Monday, September 03, 2007

Banana Split

...Part 2, of the epic drive around the Balkans (is it? Where do these mysterious Balkans begin and end? I have a feeling we kind of circled them, but am not really sure because I'm not really sure where they begin and end - and why they are a they at all, since as I understand it, "they" is a peninsula)

The next morning we awoke to find that Törökszentmiklós actually had residents and wasn't in fact some bizarre ghost town. They were up and about and shopping and going about their obviously diurnal existences. Perhaps there had been an air-raid the previous evening that had made them enforce a blackout and had them all huddling silently in their bomb shelters. We shall never know, since we packed up and shipped out sharpish.

We had decided that rather than traversing Hungary by motorway, we would (as we had given ourselves enough time) see a bit of the country, and so head off in a vaguely south western direction. There really wasn't much to see to be honest, at least east of the Danube, as the countryside was unremittingly flat and uninspiring and the towns not really much better. The one thing you have to be a bit careful of when driving across Hungary from East to West (or from West to East, obviously) is to make sure you plan where you are going to cross the Danube. If your itinerary takes in Budapest obviously you can do it there, but otherwise you have to be fairly careful as there really aren't that many bridges. We elected (in advance, thankfully, so we didn't have to back track and keep banging up against a wide and uncrossable watery barrier) to cross at a town called Dunaföldvár, which was a pleasant little place dominated by it's bridge (obviously), and having a very bridge-based sense of identity - in the town square there is a statue of two blokes surveying which is not something you normally see in statues (Everywhere it seems, but in Hungary particularly, statues are very keen on involving horses).
The surveyors of Dunafoldvar

We stopped for lunch under the watchful gaze of the lifeless team of surveyors, and then continued on. This time with added contours - the landscape west of the Danube is much more appealing. Sadly we didn't head south for Paks (birthplace of one of my favourite Hungarian slang expressions - as reported here) or even Pecs, a town which I really would love to see, as it has the reputation as Hungary's most interesting/beautiful town. Finally we fetched up in Nagykanizsa, which is fairly close to the border, and since there was an intense rainstorm going on, found a place to stay. This proved much easier than it had been the night before, as there were people and lights and life in Nagykanizsa (despite the downpour).

The next day we were up early for the long drive to the coast, this one to be more or less all on motorways, so while it would be the longest day in terms of kilometres, it promised to be the shortest in terms of hours and minutes. Another day, another border, this time leaving the glorious free market of happiness and prosperity that is the EU. Would we have difficulties? Would the Croatian border police, venting their frustration at Romania's accession without them, pick a fight and drag us aside to be questioned at length? No, we were waved through in seconds (though the bloke was ridiculously surly) and then even handed a series of tourist information leaflets and maps of the country. This is a service I have never received before. Free maps! What a brilliant idea. I was instantly well disposed towards this country (leaving the country a week later was a different story, but I'll leave that for now).

We hared down the motorway towards Zagreb, eating up the kilometres in a way unheard of in our motorway free world. You don't get to enjoy the landscape in the same way by this method, but you do get to your destination a lot faster. We slipped past the capital and were then off and running towards the coast, on what must be one of the world's most international motorways. I'd reckon about 25% of the cars on the road were Croatian, and the rest were from all over Europe - In rough order of volume Austrians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Germans, Czechs, Italians, Slovaks, Bosnians, Poles, Romanians, Dutch, French, Belgians, Brits, and Russians. I had thought we had travelled an unfeasibly long way to get to this coast, but passing or being passed by Poles and Belgians, made me realise that we'd barely even had to get out of bed.

Another thing to note about this motorway is that my brother built it. On his own. Armed only with a spoon and a trowel. In four months. He's good at stuff like that, my brother. OK, he didn't actually build all of it, just some of it, and he had some help I think. But he was (at least temporarily) involved, and I even went to stay with him in the small town of Ogulin back when he was doing so. That town, indeed, was my first introduction to the concept of pizza with ketchup - something which I rediscovered (to my horror) when I got to Romania. Anyway, he did a good job did my bro' as this motorway is a pretty spectacular piece of engineering work, involving numerous tunnels (two of which clock in at at approximately 6kms long), and long stretches on concrete stilts along the sides of cliffs ("stilts" may be the wrong word there, but I don't know what is. Columns? Pillars? Girders?). Aside from the fact that this motorway was entirely the work of one of my family members, it did beg the question as to how come Croatia has managed to install this very fine infrastructurial artery to serve the country (and it's by no means the only one - there are more of them to the various corners of that banana shaped country) while Romania, member of the EU and all that, has managed so far to build a short one from Bucharest to noted population and tourism hub Pitesti and very recently one that nearly goes to the coast. Transylvania and Moldavia don't have a centimetre of motorway in them. It's a bit pathetic really.

