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
Friday
May292015

KILROY WAS HERE – IS IT “SNAFU” OR “FUBAR” IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Published as Kilroy Was There, Britić, May 28, 2015 and Kilroy Was There, Pecat, June 1, 2015

Another Memorial Day just passed us by. The weather was perfect. Fighter jets and military transports boomed and flashed by overhead. In New York, Fleet Week was in full swing with men and women in Navy uniforms walking the streets of Manhattan. In Litchfield, the First Litchfield Artillery Regiment in a motley of period uniforms marched by while men in their 60’s and 70’s sporting a badge or tokens of their military service in Korea and Vietnam stood silently by the roadside or gravesites remembering honorable service, their comrades and times gone by.

America’s early wars had meaning and purpose. The Revolution was for freedom and self-determination. The Civil War ended slavery. The Spanish American War was a grab for territory. The First World War was “to end all wars” while the Second was to avenge Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy”. Those wars at least made some sense out of chaos and destruction.

After that it was all downhill. The Korean War was a “police action” and Vietnam an exercise in stopping the Communist “falling domino principle”. Grenada and Panama were fits of pique while Desert Storm, with only 148 battle deaths, was not even a war. Not much was accomplished by these military adventures – we still have 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea and Vietnam is now a trading partner manufacturing cheap garments for Kmart.    

Our country has just gone through 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq with sideshows in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, now Syria and yet again Iraq. Like in Vietnam we declared victory, declared the threats contained and withdrew most of our troops. All that remains of the massive military presence and the billions spent are abandoned air fields, army bases and deserted checkpoints. All you need is someone paint that iconic World War II graffiti image “Kilroy was here” on what’s left.

Thousands of our Kilroys were there. Some died; many were wounded while others will carry the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder to their graves and to what end?

The Afghani Army, trained and paid for by the United States, has turned tail and surrendered territory to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, forcing a resurgence of the old warlords and local militias. In Iraq the Kurds are fighting in the north against ISIS or whatever al-Qaeda is calling itself today. ISIS or ISIL, the Islamic State of Whatever, is waging war against Iraq and Syria while the Iraqi Army we trained and paid for stands by. US and Saudi planes bomb targets in both Iraq and Syria in support of rag tag forces supposedly fighting ISIS.

Iran is ramping up sectarian strife pitting the Shiites against the Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere in the region while the Saudis lend a helping hand and cash to their Sunni brethren. We continue to sell military hardware to Israel, Egypt and the Saudis while arming with conventional weapons insurgent groups who align with our politics du jour.  

In reviewing our military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, let’s lump all of them into a generic Middle East, you come up with two assessments of our efforts. The first is “Snafu” – “Situation Normal, All Fucked Up” and the second “Fubar” – “Fucked Up, Beyond All Repair”.

Now today in the Middle East does “Snafu” or “Fubar” hold sway?

Snafu contains within it a glimmer of hope. From the get-go World War II, the war that gave birth to the term was a screwed up war; think of the false promise of Munich, “Peace in Our Time”, and the missed signals before Pearl Harbor. The inauspicious start notwithstanding - Continental Europe conquered, England besieged - we and the Allies muddled through.  

Given the will and resources, putting aside differences in the face of a common enemy, success can be achieved.

Fubar, on the other hand, is a cry of despair. The natural order of things has been irreparably destroyed. Nation states no longer have borders and they exist only on maps, on pieces of paper. The apocalypse has arrived.

The only solution is to let waging forces and factions destroy themselves in a cathartic war and start anew, start afresh.

So my Memorial Day message to the seats of power, the capitals of the Middle East: “Snafu or Fubar, your choice, but leave us out of it this time” and to Washington “No more Kilroys”.   

 

Tuesday
May192015

THE DRESS MADE ME DO IT

Two weeks ago my New York City neighborhood was a madhouse, streets closed, cars towed, food carts removed, parking prohibited, sidewalks power washed, tents erected, floodlights set, red carpets unfurled, ordinary folks stopped from walking down Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the yearly Monday in May Madness - the Met’s Costume Institute’s Gala, the “Met Ball” hosted by Vogue’s Anna Wintour and attended by the rich and beautiful.

In stark contrast for the next several weeks, in towns across the country Senior Proms will be held in less classy locales - high school gyms and hotel ballrooms – adding a little glamour to otherwise humdrum lives of local teenagers. For graduating seniors this rite of passage is just as important as for pop stars and fashion designers their attendance at the Met Gala.

