As the Sun Sets on the Gdansk Shipyard

9549473188_77c93dc089_cThe shipyard of Gdansk Poland is legendary both for its well known capacity to build ships and the labor struggles that would send shock waves of inspiration to the entire world. The tireless and selfless efforts of workers of the Solidarity Movement who stood up to authority and brute force, demanding justice and respect, no doubt made a better life for countless people in Poland, Europe and beyond. Yet decades later, the now privatized, downsized, and struggling shipyard feels more like a graveyard or a shrine to a lost past. The victories, on the grand scale of time, were short lived, as the world of ship building, labor, and politics, changed yet again, and Solidarity went from engine of change to historical symbol of a bygone era. Was it all for nothing? Are the dreams of those workers still alive in Gdansk or elsewhere? When the new luxury condominiums and shopping malls break ground on the same site where workers lost their lives and built their dreams, will their efforts matter anymore? Should they? Or is this just life.

Special thanks to the Subjective Bus Line from which I recorded some of this audio. When in Gdansk, find their fantastic old-school red bus and take one of the last rides around the shipyard.  And hurry, they are already building over much of this history.

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Lamija Tanović: The Journey from Yugoslavia to Bosnia

Graves in Bosnia. Photo by NeonMan on flickr.
Graves in Bosnia. Photo by NeonMan on flickr.

Lamija Tanović grew up in a Yugoslavia with a quality of life that makes today’s Bosnia look like another planet. A time where values such as education, cooperation, and participation were essential. An era that would later give way to a terrible war and a dysfunctional plan to create a new nation in its aftermath.  Through it all, Lamija explains, everyone always wished to come home and make a life in this beautiful place. The problem is, today’s Bosnia makes it quite difficult for anyone to have a decent life and as a result, people have left and will continue to leave.

Today on the podcast, I spend an hour in the home of Lamija Tanović; educator, human rights activist, politician, and someone with a tremendous amount of life experience, to help explain what Bosnia was then and how it became what it is today.

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Kurt Bassuener: Bosnia 101

Sarajevo Train Station, May 2013.
Sarajevo Train Station, May 2013.
“People here are a whole lot more rational than they give themselves credit for.  They all think they are more moderate than the norm; they don’t realize they are the norm.”

Kurt Bassuener has been working on the issue of Bosnia for over 15 years and in that time has figured out what many people inside and outside the country have not – what is wrong and what can be done about it.  That is, in fact, one of the key lessons to take home from this Bosnia 101 conversation; there is hope, there are things that can be done, if specific actors would be willing to change the status quo.

“If the external actors would recognize in their own interests, that with very little change in their approach… they could actually end up with a durable solution.”

At a time where Bosnia seems plagued by corruption and stagnation, Kurt sees things as politically and economically going backwards.  Creating a scenario that will do further harm to people inside the country, in the region, and across Europe.

“People saw the social fabric unravel once, and it was bad enough the first time, they don’t want to go there again.”

What is different about Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2013 compared to 1995?  Who makes up this complex nation today and what do they think of the traumatic past, the frustrating present and dour future?

“It took a lot of engineering to destroy this country, it was not something that just happened one day… There was a lot of effort to create a sense of inevitability and a sense of fear.”

On this edition of CitizenReporter we hear from policy analyst and veteran Balkan observer Kurt Bassuener of the Democratization Policy Council.  He is also the co-author of “House of Cards”, the DPC’s latest Bosnia policy paper.

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Forgotten Schools, Limited Vision

schoolWhile spending some days in Portugal this month I got to enjoy the beauty of spring in the small agricultural villages of my ancestors. Places where social and economic life has slowed down over the past few decades, as tens of thousands emigrate in search of steady income and a more certain future. Those that don’t leave the country, choose instead to move to bigger towns and cities where urban life may bring them the future their home town could not.  Despite the mass exodus, these villages remain standing, all be it with more empty houses and quiet streets than ever before.

Among the growing list of institutions and concepts of the small village that have been discarded over time is the iconic school house.  Built during the dictatorship as part of the plan that all Portuguese children should attend primary school (between 1940 and 1970), you can find this school in the heart of most any village.  Prominently located with its simple style, these traditional buildings are increasingly being abandoned in favor of centralized urban schools where the few remaining children in villages are sent. A more modern and cost-effective approach to education in an era where the government tries everything it can do to cut costs and services.

EscolaSomewhere in the plan to have modern centralized schools, the fate of the old fashioned school house never received much consideration. Locking them up and letting time or the elements wear them down seems to be the only idea being carried out.  This is despite a few exceptions where villages have found a way to re-purpose their school house as a community center.  Rare examples of some proactive thinking that will allow a main stay of the community to have new life. (assuming there is a community in the area still)

For the most part, in the villages where my ancestors grew up, the very school houses they sent their children to, lay empty and forgotten.  They don’t fit into the new Portugal (and world) where small and old has little value, while bigger and cheaper is considered the best path to take. And regardless of what photos are taken and what comments are made for a few corners of the internet, they will remain shuttered, a beautiful relic of a bygone era.

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