“Hello. Is that the Ministry of Tourism? I’ve just been captured by ISIS, and I’d like to make a complaint. A very strong complaint”.
I’d like to reassure my mother that I was not actually in Syria, but in Lebanon just across the border when my phone picked up a Syrian network. Also, the guys from Hezbollah who asked me questions about why I was taking photos were really quite friendly.
There’s nothing funnier than an electronic billboard showing a Windows error message, so obviously I stop to take a photo.
A man comes up behind me. It is a solider in fatigues with a gun. “No photo”. This is a little tiresome. I attempt to point out that I am attempting to take a photo of a billboard, and what possible security risk could this be, but (as always) this is futile. Also, do you have any idea how easy it would be for me to take a photo of *anything* with modern technology without you realising it? But I know the rules, and they are rules. I accede and walk on. There are various security barriers and roadblocks nearby, so there is sensitive stuff nearby – government buildings, I think.
I block further, there are more security barriers, a guard post, and a soldier on duty. I am unsure I am allowed to walk down the road. I point down the road and beckon to the soldier, politely. “It’s okay to walk down there?”.
“Oh, sur.. Where are you from?”
“O wow”. (Excitement). “I love Australia. Where Australia?”
“Oh, great!!!!. I was in Granville”.
(Fairly nondescript westerly but not extreme westerly suburb of Sydney, probably best known to me as the location of Australia’s worst rail disaster in the 1970. Perfectly pleasant place).
“Yeah, man. Granville”
“Where are you going?”. He now wants to give me directions. I wasn’t asking for directions – just wanting to know if he would stop me if I tried to walk down the street. However, if he wants to give me directions, I’ll let him give me directions. “Monot street”.
“Oh, about 200 metres that way. Have a great time”.
“You too. Come to Australia again some time”.
“Yeah. But I’m in the army. Fuck man!!!!”.
(He holds up his palm. I give him a high five). “Yeah. You’re in the army. Fuck man”. Explaining that I am completely opposed to compulsory military service as a matter of high principle and I therefore completely support his feelings would probably be excessive.
I go on my way, hoping that the safety was firmly in place on his rifle throughout all this.
Barcelona, Catalonia. January 2014
Warsaw, Poland. January 2014
Senaki, Georgia. January 2014
Den Haag, Netherlands. February 2014
Moscow, Russia. March 2014
London, England. April 2014
Vilnius, Lithuania. May 2014
Brest, Belarus. May 2014
Kraków, Poland. May 2014
Jerusalem. May 2014
Kirzat Luza, Samaria. May 2014
Sebastia, Palestine. May 2014
Kdumin, Judea and Samaria. May 2013
Zihron Ya’akov, Israel. May 2013
Belgrade, Serbia. June 2013
Istočno Sarajevo, Republika Srpska. June 2014
Mostar, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. June 2014
Stari Grad, Hvar Island, Croatia. July 2014
Turda, Romania. July 2014
Chisinau, Moldova. July 2014
Odessa, Ukraine. August 2014
Fiumicino, Italy. September 2014
Carthage, Tunisia. September 2014
Savignano Sul Rubicone, Italy. October 2014
San Marino. October 2014
Peoples Trotskyist Republic of Brighton. November 2014
Valea Viilor, Transylvania. December 2014
If someone has “Ambassador” in their job title, address them as “Your Excellency”. That’ll stop it.
– Guy Herbert, in response to this.
Life in New Malden is just unimaginably better than in that in North Korea
– North Korean defector Kim Joo-il, stating the obvious from (where else) suburban London.
I am giving a talk at a Libertarian Home meeting at the Rose and Crown pub in Southwark this Thursday evening the 2nd of October. (All welcome. Please come). The initial motivation for this talk was to attempt to shed some light on the causes of the current war in Ukraine. When I thought about is some more, I realised that while the Ukrainian situation is interesting (in an extraordinarily depressing way) the subject is more interesting in the broader context of Russian relations with the countries of the former USSR in general.
As it happens, I have spent a lot of time travelling in the countries of the former USSR. In the last year I have been to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Lithuania, as well as the two most significant countries that are now in NATO and the EU, but which were formerly communist and Warsaw pact (Poland and Romania). With the exception of Belarus and Russia itself, these countries were not new to me – I have visited all of the others multiple times in the last five years, as well as every other formerly communist country in Europe. I have also visited the breakaway / Russian occupied territories of Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia. I have seen a lot, and learned a lot, and this helps greatly in trying to understand what is going on. (To my great regret, I do not speak Russian. I would no doubt have learned a lot more if I did).
I have been told to talk for 20 to 30 minutes. I have chosen a gigantic subject for this length. I only have time to give a quick impression of each country, I fear, and a brief attempt to tie things together. For these impressions to make any sense at all, some historical and cultural background is necessary. Therefore, I am writing this article as a brief primer, and hopefully something that people will find interesting in its own right. People who wish to add things, disagree with things, tell me I am completely wrong etc in the comments are most welcome. I a not going to talk about communism at all. I am going to talk about everything in terms of ethnic nationalism and territorial changes.
