A Travellerspoint blog

In Belgrade

overcast 24 °C

Just doing a quick check-in to let people know that I'm in Belgrade.

The last two days have comprised of intense travel. A group of us rented a car in Dubrovnik in order to get north. Lindsay and I dropped Austin and Justin in Split. Then we continued on to Plitvice and Zagreb. In total, that was an 8 hour drive. Then I took a bus from Zagreb to Belgrade yesterday -- at a reasonable hour (7:45pm) for once.

There are two American-run international law programs in Croatia. The one that I was in (Dubrovnik) and one that operates out of Zagreb and Zadar. In Plitvice, Lindsay and I randomly walked into the midst of a group of 20-something Americans. We started joking about them being the other law group, only to hear one of them start talking about being in a 1st Amendment Conference in Washington, D.C. Then we noticed one of our professors walking with the group and called her over. Turns out it was the other study-abroad group. We didn't take the time to chat, because we were on a tight time-line, but it was odd to randomly run into this other law-group in the midst of a Croatian national park.

The night in Zagreb was painfully hot. I was sweating non-stop. But I woke up to a cool breeze and cloud-cover. That made waltzing around Zagreb while I waited for my bus to Belgrade a bit less uncomfortable. Now I'm in Belgrade and the weather is still nice and cool. I'm glad that I'm not melting at the moment.

Posted by DavidJFabe 04:51 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

The Last Week

Some travels and good-times

sunny 35 °C

Check out the new pictures that I uploaded since the last blog-entry! Included are shots from around the Dubrovnik area, and some photos from Bosnia.

I apologize for the lack of updates, but it's mainly the result of a lack of things to update the blog about. I've had classes and then there have been a few trips to Cavtat and Dubrovnik. However, a group of us did head into Bosnia on Sunday, and to Lokrum Island on Monday.

The Bosnia trip consisted of Lindsay, Austin, Justin and George. We rented the same car that had taken Lindsay and me to Montenegro on Tuesday. We first went to Mostar and walked around the old town. Additionally, we checked out the front line. Every time I visit the front-line, a little bit more of the war-damage has been cleared. There is still a significant number of blown-out buildings covered in bullet-holes, but Mostar is healing over, slowly-but-surely.

On the way back from Mostar, we stopped off in Pocitelj along the Neretva River. Originally, Pocitelj had served as a Hungarian fortress used to control the region. I visited last summer on the Bata tour (see previous blog), but it was nice to get back in a less hectic grouping.

When we got back into Croatia, we detoured onto the Orebic Peninsula to visit Ston and Mali Ston. Between the two towns lies the largest medieval stone wall complex in Europe. It was unfortunately too late to get up on the walls, but the towns were nice.

Yesterday, a different grouping headed out to Lokrum Island, just off from Dubrovnik (visible in many pictures taken of Dubrovnik). The island is largely traffic free. According to local legend, the island was cursed by the Catholic Monks who were forced from the island a couple centuries ago. Rumor has it that anybody who sleeps on the island will die within 30 days. As such, it's illegal to stay on the island after 8pm. Most of the time was spent swimming and rock-jumping (which I did not participate in).

When we got back to Dubrovnik, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Whenever I travel, I miss Mexican food like no other. It was awesome to have some tacos, even though they weren't exactly what I was hoping for.

Posted by DavidJFabe 03:28 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Skipping class...!

To Lopud? Yes! To Montenegro? Most definitely!

sunny 35 °C

With first-hand knowledge that traveling in the Balkans is like walking through a mixture of tar and quicksand, I opted to drop one of my classes so that I could actually visit parts of the Adriatic coast while stationed here in Dubrovnik. For whatever reason, connections are horribly planned out (as a for-instance: buses from Dubrovnik to Montenegro leave at 7am, 1030am and 7pm - but the latest return is at 1pm, making day-trips fully impossible). Additionally, we were only budgeted 1 free day per week. Even more inconveniently, that day happened to be Sunday -- a day when the already woefully inadequate transportation network grinds to a near-halt.

With the additional three days of free-time, my fellow classmate (and Seattleite) Lindsay and I opted to try to getting to the Elaphiti Islands and Montenegro.

On Monday, we went to Lopud - an Island in the Elaphiti chain, just to the north of Dubrovnik. Lopud is something of a unique animal here on the Dalmatian coast. Whereas most beaches out here are rocky affairs resulting in boundless discomfort for the discerning beach-goer, Lopud features two long and sandy beaches.

The island is shaped like an H, with the town of Lopud sitting on the northern bay and the Sunj beach nestled on the southern bay. The island is billed as "traffic-free", but all that really means is that there are no cars in the traditional sense. A veritable fleet of electric golf-carts, gas-powered car-like constructs and the occasional WTF? contraptions ply the road from Lopud to Sunj, shuttling lazy tourists from one side of the little hill to the other. We chose to walk the fairly short distance like reasonable people. The beach was really nice. A ton of boats were bobbing in the bay - likely on break from the bustle of Dubrovnik (which isn't really all that bustle-y). The water was warm and a sand-bar stretched out for a significant distance.

Tuesday started out as catastrophe. We originally planned to go to Kotor, Montenegro on a day-trip. Unfortunately (as mentioned above), the bus-schedule was anything but conducive to people wanting to get from point-A to point-B at a comfortable time of day. Add that to the fact that the bus-station is 15km north from out hotel, the city buses are quite irregular and the bus would have to drive directly in front of our hotel on the way to Montenegro but wouldn't be able to stop to pick us up. Needless to say - frustration abounded.

Thankfully, Lindsay suggested the inspired idea to rent a car. We ended up getting out little Fiat Punto at 9:30am for 60-Euro (just barely more expensive than the cost of two round-trip bus tickets!).

Over the border, we searched in desperation to find an ATM. Montenegro, for whatever reason, has opted to use the Euro as its official currency despite Montenegro's status outside of the EU and with not influence on European monetary policy. Finally, just as we reached the ferry terminal to take us across to the other side of the mouth of the Bay of Kotor, we found some cash and boarded the ferry no problem.

Our first stop was Budva - a town that I visited with Emily and Justin back in 2005. Budva looks unchanged, despite the appearance of non-stop construction and beautification. The only difference that I noted was the reading room in the Citadela Museum. The reading room features an abundance of rare books concerning the Balkans. Among them was John Reed's account of the Eastern Front of World War 1, which I would love to get my hands on.

The thing that I had forgotten, however, was the intense humidity in Montenegro. While we were only about 70km south of Dubrovnik, the hills were much more verdant and the air was sticky with moisture. Sweat ran in abundance just from standing outside. Thankfully, our car was equipped with powerful air-conditioning, which we employed nearly non-stop.

Next we visited Sveti Stefan. Sveti Stefan is an old fishing village perched atop an island separated from the mainland by a very narrow channel. Over that channel is a foot-bridge. Sveti Stefan is currently undergoing a massive renovation project. I believe (but don't quote me on this) that Madonna is a major investor. It appears that the goal is to challenge Dubrovnik to the top-spot in Adriatic tourism. Unfortunately, as a result of the renovations, it wasn't possible to go into the town. I can only imagine how spectacular it will be when the renovations are done. In five-years' time, Montenegro is going to be crushed with tourists.

Up the road, we headed to Kotor. Kotor has been a top-destination for me for years. I was exceedingly happy to finally make it there - and it did not disappoint. Kotor features yet another beautiful old-town (UNESCO!), but the setting on one end of the bay of Kotor and the dramatic mountain backdrop is what sets it apart. Above the old town is a castle-complex scaling the face of the mountain. Switch-backs along the walls provide the way up and down. By the time we reached the height of the walls, both Lindsay and I looked like we had been swimming. Additionally, we were covered in dust, despite the humidity. The view was spectacular (which accounts for why I might have gone a little crazy in my photo-uploading). Kotor is solidly lodged on my list of "Most Impressive Places EVAR!!!"

On a nuts-and-bolts front - Travellerspoint's photo-management software doesn't recognize Montenegro/Crna Gora as an independent state. It doesn't even recognize Serbia & Montenegro. Rather, it insists that Budva and Kotor are in Serbia - a fact which some Serbian nationalist would agree with but which is patently incorrect in terms of the actual status of national boundaries. So, here's the disclaimer: Budva, Sveti Stefan and Kotor are all in Montenegro. You may ignore the tag stating otherwise.

Posted by DavidJFabe 03:24 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

Quick trip North

From Dubrovnik to Split and Hvar. Then back again!

sunny 34 °C

On Friday morning, I took my "Doing Business in Central and Eastern Europe" exam (both questions were policy-based and I managed to squeeze out something similar to my previous post on here re: industrial economics in response). Following the exam, three of my classmates and I took a bus from Dubrovnik to Split. Thus began a weekend of debauchery for some, and of illness for me. Still, it was pretty awesome.

Not long after arriving in Split, Lindsay and Justin began a non-stop drinking binge that lasted through Sunday night (4th of July! AMERICAAAAAAAAA). Had I not had a cold, I probably would've been participating in some/much/all of it, but (thankfully?) I had a cold and instead acted as a chaperon and guide-of-sorts to the stumblers.

I had been to Split twice before so I wasn't exactly in need of a non-stop tourism explosion. Instead, we plodded around Diocletian's Palace a little bit (made out of stone from the island of Brac(h) -- the same stone that was used to make the White House in Washington, DC! AMERICAAAAAAAAA) and then settled down at a bar on an extension from the waterfront promenade.

I checked out from the group early in order to get some quality sleep. Unfortunately, I managed only a few hours because the room was unbearably hot, I had to blow my nose non-stop, and we were sharing a room with a group of scrawny 18-year-old British kids who apparently didn't understand the concept of "courtesy" or "shutting up" when they get back to a shared-room at 3am. Still, I was ready to get to Hvar in the morning.

I've been wanting to visit Hvar for years. When I was out here in Croatia back in 2005, Justin, Emily and I made a strategic decision to focus on just one of the major Adriatic islands. The debate came down to a decision between Korc(h)ula and Hvar. Korcula won out (by unanimous decision), but after visiting Hvar, I wish it hadn't.

I'm calling it: Hvar is the most beautiful small town I've ever been to in my entire life. The place is fantastic (see photos for proof!). We stayed in a guest-house up on the hill just above the ancient town-square. After dinner, I left Justin and Lindsay, who were deep into their 22nd hour of non-stop drinking, to squirrel up the hill/mini-mountain behind the town. Perched on the hill is a little fort/castle. I had perfect timing, apparently, because the sun was beginning to set as I climbed the surprisingly-large hill (at one point, I ended up off-road somehow and literally had to scale a short bit of rock-face and then tumble through cacti). When I reached the top, the sun was in mid-set and was bathing the town of Hvar in a warm, golden-red glow (see photos for further evidence!).

I then joined Justin and Lindsay at a bar to finish watching the Spain/Paraguay WorldCup match, and nipped off to bed as they were gearing up for another late-night session (they returned at ~3:30-45am). In the morning, we headed back to Split and then on to Dubrovnik where Justin passed out, Lindsay tried to power through (4th of July! AMERICAAAAAAAAA), and I was finishing with the tail-end of my cold.

Posted by DavidJFabe 02:05 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

EU integration and Economics

Industrial economies, free-trade, and stable, long-term development

I've been getting a lot of questions from people regarding the speed of EU integration in the Balkans and I'd like to make a couple public comments in response. Of concern are two major points - one, the timing of EU integration in the short-term, and; two, the effects of EU integration on the less-developed economies of Europe.

1. The timing of EU integration in the short-term.

As of this week, all of Croatia's roadblocks toward EU integration appear to be lifted (or in the process of being lifted). Recent reports from the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of War Crimes in former Yugoslavia) suggest that all major players in the wars of the 1990s are complying, if not fully, to a very significant degree with the tribunal. Croatia still has some information to produce regarding Operation Storm (in which the Croatian military, in conjunction with US military weaponry and personnel, undertook a massive program of ethnic cleansing, resulting in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Croatian Serbs from their homes over the course of 24-48 hours). Additionally, Serbia has yet to either find or turn over Ratko Mladic (the Bosnian Serb general responsible for the Srebrenica Massacre, among other horrendous acts) to the ICTY. However, the EU has issued a report that the pathway to ascension is largely clear.

Thus far, Europe has a hole punched in it running from Slovenia's southern border, along the Adriatic down to Greece's northern border and up against Romania and Bulgaria. That leaves Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia (and Kosovo - status disputed), Macedonia (or Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia - also a disputed issue), Montenegro and Albania knocking at the door of Europe.

The working assumption is that Croatia will join the EU in 2012, with Serbia following suit by 2014 or 2016. However, I think that the assumption is wrong, or at least poorly developed. I think that the likely outcome will be a bulk-integration, or phased bulk-integration of the Western Balkan states. If I had to guess, I would say that the first group to be admitted will most likely be Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Later, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo, simply due to the larger structural hurdles facing those countries, and the significant degree of economic, political and judicial reforms necessary before they can come in line with the acquis communautaire.

Many Croats would bristle at my suggestion that they would have to wait for ascension until Serbia and Montenegro could also join. However, there are two issues which makes the group-integration more likely in my mind (none of which have any relation to Macedonia's membership bid): 1. Bringing Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro into the EU at the same time would be an effective way of limiting the sometimes petty squabbles that block ascensions. Take Croatia's bid, which Slovenia blocked due to a territorial dispute over a tiny bay in the northern part of Istria. The EU might not want to foster this sort of dispute between Croatia and Serbia, especially with the bad-blood that already exists. That isn't to say that there is a chance of violence, but only that there is a chance of unreasonable block-headedness. 2. A group integration could go a long way toward cultural reconciliation between Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.

However, this still leaves a big fly in the proverbial ointment - the question of Kosovo, and the question of Bosnia...

Serbia's ascension, while Kosovo remains outside of the bloc, would potentially create an untenable political situation in the Balkans. Serbia has, for better or worse, refused to acknowledge Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. In so much, might Serbia choose to ignore any request by Kosovo for European membership (because doing so would be a de-facto recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty)? Such a move would be deeply unfair, but entirely predictable. Additionally, it would almost certainly cause a storm on Serbia's political scene, as many in Serbia would feel that ascension WITHOUT Kosovo represents a recognition of independence -- something that would almost certainly cost the political future of Serbia's pro-western government. As such, it might be absolutely necessary to grant Kosovar membership at the same time as Serbia's membership.

More than any other state, Bosnia needs structural help and political reconciliation. Leaving them out, while Serbia and Croatia walk into the EU, would be a slap in the face of the painful experience of the 1990s. It's wrong to lay wholesale blame on Serbia or Croatia-proper for the crimes committed by the Bosnian-Serbs and Croats. However, Serbia and Croatia operated with a degree of complacency in the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the horrendous crimes that happened on Bosnian soil. The result of Bosnia being left behind might actually be a deterioration of Bosnia's path toward stability -- something that should be avoided at virtually any cost.

With regard to Macedonia, they've only been stopped from joining the EU due to Greece's absolutely asinine claim that Macedonia's name implies the existence of an aggressive territorial claim on the northern Greek province of Macedonia. I don't even need to go into that, except to say that Greece and Macedonian diplomats are apparently getting very close to a solution. If Greece can't figure out how to play nice, though, I think that it's time the EU steps down on them hard -- which functions as a not entirely related, but a tenuous pivot-point toward the other big issue I want to address in this post.

2. The effects of EU integration on the less-developed economies of Europe.

I'm a hesitant, yet still enthusiastic (try reconciling that!) supporter of EU-integration. My support for the EU experiment stems from my belief that political and economic integration is good for decreasing the propensity for bloody conflict. After all, who wants to fight when: a. you're comfortable, and; b. fighting would harm not only the economy of your neighbor, but your own economy. However, I'm hesitant due to the actual methodology employed by the EU and other free-trade blocs.

