Archive | November 2014

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

It is well known that one should not attempt to engage with a troll, if only because you can never truly win an argument. Unfortunately I am all too prone to ignoring said advice, and while I can do naught but stand by my opinions or whatnot, I often wonder why I ever even bothered. I spent any number of internet hours being harangued as I firmly nailed my colours to the mast in opposition of last December’s referendum which sought to (and ludicrously did) enshrine in the Croatian constitution that the term marriage could only ever be used to describe a union between male and female… I was decried from on high as I called Šimunić an idiot for his part in the events post the Croatia-Serbia match, which brought Jinkin’ Joe’s international career to an ignominious end.  Joe, you see, decided in his finite wisdom to grab a hold of a microphone and start a chant amongst the gathered crowd… one which historians and sociologists would know as the chant which the NDH used during their time in the sun, back in the 40s.

The country was divided at the time, but of course those who supported Joe were all too happy to sling accusations of Communism at those who were not…because that’s how things seem to work around here. Sort of a reverse Godwin’s Law. You’re either Communist or Ustaše. No middle ground. Black and white, never grey. Those on Joe’s team would say that the Communists made sure the chant was firmly associated with Pavelić and the Ustaše, but that it should still be perfectly fine to use today… An admirable position perhaps, but one that will never gain traction while Croatian football fans (a minority admittedly) and players continue to act like children.

But that’s the issue really… It hasn’t been black and white in reality for a long time now. In fact, I doubt it’s been black or white since the mid 50s for Croatia… Communism, as we all know by now, failed and failed horribly. The power that a nation could bring to bear found its way into the hands of a select few, and that continued until the great fall in ’91. In Croatia, as the learned should already know, that break from Communism was not a pretty one (for the record I do know that Croatia was not a willing part of Yugoslavia and remained almost predominantly Catholic throughout, although I dispute the real level of religiosity which the numbers seem to indicate). Despite being legally entitled to vote to cede from the union, Belgrade decided it didn’t want to let them go… I think, in hindsight, this was probably (as unfair as it sounds) a mixture of a rush of blood and a lack of time in which to consider options… you know how it goes… shoot first, ask questions later.

Twenty years on the country has yet to fully recover. Serbia is the same. It could be said, and surely is being said, that both Zagreb and Belgrade (and Dubrovnik one supposes) might as well be countries in their own right, because outside of the two capitals there is close to zero infrastructure to speak of. Failed factory complexes abound, ghost towns and villages are more the norm than the exception. And still the accusations of Communism.

It doesn’t help that the current party in power, the Social Democratic Party, were formerly the Communist Party, but it could be argued that any politician who was involved during the late 80s and early 90s would have been – even if only on paper – a Communist. But it’s hard to make such a point here, because you’re automatically accused of being a Communist if you do. It’s probably the same in most countries where two parties dominate the political scene; everything boils down to what they did or didn’t do, and accusations of support are thrown about as if such support were a crime.

Two days ago Croatia commemorated the anniversary of the deaths at Vukovar. Every news portal ran stories, photo montages, and all the TV and radio stations were back to back with reports, coverage, etc. It’s to be expected. It’s recent. That didn’t stop someone commenting on an unrelated news item on one portal… calling it an Anti-Croatian site because it posted a story about how Croatians swore more than other nationalities… and with it screaming why did it not cover Vukovar. But the thing is, the site did cover it. And the second massacre with took place near Zadar on that same day was also covered. But this woman – a second generation Croatian expat if not third – ranted on about how she was more patriotic than the others etc… I stupidly posted the links to the articles she claimed did not exist, and then she started on me because they didn’t show up on her FB feed, even though that’s entirely her fault and no one else. I fed the troll. But her reaction is endemic of what life is like here in Croatia. For her, and many others living outside of the homeland, the idea of being Croatian is so deeply ingrained that almost any deviation is not only a slight but a downright insult. Those who left in the 30s, or 40s, or 50s (etc.) still have this idea of what life is like back in the old country, and despite life moving on in their new home, it is assumed that nothing changes back over the water… except that it does, and in some ways it doesn’t. Because in 2014 people are still bandying about the word Communism – in a country that seriously, 100%, has zero interest in doing anything other than trying to build a real economy, but can’t because every social effort by the government is labeled Communist, who can’t privatise anything because the pro-privatisation party can sit in opposition and call such moves un-Croatian (the populist HDZ nuts), and because – at least from this perspective – the country has yet to find itself.

Croatia has an awful lot going for it. But as things stand it will never get there. Any efforts on the part of the government are stymied by local corruption and right-wing agents. 30000 fewer Croatians are born each year than die here, while over 15000 leave on an annual basis (the majority of which are the people needed to revitalise the economy). Outside of the major urban centres foreigners are viewed with great suspicion, often being forced to take their foreign millions elsewhere because some local alderman wanted to act big for the local fish wrapper.

