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
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

 

Wednesday
Mar142018

I WAS NOT A NAZI POLKA

PUBLISHED BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] AND EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] MARCH 15, 2018    

My generation flirted with communism and had some one-night stands with the idea. We fucked socialism every chance we got and with every imaginable variation of the idea. Some embraced communal living and joined the Hare Krishnas and dropped off the grid. Ultimately, as we got older we married in traditional ceremonies in white dresses and dinner jackets to a capitalist reality and lived more or less happily ever after. But never, not once, did my generation ever kiss, embrace or consider holding hands with far-right fascism.  

Back then I lived in a broken down fifth floor tenement walkup in New York’s Carnegie Hill. One Saturday morning on account of nothing at all we started drinking gimlets, the cocktail that is half gin and half lime juice. After having replenished the gin and juice we were whiling away the afternoon listening to WBAI, the antiestablishment voice of the left when it played Chad Mitchell Trio’s I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

The alcohol, the tune and the lyrics combined into an uncontrollable mix of hysterical laughter. WBAI was in the midst of a never-ending pledge drive for survival – it is still going strong 50 year later. We kept pledging money we didn’t have and asking for a replay of the Nazi Polka tune. Each time it played we drunkenly rolled on the floor, howling at the lyrics: “Each and every German dances to the strain … All without exception join in the refrain, I was not a Nazi Polka … We all thought Dachau was just a nice resort … I never shot a Luger or goosed a single step … Did you not love Ilsa Koch? I did not love Ilsa Koch … Did you not despise the Jews? I did not, some of my best friends … I was not a Nazi Polka”.

Back in the sixties Fascism and Nazism had been so thoroughly discredited that we reveled in the parody, it was a joke, not to be taken seriously, something to laugh and guffaw at. Not so much today, I am afraid.

I Was Not a Nazi Polka is replete with historical references that resonates with my generation and the generation that fought World War II. Ask today who was Ilsa Koch and you will be met with a blank stare. Ilsa Koch, the sadistic “Bitch of Buchenwald”, the Nazi concentration camp, has faded from our collective memory as has Dachau - definitively not a summer resort.

It is this “widening historical distance from any direct experience of the horrors of German Fascism or Soviet Communism … [that explains] … the indifference to democratic rule … [and] the rising enthusiasm for authoritarian alternatives”. I would call it just plain ignorance, a refusal to acknowledge the lessons of history.

The result is that “[i]n France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, far right parties and faction have not yet taken power, but they are contenders to do so, and they influence the debate on everything from immigration to foreign policy.” If that be a fair statement then this should scare the bejesus out of you.

This resurgence of rampant nationalism tinged with racial xenophobia has faces and names: Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, the United States’ Donald Trump and Donald Duke, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Poland’s Jaroslav Kaczynski, France’s Marine Le Pen and many others too numerous to name. They all sprout the same dangerous dogma.

You cannot create memory that never was. My memory of bombed cities will never fade. My memories of refugee camps are forever. My memory of the Gestapo searching our home is indelible. Memories of concentration camps and of the evils of Fascism and Nazism belong to the few remaining survivors. Veterans of Foreign War and American Legion Posts are deserted, forlorn and closing and are no longer a political force. These memories are no longer current or of interest.

How do you veer away from this march to totalitarian madness? Frankly I do not have an answer except to sound the alarm and hope for the best. Perhaps the answer is to go out and buy a bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin and one of Rose’s Lime Juice, mix a couple of gimlets and play I Was Not a Nazi Polka once again.

Wednesday
Feb282018

JARED AND THE GOLDEN FLEECE

PUBLISHED PEĆAT [SERBIA] AND BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] ON MARCH 2, 2018; PUBLISHED FEATURED ARTICLE EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] MARCH 4, 2018        

The ancient Greeks had a myth for all occasions and for all human temptations. We are all familiar with the lessons of Jason and the Argonauts and the search for the Golden Fleece, the myth of Phaethon and the Sun Chariot, the never-ending travails of Atlas and the soaring flight and spectacular fall of Icarus. Think of those ancient myths when pondering Jared Kushner’s future at the hands of the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller.  

