DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is the Editor-at-Large for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom, Ekurd Daily, a multinational Kurdish news portal and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

 

Media
Thursday
May172018

ONE LEG AT A TIME

                                                    A hijab wearing visitor at Schevingen Jail's gate

Your blood is red whether you are red, white, brown, yellow or something in between – as the Brits would put it - “not quite white”. All of us, except for the unfortunate few, have eyes, noses, mouths, ears and five functioning senses. Grey cells control our actions, some premeditated, some involuntary. We all act and react predictably, rationally if you will, most of the time. We all feel pain, hunger and thirst. The urge to stay alive is universal, notwithstanding the fact that death is inevitable. Simply said, we all put on our pants one leg at a time.    

It’s our brains, those grey cells that are the center of man’s nervous system, nature’s flawed computer, that malfunction, makes us act irrationally, have us abandon reason and just fuck us up with disastrous results. But by and large nature dictates our actions, making us put on our pants one leg at a time.

These musings were brought on by last Sunday’s Travel Section article on Schevingen, the Dutch seaside resort with “a long, sandy beach, an esplanade, a pier and a lighthouse” dominated by the Kurhaus, a grand hotel and casino. Summer holidays may be Schevingen’s happy face but it has a dark side, a dour castle of a jail on Pompstationsweg within spiting distance of the beach, the dunes, the hiking trails of that vacation spa. That jail housed the United Nations Detention Unit for persons that had been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, sitting in judgment in The Hague, the town next door.

I had the occasion to visit that bleak facility many times. I was in close contact with the Accused - the inmates, the detainees - men who during the years of the Bosnian Wars and the destruction of Yugoslavia had visited death and destruction upon their fellow countrymen. They were from the three warring factions – the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims. They worshiped different Gods, yet in that Schevingen jail they were all alike, they all put on their pants one leg at a time.

I do not have to remind you of Srebrenica or Zepa, of Slobodan Praljak, Naser Oric and Ratko Mladic, or speak of Mostar, Stupni Do and Sarajevo. There was enough blame and sorrow for all to share and share they did, one leg at a time in that Schevingen jail.

Awaiting trial, the United Nations Accused were housed in a separate unit, subject to an enlightened and humane regime. They wore workaday civilian clothes and were ethnically and politically indistinguishable to the naked eye. The guards addressed them as “Mr.” and sometimes “General” or “Colonel”. Conjugal visits were allowed and encouraged, even with unmarried significant others. They were different and were treated as such, not like the common criminals on the other side of the wall. Yet every morning all of them, the UN Accused and common criminals put on their pants on, one leg at a time.  

The UN Accused mingled peacefully in large communal areas shared by all. By force of circumstance these men, once bent on each other’s destruction, who had murdered, tortured, raped civilians for ethnic causus belli spent their days peacefully but only after waking up in the morning and putting on their pants one leg at a time.

While waiting for my guy to come and visit with me and in the hours, I spent with him I had a bird eyes’ view of the common room goings on. Ante, a Croat, was cooking beans and sausages for Goran and Stefan, diehard Serbs, to be shared with the Bosniak contingent including Mehmed and Enver. The games of chess and cards had a continuously rotating cast of ethnic characters gambling away cigarettes and commissary chits. A Serb’s patron saint’s day [Slava] was celebrated with contraband booze by one and all. 

Favors were exchanged – use my visiting hours to spend more time with your wife, the one sporting a colorful hijab, and oblige me likewise when my miniskirt lover visits next week. Here’s a pack of cigarettes, pay me back when you can. Use my prepaid phone card to make that important telephone call.  

The homicidal urges that had brought them to the Schevingen jail were forgotten, set aside. They became the lowest human common denominator, just men living their lives, flawed as they may be, trying to survive, all of them putting on their pants, one leg at a time. I think of them in the morning as I struggle into my jeans, one leg at a time, and wonder what happened to them.

