Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Yugoslavia’

I Feel Slovenia 2014

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014

Lake BledPiranSlovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.


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A Centenary for Reflection

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th January, 2014

WWI CentenaryThis year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is, according to the British Government, going to be about Reconciliation, and of course that is a noble thing. But I can’t help feeling that reconciliation between the Brits and the Germans (and other parties to the conflict) happened long ago — even though a Second World War occurred in the meantime. So, Reconciliation itself is not enough. 2014 should be a year of Reflection, on a number of very serious subjects. The first is the folly of War — particularly the so-called Great War, of course — and the fact that humankind still hasn’t worked out a way to avoid it. The New Year was ushered in with ongoing hostilities and a humanitarian disaster in Syria, as well as more recent but extremely dangerous conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It is interesting that most Wars these days are within states, rather than between states, though that does not make them any easier to avert or resolve. And since the horrors of the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Europe has remained free of War. Some would argue that has been as a result of the existence of NATO (though the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, might raise their eyebrows at that). Certainly, the European Union has played its part, which is why it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is not a perfect institution, but it has provided a framework in which European states can cooperate rather than confront each other, and disagreements can be resolved around a meeting table in Brussels rather than on the battlefields of Flanders. That is no mean achievement. So as Centenary-mania takes over in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May we should indeed reflect, not just on why we believe “never again” in Europe but also on how the EU can grow and reform itself to be a brighter beacon to bloodier parts of the world.

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Cinema Komunisto

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st March, 2013

TitoCinema KomunistoOne of the lesser-known facts about Yugoslavia’s Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, was his passion for movies. Almost every night he had a private screening — often with his formidable wife at his side — and he had a full-time projectionist who had to keep up the supply of suitable films. Yugoslavia itself was a major producer of films, many of them war epics highlighting the heroic struggle of the Yugoslav partisans against the Germans. Tito was happy to approve the allocation of sufficient funds for these and even chose the actor to play him in one memorable film — Richard Burton. Foreign directors and companies took advantage of Yugoslavia’s facilities so that many international features were shot there, including War and Peace. Clips from scores of these foreign and homegrown movies, along with remarkable footage of Tito and his entourage, as well as interviews with his projectionist, actors and directors, form the backbone of a remarkable documentary, Cinema Komunisto, now available on DVD. Directed by Mila Turajlic, it was screened at the EBRD headquarters this week to an appreciative audience including many expats from the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia. It is essentially a eulogy to film-making but also awakens a nostalgia for a nation that violently fell apart after Tito’s death and the collapse of Communism. Tito was of course a dictator, a President for Life, but less awful than Stalin or Ceausescu. And compared with citizens of other Communist states, Yugoslavs had greater freedom of movement and exposure to the outside world. So Turajlic’s film is a valuable tribute to the positive side to former Yugoslavia, as well as highlighting Tito’s vanity and some of the absurdities. It also makes thoughtful broader points about the role of film in society and in a nation’s image of itself.

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Montenegro’s EU Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013

Montenegro flagAleksandar Andrija PejovicWhen the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s,  the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans — was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.

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Slovenia’s Visual Identity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd October, 2012

The graphic designer Miljenko Licul first made his name working for commercial and public companies in Tito’s Yugoslavia, but it was Slovenia’s declaration of independence 21 years ago that really provided him with a niche. Born in Pula, Croatia, Licul had by then been living for some time in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and he successfully tendered for a succession of freelance contracts awarded in open competition to design what have become the visual symbols of the new state and therefore its visual idrntity. Much of his work is currently on show in the atrium gallery at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) near Liverpool Street, pride of place being given to his design for the Slovenian currency, the tolar, some of which I still have, even though they were taken out of circulation when Slovenia joined the eurozone. They were remarkably elegant banknotes (as well as meeting the stringent requirements of difficulty to forge) and notably portrayed writers, artists and musicians, not political figures. This small central European state (which dislikes being incorrectly referred to as part of the Balkans) puts great store in style and beauty, a context which gave Licul the freedom to be creative even when designing such banal items as health insurance cards. His widow, Barbara Jaki, Director of the National Gallery of Slovenia, gave a well-deserved tribute to her late husband’s work at the launch of the EBRD exhibition this evening. Few individual graphic artists can have left such a distinctive legacy; not only distinctive of his style, but also distinctive of Slovenia.

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Mladic, Serbia and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th May, 2011

The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is a significant step towards the normalisation of Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe and the country’s eventual accession to membership of the European Union. Belgrade had come under considerable criticism from some quarters for allegedly not doing enough to track down the man accused of responsibility for war crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995. Following the discovery of Mladic — looking considerably aged and weakened — in a village in northern Serbia (some of whose residents must have known he was there) opens the way to his being tried in The Hague. Mladic’s son insists his father was not guilty of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. It will be for the Court to decide. Certainly, there are some Serbian nationalists who still believe Mladi to be a hero, not a war criminal, as witnessed by the crowd which demonstrated outside the parliament building in Belgrade this evening. Meanwhile, to the relief of Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, the end to the 16-year manhunt removes an obstacle in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. European integration has been a top priority for the Serbian government since it was elected in 2008. The following year, the European Commission in Brussels proposed visa liberalisation for Serbs. Just how many years it will take for Serbia to be allowed into the EU, however, is another matter, not just because of the rate of progress in accession negotiations but also because of the outstanding issue of Serbia’s non-recognition of the independence of the breakaway, predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. There is also a certain enlargement fatigue among some of the EU’s current member states. Moreover, some other countries in the Western Balkans — notably Croatia — feel that they deserve to be let in first. One way or another, though, it does seem that most constituent parts of former Yugoslavia will follow Slovenia’s lead and inegrate into the Union, which is a development that should be welcomed.

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