re too good to work at McDonalds in the summer or at other times. There is a guest worker program that, last year, allowed about 6,000 college students to travel to the US for the summer and the Romanian kids can stay until after Labor Day because of their school terms start later. All they have to do is prove they’re students and will return to school after the summer. I met the father of a student who spent his summer in Vermont, working at McDonalds, and then he and several buddies bought an old Toyota for $700 and toured the US. They spent most of their money but had a wonderful adventure. I don’t recall how they disposed of the car.
I keep telling my Bradley kids they should do something like that in Eastern Europe....it's cheap and safe...and offers a lot of adventure opportunities.
I made notes this morning about comments I wanted to include in my next entry. Included was the observation that I sleep pretty well on airplanes. I hope this stays true. I’ve had very little caffeine today and I’ll get a glass of wine with dinner. I’m praying that the Air France flight attendent will be able to find a better seat for me. (She does...I move to 43A, a window seat and I'm seated next to a nice French guy and enjoy conversation with him.)
Luggage: As usual, there wasn’t much to buy on this trip. How many icons can you buy? Or perhaps little carvings?
Update from Tuesday morning: My luggage spent extra time in Paris....finally reaching my house round 8 AM Monday. My son was elated to see the Pokemon cards I brought him--this was the fifth or sixth trip where I've looked for the cards. My daughter and wife liked the chocolates.
Enough for now.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Romania is more paradoxical than other Balkan countries I've visited. Romania will join the EU in January 2007 yet the country struggles with issues of procedural transparency and the "can't do" or "someone else should be responsible for doing it" attitude. I am perhaps overly simplistic when I say that Romania suffers not just from the legacy of Communism but from the despair created by legacy of President Nicolae Ceausescu's world of rationed Communist existence. Perhaps it was the simple act of trying to survive in harsh times that makes people unwilling to be more proactive today. There are certainly entrepreneurs here but the employment laws make it difficult to fire employees, perform relevant employment performance reviews and offer productivity or merit pay increases. Much of this is true elsewhere in the region but the challenges surprise me because of the EU membership.
I spoke for an hour today with a trade unionist who insisted the problems with Radio Romania lie with the government--including influence of former Communists who are too close to the seat of power. I'm sure there's truth in what he says but he was unwilling to acknowledge that the trade unions appear to be stonewalling any changes that they don't fully support. There are about 2,500 employees with Radio Romania in Bucharest plus another 800-900 at the eight regional stations. How many of the Bucharest employees are mere ghost employees, put on the payroll by a brother, father, uncle or mother, and none of the ever show up for work? It is strictly a wild guess of mine but when I examine the amount of programming that seems to come from Bucharest, I can't help but believe that several hundred people may be ghost employees. I could go on but friends tell me they'd rather read about the adventures of travel and not the politics.
The drive from Bucharest was easy and comfortable. Two drivers made the trip...one as far as Sibiu....the other drove to Cluj. The didn't take unnecessary chances when passing and kept their speeds to reasonable rates. I traveled to Tirana, from the Albanian border with Montenegro, and practically saw my life flash before my eyes with the "aggressive" driving.
For dinner tonight I had a wonderful meal of cabbage rolls...cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, rice and spices and baked at a low temperature. I talked through with my host the preparation steps and will repeat this at home. Also, I ate polenta and white cheese as an appetizer. Very good (and traditional) as well.
Last night's dinner included baked cheese--a hard cheese dipped in egg or milk, covered with bread crumbs and fried, and chicken liver and onions served with country potatoes. The country potatoes were first boiled and then grated, mixed with some onion and paprika and fried. Very tasty. Both meals have included Romanian red wine and sparkling water.
The good news is that I only eat two meals a day....breakfast and lunch. Breakfast has been similar to meals I've eaten elsewhere in the Balkans....that means tomato wedges, cucumber slices, and sharp white cheese. Again, wonderful!
I've not seen much of the city. My hotel is a short walk from the radio stations and too far in the early night of November to walk. Tomorrow I will have a chance to see some of the city.
There's a small grocery store a short distance from my hotel. I'm going to walk over there and see what's on the shelves!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
In most of the countries I've visited, former government enterprises are stuck with all of the former employees who worked at the business and there's no way to fire them--even if they show up for work and do nothing. There's also no way to give performance pay increases to employees either--not unlike my own work situation.
I've had interesting insights into the nature of people in Romania. It's said that one generation was sacraficed in the fighting of two world wars. Another generation was lost to Communism. Now the question is whether the next generation will thrive or be lost in years of transition as the country tries to get on the right path.
Romania Radio is a national radio service that covers almost all of the country--probably 98%. The service produces programming for listeners but doesn't actually own the broadcast transmitters that distribute their programs. Those are held by the national telephone service. It was all part of the paranoid former dictator's plan to decentralize control and avoid potential threats by groups who might try to take over the radio system. At one point in the late 1980s, Romania Television broadcast for only two hours per day--and that was mostly news about the president. A Romanian joke was that the first hour was a reminder to watch the second hour for news about the president.
I'm pleased to be here. It has been a good learning experience. I hope tomorrow to be able to talk with the station management about ad sales, employee performance reviews and job descriptions....plus a discussion about audience research.
Enough for now.
On the way here (I'm in the city of Cluj), we traveled by car from Bucharest and passed probably 20 horse or oxen drawn wagons on the highway. I saw probably another 15-20 in the fields. Agriculture is a hands-on business as it was in the U.S. 100 years ago. People heat with wood instead of electricity or gas in the small villages and rural areas.
I'm standing at the front desk of the hotel using a wired Internet connection...their WiFi is down and my room connection doesn't work....over my shoulder is a television set with an English language soap opera. It's "The Young and the Restless" and airs on a station called ProTV.
More later...have to start the workday.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Romania is usually referred to as a poor country but it seems to have the extremes....Bucharest is thriving and construction is going on everywhere. I passed both Jaguar and BMW dealerships and saw VWs that came from Romania VW/Porsche. There are more cars trying to maneuver around the city than the roads can handle. Car ownership is one sign of prosperity and individual independence--you can buy a car and travel by yourself, in the privacy of your own vehicle. Never mind that you won't travel very quickly because traffic moves so slowly. Yesterday, coming in from the airport--16 kms from the hotel or 14 miles--took about an hour. That's how slowly traffic moved. My Embassy driver told me, yes, he had a car too...a Nissan SUV...but he often took the bus or walked because it was faster. I wanted to ask more about why he had a car--and that particular vehicle--but his English didn't seem strong enough for me to engage him as I might have wanted. Gasoline costs about $1.25 per liter...that's $5 per gallon.
I will travel by car to some other cities and will soon see the extremes. More about that as it unfolds.