It’s a shame really, because it’s a great place. During the 1970s Yugoslavia was one of world’s leading nations in industry and wealth, and alternative energy. Now? Croatia leads the world in tax fraud. The country was given a new lease of life, but has yet failed to capitalise on all the opportunities laid out before it. It might as well be the 80s all over again. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Per aspera ad astra: At what point do we stop reaching?

The news came to me earlier, of the passing of Brian Farrell, an RTÉ current affairs frontman and academic who dominated the airwaves for many a decade back in Ireland. More of his story, and mine, later.Brian Farrell

I don’t necessarily mix with those in Croatian media – or at least those in the mainstream (humblebrag? hipsterbrag?) – if only because a cursory glance at any of their websites makes it abundantly clear that the only thing which matters to these companies (some of them even State owned) is the bottom line. Selling advertising space. Creating enough shock in a headline to encourage someone to buy a copy of tomorrow’s fish wrapper (a term which probably has little resonance around these parts), to get people clicking link after link in search of some added titbit of news to make their interpersonal banter seem that bit more informed. There’s also a little problem of regional and national politics and history having tainted the general media here – post one story and you’re a Communist, another and you’re Ustaše. It’s an impossible task and means that the real issues can rarely be dealt with… I might expand on this point at a later date, but I fully expect the media to fail to cover the real story behind a bank default induced eviction turning sour earlier today, with shots being fired by the besieged occupants. And when I say real, I mean everything other than “shots fired, oh the drama of it all.” But being Irish I suppose I’m more in tune with how the banking system can create its own problems.

Back in Ireland, however, it always seemed as if the journalist caste had that je ne sais quoi, that added class about it. At least it seemed that way having left school, having spent some years in a fine University. Over the years the established doyens and doyennes of Irish media dwindled in numbers, and in time it must be expected that they will be all but gone from the TV, limited to some meagre column in the dead-tree-press. Perhaps, again, a lament for another time.

A recent article in The Guardian suggested that we dispense with the arbitrary RIP hashtags and all-too-often maudlin responses. Yes, someones passing may well be a loss, but what does that loss mean to you and to those around you? If it was someone famous, or at least well known, then what constitutes a right to append RIP to some Facebook thread? In the world of music it’s a simple matter I suppose – you probably liked their music, or perhaps you had strong feelings as to their claim to fame such as was the case when Amy Winehouse kicked the bucket, largely her own fault… Ditto for Wacko Jacko who wheedled a fierce Marmite reaction from the general populace when his time came to an end.

But even then it must be argued that these people left nothing of note. Jackson was no Robert Johnson… Winehouse was no Fitzgerald. Anything I might appreciate from the former’s backcatalogue was likely his early work…certainly nothing after Bad, but let’s play it safe and say that his best work was Off the Wall and Thriller, and leave it at that. Winehouse, for me, was a nobody, in professional terms and ultimately in personal terms. The woman might have had a singing talent but she chose to waste it wantonly… as was her wont.

And lo’, like many a keyboard warrior I have managed to derail myself a tad, turning a tangent into a larger object than it warrants. The main idea of this rare posting is to tell but a small story.

It must have been in the late 90s, when I – a student of history at University College Cork – was making my way down the Western Road, presumably to either The Thirsty Scholar or Jumping Jacks (both, in spirit at any rate, long gone). I stopped into Reidy’s Wine Vault to see if any of my la-di-da acting friends were within but indeed they were not. The only face of any familiarity was that of the aforementioned Brian Farrell, all decked out in his penguin suit like a latter day James Bond. In hindsight I imagine it was a bespoke tuxedo, because the man looked a million dollars in it. Or should I say a million punts, such was the currency at the time? I, the impetuous jumped up would-be debater, journalist, historian, intellectual, engaged him in conversation, and rather than dismiss me he instead insisted I join him for a pint of Murphy’s Irish Stout. Alas, since I could not prevent him from heading to the Opera House – for it was there I believe he was himself headed – I was unable to procure an anecdote of note…although not many my age can say that they have met the man. And so, upon hearing of his death, I choose to share this tale, not that it’s much of anything, but it is a tale and not three letters interspersed by periods.

TV’s The Newsroom started back last night…with Jeff Daniels’ anchor attempting to ensure that the news is just that. No leading headlines about Paris Hilton, about some Z lister and what they did out on the tiles the night before. But real news. Our own lives aren’t being written by Aaron Sorkin, but that’s no reason to think that we can’t effect some element of change… why must we, the younger generation of journalists, be forced to grub around in the dirt in order to get our names in print? Can we no longer reach for the stars? Per aspera ad astra… Through hardships to the stars. Today we have lost a man who had such gravitas as to be a heavenly body unto himself. Would that we could all look to unravel the truths of our own lives such as Brian Farrell did with his career.