About That Ante Gotovina Film

I read this interesting story on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) about a week ago: In Casting Quandary, Croatian Filmmaker Lacks For ‘Enemies’.

Croatian director Antun Vrdoljak finds himself in a bind.

His current project, called The General, deals with Croatia’s recent past; it is meant to be a blockbuster about the exploits of Croatian wartime commander Ante Gotovina. Vrdoljak and his crew are currently shooting the film in the vicinity of the Croatian coastal city Split, recreating the final battle of the Croatian war of independence in 1995.

But he is having trouble finding actors willing to play “the enemy.”

Vrdoljak’s dilemma is that even in the filmmaker’s world of make-believe, Croatian actors refuse to put on the uniform of “Chetniks” — as rebel Serb fighters were dubbed to evoke the nationalist Serbian units that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II — while Serbs refuse to take part in a Croatian movie about General Gotovina.

The story—which is unfortunately written with a rather anti-Serbian bias—goes on to say that though this director is paying top dollar for actors to be in his movie, he’s still having trouble finding them. Croats don’t want to play Serb nationalists on film, while Serbs don’t want to take part in anything that glorifies Ante Gotovina. Gotovina was a Croatian general during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. He started his military career in the French Foreign Legion and then returned to his native Croatia. He helped mastermind Operation Storm in 1995, which greatly weakened the Serb side militarily, as well as driving out tons of Serbs from their homes in Croatia.

Ante Gotovina returning to Croatia in 2012.

Gotovina was indicted for war crimes and arrested. However, he was inexplicably acquitted on appeal after being sentenced to twenty-four years in prison. He returned home to Croatia a hero—and according to the article I linked to, much less of a Serb hater.

I’ve never been a great admirer of Gotovina since I’m more pro-Serb than pro-Croat (in the context of the Yugoslav breakup, that is). However, he’s definitely had a fascinating life and I really would like to see the movie when (if?) it comes out. In fact, I will see it no matter how anti-Serb and pro-Gotovina it is, due to one important fact: one of my favorite actors, Goran Visnjic, is playing the role of Gotovina. In case you don’t know what he looks like, I’ve included a helpful picture below.

Have I convinced you to see it, too? 😉

Seriously, though, as amusing as the director’s quandary is, I think a lot of people are missing the point. When you’re acting, the whole point is you aren’t yourself. I mean, I could play a character who really wants a tattoo or a nose piercing—those are two things I’m resolutely against. Just because I played a character who wanted them wouldn’t mean that I did. I could play a character who had political views that were completely opposed to my own—and that wouldn’t mean I espoused those views. It’s just like playing a Serbian soldier doesn’t mean that you’re pro-Serbian. Believe me, I know the whole history of the Balkans is very fraught with tensions and fighting and wars. But I think refusing to play a character who is supposed to be on “the other side” is taking things just a little bit too far.

Or maybe I’m too blinded by my obsession with Goran Visnjic and just really want this movie to be made so I can see it. 🙂


The Other Elections

So, everyone in my country has been talking about the presidential election on November 8. It’s overshadowed a lot of other things in the news, including two other countries’ presidential elections that took place last weekend.

These countries are Bulgaria and Moldova—admittedly not countries the average American pays attention to in the best of times. Luckily I, your humble correspondent, do follow this area, as I’ve been blogging about Eastern Europe for years. Overall, the results of the elections can be summarized as a big win for Russia.


Igor Dodon
Igor Dodon

Igor Dodon won. He’s a member of the socialist party is very pro-Russia. His platform includes improving relations with Russia and ending an association agreement Moldova has with the EU. Russia especially likes him because he recognizes Crimea as a part of Russia. He ran against a pro-European Union candidate and many say this was a victory for the anti-EU (and therefore pro-Russian) movement in Moldova.


Rumen Radev in 2012, when he was still in the Air Force
Rumen Radev in 2012, when he was still in the Air Force

Rumen Radev won the Bulgairan presidential election. He is a socialist but, like Dodon, is also pro-Russia. Radev is a former Air Force general. He actually participated in a military training exercise in the United States in the 1990s and attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, graduating in 2003.

