Archive for the ‘Ex-Yugoslavia’ Category

4th edition of my book, Slovenia 1945, due to be published shortly

March 3, 2015

 

Chosen as Book of the Year by John Bayley, who compared the characters to those of War and Peace. New preface includes British Government expression of regret for the events described in the book. Co-author is John Corsellis.

www.ibtauris.com

Slovenia 1945 Inside OK

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Working on my new book … The Fight For Freedom

May 9, 2014

Not much time for blogging, as I am writing, writing, writing. Here’s the book I am working on:

19.3.2014 cover FFF - iPad cover (3)

British classroom question: who is to blame for World War I? (Clue: it’s the Germans.)

January 11, 2014

The British Education Minister has said that the British fought World War I as a just war to prevent Germany’s aggressive bid to dominate Europe. The Prime Minister’s office says it sees nothing wrong with this.

Of course, there is another view, propagated by British and other historians, that Serbia started it by stirring up trouble in countries with Serb minorities, egged on by its Slav brother, Russia, in response to Austria’s greedy annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, unwisely supported by Germany, which wanted to be a great power and felt hostile to both Russia and France, all hardly helped on the eve of war by the British Foreign Secretary going off fishing while German troops mobilised, possibly hoping that Germany would be drawn into a war against both France and Russia which it was bound to lose.

But that’s a bit long, and as you have only 15 minutes, keep to the first version. And remember, this counts for the grades for your university place, which we might otherwise sell off for much more money to the Chinese.

Next week: why the European Union is wrong for Britain? (Clue: it’s the French.)

SLOVENIA: FALLEN ANGEL OF EX-COMMUNIST EUROPE

December 21, 2013

Spik 2013

In the days of Communist Yugoslavia, Slovenes stood out for being in touch with the West and capable of generating a large proportion of the country’s GDP. Independent since 1991, Slovenia quickly qualified for the European Union, the euro and Schengen.

Yet now it counts with Greece, Cyprus and Spain among the eurozone’s worst financial miscreants. Its main state-owned banks are in dire need of bailouts. As auditors pick through the books, they discover loan after reckless loan for dud projects run by political cronies and personal business friends, secured by precious little.

Governance of the banks is revealed as irresponsible, slack and amateurish. Even the Catholic Church is saddled with large bankrupt businesses which are anything but spiritual. Pope Francis has removed the Archbishop of Ljubljana and the Bishop of Maribor. So much for Slovenes’ reputation for economic competence.

Now the government is starting to bail out the banks. Eager to cling to the independence gained only in 1991, it refused to apply for a bailout from the EU and the IMF, which would have meant foreign supervision. In order to preserve a minimum of international credibility, it reluctantly brought in foreign consultants to inspect the books.

As a result, it embarrassingly turns out that the government needs to put in 4.8 billion euro, four times the amount it originally calculated.

Moreover, EU rules on state aid oblige it to sell its number two and three banks, as well as 75% of the largest. The best hope that the Slovenian Central Bank governor could voice was that foreign buyers (there are no domestic candidates) will sort out the governance mess.

Slovenia has escaped bailout tutelage by the EU and the IMF, but the cost of going it alone will be huge for the Slovene people.

In hindsight, it is clear Slovenes were too complacent because of their success in Communist Yugoslavia. Their capabilities proved inadequate for an open modern economy. Whereas Poland privatised quickly in the earlier 1990s – and got through the recent financial crisis unscathed – in Slovenia, the state still owns half the economy.

So anxious were Slovenes to preserve their independence that they did their utmost to keep out foreign investors. This can now be seen as a damaging fantasy.

One exception is Lek, one of the country’s largest companies, which was bought by Novartis. Its procedures were radically overhauled at the insistence of the Swiss. Now it is solidly implanted in the group as a leading producer of generic pharmaceuticals. At a time when Slovenia’s GDP is falling precipitously, Lek is hiring not firing.

Moral number 1: ex-Communist states of Eastern Europe, even Slovenia, underestimated how much they need to change to adapt to the modern world.

Moral number 2: Slovenia now needs the national unity which won it independence in a 10-day war in 1991. In view of the vicious infighting which pervades its politics, this however seems unlikely.

Its outlook unfortunately is grim.

– Marcus Ferrar is co-author (with John Corsellis) of Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death And Survival After World War II.

“Writing about people with difficult histories” – my author talk in London

June 22, 2013

DSC06572

 

On 21st June 2013, I gave a talk in London on three books I have written about people with difficult histories. They are :

Slovenia 1945: Death And Survival After World War II
A Foot In Both Camps : A German Past For Better And For Worse
The Budapest House: Traumas Of Eastern Europe (to be published in September)

In all three countries, a catastrophic historical event continues to cause harmful divisions in societies today.

In Slovenia, it was the murder of 13,000 surrendered and disarmed Home Guard soldiers – 2% of the Slovene population – by Communist Partisans after World War II had ended.

For Germans, it was the fatal mistake of bringing Hitler to power, participating in genocide of the Jews and ravaging Europe with a World War.

For Hungarians, it was colluding in the dispatch of 500,000 of their Jewish compatriots to Auschwitz.

In all three countries, events confronted people were with finely-balanced moral dilemmas. Their choices had enormous consequences. Germany has accepted guilt and recovered, but in Eastern Europe, the resulting internal conflicts continue to hinder the harmonious development of societies.