Anyway we zipped south, and waved goodbye to the long queue of traffic exiting at Zadar, while we headed on towards Split. (The town immortalised in the classic "Theme from the Hair Bear Bunch" - "So don't yell, Help! Help! Here come the bears, Lets split!").

One odd thing as you head down the coast on the motorway, is that you basically never see the sea. This, it turns out, is because Croatia's coast is very mountainous and the road is built one ridge back from the sea. This is something we discovered to our cost when we finally reached the end of the motorway, which has conveniently been constructed to a point about 15kms from Brela, our destination. Or at least we thought. Sadly, though, the road between the motorway and the coast had been temporarily closed and we were forced onto a diversion of epic proportions, having to head south around a massive mountain before being able to cut back to the coast and back up to Brela - a 100km, 2 hour plus journey which I really didn't need at that juncture. My father in law enjoyed it immensely, getting to see tiny dusty Croatian villages and all that, but I just fancied a break from driving. On this unexpected tour of out-of-the-way villages we did also get to see a poster proclaiming Ante Gotovina a hero, which reminded me of the reason why Croatia isn't yet in the EU while much less developed (at least to the naked eye) Romania is. (though to be fair, it's not like Romania doesn't have it's fair share of powerful people who probably ought to be arrested and tried for stuff they did in the past. Yes, Domnul Iliescu, I'm looking at you)

Finally, though, we made it to Brela, our destination. Total distance from Csikszereda - 1600km on the nose. 1000 miles for those who still use them. I sank a well earned beer or five, and we headed straight down to the beach to cool off. Rave review follows tomorrow in the next instalment of this enthralling "what I did on my holidays" style essay.


Anonymous said...

Dear Andy,

Before making comments about Gotovina it would be helpful if you learned a little bit about him. Were you one of the persons who condemned the Duke Lacrosse players as “racist rapists” before they had even gone to trial? Your quick rush to judgment about a man you obviously know little or nothing about makes you, in my humble opinion, no different than all of those people who condemned the Duke Lacrosse players on the basis of allegations made by Mike Nifong.

While I understand allegations have been made by Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte against Ante Gotovina (although not even she goes so far as to claim 250,000 civilians were ethnically cleansed), you should be more cautious about taking such allegations as “truth.” They are simply allegations, which I (and the people you encountered in Zadar with Gotovina posters) believe the evidence will show are false allegations. Carla Del Ponte also accused the Bosnian General Sefer Halilovic of war crimes, and Halilovic was acquitted in November 2005. Accordingly, reliance on Hague indictments is not enough to support such insinuations as you have made in this piece.

Croatians take pride in Ante Gotovina and in Operation Storm because it is the Operation that liberated their country from four years of mostly brutal occupation. As a comparison, Gotovina is charged (I believe falsely) for the murder of approximately 150 Serbs after Operation Storm. In contrast, between 1991 and Operation Storm, more than 15,000 (Fifteen THOUSAND!) Croats were murdered in areas occupied by rebel Serbs, and more than 4000 are still missing. Croatians should indeed be proud of their own liberation from such a hell.

And in celebrating their own liberation, Croatians are actually behaving EXACTLY like Europeans and in line with so-called “European values,” not in contradiction to them. After all, Europe and the US celebrate as great victories the victories over Germany and Japan in WWII and their liberation from fascism, despite the fact that Truman, Stalin and Churchill ordered the expulsion of 16,000,000 German civilians from eastern Europe AFTER WWII in the Potsdam Agreement.

Are you aware that the European Union's official position is that the forced deportation of 16,000,000 Germans AFTER WWII from eastern Europe (as well as the 1 to 3 million killed in the process) was legitimate, justified, and lawful? So tell me, why is it again that Croatia cannot enter the EU? Because of Gotovina?

Finally, I attach an email written by Roy Gutman, a journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his discovery of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia. Mr. Gutman’s analysis of the indictment against Gotovina should give pause to anyone who recklessly relies on Carla Del Ponte to defame Gotovina, Croatia, and the truth about Croatia’s suffering from 1991-95.

