Potato i Jedinstvo

Sunday, December 31, 2006

E-mails from Brčko, 2002

Very much of their place and time (four months after 9/11), from a younger version of me:

Jan 18

The party was at the home of one of the American diplomats here, with the Supervisor, an American ambassador who is sort of the chief of the whole Brčko District. There were some people who came up from Sarajevo, too. There were about twenty internationals, and to my knowldege, no locals. It was kind of wild: first an American guy is talking loud about those goddam plea bargains, then this Brit is talking softly, almost conspiratorially, about, "you know, there are no white hats here. The Muslims as well." "Yeah, but some hats are light grey and some are dark grey..." "And some are black." "Some are black." Then a Dutchwoman starts off by copping an attitude like, "I sure you don't know the Netherlands," and I get to say, "no, we have a dear friend in Alkmaar." Very interesting. Almost colonial. (The food was American snack food! Potato chips, cashews, cheese and crackers! One of the Europeans went, "I _love_ this onion dip!")

Afterward, about eight of us, the Canadian judge and Dutch Person among us, walked through the snow to my hotel for dinner. I was surprised by how good a time I had. I might have been overcompensating for being self-conscious about being an American, and a hick American at that, so I was talking a lot, talking in French, showing off and using words like "apotheosis" (as in, "no, no, Allain, I think that to die while rescuing others is the apotheosis of the firefighter's calling." Can you believe this out of me? How embarassing.) Anyway, this is the same conversation where J_. pronounced that she was tired of the firefighters being called heroes, and that you never heard about how the firefighters stole all the gold and jewelry from the shops around the World Trade Center, and it was at that moment that I decided to write her off for good. The Europeans were much better. However, about Bosnia, they were all pessimistic, saying that it will take at least a generation to come back from the war, and the internationals will be gone in five years. Allain, a suave Swiss guy who's a human rights lawyer, thinks actually that getting rid of most of the fairly officious and arrogant foreign administrators and just relying on the regular - Joe foreign military guys to keep the peace would not be the worst thing in the world.

By the way, I got to personally thank some peacekeepers for keeping my personal peace. Today I was walking from my hotel to the courthouse when I saw a patrol of four American soldiers, all in battle dress uniforms, with helmets and guns. Remember, this is on a street with just regular people going back and forth to work or the store, not a war zone at all. I asked if I could take their picture, and they were really friendly and great. Each one took off his gloves so I could shake his hand.

Jan 23

Brčko (say brc- like birch tree, -ko like Costco), Bosnia-Hercegovina isn't a picnic, but I can say it's truly educational. I've met six remarkable lawyers who make up the first public defender office in former Yugoslavia, and their commitment to this whole rule of law thing is pretty humbling. Plus, some of them are just very skilled and crafty practitioners in any language. I watched the senior P.D., nicknamed Pythagoras in the office, argue part of our equivalent of a suppression hearing, something that one just didn't do under socialism or during the war. He knew the new law cold, and he was able to build an air-tight record. Result: motion granted, suspect's statements and all fruits thereof suppressed, a first for a murder case in these parts (give the judge credit, too, for having the integrity to follow the law and do the right thing, also a relative novelty here). I respect these colleagues a lot.

Brčko town itself ain't pretty, but it is peaceful. Having Georgia and Idaho boys driving around town in Humvees helps a bit, I suppose. I was able to download some court forms translated into Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian from the GIDC website, so now a little piece of the Brcko District Legal Aid office will be forever DeKalb County.

By the way, it's either "your language," "the local language," or "Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian." A few days ago, I'm in a shop and I'm apologizing for not knowing how to say "muesli, yogurt, and 2%, please", and trying to say, I'm sorry, I only know only a little Serbian (thinking it a safe bet, since only in the last two years has Brčko tried any reverse ethnic cleansing, from the pre-season 50% Muslim to the career-high 95% Serbs). Well, I gambled wrong, and I'm usually so good about these things. 20-something dude goes off on me, in English no less: "Why don't you say Bosnian? This is Bosnia! You are in Bosnia! We speak Bosnian!" His neighbor the unindicted Bosnian Serb hard-liner might disagree.