→ Continue reading: A plug for a talk, and some background
Minsk, Belarus. May 2014
Ah yes. Marc O’Polo, the great Irish explorer who travelled to and returned from the O’Rient.
All eggs that are sold in the United States would be illegal according to European health regulations.
Also, all eggs that are sold in Europe would be illegal according to US health regulations.
Apparently, there is a tremendous run on high quality cheese going on in Moscow. This wonderful range of delectable products is vanishing rapidly from supermarket shelves as customers stock up before the sanctions that Russia is imposing on Russia come into force.
Yesterday, after a walk in the warm weather, I went into a pub. I am going to name and shame here – it was the King William IV in Chigwell. It’s a nice place with fancy decor, an elaborate menu and London prices. I attempted to order a pint of lager.
However, beer was only coming out of the taps in a little dribble. One of the staff members vanished for a few minutes, returned, shook his head to one of his colleagues, and came over to me and said something along the lines of “Sorry, we are having a little bit of trouble with the draught beer due to the temperature in the cellar. This means that the beer is not coming through to the taps. It’s the hot weather, see”.
The temperature was a horrific 32 degrees Celsius – 89 degrees Fahrenheit. As an Australian, I would describe this as fairly warm but not especially hot. In England, though, it becomes quite unpleasant, due to the lack of any infrastructure for dealing with it, for instance the ability to provide beer when temperatures go over 30. (Cold drinks in newsagents and other shops are normally kept in strange cooling devices that are open to the air, rather than in proper refrigerators with closed doors. These lose the ability to keep drinks cold when the weather gets hot – ie when you most want your drink to be cold). Buildings simply aren’t designed to keep heat out, nor are they designed to be easily cooled when it gets in.
I could just say that the English inability to deal with warm but not especially hot weather is simply a consequence of their not hot climate, but then one also must think about the English inability to deal with cool but not especially cold weather, their inability to deal with weather that is a bit wet but not especially stormy, and indeed to deal with weather that is dry but not especially droughty.
Seriously, though, a pub that cannot provide beer when the temperature gets over 30 belongs in an Australian comedy sketch.
Let me get this straight. The World Cup is being held in Brazil. Prior to this tournament there was a ban on consumption of alcohol inside stadia in Brazil, but FIFA insisted that the ban be overturned because one of their sponsors is a brand of beer and their contractual relationship with the brewer of this beer required that it be on sale inside the stadia during the World Cup. Fans at these matches have apparently been buying this beer and getting unbelievably drunk. The impressive cogitative processes operating in the brains of senior FIFA officials are now just starting to deduce that there might have been a reason for this ban in the first place.
Soon, Russia is authoritarian and corrupt. Also, it is hot in Qatar in summer.
As I wrote previously, the city of Sarajevo yesterday commemorated the centenary of the assasination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand with a fairly confused set of events. A member of a not entirely ceremonial royal family and in a sense therefore a political leader was murdered 100 years ago, as was his wife. Neither of them were bad people and the murder was a horrible thing in itself, even without the terrible events that it set off. The city of Sarajevo held events to commemorate this centenary, but there was much ambiguity about what message (if any) were being sent.
Inevitably, the memories of more recent events in Sarajevo were in the air, even if not explicitly spoken about. The assassin Gavrilo Princip was a Serb nationalist and the sides of buildings in Sarajevo are full of holes that were put there by other Serb nationalists for four years during the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1996.
However, there are two Sarajevos. The bulk of the city is part of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (not to be confused with the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of which it is a constituent entity), and is populated mostly by Bosnian Muslims, with a small Bosnian Croat population also. However, to the east is Istočno Sarajevo (East Sarajevo), which is part of the Serbian Republic (not to be confused with the Republic of Serbia, of which it is not a constituent entity but would probably like to be) and which is populated by Bosnian Serbs. East Sarajevo consists mostly of new housing that was built on the edge of town using international aid money in order to house Serbs from Sarajevo who either fled or where expelled from Sarajevo during the siege. There is no obvious sign that one is crossing the boundary between the two entities when one does, but they are quite separate just the same. Public transport does not cross the border. People from East Sarajevo to not have access to healthcare in the principal hospital in Sarajevo. People from one side do not socialise or work on the other.
If you look more carefully there are differences between what is on the two sides. As I said, the housing in East Sarajevo is mostly new. The housing in nearby neighbourhoods of non-East Sarajevo are older, and the walls of buildings are full of holes where they were hit by shells during the siege. There is a large and new Orthodox Church overlooking the boundary between the two parts of the city. Away from the populated areas but still on the boundary is the base of the EUFOR peacekeeping force. The boundary goes right through its middle.
Although the memory of the siege of 1992-6 was hanging over the events in the historic part of Sarajevo yesterday, allusions were vague. In East Sarajevo, not so much. Public spaces are still being established in that part of town. One of these is a new park. A ceremony was held yesterday to name it “Gavrilo Princip Park”, and a statue of the murderer himself was also unveiled. Thankfully, I suspect, we did not make it to East Sarajevo for that dedication ceremony. However, we did visit the park and the statue today. A few people were posing for photographs with it. Whereas the main commemorating events were deliberately non-provocative, those in East Sarajevo were extraordinarily provocative, and very crude. Also, insane.