Mittwoch, 1. August 2012

On Serbian Society, a Critique and Suggestions

(The text was published online on in the "My Life Abroad" section, on July 31, 2012. In one day it became the most read and most commented on article on the entire website. Politika is the oldest and arguably most influential newspaper in Serbia.)

I am determined not to go back to Serbia. I owe nothing to that country and it has denied me a lot of things. What my parents have relayed to and made possible for me is more than most of my friends could have counted on from their parents, and that’s a burden of its own kind, which has always bothered me.

I first left Serbia for real in 2009, for one month. It was to go to a summer school in Austria. A second one followed the next summer and after that, the study programmes. I owe my parents for financing the summer schools with an apparent strain, believing that it would lead to my improvement in German. I made the studies possible by winning scholarships. Since then I’ve lived mostly independently, in a financial sense, in Graz.

The main motive for my desire to leave Serbia was the need to leave behind an unhealthy environment. The frustrations I was surrounded by all around, and from which I tried to stay away as much as I could, threatened to change who I was and turn me into a prisoner of the circumstances who would then grow his own frustrations for not being able to influence his environment. It’s a well-known story - school, University, a job, a family… Only, life in Serbia hasn’t been that simple for a long time, because the formal accomplishment of these life goals does not lead to the feeling of accomplishment I strove for.

Education, as much as some people boast it’s the best, is in fact catastrophically bad. I do not claim that the learning programme is bad in itself, but the system is bad. Teachers of all levels might be the biggest losers of Transition. Not so much in the financial sense, as in the loss of social status, which reflects itself in the relationship teacher-student-parent. The education in general is losing pace with the times we live in, and being an intellectual is not on the wish-list of today’s youth.

Universities, of which there are many sorts, are not functioning for the benefit of economy and science. I do not know of our professors giving the students tasks such as, for instance, contacting a large company and working on the development of a strategy for increased energy efficiency, something which I saw first-hand in Austria. How useful this would be for the students and the economy in particular, I do not need to explain. Those who understand get it.

Finding a job has been a problem of our society for so long that there are many stereotypes – Gastarbeiters, political cadre, jobs through connections/bed, interns-volunteers. Choose one that you identify with the most. The only thing missing is meritocracy. Industry throughout Serbia is dying off under pressure from the new class of “capitalist-privatizers” (joint with corruptible politicians), who have privatized the former common property, then broke it apart, sold out and destroyed, along with the lives of the workers.

To form a family is therefore not an easily attainable goal. Only the madly brave or just mad get married. The birth rates are of course falling, but who cares… Family values? Turbo-folk “Grand Production” is educating your kids, not the street. It is now common to sit in a café, watch who’s passing by, what they’re wearing, who they’re with, where they might be going… The youth is idling, because they are waiting for jobs. Only, one does not get a job, but find it, my dear Youth.

In spite of my (obvious) deep disappointment with the Serbian society, I catch myself, and quite often, making plans for changes. I come up with concepts for businesses I would start, consider steps I would take in resolving certain issues, plan a “grand return”. I believe that’s in common for many of us living abroad. It’s just that I know in advance that our “enlightened” projects are doomed to fail. Our return does not initiate massive changes we dream of. Maybe we regress, give up too soon, don’t approach the problem in the right way. Maybe the environment holds us down, maybe they don’t understand us. All in all, one man can hardly cause major changes. Unless that man becomes a part of a group of people with the same goals.

My latest thoughts about initiating change are directed at getting organized into citizens’ initiatives. I’ve started to notice that something is brewing in Serbia. There are groups of people working on changes, such as the organized revolt against the BusPlus (Belgrade’s new public transport ticketing system), Beocyclization, Serbia in Motion, etc.

Serbian society is not used to having this kind of movements. It has always been the State that was the main actor in all areas, even (paradoxically) in organizing the civil society. And it is exactly the civil society that needs to control politics and the government, not the other way around. Citizens, instead of subjects.

Is the life abroad better than life in Serbia? It has more quality (saying it’s better would imply normative stance, which is something I’ll try to avoid), and I believe that to be the consequence of the difference in the organization of the society. “Over there” the social system works, while ours is just a façade for a system of political benefits and an organized rip-off of the citizens. To which extent is the fault within us and how much it’s the Great Powers to blame is not irrelevant, but we shouldn’t fixate on that. It is up to us to work hard on the construction of our own society, taking into account the basic consensus around the issues of corruption, equality and tolerance in a civil society where one’s belonging to a minority group is not a factor in determining and attaining one’s rights. Only the civil society organizations can create the awareness about this, and it is why I want to get engaged in it, and I extend the invitation to everybody else.

The desired effect is to change the state of mind towards not tolerating bad things anymore. The belonging to a group can give you the feeling of confidence to step out against something and openly say it’s wrong. A change for the better, no matter how small it is, is good, one should not despair. I plan to keep on writing about this, thus giving my own contribution to our society.

Samstag, 14. Juli 2012

System reset Vs. gradual improvement

A very typical example: the new ticket system in the public transport is introduced. The authorities set a period when the controllers will not charge you fines, but only warn you. WTF?! Did people all of a sudden forget that tickets should be paid? As if we were all born on this day and we need time to adjust - well, maybe we do - but we need to know what basic procedures are to remain at all times, and what are the ones that need adjustment to. So, the basic thing would be that if you want to take a ride, you have to pay. Non-basic thing is HOW you actually pay. How does it make sense to someone that the way to educate people on how to pay the ticket is to let them not pay for it for a while? There are other ways to do it, but it's these people who think that the system reset is needed. NO! No resets, just improvements, please.

This was just an example of a mindset people have gotten used to in Serbia. Each time there is a change, the people introducing it treat it as a Revolution of epochal importance. It pretty much happens every time there's a change of government. They scrap EVERYTHING, and reset the system. Then the other guys do the same thing once they get the power, and it goes on and on ad infinitum.

It's become a way for the campaigns to be led - you always promise radical changes. You say everything is going to be soooo much better because you'll do things differently. It does kind of make sense to claim that in a country that is not doing so well, but it's also part of the problem. Once they do get elected, these people feel free to experiment by introducing new policies that have to meet only one criterium - they need to be different from existing ones. It doesn't matter if the previous policy was good, the new one just needs to be different from whatever existed before.

Again, in public transport, there is a new policy of getting in at the front door and getting out at the other ones, and it's complete bull crap. The ticketing system DOES NOT REQUIRE IT. It doesn't solve any problems, only creates more. BECAUSE, to pay, you need to hold the rfid-loaded card at the machine for several seconds, which means all the people behind you at this one door have to wait for you to do it so that they can get in (which is exactly what happened:; the passages inside the buses and trams are too narrow for people to pass, and in general, it's just straight out of some anal person's ass (nice pun). It just seemed nice and orderly to them to have people organized in this way.

What's really needed is more buses, regular schedules and some basic culture to know to let people get out, before you attempt getting in. It's not revolutionary, it's common sense, and it's an improvement that will actually solve the existing problem of over-crowded buses.

Another reason I'm against resets is because they cause significant resistance, often making rebellion against it a more rational choice than its adoption. It is a natural response to change. And it's not surprising that more often than not, these resets fail, leaving the feeling that change is not possible at all.

I like that quote:"Only babies meet change with joy, when their diapers are wet." Then, there's that experiment with the frog, when the frog sits in a pot and it's heated instantly. The frog leaps out and saves itself. But, if the pot is gradually heated, the frog won't notice until it's too late. The lack of this basic understanding in those people on how to introduce changes amazes me.

Donnerstag, 21. Juni 2012

We already live in the country that we want to live in

The fact that we are unhappy about the life we lead, or the country we live in is our own fault. It takes some effort, but the change can happen.We all know things are bad and most of the times we see the fault with other people. But, what have you done lately to improve your situation? Did you stop and pick up a can that someone threw on the street?

Change all the things that you don't like and people will copy you, because it will seem like the standard of behavior. That's when the big change happens. No longer will everybody just pass by a problem and think "OMG, how can this happen here? Why doesn't someone do something about it?" Well, YOU can do something about it. Clean up your backyard. Clean up your front yard. Then paint your house. Cut the grass, destroy the weed, prune the trees. Mend all broken windows and the fence. Ask people to help and assist them when they do the same with their home.

Then go around your neighborhood, or the building you live in. Inspire change in others. Be the man you want others to be, or the best self you can be. Even if you can't accomplish something yourself, you can talk to others about the problem and together you can probably do it. This should show you that the whole country must be seen as your own backyard. It there's a problem - fix it.

Small things matter, just as one person matters within a larger group of people.Failure to do this means things aren't so bad - you're basically satisfied with the way things are. So, stop bitchin' and start workin'.

And it seems someone shares my opinion:

Freitag, 1. Juni 2012

Karma, and how to make things right

For the past 10 or so days I've been tormented by such problems that can only be described as bad karma. It can hardly be said that I did something wrong to deserve this, but make mistakes I did.
Still, what it made me think about is what other mistakes have I made in the past? And against whom? If there is karma, is that why I'm going through this suffering now?

Time to define karma, how I see it. It's not a god, or a goddess, nor is it Fate. It is within us. It is superior to conscience, but closely related to it.
We all do bad things, more or less, that's absolutely relative. White lies, stupid pranks, we hurt people and don't look back, because "we don't even like those people, so it's OK", it's all morally wrong, but we still do it. Also, the ways in which we rationalize about the bad stuff we do are endless.
If we have a strong sense of conscience, we typically avoid doing bad things to others. But, sometimes we do something that hurts others, deliberately or unintentionally, as we almost always prioritize our own to other people's happiness. This can hardly be called bad, but it is not good either. Most people just push on and never look back, and their conscience doesn't get upset. But, this is where karma steps in. Because somewhere deep inside our unconscious we still know that what we did wasn't right. It then manifests in what I call bad karma.

So, that's why I feel that my karma has had enough and it's time to make amends and repair the damage I left behind me, never to look back. Maybe then karma will stop messing with me, and it seems very angry. Even if it doesn't, I'll feel better knowing that I undid some wrongs from my past. The goal is to make the record clean of all the wrongs I brought to others.

The reason for doing this might be selfish, but in the matters I am thinking about, the apology is the only thing I can do. And hopefully learn from the experience.

I wonder who the Einstein of our age was

I'm thinking about the future warfare and what comes to mind is not nuclear strikes, it's cyber attacks.

This only being a possibility, if the people who contemplate the most effective ways to hurt the enemy do know where it hurts the most and how to do it in a least costly way (in terms of lost lives, at least). The ways in which you can seriously maim your enemy by messing with their computers are countless. I'm not an expert on the issue, but I do suppose that more advanced countries use more advanced weaponry and defense systems that rely on computers. A virus that incapacitates these, or even uses them against their operators would be the ultimate weapon.

I remember reading something about Iranians successfully landing a US drone by implanting a virus into it's software, effectively taking over controls. The US denied this and said it was merely shot down. Either way, it opens a whole lot of questions about the feasibility of such warfare.

One only needs to see Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4) to get an idea of the damage a cyber attack can cause. John McClane  saves the world from the so-called "fire sale", a cyber attack of apocalyptic scale.

Thus, I wonder, has there been a letter to the US president warning him of the dangers of cyber warfare, reminiscent of the letter sent by Albert Einstein to president Roosevelt? Or was it Bruce Willis alias John McClane who warned us of this menace, through his movie?

Montag, 21. Mai 2012

Why people didn't vote for Tadic

1. It's fashionable
Criticizing the government is a favorite pastime, not just for intelligent people. The not-so-smart-ones by and large support the most fashionable option, and in this case it was Nikolic. We gotta hand it to his campaign advisers (some Israeli agency) for profiling him as the contender that's about to win.