America’s morality police is in full hue and cry to save the young and vulnerable from sex and the wages of sin. Shelton, Connecticut is on the front lines defending her daughters’ virtue by enforcing the high school’s dress code and excluding young ladies with inappropriate dresses from the Prom. To be excluded and banished from the Senior Prom is dire punishment, a fate worse than death. Remember Molly Ringwald in the Pretty in Pink or the movie Never Been Kissed? Under the circumstances the punishment does not fit the lascivious crime. 

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Thursday
Apr232015

THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF A DIPLOMATIC FRAUD

In December, 2010 I thought that Richard Holbrooke was dead with a stake through his treacherous heart, never to be resurrected or rehabilitated. I was wrong. The New York Times reports that “The Diplomat”, a documentary, premieres today [April 23] at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary directed by his son David documents his father’s plan “to strike a bargain with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s meddlesome neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan” contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated policy. What a perfidious bastard, even in death.

Upon his death Holbrooke, a founding member of the Grateful Dead Diplomats Society, was promptly canonized by the Establishment with the media even suggesting a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize. The eulogies were full of hyperbole calling his role on the world stage “larger than life”. The pomp and circumstance surrounding his death made him a messianic, bold, courageous envoy of peace and stability. What pure and unadulterated bullshit. “Much Ado About Nothing”, say I, except his role was in the world’s tragedies, not in Shakespeare’s comedy.

Holbrooke’s legacy is the false bright and shining beacon of America’s failed diplomatic and economic disasters. His life was nothing but “A Bright Shining Lie” starting with his service in Vietnam in 1962. He went on to Lyndon Johnson’s White House were he wrote a volume of the Pentagon Papers, but didn’t do a damn thing about the lies, deception and corruption they detailed.

Do not forget that the man’s public service career and his short stints in the private sector spanning 50 years involved him with America’s every conflict and subsequent defeat and humiliation. He participated in every failed attempt at diplomacy from Vietnam to Afghanistan, with stops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Cyprus along the way. His diplomatic efforts lacked a moral compass. He saw no shame in dealing with dictators, despots and corrupt politicians and actively supported their financing at the tax payers’ expense. He expressed outrage only after the corrupt official was of no longer use in his Machiavellian intrigues.

Holbrooke denied having made a deal with Bosnia’s Radovan Karadzic to withdraw from politics in return for a “get out of jail free card” and no prosecution. But his denial was flatly refuted by Bosnia’s Muslim Foreign Minister, Karadzic’s arch enemy, Muhamed Sacirbey. His denial had been flatly refuted as well by Momcilo Krajisnik, Republica Srpska’s Parliamentary President as well as others.

He, along with that other unprincipled eminence grise, Zbigniew Brezinski, facilitated the delivery of arms to Indonesia and supported Suharto’s brutal counterinsurgency which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths of East Timor dissidents. Likewise he supported Croatia’s “Operation Storm” which resulted in 250,000 Serb refugees, destined to be strangers in a strange land, far greater than Kosovo’s Albanians who returned to their homes - all this in direct contravention of United Nations’ sanctions and embargoes and in violation of US criminal laws; so much for abiding by international law. Holbrooke did so only when it suited his purposes.

His performance while in the private sector was far from stellar. The financial institutions he was associated with skirted and openly flaunted the law. He was not passive but a proactive participant. He started as Senior Advisor, then Managing Director of Lehman Brothers, the financial behemoth that ultimately made the largest bankruptcy filing in US history in 2008. Lehman was the firm embroiled in the sub prime mortgage mess and one of the firms that settled with the SEC and New York’ Attorney General for $1.4 Billion in 2005. From 2001 to 2008 he was on the Board of Directors of American International Group [“AIG”] the failed and flawed insurance giant that during his watch engaged in wildly speculative credit default insurance schemes that precipitated the financial crisis. Those schemes have cost the American taxpayers millions if not billions of dollars to date. And, lest we forget, he was Vice Chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston which reached a settlement with the Government for violations of sanctions regulations for financial transactions with Iran and paid a $536 million fine in 2009; so much for his financial rectitude.

The least said about his three marriages and his adulterous liaisons with Diane Sawyer amongst others, the better; so much for his moral compass.  

His last post, as President Obama’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was another moral debacle. He allowed the flawed elections of Hamid Karzai to stand, while other more principled diplomats were given the sack for denouncing them. He allowed graft, corruption and a flourishing narcotic state to flourish all in the name of nation building. Damn the torpedoes, the millions of dollars and American lives lost, full speed ahead.

Now even that story line is proven false. He was planning to double cross President Obama, his boss, and sabotage the Administration’s Afghanistan policy and recorded his intent to do so in a secret audio diary now made public. He publicly supported the flawed and morally compromised General David Petraeus and his counterinsurgency policy while privately recording “Frankly, I just don’t believe him”. Duplicity, thy name is Holbrooke.   

