Stories from Quick Reads and Eastern & Central Europe
The image of the poorest segments of the population rummaging through trash cans has, unfortunately, become a common one in many Balkan countries in the past few years. From some of the 38,000 pensioners who currently receive the minimum monthly pension of barely 120 euro in Serbia, not enough to survive an entire month on, to the numerous Roma living in Serbian cities, many have turned to searching the last resort for food and clothing items – the neighborhood trash collectors.
A group of artists, dubbed “Blatobran” (“Mudflap”) entered and won a competition at Mikser Festival 2014 in Belgrade recently, their project being a “neighborly hanger” (“Komšijski čiviluk”), devised for hanging edible food and clothing items that those more fortunate in Serbia throw out. As the group explains on their Facebook page:
[The] idea behind the project ‘Komsijski civiluk’ (thank you Mikser for making it happen and TTK for the final product ‘The Neighborly Hanger'). Many poor people every day dig through garbage bins looking for food, clothes and recycling materials. Of all the segments of the population, the Roma are the most vulnerable. This project was designed to raise awareness of food waste and recycling and to help the poorest citizens to use it; about 50% of wasted food in industrialized countries ends up in the trash even though it is edible. The idea is to place ‘Neighborhood hanger’ next to garbage container so that citizens can leave the food and clothing that would be available to users in a dignified manner and to contribute to the quality of life of local communities.
According to a report [uk] by RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe), heads of district police departments in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv have been ordered to set up Facebook profiles. As of June 25, 2014, all of them can be found and contacted through the social network, which the Head of the Lviv Regional Department of the Ministry of Interior believes will ensure prompt reaction [uk] of law enforcement officials towards reports from citizens.
Public trust towards law enforcement institutions in Ukraine has reached an all time low during the recent public uprisings, known as #Euromaidan. After a consequent change of government, the new Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov has led a practice of publicly reporting on his activities through a personal Facebook profile [ru], which has been received positively by a large audience.
POINT, the international conference on political accountability and new technologies in Sarajevo, has used its skills to aid in relief of the ongoing disaster affecting three Balkan countries – Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. BosniaFloods.org, the first tool developed by the participants, specifically targets Bosnia, because the situation in this country was made particularly abysmal because its government structure hindered disaster coordination.
In Bosnia, the floods and landslides directly affect over 1.36 million people, about 1/4 of the population, and lack of information in English inhibits people abroad who would like to help. The multinational team congregates and translates bits of information currently spread around the web. It addresses their credibility, mindful that in Serbia and possibly elsewhere there were attempts to swindle prospective donors via false bank accounts. Money is probably the easiest kind of aid to send. The people affected also need food, clothes and medical aid that can be delivered from other European countries, as well as volunteers who could coordinate such efforts within their countries.
Macedonia has a long tradition of humor, caricatures and satire, including hosting of the World Gallery of Cartoons. With the appearance of new media, many aphorisms and satirical tales are now modified into tweets and Facebook statuses, while the classical forms of caricatures, jokes, and short stories have given way to digitally altered meme images or satirical news articles modeled after The Onion.
Among the leading sources of such satirical news in Macedonia is the section “para-news” of news portal Okno.mk, satirical news site Brejking.net, another humorous site Panika.be, and the well-known portal Koza Nostra. The name of the latter is a play on words, combining the term “Cosa Nostra”, a term often related to Sicilian Mafia in popular culture, and the Macedonan word “koza”, meaning goat, surmounting to “Our Goat” in direct translation.
Новинари од меинстрим медиумите во Македонија и во Белорусија револтирани од извештаите на меѓународната организација “Репортери без граници” ќе прават контраздружение “Репортери со граници”. Целта на здружението е да се пишуваат извештаи кои ќе бидат многу пообјективни и авторизирани од владите за да не се доведуваат новинарите во неоријатни конфронтации со своите власти.
- Мораме да се спротивставиме на надворешната пропаганда која се повеќе зема замав а ја предводат разноразни неѓународни организации и организации под контрола на Сорос. Целта е таканаречени независни новинари да ги преземат нашите медиуми. Но, нашето контраздржение ќе ги разобличи овие обиди – велат добро упатени новинари од иницијативниот одбор.
Journalists from the mainstream media in Macedonia and Belarus aggravated by the reports of the international organization “Reporters without Borders” will form a counter-association “Reporters with Borders.” The goal of the association will be to write reports which will be far more objective and authorized by the governments, so the journalist would avoid unpleasant confrontations with their authorities.
“We must stand up to the foreign propaganda which increases under leadership of various international organizations and organizations under control of Soros. Their goal is to have so-called independent journalists take over our media. But our counter-association will expose these attempts,” claim well-informed journalists from the initiative's board.
According to the World Press Freedom Index report by Reporters without Borders, in 2013 Macedonia reached a rank of 123, from to the relatively decent rank of 34 in 2009.
Angie Ramos guest blogs [es] at Tintero Político about the crisis in Ukraine and after analyzing different key factors involved concludes with the reaction of the internacional community:
The thing is, the international community, facing cases like this one, acts subjectively as it depends on the magnitude of the interests involved to support or express rejection to some interventionism in various countries. Is it that some countries have privileges for the international community? For instance, in the case of the conflict between Great Britain and Argentina regarding Falkland Islands, a referendum carried out on the population, where 98% of the population voted for staying under Great Britain's administration, received support, while in Crimea, there is no will for acknowleding the legality of the process.