2. "I don't want to vote for the lesser evil anymore" argument
Well, as far as stupid arguments go, this one is right up there with "things can't get any worse, so what the heck", and you already know how I feel about that. If you don't understand that politics is inherently evil (unless you live in a place like Norway), you don't have the faintest idea about what politics is like. These are not the people who want to get elected for your benefit - it's theirs that they worry about! The choice you have is to steer it slightly to a direction that you feel is right by choosing one of the candidates. You only have one vote, use it!

3. They bought into the "white ballot" spin
Well, whoever thought of this (probably the Israelis), knew exactly who they're gonna hurt. An act of citizen's revolt is typical of democrats not of nationalists. Hence, this hurt Tadic significantly more than it did Nikolic. In the first round there was over 4% of invalid ballots, most of them with doodles, and in the second round, as I mentioned in another post, there was 39,000, and Tadic lost by 33,000 votes. (

4. Poverty and corruption
It's not a secret that things are bad. It's just that people act like they aren't. But, people are getting more aware that they can demand changes, so they finally did something about it. People wanted change and didn't care about the other option. Naturally, since the only other viable choice was Nikolic, he was the collateral winner. It's hard to believe anybody in their right mind would think Nikolic can do more to fight poverty and corruption than Tadic. They both suck at it, by the way.

5. Rise of the Pirates
They didn't enter these elections, but there's clearly something on the horizon resembling a Pirate Party in Serbia. They were rather active in promoting the white ballot scheme. Honestly, depending on the people that run it, I'd also be inclined to vote for them. Only because I think it's a movement beneficial for the society (again, depending on the actual program they adopt in Serbia), and that all the traditional parties are part of a political system that needs to be changed.

6. Because Kostunica told them not to
I saw this in the news, and thought "wow, some people really work hard to resurrect the old bat". Kostunica, for those who don't know, is the guy who was our PM until 2007, and now he's openly against EU. The only one that's crossed the threshold of 5% that openly says so (I'm hinting that we don't really know anything about Nikolic's policies, but have reasons to doubt his dedication to the EU values). This reason is as bogus as they come, but because the turnout was so low, even his support mattered.

7. Some people just hate everything he stands for
There are many impoverished people in Serbia, some of whom might be called transition losers, who have personally suffered from the transition towards market economy and EU, and to them Tadic is the devil. It's not about Nikolic's program being sounder than Tadic's, it's about making Tadic pay for what happened to them. Of course, the whole privatization process in Serbia was extremely corrupt, so their grudge is fine. What's not fine is the fact that Nikolic isn't any better.

8. The intellectuals didn't vote (because they had better things to do)
Finally, I hear a lot of accusations against the intellectuals, and the elites in general for not taking a more active role in the election. I'm not the bandwagoning type, but if there's something I agree with it is that the civil society and the intellectuals are not doing their job. We now have a person who didn't finish a University as our president (I can't really say he "finished" a University, can I?). What did the intellectuals do when debating this issue? They said "it doesn't really matter if the president has a degree or not". Well, if there ever was a wrong time to be politically correct, this was it. Most of all because his degree is fake, but also because majority of people in Serbia already have poor education, and now the message they get is that they don't need education, because apparently, even without it one can become a president. Then, there's also the fact that Nikolic won't resign, even if he's faced with proof of his wrongdoing in regards to obtaining the degree. No way Jose, after all this trouble to get there! Resign?! Never! But then this starts a downward spiral - he won't take responsibility for his previous actions, nor will he in the future. The next step is accusing others for your own mistakes. I dread thinking where it goes from there.

Why Serbia lost when Nikolic won, or, who is Tomislav Nikolic to me

The biggest loser is... Serbia! Tadic will be fine. Years ago, I was thinking about what Tadic could do once he's no longer president of Serbia. I concluded that he'll most likely advance to an international position (but, my premise was that he'll retire after his 2nd term, no longer having the constitutional right to run for the 3rd time). There simply can't be a position in Serbia he could be satisfied with. For sure he won't be the PM, to him that's a demotion.

