Feb 182015
 

Erbil woke up this morning to news of a major Islamic State attack on the Peshmerga line defending the city, about 28 miles away, in villages along the road to Mosul. According to CNN, the attack began at 9pm last night, and the fighting was so close that coalition aircraft couldn’t bomb IS positions: the risk to Kurdish forces was too great. According to reports, had the thin defensive line broken there would be “little standing between ISIS and the Kurdish capital,” though it does seem the attack was less an offensive on Erbil and more of a diversionary provocation to draw the Peshmerga away from Mosul.

I came to Erbil more to get a sense of how a national identity coalesces after a period of trauma (basically the Kurds have been under attack for decades; they were famously gassed by Saddam Hussein amidst a genocidal eradication campaign after Operation Desert Storm, but also fought their own civil war in the 90’s and have been repeatedly persecuted by Turkey) than to learn about the effects of the emergence of the Islamic State. But the proximity of last night’s attack naturally made that more of an issue.

I couldn’t tell much from my hotel window, so I got online to see what the expats were talking about in an Erbil Facebook group I’d joined. Within 30 minutes of someone posting a link to the CNN article (CNN was ultimately the most authoritative source on the attack), there were more than 60 comments in the discussion. The mood was tense. First, there were several frantic requests for more information, and better sources. Then a plea to remain calm, mixed with some information via someone’s colleague who talked to a colonel on the front line basically confirming the CNN report. Then, I thought, the conversation took a strange turn. A few people started berating those who were posting information, saying that merely discussing the attack played into the IS propaganda machine; instead the narrative should be “the Peshmerga are attacking IS positions!” The conversation eventually reached a sort of equilibrium in which a few people shared false information (including one woman who claimed that planes couldn’t engage IS because the fighting was too close to Erbil – clearly untrue) and were quickly rebuked, most seemed to be more curious than concerned, and others continued to express general support for the Peshmerga and disapproval for sharing even objectively accurate news.

I’d had enough of that, so I went out and made for the center of Erbil, where the citadel – claimed to be the world’s “longest continuously inhabited urban area on earth [sic]” (Lonely Planet) – stands surrounded by Erbil’s bazaar, which yesterday was completely packed when I walked through just past noon. When I returned today just past noon, it was…packed. In fact, in no discernible way did today feel any different than before, somehow more disquieted, or subdued. Men sat together and drank tea, women browsed through book shops… at one point a couple of young kids walked by me and made it about 20 feet before they realized I was a foreigner and they could practice their English with me. “Hello!” they shouted. “How are you?” I turned and waved. As I continued around the citadel, I heard behind me perhaps the remaining extent of their English. “Thank you! I love you!”

So what is it like to be in a city 28 miles away from attackers the likes of IS? It’s hard to say, because it doesn’t seem to make sense to consider Erbil through that lens. Though it’s clear the Kurds in Erbil feel emotionally tied to their Peshmerga fighters (below, a picture of a Dodge Charger in a camo paint scheme and bearing the Kurdish flag, in honor, says the owner’s nephew, of Kurdistan’s militia), there’s no sense of hardship or of living under threat here. The normalcy is striking. I felt the same when I was in Sarajevo in 2010. Just 15 years after the city had been held under a choking siege while throughout the country Bosnian Serbs committed genocide against their Muslim neighbors, the dominant imagery of contemporary Sarajevo was that of young people hanging out in cafés, drinking coffee and watching soccer with friends, while others shopped for handbags in the city’s shiny new malls. I suppose the lesson here is: what else should you expect? I finished my walk thinking that Erbil today is yet another affirmation of the indomitable human spirit, a spirit that says “Thank you Peshmerga, fuck you ISIS,” and goes on about its day.

When I returned to the hotel I went back online to check the Facebook discussion. The attack had been definitively repulsed, but I was curious to see how things settled down, and if there was any new information. But when I logged on, the whole post was gone, erased in favor of a “Keep calm and support the Peshmerga” poster. On Facebook, just as on the street, it was as if the attack had never happened.

"Did you see my uncle's car?" Sarkawt asked as we munched popcorn in his small shop for men's clothes. "He painted it to honor the Peshmerga."

“Did you see my uncle’s car?” Sarkawt asked as we sat on plastic stools in his cramped men’s clothing shop, munching on freshly made popcorn. “He painted it to honor the Peshmerga.”