Serbian daily Blic reports on a curious case in which Serbian insurance company Takovo Osiguranje has, in writing, refused to pay damages to the widow and children of a car accident victim, based on his ethnicity. Blic journalists and an attorney representing the victim's family claim that the insurance company clearly stated in their written refusal to pay out damages that the family is legally owed:
…“da se javio neuobičajeni broj nesreća u kojima je stradao veliki broj učesnika romske nacionalnosti – u vozilu našeg osiguranika bilo ih je čak sedam”
…”that there has been an unusually large number of accidents in which a large number of victims have been of Roma ethnicity – in the vehicles of those insured with us there were as many as seven”
A Russian chocolate company in Novosibirsk has released a new candy bar called “The Crimea” with the slogan, “Just try to grab it!” A product announcement shared with the press features a super-hero character wearing the colors of the Russian flag, standing before a map of Crimea, with the following tagline:
Даже в то время, когда страна принимает непростые решения, мы не перестаем улыбаться. Потому что мы—Россияне!
Even in times when the country is making difficult decisions, we never stop smiling. That's because we are Russians!
The company responsible for this new confection, “Chocolate Traditions,” has produced other specially themed sweets. Earlier this year, it announced a fudge bar called “the Viagra.” There are also several holiday-themed candy collections, for Victory Day, Women's Day, and so on. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the Crimea chocolates costs 130 rubles (about $4).
Russian Internet users have showed great interest in the new Crimea-themed candy bar. According to Yandex's blogs search engine, the past few hours have seen over a thousand posts on the subject. Many Russians have noticed that the chocolate bars expire after ten months, leading several bloggers to joke that Russia's occupation of Crimea won't last another year.
В российских конфетах “Крым – а ну-ка, отбери” срок годности 10 месяцев. В январе Крым вновь станет украинским. pic.twitter.com/10y2Zhd4uu
— Льовочкинъ (@slevo4kin) June 5, 2014
The Russian candy “Crimea—just try to grab it” has a shelf life of 10 months. In January, Crimea will become Ukrainian again.
The anonymous LiveJournal blog hardingush, run by a member of Russia's Ministry of the Interior special forces operating in Ingushetia, is now closed. RuNet Echo has previously highlighted [Global Voices report] this blog as part of its series that focuses on bloggers in the volatile North Caucasus. The blog had been ranked one the most popular in the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, and at the height of its popularity was one of the most highly rated LiveJournal blogs in Russia, receiving hundreds of comments per single blog entry.
Many had speculated about the hardingush's origins, with some bloggers wondering if the whole blog wasn't simply a very well made public relations stunt on the part of Russia's security apparatus. hardingush had previously closed his LiveJournal, but resumed blogging under a different account — molonlabe. Currently the original page shows only one post, about dogs. The link to the mirror site, molonlabe is in the comments. There, in his final post, HardIngush writes:
У меня для постоянных читателей блога есть не очень приятное известие. Ну, я, собственно, предупреждал об этом раньше. По ряду причин дальнейшие публикации в этом блоге невозможны. Короче, это последний пост в моем блоге. Никому не нужны проблемы, а я тем более их не люблю сам себе создавать.
I have not so good news for the regular readers of the blog. Well, actually, I was warned about it previously. For several reasons, further posts on this blog are impossible. In short, this is the last post on my blog. Nobody wants problems, and I especially do not like to create them for myself.
He is probably talking about the fact that his profile has become publicly visible — to the point where there have been numerous attempts to deanonymize him. He concludes:
Спасибо вам, что были со мной все это время. И помните, пока мы есть – у террористов нет шансов в России. Дураки не погубили страну, куда там отмороженным фанатикам.
Thanks to all who have been with me all this time. And remember, as long as we exist – the terrorists do not have a chance in Russia. Fools couldn't not ruined the country where there are frostbitten fanatics.
Was hardingush a conscientious special forces officer who just wanted people to understand him and his work, as he portrayed himself? Or was he a successful media project? His true identity will probably never be known, and neither will his motivation for blogging.
Independent student magazine Izlez (Exit) published photo galleries originally posted by students Dena Miladinoska and Kristina Ivanova [mk] of the state-run dorm for medical students at the University of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. The students posted the photographs of the desolate living conditions in an attempt to incite improvement of these conditions, similar to the initiative started several weeks before by the student residents of the Goce Delchev student dorm in Skopje.
Во меѓувреме, студентската населба „Невена Георгиева-Дуња“, лоцирана во кругот на универзитетските клиники во Скопје и попозната како „Медицинар“, останува нем сведок на несреќниот студентски живот во земјата. Ако не сте знаеле, неминовно да се спомене, секој студент месечно издвојува три илјади денари за сместувањето во „Медицинар“. Што се добива за тие пари?
In the meantime, the student quart “Nevena Georgieva – Dunja,” located within the campus of university clinics in Skopje and better known as “Medicinar” remains a mute witness to unfortunate college life in Macedonia. A little known but unavoidable fact is that each student pays a rent of 3.000 Denars (50 euro or 67 US dollars) per month in “Medicinar.” What do they get for their money?
— Излез (@Izlezmk) May 9, 2014
In Skopje's “Medicinar” students not only have to do their laundry manually, they have to do it in what were once paint buckets.
Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.
As news portal InSerbia reports:
He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.
Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.
Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:
"Život je avantura, ako ga živite hrabro." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014
"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014