 

Saturday
May052018

OPENING OF THE DONALD J TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY  

THE DONALD J TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States and First Lady Melania Trump will attend the official opening of the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library and Museum on July 4, 2018 Independence Day in anticipation of his completing two successful terms of “making America Great Again” by January 21, 2021. Also, in attendance will all the “very best” and “high quality” people who have made and will make this possible – Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, James Comey, Sean Spitzer, H. R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Tom Price, Anthony Scaramucci, Sally Yates, Carl Icahn, Sebastian Gorka, Omerosa Manigault Newman, John Dowd, Marc Kasowitz, Ty Cobb and others yet to be named and fired.

Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and putative heart throb, will launch the festivities with a traditional smashing of a bottle of brother Eric’s Trump Winery Blanc de Blanc 2012 against the Library steps. Attendance records, projected to be far greater than those of the 2017 Inauguration, will be certified and verified by Sean Spitzer followed by dubious play-by-play radio and television coverage – not fake news - hosted by Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  

The Presidential Library and Museum near Palm Beach, Florida is equidistant from Mar-A-Lago, President Trump’s Southern White House and the Trump International Golf Club, his weekend recreation spot of choice both with easy access to the Everglades, the Florida swamp that substitutes for the yet-to-be drained Washington swamp close by the White House that is close and dear to the hearts and minds of this Administration.

The Library and Museum is being financed solely by private contributions voluntarily and freely made without any implied benefit of promises or favor or the support of the National Archives and the United States Government. It is operated by an independent foundation chaired by Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump without oversight of any sort - federal, state, local - or even a modicum of morals restraint. Of the many contributors and benefactors of the Library most notable are Goldman Sachs, the National Rifle Association, Robert Mercer [Renaissance Technologies], Sheldon Adelson [Las Vegas Sands], Linda McMahon [World Wrestling], Peter Thiel [Palantir], Walt Disney Company and a number of Ukrainian, Russian and Kazakh oligarchs and their companies - Gazprom, Lukoil, Rosneft and KazakhOil.   

Constructed with rare imported Carrara and Sienna Marbles at a cost of nearly $1 billion Dollars the overall architecture of the Library is in the style of classical Greek architecture borrowing many ideas from the “Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus”. The Library’s roof is supported by many carved pillars on the longer front logia and façade with additional columns shoring the shorter sides – proving yet again that much more is better. The Library features two pediments: The Eastern pediment depicts Donald Trump’s historic “huge”, “tremendous”, “terrific” victory in the Republican Primary Debate against sixteen [sixteen, count them, yes sixteen] “weak”, “stupid”, “losers” and “morons” while the Western pediment features a richly detailed centauromachy, the monumental battle between a righteous centaur [Trump] and a failed human [Hillary “Lock Her Up” Clinton] with the centaur triumphant.  

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Mar282018

POISONING PIGEONS IN THE PARK

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who spied for MI 6, Britain’s Secret Service Agency, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a rare nerve agent – Novichok - while sitting on a park bench in Salisbury, England. Depending on your point of view, the two were either doves of peace or stool pigeons, but indubitably members of the Columbidae avian pigeon family.  

Russia’s poisoning of human pigeons in a bucolic English park sparked world-wide outrage with Prime Minister Theresa May declaring it “highly likely” and “conclusively” that Russia and Vladimir Putin were responsible. The outrage continues with the press and media urging politicians to address these assassination, this criminal violation of United Kingdom sovereignty.    

In response Britain expelled a number of Russian diplomats, a move followed by twenty-five European and NATO countries joined by the United States. Even tiny Iceland, an island that carrier pigeons avoid and seldom visit, followed suit. This brought to mind the lyrics of Tom Lehrer’s ditty that tells of poisoning pigeons in the park which “gain[s in] notoriety and cause much anxiety … [that some would] call impiety and [a] lack of propriety, and quite a variety of unpleasant names”. Concluding that “it’s not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon”.

In other words, the world really doesn’t give a damn, as long as proper respect for outrage is expressed. Sanctions that would cripple Russia are avoided, the rest of the “civilized” world is given a pass to ignore the crime, business as usual goes on.

