The Bosnia Experience

The start of the trip did little to dispel the myth that Germans can be perhaps less than friendly. After arriving at the Munich central railroad station armed with the address of the hotel where I was to meet my father, I approached two men who were leaning against a building, smoking.

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“Excuse me,” I said sheepishly since it´s always awkward assuming someone speaks English when you don’t speak their language. “Could you?…” I said grasping the paper with the hotel´s street name.

“Pausa,” one of them said rather aggressively, and turned again to his colleague. I assumed this meant he was on break.

“You´re not going to tell me where the street is?” I said in amazement.

His friend, perhaps sympathizing with my consternation, pointed to a street diagonal to where we were as being the one I wanted. I found my father and we went out to eat dinner.

The central walking part of the city is delightful, full of people, cafés, bars and performers who would suddenly have to throw a tarp over themselves to protect against the continuous intermittent showers. We dined at a pleasant restaurant, looked into the beer hall where Hitler used to hang out and harangue and turned in.

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Monument to those killed in Srebrenica

Checking in for the flight to Sarajevo was slightly nerve wracking since this idiot of a travel agent managed to mangle my ticket by putting my last name as Gordon. The officious woman at the counter informed me that if the computer didn´t accept my passport I would have to pay for another ticket. If venomous thoughts about somebody could kill them over a distance, my travel agent would have been a dead man. Fortunately, the computer took mercy and all was well.

We were picked up at the airport by Kasey and her son Benjamin, and on the way back the streets were lined with posters of smiling yet wretched politicians, most of which are appealing to nationalism that might once again rip the precarious country of Bosnia apart. Having settled into her apartment, we headed towards the center of town.

We walked around the old town, which is almost equally divided between what was built during the Austro-Hungarian empire and the other half when the Ottoman Empire ruled. We went to a mosque where worshippers seemed unfazed by the hordes of tourist taking pictures and selfies while they beseeched Allah for his mercy.

The museum for Srebrenica was perhaps not the most sanguine place to start a tour but it seemed almost the respectful thing to do and we would be going to that fateful spot later in the journey. Names and images of the 9000 or so victims, men and boys killed over a three-day period, lined the walls, grim documentaries are played and re-played. It is a searing reminder of the world simply turning away from those in need where revenge spawned by an event that occurred five hundred years previously once again spewed evil.

This was really an indictment of the United Nations and the museum was selling tee-shirts that said United Nothing. It essentially caved into the Serbian general who threatened the Dutch peacekeepers who basically delivered the victims into their tormentor’s hands.

One leaves these kind of museums in a kind of daze, unable to comprehend humanity´s barbarity or the insouciance of the rest of the world in a time when professing ignorance is an untenable excuse.

The obligatory photograph was taken on the spot where Franz Ferdinand perished, unleashing misery for millions of young men in the four-year global carnage that followed.

Kasey has several stores in Sarajevo, and many of her clients are Arabs from the gulf states, Qatar and the Saudis. Western indifference about the fate of the Bosnian Muslims created a vacuum happily filled by Muslim countries, with the Saudis funding hundreds of new mosques around the country or the Malaysians building things like shopping centers.

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Anti-Muslim hate propaganda

Kasey told us about a new hotel/resort project spearheaded by the Saudi money was being set up just in the hills outside of Sarajevo. “No alcohol. It will be tough to get the locals to go,” said Kasey.

Dinner was traditional stuffed peppers which satisfied dad´s yearning for traditional “Yugoslav” food. Much wine was consumed (by me anyway) and Kasey and I talked about old times and people that I had long since forgotten about. We have known each other for 35 years and worked in many of the same places so memories are in abundance.

The next day we took the cable car up to one of Sarajevo´s surrounding mountains which gave us a spectacular view of the city. Benjamin and I walked down to the place where the toboggan race had taken place in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, now unused and full of graffiti. When I wanted to go off the path as a short cut to the toboggan track, Benjamin yanked me back and said “be careful, there could be mines.” Just one of the many reminders that just twenty-five years ago, this place was in the midst of a bloody war.

Indeed, the geography of Sarajevo and all of the rest of Bosnia that I saw was such that whoever controlled the higher ground had a huge advantage. Since the Serbs seem to have anticipated the coming war more than the Muslims, they managed to occupy much of the higher ground, to the great detriment of those stuck in the valleys. More on that later.

For lunch we went to a shevap restaurant purportedly the best in the city despite it strange location net to the railway station. There were dozens of Syrian refugees milling about, some drinking, others smoking, all with a look of blank desolation. They are being housed outside the city though many prefer to sleep rough in the city itself.

We dined in a restaurant on the road that had been lined with Serbian snipers raining bullets down on the city. Again, the complete normality of the place today contrasts to the treachery taking place in the very same spot 25 years previously.

The next day we were introduced to Nihad, who was to be our driver for the next couple of days. He was short and extremely stocky, short-cropped thinning hair, gray eyes and a wry smile. He also liked to talk, which was good since what he said was very interesting.
Nihad, like many, has glowing memories of Tito and constantly harks back to the days when everyone, from the street sweeper to general, had a decent life.

“Take my father, he worked for the same company and after 15 years, they gave him an apartment!”

“Me, I work for company for 15 years and after 15 years, all they give me was the door.”

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The village of Sapna, tucked into the hills

We asked his opinion about the Serbs, rationalizing that any enmity was pretty justified given the suffering endured largely due to their perfidy and global neglect.

“I have nothing against the Serbs personally, just their leaders. My wife and I, we lived in an apartment owned by a Muslim. He treat us bad, so I say let´s go. We find another apartment, this one owned by a Serb. This man, he is like father to me.”

His family hadn’t been religious at all, with the commitment to organized aspects of faith restricted to weddings and funeral like many of their Christian brethren.