History is about to be re-written resurrecting and rehabilitating Richard Holbrooke as an “honorable man”. Back in 2010 I welcomed his passing comforted by the fact that there was one less malignant diplomatic fraud running amuck, feathering his financial nest, wreaking havoc on the world. Today I damn his posthumous return and resurrection.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr092015

VOJA IN WONDERLAND

Vojislav Šešelj, “Voja” to his friends, has been on trial charged with war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for over 11 years. That sets an international record beating the United States’ [the McMartin Preschool child abuse trial in 1987] by 8 years 7 months and the United Kingdom’s [the Angry Brigade trial in 1972] by 10 years 5 months giving a new meaning to the Queen of Heart’s command “Sentence first – Verdict later”.   

Lewis Carroll took the familiar fairy tale to a new level with his portrayal of an illogical universe in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass fables. He amped up those farfetched tales with nonsense poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark. His visions like fairy tales all end well; it’s what leads up to the happy ending that leaves you baffled and perplexed. Why does “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the Mome raths outgrabe” make you want to twist and shout “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” His imaginary universe just doesn’t make sense.

Now Šešelj ain’t no blushing virgin, an innocent lamb led to slaughter. On the contrary he is one mean, unpleasant son of a bitch, and an unprincipled political infighter known to switch alliances at the drop of a hat. Well educated with a doctorate in law, he possesses a malevolent intelligence calling himself the “greatest living legal Serb mind”. He is vulgar, opinionated and known to hurl colorful expletives at his foes. He has pretensions of grandeur reveling in the dubious title of Vojvoda [“duke”] and advocating the restoration of a valid monarchy [House of Karageorge] as well as one fronted by a charlatan [Prince Alexis Romanov Dolgorokov]. Go figure.     

By now you realize that I do not hold Šešelj in high esteem or like him much. In fact I despise him. That being said his treatment by the ICTY is shameful and to be deplored. He is after all a member in good standing of the genus homo sapiens, a sentient human being, deserving the protection of due process. All charges lodged against him should be dismissed with prejudice on statute of limitations grounds alone.

After being indicted Šešelj surrendered on February 23, 2003 fully protected by the presumption of innocence pending trial. His voluntary surrender was proof positive that provisional release was warranted. Yet the Tribunal saw fit to keep him jailed for these 11+ years. If we consider the Tribunals own precedents a high ranking politician charged with a “joint criminal enterprise” war crime, a crime manufactured out of thin air, an appropriate sentence is 11 years, the sentence imposed on Biljana Plavšić, the former President of the Republika Srpska.

Notwithstanding the presumption of innocence Šešelj served hard jail time far in excess of the 6 years 7 months that Plavšić spent in a minimum security women’s prison in Sweden. Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts would be proud – sentence served even before sentence imposed or a guilty verdict rendered – a real “off with his head” moment.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” would be Alice’s comment upon reading the Šešelj indictment. He is accused of individually committing war crimes. But the word “committing” does not mean “doing” explains the Tribunal’s Case Information Sheet. “Committing” means participating in a nebulous joint criminal enterprise making “inflammatory speeches instigat[ing] Serb forces to commit crimes, encourage[ing] the creation of a homogenous "Greater Serbia" by violence, and thereby participat[ing] in war propaganda and incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people”.

Another Alice in Wonderland quote is appropriate at this point – “Not the same thing a bit!” said the [Mad like in crazy] Hatter, “Why, you might as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’” It seems that in The Hague “commit” does not mean “commit”.

The Statute of the Tribunal guaranteed Šešelj a “fair and expeditious” trial “with full respect to the rights of the accused.” The “expeditious” has been proven a lie by a show trial lasting more than a decade. The “fair” has been likewise compromised time and again. After presiding for years in Šešelj’s trial one of the judges had to be removed by his co-judges for expressing bias and prejudice in a widely disseminated public statement. A replacement judge was appointed who had at that point missed 175 trial days, 81 witnesses, 1,380 exhibits and 18,000 pages of trial testimony. It doesn’t seem fair to have a defendant present while the judge is absent.

Then there is the issue of the suborning of perjury and intimidation of witnesses. After admitting on cross examination that they, the witnesses had been “blackmailed, pressured [30 to 50 telephone calls a day], or suborned to give false evidence against [Šešelj] under the direction of the prosecutor” the Judges ordered an investigation by an “amicus curiae”, a “friend of the court” not an independent prosecutor, of the alleged crimes and violations of Šešelj’s due process rights. The “friend of the court”, whose identity is a closely held secret, obliged by filing under seal a white-wash report never fully made public, finding the violations de minimus bringing to mind the comment “A secret, kept from all the rest, Between Yourself and me”.