Want to make award-winning documentaries? Find good story-tellers

January 19, 2012

The BBC starts another of its multi-programme political documentaries tonight (2100 BST BBC2): Putin, Russia & and the West. Award-winning documentary-maker Norma Percy told students at the Reuters Institute in Oxford how they do it:

– A series typically takes 3 years to make and is costly: the BBC pays half and other TVs the rest.
– Based on interviews with protagonists, they aim to show how the closed-doors decisions in major political events were made.
– A good time to tackle an event is when many of the protagonists are out of power writing their memoirs.
– The politicians who come across best are those who are good story-tellers.
– Do the interviewees ever complain? “Only that we didn’t use enough of what they said.”
– How do you get the politicians to tell good stories? “I ask them to tell it as they did to the person they were negotiating with.”
– “We only broadcast what we believe is true. We don’t use obvious lies.”
– How do you know? “Either another politician corroborates it, or our researchers check it out.”

Previous series have covered Gorbachev, the break-up of Yugoslavia, Milosevic and American hostages in Iran. The BBC can attract big audiences, secure sizeable funding, and persuade world leaders to talk. That’s the drawing power of a broadcaster which has built its reputation carefully over decades. Worth learning how to do it.

Europe’s message … from an Indian sage

August 23, 2009

I climbed to the mountain top where Italy meets with Slovenia and Austria – the converging point of the Slav, Germanic and Latin cultures.

20 years ago, the place was demarcated with barbed wire. On the Slovenian (then Yugoslav) side, civilians could not approach. It was a military area.

Now, with the European Union, the frontiers are non-existent. A plaque celebrates peace and harmony between nations.

The plaque quotes Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, who campaigned for tolerance and brotherhood among nations until his death in 2007.

Curious that at this point where hostile European nations finally found themselves in peace, no suitable European can be found to quote on a plaque. In the new Europe, it is safer to look to an Indian to express the right idea.

Creating peace – an underrated achievement of the EU

August 14, 2009

“Sovereignty of the Free Territory belongs to the people living in that territory.” Anodyne words these may seem, but they are loaded. The corollary is that  sovereignty does NOT belong to those not living there … not any more.

The inscription is on a memorial in a fishing village on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. The village looks Italian: it has a clock tower like St Mark’s in Venice. It WAS in fact earlier Italian. At the end of World War II Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans seized it together with the city of Trieste.

In 1954, an international treaty gave Trieste to Italy and the rest of the coast to the Yugoslavs. The same evening as the treaty was signed, the Italians from the settlements along the coast left their homes, abandoning pots cooking on stoves, and walked over to Italy as refugees.

They were scared for their lives, and for good reason. The Partisans had slaughtered thousand of Italians on the coast in 1945 before U.N. authority was established. It was a reprisal for the cruel, racist occupation of parts of Slovenia and Croatia during WWII, when Italian Fascists burned villages, shot hostages and sent thousands of young men to concentration camps where they starved and died. The Italians were afraid that withdrawal of the U.N. would lead to another bloodbath.

After 1954, tension continued to run high along a border of barbed wire and armed guards. Trieste was packed with thousands of resentful Italian emigrants. The Yugoslavs bristled with Communist militancy.

By 2004, Slovenia and Italy were both in the European Union. The concept  of government by nation states had reached its limits of absurdity. Many inhabitants in the area had had 5 sets of different state identity papers without ever moving from the house where they were born.  And still no real peace.

Now that both Slovenia and Italy are in the EU, people can move freely from one country to another to work, they use the same currency (the euro), and they drive through the old frontier without having to stop (Schengen).

Harmonious co-existence has broken out. A supranational organisation such as the EU may have its drawbacks, but many in the West do not give it the full credit for creating peace where before there was killing and hatred.

Apricot jam – let it run

July 4, 2009

As everybody knows, apricots are ripe and it’s time to drop everything and swing into jam production. The goal: golden sunshine from a pot the whole year round.

I am on the Slovenian Adriatic coast, so the recipe of my wife’s aunt from Maribor is the one to use. My wife is project leader, sugarer and stirrer. I am cutter, rum-spreader and screwer.

The Maribor aunt sets a punishing regime. First find apricots which are just ripe. Ours are from the local market and are grown five kilometres down the coast. I know the spot.

Then wash, stone and cut vast numbers into just the right size of pieces for later spreading. Weigh them carefully to judge the sugar amount, add a dose of pectin, cook for ages, test the runniness to take off the stove just in time, wash the jars, sterilise them in the oven, fill them, wipe the rims, sterilise the screw caps with rum, and screw them on. Put the jars upside down in the oven for 10 minutes to complete the hermetic sealing. And wipe the sweat from the your brow.

Skip any of these steps and you risk having stringy lumps, juice all over the place and mould under the lids. Not even worth passing off to friends.

As it is, we have pots of pristine jam stretching as far as the eye can see. 10 hours work, in three shifts. Apricots are demanding task-masters.

The biggest tweeters of all

July 3, 2009

On the internet, everbody is talking about who twitters and tweets the most. I can tell you: it’s the crazy swallows around the Slovenian Adriatic village of Izola.

Morning and evening, they swoop at phemonenal speeds among the rooftops. They fly in gangs of a dozen. And they tweet. In full throat, excitedly, loudly and non-stop for a couple of hours or so.

Sometimes a group flies straight at me on the balcony, like in one of those war films, then swoops steeply upwards a couple of metres before my face, corkscrews over the rooftops and comes round for another run.

As they approach, the sounds builds up like an approaching plane, hitting me with a huge shrill tweet as they whizz past.

Where do they get the energy to propel their tiny frames? My experience of the animal world suggests such frenetic excitement has to do with food or mating. At such speeds, I don’t see much food getting into their gullets. A few go off in couples, so I guess it is mating. The males chasing the females, showing off and boasting. The females enjoying the chase, and remaining faithful to no one.

Red hot and lusty, they are like teenage motor-cycle gangs. But more stylish and charming. Keep waking me up a 6 a.m. I love your tweeting.


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