“But my grandfather one day ask me. When the last time you go to the mosque? I say I don’t remember, and my dad he hits my head, “what do you mean, we went the other day.” I know this is a lie, but I’m just a kid. When my grandfather go out, my father say, “sorry for that, I have to pretend sometimes.”

Nihad drove using his natsat, which mostly worked but got us confused around Tusla where we circled around lost for twenty minutes. We stopped to get gas and Nihad asked if he minded whether he smoked a cigarette. While puffing he lamented his habit.

“I can’t stop, no way,” he said sadly as if it might be the death of him. But for those who have seen death and suffered trauma, death by cigarettes might be a better way to go than being butchered by an ephemeral enemy.

In every town there were posters of politicians.

“With this lot,” Nihab said with derision pointing to the daughter-in-law of the former president Izbekovich, known for her graft and corruption, “sometimes I think it would have been better if the Chetniks had killed all of us.”

It is hard not to see cemeteries everywhere you go, either Muslim or Serb, with not all the dead coming from the recent conflict, but a good proportion occupying the space there.

Nihad dropped us at Ibrahim’s house in the town of Sapna, which was nestled onto a forested hill where still no one dares to go given the extensive presence of mines. He met us with his wife, a lovely and lively woman who wore a scarf, and their family of Iphram, their son, Nina and three children.

We sat outside in a covered veranda Ibrahim had built; bowls with apples, trays with three kinds of biscuits, walnuts, watermelon were thrust upon us, and being hungry and not sure whether this constituted lunch, ate merrily.

Conversation flowed between Nihad and the family, and he left with his hands piled with apples, honey and eggs. He had never met them before and this certainly gave credence to his earnest assertion, which I had considered with a hint of derision, that there was little poverty “because we all help each other.”

He would come back in two days to fetch us and I looked forward to spending more time with him.

Meanwhile, we were ushered inside for a huge lunch for which little room was left in my stomach. Being essentially a self-sacrificing sort, I managed to ingratiate myself to them eating heartily, a process that was continual throughout my time there. Their house was extremely comfortable, Ibrahim had been a builder, in fact had himself built this house and three others on the same road, of various family members who were now all working abroad.

He also praised Tito and the golden years of Yugoslavia, where he plied his trade throughout the country, and, he said proudly, was welcomed into many houses in Macedonia, Montenegro and the other four countries that make up that decomposed former country.

Communication was difficult with Ibrahim and his wife, limited to please, thank you, good, very good and I’m full. The only other words I knew were motherfucker and the like, so not necessarily useable in a pious Muslim household.

Pious in the best sense; never once was religion foisted on us or actually entered the conversation, except in the political sense of Bosnia as being Muslims or Serbs. Shortly after we arrived and were having inchoate conversations that all ended with smiles and laughter, Iphram quietly went to a chest of drawers, got a small rug and then next to the couch started praying. He was himself a man exuding calm, and as he prayed, he appeared in complete peace.

A walk was suggested and Iphram volunteered to show us around. We asked Ibrahim who declined with a chuckle. During the war, apparently, every two weeks he had walked 40 kilometers to Tusla, always having to avoid detection by marauding Serbs who would certainly have killed him, where Iphram and his siblings studied. He was done with walking.

Since mines lingered, the only real place to walk was along the main road in the valley and then up the other ridge. A Serbian town was about one hundred meters away and before crossing over a bridge, walked past a house owned by a Serbian. These people, who are ethnically the same and so look like each other, do the same professional things, eat the same food, have a shared history and still religion divides them.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we drove down through the tiny town of Sapna, up the other side of the ridge and to the farm where the family had spent the entire war trying to survive. The other side, where they now lived, had been occupied by the Serbs who were constantly targeting them with sniper fire.

Now it just seemed bucolic, existing in a kind of time warp where people live off the fortunately very fertile land. The plot had been in Ibrahim’s family for generations.

Before dinner, we exchanged gifts and the kids seemed to love the rubbery toys dad had bought. Nina was a wonderful host and also a calm mother. The kids were lovely, very well behaved, affectionate with both their parents and grandparents, giving us good night kisses without any awkwardness at all.

After dinner, during which we had discussed the Muslim duty to visit Mecca at least once in a life-time, the Haj, Iphram excitedly showed me the television channel that broadcasts 24 hours a day from Mecca of those people fulfilling this obligation.

“I will go, I promise you. It will be wonderful.”

I tried to show enthusiasm. But this didn’t diminish his.

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Sarajevo, and the plaque marking the place where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the catalyst for the first world war

“Look at all these hotels” he said as the camera occasionally focused away from the revelers going round and round the dome. It looked a little bit like Las Vegas, but obviously this impression was left unsaid.

Both my father and I had been wondering (and hoping to see) if any slivovitz would be served, but alas, only more and more food appeared.

On my way to bed, I almost didn’t notice Nina, who usually wore jeans and a tee-shirt, kneeled by the stairs in a kind of robe with her hair covered and whispered prayers. She smiled but didn’t look at me.

The next day we drove to a town nearby, passing intermittently between Serbian and Muslim towns, in most of which the only differentiating feature was a mosque or Orthodox church. We went to a castle that overlooked the Drina river and divided Republic Srpska from Serbia proper. The town itself was bustling though jammed with cars, so we left and were taken to a quaint fish restaurant where Ibrahim insisted on paying.

We stopped in Tusla for coffee, and visited the main plaza and the place where a Serb mortar had killed 70 people in one spot. Again, Tusla was surrounded by hills, and guess who occupied the high ground? It’s impossible to fathom the mayhem and despair that would have followed such an explosion. If you witness something like that, how do you recover? And if you didn’t witness it, unless you have experienced events of human savagery, it is simply impossible to imagine how it could be, or how you would react.