I’m less clear about Radev’s positions than Dodon’s, though he is pro-Russia, wants to develop closer relations with Russia, and wants the EU to drop the sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, a lot of the media and political analysts are describing this as a huge win for Russia. Not one, but two pro-Russia candidates have come to power. President-elect Donald Trump has also mentioned wanting better relations with Russia. I think there’s a good chance the United States could drop the sanctions against Russia. Now if only we could get the EU to do the same…

Review: Ratcatcher

Ratcatcher by Tim Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why can’t every spy thriller be this good? Not only does this book have unexpected plot twists and turns, but it’s actually properly researched. The Russian characters have real Russian names—what a shock! There are no random names of historical figures that aren’t actually common in Russia, like those that appear in Christopher Reich’s Rules of Vengeance. (To be clear, I really like Reich’s book. I was disappointed that he gave one of his characters the last name of Witte, though. Sergei Witte was a famous tsarist minister, but his name is actually relatively uncommon in Russia. It’s as if the author plucked it from a history book without knowing.)

Anyway, back to the review of Ratcatcher. This book is fabulous. The author even gets the tensions between Russia and Estonia right. If you want to read a fast-paced spy thriller with believable, realistic characters and a fascinating situation heavily influenced by historical events (I’m an amateur historian, so I appreciate when authors are aware of historical events), check out this book. When I got it, it was free on Kindle, so you really have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

If I could give it SIX stars out of five I would. Well done indeed.

View all my reviews

Wednesday Music: Smetana’s ‘Die Moldau’

I have a real treat for you today, a piece by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana called Die Moldau. I played this piece back when I was in a symphony orchestra and I haven’t thought of it in years. I had a lot of fun playing it, though, so I thought I’d share it today. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Its proper name is Vltava, which is the name of a river in the Czech Republic. The German name for this river is Die Moldau, which is what the piece was called when I played it.
  • It is part of a group of six pieces collectively called Má vlast, which means My homeland in Czech. They were influenced by the nationalist music common in Europe in the end of the nineteenth century, when Smetana composed them.
  • The piece is supposed to evoke the sounds of this great river. And lest you wonder how or why anyone would write a piece of music in honor of a river, I have a photo below of the Vltava so you can see how beautiful it is!
The Vltava in Prague. Click to see larger.
The Vltava in Prague. Click to see larger.


Or click here to see on YouTube.

Radovan Karadžić Sentenced To 40 Years In Prison

I used to follow the trial of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić quite closely, so I noticed today that he was sentenced to forty years in prison.

At the end of it all, 21 years since he was first charged, after 11 years on the run, a five-year trial and the 18 months the judges took to deliberate over a verdict, Radovan Karadžić’s moment of judgment came.

The Bosnian Serb leader was convicted of genocide for the 1995 slaughter at Srebrenica, and nine other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, terror and extermination. It was a conviction that ranks as the most serious handed down in Europe since Nuremberg.

Radovan Karadžić in the court at The Hague
Radovan Karadžić in the court at The Hague

The judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were definitive about Karadžić’s key involvement in the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 7,000 men and boys were rounded up, executed and pushed into mass graves. The presiding ICTY judge delivering the ruling, O-Gon Kwon, said: “Karadžić was in agreement with the plan of the killings”, and had given a coded message to an underling for the doomed Muslim captives, which he referred to as “the goods”, to be moved to a warehouse, from where they were taken out and executed.

During the 100-minute verdict and sentencing, Karadžić sat impassively, dressed in a dark blue suit, not in the dock but on the defence bench, as he opted throughout the five-year trial to act as his own lead counsel. He smiled and nodded to one or two familiar faces from the Serbian press in the gallery, but hardly glanced at the public gallery which was packed with survivors and victims’ family members, mostly women grieving lost sons and husbands. They obeyed the tribunal instructions to stay quiet throughout the proceedings, but there were quiet grunts of disappointment when Karadžić was acquitted of a second charge of genocide for the 1992 killings in Serbian municipalities around Bosnia.