 

 Posted by on February 18, 2015 at 7:13 pm
Jun 042013
 

BEIJING, CHINA

Apart from my sister’s 30th birthday (I’m determined not to let her forget it), today marks the 24th anniversary of the crackdown on student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. While hundreds of students were killed that June 4th, today the day is best known outside of China for Tank Man, and one of history’s most poignant photographs.

You’d be hard pressed to find that image floating around television stations or the Internet here in Beijing. Around this time every year, Big Brother kicks into high gear, sending police (and cameras) to Tiananmen and censoring the Internet, even blocking search terms as seemingly innocuous as “today,” on Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter (Twitter, of course, is blocked here year-round). Even searches of “5.35,” referring to May 35th, will yield no results. Meanwhile, a friend of mine snapped a picture (that got picked up by a NYTimes blog) of custodians casually collecting flyers someone had released in Tiananmen. Many riding in her bus, stalled in traffic while history was literally swept off the street in front of them, had no idea why their commute was being held up.

I was going to comment on how surreal it is to be inside the Security State on such a day, to see the flashing lights of police cars at a rate enough above normal to notice, but not enough to think it strange; to watch my Twitter feed fill with commentary about the anniversary and censorship (#Tiananmen is currently trending) but wonder how many people I saw on my way to work even knew the protests happened, to worry slightly about what I post myself because I am, after all, here at the whim of the politburo. But then I flipped through the dozen or so open tabs I have running in Chrome, bookmarks for articles I intend to read later. Here are a few of the headlines:

“Photos from Guantánamo’s Force-Feeding Facilities”

“Is Political Reporting Dying?”

“The Many Secrets of a Bloated National Security State”

“Leaks Inquiries Show How Wide a Net Is Cast”

“Letter from Loretto”

And now I feel I no longer have the moral authority to write about the lack of freedom here in China, the aggressive silencing of dissidents, the casual intimidation by the State against would-be protesters through government-issued ID cards and closed circuit television among other both more and less sophisticated tools.

I’ve written about this elsewhere (including my graduate school application essays), but it’s beyond obvious to me that, in the name of security, America has progressively given up so many of the values we as Americans continue to consider part of our identity, the values by which we compare ourselves with other nations. If as a country we wish to stand as an example for others to follow – or hell, even if we simply want to maintain our feelings of cultural/political superiority so that on June 4th we can say without irony or crippling cognitive dissonance, “Wow China, that’s messed up,” we must do better, and we must demand of our leaders that we do better.

 Posted by on June 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
Aug 112011
 

Well this is interesting. Shared a cab with a Danish guy named Daniel from the guesthouse to the bus station, stopping along the way to take a picture of the statue of Bill Clinton (seriously, they love America here. There are American flags all over the place. As I noted in a FB status, this and Albania may be the only foreign countries where Canadians should, as a rule, say they’re American instead of the other way around). The cab dropped us off about 100 yards outside the bus station and we had to walk in. Daniel’s heading to Skopje as well and we both needed tickets (buses run to Skopje about ever hour so we both figured we’d just get here and then figure things out). But before we’d gotten far, a driver in a smallish bus stopped and yelled to us, “Skopje?” We looked at each other, then back at him and said, ” Uhhh, yeah?” and he took our bags and ushered us into the bus. We doubted that is standard operating procedure even here, so we confirmed twice that the bus was in fact heading to Skopje, but it still felt a bit suspect, and we were both glad we weren’t alone.

That was about 15 minutes ago. Now we’re parked at an actual platform at the station, and things feel a bit more legitimate. Some guy even came by and made us walk unto the station to get tickets. We’d already paid the driver (he gave us our money back), but I think the guy wanted to be sure the station got its 50-cent station fee. We should be leaving for Skopje in a few minutes now.

***

Having an iced mocha now at Caffè di Roma in the place where people in Skopje hang out at night. Somewhat eclectic soundtrack – heard Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep” for the 14th time this trip (I’ve been counting [update from Belgrade: 16 times, now]), which was followed by Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” Ok, but the current song, Creed’s “Higher” is an interesting choice. A few more thoughts on Pristina before I write a bit about Skopje. I’ve been trying to think of what it is exactly that makes a city seem poor. Maybe this is an obvious question, but what are the specific things we process to arrive at that conclusion? I think it’s more than physical indicators: old and poorly maintained cars, obstacle-courses-for-sidewalks, exposed wiring in even nice restaurants’ (Home’s) bathrooms. I’m not sure why, but I don’t feel satisfied by that kind of explanation. Besides, my thought wasn’t that Pristina looked poor, but that it felt that way (the word “poor” feels like a perjorative, but I can’t think of another way to say it right now, so that’s what I’ll use), so that feeling has more to do with an aura than the city’s physical state. As in Podgorica, I had this nearly overwhelming sense of joylessness walking around during the day. Not that there was an abundant feeling of sadness, just an absence of happiness. Perhaps I was naive to expect a palpable excitement in the air now four years after Kosovo’s independence, but Pristina lacked that “new country” feeling, if such a feeling exists. On that note, I didn’t see nearly as many UN or NATO vehicles out on the streets as I thought there’d be. I think their presence would have lent more of an air of the excitement I was expecting.

