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World March Blog
2 November 2009

(English) 3 countries 1 day – the absurdity of the Balkans

(English) Today was interesting for a few reasons.  The first was the fact that we were going to Kosovo to meet with peace and nonviolence activists in Pristina.  Kosovo was in a war less than 10 years ago.  The second was the ridiculous situation caused by the Balkan wars regarding the borders.  The third was a discussion about the name “Macedonia” on the bus.

The first encounter with border control was when we tried to go from Macedonia into Kosovo.  We were accompanied by the friends from Macedonia who had organised our 2 fantastic days of events.  Djoko and Dean came with us to say goodbye.  So of course at the border we got off the bus and started exchanging hugs and taking photos.  Everything was great until a border guard came over and told us we weren’t allowed to take photos there for security reasons!  Now, picture this, we are on a road, there are trees and hills on one side of us and trees and hills on the other side.  There are no military buildings, no towns of great significance, no bridge of strategic importance, nothing except a small office and a border crossing.  But the security man tells us we can’t film or take pictures.  After lengthy negotiations Djoko organises it so that they calm down and we continue to film, take pictures and say goodbye.  It’s another example of a rule that is placed by authorities to make the people feel intimidated and that they are being controlled.

Let’s put this into context.  Before 1987 you could move from one end of Yugoslavia (Macedonia) to the other (Slovenia) without a passport and a Yugoslav passport was respected by the international community and her citizens could move freely.  Now, 20 years later, you need a passport to visit friends in the neighbouring city if it happens to fall the other side of the border.   Citizens from most countries of the former Yugoslavia need a visa to go overseas and in many cases the visa is not granted.

It gets more absurd.  Take the case of Kosovo.  Kosovo has declared independence from Serbia and is recognised by around 60 countries of the international community.  Serbia hasn’t recognised this because everything about Serbian identity can be traced back to Kosovo.  The most important events in Serbian history, the most important aspects of literature and culture, they are all there in Kosovo, so for the Serbs to recognise Kosovan independence is like someone ripping their heart out.  So, the situation with the borders is complicated.  The next city after Pristina is Belgrade and to get there the most direct route is to continue north through Kosovo and cross directly into Serbia.  However, when we crossed the border into Kosovo, the authorities took all our passports and unhelpfully stamped them with “Republic of Kosovo”.  Now I’ve been travelling for 20 years around Europe and this is the first time a European country ever gave me a stamp.  It’s a pathetic exercise in asserting a national identity and they do it to annoy the Serbs.  With this stamp it means we can’t go north into Serbia because if we arrive at the crossing to Serbia the Serbs will say that we have a stamp from a country that they don’t recognise and that we have entered illegally into Serbia.  Clearly this would cause a big mess for us.  So the only solution is to go hours out of our way, return to Macedonia, and enter Serbia through a border crossing between Macedonia and Serbia.  It’s crazy.

So within the space of 12 hours we’ve had our passports examined 3 times, each time with a delay of about an hour to our journey.

The irony is that all of these countries aspire to membership of the European Union and the Schengen agreement which will remove the border controls.  So, after all of these countries have asserted their national identity with border controls, they all aspire to have them removed in the shortest possible timescale.  It’s perverse!

Back in Pristina, the day was great.  It was interesting to see the place and great to meet the wonderful activists there, many of them very young.  You can see that the city has been badly damaged by the war and for me it has a feeling like Africa.  The streets and several of the buildings are all destroyed and badly in need of repair.  It feels a bit like Nairobi or Kisumu in Kenya, after the recent election violence there.

On our journey to Belgrade we had several hours to kill and so we discussed among ourselves the problem of the name of the country of Macedonia.  It lasted for hours but was very interesting.  Kostas from Greece has an opinion that humanists don’t care about the name and if Macedonia wants to call herself Macedonia, then that’s ok with him.  In Greece, the Greeks refer to the country as FYROM which is the name accepted by the United Nations.  So Kostas’s opinion is a minority one, but in Greece whether you say FYROM or Macedonia, you are expressing an entrenched political opinion.  In the rest of the world mostly we really don’t have an opinion.  Kostas has had problems of Greeks endorsing the World March and then withdrawing their endorsement when they’ve seen in the international website that we put Macedonia instead of FYROM.

The question we discussed was: how to respond to the Greek media when they ask us our opinion about the name of this country.  My point of view is as follows:

Humanists didn’t draw the lines on the map, the system did, therefore the names given to the areas bordered by the lines is for the system to resolve.  Humanists have a different point of view.  We want to eliminate the lines on the map; we want a Universal Human Nation without borders or controls of any sort.  Therefore we don’t have to answer the questions that the system media asks us about names of countries, which for us is a totally secondary issue.  We don’t have to respond to the stupid questions that the system creates as a total diversion from the primary issues of nuclear weapons, wars, militarism, health, education, poverty and environmental degradation.  Our task is to denounce the system we live in and the extreme nationalism that it generates and re-set the political agenda.  It’s not easy, but if we fall into the trap that the system sets for us then we fail in our task.

As for those Greeks who have withdrawn their endorsement; I have no words that I can publish here…  But in polite words I believe that they have slightly missed the point of the World March.

Finally, after all this conversation we arrived in Belgrade at 2:00 am!

Sorry for this long blog.  You’ll all be delighted to know my cold is a lot better now!

Big hug


P.S. I have to give thanks to Juan Emilio Drault and Ana Arduino for translations of my blog to Spanish and also to all the photographers in the Base Team and the Balkan team who allow me to use their fantastic photos: Gerard Hourdin, Micky Hirsch, Pierre Hennico, Nikos Stergiou, Evita Paraskevopoulou and Vincenzo Iannizzotto.

6 comments to (English) 3 countries 1 day – the absurdity of the Balkans

  • tibi

    Honestly, that’s a great take on the ex-Yugoslavian states. There is other dimensions, too…like the common pop heritage, to name just one. :)

  • Matias

    Thnx Tony, so interesting the discussion about the maps and the Humanist positioning. I use to meditate about those issues too! and like us many more I guess…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for…

    Best regards!

  • Virtudeta

    Me he adherido a la marcha, creo profundamente en que el único camino es el de la paz.
    He vendio al blog y me han dado ganas de desapuntarme, la verdad; frivolizar sobre los conflitos entre los países no es serio, las relaciones que llevan y traen a este tipo de fronteras son todo menos absurdas, encierran problemas profundos, prolongados, procelosos…
    Propiamente discutir con alguien por si sí o si no se llama Macedonia ¿no empiezan así las guerras? ; la actitud contra el agente fronterizo es agresiva ¿que tal si a cambio de su recelo encuentra una sonrisa abierta?.
    Este rollo tiene buen rollo, pero me parece muy rojillo de postal. Y no voy a seguir participando, yo soy paz. Lo siento. Siento discrepar, pero discrepo con armonía.

    • Tony Robinson

      Lo siento si te ofendí. Estoy una mera observador escribiendo lo que veo según mi limitada punta de vista, intentando entender mejor estos conflictos que ha llevado tanto miseria a la población.

      Te digo que en ningún momento fuimos maleducado con la policía de la frontera, en cambio, fuimos de buen humor y relajado en cada momento. El tenia la tension.

      Por supuesto, es tu pleno derecho de adherir o no a la Marcha Mundial. Te deseo lo mejor. Ojalá tu puedas encontrar un mejor motivo para no adherir que algo escrito por alguien que no sea ningún portavoz de la marcha y no hable de manera oficial.

  • Virtudeta

    Y por cierto, ¿cómo es que no se ha podido mantener una marcha mundial?…los griegos son de frente judiaco popular o del frente popular judaico…
    La educación no tiene dueño, es como la justicia, desde aquí no podemos saber qué fue lo justo.
    Vaya ejemplo, patético.

  • Virtudeta

    Tony, no es cuestión de sentirlo, pero sí es algo para reflexionar.
    Tengo 41 años y sinceramente creo que no estoy preparada para hacer lo que estáis haiendo vosotros sin dejarme llevar en ningún momento por mis propias percepciones, criterios y hasta prejuicios.

    Si esta marcha la hubiera emprendido Joaquín Sabina, Antonio Gala y Eduard Punset (por los españoles), estoy convencida que hubieran aportado y construido mucho: la edad, el mundo vivido, la sabiduría existencial).Es es lo que hace sabias a las personas, no las buenas intenciones.