The only time he appeared nervous was when he stood to receive sentence, his arms stiff by his side, but as soon as the judges had gone, he called a huddle of his legal advisers to immediately begin planning his appeal.

“He was surprised at the reasoning that the trial chamber used to convict him, so that was basically the first thing he said: ‘I can’t believe they convicted me like this,’” Peter Robinson, his chief legal adviser, said afterwards.

Karadžić will now have 30 days to file an appeal and it will take three years to hear. The legal marathon will continue and Karadžić will stay in The Hague for the time being….

I’ve been following the case since Karadžić was captured in Belgrade in 2008—that event was actually what sparked my interest in the Balkans. I haven’t really written about this topic much on this blog for various reasons, mainly because my views are somewhat controversial. However, I will say this: I’ve never really approved of this criminal tribunal that hears cases related to the conflict that took place in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s because it’s very biased against the Serbs. Croatian and Bosnian defendants have been able to get away with murder (see: Ante Gotovina and Naser Orić, respectively) and the Serbs have to answer for every little thing they did, even if it was a legitimate action taken in a war.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I doubt Dr. Karadžić’s appeal will go anywhere, but I’ll definitely be watching for news about it.

I listened to a Russian radio station during dinner and it was fascinating to see how differently they covered this event. They even aired a statement by Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (who I once wrote about here) in support of Dr. Karadžić.

Announcing A Retirement

No, I’m not retiring from my job—I obviously don’t have nearly enough money to do that yet—nor am I retiring from blogging (though I actually have considered doing that, too). I’m retiring from an activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the past six and half years. Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve come to an inevitable conclusion: I can’t blog about politics anymore, especially the stuff relating to Russia/Eurasia/Eastern Europe.

Let me emphasize that: I just can’t do it anymore.

Over the years, I’ve gradually scaled back my politics blogging. Remember, before I had this blog, I wrote a different blog that was a lot more politically focused. Here’s a short timeline of my political interest and involvement:

  • 2007, middle: I start my first blog. It’s focused more on stuff like my pets than on politics.
  • 2007, late: I experience a “political awakening” almost overnight in which politics goes from boring to exciting. The awakening was a result of a controversy in a blogosphere in which I participated. To this day, I can still spout off facts about obscure European political parties that no one on this side of the Atlantic cares about.
  • 2008-2009: American politics becomes a lot less fun, but I’ve always liked the international stuff more anyway, so I tend to stick to that.
  • 2011: I decide that I just don’t want to write my old blog anymore. I didn’t know this at the time, but I think this was the beginning of my politics burnout. I start a new blog that I intend to be less political… but I feel obliged to write some political stuff anyway.
  • 2012: American politics becomes even worse than before, which I didn’t think was possible. Depressing lesson learned: never say something is the worst it can get because it always could be worse.
  • 2013, end: Protests erupt in Ukraine. I’m in grad school by this time, so in between my studies, I follow them very closely.
  • 2014: beginning: After Viktor Yanukovych is forced out of power, Russia moves to retake Crimea. (I say “retake” because Crimea once was a part of Russia—the Russian Empire, to be exact.) With this real life incident, a war erupts on Twitter. (See explanation below for more details on the Twitter war.)
  • 2015: I decide that I am done with dealing with this stuff and stop following most English-language news relating to Russia.