So, how come Serbia lost in these elections? Nikolic is an old-type politician, the 1990s model. For those who don't know, or remember the period differently, '90s in Serbia sucked! They sucked so bad that now, more than 10 years after we defeated the man responsible for them, we get someone like Nikolic as president, because 10 years is not long enough to mend all the damage to the society done by Milosevic and his clique.

Let's just recapture some of Nikolic's achievements:
He started off as an employee of a cemetery in Kragujevac, in Central Serbia. That's why, after he became a prominent politician, his opponents would call him a "gravedigger". I think the title suits him right. There's just something about him that evokes this darkness of cemetery and death.

He is, or was, the "kum" (translates as both best man and godfather) to Vojislav Seselj. Seselj is a very special figure in Serbian politics. An exceedingly intelligent man (to this day holds record as the youngest PhD at his University), but evil to the bone, he was one of the nationalist politicians that emerged in the early '90s when the country introduced multiparty elections. (This is a link about how Seselj, on the right, dealt with his opponents. They had an argument on the TV show, where Seselj keeps talking about the man's dead father, and then the man splashes him in the face with water. The next day, Seselj and his bodyguards beat the man up, and Seselj claims that the man simply slipped on a banana peel:

Nikolic boasts one of the longest careers as a member of Serbian Parliament, of around 20 years. This is one of the issues - how can someone who's pretty much only been a government employee have a luxurious apartment in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Belgrade?

For a short period, Seselj's radicals were forming a government with Milosevic, and Nikolic was one of the ministers, or maybe a deputy PM. His history is generally obscure, and I was too young back then to remember all of these details.

His real career only starts after Seselj relocated himself to the Hague Tribunal's detention unit in Scheveningen. Just 20 days later, PM Zoran Djindjic was killed. What do we remember about Nikolic from this period? That he held a speech at Seselj's farewell rally in which he said: "If any of you sees Zoran Djindjic around in the next month or two, tell him even Tito had leg problems just before he died", referring to Djindjic's ski injury because of which he wore a cast on one of his legs:

Seselj being in Hague, Nikolic was the de facto chief of the Radical party in Serbia. He was running the show, in a manner hard to describe as anything but disgusting. This was the general description of how Radicals acted. There are many examples, but very few in English (none here):  (Radical women cursing the traitor Nikolic)

The biggest political bomb in Serbia was when Nikolic decided to break off from Seselj. In Serbia, all members of Parliament are conditioned by their respective parties to sign a blank resignation note and give it to the party. Just in case the MP gets some ideas about switching to another party. In the Radical party, to which Nikolic belonged, he, being the deputy president of the party, held all the resignation notes. So, when he decided to form a new party (because he lost to Boris Tadic for the second time, for which he blamed Seselj and his ultra-nationalist rhetoric, which wasn't moderate enough for an average voter), effectively splitting the Radicals into two parties, no one could activate his (and his new MPs') resignation note, because "he had lost them", as he put it.

Since then, he claims to be pro-EU, but also pro-Russian at the same time. He's famous for saying he wants to see Serbia become a Russian province. Also famous for a weird hunger strike. He was on a hunger strike for about two weeks, but no one knew why. Then he held a rally and said he'll sit in front of the Parliament until the government accepts his terms (again, no one remembers why this happened), but he added he'd sit on a stirofoam because he's an old man. So, now everyone makes fun of him and stirofoam. Just stupid s**t like that. (hunger strike) (stirofoam)

In the latest election, the issue of his University degree took the lead as one of the most talked about issues. In short, he "graduated" in 2007 with a degree in Marketing, but in 2008 elections he said that he's studying at the Faculty of Law. Why, if he even then had this degree? Also, according to his student file, he passed all of his 2nd year exams in 3 days! Then, when they checked his bachelor thesis, it's on a completely different topic than what the University says it is. And the University? It belongs to one of his former political allies. All in all, fishy. (unconvincing explanation)

So, that's why I say Serbia lost. Our political culture took a major blow, because it's this kind of demeanor that Nikolic consistently shows.