We walked over to a huge swimming complex with pools of various shapes and sizes. For no apparent reason, perhaps to show off who knows, I said that I swam 4000 meters every day. Iphram was stupefied.

“Why on earth would you do that?”

I had no good answer.

Arriving at the house, I decided to go for a walk and ventured to the other side of the valley, finally getting to the top of the hill after much effort. The further up, the poorer the people seemed, and a couple of gypsy families, their yards overflowing with broken equipment and dogs, lived up pretty high. On the ridge, a sign from the Norwegian-Dutch anti-mining squad testifying to their work and also alluding to the continued danger of straying too far into the woods.

I played soccer with the kids and later dad and I sheepishly said we were going down to the village to drink some pivo, hoping that our decadence was not being judged. The bar was empty but for a few locals who looked at us quizzically but soon lost interest. Dad was unable to finish a second glass of the wine. “If I can’t finish it, it must be really bad,” was his take on it.

Once more we left the table absolutely stuffed, basically unable to move, but as we sat watching a Turkish soap opera, more snacks were prepared for us to supplement the cake and coffee already on the table in front of the television. Iphram cut up sausage and cheese, surely not for us, I thought, but it was the case.

Iphram was not particularly sanguine about Bosnia’s future.

“How you say in English, one spark and everything explodes again.”

The way Bosnia was carved up into regions at the Dayton peace talks, apparently concluded late at night after huge amounts of alcohol was consumed, left many issues unresolved and the nationalism of the politicians from all factions does not bode well for the future.

Nihad turned up mid-morning and after many hugs and sincere proclamations of keeping in touch by Facebook, we departed. It is difficult to describe the generosity and warmth of these people. There is a strong desire to drag one of these Muslim-hating fools from the west into Ibrahim´s house to show that no, they don´t sit around eating children and preparing bombs in some eternal jihad.

“I bet you ate a lot,” was Nihad´s first and accurate comment.

The route took us back through some of the countryside we had seen before, and about two hours later we arrived in Srebrenica and the site of the horrors that had taken place 23 years ago. We toured the old car factory that had served as The UN headquarters and where 20,000 people had fled to after Serbian pretentions of annihilating the male Muslim population became evident. The Dutch peacekeepers, overwhelmed and probably feeling vulnerable, turned them away, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The factory itself was eerie and one of the exhibits is simply a huge factory floor where pictures of the atrocity line the walls and disused machines rotted in the middle of the room. Across the street is the cemetery commemorating, not the best word, the 9000 victims. Endless names were engraved into marble slabs. There was a souvenir shop at the entrance to the cemetery which seemed in rather poor taste.

Dazed and confused, overwhelmed by the depravity of humanity, we stumbled out toward the town to lunch. There among the posters of candidates for the Serbian position of president (it’s a tripartite presidency) was a smiling Vladimir Putin. That can´t be a good sign.

At the restaurant, we ordered a mixed-meat plate although Nihad said that they often snuck in pork without telling the customer so he ordered goulash. The town seemed slightly dead, the main pedestrian street strewn with empty shops and the ones open hardly looked thriving. As in other Serbian towns, Nihad seemed fidgety and on edge.

The journey to Vishigrad was not without incident as the Satnat routed us through the forest on a gravel track. Eventually we turned back and descended into Vishigrad on a spectacular road that passed through a mountain gorge and had 39 tunnels of various lengths. This road, which must have cost billions to construct, was built in 1989, just before the dissolution of Yugoslavia when the country was in dire financial straits. One wonders why there was this rush to have this direct link between Belgrade and Sarajevo. Well, actually the Muslims don’t.

The scenery was breathtaking though slightly marred by the fact that the river the road followed was pretty polluted, bits of debris strewn across its entire surface the whole way down. It was a reminder of the horrendous environmental record of the Communist countries whose pursuit of the socialist paradise did not apparently include taking care of the earth that would host it.

After finally arriving in Vishigrad, we pulled into a hotel resort which honored Ivo Andric, the 1961 Nobel literature laureate. It was a huge complex with bars, restaurants and a cinema. It was also almost completely empty.

“Maybe it’s Russian mafia money laundering scheme,” Nihad suggested not without some plausibility. The receptionist tried her best to dissuade us from staying (“she should be fired”, Nihad whispered) directing us to another hotel around the block. She relented only when she realized we didn’t mind paying the fifty-dollar charge.

We were shown to a huge block of rooms, all empty except the two we would occupy. There were two cafes but we quickly moved from one when we were told that they didn’t serve alcohol there, so shifted next door.

The place really was a shrine to Ivo Andric, a huge statue to him in one corner, quotations in Cyrillic lining the walls, although as Nihad wryly pointed out that he was in fact Croatian, where they use the Roman alphabet.

Dinner was at a small restaurant. Nihad talked about how Bosnia did attract some extremist Muslim fighters from other Arab countries during the conflict.

“These guys are crazy. They came here with their Kufis and daggers and their bombs strapped to their bodies. The Serbs, even if they were in a tank or had a machine gun, they run away. Once they hear Allah Akbar, they are gone, abandoning their weapons.”

We laughed a lot about this.

Afterwards Nihad and I walked over to the 500-year-old bridge that crossed the Drina, and there was an inscription in Arabic in the middle, a testimony to the Ottoman presence there, and then went to a bar to a night cap.

Nihad opened up about his days as a violent and rebellious teenager coming of age in a war zone. He had no water or electricity for three years (I thought of him the other day when our power went out for an hour and we were outraged and also totally unprepared) and ended up in the wrong crowd.

“Physical violence, fighting and stuff, seemed so tame since people never died from a fight, but there were dying everywhere else.”

He and his crowd listened to rap music and he knew all about the 1990s rap scene. They would fight people who listened to heavy music (“with their long hair, they look like girls!”) and anyone else who crossed their path eventually.