Finally, the word that’s come to mind today when people I’ve talked to have asked me about Pristina is “dusty.” In part because the roads are mostly crumbling and because the climate is rather arid, plus the total lack of any kinds of emissions standards, the air in Pristina is laden with particulates. Yes this is of course a physical feature, but just as the word aura is related to the word air, this physical atmospheric condition has, I think, a depressing effect on the figurative one.

In the end, I’m not entirely sure what I expected of Pristina, so I can’t say if I got it or not. I’m definitely glad I went, but I’m also glad to be writing this entry from Skopje.

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 Posted by on August 11, 2011 at 6:45 am
Aug 112011
 

Yawwwwn. Good morning from the world’s 2nd newest country, though it’s recognized by fewer countries than is the younger South Sudan. Drifted in and out of consciousness for most of the ride, and it’s 5am now. I’m getting coffee at the bus station as the sky gradually lightens outside. I think I’ll try to catch a taxi to the guesthouse (it’s not really a hostel) at around 7, see if I can drop off my bad there, and then walk around until I can check in, shower, and take a nap.

5:20 now and it’s quite light outside already. Maybe I’ll leave a bit earlier. I have plenty of time in Pristina, though, so there’s really no hurry.

Having lunch now at a place called Pishat. The professor (of Guesthouse Professor) let me check in at 7 this morning, so I napped until about noon, showered, and walked into town. Wow, that was delicious: “chicken breast with vegetables in a pot.” English is spoken in most restaurants and cafés within a few blocks of the UNMIK headquarters. It’s a good thing, because Albanian is one seriously weird language. Like Basque, it’s thousands of years old and is unique in Europe.

A late dinner now at a place called Home. Getting the house special. It just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

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One of the dozens of American flags flying above Pristina

Spent most of the afternoon wandering around the city center and in and out of cafés. Before dinner I walked up a long series of stairs to get a view of the city and a feel for one of Pristina’s nicer neighborhoods, and ended up at a massive compound that held US Aid, among, apparently, other offices and organizations and what looked to be a fair amount of housing. The US Embassy, I believe, was down the street. I walked around the wall of the compound and there found the NATO K-For base. In the evening’s fading light (hi, Twilight Song), standing between the imposing wall and security cameras of the compound and the watchtowers and concertina wire of the NATO base was enough to make me uncomfortable, so I bailed back down the hill and am now, in the immortal words of George Carlin, “safe, at Home.”

Thoughts on Pristina: Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s definitely interesting to be here, but in a more esoteric, cerebral way than I found, say, Mumbai to be interesting. The city is awfully poor – the infrastructure is the worst I’ve seen in the Balkans – but it’s also obvious there’s been a lot of foreign investment, and Pristina has the highest concentration of tall, glass-clad buildings than any city I’ve been to in the past two weeks (admittedly, that’s not saying much). There’s really no middle ground: either a building, road, restaurant etc. seems brand new, or it’s falling apart. There really doesn’t appear to be a “nice” part of the city – the main pedestrian mall bakes under the sun during the day and is lined with men selling roasted corn and cheap toys instead of cafés. Crossing the street is a bit of an adventure, too. The four-lane boulevards have crosswalks but are for the most part lacking signals – people just start walking across, hoping cars will stop for them. I must admit I waited sheepishly on the side of the road my first few crossing attempts, waiting for a local to come by so I could cross a step behind and to the side of him (on the other side of oncoming traffic, naturally). It took a while, but I think now I have faith that cars will stop for me, and I’m proud to say I’m able to cross the street all by myself.

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NewBorn, the most famous sculpture in Kosovo. Over 150,000 people signed it in the first 24 hours of Kosovo's independence.