From: Roy Gutman

To: Andras and other list readers

Glad to see there is a debate running on the Gotovina indictment; I think a debate is appropriate in this case, not only to look at the specific charges but more important at the approach the Tribunal took in crafting this indictment (and possibly others). I should start by saying that judging from what was posted of the interview with Jutarni List, my comments to their reporter were compressed, and qualifiers and caveats dropped. Thus the paraphrase in the subject line above should have contained a qualifier that based on the material thus far made public, there seems to be no basis…

I of course do not know what is in the compilation of evidence that the prosecutor presented to the judge prior to issuance of the indictment; it is not a public document. And I am not sure when it will become available, as it presumably contains testimony from protected witnesses. Thus it is possible if and when Gotovina appears at the Tribunal and the material is presented to him, we still will not know what was the factual basis for the indictment; possibly not even until the trial. What if the compilation of testimony is as weak as the indictment? Is the idea to wait a few years to straighten it out?

The problem is that the indictment is sketchy and does not to my reading lay out the individual criminal responsibility of Gen. Gotovina for the crimes listed. And it has a profound flaw, namely the reference to deportation and displacements as a result of crimes which occurred after said deportation and displacements. There may be a case for alleging command responsibility, but from what I know of the general’s whereabouts and activities at the time of the killings (I believe he was in Bosnia), the political status of Krajina after Operation Storm (the conflict was over, whatever the indictment may say, and it was under at least nominal civilian control), and the circumstances in which the worst crimes, namely the murders, were committed, even that may be a stretch. Until now, my general impression was that the office of the Prosecutor made a determined effort to proceed along the lines of accepted fact and to drop indictments which did not satisfy the toughest criteria; in this case, it seems to be flying in the face of established fact, particularly on the issue of displacement/deportation. So I am most intrigued as to the content of the compilation of evidence; but as a member of the public I have no recourse but to remain intrigued, possibly for years to come.

The Tribunal and specifically the office of the prosecutor can of course stand on their rules and reveal nothing of the content; but a better course would be to take account of the controversy engendered in its indictment. The reasons go beyond the issue of justice or injustice in one particular instance. The standing and impact of this Tribunal, more than any national court, rests on its high reputation in international public opinion. This Tribunal after all has the unique function in international life of establishing the historical truth of a complex set of disputed events; in that context, the search for truth is not just the end product, but must be obvious in the interim proceedings. The obligation not only to do justice but be seen to do justice at every point is all the greater for a new institution in its first years of existence. It sets the precedent, positive or negative, for any further adjudication of international humanitarian law whether in an ICC or ad hoc bodies.

Further, and here I have to respond to Andras directly, I think it is incumbent on observers, be they reporters, jurists, academics, interested parties or other members of the public, to raise questions when they become apparent. There has not been enough close examination of the Tribunal and its procedures in the popular media. Particularly now that it is finally getting the top defendants it has sought or should have sought for years, the Tribunal is in the spotlight. Its proceedings have to appear to be unimpeachable.

Roy Gutman

Andy said...

Dear Mike

Before cutting and pasting your stock response to any blogger even mentioning Gotovina, you ought really to check out what I said about him. And you'll notice that there isn't even the slightest allegation about him in my text.

I am more than happy that the War Crimes Tribunal exists, and I believe in the process that it represents. I have not convicted Gotovina and neither has the tribunal. I believe it is as fair a process as it is possible to be, and I look forward to it producing a verdict in the Gotovina case - whatever that verdict may be. The fact is that Croatia avoided handing Gotovina over to trial (note trial, not sentencing) when it had the chance, just as Serbia continues to shelter Mladic and Karadzic. This is not to compare those three people, just to highlight what it is that those nations have failed to do in support of truth and justice.

For what it's worth, I think Croatia should be admitted to the EU, and as I say, I await with interest the verdict in the Gotovina trial.


Andy said...

By the way, Mike, I was only semi-serious about the cut and paste comment, but then I have just found exactly the same piece under your name elsewhere. So, what is your daily routine? Searching for the name "Gotovina" on google blogs, not really bothering to read the posts and sticking in your standard speech? Maybe if you'd read and responded to what I wrote, rather than what you expect anyone who doesn't have firm Croatian nationalist credentials to write, we could have a reasonable conversation about Gotovina and Storm. I fear though that you;re not that interested in conversation, just about trotting out your well worn pieces defending him.