“But I realized that I didn’t want to disappoint my parents so I stopped.” Disrespecting parents was, in Nihad’s view, the worst transgression possible. “I tell my wife, your treat my parents bad, you go.”

To get to Mostar the next day, we had to double back through Sarajevo and meander through mountains and gorges until we reached this historical town. That’s a slight exaggeration as the historical part consists of basically three very quaint streets absolutely jammed with people. One could hardly move on the bridge and dad was rebuked when he asked which side of the bridge was Croat and which was Muslim.

“Here we don’t think in those terms,” said the dour tourist agent. Ok, we’ll take your word for it!

The bridge is indeed impressive but you literally have to fight your way through thick crowds to get over it. A young man in a speedo was perched on the top of the bridge collecting money for his impending dive into the transparent water below. We didn’t wait to watch him but at lunch speculated about what it would take to have us jump off.

“Definitely if there was one of those Muslim terrorists after us shouting Allah Akbar, I would,” said Nihad.

We left dad in Mostar and headed back to Sarajevo and arrived in the late afternoon. The radio station playing in the car had the most eclectic mix of music I’ve ever heard, from hard rock to rap to traditional music to opera, quite extraordinary.

Kasey, her two sons and I went out to a special beer hall for dinner with excellent food and drink and afterwards we once again spent hours reminiscing about the people and places common to us and our history.

On the way back to Brazil, I spent the night in Madrid, arriving at the hotel at midnight, which is just about when the night scene there gets started. The streets were packed with people though the excesses of the previous night in Sarajevo curtailed my energy for doing anything exciting.

The flight from Madrid to Salvador did not start out well as I was assigned a seat in the middle of the middle row, and when I had tried to change it this wonderful airline, Air Europa, said that I’d have to pay 40 euros. I was sitting next to a middle-aged woman, who was engaged in a political conversation with two women across from her and a man sitting in front.

The woman said they would not vote in Bolsonaro, the vile right-wing idiot who is likely to be Brazil’s next president but the man was proudly one of his supporters, and I simply scowled when he said this. They then went on to pillory the left-wing agenda, saying how certain social policies had made poor people lazy and uppity, declaring quotas for minorities the most unfair thing in the world, and saying how the youth had lost their values because religion was no longer taught in schools.

I tried to phase out the conversation but it was impossible as Brazilians, especially when talking about politics, tend to speak loudly. Coming back from the bathroom, the conversation had now changed to religion, and all of them were born-agains, the man actually himself a pastor.

For the next six hours, they talked about how amazing Jesus was. The pastor, who lived in Italy, spelled out his whole life story, his youth lost to drugs, alcohol and woman.

“I had a house, I paid 250,000 euros for in cash,” (an unnecessary detail I thought), “beautiful, right on the beach. I lost that too.”

He continued, his voice more and more dramatic and quivering.

“I’m not going to cry,” he said seemingly right on the verge of doing so. Please don’t or please do, I thought in my contradictory way. “But I ended up on the streets. Do you know what it’s like to beg for money?”

He took deep gulping breaths to stem any tears. Everyone professed somberly that no, they had never had to beg.

“But after Jesus came into my life, miracles continue to happen.”

As an example: “My car caught fire, everything was destroyed except for the bible. Doesn’t that show the power of god.” I guess it did.

They ended up great friends, created a whatsup group and vowed to go to the man’s wedding next fall to a woman he had saved from drugs through Jesus. They prayed with hands adjoined as we landed since obviously it was to God’s credit that we had arrived safely.

It was a really wonderful trip, a gift to be able to spend time with dad who was a delightful companion and Kasey, a great friend, and her charmingly boisterous son Benjamin!

Arriving home is always a treat, and with all its problems, Brazil is a nice place to come back to even if it will soon be ruled by a fascist.

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Anglo Blog Post – September to October 2018

Famous opera soprano dies

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Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé belt out Barcelona. The soprano singer died this weekend

Montserrat Caballé, a world renowned soprano singer who participated in more than 90 operas and 4000 performances, died in her native Barcelona at the age of 85. She was considered one of the best soprano singers ever, although she catapulted to global fame after performing a semi-operatic duet with Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury – Barcelona, which served as the theme song for the 1992 Olympics in that Catalan city. Her reputation was marred slightly by her indictment for tax avoidance in 2014, although she paid back the more than US$750,000 she owed to the government.

 

Saudi journalist killed in country’s consulate in Istanbul

The Turkish government has alleged that the mysterious fate of a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of his native country’s repressive regime, was in fact murder within the consulate building. This has major diplomatic implications and the already strained relations between Ankara and Riyadh, regional rivals in the conflict embroiled middle east, could plummet even more.

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There might be muted criticism from western governments but Saudi Arabia is too important economically for anything meaningful to be done

Mr. Khashoggi, himself from a prominent Saudi family, focused his fire on the reforms being promoted by Mohammed bin Salman, the young leader of Saudi Arabia, which the journalist claimed were tepid and didn’t go nearly far enough. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most repressive countries, especially for women, who until June of this year were not even allowed to drive. The west, despite its apparent commitment to human rights, has largely ignored Saudi transgressions given that countries huge petroleum reserves and seemingly insatiable appetite for weapons, the sale of which generates billions of dollars for both the US and the UK.

Brawl at UFC fight besmirches the sport’s already volatile image

 

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Khabib Nurmagomedeov beats Conan McGregor but his victory is overshadowed by the subsequent brawl between the two fighter’s camps. A lucrative rematch is probably more likely now

A melee broke out in Las Vegas after the victory, by stranglehold, of Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov’s over Ireland’s Conan McGregor. This resulted in withholding the purse of the Russian boxer and a general deterioration in the relationship between the two camps. Nurmagomedov has since apologized, but the fracas tarnishes a sport which is trying to establish mainstream respectability. Ultimate fighting has largely eclipsed boxing in popularity but has been unable to shed its image of being a sport which highlights gratuitous violence and general thuggery. This latest ruckus will do little improve UFC’s reputation.