I left the Hilton to see part of the city on foot. I think I have an ear infection so I stepped into a pharmacy and bought an antibiotic. No prescription was necessary for me to purchase a five-day supply of amoxicillin. My doctor at home would likely cringe over questions of purity, especially if I told her I paid only about $1.50 for the 15 capsules. I found one of my favorite stops when I travel....an open produce market. It always seems to me to be a good indicator of the economy to see what's for sale in the market. Much of the produce had the "factory produced" look of American produce....clean and shiny....some of it even in plastic containers similar to what we have. Of course, the pineapples were imported...with Delmonte tags attached...as were the kiwi. But the carrots, potatoes, various fall squash, wonderful cabbages and other leafy crops looked to have been grown locally. I went upstairs in an old building that was sort of a shopping mall....full of small booths, each about 10 X 10 (or 3 meters by 3 meters). There seemed to be about four predominant types of shops....clothing--mostly women's clothing, hardware, toiletries, and canned goods. The mix of merchandise seldom varied. Why would someone go to the booth in the back corner to buy when for convenience safe, they could buy from a ground floor vender? I'm always amazed to see these sorts of shops and wonder where their customers come from.
The time difference is 8 hours...it's a little past 10 as I post this. I'll add more shortly but must stop now for a meeting and initial orientation.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Their dismal knowledge of the world, combined with the even more dismal outcome from U.S. foreign policy, suggests it will be a lonnnnnngggggggg time before the U.S. recovers from its recent blunders.
Many newspapers have carried this story:
Hughes: Fixing U.S. Image May Take Years
By ANNE GEARAN , 09.28.2006, 05:42 PM
It may take decades to change anti-American feelings around the world that have been aggravated by war in Iraq, U.S. policy toward Israel and America's "sex and violence" culture, the State Department official in charge of dealing with the U.S. image abroad said Thursday.
"The anti-Americanism, the concern around the world ... this ideological struggle, it's not going to change" quickly, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's going to be the work of years and maybe decades."
Hughes, a longtime adviser to President Bush, has worked for more than a year to retool the way America sells itself overseas, but she acknowledged that success can be next to impossible to measure.
A June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that America's image in 15 nations dropped sharply in 2006. For example, less than one-third of the people in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey had a favorable view of the U.S.
According to that poll, America's continued involvement in Iraq was seen as a worse problem than Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate portion declassified this week, the government's top analysts concluded that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.
Hughes said the three-year-old Iraq war "is the most recent excuse" for anti-American grievance in the Muslim world.
"Much of the world did not agree with our decision to go into Iraq," just as there is long-standing disagreement with U.S. support for Israel, Hughes said.
Answering those complaints and defending U.S. policy is part of Hughes' job heading the broad category of U.S. outreach known as "public diplomacy." Although her job involves all regions of the world, Bush asked her to concentrate on reframing the U.S. image in the Islamic world.
"All you have to do is sit in a hotel room in the Middle East and watch the media and you see there is a lot, there is a big drumbeat out there going against our interests," Hughes said.
"I'm trying to approach this as putting in place the type of things that over the long run will make a difference for our country, because I don't expect that in the two years and ... three or four months of the president's administration that we'll see a significant shift."
Hughes has sent Arabic speakers to do four times as many interviews with Arabic media as in previous years and set up three rapid public relations response centers overseas to monitor and respond to the news.
Asked whether America's critics have any legitimate gripes, Hughes said yes.
"One of the things that I hear a lot, particularly in deeply conservative societies, is that parents feel kind of assaulted by American culture," Hughes said. "The sex and the violence that they see on television and movies ... some of the lyrics of our music."
The fact that American culture is so pervasive and accessible around the globe is "a double-edged sword," Hughes said. "Obviously, a lot of young people find our pop culture very appealing."
Hughes said the United States must be careful not to cast its fight against extremism and terrorism as a confrontation with Islam as a whole. She would not say whether she and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had advised Bush to stop using the term "Islamic fascism" to describe the ideology behind terrorism.
Bush and his spokesman used the phrase several times in August, but it has apparently disappeared from the White House lexicon since then. A check of transcripts on the State Department Web site indicates Rice, who is Hughes' boss, has apparently not used that phrase.
Hughes said that while she would not reveal private conversations with Bush, "that has been a subject of great debate within the administration."
"It's difficult to know what to call the ideology that we're up against, because it is a perversion of Islam," Hughes said.
"I use 'violent extremist,' because I think they are extremists, they are violent, they are actually mass murderers who pervert their religion."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
Friday, August 25, 2006
Whether leaving the U.S. for a Fulbright experience or simply traveling abroad, I've posted here some information that might be helpful in preparing for your trip...esp if you're traveling to a transitional country or location that is particularly distinctive in some way.
We do live in a world where travel--even with security concerns--is easily accomplished but for anyone traveling abroad, remember: you are in another country and things won't work or operate as they do in the United States. Sometimes things will function much better; often, things will move at a much slower pace. The slow pace isn't a bad thing either, as long as you prepare yourself to respond accordingly to the different pace.
What would I take with me if I were leaving the U.S.? In no particular order....though for reference purposes, I have numbered the items.
1. An unlocked, multiband cell/mobile telephone. An unlocked phone accepts a SIM card. The SIM card is the circuit card that can be obtained from any mobile phone provider in a country you visit. Unlocked means the phone is not dedicated to a particular cell company. Can you buy a phone once you're there? Yes...though sometimes they're even more expensive than in the U.S. And, they might not always be unlocked. Buy a local SIM card...it will come with a phone number, some prepaid minutes...and more time can easily be bought. Check the frequency the phone will operate on...there are several frequencies used for mobile service around the world. A phone with tri-band or quad-band service capability should work in almost any circumstance. Ideally, the phone's charger will work on any voltage--though you may need a plug adapter for it. Also, expect to learn to text message--if you don't already text message. This website has more information: http://www.thetravelinsider.info/roadwarriorcontent/quadbandphones.htm
2. Pack at least a small quantity of a comfort food that you enjoy and don't think will be available. I took a 20 ounce French Press coffee maker, some "Eight O'clock" brand Columbian coffee, and a small jar of peanut butter. I knew from experience that U.S. drip coffee wasn't likely to be available...nor would I find peanut butter. If you drink decaf coffee or tea, pack some...it probably don't be available.