Anonymous said...

Dear Andy,

Just how is one to interpret the comment that "I spotted a poster proclaiming that Ante Gotovina is a hero and was reminded once again why Croatia is not in the EU?" A reader unfamiliar with the case could interpret this to mean that Croatia is not in the EU because it is a backward country that celebrates war criminals as heroes. I corrected your post.

As for cutting and pasting, do you expect me to reinvent the wheel every time some brings out the same "well worn observation," which is "I'm traveling through Croatia, saw a sign supporting Gotovina, gosh what a backward country." You basically posted the same comment that was posted on the other blog (and dozens of others), so should I have to reformulate the argument in order to respond to essentially the same argument? I don't think so. My "well worn pieces" are thus a response to a "well worn (and uninformed) observation."

And I am more than willing to debate you on the merits. If your only intent was to say that Croatia's membership negotiations were delayed by the Gotovina case, then this was not specific in your post.


Andy said...

Oh come on Mike. You're being a little ridiculous here in your desperate desire to make sure your viewpoint is heard.

Just how is one to interpret the comment that "I spotted a poster proclaiming that Ante Gotovina is a hero and was reminded once again why Croatia is not in the EU?" A reader unfamiliar with the case could interpret this to mean that Croatia is not in the EU because it is a backward country that celebrates war criminals as heroes. I corrected your post.

Thanks very much I'm sure for "correcting" my post. You can't even be bothered to quote properly the sentence that has got you all riled up. I'll do it for you (Ctrl+C and then Ctrl+V for future reference): "we did also get to see a poster proclaiming Ante Gotovina a hero, which reminded me of the reason why Croatia isn't yet in the EU while much less developed (at least to the naked eye) Romania is."

There's no "once again", there's no indication of anything that could be interpreted as implying that Croatia is a backward country (indeed I even said specifically that it isn't), there's no use of the word "war criminal" there's no commentary about who Gotovina is, either a reader is going to come along and not know who I'm talking about and (if they are interested) look him up, or someone is going to come along knowing who he is and carry on with their own opinion. Nothing I have said either expresses an opinion nor implies one.

As for I'm traveling through Croatia, saw a sign supporting Gotovina, gosh what a backward country." This just makes it clear to me that you haven't read anything of the post outside the one sentence about the Gotovina poster. Even that sentence (as demonstrated above) makes it clear that I didn't find Croatia a backward country, in fact quite the contrary.

If your only intent was to say that Croatia's membership negotiations were delayed by the Gotovina case, then this was not specific in your post. Well it wasn't my only intent obviously, since I wrote many many words (of questionable literary merit) of which only about three seem to have wound you up, but more or less that is the point of the observation. Croatia's entry into the EU is delayed because of the fallout from the war (including Gotovina and his trial). It's not exactly a contentious observation is it?

Don't bother writing again unless you actually want to engage with something i actually wrote rather than what you think I probably maybe thought while I was writing it. I get tired of people roaming the Internet with their desperate need to repeat their tired observations about whichever issue they have a bee in their bonnet about. In my experience, none of them are ever prepared for dialogue or to read what the other actually says. It seems to me that you are just one of these people. Going to prove me wrong?

Anonymous said...

Dear Andy:

Come off it. You made a comment which you now wish to claim only meant that Croatia is not in the EU because of the war. No reasonable person with any knowledge of the war, the Balkans or Ante Gotovina could have read your post and NOT thought that you were implying that Croatia is not in the EU because of Gotovina. If that is not what you meant, then it would have been more gentlemanly of you to acknowledge the vagueness of the comment and to move on, instead of getting on your high horse and trying to claim that your post says something it does not.

Here's another tip. If you don't want people to be able to freely comment on your blog, then blogspot allows you to monitor all postings to your blog. That way, you can engage in censorship so that you are never challenged on any posting.

That way you don't have to worry about people "roaming the internet" and commenting on your blog.

Again, if your intent was to state simply that the war has delayed Croatia's accession to the EU, fine. But to argue that that is the reasonable interpretation of your comment about Gotovina is spurious.


Andy said...

Christ Mike, give it a rest. Now you're arguing against yourself.
No reasonable person with any knowledge of the war, the Balkans or Ante Gotovina could have read your post and NOT thought that you were implying that Croatia is not in the EU because of Gotovina.