You ask “Why is the expulsion of 23 diplomats from the Britain, 60 from the United States and other countries for a total of 147 deemed inadequate?” Let me answer that by asking the question, you have answered it. The expulsion of diplomatic personnel is an empty gesture, it has no long-term effect. Russia’s economic, military or international engagement with the rest of the world continues unabated.

As I have said, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” - Russia will continue to export and sell gas, oil and minerals. Russia will continue to be engaged in the world’s financial markets – Russia’s banks will have access to financial exchanges and currency markets. Russia will access the internet and the airwaves – Russian TV will air propaganda, Russians will use Facebook for nefarious and benign purposes. Aeroflot still flies to London and New York.

That does not answer another question “Why have other countries abstained and ignored the issue?” The answer to that question is more nuanced.

Size and population are not necessarily a factor. Two small Balkan nations, Serbia and Montenegro, have opted not expel Russian diplomats – Serbia because of prior political international support and Montenegro for yet to be ascertained reasons. Yet others of like size in the region, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania, have done so for reasons that are suspect.

Proximity and history may play a role. Ukraine, still smarting from the loss of the Crimea and an on-going undeclared war, expelled 13 diplomats but stopped short of imposing more telling sanctions being dependent on Russia for energy and survival. Latvia and Lithuania remembering their world war annexation expelled 4 as did Poland, remembering the Katyn Forest Massacre and regretting being home to the Warsaw Pact.

Great Britain, the European Union, NATO and the United States, the leaders of the current pro-expulsion push, have agreed that Europe and North America to be assassination free – a “you don’t shit where you eat” zone. As for the rest of the world, anything and everything goes. The “coalition of the willing” executed Saddam Hussein and his sons Huday and Qusay calling it “regime change” in the Middle East. Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi is another example of assassination masquerading as regime change gambit. The coalition has assassinated opposition leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan in Central Asia. The United States killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born Yemeni cleric in the Arabian Peninsula. Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have been fertile killing fields in the Middle East.  

Russia’s assassination weapon of choice is the umbrella and nerve gas. For us, the “good guys”, “targeted killing” defined as “assassination -premeditated killing - of an individual by a state organization or institution outside a judicial procedure or a battlefield” is by drone and cruise missile. However, the collateral damage that these inflict is far greater than the “clinical” “precise” umbrella strikes. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that attempts to kill 41 targets resulted in at least 1,147 deaths which includes 142 children. We do not regret just and necessary collateral damage.

Most nation states have little if any constraints in dealing with foreign or domestic opposition. Assassination is an accepted way of dealing with individuals who may prove troublesome - the poisoning of a potential threat or the dispatch of a perceived traitor is an approved diplomatic gambit.  

The rest of the world shrugs at the reciprocal exodus of diplomatic personnel and carries on with life as usual, much as you and I do.

Tuesday
Mar202018

SNAIL RANCHING & FINE DINING IN PIROT 

PUBLISHED PEĆAT [SERBIA] AND BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] ON MARCH 21, 2018

Pirot is a down at heels, dusty provincial town at the very ass end of Serbia, right on the southern border bracketed by what is the yet-to-be internationally recognized Republic of Kosovo and the Bulgarian version of a nation state. It was never on my bucket list of tourist attractions.  

In the 1950’s Yugoslavia’s managed economy decided that what this depressed town needed was a tire manufacturing factory – and so Tigar Tyres [Preduzeće za proizvodnju guma Tigar Tyres d.o.o., Pirot] was born. Against all odds, Tigar prospered for it partnered with France’s Michelin for technology and know-how. Tigar, the Pirot upstart established an import facility for the North American market. Back in 1996 I spent a week in Pirot preparing witnesses for a trial to be held before an American judge and jury in Miami, Florida.