3. If you take a laptop computer, don't expect to find WiFi service--unless you're in a hotel or major city. Dialup should be available. Create at least one alternate email address. If you have a webmail account from your workplace or a home university, some browsers in Internet Cafes have block-up poppers activated and you won't be able to change the setting. Find an alternate email service and open the account before you leave. Even if you never use it, it's better to have it as an option than to struggle with creating it while on the road. Do download a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) program for your computer before leaving home. The most common service is probably Skype. Go to www.skype.com for info. You can actually get a telephone number with a local area code and prefix that your family can use to contact you. Skype works pretty well with a dialup connection. I've used Skype in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania. There are other services besides Skype...do get one. The calls are much cheaper and it is often difficult and expensive to call from your country back to the U.S. Most services even allow you to create a mailbox where someone can leave a voicemail for you. You might also look into DSL service in some countries...also, some universities have pretty good connections. In Montenegro, I found the university's bandwidth to be limited and connections slow.
4. Orient your spouse/family/friends on how Skype is used if they also open a Skype account or plan to contact you at yours. Many VOIP systems, like Skype, will let you call another account--computer-to-computer--for FREE. Calls to a regular phone number or your Skype number will cost a little something but the cost is modest.
5. Take along a good voltage converter and buy a surge protector once you're there. The quality of the electrical service can vary...esp in the rainy season.
6. If the climate is rainy, get some really good rain shoes. Perhaps my experience was atypical but I walked a lot and did so regardless of the weather. Even a 20-30 minute walk in the rain was better than a 30-40 minute wait for a taxi...but there's nothing worse than having wet feet all day. I took some hiking boots which also protected my feet from uneven sidewalks or hidden obstacles.
7. Pick clothing that's easy to take care of and that will blend in with the population...also know that you can buy locally many things you need. Ask a local contact about an open market where the local population shops so you'll buy what they buy and get better prices. You'll know you're dressed appropriately when people stop you on the street to ask directions--they happened to me a lot in Montenegro and Serbia. Buy a couple of small, cheap plastic ponchos...the kind that are made from thin plastic...like a trash bag...and plan to tuck them away in your travel bag or coat pocket. When you're caught in the rain, you will be really glad to have it. Years ago, I was in Zambia during the rainy season and it was an essential item. I only used my poncho a couple of times in Montengro but I never had to worry about being caught without some sort of protection.
8. If you're in a place with good Internet technology, a webcam and Instant Messaging might be useful. I don't want to go too far afield on tech stuff to keep you in touch with the U.S.....you are, after all, there to experience another culture and country. But, mailing contact is comforting to family. Do take a digital camera but be sensitive about snapping pictures.
9. A flexible disposition, a heaping-helping of patience, and a willingness to enjoy adventures... whether presented through food, travel, daily experiences or interpersonal encounters.
I may update this post in a couple of days as I think of other matters...but this is a start. Email me if you have questions or comments.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Being back in the U.S. has been both wonderful and challenging. The first month I was back, the sheer overstimulation I felt from the pace of life and conspicuous consumption in the U.S. was stressful. I was almost immediately walking less and eating more. I'm still not walking more but I have begun to control the eating--I've added back four of the six pounds I lost. I also feel like I'm ready to travel again outside of the U.S....somewhere, anywhere...but not for such a long period of time. Perhaps the day will come when I get to travel again.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I have made it through one hurdle...flying from Montenegro to Belgrade. No problems...I thought Montenegro Airlines might give me a hard time about the weight of my suitcases. They's right at 50 pounds each....you're allowed 20 or 22 kgs....which converts to about 50 pounds, the present US weight maximum. Tomorrow, I will probably be ok...I'll be sure to whip out my Gold Skymiles card when I check in....that usually helps. I will fly Delta, via Alitalia. Montenegro Air, departed only five minutes late....a record, I would say.
Flying in the Balkans is a nice opporortunity to see sights that are particular to this part of the world. The mountains of Montenegro and Serbia are not quite like the Alps or mountains in the U.S. In Belgrade, I've enjoyed seeing rows of stair-stepped apartment buildings. Built, I'd say, in the 1960s. A little run down in appearance from the air but fun building design to see. Outside of Podgorica, you see Skodra Lake....a beautiful sight. The water is surprisingly clear.
It is cool and cloudy in Belgrade. I've walked around a bit but will head up to my hotel room in a bit and try to go to sleep around 5 or 6...it is 3:35 PM now. My taxi will arrive at 4 AM. Flight leave at 6:05 for Milan...then Atlanta...then Peoria. By the way, I am typing on an ancient HP desktop that originally came with Windows 95, but now has the ultramodern Windows 98 operating system. The really good news: a cable modem and decent connection speeds.
As I did some post-referendum visits in Montenegro, I kept asking people: will things be better or worse in the next 2-3 years? That is an interesting question. Montenegro now needs to help the citizens understand what it takes to have a civil society....free and fair elections, a chance for any to run in the election...civil liberties (protection of human rights and freedom of speech, among others)...and somewhere in this mix is an appearance of transperancy, not only in government but in economic matters also. I think it will be tough and wonder whether the government has a real plan for conveying the importance of these issues. If there's no plan, things will get worse before they get better.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
My time in Montenegro is almost up. Monday will be my last full day in Podgorica. I'll catch a morning flight to Belgrade on Tuesday, spend the night--at Hotel Splendid--and then catch my early morning flight to the U.S. So little time but still many things to do. I'll start washing clothes when I get home to Podgorica today...just need to take care of a few things to ensure clean clothes for the plane ride. And, of course, I'll pack my bags. With luck, everything will fit into the two bags I came with.
Yes, there are some things I am leaving and of course, I am returning with a few things also. My most interesting item is a food processor I bought at a junk market. A food processor, you ask. Why would you buy that? Because it's a mortor and pestle, both made from brass. Yes, it's heavy but I think it's interesting enough to bring home. Supposedly, it's 70-100 years old. In the old days, people would use them to crush salt or sugar--sold in solid lumps. Also, to grind spices, pound coffee or pulverize anything else. It's about 8 inches tall and looks like it would hold at least 12 ounces of liquid. I'll try to post a picture at some point. Though my time is about up, I'll post some photos...once I can do some editing.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Here's their neat little Canon camera with a firewire attached harddrive. The audio connection is wireless...though you also see an attached camera shotgun mic. They were shotting a wraparound for a show while I was there. Then they unplugged the harddrive and connected it to a computer for editing. Editing is done with Adobe Premiere. It's a known software in the region...easy enough to find people who are experienced users...and it will do what they need to do. And did I mention, it's cheap to buy, install and maintain?
Here's a slightly tighter shot of master control with people blocking the view.
Johnnie Walker: It was like a scene from a John LaCarre or Tom Clancy novel. When I arrived at the border crossing from Montenegro to Albania, the Montenegro side seemed to be just starting their day…everyone wasn’t quite awake, though it was 8 AM. I was ordered back outside the border control building by a fellow holding a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red…an open, half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. He stepped across the room and out of sight. When he returned, he had a glass in one hand and the bottle in the other hand. Now, I can’t say for certain that he poured a glass of JWR for breakfast but that’s what it looked like to me. I promise; I’m not making it up. The officer who appeared moments later and took my passport was a nice looking, young and clean-cut guy. He was polite, professional and wished me a good day. I’m in Albania today. I’m here collecting some job satisfaction data for a research project.
The Picture I wish I could take: When you travel, there are always pictures that you wish you could take. Sometimes you just miss the shot because you’re not ready, or the shot you get is poorly framed or something else prevents you from getting it right. Then there are the shots you imagine but can’t quite figure out how to get into a position to take. I keep imagining a shot with two Montenegrin or Albanian women….one elderly and one young, 18-23. The elderly woman will likely be wearing a black dress that goes almost to her ankles, black socks, and her head will be covered with a scarf. She is a peasant woman, use to hard work and a modest life. The young woman might be her granddaughter but her appearance will provide a 180 degree change. Her hair will probably be bleached or dyed—and could even be a shade of purple. She’ll be wearing blue jeans and a tank top and both jeans and shirt will look like they’re at least one size too small. And, she’ll probably be walking with high heeled shoes. Life here is such a contrast. The grandmother was alive before Communism and lived her most productive years under Communist rule. The granddaughter has only a little more memory of Communism than might her American counterparts. She may well be an only child—though Albanians often have large families. Now she is struggling to find her way in the world and in many ways has a tougher environment to live in than her grandmother because the granddaughter receives so many conflicting messages. There are the traditional roles of woman caring for home and children plus doing household and homestead chores. There’s the potential message of new opportunities for women, if her father will permit her to get an education. And, there’s the pop culture world of sexuality that has already changed her self-image, just as it changes the lives of young women in the U.S. But at least in the U.S., the changes have not produced the cultural gulf that is present in the Balkans. What sort of life is ahead for this young woman in her difficult and vastly differing world? Why would I want this picture? Because it presents this contrast and is part of the ever complicated situation of life here.
In my time in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania—since early February—I have encountered only a dozen native English speakers. Three were only brief pass-bys as we walked past each other on the sidewalk. Seven were Embassy or US-AID (Agency for International Development) people. I encountered my 13th native English speaker tonight; he was American and I would have preferred to have never had the contact. The guy walked into the restaurant where I was having dinner. His tattooed right arm was wrapped around his Albanian girlfriend. I though he might actually be a local mafia guy. Instead he was a drunk American and every tenth word out of his mouth was something offensive. Apparently he’d had a bad day at work—I think he worked for a contractor, probably with some sort of infrastructure rehab project. I didn’t talk to him and though I spoke a few words to my waiter, I doubt that he realized I was also an American.
I have tried multiple times to post the Atlas Television pictures but have not been able to get them to load. I will keep trying.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I will transfer the pictures from my camera and try to get them uploaded shortly.
My only beef with the station is the lack of local news--though at the same time, the other private stations and state television do such a poor job with news that Montenegro doesn't need another struggling newscast. Atlas has purchased a movie package of top titles and the series Law and Order: Criminal Intenet for local airing. As explained to me, they hope to avoid ad sales to small businesses and instead focus on larger clients. Their studios will wow any visitor. If they're able to attract a reasonable audience with their movies and local efforts, they may do ok but I think they will soon be surprised by how difficult it is to both sustain the programming efforts they envision AND to effectively sell to agencies and larger clients. There are sooooo many stations in Montenegro and each wants a slice of the ad market. I heard an estimate last week that the ad market in Serbia was between $72 - $100 million. I can't imagine that the entire ad market in Montenegro (print, broadcast and outdoor) is even $15 million. Yes, I've pulled this number partly from thin air....but it is also based on some real observations and market knowledge.
One ace they have up their sleeve is their owner....Atlas Holdings, an investment group that owns a large bank group, Atlas beer, has involvement in tourism, and owns small private college that offers a graphics program. Those are just a few of the things they own...the station will of course help promote all of their ventures.
Monday, May 22, 2006
These photos haven't been cropped or reduced with Photoshop, so the files are quite large and slow to load. But, I wanted to give you a look at some of the Pro Independence celebrants from last night/this morning. I left my apartment about 11:30 PM and didn't get back until about 2:30 AM. And, the streets--though with thinning crowds--certainly weren't empty as I headed home. Police were out but the crowds I saw were in a good mood. I also saw journalists from a number of countries covering the event. Journalists from Reuters, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Albania and Serbia were present. Earlier I saw a BBC crew but I could not confirm their presence last night.
By a whisker, the referendum has been approved. The Electoral Commission has reported approval by 55.4% of the voters--this is above the EU's 55% threshhold but hardly a decisive victory. If it's appropriate to think of the glass as "half full" instead of "half empty" then we can also think of Serbia as now being free of Montenegro. Perhaps the Serbian government will think harder about their desire to join the EU and they will finally turn over over Mladic. Serbia, with a substantially larger population and considerably more entrepreneurship thanMontenegro, has a lot to offer the EU.
Celebrations have continued today. At the university, there is a noticeable gulf among the faculty. Probably 75% of the faculty supported continuing the union. At least 50% of the staff also appears to support the union. Students have been given an option to delay their final exams, scheduled for today, until Thursday.
Some of the exams that I know about are simple oral exams. "Let's spend 5-10 minutes with you answering some questions about an entire semester of work so that we may determine your competience in the coursework." This is hardly a rigorous, appropriate and ethical approach to educational assessment. I am sure there are countries where the European model of education works very well but I will forever have doubts about the quality of any graduate degree work I encounter from a Balkan region university. There is little rigor or review of the educational process.
"Estavisti" emailed me to take exception to my characterization of Montenegro as now being free. First, thank you for your email. Though you've disagree with my comments, I appreciate the fact that you read them and emailed.
I think you and I are in greater agreement than perhaps you believe. My characterization of freedom is based on Montenegro not being "amalgamated" into a relationship with other countries by threat or sheer size and power domination. In that regard, Montenegro is now independent of external relationships and in that way it is, as I said, "On the brink of becoming an independent republic." I would agree that Montenegro has not made the sort of political/economic/social progress needed under the Dukanovic government and that is why I went further to acknowledge the difficult times that I believe are ahead for Montenegro. I also think the Pro campaign ran as an extension of government policy and not as an independent election issue. I don't know if you were here in Montenegro following the elections or getting reports from the web. I can tell you that at one point in the evening--my translated report--indicated that at least one opposition leader was not willing to concede defeat and the report indicated a call to go to the streets...not necesarily for confrontation but to simply not accept defeat, yet.