Mass murderer receiving university education from prison in Norway

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Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik gives the Nazi salute at his trial. From prison he is working towards a degree in Political Science

Anders Breivik, who in 2011 planted a bomb in Oslo and then went on a shooting rampage that claimed a total of 77 fatal victims, has been taking courses at a Norwegian institution of higher education towards a degree in political science. Many have disputed the appropriateness of this, arguing that the tremendous pain this individual has caused for the families of the victims preclude such a privilege as a college education, especially one financed by the state. Defenders claim that Norway’s tradition of tolerance and encouragement of civic responsibility and should Breivik ever get out of jail, an unlikely proposition, society would be better served if he had a diploma. They also argued that this serves as a kind of closure for an ordinarily peaceful country that was traumatized by the massacre and went through a period of self-examination to try and grapple with the possible motivations for such an atrocity.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, after a vicious partisan fight, is confirmed to the US Supreme Court

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Appeals judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the supreme court after being accused of sexual assault, a charge he vehemently denied. In 1991, then nominee Clarence Thomas was also accused of sexual harassment but was confirmed and remains one of the court’s most conservative members

After a bruising confirmation fight, in which Donald Trump’s nominee for the nation’s highest court was accused by sexual assault, judge Kavanaugh, 53, was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court. In the US, such a position is life-long (unlike Brazil there is no forced retirement age for judges) so there is a chance that Kavanaugh could sit on the court for 40 years.

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Who to believe in this he said, she said case?

The confirmation process, considered a low point for a senate whose reputation is already somewhat maligned, was bitterly contested between Democrats and Republicans and overshadowed by the questions of sexual violence and a new awareness of this in part due to the influence of the #metoo movement. Kavanaugh’s alleged victim, the university professor and psychologist, Christine Blasey Ford, gave a wrenching testimony about the events of the night during which she feared a drunken Kavanaugh was going to rape her. This, however, failed to convince enough senators. The US Supreme Court has nine members and currently is composed of four considered “liberal” and four considered “conservative.” The entrance of Kavanaugh ensures a conservative majority that could tilt future judicial considerations to the right for years to come. This has implications for women’s reproductive rights (particularly the right to an abortion) as well as policies towards minorities and education.

Bansky painting self-destructs

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The street artist Bansky, known for his controversial street art,  built in a shredder in one of his paintings that self-destructed after being bought for a considerable sum

A painting, Girl with a Balloon, by the enigmatic British street artist Bansky, known for his mysterious anonymity, self-destructed after an unidentified buyer bought it for US$1.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction. This stunned the art world due to the unprecedented nature of this act. The artist had built a shredder within the frame of the picture in case, in his words, “it ever went to auction.” The artists posed this quote from Picasso to justify his act: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” Nobody knows what will happen to the poor soul who bought the painting.

Hugging after a fight can make things better

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Hugging after conflict is good for us

Scientists have solid evidence that giving the person with whom a conflictual situation has arisen has positive psychological implications for both parties. It reduces any lingering negative feelings and according to the British psychological journal Prima, “that being affectionate with the people we love after a fight has a calming effect on us.” So get hugging!

Anglo Blog, August 30, 2018

Trump’s Predicament

There are two ways where Trump could be proven to have committed crimes that would almost impel impeachment. The first concerns Russian interference in the US election and whether Trump solicited it, knew about it or in some way associated with the Russians to influence the result. A special federal prosecutor, Robert Mueller, has been tasked with proving that.

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The other is whether Trump used campaign funds to pay for the silence of two women who allege to have had affairs with him and the dissemination of this fact could have affected the election. This case is in a being tried in a New York court, and revolves around the testimony of various government witnesses, including most explosively Trump’s ex-lawyer, whose testimony could prove key in implicating Trump in criminal activities.

The bad news for Trump this week was that these two investigations showed some result. His former campaign manager was convicted on eight counts, and although this does not directly affect Trump, more will be revealed about Trump’s business practices, something else that could undermine him. Michael Cohen was Trump’s lawyer for ten years, has intimate knowledge (backed apparently by evidence) of the president’s business shenanigans. It seems the walls are closing in.

Those who loathe Trump, and he is not one to generate neutral or indifferent sentiment, are elated and feel that perhaps the end of this nightmare is guaranteed at some point sooner rather than later. The president’s wholesale assault on anything Obama accomplished has been alarming and disheartening for those who oppose him.

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The president’s ardent admirers, about 40% of the population, scoff at these legal intrigues; in their view, all politicians are corrupt, so if Trump is no different so be it. It matters little to them, even the Evangelicals who profess great piety and condemn homosexuals, whether he cheated on his wife and repeatedly lied about it. He’s a human being, he makes mistakes, they say. And the more the establishment press reveal, the more his supporters are convinced it’s all fake news. His America first, white nationalism has, unfortunately, a very loyal following.

There is a consensus that Trump cannot be indicted as a normal citizen since he could not be judged by a jury. The only way he could be removed from office would be by impeachment, which in the US goes first to the House of Representatives and with a simple majority, it can recommend to the Senate that impeachment proceed. There, it requires a 2/3rds majority.

As the current Congress stands, where Republicans have majorities (a slim one in the Senate). But all that could change because in November, mid-term elections take place and there is a chance the Democrats could win back the legislature, making impeachment proceedings far more likely to be initiated.

The bad news for Trump detractors is that over 80% of Republicans support him, and those within the party who oppose him are afraid to act because it could cause an unravelling of the party. Traditional Republicans are avid free-traders, something Trump is not, and although they like Trump’s repeal of regulation and his tax policy, they are trying to expand the party to make it more inclusive to minorities. Since many Trump supporters are actively hostile to diversity, this chasm could break open completely.