I drove south from Belgrade and admired the countryside on the way. The road passed through a dozen of small and medium sized tunnels clinging to hillsides with beautiful vistas overlooking a rushing river. Later I learned that I had travelled through the unique Sićevo Gorge [Sićevačka klisura] but that beauty stopped abruptly at Pirot’s outskirts. I did a drive by of the town and winced when I passed the town’s only hotel, dreading my week’s stay.

My arrival was warm and welcoming. After coffee and the compulsory local brandy, I was taken to my accommodations for the week. I ditched my modest VW rental and was to introduced to Boško, my personal driver and a gleaming black E320 Mercedes that was to be my ride. Boško was a piece of work: squat, square, ham handed, leather jacketed, bullet headed, sporting would you believe Tony Lama cowboy boots – a Bulgar masquerading as a Serb.

We headed out of town and up the Stara Planina [“Old Mountain”]. Within miles the road turned to a treacherous track of snow and ice with Boško controlling the Mercedes’ steering wheel, his ham hands now delicate surgical instruments. Miles up that mountain we skidded to a stop in front of an all-lit-up chalet - Tigar’s guest house, my home for the week.  

The guest house reception area had a roaring fireplace and a sleek leather, brass and mahogany bar presided by an eager-to-please white mess jacketed waiter. While stretching my legs and reveling in the bar’s luxury another white jacketed gentleman introduced himself – Claude, a French Executive Chef, the advance man there to cater next week’s visit of Michelin executives.

With me the only guest Claude sat down and discussed my dinner menu. We went over what was available and what dishes would best complement each other. Soon I was sitting in the dining room enjoying a meal worthy of any three-star Michelin restaurant. The rest of my week was a repeat of that first night, a leisurely cocktail, a consultation on that day’s available flora and fauna, a leisurely meal and a good night’s sleep in fresh mountain air.

My mornings started with coffee, a fresh croissant and Boško’s arrival to drive me down the mountain to the Tigar factory. From the very first time I met him Boško’s cowboy boots intrigued me. So, one morning on the ride to town I asked “Boško, what’s with the cowboy boots?” I received a curt reply “I’m a rancher” in a tone and manner that brooked no further inquiry.

My schedule was to finish up that Monday leaving me time on Sunday to play tourist. Boško was given an itinerary of local sights - monasteries, crumbling forts and the like - that I was to visit. We were driving along the lush green banks of the Nišava River when Boško’s pride of place got the better of him. “That’s my ranch, right over there” he said.

All I could see was a couple of acres of green vegetation covered with white netting. “So, Boško what do you wrangle?” I asked. “Snails” he said and with that he was off to the races.

For the next hour we tromped through rows of pens containing hundreds of thousands of snails. I was given an erudite lecture on heliculture or what I would call snail farming. I don’t remember much of it except that once or twice a year at round-up time the snails would be collected, loaded onto trucks and sent on their way to France to be processed into “escargots”. Boško’s snail ranch gave him the God given right to sport genuine Tony Lama cowboy boots.

That evening I asked Claude if he had any escargots in the larder. “Of course,” he said “we import them from France”.   

Friday
Mar162018

NEW MERIDIAN ARTS LAUNCHES NEW TITLES

 

NEW MERIDIAN ARTS PUBLISHING

LAUNCHES NEW TITLES

THE CORNELIA STREET CAFÉ

WEDNESDAY APRIL 11, 2018 AT 6 PM 

INTERCULTURAL SERIES HOSTED BY CARMEN FIRAN

 

ANDREY GRITZMAN     STRANGER AT HOME

DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH   DISPATCHES

RADU POLIZU   BETWEEN CEAUSESCU AND FIDEL

 

WITH A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE OF INSTRUMENTAL JAZZ BY JIMMY NEMO

New Meridian Arts is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to artistic, cross-cultural, multi media exchange of ideas through the publication of books, magazines and the production of visual and performing arts. Today’s globalization comes with its own political and cultural challenges, and New Meridian offers solutions making multiculturalism a priority to better understand this new world and its diversity. The publishing house promots original works and translations of international writers of talent and scope.  

The Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street, New York, New York