Like Lewis Carroll’s Walrus Šešelj spoke at times “of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the Sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings” but it was just talk - sometimes stupid, mean, vicious and offensive but still just talk. To prosecute him for inciting violence and ethnic persecution for his political statements is to deprive him of his legally protected right to free speech.  

So to Voja Šešelj, “my beamish boy” I say “O Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!” Tell those crimson robbed judges “Belay!” If you can’t judge me without delay you can’t force me back for not even one day. And Serbia do the right thing this time, remember Tammy Wynette’s plea to “just stand by your man” - don’t let him go down that Alice in Wonderland rabbit-hole in The Hague – just tell the Tribunal, as Šešelj has, to just “Fuck Off”.

A versions of this article was published in Britić “Voja in Wonderland” April 9, 2015 and Pecat “Voja in Wonderland" April 9, 2015

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Mar252015

SERBIA’S NEGLECTED 5TH AVENUE MISSION TO THE UN

Though far from wealthy, I live on New York’s Fifth Avenue. I am a winner in that uniquely New York lottery - buying an apartment in the right place at the wrong time – a time when New York was on the verge of bankruptcy. Today Fifth Avenue is unaffordable for the likes of you and me; nonetheless I have a vested interest in Fifth Avenue.

Every morning I take the bus down Fifth Avenue, also known as “The Museum Mile”, passing the palaces of yesterday and today. On the first block I go by the Straight mansion once owned by the Chairman of US Steel and now the $125 million home of a hedge fund prince. The Jewish Museum is next, once the philanthropist Felix M. Warburg’s mansion, followed by the Otto Kahn mansion now a private girl’s school; then the Carnegie mansion, once home of the owner of US Steel, now the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian, the Guggenheim Museum, the Neue Gallery, a Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts gem of a building, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection and its block long palace and garden.

Block after block Fifth Avenue has diplomatic, cultural and philanthropic institutions housed in splendid buildings. The French have two and even the Ukrainians have one. You are bowled over by New York University’s Duke Mansion and the Commonwealth Fund’s Stillman-Harkness House. Then you hit a shabby, sadly neglected relic of the past, the Beeckman Mansion [1905] at 67th Street, home to Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The place has quite a history. It’s a designated landmark, never to altered or torn down. № 854, designed by Warren & Wetmore, also responsible for Grand Central Station, the New York Yacht Club and Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, was built for R. Livingston Beeckman, “the [very wealthy] well-known polo player and society man” who went on to become the Governor of Rhodes Island. It was later occupied by the Thaws, cousins of Harry Thaw – the cuckolded husband who “got away with murder” - shooting the architect Sanford White dead over his mistress Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” - found “innocent” by reason of insanity.   

It was bought in 1946 by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – ironically, socialism buying capitalism – and now inherited by Serbia. Now that both Nikola Kavaja and Boško Radonjić are dead and gone I am free to violate the attorney-client privilege. They made plans to assassinate Josip Broz Tito during his visit to New York in 1963 either at the Mission, with a sniper shot from Central Park across the street, or up close and personal at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Failing in that effort my former clients in a fit of political stupidity bombed the place in 1975. Luckily they did little damage, though blast scars remain.  

The place is a shambles inside and out. The roof leaks, the back façade has threatened to collapse for years. The electrical system has not been upgraded since before World War II. There ain’t a proper HVAC system in the place. The interior is a jury rigged warren of rooms unsuited for the Mission’s mission. The kitchen [?] and bathrooms should be relegated to a museum or demolished.

The building is architecturally significant: “[a] dignified Beaux Arts palace on a small scale. Only two windows wide, it rises three stories to an impressive two-story mansard roof with dormers and projecting bulls eye windows … the second story windows, with picturesque stone balconies, were surmounted by classical pediments; their grand size becoming the focal point of the façade.” It deserves to be saved.

One of the wealthy Koch brothers just made a $65 million donation to renovate the plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art even though he no longer lives across the street. Now Serbia has its share of wealthy men, Milan Janković a/k/a Philip Zepter, Miroslav Miśković and Stanko Subotić, to name but three. You would think that one of these worthies would step up and pay for the renovation of the Mission and make us proud. 

The donor would probably get a tax deduction, not that it matters since income is seldom declared in Serbia. He would get naming and bragging rights having a building named in his honor. He would get favorable press which in Misković’s case is sorely needed. He would get a brass plaque recognizing his contribution on a landmarked building on Fifth Avenue.  As for me I would get to drive by Serbia’s Mission to the United Nations with pride in my heart.  

 

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