Last May I wrote that Jared Kushner’s education and training put the lie to the myth that his failure to disclose meetings with foreign officials including those with Russian Ambassador Kizlyar, Russian banker Goroka and Chinese insurance giant Anbang and many others, were inadvertent.  His education and training suggest that his actions were a series of felonies made with the intent to deceive and conceal. Jared Kushner is too smart to be stupid, so I called for his arrest and prosecution.

Since then many an angry and irrational tweet has rolled off Donald Trump’s stubby fingers requiring that I revisit Jared Kushner’s past, present and possible future.

To fully understand the Jared conundrum, you have to accept that he and Donald share deep character flaws. The first is genetic – they just ain’t that bright. Yes, they attended good schools – the University of Pennsylvania for Donald and Harvard for Jared – yet their admission was based on large donations and not SAT scores. I welcome the publication of Donald’s New York Military Academy academic transcript and his SAT scores and full disclosure of Charles and Seryl Kushner’s multi-million dollars gift to Harvard to support my argument. As for Jared, to lie on his SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions four time is proof positive of his innate stupidity. As for Donald, to openly boast of grabbing women by the pussy and sexually assaulting them, need I say more?

A more nuanced, existential flaw – the Curse of the Outer Boroughs – mars Donald and Jared’s psyches. This affliction is peculiar to the greater New York City area. In the 70’s and the 80’s it was known as a dismissive slight – you called people “BBQ’rs”, as in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens. It’s an inferiority complex, a state of being where you never fit in.

Donald may have left Jamaica Queens, crossed the East River, rented a Manhattan apartment and embarked on bachelor-in-paradise odyssey. You would think that he would play the field with domestic contemporaries as female trophies. Not so, he gravitated towards the newly arrived Eurotrash crowd where he could dominate with his father’s money. His family was never accepted by the Manhattan establishment. His mother might have travelled by chauffeured Rolls Royce limousine, but her travels took her to Fred’s apartment house laundry rooms where she collected the tenant’s quarters.

Likewise, Jared Kushner fled the sterile wasteland of the Jersey suburbs, crossing the Hudson and landing on Manhattan’s fabled isle. But he arrived as the son of a convicted felon who had turned on his own kith and kin under intense lurid tabloid scrutiny. He bought his way into the graces of a rootless society of dubious morality led by Rupert Murdoch and his then wife Wendi. He bought Arthur Carter’s pink broadsheet The New York Observer using it as a bully pulpit to curry favor.

Jared and the Donald were never invited to join the right clubs, the Union League, the Union, the Colony or the Knickerbocker Club. The best they could do was to frequent pay-to-join joints, the Mar-a-Lago Club and Trump National Gold Club – Bedminster. The resentment must be galling to egos easily bruised.   

Donald and Jared share another character flaw, that of greed and avarice – let us grab Paris’ Golden Apple, seize the power and riches of the Golden Fleece. Donald had his greed and avarice curbed by bitter experience. His initial success with the old Commodore/new Hyatt Hotel was made possible by his father Fred’s money and political clout with an assist from Roy Cohn, the ultimate fixer but it was soon wrested away from him. His loss was followed by an unpreceded string of financial defeats: he lost control of the General Motors Building, then the Plaza Hotel, then the Trump Shuttle, then his interest in the Empire State Building, followed by the serial bankruptcies of his Atlantic City casinos and, lest we forget, his ouster from the far West Side Penn Central rail yard project. 

Today, Donald has to be satisfied with leasing his name, promoting his image and avoiding the pitfalls and risks of actually owning property, letting that risk to others, calling them “suckers”.

Jared has yet to learn that bitter lesson. His personal Waterloo is bound to be the fight for control and ownership of 666 Fifth Avenue. Jared bet the family farm when he bought the building in 2007 for the astronomical price of $1.8 billion dollars putting the family fortune at risk. He sold chunks of the building to keep it afloat yet the building is 25% empty and the $1.2 billion-dollar mortgage is due in a year’s time.

I am convinced that Jared’s clandestine meetings with the Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Emirates and who knows who else were desperate attempts to leverage his position as Donald’s son-in-law and factotum plenipotentiary to arrange for financing for that soon to implode real estate investment.

I leave it to others to decide if this course of action violated the law. Last May I came to the conclusion that Jared was too smart to be stupid. I stand corrected. He is just too damn stupid to be smart.