Jan 23

Excellent Humvee-spotting here recently. There were four in the plaza near my hotel on Sunday. I've also seen one Blackhawk and a camoflauged GMC Jimmy, all seeing to my personal security. Not to mention the Finns! Thanks for the peace-keeping, Finns! And this weekend the hotel filled up with cops from many lands, as part of the International Police Task Force. Law enforcement from Denmark to Bangladesh are here, making it entertaining to guess what the various patches and badges mean.

This week a nice warm breeze blew out the fog and low clouds, so I got my first clear view of the mountains of Bosnia to the south and west, and my first view of a Bosnian minaret, out in the suburbs, beyond an imaginary and erased but still-significant border between the Republika Srpska part of Brčko District and the Federation part. It's good to see them rebuilding a mosque here in Brčko town, too, in the RS part.

Jan 29

The judge is here at OHR typing an e-mail to _his_ wife. He did not go to Serbia with me, but stayed in town planning his big fishing expedition. "Fly-fishing Guide to Bosnia, by Judge Terry Shupe."

Dutsa says don't worry about the shirt, but to get Joe a Dinamo Zagreb shirt too, and that there's no Bosnian Muslim soccer team, so no shirts for that side. She also said that if Ibrahim the burek maker gives you and Joe a sad look, just say, "this is just a souvenir, my husband didn't understand the politics very well." Bosnian politics are hard enough for Bosnians to keep straight. I just liked the shirts because they were bright red and because it was _the_ Yugo soccer team that was known outside YU before the war (it's also mentioned in a Billy Bragg song, maybe that's why).

I will look for silvery trinkets for you in Sarajevo. I saw icons and pretty things in Belgrade, but by this point, I'm sort of turned off of traditional Serbian Orthodox anything. I think that I wouldn't mind having traditional Bozniak stuff in our house, as they have the least to apologize for by far. See how ethnic politics pops up over here? I'm ending up doing it too. No wonder some people get nostalgic for the old dictator Tito. There are some pop singers that everyone likes, though (no, locals, not Michael Jackson).

Jan 30

Judge Shupe is going to help me with an abbreviated version of the cross-examination display for the goddamn private lawyers, but not for two days, more like 90 minutes. This will be next Tuesday or Wednesday. Goddamn lawyers don't even like public defenders, think they're taking all the business. What's worse is that some of them are these unreconstructed legal troglodytes who not only don't accept the new "Brčko Model," but are actively hoping that it fails. Grrrr.

And so, ROADTRIP! The big symposium starts tomorrow at 11:00 am, for two days. Then, I am hoping to get a ride to Sarajevo with M_. whenever he's leaving in the famous ABA-CEELI "Americans-Only" car. If I can't get a ride, I'm taking the local chicken bus. Sarajevo sounds like it's worth it, so I'm going no matter what. It's also supposed to have the best opportunities to buy trinkets for you and Joe. (I'm waiting to find stuff for the grandmas in Zagreb, capital of Catholi-crazy Croatia. Did you know they have crucifixes on the office walls in government buildings there? Some messed-up papist juju there.)

Dubravka and I have to go back to the courthouse at 3:00 pm local time to watch Team Legal Aid put the last touches on their mock trial. In the latest petty OHR insult, we have to leave sooner, because we can no longer ride in an OHR car, even if J_. is headed to the same place. Double grrrrr.

Let Frank know: Safet the lawyer, Mister Happy Bosnia Fun Guy, has gifted me with not one but two big bottles of Brčko moonshine! Mmmmmm, slivovitz..... I definitely will have to put them in my carry-on, and hope they make it through Customs. They're just two clear bottles with clear liquid inside, and no proper labels or markings outside. If they do survive the drug-sniffing dogs, I would be pleased if Francis would take one off my hands. Those tasty little plums should not have died in vain.

Faux pas for the day: Safet and I were talking about cars, and he was telling me about the Yugoslavia-built car that he bought ten years ago. So like a fool I ask, do you still have it, and he says, no, during the war the Army needed to use it, so.... Dumb of me (happy ending, though; Safet now drives a not-too-old Mercedes).
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