Well that was interesting. Back at the guesthouse after quite the misadventure getting here. I left Home at around 10:30 (after a bit of rakija, on the house, of course) and came this direction, but the unfortunate phenomenon of things not looking the same at night as they do during the day got me helplessly lost. I believe I had considered that earlier today as I was walking to the center and had planned on taking a cab back, but I guess after dinner I forgot that was the plan. So I passed a taxi stand, walked up the hill, discovered I wasn’t where I thought I was, tried to get somewhere where I could figure out where I was, failed, asked a convenience store owner for help but either he couldn’t read my map or I was off the grid entirely, and walked back down to that taxi stand, jumping in a cab 40 minutes after I bypassed them the first time. €2 to get back to the guesthouse, but I’m glad for the stroll I took.

The streets are absolutely packed right now. I don’t know if I’ve been to a place where the expression “The streets come alive at night” was more applicable. As empty and sad as the main pedestrian mall was earlier today, it’s happening now. But, oddly, the vast majority of the people out appear to be teenagers. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising given that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe, but still, it made me a bit uncomfortable. After a few minutes I realized it reminded me of walking out of a movie theater in a mall at about 11pm and being surrounded by 16-year-olds. Just an odd situation. The mall wasn’t the only busy area, though – (mostly) young people populated neatly my entire route up the hill. Tonight’s the first time on this trip when I’ve felt at all unsafe. The political situation in Pristina is really fine, and the people here truly love Americans – I actually made a point to wear my one shirt with English on it when I went out today – but you never know what a group of possibly drunk teenagers who are trying to impress each other are going to do. In Zagreb I met an Australian guy who’d been attacked so severely by a group of 10 kids in Split, Croatia, as he and his girlfriend were waiting for a bus that he had to spend the night in the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion. Obviously I’m fine but being out tonight did put me a bit ill at ease. And the State Dept travel notes didn’t make me feel much better. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4170.html#crime

Oh man, my room here has satellite cable and Eurotrip is on. Shall I watch it? Yes.

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 Posted by on August 11, 2011 at 6:27 am
Aug 052011
 

(At Vinoteka now, one of my favorite restaurants from my last trip to the Balkans).

A few incidences in my relatively short life have convinced me that difficult journeys often yield rich rewards. This is true on two levels. The first is simple: arriving at any destination after having a hard time getting there is, well, nice. It’s a challenge overcome. Maybe poor planning put me in a difficult situation, but I worked my way out of it, and that invariably feels good. The second is a bit harder to define, because the cause and effect relationship is far from clear. Time and again, though I’ve found that good things happen after a difficult journey. My faith in this phenomenon is nearly absolute – it’s one of the reasons I chose to come back to the Balkans. This trip is more challenging than some (less, of course, than others), and, as a result, better or more interesting things will happen on it, as if by some force not unlike Karma. In fact, I’m a bit mystified as to how or why this kind of thing consistently occurs, but it’s getting to the point where I’ll deliberately embark on more difficult ventures because I believe the payoff on the other side will be greater. Perhaps confirmation bias is responsible for such a belief, or maybe it’s just that difficult travel depresses my emotional state, so a rise at its end would be more dramatic. Regardless, perception in this case equals reality, and I’ve almost come to expect (seemingly) extraordinary things to happen after a trying series of events.

(An alternative explanation is that I’m just easily pleased or tend toward gratefulness, which would lead me to be overly delighted in perhaps normal, quotidian occurrences. Not that I’d consider that a bad thing.)

In the case of Banja Luka, that “great thing” was the hostel owner, Vladimir. Vladimir is a Serb (though his name is Russian), 27, who grew up in the RS, the Serb part of Bosnia and Herzegovina as defined by the Dayton Accords, the agreement that ended the war in 1995. He’s got a degree in programming (that would, in all probability, allow him to work in nearly any country), is the son of a former RS intelligence officer, is curious about people and about the world, and above all, is wonderfully social. I came back to Bosnia hoping to engage even just a few people in conversation about the current state of affairs here; I didn’t expect anyone I met to also talk so freely of the past, and I certainly didn’t expect that person to be among the first I met here.

Our conversation started about cycling (I was wearing a T-shirt with a bike on it when I checked in, and Vladimir, among other things, runs a small store where he sells bicycles), but quickly (I don’t remember how, exactly) shifted to politics, a near-impossible subject to broach here (hence, if this wasn’t obvious already, my delight). The conversation was clearly going to last for a while, so we went to the bar just downstairs, I offered to buy him a beer (he got juice, instead), and we talked for nearly 90 minutes. If anything, I wish the conversation had been just a bit shorter, as it was nearly impossible for me to remember everything we talked about. Here is a cleaned-up version of my notes, which I took later that afternoon.