If you don't like my report....check this short story:
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Little Engine That Could: It isn’t often that you have a chance to watch a country gain independence—from ground level. I have just done that. Montenegro is on the brink of becoming an independent republic. Unofficially, I’m told the approval vote for the independence referendum was 56 or 57%, with approximately an 86% turnout; the referendum needed 55% approval for recognition by the EU. (Too bad Americans can’t achieve an 86% turnout for our presidential elections. I suppose when you live in a democracy, that also means taking your freedom for granted.)
The last time Montenegro was mostly free was nearly 100 years ago but wars in the Balkans ended their monarchy and led to their absorption by Serbia. I watched the initial returns with some local friends and then walked back to my apartment. As I returned, cars were pouring onto the streets, each car packed to capacity with youthful enthusiasts, waving the flag and yelling, “Viva Montenegro” as they raced down the highway.
Opposition leaders are not yet willing to recognize the results. There is word that the opposition parties are calling on their followers to go onto the streets and not yield to the independence movement—not until the official vote numbers come out tomorrow. If this happens, I think there could be some scuffles. I don’t know that they’ll be bad…maybe some rock throwing and fist fights. I hope this is all. I suspect there’s a greater risk of a fatality from an auto accident or pedestrian being hit by a passing car. There’s been some gunfire…just shots into the air to celebrate, including two bursts from an automatic weapon—with tracers. The police are on the streets so order should be maintained.
The celebrants on the streets are mostly young people—perhaps 16-30 years old. I wonder if they know just what they’ve gotten themselves into? Montenegro has a long way to go before they will be ready to join the EU. I’m not an expert on their government or economic policies but many reforms are needed to rid the country of the gray economy and a significant push to improve university education is needed. There’s little commitment by the faculty at the University of Montenegro to actually educate the students. Courses in law, political science and journalism have few written assignments and lectures are often cancelled by the faculty. Final exams are often oral and are completed in 5-10 minutes. I've also blogged before about cheating by students--it is a problem. How can you be a functioning, independent country if you don’t have qualified people to fill needed jobs? And, the brain drain continues to be a problem. The best and brightest know they don't have to stay here, if they don't want to stay.
I like Montenegro…I like the people….and I am happy they have approved independence in a peaceful, democratic election. But for all the donor money that has come into the country so far, I think it is only a small percentage of what will be needed to help the country begin to function independently. I'd like to think the proud Montenegrin heritage will encourage them to pursue reforms on their own. I won't hold my breath.
Side note: As I was walking to town today, I met a young woman who attended my management and sales workshop in Podgorica in March 2004. She’s now the program manager for Atlas TV—the newest private TV station in Montenegro. She beamed as she told me she has used two specific ideas she learned from my workshop: Create job descriptions for all employees you hire and have the employees read and sign a copy of the job description, and let them know they will be evaluated through a performance appraisal process that is based on the job description! I will give her a call Tuesday and go by the station for a tour.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I arrived here yesterday after driving from Dubrovnik, Croatia, back to Podgorica to catch a plane to Belgrade. My trip back to Podgorica took me through Bosnia. It was an easy enough drive but I must say, I had some mild concerns. Here I was traveling through a country where Serb aggressors (Bosnian Serbs, if I have my details correct) were the impetus for much of the ruin that beset the country. I was in Southern Bosnia, an area sparsely populated because of the rocky slopes and simple inability to make a living from the soil. As I passed abandoned stone houses, I could only guess whether the occupants had fled because of war or the poverty of the area...or a little of both. I drove through areas that seemed so remote I would have suspected no one lived there but then I'd see muddy tracks entering the highway from a hidden road or see cow manure that was deposited on the highway by grazing livestock. Fortunately, there were no cows on the road and on the entire trip through Bosnia (a 1.5 hour drive), excluding Tribija--I think I have spelled the name of the Bosnia town I traveled through correctly, though the name in Bosnian looks very different than this--I met fewer than two dozen cars. I even saw one warning about possible landmines along one area of the road. Don't worry, I had no plans to stop for photos. Before you think me foolish or crazy for traveling through here, know that these are the remains of war....not the current condition. And, what about the last time you traveled through an area of your city where for economic and social reasons, you would not be welcomed by the residents because of your race or perhaps it's only because of the big shiny, new car you drive?
I should add that in Dubrovnik, I visited a memorial to the citizens of Dubrovnik who were killed by Serb artillery shells that destroyed parts of the city. My Montenegrin friends kept telling me my rental car would be keyed when people saw the license plates of my parked car. None of this happened. While I suspect much of their fear falls into an urban myth category, I also was smart enough to pay for decent parking and to have no reason to put myself into stupid situations where there could be problems.
A tourist comment: Dubrovnik is a WORLD TREASURE. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I stayed within the city in an efficiency apartment located in a refurbished building. I usually don't put commercial plugs on my blog but I highly recommend this place. It's early in the season so the rate was wonderful....50 Euros a night. Check this website to see what the place looks like: http://www.dubrovnik-online.com/apartments_placa/html/contact.html
I will try to post some photos here in a few days...just need to do some Photoshop work to make the files smaller and more manageable.
Friday, May 12, 2006
The Independence Referendum election is now less than 10 days away. The two sides are more aggressive now. I've seen some defaced billboards of the Pro side. I actually have not seen any Pro Unity signs. People routinely drive through town in their cars honking and waving flags...either the flag of Montenegro (Pro Indep) or the flag for Serbia/Montenegro (Pro Unity).
Electricity shortages. Montenegro apparently has some electricity shortages in the summer, as demand for air conditioning increases. I guess the old Central Planning Committee never imaged that the masses would have air conditioning.
Lunch. People don't seem to take lunch breaks....or if they do, it's to discretely step away and have something quick and cheap from a bakery...pizza rolls are a good example. There actually aren't very many places where lunch is a purchase option. At 4-10 Euros, even at a modest restaurant, it's a big part of a typical worker's paycheck. Yesterday, I sneaked out of the station and bought some sort of roll with a fruit filling. Today, at 8:30 PM, I've had nothing since breakfast except coffee, fruit juice, and a couple of small pieces of taffy. Will get a pizza in a few minutes.
The drive. I've been at TV-Radio Niksic everyday except Tuesday. The station drives me back to my apartment and picks me up. It's been a good experience although they desperately need to downsize the staff--or, more properly, right-size the staff. My driver knows only a few words of English but knows his car horn well. He's from the nearby community of Daniograd and uses his horn to both greet friends and warn not so attentive drivers and walkers. He's a good driver...he slows down early, doesn't tailgate, actually slowed considerably on Thursday when it was raining heavily...and he only scared the heck out of me two or three times with some wild passing moves.