The recent crisis in Greece (along with Spain and Portugal) gave (what should have been) voice to my criticisms of predominant free-trade institutions. Namely, my criticism goes to the necessity that capital actually remain in a geographical area for true development to occur. Generally, capital development is the result of a period of significant domestic industrial development. Take Germany or the USA, both of which industrialized heavily during the first 75-years of the 20th century, before becoming service-based economies. In these so-called "post-industrial" economies, the standard of living raised as a result of long-term domestic development. Capital exists independent of manufacturing (regardless, and I'm not going to delve into it too deeply here, there has been a decline in the standard of living in both the US and Western Europe as a result of the shift to a service-based economy, which complicates my analysis). In contrast, places like Argentina, where previously there had been a significant degree of capital investment by the Western powers due to the low wages and lack of labor-protection, there remains comparatively little investment due to the flight of capital to yet cheaper destinations in south-east Asia. What good is industrial development when capital ownership (and therefore the flow of money) gets up and leaves?

Greece, in many respects, is the victim of similar problems. In the decades prior to Greece's EU ascension, Greece was subject to a right-wing dictatorship which isolated them politically and stymied development. Greece underwent virtually no industrial development during that period (similar things could be said about Portugal and Spain). When Greece walked into the EU, the EU was effectively nothing more than a free-trade bloc with a customs union. In effect, Greece's pre-industrial market was wrenched open and German, French and British goods were rammed in -- resulting in a shift to a post-industrial service economy (without any of the benefits of being post-industrial). The only jobs created were low-pay and lower-benefit. On top of that, with these established, post-industrial giants, where was Greece to develop economically? Instead, Greece took the reasonable approach that all post-industrial states should (at least in my estimation) and expanded social-services to a significant degree to make up for the lack of (possible) economic development. At the same time, the Greek economy was bleeding Drachmas (and now Euros) due to the dramatic drain that neoliberal economics have on domestic economies -- only ~10% of every Drachma/Euro spent in the Greek territory actually stays in the territory, because the profits move to where the capitalists live: Germany/France/UK/etc... This leaves little tax-base, little spending power, and little developmental potential. Greece was a sinking ship from the beginning - (mostly) not because of their own mistakes, but as a result of the zealous expansion of the European free-trade zone.

What about Croatia, Serbia, Montengro, Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania (and Kosovo)? They're maybe slightly better off than Greece (and in varying degrees), but many of those states forwent a decade or more of economic development due to a combination of war and overbearing international market forces at the exact wrong time (I would happily delve into this more if it wouldn't require its own multi-page analysis).

I'm worried about what might come as a result of EU integration in the Western Balkans. Namely, I'm worried that the unified EU market will eliminate the chances for significant capital growth domestically (some development will occur, sure, but we'll never see Serbia reach parity with Germany unless space is made for Serbia's domestic development), while at the same time, austerity measures will do much to harm the political stability of the EU, and thereby undermine the stated goal of the EU -- to reduce squabbles and warfare between European states.

My solution to this problem is every bit problematic as it is untenable. However, I can't think of an alternative solution: the EU needs to make space for a modicum of economic protectionism within the fledgling and hopeful member-states. To me, I can't see another way in which Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, etc... could generate the tax-base necessary to support a strong, post-industrial social-state (which I see as necessary, in turn, to maintaining a stable, war-free Europe). Unfortunately, I can't imagine a main-stream economist proposing such a resolution to the problems facing Europe (and the developing world), nor can I imagine Germany/France/UK/etc... agreeing to such a proposal, considering the decline in real-wage values that happens to be plaguing the various post-industrial service economies.

One thing is certain, though: for Europe and America to move forward in prosperity, we need to jettison the neo-liberal mentality that market-forces are next to god and realize that a greater degree of economic-leveling needs to happen. Nothing is more dangerous to humanity than powerful people without obligation or accountability. After all, economic power is not really a thing-apart from political power.

Posted by DavidJFabe 06:20 Tagged educational Comments (0)

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