Ever since all this stuff with Ukraine started—which was in November 2013, though it really, really started to pick up in the first months of 2014—the Russia-watching environment online has become incredibly toxic. (I’ve blogged about this before.) On any given day, you can observe the following exchanges between the pro-Russian side and the pro-Ukrainian side, usually taking place on Twitter:

  1. Someone on the pro-Russian side criticizes Poroshenko. This may be founded or unfounded criticism.
  2. Someone on the pro-Ukrainian side gets mad and calls the pro-Russians fascist Putinist thugs who are worse than dogs (or something to that extent).
  3. Someone of the pro-Russian side calls the pro-Ukrainians Banderites (after controversial Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera).
  4. Both sides devolve into a storm of ad hominem attacks, often using foul language. The original point is completely lost (assuming there was an original point, because often there wasn’t) and anyone who tries to step into the fray to point out that maybe both sides make good points, or this time a certain side is right, is dragged in and insulted, too.

As you can probably imagine, there’s precious little constructive dialogue going on. For example, if I pointed out that Stepan Bandera did kill a lot of innocent non-Ukrainian civilians (to my knowledge, this is a historical fact), the pro-Ukrainians would jump down my throat and call me a fascist (and sometimes worse). If I pointed out that confiscating private property in Crimea wasn’t a very nice or legal thing for Russia to do—well, as you can guess by now, the pro-Russians would pounce on me with equal fervor.

The problem is this whole “us vs. them” attitude that prevails. As long as that’s in place, independent thinking is discouraged because people are punished for not toeing the party line. And I’m sick of it.

I don’t really read English-language news anymore, at least when it relates to politics. I still read the Russian news because I want to keep up on my Russian, but I do my best to avoid anything relating to the Ukraine conflict. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to blog about, and I certainly don’t want to discuss it with anyone anymore.

The thing is, over the past year or so, I’ve found other hobbies that are a lot more important and more fulfilling to me than Russia blogging and Russia watching ever were. I’m getting more and more into my fiction writing, especially since I started the Writing Challenge. I’ve met a lot of people on Twitter who also are writing fiction, and they’re a lot nicer than most of the Russia watchers I know. I’ve started doing crafts, specifically knitting and crochet, again. I’m playing violin, too—not as much as I’d like since I’m busy with work, but half an hour of practice is better than nothing, I figure.

So what does this mean for my blog? I’m still going to be writing it, that’s for sure. It’s just that the focus may shift a bit. I want to get into foreign language blogging more. I love the Russian language, so I have a lot to say about that. I also plan to blog about language learning in general. I definitely want to blog about writing. And I’m sure I’ll come up with random things here and there, since I usually do.

To any readers who did read this blog for the politics, I’m sorry. I just really can’t do it anymore. Since making this decision to stop obsessively following politics, I have felt better and more content than I have in a long time. The Russia-watching people of the internet will get along fine without me, I’m sure. (And even if they didn’t, I’m kind of at the point of not caring anymore. Sorry.)

And now, I am going to go read a nice book that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, Russia, or a combination of the above topics.

A Diplomatic Spat In The Czech Republic 

Note: I’m blogging from my phone for the first time ever, so please excuse any errors!

Have you heard about this diplomatic spat in the Czech Republic going on? It’s quite funny and quite ridiculous. From reading this article, I think this is what happened: the US ambassador to the Czech Republic said on TV that he didn’t approve of the Czech president going to the upcoming Victory Day parade in Moscow. The president took offense and has now banned the ambassador from coming to the presidential office. 

Now, I don’t approve of the Czech president’s attendance at the parade, either, but my position has nothing to do with the Russian actions in Ukraine and everything to do with the fact that the idiotic leader of North Korea will be in attendance, too. (How dare he be invited?!? My form of boycott will be not watching the parade, which kills me. But oh well.) However, I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to go on Czech TV and tell the president not to go. If anything, I think he’s even more determined to attend since it’s about the principle of the matter now. 

Sigh. I’m sure this spat will blow over eventually… But a part of me thinks that the State Department takes a perverse pleasure in creating these incidents. 

Watch A Documentary Series About The Romanovs, In English

I’m mainly posting this for my own benefit because I want to remember to tell my coworker about this series, as I think she’ll enjoy it (and hopefully writing a post about it will help to not forget). Anyway, Paul Gilbert, who writes the fabulous Royal Russia blog, has a page with YouTube videos of a Russian-produced series on the Romanovs. The videos are in Russian with English subtitles.

I have not watched any of the videos yet, but I have yet to be led wrong by the Royal Russia blog… so I’m assuming they’re decent.

Happy Independence Day, Lithuania!

The Lithuanian flag at the embassy in Washington, D.C. I assume the ambassador who followed me sees this every day!
The Lithuanian flag at the embassy in Washington, D.C. I assume the ambassador who followed me sees this every day!

Today is the independence day of a fantastic country I’ve been learning about recently: Lithuania. It all started when the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States, Žygimantas Pavilionis, followed me on Twitter. Now, I have no idea how he found me, some random American girl among millions (billions?) of Twitter accounts, but he did. Of course, I followed him back and have had great Lithuania-related tweets in my Twitter feed ever since.

It’s all because of the Lithuanian people I follow on Twitter that I know today, February 16, is Independence Day over there. I honestly don’t know much about Lithuania—even though I did my best to specialize in Eastern European history as an undergraduate, I missed out on learning much about any of the Baltic countries.

A quick internet search reveals this: Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990. I expected that they would celebrate independence on the day they broke away from the mess that was the Soviet Union, but apparently I was wrong. Independence is celebrated on the anniversary of the day the country broke away from the Russian Empire. (Actually, it was more complicated than that: Germany was involved in this too, since by the time Lithuania declared independence, the Bolsheviks were taking over in Russia and wreaking general havoc. But that’s beside the point.)

Many people, at least those who were alive during the Cold War, are probably vaguely aware that Lithuania was once a part of the Soviet Union, under Communist control. People were forced to speak Russian—I haven’t met that many people from Lithuania, but all the ones I have met have spoken very good Russian. What people forget is that Lithuania was also a part of the Russian Empire. I’m very impressed (and happy, of course) that they managed to keep their language alive. I’m not an expert on language policies in the Baltic states, but from what little I know on the subject of language policies in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union is that the powers that be weren’t often accommodating towards minority languages. I’m pretty sure Ukrainian and Belarusian were outright banned at various points in history (one could argue that Belarusian has never really recovered from this), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lithuanian was banned, too. It’s great the language has managed to survive, as there’s nothing sadder than a language going extinct, in my opinion.

I definitely need to read more about Lithuania, so if anyone has any suggestions for books, please me know. And, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without wishing this fabulous country a happy independence day—in multiple languages.

Happy Independence Day, Lithuania! Su gimtadieniu, Lietuva! С днем независимости, Литва!

Photo source

The Auschwitz Liberation, Seventy Years On

Tuesday was the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp located in modern-day Poland. (I can never keep track of how borders have changed over the years, but I’m pretty sure it was in what was Poland back then, too. But don’t quote me on that.) I always think of Elie Wiesel’s Night when I hear of the Auschwitz liberation. Wiesel would have been liberated had he stayed behind in the camp (he was in the hospital for an injury) but due to a rumor that anyone left behind would die, he went on the march to Buchenwald, where he remained for the rest of the war.

I want to talk about today’s ceremony in Auschwitz. Many countries sent high-ranking government officials. Here’s who attended, quoted from the New York Times article linked above:

Dozens of heads of state and other prominent figures took part in the ceremony, including the presidents of France, Germany and Austria, François Hollande, Joachim Gauck and Heinz Fischer; the kings of Belgium and the Netherlands, Philippe and Willem-Alexander; and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew represented the United States, while Russia was represented by Sergei Ivanov, President Vladimir V. Putin’s chief of staff.

Yep. My native country was represented by the Treasury Secretary, a random dude who doesn’t really do that much. I’m being a bit facetious: I mean, I know he does stuff, but when was the last time you heard of a Treasury Secretary in the news? Probably not recently, I’m willing to bet.

President Putin did not attend the ceremony either—though according to reports, Poland’s government planned things so that he wouldn’t come.
Continue reading “The Auschwitz Liberation, Seventy Years On”