Utility Trailers. Today, coming back, my driver passed a small station wagon pulling a trailer...the sort of two-wheeled, open and lowside utility trailer you once commonly say in the U.S....before everyone decided they needed a pickup truck. In the trailer were two cows. I marveled that they would stay in this small trailer. Then I saw that their heads were pulled all the way to the bed of the trailer and the halter was tied securely. They had no choice but to take a ride.
Rides. My driver stopped this morning and picked up a woman who was a teacher and dropped her at the school. She was someone he recognized as we passed. It was a nice gesture. Then he picked up a policeman he knew. Also a nice gesture in a country where cars are few and buses are often crowded. This afternoon, he picked up three women. I could tell from the conversation he told them he was going to Podgorica. They climbed in. I was dropped off first but I wonder: he didn't seem to know these women. Did he charge them a Euro for the trip? That would have been cheaper than the bus and he could pocket a little extra money. I'll never know.
The fig trees are covered with plump green figs---it will be a couple of months, I'd guess, before they're ripe. The grape vines have bunches of grapes--each grape looks smaller than a pin head. AND, best of all....some of the vines that looked like grape vines when they were dormant and actually kiwi vines! And, they're covered with fruit, also.
Media Blackout. There's no First Amendment/Press Freedom concept in Montenegro. Before the election--I believe it is 48 hours before the election--there will be a media blackout of all referendum coverage. At least there's supposed to be. There's no way to keep Serbian newspapers, sold in Montenegro, from publishing stories. The Montenegro papers and broadcast media can be sanctioned. There's also nothing to prevent websites from covering the story, either. We'll see how it goes.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The Great War: Wherever I’ve traveled in Eastern Europe (Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania or Ukraine), there are monuments to The Great Patriotic War. We simply call it World War II. Many of the monuments commemorate partisans—local civilians who were captured and shot by the Nazis. World War II marked the end of independence for many countries in Eastern Europe after they were swallowed by the USSR and would have to wait 40 years before Communism collapsed. Now they are waiting for economic reforms, political reforms, and social reforms. And, it’s always the fault of someone else—a person, political party or government—as to why things don’t move faster. Meanwhile, Tom Brokaw identified the WWII generation in the U.S. as the Greatest Generation. They certainly put the U.S. on the world map—politically and economically—with our confident outlook about life and certainty of success. This mark still pervades American culture today.
I have spent the last two days in an uncertain circumstance. I’ve been at a municipal television station in Niksic. The people I’ve met are very nice and many seem committed to their jobs and the station. But, in a meeting with the general manager and sales manger, I asked about monthly station expenses…then took that number and reversed engineered to demonstrate the sort of advertising rates the station needed to be getting. Jaws dropped when they saw the number. The manager is new and seems to be a sharp guy. But the sales manager has been there so long that I do not believe she understands what it means to price something at an appropriate market price. They’re selling some spots now at about 50 Euro cents for a 10 second ad. They need to be earning around 10-12 Euros per :30 spot, not to pay all their expenses, but to cover about half their costs, with the municipality covering the rest.
Here’s another reality dose about life in Montenegro and, for that matter, many other places in the world. Employees sometimes work without getting paid. And, there’s little immediate recourse. Two years ago in Uganda, Monica, the manager of an FM station, asked a workshop colleague and me, for advice on how to get her station’s owner to pay salaries that were already two months late. The Niksic station was off the air for two years—there were political squabbles in the multiparty municipal government, the previous manager was ineffective, workers were not motivated (the station’s physical space was in shambles and much of the equipment wasn’t working), and of course, it was Montenegro…with the many larger problems weighing in on the operation of one small TV station. The station went off the air and no one was paid.
The obvious question is why should they be? And, perhaps that’s the answer. The station needs to dig itself out of this salary debt but apparently is prohibited by law from doing so. Even workers who aren’t working can expect a paycheck. And, that’s part of the problem with Montenegro and why it will take substantial reforms, if they win independence, before they can expect an invitation to join the EU.
But wait, there’s more to life in Montenegro. What did those workers do in the two years the station was off the air? I don’t have a ready answer but I know they did something. Were they part of the grey economy—selling goods but not paying taxes? Did they work somewhere else and only rejoin the station because they expected to get their “salary arrears” as the missing pay is called here? No one has told me stories of famine.
Land and property: My apartment was apparently a political patronage gift to its owner. The owner was a faithful supporter of someone in power who simply took this apartment and another one in the complex and gave them away. Today, this apartment is probably worth $60,000….perhaps a little more. When you attempt to reform a country, how far back do you go in your reform effort?
I'm going to make a trip to Dubrovnic next week. I will spend about 165 Euros for a rental car plus gasoline expenses (currently equal to $5.40 per gallon). I will spend more to rent this car than the average worker in Serbia and Montenegro will make in one month.
Note: I don’t consider anything I’ve revealed here to have been confidential in nature. The station information is generally available information that has appeared in the newspapers and is part of street talk about city activities. It is also the exact same situation I’ve seen in other countries I’ve visited.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
The station was literally off the air for TWO years due to management and financial problems. Among other things, the previous manager seemed to have been a political appointee with no knowledge of broadcasting--or much of anything else. There was an employee strike of supporters when the local government tried to remove him and then a strike by workers who didn't support him and opposed the other workers' strike. What a mess. On top of that, people apparently have not been paid--even though the old manager made a public commitment to pay everyone.
The people I met seemed pretty sharp and motivated to solve problems. This is the only TV station licensed to the city--which is about a 40-50 minute drive from Podgorica. They do receive signals from national TV and the many private TV stations that are based on Podgorica but the local station is working hard to be a local voice. TV Niksic was the first municipal TV station in Montenegro. By law, the station may air up to six minutes of commercials every hour. Private TV station may air up to 12 minutes.
The biggest problem with advertising sales is the lack of local clients to sufficiently support local media...or national media, for that matter. A vigorous economy, free of illegal (grey) economic practices--untaxed or unreported income--would produce a substantial, positive difference in the societal structure of Montenegro.
For more information about the town...and there's not that much to include....go to:
A friend tells me I should always post some sort of picture as an eye catching device. Unfortunately, the Internet connection isn't running well enough to make that happen. I will try later.
Monday, May 8, 2006
Police Presence: The newspapers reported Saturday morning of rocks thrown at vehicles leaving a referendum rally the previous night. Three or four cars were struck by rocks but there were no arrests. During the day Saturday, as a friend and I walked around Podgorica, we were surprised by the number of police officers we saw on the streets. Was this an effort to prevent any referendum-related clashes between proponents and opponents, I wondered aloud? Fortunately, the answer was no. The police were on the streets to prevent soccer/football holligans from causing trouble before or after Saturday's game. Fans get roudy in the U.S. but it's nothing compared to some of the trouble that breaks out in Western Europe at football matches. Serbia/Montenegro apparently is beginning to copy those actions.
Manicured: In the U.S., they'd be weeds if they sprouted in the manicured, chemically-treated lawns of a suburban neighborhood but here in Montenegro, they are wildflowers. White, yellow, orange, pink, violet, blue, purple and red colors add to the feeling of spring. Even here, some of the wildflowers aren't always welcomed....especially as they reach a foot or more in height. Then the weedtrimmers do their work. Here that means a man with a traditional scythe will cut them, by hand and with the sweat of his brow. This is the same sort of scythe Americans might see in a picture with the Grim Reaper....a curved blade about three feet long and a wooden handle about five feet long. In the Green Market, you can buy a new scythe handle or new blade. The handle costs about 2 Euros and a new blade about 10 Euros.
English Creep: It is always interesting for me to hear or see English words that enter the vocabularlies in non-English speaking countries. "Marketing" does not have a Serbian equivalent term so the word has been added to the vocabulary. "Super" for great or excellent, is a commonly used word in Montenegro. On my to-do list before I leave is to take some pictures of some of the uses/applications of English words. Here's one example:
Friday, May 5, 2006
I have sent a questionnaire to the Secretary General of Parliament to attempt to collect some data from Members of Parliament about press freedom and responsibility. There are only 78 or 79 MPs....we'll see how the survey goes.
What would you do if your state in the U.S. were to decide to take a vote for independence from the U.S.? The last there were independence efforts by states, the U.S. fought a civil war. That is part of what happended in old Yugoslavia. In a couple of weeks, Montenegrins will vote on whether to end their relationship with Serbia--and become independent. If they support independence, it will be an absolute, final end to old Yugoslavia. Other parts--Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia--are already independent.
Friends, who initially thought the independence initiative would not pass, are now saying it will pass. We will see.
If you moved to Montenegro from Serbia 10 years ago, are you Serbian or Montenegrin or??? Or, suppose you moved from sleepy Podgorica to the big city of Belgrade six or eight years ago to take a job. Are you Montenegrin or Serbian? If you were born in Podgorica in 1955 or 1960, from parents who trace their family history to northern Serbia, are you a Yugoslavian, Serbian or Montenegrin? The point I am struggling to make is that family and regional history makes the independence question murky...there are even splits of opinion on the independence issue in families. And no, there are no rumblings of a civil war over the independence issue.
Lost connections: I met a fellow in Belgrade whose grandmother was born in the U.S. but married a Serb and they moved to Belgrade in the early 1930s. Her children could/should have had U.S. citizenship rights--as would their children. But, the citizenship was never sought because of World War II and then the communist government in Yugoslavia. The grandmother is dead, the son is dead....and I have met only the grandson who laments on the loss of a life he might have had, if U.S. citizenship could have been established.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch....I take my citizenship for granted. I was lucky enough to have been born in the U.S. because my ancestors pursued life in a new country. In the future, I should never complain about paying taxes....and I should make certain that I vote in every election. How lucky I am.
I have lost my only English news channel. BBC changed its satellite distribution from an analog channel to a digital channel and apparently the cable company has not kept up with the change. The space BBC once occupied is now static. Who will set my news agenda? What will I think about? Will I watch DVDs for the sort of "visual stimulation and companionship" often provided by television? Or, maybe I will just read more. I will keep you posted.
The swallows have returned and are building new mud nests on my patio. I'd be willing to bet that they migrated here from Northern Africa....did they bring bird flu? Not that I am aware. I have heard no reports in the news....of course, my BBC channel is no longer available. :)
“You must be nuts traveling to all those foreign places,” some of my friends an acquaintances think. But let’s look at the facts. Rank the following countries according to their risk of threat from terror attacks, from one (low risk) to five (high risk). I have visited all of these places.
____ United States
____ Serbia & Montenegro
The information in this quiz comes from Aon Crisis Management and was reported in Wired magazine, June 2005, pages 56-57.
The greatest terror threat risk comes in Uganda. The article doesn’t report specifics but I suspect this risk is primarily in the northern part of the country, bordering Sudan, and the threat comes from the Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent group that has, for more than a dozen years, kidnapped children to turn them into child soldiers or slaves. (Participants in workshop I helped with, in safe Kampala a year ago, were talking about a radio station in the north of the country that was destroyed by rebels. They marveled at the fact that the rebels didn’t shoot the announcer on duty at the time, instead letting him go before they burned the control room.)
There is a three-way tie next between Germany, the United States and Serbia & Montenegro—all belong in the elevated threat category. Germany and the U.S. are at risk from far right and Islamic extremists. Serbia & Montenegro have some risks from nationalists/separatists and organized crime violence. The safest country on the list, Albania, is in the guarded category. One of my favorite countries—Zambia—is in the low threat level.-0-
Friends in Nis, Serbia, were asking about my travels. I told them that I barely travel anywhere compared with my friend Sam, who travels 5-6 time a year. They were not impressed though when I told them about the guard who traveled with him in Angola, 5-6 years ago. The guard's primary job was to watch the vehicle when it was parked to ensure that no one planted a bomb under it.
Why did the story have no impact on them? Because they live only 3 hours from Kosovo....where violence still raises its ugly head.
When was the last time you read anything in a U.S. newspaper about Kosovo? For many journalists, it is old news....there is "fresh" violence to report in Iraq.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
There’s no driver’s ed program in the schools so learning to drive often means enrolling in a private driving school. Driving is chaotic but I often think that people are actually better drivers because of the chaos—the potential dangers cause drivers to be even more watchful. Driver manners vary considerably as well, causing pedestrians to be ever watchful as they cross the streets or walk along the right-of-way.
Foot traffic also means the downtowns have not dried up as have those areas in U.S. cities. (A friend of mine, visiting the U.S. on an exchange program, was surprised by how dead Kansas City's downtown was when he visited the city.)
Here’s a shot of the pedestrian plaza in Nis. The shot was taken at about 4 PM from the balcony of Miedia Center Nis. Traffic will actually increase substantially after 5 PM as people come out to shop, window shop, and socialize. I’ve seen this same scene in Belgrade and Podgorica and Tirana, Albania. The charm of the evening walk is one of the things that attracted me to Podgorica. Some people, right after work, take an afternoon nap to ensure enough energy to enjoy the evening out and it is not unusual to see the plaza busy on a weeknight until midnight. My American habit, of early to bed and early to rise, make it hard for me to take the afternoon nap but a cup of coffee or espresso around 3 or 4 PM gives me a boost to help me stay up at least until 9 or 10 PM. Many of the coffee shops also have tents or awnings that offer protection from the summer sun or a spring shower.
Another feature of the foot traffic is the abundance of small kiosks that sell newspapers, snacks, magazines and cigarettes. This is the primary sales outlet for newspapers. They're stacked horizontally across the front of the stand. There actually is someone inside the stand to collect money.
A note about Big Brother. It is not, to my knowledge, a co-production with anyone in Bosnia or anywhere else. It's my understanding that B-92 is pursuing the Big Brother project by itself. The move to license national networks is part of a broader effort to decrease the total number of television stations--a source told me a couple of days ago that there are about 300 stations in Serbia--including municipal and private stations. There was a description a few years ago, that I had forgotten, that referred to car wash and garage stations. These were literally small time stations that might have been put on the air by the owner of a very small business. These stations often had few legitimate local programming efforts other than perhaps going to the local video store to rent a movie for airing.
By the way....need a copy of an Oscar winning movie that's not yet available on DVD? You can find it on the streets of Nis. Walk the Line and Brokeback Mountain are both here for about $2.20 each.
Monday, April 17, 2006
My hotel--though not built exclusively to cater to Phillip Morris--offers great service in part because of that market. I'm staying at Hotel Panorama Lux Garni. As the name suggests, they're on a hillside, overlooking the city.
Today, I start another management and sales workshop, this one at Media Center Nis, an NGO founded to offer media training and press support, including a work center/support facility for local reporters and a place for press conferences. They are similar to Montenegro Media Institute.
I like Nis. The city has struggled greatly with unemployment--not only did the tobacco plant close but a big appliance manufacturer--state owned and employing about 4,000 people--has closed and there's little reason to believe it will reopen to make stoves, TVs and washing machines. The people, at least the media people I've met, work pretty hard, are ambitious, and are nice--and that is something I should not always expect. Nis was the location of "collateral damage" during the NATO bombings. Let me be specific: a U.S. plane, armed with cluster bombs, mistakenly dropped its ordinance on civilians at a vegetable market, killing 4 or 5 people. All sorts of questions remain unanswered--more than 6 years later--as to why it happened and why the plane has cluster bombs since its real target was supposed to be a chemical plant nearby. No, I'm not making this up--nor is it the product of selective local memory. After visiting here two years ago and hearing this story, I asked someone at the Embassy and then did an online search of U.S. newspapers. It was hard to find coverage but I found a few things. I've also seen local coverage in a military museum in Beograde. My memory may be somewhat distorted also--it's been a couple of years since I read the specific details--but it happened.
Media news: News Corporation/Fox TV/Rupert Murdoch, is an applicant for a national TV license in Serbia. Five will be awarded--probably within the next 30-45 days. Murdoch owns a channel/station/license in Bulgaria for a very successful station.
"Big Brother" won't be appearing on B92 until September. They've offered excuses that they've had technical problems with show production but the latest reason is that they no longer wish to counter-program World Cup Football in June, their most recent time when the show was to air.
B92 is also an applicant for a national TV license as it Pink. Channel 5-Nis, a private station here, is an applicant but is thought to be a dark-horse because of its location. Still, people in the city that I talked with on Sunday, were proud they were applying.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
My workshop has gone very well this week. The participants have asked good questions, they've been attentive, we've started on time each morning, and we've actually stayed a few minutes past our official quitting time. All of these are remarkable, given my experiences with other workshops I've done.
My translator, Masa (pronounced as Masha) has been wonderful. She is a delightful person and an excellent translator. Ten of the 13 participants understand English quite well--they probably don't need a translator to achieve understanding but she is certainly needed they need to ask questions. I know she's good because they never offer to correct anything she translates. I had dinner with Masa and her husband--his name is Alexei--and also a great guy. We dined on steak--horse steak. No kidding. I had a fillet. Nicely cooked and amazingly good. I'm not sure why this local restaurant serves horse--perhaps because of the opening date....around 1994 or so. Was it the meat most readily available at the time? People in France and Belgium also dine on horse. The Wall Street Journal carried an article about processing houses in the U.S. that sell to this market.
I stood on a traffic island, waiting for the light to change so that I could complete my street crossing, when a fellow next to me asked a question. I'm sorry I replied in English. He answered back with an apology in accented-English. "What did you ask me?" I wanted to know. He told me he wondered if I knew where the Czech Embassy was. Oh, I do....I told him and gave him directions. We were just a couple of blocks away and I had noticed it on a previous trip. What are the odds that he's asked me a directions question, that I could give him the answer and that he's speak English so we could communicate.
People: Most people in Serbia don't like George Bush but they typically dislike Bill Clinton even more. Clinton backed NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. There are buildings that still show signs of the bombing. A secret police building has never been repaired and sits abandoned as a reminder of the past. (Yes...I know it seems odd to talk about knowing the location of the secret police building.)
I had previously met on of my participants, when I visited his newspaper a couple of years ago in . "We're out of the porn business" he told me. To support his legitimate and independent newspaper--which struggled in a very competitive market with limited advertising revenue and a soft economy--his company published some soft-porn and horoscope magazines. Thinking that he had seen the light as to the ills of the porn business, I congratulated him for focusing his energy on his newspaper. "Yes, we had to because we were getting all of these claims of copyright violation against us because we were just downloading pictures from the Internet that we published." Oh well...his newspaper is doing well and he is ontrack to purchase his competitor--a municipal newspaper that must be privitized. If he's lucky in the bidding, he will inherit 200 employees. His paper, publishing the same number of issues, has 20 employees.
I'm a small town kind of guy but it has been so very nice to be in Belgrade. It is a beautiful city, especially when the weather is warm and sunny. The cloudy and gray of winter can be pretty depressing.
The cable television system has not only local Serbian stations but also channels from the U.S., England, France, and Germany.
Cheap Chinese goods are standard fare in the U.S. and they are common here. We have dollar stores; Serbs have 75 dinar store--that's about $1.02. They sell kitchenware and the usual array of cheap junk.
Flooding is taking place as three rivers overflow in Serbia. The Danube and Sava Rivers in Belgrade have already caused traffic routing problems. Things will get worse not only because of the recent rains but because the mountain snows still haven't melted.
A to Z. I have now seem car models beginning with almost every letter of the alphabet....from Alpha or Audi to Zastava. Zastava is a Serb built car from the city of Kragujevac--pronounced like Krag-uh-vitz--might be better know to you as the Yugo. There's a deadlership along my route to NUNS. I glanced in the window today and might stop in, if there's time tomorrow.
More news on Big Brother. I have a meeting tomorrow with someone who can probably tell me more about Big Brother and other broadcast issues. I'll update when I have more info.
I hope you've found these comments reasonably interesting...will try to add some pictures soon.