Nobody with an axe to grind clearly. Though I'm yet to be convinced that you fall under the description of a "reasonable person".

I'm happy for people to freely comment on my blog, I just get bored of the few who come on without actually reading what they are commenting on and then proceed to repeat the same thing ad nauseum without reading any of the responses.

Perhaps I'd stay off my high horse if you didn't make such massive leaps of reasoning - let's look at the speed with which you leapt from this:
"we did also get to see a poster proclaiming Ante Gotovina a hero, which reminded me of the reason why Croatia isn't yet in the EU while much less developed (at least to the naked eye) Romania is."

to this:
Accordingly, reliance on Hague indictments is not enough to support such insinuations as you have made in this piece.

in a paragraph is impressive logic.

Just to put things in a little bit of perspective: I think Gotovina has two things that count against him (aside from the evidence, whatever it may be). We must find him innocent until proven guilty (a point I presume you were making in your confusing opening salvo, during which I was presumed to have knowledge of obscure American college sports - I don't but I got the gist).

The first incontrovertible problem that he has is that he fled when he was indicted (unlike Ademi). This is of course not proof of guilt, but it doesn't help his case.

The second major problem he faces in the eyes of the world (and this is not in any way his fault) is the kind of support he gets. When his fan club include a bunch of extremist nationalist scumbags like Thompson, unfortunately he ends up getting tarred by association. You perhaps ought to consider that problem when starting off on one of your (obviously regular) crusades.

Anonymous said...

Andy, sorry to have to put it this bluntly but you are full of shit. I read your entire initial article many times and quite frankly none of it changes the context of your comment about Gotovina.

Furthermore, to say imply that Gotovina is guilty because Thompson supports him has got to be one of the stupidest things posted on the internet today. Congratulations. And you're in education? God bless your Romanian students. They'll need it.

Or did I misread that statement too, Andy? Did you intentionally avoid the phrase "guilt by association" and use "tarred by association" so that you could later bullshit us some more about how you didn't take a position on Gotovina?

rs said...

Mike, I hate to say it but Andy's got a better case. He does after all know what he intended to get across with that vague comment of his whereas you started off with spamming and assumptions that make you look like a supreme asshole. Obviously you aren't a regular reader of this blog and it's too bad trolls like you haven't figured out how damaging they are to their causes. You only make the situation worse.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Randy. "Andy knows what he intended to get across with his vague comment."

It seems to me that Andy's vague comment is the problem, not my subsequent commentary. If he in fact did not intend his "vague comment" to be interpreted the way it was interpreted, then a clarification would have been in order. Instead we have gotten off on a ridiculous tangent about cross-posting and who is a bigger asshole.

As I said, if the blog is not intended for worldwide access and comment, it can be set up to prevent unsolicited comments. If you have a blog that invites anyone to comment, however, you shouldn't bitch about "trolls."

rs said...

I'm just saying that you're not helping your case by picking the wrong forum for your tone. Think about it and stop being so presumptive.

Some of us might even want to chat about this...maybe you've got some interesting points. Do you have a blog? Post a link and we can take the discussion there.

Anonymous said...

Dear Andy:

My apologies for my last few posts. I got caught up in the heat of the argument and now regret my choice of words.

Also, if I jumped to a conclusion about your initial post, and that conclusion does not reflect your views of the Gotovina case, then my apologies once again. My post was born of two things: 1) your post could be interpreted as alleging something which you have now clarified was not intended, and 2) my initial interpretation of your post was based on the fact that many other people have made similar observations, arguing that Croatia's attachment to Gotovina somehow retards its development. I assumed that yours was simply another in a long line of similar comments. I regret that my assumption was incorrect.

Hope you enjoyed your Brela vacation (which, ironically enough, was alleged to be one of the places that Gotovina was "sighted" during his years on the run!).

I won't bother your blog anymore.


Mike Baresic

Andy said...

Hi Mike. I think both of us got a tad belligerent a tad quickly. I concede that the offending sentence could be read the wrong way (though I still contend that's not the most obvious reading), but having you leap from something slightly ambiguous straight into all these incredible and baseless assumptions about my opinions was what made me, let's say, ill-disposed to the usual niceties of debate.

And yes, I enjoyed Brela very much, thanks.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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