On happiness: Apart from politics, Vladimir and I spent a good deal of time talking about happiness. In the RS, he told me, the average workday is about 4 hours. That’s it. That leaves lots of time for, well, just about anything else. Last year, I wrote a bit about Belgrade’s café culture and how spending a few hours at a café is part of almost everyone’s day. Just today Vlad’s had coffee with friends 3 times. “If I have a problem with something, I talk about it with my friends, and I’m better. So psychotherapist here, he is poor man!” While the problems with a 4-hour work day don’t need much extrapolation (after 10 years of construction, a highway project in BiH has maxed out at 30 kilometers, for example) happiness and our gross misconceptions of how to obtain it is a favorite subject of mine, so it was interesting to hear Vladimir’s take on it. But then things got a bit more serious.

On the current political situation: “It’s not that we (Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks) hate each other, it’s that we don’t trust each other.” I wonder, though, is constant suspicion that different from hate? That which we call a rose / By any other name…

On the war: According to Vladimir, the war wasn’t about religion. It was about money. Foreigners wanted access to markets Yugoslavia was doing well in, so money poured into nationalistic organizations, which in turn convinced the nations they were enemies of each other. “Yet to understand what happened you must understand 1000 years of history.” Like many in the region, Vladimir seemed nostalgic for the Tito era, when, despite clear differences between them, Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs all got along, the economy worked, etc. In hindsight, it’s clear (to me) that the situation was rather untenable. I didn’t push Vladimir here – I was more interested in hearing his unfiltered take on history – but talking about foreign influences without mentioning Tito’s death and the collapse of the unifying ideology of communism is, well, incomplete. Still, I think there’s a lot of truth to his claim that the media is incapable of portraying two “good guys” fighting each other – there must always be one good guy and one bad guy, and the Serbs have always been the bad guy.

On unification (between the Federation and the Republika Srpska): Not going to happen. Ever. As soon as the US, Germany and France stop paying attention, the RS will “be a new country.” In a test referendum, ~95% of respondents in the RS would vote for independence, says Vladimir. I didn’t ask him about turnout for that test… In 1992, about 64% of Bosnians turned out for their referendum; 99% voted for independence. Vladimir says the 2 (or 3) sides are simply incapable of talking to each other. “In the Federation, they want Sharia law. I’m Orthodox Christian – I don’t want that in my country… the sides will never agree.” His prediction? “In the next ten years, there will be a war for an independent RS.” Would the RS ever join with Serbia? “We’d like that. Serbia is like our mother… but no – it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, and the RS would just be a little part of Serbia. It would be better to be independent.”

On the difference between religion and ethnicity: “This is the only place in the world where your religion is your ethnicity. If I were to become Muslim, the Serbs would say, ‘You’re not one of us. You’re Bosniak.'” Vlad’s father, who was in “the intelligences” during the war, says you can’t even criticize the Orthodox Church – it’s un-Serb. But Vladimir has his criticisms. Overall, he struck me as very open minded, and being so is something that’s clearly important to him. He opened a hostel in large part because he likes talking to others, especially foreigners, and hearing their perspectives. Still, it was surreal to have a conversation with someone who has a totally different version of history than I, yet has completely rational opinions in the context of that history. It’s not as if Vladimir understands the history of the Balkans exactly the same way I (and the West) does and has simply drawn crazy conclusions – it would be easy to dismiss that. But it’s clear Vladimir is both intelligent and well-educated – he was a serious pleasure to talk to – yet he does not think Ratko Mladic is really a criminal, for example, and he believes accounts (or stories) of extreme brutality during the war tone overhyped partial truths, which are, he says, more dangerous than complete fabrications. I should also mention here his line about how Serbs are such experienced fighters (they’d been fighting ever 10-50 years for the past millennium), they (the Serbs) were looking forward to fighting the US, but, he said, with a hint of regret I found only mildly discomforting, “the US only attacked from the air.”

On governance: The biggest problem with BiH is that is has 14 governments (if I’m not mistaken, they are those of the RS, the Federation, the independent Brčko Canton, the nine cantons of the Federation, and then the country as a whole), and they all must agree for anything to get done. That of course, is impossible. Of all the political entities, Vlad says, the RS is the most functional because it is unified and only has one government – whatever Banja Luka decides, goes. The same isn’t true for the rest of the country. [So far, there are two potential thesis projects from this trip: the genesis of BiH’s government as created by the Dayton Accords and prospects for its longterm stability; and the differences in primary and secondary education between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs in BiH and their effects on identity, historical memory and nationalism]. Vlad says people in BiH are paying a lot of attention to Belgium, another European country divided between two nations, to see how such a government might be able to function. I noted that Belgium hasn’t had a government for more than 300 days. “400,” he corrected me, “just a couple of days ago.” It was unclear whether or not he found this discouraging.

On Mostar: One of the things I’m most interested in is trying to figure out how exactly Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks consider their differences, given the close links between religion and nationality here. Vladimir seemed to answer that earlier when he said they’re basically completely synonymous. Still, I asked him about religious icons as nationalistic symbols – for instance, in Mostar it seems to me the crosses in town are less a symbol of Christianity and more about being Croat. I don’t think Vladimir understood my question — there really is no distinction here. But he did offer his take on Mostar – the Muslims and Croats were in competition. “First the church was here,” holding his hand over the table, “then minarets went to here,” holding his other hand higher, “then church was higher, than minarets… and then finally the Croats got a hill and put a cross on it. The Muslims don’t have a hill, so they lost. I’m waiting for them to get a helicopter and carry a minaret up into the air!”

So went our first discussion. I’ll write more about Vladimir later. For now, I’m obliged to note that once again, I’ve received free liquor after asking for my check, though, as this is my second time at Vinoteka, I rather expected it. Bosnia’s herb brandy is, at any rate, a powerful digestif. For the record, €21, including tip, for wine, entree, dessert and brandy at a very, very fine restaurant. But now it’s off to my film. The one I wanted to see was already sold out, but Broken Mussels, a Turkish film, looks promising.

 Posted by on August 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm
Aug 052010
 

Was just listening to BBC World Service on NHPR. Political killings in Rwanda. Story reads like a movie script. Deputy minister of opposition party killed. Journalist investigating murder brutally assassinated. Rwandan government vehemently denies all allegations, says they’re the product of a few disgruntled opposition party members trying to “take advantage of the attention Rwanda is getting” [for political killings?] The foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, is in London and agrees to meet with the BBC. Says there’s no way the government is responsible for these killings, because the government is extremely popular and would have nothing to gain from killing the opposition. Interviewer points out that the perhaps the reason the government is so popular is because no other parties are allowed to register for the election. Minister says of course there’s a viable opposition, as there are four people running for president. Interviewer discusses former intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya, who says there absolutely were political killings and that he was in a position to know. As if scripted by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock, Mushikiwabo says this guy has a long history with Rwanda that’s mostly negative, and he can’t be taken seriously because he’s left the country. Interviewer says a lot of people who disagree with the government have fled the country, and pushes the minister to provide names of high-profile opposition members who are still in Rwanda. She balks at first, saying “our citizens criticize us,” before, after further prodding, offers a couple of names of people who are “highly controversial” and “divisive.” Interviewer points out that their parties have not been allowed to register for the election, and asks Mushikiwabo about Rwanda’s credibility problem with its former supporters. Mushikiwabo parries, saying there’s no credibility problem as all the negative news coming from Rwanda is, again, the product of a few malcontents seeking attention for themselves.

The interviewer did a great job at helping us all to see what’s really going on in Rwanda, but a big part of me wanted her to say, “Let’s cut the crap. Your government, starting with Kagame, is killing people. The world is watching.” But then, I suppose that would be disingenuous, wouldn’t it?

P.S. Really, Naomi Campbell?

 Posted by on August 5, 2010 at 7:51 pm
Jun 032010
 

Back in the hostel. Big march happening in Sarajevo supporting Gaza. I’m guessing about 2,000 people. Lots of ¨Allahu Akbars¨ and ¨Death to Israels!¨ I wasn’t more than 5 feet away and took lots of pictures and some video, which I’ll post later. I think I got a few good ones before someone walked up from behind me and pushed my camera down. This is the second such protest here in 3 days. While some people appeared on edge, the police and most of the protesters seemed relatively calm. Clearly people who suffered through a siege 15 years ago sympathize strongly for the Palestinians, who are also, of course, their religious brethren. Interestingly though, many of the protesters seemed to be of direct Turkish, rather than Bosniak, descent.

I’ll post any applicable updates, though I think things have calmed down for the evening, and I’m off to Budapest early in the morning.

 Posted by on June 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm