Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Foot traffic. When you don’t have the tradition of automobile ownership, the arrival of private car ownership creates some challenges. I’ve mentioned the parking issue—there are few organized parking lots and people routinely park on sidewalks, right in the way of pedestrians.

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

Thank goodness for Phillip Morris. I don't smoke and have even called cigarette manufacturers merchants of death but Phillip Morris has been a welcomed addition to the city of Nis (pronounced like Kneesh). About 2-3 years ago they purchased a failing government cigarette plant, employing more than 2,200 people; they paid about $1 billion for the facility. Today, between 1,200-1,300 people work at the plant. They make Marlboro and Marlboro Lights for domestic and export consumption plus make some other domestic brands.

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.