Friday, May 12, 2006

An assortment of comments and observations.

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 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

Niksic: I will spend Wednesday - Friday in the nearby town of Niksic (pronounced Nick-sheets). The city is Montenegro's second largest municipality and can trace it's roots to a 4th century Roman camp. I'll spend my time at Radio/Television Niksic, where I'll first do some observing and then offer some recommendations about management and sales. I had a good meeting there on Monday afternoon with the Managing Director (general manager), the news director and program director.

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

Lectures: Today is my last lecture to a small core of faithful students from law, political science and journalism at the University of Montenegro. My class, because it is taught in English, is an elective course. The students are as interested in an interaction with a American as they are in the topics I discuss. Because the group is so mixed, I've generally discussed the role of media in society, including some discussion of media theories to explain how people use or react to media content. My class will have to end a little earlier than usual today. Though I've been in this room, meeting at 10 AM until 11:30 AM all semester, another class has been schedule to use the room at 11 AM. Why or how this happens, I do not know. Schedule planning is one more area needing overhaul at the university. It seems to be a scattered, random system of assignments.

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: