To police or not to police

I come from a family that has always prided itself in community service. It seems to be part of our DNA.  Whether it be education, medicine, or other safety services…that would pretty much describe our extended clan. My uncle was a fireman and policeman for 45 years. My cousins, his son and daughter, were also New York City police officers. So when I hear such harsh criticism of the police here…I have the tendency to defend them. We all know that police anywhere are far from perfect. But it is one hell of a difficult and dangerous job.  I believe that credit should be given where credit is due. And also that criticism should be dealt out when it is earned. The police force of Stari Grad certainly earned this critique. Let me tell you why.

I used to get furious (and in all honesty, I still do) when I would hear people dish out excuses on why they would not call the police when they knew of a crime or illegal activity.  Many dismiss involving the police as a waste of time, that nothing will come of it…except perhaps them becoming a target.  I, instead, chose to engage the police.

I met with local police officers to talk to them about our community and some of the problems we are facing.  I live in Donje Biosko, just above Faletici and below Barice. The entire area is a water protection area. The large karst topography feeds Moscanica River with fresh drinking water. The water most of the Old Town drinks. We have a huge illegal logging problem here. Whether it be local thieves looking to make some quick and easy money or unfortunate social welfare cases who can’t afford wood to heat their homes over the winter, the forest in our neighbourhood is rapidly disappearing.

the woods

So my logic goes like this:

  1. This is a water protection area…and we all need water…so it must be worth protecting.
  2. When one witnesses a crime, such as 300 hard wood trees being cut down this winter alone, one would assume they have a civic duty to notify the relevant authorities to stop this.
  3. When one notifies the proper authorities, that they would be obliged (and perhaps even motivated) to react and intervene.
  4. That I would be seen as a civic partner for assisting the police in doing their job more effectively.

I was wrong on all four counts.

  1. Although it is a protected area I have called the police over 30 times in the past year for illegal logging. I only call when I personally witness illegal cutting and I know they are stealing from either state owned or private land. The police NO LONGER respond to my calls and haven’t for some time. I also called the Cantonal Forestry Inspectors 11 times. The first 10 times NO ONE answered the phone. The last time I called, they told me to go on the website, find the email address or fax number, and send them a letter addressing my concerns.
  2. Today I called the police again. The conversation with the dispatcher at the police station of Stari Grad basically went like this,

Me: “Yes, I would like to report illegal logging in Donje Biosko…again. The man is there cutting down the forest right now.”

Dispatcher: “And who is calling”

Me: “Although it doesn’t matter who is calling, my name is Tim Clancy.”

Dispatcher: (annoyed sigh) ‘You need to call the forestry inspection. We can’t do anything about it.”

Me: “So you are telling me that if I witness a crime, as I just did, I have to call the forestry inspection and not the police.”

Dispatcher: “Yes, you need to call them. It’s not our job.”

Me: (getting agitated) “So just so I understand this. I witness a theft, meaning a crime, and I am not allowed to call the police to respond.”

Dispatcher: “That is not our jurisdiction if it’s not over two cubic metres of wood.”

Me: “How do you know it’s not over 2 cubic metres of wood?”

Dispatcher: “You need to call the forestry inspection and they will come out and if they see a need, they will contact us.”

Me: “So by then…a week will pass…the wood will be cut…and you will have no idea who cut it down and how much they cut down. “

Dispatcher: ‘Is it on your land?”

Me: “No, it’s on both state and private owned land. But what difference does that make?”

Dispatcher: ‘Then let the owner of the land call the police.”

Me: “The owner doesn’t live here and do you know this is a water protection area…”

Dispatcher: “The owner of the land will have to call…”

Me: ‘So you are telling me that only the owner of the land who doesn’t know that he is being robbed can report a crime…not someone who is witnessing the crime?”…”Can I have your name please?”

Dispatcher: “You didn’t give me your name so I won’t give you mine.”

Me: “I already told you my name, it’s Tim Clancy. May I have your name please?”

Dispatcher: ‘No you may not, dovidenja.”

  1. So as in the last dozen or so calls, no one responds…and the devastation of our little village continues. The same village that feeds Moscanica with most of its water…which, in turn, provides drinking water for the Old Town, including the dispatcher who basically just told me to fuck off. So I called my lawyer friend and asked what the rules were here…just in case I was missing something. In short, according to the lawyer, the dispatcher broke the law and the police absolutely have to respond to a citizen complaint about theft.
  2. It is fairly obvious that I have become a nuisance for the police. They are neither interested in responding to my calls or solving the rampant theft of property in a village with 15 houses.

Last year I had a similar scenario. This was when the police would actually respond. One of my neighbors, I have his name and surname and have repeatedly given it to the police, was stealing trees from my property as well as my other neighbors property. (I use the word ‘stealing’ intentionally, because cutting does not seem to imply the criminal act that was occurring.) I asked him to stop or I would call the police. He said, ‘call the police, then.’ So I did. He obviously knew more than I did about what would happen. Which is nothing at all.

So this ‘neighbour’ is up on the hill with his chainsaw. The police arrive. I explain to them the situation. They wait for him at the bottom of the road, the only way in or out. After a short while they grew impatient so they drove up. They found him, with a chainsaw in his hand, cutting wood that didn’t belong to him, and a car loaded with logs. Mind you, the car he had (and still has and drives) was not registered and he does not have a driver’s license. The result, you ask? Well, nothing at all. I know, shocker, right?

I asked the police why they didn’t do anything and they shrugged saying “He had less than 2 cubic meters in his car…and he wasn’t driving the car so we couldn’t confiscate it.” I was slightly dumbfounded and replied “But you caught him stealing wood in a car that wasn’t registered and without a driving license. He didn’t put the car in his pocket and walk up there with it!” “Yes, but he has to be driving it for us to stop him.” This ‘neighbour’ by the way, still drives everyday all over the area with no driver license and no registration (he doesn’t even have fake tags, he just doesn’t give a shit, and apparently no one else does either).

So the bottom line is this. I thought people were cowards for not involving the police when they knew of or witnessed a crime. I thought it was the least we could do to try and stop the anarchy around us. I thought wrong. There may be very nice policemen and women serving our communities. But I will tell you this, it is not just the ‘system’ that stops them from doing their job properly. It is also because many of them simply don’t give a shit and they aren’t in the slightest bit interested in dealing with even the most petty of crimes. In short, they can’t be bothered.

Most of the houses here have been broken into and/or robbed at one point.  The forest is disappearing at an astonishing rate (and as an environmental activist I assure you it won’t be long before it has long term negative effects on the water supply if it isn’t having those effects already). The sad realization to me is the reality that they just don’t care. We have reached out time and time again in a cordial and cooperative spirit, naively believing in the police narrative that they ‘need the community behind them to fight crime.’ I confess. I was dead wrong. Someone needs to take me out back for my well deserved lashings.

So I take this message to you all…to the media…and above all to the few police who might actually give a shit: the reason this community does not trust you is because you have not earned our trust. The reason why crime is so rampant in this city is because too many policemen do a half-ass job and aren’t truly dedicated to their jobs. And the reason why the citizens of this city don’t pick up the phone and call in crime is because you have proven time and time again that you are either unable or unwilling to tackle and follow through on the most simplest of cases. You can blame the system, the legislation, and even the foreigners as I have heard on many occasions. But if you’re motto is to protect and serve…you might want to take a long, hard stare in the mirror. You protect and serve fuck all.

Are there bigger problems than cutting the forest down? Sure. But when members of your community continually reach out to work with you to stop criminal acts that will have broad negative effect on the entire community…I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for you to respond and respond robustly.  Your response was, as most warned me about, no response at all. I feel ashamed for you. And have less hope for this city and this country than I ever have before.

Enjoy your good drinking water at home….while it lasts. Jebi ga.

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Walking the walk

The carnage in Syria has gnawed at my conscience since the bloodbath began in 2011. But unlike the Bosnian war, which was up close and personal, or the slaughter(s) in Gaza, Syria seemed just far enough out of reach for me to conveniently put it on the back burner. The flow of Syrian refugees just to the east of here has changed that. It has challenged the very principles we purport to live by. With some of us failing miserably at it. But not Germany.

Germany all too often gets a bad rap.

My wife’s family sought refuge from the brutal war in Bosnia in the early 1990’s. After short stints in neighboring countries they finally made it to Germany in 1993. Germany welcomed them with open arms. My mother-in-law Vasva, who is a stickler for good education, wanted her kids to go to the best schools. In the community they had relocated to, Koblenz, the Catholic school was apparently the best. The hitch was that only Catholics actually go to Catholic school in Germany. A Muslim had never attended that Catholic school in its century-plus old history. That changed with Sabina. She was accepted without prejudice and became the first Muslim to be admitted and graduate from there.

I admit it, Sabina’s appreciation and admiration for Germany has certainly rubbed off on me.  But it’s more than that. The German people are living proof that people can change. That we don’t have to be slaves to parts of our ugly past. That we can be better. That it takes a lot of work and discipline to heal the collective wounds of the past. And that there is redemption in taking responsibility, collective responsibility.

For all the jokes on how mechanical, orderly and anal the Germans can be and insist on being, there is a lot to learn from them. They certainly rank among the most progressive nations in the world today. They shine in domestic policies such as the environment, food production, renewable energy, education, health, child-care, and housing. They nurture a capable and fairly paid labor force. Germans fly German airlines. They buy German products. They collectively live rather modest lifestyles.

We can give them shit about their treatment of Greece. And yes, they were too harsh. But I honestly believe they would do the same thing to themselves if they got themselves in such a mess. And besides, nobody’s perfect (just ask the Greeks).

There is a genuine humanity that resonates from Germany, however, that is rare for a contemporary world power. The US and UK no longer welcome the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free like they did for my ancestors. The Russians and Chinese never have. France did so reluctantly. Some will dismiss Germany”s generosity as a way to strengthen their blue-collar work force. But people coming to Germany are coming first and foremost for humane treatment. And that they will most certainly get. They undoubtedly come for work but also for fairness, for a good education for their kids, and for the opportunity for a normal life. For the most part, Germany delivers on that promise.

Now I am no Germanophile, trust me. That would be my wife. But I do tip my hat for them leading by example and exemplifying progressive European thought. What the Syrian people have been through is no less than a torturous half decade of evil and brutality. Germany has the might to front the bill…and they are doing so in fine fashion. Imagine getting off a train after escaping war, living in a Turkish desert refugee camp, crossing into Greece on a dingy, and then walking through four countries to be met by this:

welcome to germany

Credit should be given where credit is due. Kudos to Deutschland…and danke schon for showing the world that Europe still has a heart and is capable and willing to walk the walk.  .

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Dog eat dog world

This may be depressing. Then again, maybe not. No, it probably will be.

Not too long ago we had the good fortune to move into the eco-house we have been building for seven years. It was a rewarding and equally frustrating process. One I am most certainly grateful for.

I sat on the terrace to admire the view a few days back. Trebevic Mountain dominates our southern skyline. The peak of Bjelasnica veers into view to the southwest. We even get smaller peeks (no pun intended) at Jahorina and Treskavica. It was a sunny day. The birds brought the silent forests to life. We were finally home.

Then the chainsaws kicked into action. Several of them at once. The echo from the surrounding valleys tricking me as to their location. The sounds of trees being felled was soon dwarfed by the explosion of machine gun fire. Although I didn’t have a visual and the echoes of rapid gun fire bounced back and forth across the valley, I knew the exact location and origin of this violent disruption.

Well over 300 trees, small and large, were illegally cut down this past winter in our little neighborhood alone. We all know the name and surname of at least one of the culprits. I have regular conversations with the police, who have – on several occasions – caught him in the act. The dispatcher sighs in annoyance when I call now. I call almost every day when I hear the chainsaws yanked into action. And promise to keep calling until it stops.

One of the culprits, a man named Enver Klico, pulled up to my house not long ago to apologize for stealing around 20m3 of wood from our little patch of forest. He said ‘I didn’t know it was yours.’ My answer to him ‘but you did know it wasn’t yours?’ He was confused by my rebuttal. Why would I care if he cut someone else’s forest down, right? In the trunk of his car he had around 15 fresh logs. When I inquired about his load he said ‘ oh, this is from state owned land.’ He asked me not to report him. I told him if I saw him again in this neighborhood I would call the police. He sneered ‘zovne’ (call them). Two hours later he was back with his unregistered car and driving his vehicle without a drivers license. The police caught him. He was back the next morning and again that afternoon cutting down trees. And most mornings since then. I still call the police almost every day.

Maybe I’ll find myself in court again for naming names. But the truth has to mean something, n’est pas?

Donje Biosko, our little village of a dozen homes at 900 meters in the hills around Sarajevo, is a water protection area. The large karst field feeds Moscanica River in the valley below, which provides most of the Old Town with drinking water. The loss of forest cover from here will and does effect the quality and quantity of water that finds its way to the Moscanica source. No one seems horribly interested in this fact. Not for now anyway.

The rapid gun fire comes from the police shooting range down the road. The only open air range in Europe that is located in a residential area in the capital city. A residential area that survived 1,400 days under siege. Although every single resident of the neighborhood has signed a petition to stop the constant gunfire just a hundred meters from their homes, the municipality has issued a questionable ‘concession’ to the ‘Green Berets Association.’ These are supposed to be the men that defended the city during the siege. They have switched roles now, offering free and prolonged torture for all those traumatized by the longest siege in modern European history. It is a playground for police with heavy machine guns, right smack in the middle of town.

Now back to the terrace.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large man walking a pit bull down our street. The pit bull had a heavy chain around its neck that dragged on the ground. He was severely undernourished. The pit bull that is. The man walking him more resembled the mountains around us in size.  A neighbor later confirmed my suspicions that he was ‘training’ (aka starving and torturing) the animal for dog fights in Hladivode. Happy days.

I looked around at the handful of handsome homes in our idyllic little community from our perched terrace. Almost all of them had been robbed at some point in the recent past. Some more than once. The police regularly tell us it’s a ‘local job’ and they ‘have their suspicions’ as to who it might be. Yet no one has ever been caught. None of us believe anyone ever will be.

This is most certainly a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the monumental problems Bosnia and Herzegovina faces. I find it, however, rather indicative of the current state of affairs. Nothing seems sacred or safe. Not much of anything here is fair. It’s a brutal and bitter reality that the citizens of this country have to swallow on a daily basis. And I wonder how long it will be until something gives way. When and if it does, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

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Sarajevo School of Hard Knocks

“Imaju čudne akcente, nisu rođeni na Koševu. Ne znam ni da navijaju za one plave ili one bordo. Nema ih na nasim fotkama iz mladosti. Ne žale za starim vremenima. Čestitam Jim i Tim. Nadam se da ćemo i mi od vas naučiti kako danas biti Sarajka/Sarajlija.” — ‘They have strange accents, they weren’t born in Kosevo Hospital. I don’t know if they cheer for those in blue or those in bordo. They aren’t in our photographs from our youth. They don’t yearn for the old times. I congratulate Jim and Tim. I hope that we will learn from them how to be Sarajevans today.’ Amra Baksic-Camo (A behind-the-scenes star of Sarajevo’s cultural scene and dear friend). Long silence….

tim and jim

Living in Sarajevo is no walk in the park . Although the city is well-known for welcoming its guests with some of finest hospitality one can imagine, when one ‘goes local’ one can expect a long-term initiation into the school of hard knocks. We can be harsh critics of each other, very often too harsh. We can show unbending stubbornness in the most petty of circumstances more often than we care to admit. Without a serious layer of thick skin, Sarajevo can wear one thin, even for domicile Sarajevans.

Sarajevo, and indeed Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a land of contrasts though.

I again began this blog with only a remote sense of what I might say and even less of how I may say it. I think Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later Sarajevo, has made me a more humble man – both because of the war and the generally modest lifestyles people live. It has made me a better man. It has made me a better person. It has given me a perspective on life, and what matters most, in ways that no other place has done. Sarajevo is not an overtly progressive or liberal city, though. It is sometimes frozen in its traditions, both good and bad. It seems to have always gotten the butt-end of historical and geo-political quagmires since the time of Christ. But there is always, always a struggle to break free of those confines.

Despite some claims to the opposite, Jim and I are no heroes. Although I can’t speak in his name I will take the liberty to say a few things in our name. Perhaps it’s our ‘bostranac’ status that gave and still gives us a sense of urgency to help our neighbors during the floods. I know a lot of that comes from lessons we learned in our new homeland. Lessons too many have forgotten. But in all honesty, it was us that reacted to you…not the other way around. We simply joined the spontaneous and selfless efforts of thousands of Sarajevans like Caki, Emela, and Ines to help those in need.

I am personally very humbled by Amra’s post….and, quite frankly, by the remarkable show of support from those we know and those we don’t for our April 6 Award nomination. I know we don’t take an honor like that lightly.

Amra: We aspire to speak BHS as good as Alban one day. Even if it’s still with a slight (and strange) accent. Our sons were both born in Vojna (kakvo Kosevo :) ). I root for ‘plavi’ because I have to, my father and brother in-laws would disown me if I didn’t. But I don’t have any problem giving a cheer for the ones in bordo either (i oni su nasi despite popular plavi beliefs). Jim could give a shit about blue or bordo. And no, we can’t be found in old high school photo albums. Those too have become a distant and alienated part of our lives that we left behind. The only old times we yearn for is when we all stood together as one and simply lent each other a helping hand – because we all knew our personal well-being was so dependent on the collective well-being. And the reason we stay is because we know that is still the essence of Sarajevo, Sarajke i Sarajlija. Hvala Amra.

And thank you Sarajevo – for keeping us humble. For keeping us real. And for continuing to teach us lessons from the school of hard knocks.

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iphones and Macbook’s

It’s been an awful long time since I pressed the blue ‘publish’ tab on my wordpress blog administrator. My draft box is full. None of them seemed all that worthy of the blue button. I wonder if this one will. I’ve asked myself to press it regardless of what may emerge in the coming minutes. Let’s see if I listen.

I sit here in one of the powerhouse towns of American intellect. No, it’s not Boston or Boulder, but rather Palo Alto. Home to Stanford University where my better half is a visiting Fulbright scholar. I, to be honest, have been brought in as the live-in babysitter. The Silicon Valley is no Tokyo…but I certainly feel many steps behind the curve. I could be wrong that I’m the only person here without an i6 phone and a featherweight Macbook but I’m probably not.

Wrong that is.

I don’t even own a credit card. I pay in cash. People here look at me strange. Since when did cash become a foreign currency?

We spent the last few weeks in San Francisco. It would take a lot to describe my second impression of this amazing city. I’ll try to be short.

Progressive. And by that I don’t mean drum circles and gay parades. They simply come with the territory of a city that thoroughly embraces not only diversity but cutting edge technology aimed at sustainable and efficient living. It’s a city with an open mind. Probably as open as they come.

diversity

Modest sophistication. For a town with so much going for it I sort of expected a bit more snootiness. I’m a New Yorker and, just like Sarajevans, we think we’re from the best place on earth… and have the attitude to prove it. San Francisco has style. Food. Design. Architecture. Fashion. Recycling (yes, i do view recycling as a sophistication). But folks here are laid back, outdoorsy and genuinely friendly. I’m sure there are plenty of snobs smirking at us paupers from their mansions in Marin or the Silicon Valley, but I am one who holds modesty in high regard. San Fran gets an A+ on that front. What they aren’t modest with is prices. Real estate prices are astronomical. They scare the shit out of me. Then again, house cleaners get at least $20 an hour.

Organic. As many of you know, I have a serious problem with the American food industry. It is a big lie of GMO, additives, preservatives, hybrids, and animal torture. There is a deep sense of awareness here, as much as there is for recycling in Germany or Sweden, for organic and wholesome foods. The industry plays all the tricks they can on us, no doubt. Many organic foods ARE in fact genetically modified. The American definition of organic versus the rest of the world’s certainly differs. Nonetheless, people care. Green matters. Organic is more the rule rather than the exception.

Diversity. I sat in the park the other day with Noah. I listened to French, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Arabic being spoken around me.  It was music to my ears. Colors and ear candy galore. Freaks, hippies, LGBT, Asian, Black, White, whatever. It just works here. People here don’t really talk about it much. My presumption is that it is a non-issue for most. Kudos. 

Yet whilst I walked through Muir Woods, sipped wine at the Chateau Potelle in the Napa Valley or visited the Visitor Center in Fisherman’s Wharf, my mind constantly wandered back to the Boz and Herz. Every good idea was one to steal and try to implement back home. For me, the greatest charm of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the symbiosis of its cultural and natural heritage. San Francisco, on a very different scale, shares that charm. They just get so many things right here. And I believe that much of that comes from the ‘live and let live’ mentality. People will be creative, by nature, when we allow them to be. By allowing bio-diversity to thrive in nature, we know it becomes more resilient and productive. The community of life is only strengthened by it. Back home, all too often any diversity at all is seen as taboo and, aware of it or not, reinforces the status quo. And I think it’s killing us.

Point Reyes along the Pacific Coast or the Cataract Falls Trail in Marin, for example, are mecca’s for locals and tourists alike. They are well maintained, protected, and visitor numbers are staggering. Bosnia and indeed the Western Balkans have as much stunning nature to show for as any corner of the world does. Where we miss out on, however, is the creative and organizational sides. By creative I don’t mean our budding repertoire of film makers, actors, musicians, or writers but rather ordinary folk, like you and me, with a story to tell or an idea to be realized.

With a bit more of out-of-the-box thinking and better management I see what I have always seen for Bosnia and Herzegovina – a land of opportunity (forgive the cliche). Our potentials are limitless. And we are the only ones standing in our way. So it goes.

Oh yeah, Happy New Year too!

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Dream with me

I ordinarily would agree with people who argue that donations should be made directly to the Red Cross or other well established, ‘official’ channels. It is their job and they are (or at least should be) well versed in any type of emergency response. But I also understand people’s distrust in Bosnia and Herzegovina as there have been many deviations in the not-so-distant past and I have already experienced them in the field in recent days. The organization of the response by mandated institutions to this crisis by most accounts is, at best, piss poor.

Although I’m flattered by your trust and confidence, I am personally hesitant to take anyone’s money…and that’s why I am not setting up any personal accounts or gofundme or whatever the hell they’re called. At this point in time it’s a distraction from the monumental task at hand and what I feel most comfortable – and motivated – to do, which is to be in the field.

I posted the Terra Dinarica bank information yesterday and I am most comfortable working through that channel. Don’t forget though…there are many good organizations doing great work. So keep your eyes and ears peeled for who are doing the right thing. I know it’s hard to decipher who are the most efficient and honest brokers but trust me, they are out there. I’ll do the same.

For those of you itching to pitch in…dream with me here for a moment. Sanida Hasanović Čar helped rekindle this idea for me with her initiative to help the kindergarten in Maglaj (which we will be visiting today). We did something similar to this in Albania and Kosovo during the conflict in 1999 with Save the Children. It was an exceptionally powerful tool. Safe zones for children. Listen.

After the assessments and whirlwind tours of delivering aid in the coming days and weeks, the reality of the calamity that just happened is going to set in and it will set in hard. Many kindergartens that I helped establish in Bosnia with Save the Children in the late 90’s have been completely destroyed. But the structure and organization of them is not. The idea is to get kids in a ‘normal, familiar, and safe’ environment as soon as possible. Call it front line intervention if you will. This allows the parents and indeed the whole community to deal with the challenges and heartache of cleaning and rebuilding knowing that their children are well looked after and happy. It also helps them deal with the trauma of their experience.

Again, the impact we can have as a small group of wanna be well-doers will not save the world, but it can make a real and meaningful difference to a handful of communities that we can help rather quickly. I have already been in touch with the leaders of the kindergartens that we trained and equipped back in the day. I am getting a full report with photos from them in the coming days.

There are several phases to this process, obviously. The first being cleaning and sanitizing the play spaces and getting public health officials/experts to inspect the safety and give the green light to move back in. This too can be done rather quickly in some places, although not all. Phase two is equipping the spaces with new mattresses, carpets, kitchen facilities, toys, books, desks, and everything nice.  That’s where you come in. The third is the easiest, bringing the kids back to their play spaces.

kid-safe-zone-children-playing

In short…as the dust clears I think this is a noble way to donate your money and have a direct impact on the affected communities. The networks are all in place. We know where the kindergartens are. And it can be done fairly rapidly in many places. Same deal, little or no overhead. Complete transparency. No bull shit.

I will always be frank and up front with the many people who have reached out through cyber space and beyond. I am moved by your compassion more than I could possibly explain in this therapeutic blog of mine (my therapy, of course). I can promise you this. I will keep running around like a madman trying to get good information to you quickly. We will continue, as long as we can, to move aid to isolated affected areas. But I think that the safe zone is a splendid way to chip in and, perhaps most importantly, it’s something I KNOW we have the capacity to do and to do well.

Expectations of the people involved in the aid efforts are high…and we are all stretched thin. What I want to make sure of, from our little corner of this crisis, is that we deliver what we say will. Again peeps, thank you for the outpour of support. We’ll keep on truckin’….I’m just trying to keep it real with y’all.

Tell me what you think…

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First Response

I’m about to hit the road but I feel compelled to write this before I do.

Justifiably, this is an emotional moment for most of us. A good chunk of the country is under water, so many have lost everything after perhaps just getting on their feet from the war years, and our government seems to have, once again, failed us miserably. I have a slightly different take on the latter.

We all know what to expect and what not to expect from our beloved institutions. First response, particularly in a poorly organized country like ours, should have been a complete disaster. But it wasn’t. Not even close. Hear me out.

Crisis is a time to come together. And that we did. Granted, the resources and response (or lack of) from the Civil Protection Force was less than admirable. However, the armed forces response was swift and effective. The mobilization of GSS (mountain rescue service) and the rafters made my heart swell with pride. They not only came through put passed this very crucial test with shining colors. They saved lives, many lives. And that’s what it’s all about people. These folks are damn good at what they do, especially with the limited resources at their disposal.

We may be angry or feel even desperate – especially for those watching (or trying to watch in between cooking and music programs) from afar. And although it all seems that the response has been less than mediocre – we came together and in a very meaningful and effective way.

We’ve shown ourselves, once again, the true meaning of solidarity. It should feel good.

The tasks ahead are monumental indeed. First response will soon be over as the water dwindles and everyone is brought to safety. The overwhelming show of support from ordinary citizens was heartwarming but the spontaneous civilian mobilization and organization of emergency aid that reached people within 24 hours was fucking amazing. It proves to me that can have a country, in fact, there just might be one buried under this veil of incompetence and nepotism. We just have the wrong people running it at the moment. Do us all a favor and vote them out this year, will ya!?

The next phase is crucial and cannot be an emotional improv job. We need to get organized…and I honestly believe that is on the horizon. Many may want to hurl insults at the international community for doing nothing but let’s be honest with ourselves, first response is our job. Our friends will be here (and, in fact, already are) for the very complicated and technical next phase of emergency response, rebuilding homes and infrastructure, and working to build the capacity of our slow and inefficient civil protection force.

This could (I know…I’m the irrational & eternal optimist) be a wake-up call to the powers that be that October is close and we won’t forget this. In a cataclysmic event such as this I think it could have been much worse. With years of uncontrolled logging, authorities turning a blind eye to illegal development on unstable terrain, poor water management, and little or no investment in organizations that are supposed to protect life and property – I’d say we did ok. Not great. But ok.

Can we do better? Always. I hope we all realize there is a long road to recovery ahead of us and that we don’t get collective amnesia in a month’s time. People will need our help and I’m confident that in the coming days the organization of the aid effort will improve. It’ll never be perfect, it never is.

Keep the faith. And thank you for reminding me why I’m proud to call this place, fucked up or not, home.

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Stepping up

During the war most of the aid that arrived in the country first went to the most populated areas. Eventually, if they were lucky, some of the aid trickled down to smaller towns and villages. For that very reason, our team always took the road less traveled. In our 4 ton Bedford trucks we delivered aid to some of the most remote communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More often than not the recipients of that aid had never even seen a humanitarian convoy. They were off the grid. And due to limited capacity and resources the places that didn’t make the news didn’t get the aid. Simply put.

I am touched that Bosnians from far and wide have stepped up to help even as the flood waters continue to rise in some places. In the absence of anything resembling an organized nation (with the exception of the armed forces) – ordinary people have rallied to do what in most developed nations would be the responsibility of the authorities to whom we pay taxes.

I hope, however, that we all ask where the 20 million KM emergency fund that was intended for civil protection disappeared to. I hope we ask why rafting companies and volunteer mountain rescue services had to come to save people trapped in their homes instead of a well-equipped civil protection force. I hope we ask why local officials continue to turn a blind eye – and even give permits to – poor people who build homes in dangerous landslide areas. I hope we ask ourselves why we are such gluttons that we allow them to continuously disregard the safety of our families, homes, and communities. This natural disaster did NOT have to be this bad.

We’ve heard of the heart wrenching stories of families who first lost everything in the early 1990’s to war, managed to rebuild a modest life and home for themselves, only to have it destroyed again. These people will need help, both emotional and material, to go through the rebuilding process once more.

floods

There seems to be a flood (forgive the pun) of aid heading towards Maglaj. And no doubt this town will need all the help it can get. But there are also many other communities who have yet to be even mentioned by the local media. And the wave of water heading from Bihac to Bijeljina will certainly wreak more havoc in the coming days.

I recently formed an organization with some friends called Terra Dinarica. We are not an aid agency but rather a group dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable mountain development in the Dinaric Alps region of southeast Europe. We’re putting that aside for now and will be heading off the beaten path again. Gil Scott Heron once sang ‘no one can do everything but everyone can do something.’ That something for us is helping our friends in Zavidovici, a small community in Bosnia’s northeast.

I have already been asked by many people on how they can help, who to contact, and what is most needed. There are many great organizations, like pomozi.ba or the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society who are organizing aid. Everyone is trying to do their bit. We’ll be heading to Zavidovici tomorrow to first see what they need most. We’ll take a jeep load of baby clothes with us and will let folks know what we learn and what the needs are.

This is not an appeal to help us help them. It’s an appeal to remind everyone, especially diaspora, to help in a smart way. Please be wise on who you send money to. Check the organizations you put your trust in. There are many outstanding and honest organizations and individuals who are mobilizing others to help. There are also others who don’t deserve our trust and who will undoubtedly take advantage of this catastrophe for personal gain.

Too many people in Bosnia know what it means to lose everything. And sadly some have to go through it again. I tip my hat to those who have so quickly stepped up and mobilized to help. Thank you. I humbly follow in your footsteps. peace

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Back in the saddle

The adjustment period after returning from a visit to the states is sort of like digging blindly into a bag of jelly beans and popping them into your mouth before you can suss out which flavor it is. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and other times you just feel like spitting them out. So yet another bittersweet return home to Bosnia. But I won’t bore you with the details. I think they are fairly predictable anyway.

I must say, however, the older I get the more the jetlag tends to kick my white ass. I am on day 10 and a good night sleep is still nowhere in sight. I sit on the couch in the evening and a thin layer of cement forms on my eyelids. It mercilessly forces these protective covers southward. I haven’t the strength to keep them open a second longer. I make my way to the bedroom and lay my weary head to rest. A few seconds pass before I realize, once again, that I have transformed into an agitated alligator. I toss and turn like an everglades 12-footer battling a stray python. I dive and roll as if I’m trying to defend myself from the swamp men putting a bullet between my eyes. I tire, of course. I turn less as the night goes on but my mind has been, until now, unable to trick my body that it’s not 6 hours behind my current physical location. So it goes.

alligator-everglades

 

Since my return I frequently get asked about my thoughts on ‘things’ here. The plenum. The ‘uprising.’ The next elections. American engagement (as if I have in any, way shape, or form inside information on US foreign policy). Ukraine becoming a distraction for the administration. But I am still in alligator mode. I am cruising with my head just above water, keeping a keen eye on things around me. My gut tells me the swamp men are carefully planning their next move. And they often do so by lying low, keeping quiet until the smoke clears. What they might have forgotten is that is where gator’s have the home court advantage. They patiently sit on the silty bottom, perfectly camouflaged into the natural surroundings, ready to defend what is rightfully theirs.

God I need some sleep.

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My Bosnian Spring

Everything seems out of tilt at the moment. Mother Nature brought spring early to our door even if we never really started any sort of winter hibernation. And now the early spring of late winter has brought on the Bosnian spring. I’m not so sure this is going to bring about meaningful transformation, though, despite the calls from many people I know and respect who are happy to finally see its arrival. Let me tell you why.

There is no doubt that things have reached their boiling point. I’m surprised we managed to put ourselves on simmer for so long in the first place. The injustice that rules our lives and our country is, in the slightest of terms, despicable. But have we asked ourselves the right questions…if any at all?

protests

1. What is it that we really want? We rage about change yet haven’t really defined what kind of change it is that we are truly seeking. To be honest, I get a feeling that if laid off workers got the pathetic compensation and the measly benefits they are demanding they would would turn around and head home. The youth are just plain pissed off because, for them, everything pretty much sucks. I get it. But ‘We’ want ‘them’ to ‘change’ ‘things.’ Too many abstractions if you ask me. ‘They’ have already shown that the status quo works just fine for them. And ‘we’ put them exactly where ‘they’ are. So I ask, what exactly do ‘we’ want? Do ‘we’ even know?

2. We aren’t very good at seeing through anything to the end. We seem to have the attention span of a 2-year old. The politicians on the other hand, are incredibly gifted at riding out storms. One of the hang-ups I’ve always had about Bosnia is our lack of vision. We don’t have a clear vision of where we would like to be and how we are going to get there. Whatever that vision is will surely take a whole helluva lot of work. And work is not our strong point. How many of us are really ready to pull up our sleeves to get down to the real business at hand…and the real business at hand is social transformation. It won’t come on its own or by any supreme power. And it requires getting fucking busy. Nerad is our biggest enemy.

3. Some have said that these ‘balvane’ who run this country don’t respond to anything but violence. I beg to differ. Beyond a shadow of a doubt this will be a wake up call of some sort. How effective it will be, only time will tell.  The Arab Spring didn’t produce many desired results. We haven’t seen the Arab world blossom or democracy sweep through northern Africa and the Middle East. Quite the opposite. We tried violence. It hurt. And it hurt badly. Do we really want to go back down that road? I surely don’t. My memory of the pain and suffering due to the ultra violence of the 1990’s is more than fresh. It’s a place I don’t want to go back to and a place I will do anything to keep my son from experiencing. We can burn buildings and go at it with the police…but what is it we are aiming to achieve by doing so? I’m afraid not too many of us have the answer or have even thought of the questions we should be asking ourselves.

I’m not pretending to be a smarty pants. I don’t have many answers for the Bosnian quagmire. I do have a different take on the revolution, which, as I age, I see as the evolution of the mind (and so did Public Enemy). Change may come by violent uprisings but I ask is it the change we truly seek?

My revolution looks a bit more like this:

1. Boycott. Where it really hurts is not in the buildings where they reside but rather the funds they plunder on a daily basis. Civil disobedience comes in many forms. Sit-ins. Protests. Boycotting products tied to the corrupt elite or even refusal to pay taxes is, in my humble opinion, the most effective way to get their undivided attention. A collective boycott hurts and hurts bad.This requires us to educate ourselves and pulling our heads from the sand. If we want to see, we need to look.

2. Refusing to partake in the culture of corruption and NERAD. That means that we stop looking for stela to get a document or see a doctor or to pass an exam. It means that we stop taking shortcuts and start doing the work that is required to bring a society back on its feet. It is time to go to work.

3. Run for office. Or at least get involved. At the risk of sounding like Michael Moore, I really think there are a tremendous amount of talented people who (for very good reason) have been sitting on the sidelines. Political activism comes in many forms. The bottom line is that our country has been hijacked by a hoard of thieves and we have, by and large, either put them there or sat watching as they do their dirty deeds. It’s no time to rest on our laurels.

4. Many complain, myself included, that the war days were ‘better.’ The reason they were better is because we lent each other a helping hand. There was an unspoken solidarity among neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers that has all but disappeared in Bosnia today. Community, strong communities, is where social change takes place. It starts in the mirror and takes roots in our communities. Waiting for ‘them’ to solve our problems is a waste of hope and valuable energy.

Now perhaps I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe the powers that be will truly respond to the threat of violence. My guess is that they do NOT have the capacity to adjust their moral compass and that even the threat of riots will not curve their behavior. They will only scheme and scam more on how to spin this in their interest for the up and coming elections.

The rage and frustration that every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than justified. And yes, we all need a vent when things get as bad as they’ve gotten. In that respect, I stand side by side with every normal member of our society who are earnestly searching for social justice and who are willing the pay the price to achieve that justice. If we’re going to burn down buildings simply for the sake of expressing our youthful rage, I’m afraid we’re barking up the wrong tree.

I believe social change is not only possible but probable. Whatever we’ve ‘tried’ so far has not worked. Maybe this will. I have my doubts. I understand this. I am not surprised by this. But I do question its form.

America had a supreme opportunity after 9/11 for some serious self-reflection. I feel in many ways we missed that great opportunity. I think these riots in the streets of Bosnia need to be a wake-up call directed at no other than us. WE need to be awoken. They are wide awake, robbing us blind whilst selling us the lies of division and fear. We are the sleeping ones in need of a wake up call.

Let us be wise…and awake. peace.

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