Unless there is a revolt against Trump within Senate Republicans, even if the Democrats win both houses, impeachment is unlikely to succeed. The only way to get rid of Trump would therefore be to vote him out of office in 2020. It is not entirely infeasible that he’d win another election, with the rigged, indirect vote that is American democracy. But with the Democrats inability to put together a message that appeals to the white, working class, he could win by default, as he did the first time.

And that would be a shame.

Five Broken Cameras: A Review

Autor: Gustavo Oliveira

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The documentary “Five Broken Cameras” was filmed in 2011 and it’s based on true events which happened in 2005. It tells the story of the farmer Emad Burnat who bought a camera to film his fourth son, Gabreel. The farmer lives in Bil’in, a small village located on the West Bank, considered Palestinian territory. At the same time that his son is growing up, the Israeli Army (IDF) decides to build a wall to demark Jewish lands and, unfortunately, the place where the wall is going to be built might take some of Emad’s lands. The camera he bought and four others are used to film, instead of his son, the resistance of his people against the army.

“Five Broken Cameras” was nominated for an Oscar for best long documentary, the World Cinema Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Festival, and all the charaters are represented by their real person. The firm is really well made and shocking, in the way that it represents, in a realistic way, the violence that happens in the regions of Israel-Palestine. The way Emad tells the story and how he relates how each camera was broken in violent ways by the army makes the film a must-watch, as it is touching and has deep social causes, showing anyone who’s interested some stories about the people who live like him. Anyway, a negative part of the documentary is the feeling that only one side of the story in being told, since there are no testimonies from anyone from the army, which could be shown, even if they had non-humanitarian reasons to do what they did.

Anglo Blog Post: May, 2018

1968

Few years have proved as pivotal as 1968, where social upheavals, colonial wars and assassinations of important public figures rollicked societies across the globe. Its ramifications can still be felt today.

1968

1968 – The Year that Changed the World

The United States was mired in the Vietnam War and the unwinnable nature of the conflict for the Americans became more evident after the launching of the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese. The campaign initiated on the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) was the beginning of the end for US forces there, which eventually were expelled in 1975.

The US was further roiled by civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King, and riots broke out in cities including Detroit, Washington, Chicago and Baltimore. The violent death of the non-violent activist had a smothering effect on idealism and the idea that society could be changed peacefully.

Students in Pairs, reacting to the stifling conservatism of French society overseen by the imperious Charles De Gaulle, protested on the streets in May, and ushered in new paradigms for ideas and behaviors. Behind the Iron Curtain, there was open revolt against Communist Party rule when in Czechoslovakia Alexander Dubcek ushered in an era known as Communism with a Human Face. During this brief period, freedoms were decreed and reforms enacted, all challenging the homogenous role of the Communist Party. Moscow’s patience ran out and the Warsaw Pact invaded with 700,000 troops, brutally ending this flirtation with western ideas of democracy. This Prague Spring was short-lived.

Another high profile assassination in the US rocked the political scene when Robert F. Kennedy, John Kennedy’s younger brother, was killed after delivering a campaign speech for his presidential run. Kennedy had declared himself committed to pulling US troops out of Vietnam and promised to enact a progressive agenda. Richard Nixon eventually became president, a dour man who catered to a “silent majority” averse to the social changes sweeping the US.

Societal convulsions were not limited to Europe and North America. In Latin America, progressive forces inspired by the Cuban and sexual revolutions, were challenging the conservative establishment and suffering severe reprisals for that.

In Mexico, just ten days before the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, the authorities gunned down over 300 young people protesting in the streets, in an event known as Tlatelolco Massacre. In Brazil, after the Passeata of 100,000 people march, the military junta adopted A-I 5, essentially denying any rights to those opposed to the dictatorship. The “years of lead” unfolded as one of the most violent and ominous periods of 24-year-old reign of oppression by the Brazilian military.

Some of the idealism of that post-World War Two generation has permeated the societies where already established democracies enacted much needed reforms and countries under dictatorship became working democracies. Yet the year 1968 leaves a lot of what ifs. What if Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had lived, what if the US had left Vietnam when the writing was on the wall; what if the military regime in Brazil had been toppled at the time; what if the cracks in repressive communism had preempted its downfall earlier.

The world would likely be a different place.

Anglo Blog Post, April 2018

The Israeli-Palestinian Quagmire

 
Few events in the world have been as polarizing as the creation of the state of Israel, which has been celebrating 70 years of existence this week. After years of living in the diaspora across Europe and the Middle East, undergoing pogroms, and a kind of brutal persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, Hitler’s almost successful campaign to eliminate the Jews once and for all, Jews finally had a home. David Ben Gurion, Israeli’s founder and first president declared Jews everywhere could come and settle in their new “homeland.”

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For Palestinians, many of whom lost their homes in the chaos that followed Israel’s independence, Israel’s creation is known as Nakba, “the catastrophe.” From the beginning of the 20th century, they have watched in horror as Jews came to settle land which they had occupied for centuries, and eventually gained formal title to half of it through the UN partition plan approved in 1947. The Palestinians rejected this plan and have been on the losing side of the argument ever since.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on throughout this period, ebbing and flowing in its intensity but always simmering below the surface, ready to explode with one incendiary incident or another. Clashes in Gaza against these Israeli independence celebrations are the latest manifestation of this seemingly eternal conflict, with more deaths to add to the roster of suffering of both sides.

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For Palestinians, Israeli independence is known as Nakba Day, which means catastrophe or cataclysm. 700, 000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes as Israeli independence was met by war from its Arab neighbors.