On the positive side, the Radicals are no more! The newly formed Progressives (Nikolic and Co.) took over all their votes and the radicals didn't pass the census threshold of 5%.

Sonntag, 20. Mai 2012

Boris Tadic loses presidency. Why?

Well, Boris Tadic just lost his presidency. What a shock! I was predicting that he'd win by 2% before the elections started, but was waiting to see the turnout to post the prediction on FB. When I saw it was low, I knew things were going sour.

Why did he lose? Several reasons. Let's start from the wasted votes. By this, I mean both doodles on the ballot AND my vote.

Why is my vote wasted? Poor government administration, is all. If I wanted to vote, being abroad an all, I had to register two weeks before the elections, letting some schmuck know that I want to vote. And not only that, I also had to travel to Vienna to cast my vote. Well, gentlemen bureaucrats, I'm not inclined to do deal with administration any more than I absolutely have to, so F**K YOU! That's why you lost mine and many more votes of young people who are getting their education or whatever abroad. And I think these votes are mostly DS votes.

There were 39,000 doodled ballots. Boris Tadic lost by 33,000 votes. Well done. So, now what?
I can't believe there are people so stupid to think things "can't be any worse than they already are" (an actual comment on B92 from someone who congratulated Nikolic). THINGS CAN ALWAYS GET WORSE! That's the logic of it - things move from one state to another, the latter being less good than the former. It happens all the time.

Tadic also lost because his party led a campaign that doesn't suit the profile of his voters, nor that of Serbian citizens. As can be seen from Nikolic's success, people respond to campaigns that energize people around a certain issue (change in most cases). A campaign that claimed things will remain the same (with the same people), and maybe slightly get better over time, is doomed for failure. It surprises me no one in DS recognized that the messages need to be more optimistic and more engaging. After all, it is exactly how they themselves ousted Milosevic. Nikolic recognized this and applied it.

I think they failed to recognize this because people in DS didn't really want any changes. They lost their compass, which is what usually happens to people once they get power, and they had power for far too many years to remain sane. Not that I can claim these people were honest before they became powerful, but they certainly didn't get any more honest after. My point is, being in a position that allows you to steal, you're not rewarded to promote anti-corruption measures, even to the extent of "neglecting" to seriously address the issue in a re-election campaign and give firm promises of change (important word). BIG mistake.

So, what really happened, and why is someone like Nikolic seemingly more popular than someone like Tadic? It's because people in Serbia hate success in other people. They can't bear that someone is apparently more successful than they are, as this gives them the perception of failure. I argue that Tadic is the prototype of a successful man. Everything about him is squeaky clean, and polished in order to project this message. The thing is people envy that. They downright hate it. However, people recognize the fact that the president should be like this. He represents all of us, especially in foreigners' eyes. They are willing to support such a person, as long as this image in untarnished. Once they see, taste or smell blood, they can't help but grab the opportunity to see the mighty fall.
Nikolic went for exactly this - from the get-go his campaign was all about "we know we'll win". Tadic was baffled, and counted that people will see through this, but they didn't. They bought into it big time. A small crack in his pristine finish was enough for Serbian voters, especially the very low - and also very bitter - to write Tadic off and support someone everybody knows isn't nearly as good as Tadic.

Biggest error of Tadic? Not enough house cleaning in his own yard. That's something you don't introduce over time - you do it from the start. Everybody should know there can't be any "kraduckanje" or else everybody does it. But, I think that's an inherited problem, not something Tadic himself introduced.

What will happen next time? Will a democrat win because people will see how bad Nikolic is (maybe people will mobilize for the next elections, which they failed to do in this one, for various reasons), or will DS lose even the Parliamentary elections because Nikolic will blame the democrats for all the problems, claiming he hasn't got enough power to effectuate changes? We'll see.