Friday, February 22, 2008

Poor Serbia!

It seems as if Serbia will never get away from their "bad guy" image. First of all, I am totally safe in my little nook of Belgrade, and have yet to have a negative encounter due to being American. Living here during this politically unstable time has really given me a different perspective on all that is going on with Kosovo, so I thought I could share.

When talking with Serbians (and you better bet I ask questions about Kosovo all the time, both with my climbing friends and among coworkers), all are very against the Radical Nationalists that often appear on TV. However, they do find it sad that Serbia is losing Kosovo as it has historically always been a part of Serbia, even before the boundaries of Yugoslavia were drawn after World War II. While there is no escaping the wrongs done on both sides (Kosovo Albanian's and Serbians) during the ethnic cleansing of the nineties, they feel as if Serbia is getting the short end of the stick. Back in the 90's the Ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo were the first (with the Kosovo Liberation Army- KLA) to attack Serbs. Of course the very Nationalist Serbians struck back until NATO bombed Pristina and Belgrade to stop the madness.

Many of the people I have talked with admit the wrongs that Serbia did during this time. They do, however, wonder why the problem was not taken care of almost 10 years ago instead of NATO governing the stagnating Kosovo all of this time. From fellow American's, I have heard that Serbia lost the "moral right" to govern Kosovo. I don't necessarily feel it is that black and white. In the meantime, Kosovo is the real loser as it currently has over 50% unemployment and almost no economy to speak of (aside from the money it gets from the Albanian mafia). Hopefully it will get some help in the near future to get back on its feet.

All of the issues have come to a head as of last weekend when Kosovo declared independence with the backing of the US and parts of the EU. Other countries such as Spain, Russia and even Canada are not recognizing Kosovo as independent yet as they have areas of their countries that they hold on to by a thread (51/49 in Canada). Yesterday, 300,000 Serbs swarmed to Belgrade- on busses with Serbian flags hanging in the windows and on the free trains from the country- for a "peaceful" demonstration that included lots of talking in Serbian followed by a prayer ceremony at Sveti Sava, the largest Orthodox church in town. During the demonstration, fewer than 100 protesters stormed embassy row downtown and attacked the Croatian, US, Belgian and even Canadian embassies. Many of the protesters were young, drunk men who, after burning the US embassy, proceeded to ransack all of the street alcohol vendors and then steel some nike shoes from a local sporting goods store. I believe they were just young, drunk and caught up in the excitement.

The news is magnificent with its ability to twist the story. CNN began by calling it a "Peaceful Serbian Demonstration" to by the end claiming it was "Anti-American Protests" after showing the same five minutes of footage for three hours. We sat in awe in my apartment, flipping from the live, fairly calm Serbian footage to the CNN replays of the fire in the US Embassy. Moreover, a few days ago, BBC recorded Serbian President Boris Tadic as saying "Serbia will protect Kosovo's boundaries with any method necessary." When I looked up the speech, I realized that they cut it off before he could say ".... except war." That is some selective editing for you.

As far as my safety, I have not had any negative encounters on the streets (and it is very apparent that I am NOT Serbian). The US Embassy has yet to evacuate anyone, and I am headed with a coworker to Bulgaria to enjoy my extended weekend and get away from some of the craziness. Perhaps I should start a movement of all of my friends to some little-known piece of paradise, rise to the democratic majority, and then declare independence... it could be my own little way of becoming president.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Skiing in the Alps

It occurred to me while on my February break that I have now accomplished a life long dream.... skiing in the Alps. Jamie, Ethan and I headed to Italy and Switzerland to meet up with Bryan (a friend of mine from Seattle who is living in France right now). It was the trip of a lifetime!
We realized that for three people, it would actually be economical to rent a car and have a little freedom on a big road trip. As this was my first time renting a car, it made me feel OLD. It was a 12 hour drive to our condo, and the journey was half the fun. On the way to Cervinia, we stayed at an old prison that has been converted into a hotel. It is in a super funky/artsy neighborhood in Ljubljana. Our cell was complete with bars over the door.
After our jailbreak, it was Cervinia or bust! Driving into the Alps, we finally got a view of the Matterhorn (the biggest reason we decided to ski at Cervinia and Zermatt) which got bigger and bigger as we neared the mountain. As it turns out, our apartment for the week was set at the BASE of the Matterhorn, and the entire ski area had fantastic views of the mountain. I would hate to count the number of times I looked at the Matterhorn and was blown away by how impressive it is.

Our six days of skiing were fantastic. The weather was beautiful and we all had a great time... believe it or not, six days didn't seem like enough skiing. We even enjoyed "apres ski" a few days, complete with a live band and some great dancing.
Although we were sad to leave the mountains, we had more adventure awaiting us on the way home (not to mention my legs were shot from all of the skiing). To break up our drive home, we planned a night in Venice. While Venice has never been on my list of cities to visit, it was incredible. Driving into the city, Jamie and I were trying to navigate while Ethan drove to our hotel. Finally, Ethan made the comment, "maybe we can't drive to our hotel." Sure enough, we had to take a boat! The canals were fantastic, there really were gondolas, and we travelled everywhere around Venice by boat. What a strange, but interesting city.

We arrived back in Belgrade to find all sorts of excitement over the split off of Kosovo (more on that later). The trip was the trip of a lifetime, and I am ready to ski again before the end of the year!