Most experts agree that the much vaunted two-state solution, which according to polls majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians consider a way to break this decades long impasse, is a viable resolution to the conflict. This entails Israel giving back the West Bank and together with the Gaza strip, devolved to the Palestinians in 2005, which would form a demilitarized Palestinian state. In return the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and cease all attacks on the Jewish state.

So why has this apparently feasible resolution to the problem, backed by most of the respective populations, has remained unattainable. The main problem is narratives, and both side’s inability to reconcile each other’s narratives to the goal of peaceful coexistence that both peoples are ostensibly striving for.

From the Israeli perspective, the legitimacy of the state, questioned by the Arab world from the beginning, is beyond dispute, since it was the world’s most senior governing body, the newly instituted United Nations, which sanctified the right of Jews to half of Palestine. It was the Palestinians and Arab neighbors who rejected the partition plan, immediately attacking the new-born state with an intent to “drive the Jews into the sea.” It was war, and bad things happen in war, an acknowledgment by Israel that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their home.

It was the implacable Arab hostility to the state of Israel that has been the main stumbling block to lasting peace which Israel claims to be pursuing. How can you negotiate with somebody who doesn’t recognize your right to exist?

After the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, this new player started a series of spectacular attacks against Israelis, such as the kidnapping and execution of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich or the hijacking of an El AL plane that resulted in the spectacularly successful raid on Entebbe. These were seen as terrorism by Israel and acts of war by the Palestinians but elevated the visibility of active Palestinian resistance. Yet Israelis felt they were dealing with a people bent on obliterating their citizens in attacks specifically targeting civilians. The very morality of the Palestinians was called into question and certainly Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, the embodiment of that enemy set on destroying the Jews.

The six-day war of 1967 completely changed the power dynamic of the region, with Israel once again successfully defeating their Arab nemesis (Egypt, Syria and Jordan) and occupying land of those three countries, namely the Sinai (Egypt), the West Bank (Jordon) and the Golan Heights (Syria). This occupation was deemed illegal by the international community.

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The polar opposite views of the conflict

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Israel claims that this occupational was strategic and provided a bargaining chip in future negotiations with its Arab foes. To prove its point, Israel handed back the Sinai to Egypt after the Camp David Accords in 1977. However, the West Bank became the target for Jewish settlements where, for religious or economic reasons, many Israelis have moved over the last five decades. Today, over 400,000 Israelis live in land considered illegally occupied by Israel.

However, Israel continues to say that this occupation is negotiable. The problem is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to seriously negotiate. After the collapse of the Oslo Accords of 1993, which according to the Israelis was a result of the unceasing terrorist attacks by Palestinians, Israel points to negotiations in 2000, where it said it was willing to give up most of the West Bank, as proof of Palestinian intransigence when the deal was rejected.

Israel thus sees itself as victim of Arab hostility and a world which is generally anti-Israel for what many Israelis believe are brazenly anti-Semitic reasons. It has always been willing to compromise, it claims, but has been unable to find an honest partner, made even more difficult by the Palestinians now being split between Hamas, who vows to destroy Israel, and the Palestinian Authority (in essence the PLO), which recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

It would be hard to intentionally design a more diametrically opposite view of the conflict than that harbored by the Palestinians. From their point of view, after centuries of occupying the same land of Palestine, they were forced the accept the imposition of a deal that took half of their land and gave it to someone else, which obviously was unacceptable.

According to the Palestinians, the United Nations, in a world where half the world was under the control of the colonial powers, lacked legitimacy. After all, it was not the Arabs who had attempted to annihilate the Jews, but rather the Europeans, who were now placating their guilt by giving the Jews a state in a land where another people lived. Although it was the Germans who carried out the Holocaust, Britain, the US, Canada and other countries did little to help the Jews, turning away thousands of refugees who were forced to go back to Europe and face certain death.

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The wall built by Israel is a symbol of the inability to reconcile the needs of both peoples

Forced into exile, but largely ignored by the world, the Palestinians felt the only way to force the issue onto the world stage was by constructing an armed wing that could attack the Israelis violently. Indeed, it was only after the PLO was formed that the Israelis got serious about negotiating, acknowledging Golda Meir’s statement that Israel was perfect for the Jews, being a land without people for a people without a land.

Life for Palestinians deteriorated further after the 1967 war, when Israel came to directly govern the West Bank, and have been since then exposed to the daily humiliation any occupation by a foreign power tends to produce.

Palestinians also complain about the lack of a legitimate negotiating partner among Israelis, and indeed Israel is bitterly divided in much the same manner as Palestinians in terms of how to arrive at peace. After the Oslo Accords mentioned above, Israeli prime-minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by a radical Israeli and the prime ministers that have followed have not been serious about peace and have done everything to detonate as rapprochement with the Palestinians. Israel’s further expropriation of Palestinian lands and establishment of more settlements in the West Bank illustrates Israel’s lack of seriousness in accepting the Palestinian right to a sovereign state.

Apportioning blame to the other side has been a tactic that has served neither side, and clinging to the narrative which apportions its side the moral high ground has severely retarded progress. The Arab countries have used Palestinians for their own internal political purposes, while Israel knows that with the unflinching backing of the US, which has passed on billions of dollars of aid, and the US Jewish community, another source of financial support, it has the military upper hand.

Israelis point to the tiny size of its country, the size of Sergipe, in contrast to the extensive Arab lands, and in essence saying, “all we want is this tiny sliver of land” while the Palestinians are trying to take away even that. The Palestinians are saying all they want is a tiny sliver of land to call their own, after their lands were violently seized from them all those years ago.

The impasse, a constant threat to a region beset by tensions and possible armed confrontation, is truly a tragedy where lack of political will has prevented a lasting solution that would ease the suffering of these two peoples thrust together by history.

Survey

A survey was administered to the second year students of Colégio Anglo to see what their views were on certain social questions. The results are below.

Results tabulation:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA AND/OR OTHER ILICIT DRUGS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 12   Male – 12

No: Female – 4   Male – 5

No opinion: Female – 2   Male – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: End traffic and violence; marijuana is not such a “terrible” drug; yes, but with a lot of regulation; it’s a personal decision whether to use drugs; there will be more money (taxes) for treatment; only marijuana, not all drugs; marijuana is useful for medicine; being illegal doesn’t stop people from using them; just for medicinal purposes; having to get involved in traffic means people get exposed to all other more dangerous drugs.

No: it will generate more violence; people become addicted; drugs are not healthy; body not created to receive such artificial substances; it would make drugs accessible to kids; just bad people use drugs.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (DEATH PENALTY) FOR CERTAIN CRIMES? IF YES, WHY, IF NOT, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 6   Male – 15

No: Female – 10   Male – 4

No opinion: Female – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: Death is the just punishment for killers; some people deserve it, especially in Brazil where people don’t stay long in jail; if there is no doubt about the verdict; it’s cheaper than life in prison; it would make the world a better place; just for heinous crimes; some people can’t be recuperated; make people think before doing something bad; it will decrease criminality; the prisons are full;

No: killing someone is unethical; you free the person of guilt; you should have chance of redemption; doesn’t resolve the problem; it is not ethical; life is a right of the individual; right to a second chance; not a good punishment; not going to fix the problem.
SHOULD WOMEN HAVE A RIGHT TO HAVE AN ABORTION IF THEY DON’T WANT TO CARRY THE CHILD? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 18   Male -11

No: Female – 0   Male – 7

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Main reasons:

Yes: it’s her body, her choice; in the case of rape; as long as fetus is less than 12 weeks; can’t afford to raise the kid; as long as fetus is less than 4 weeks; some mothers not prepared to look after baby; only in specific situations; it reduces crime; a woman who doesn’t want a child won’t take care of it.

No: can’t affect the life of another person; why didn’t they use birth control (?); it’s murder, against life; leads to negative population growth.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD BE LOWERED TO 16 FROM 18? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 12   Male – 15

No: Female – 6   Male – 3

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Main reasons:

Yes: 16 year-olds know what they’re doing; only for very grave crimes; if I can vote, I can be responsible for my crimes; teenagers know right from wrong; lots of minors are already contributing to crimes; some teenagers doing worse things than adults; should be lowered to 14.

No: only make the problem worse; make the prisons more crowded; too immature; doesn’t solve the problem; criminals will just recruit younger kids; emotional instability;

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT CITIZENS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO CARRY GUNS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 3   Male – 15

No: Female – 14   Male – 3

No opinion: Female – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: guns protect people; guns don’t kill people, people do; right to self-defense; as long as regulated; with psychological tests; now only criminals can get guns, not correct;

No: make situation worse; too many unstable people; number of massacres could increase (like US); guns generate violence; people can’t handle the power of guns; insane idea; gun laws should be stricter; promote fear and insecurity;

 

SHOULD AFRO-DESCENDANTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO QUOTAS IN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES AND INSTITUTIONS?

Yes: Female – 15   Male – 2

No: Female – 2   Male – 15

No opinion: Female – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: people don’t have same opportunities; help repair past injustices; poor schools make people less able to get into university; historical oppression; racism is a reality; yes but not forever;

No: we are all human; not right to give person advantage because of skin color; should be only for poor people; hurts white people; it’s unfair; everyone should have same rights; racial quotas not nice; doesn’t make people more prepared.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GAY MARRIAGE SHOULD BE LEGAL? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT? 

Yes: Female – 15   Male -13

No: Female – 0   Male – 2

No opinion: Female – 4   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: have to respect all kinds of marriage; everyone has right to be happy; it’s normal; all love is valid; of course! love is love; everybody needs love; gay people are human too; it’s not my business to judge;

No: due to my religious beliefs.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT WOMEN SHOULD SERVE IN COMBAT UNITS IN THE ARMY? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 15   Male -15

No: Female – 1   Male – 1

No opinion: Female – 2   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: equal rights; only if she wants to; women can do everything a man can; individual liberty; as long as they are prepared to die; yes, but must be prepared; there are many women who like doing that kind of stuff; should be an option for both sexes.

No: no reason given.

 

SHOULD PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EUTHANASIA? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 14   Male – 15

No: Female – 1   Male – 2

No opinion: Female – 3   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: people should be free to do whatever they want with their bodies; a right to kill yourself; prevents suffering; you should decide when you want to die;

No: can lead to terrible things; if you kill yourself, you go to hell.

 

SHOULD STATES PROVIDE FREE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE FOR ITS CITIZENS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT? 

Yes: Female – 17   Male – 14

No: Female – 0   Male – 1

No opinion: Female – 1   Male – 3

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Main reasons:

Yes: otherwise poor people can’t pay for health; basic human right is health; we already pay taxes for it; for society it’s better to have healthy people; state’s obligation; yes, but just the basic; as long as it’s good quality.

No: universal care doesn´t work.
IS IT FAIR TO TAX WEALTHY PEOPLE MORE THAN LESS WEALTHY PEOPLE (PROGRESSIVE TAXATION)? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 11   Male – 8

No: Female – 3   Male – 5

No opinion: Female – 4   Male – 4

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Main reasons:

Yes: it won’t make such a difference it you earn more money; should be something balanced; it’s more fair; rich people have more to give; people who receive lee suffer more; government needs the money; as long as the taxers aren’t that high; non-wealthy people can’t work as much as wealthy people;

No: has to be the same tax for everyone; not fair; businessmen will leave the country;

 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?

Yes: Female – 13   Male – 12

No: Female – 4    Male – 6

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