This New Year's holidays returned to Sarajevo. And despite freezing cold, people flooded the streets. My American friend, a reporter, took a good care to stay close to Bono (from U2), so she told me he was the second person to wish her a Happy New Year. Bono spent New Years eve with family in Sarajevo. American viewer mostly saw the New Year in Tuzla, where the troops are stationed. Cheesy shots of groups of soldiers seated on trucks pretending to be boy's acappela choirs.

Flesh for Frankenstein and the importance of perfect Serbian nasum

Meanwhile, I spent New Years in New York. It begun with a movie. "Flesh for Frankenstein", a 3-d gore filmed by Paul Morrissey in 1973 on locations near Rome, Italy. So, all actors have accents. The big blond hunk actually has accent same as mine. Of course, since he is Serbian, Srdjan Zelenovic. And Serbian and Croatian are not so different as to leave different impact on your English. Srdjan plays a male Frankenstein-alike zombie "developed" by a mad doctor intent on creating a Serbian Master Race. Doc was out searching for the perfect Serbian nasum, until he found it in Srdjan (who does have a nice nose, to his credit). Perfect Serbian male, however, following his construction had an insurmountable problems with erection (or more precisely with no erection). Homosexualism of Srdjan was rather implicitly stated. Finally, doctor chose Srdjan's friend (who was employed as a sex slave to doctors wife and, simultaneously, a sister), who lacked perfect nasum but at the time looked overall more appropriate for the cause. And there was a lot of blood and body organs splashing right at your face from the 3-d screen. No, nobody said "ethnic cleansing". But even without that, it was hard believing that this film was done more than twenty years ago. It was kind of nineties movie. If they change the soundtrack (like play Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy) it would look like the movie was done in 1993.

After the movie my friends and me went to some party at 50th street and 9th avenue. We run right into the Times Square crowd. And it was not yet 10 pm. It escapes me how can thousands of people find fun in standing outside for a few hours in the freezing cold waiting to see that minute which takes that lighted ball to descend down the pole at midnight. Particularly when you can see it on TV, too. What I unintentionally did at the next party (it was mixed with New Years greetings from US Army troops from Tuzla). One my friend, a translator, told me how she was not accepted as a translator for the troops in Bosnia. Why? She has a dual citizenship (U.S. and Yugoslav) and her husband is Serbian. They didn't tell her that, but this seems to be a pretty obvious reason. Several of my friends nevertheless got the job. So, how did I miss 50,000 a year job for American government and why? I applied for translators job two years ago. This was a different application, though. This time military insisted that translators can be only American citizens. And I am not an American citizen. Or at least I am not yet recognized as such. It is quite clear to me why they insisted on citizenship: if you have citizenship of any of three sides involved in the Bosnian conflict (and most of the language's native speakers obviously do), you are a free game: the other two sides may arrest you as an enemy spy, and your own side may arrest you as a traitor or as an American spy, or at least blackmail you. Any American intervention at that point would indubitably mean an international diplomatic incident. Inevitably, military must have seen a security risk in that. It is not completely clear to me why am I not an American citizen. OK, I was not born in America. But the fact, that my mother chose to emigrate and give birth to me in Germany, a country in which citizenship is not automatically achieved by birth, instead of in the U.S., is fairly beyond my liability. U.S. Constitution asserts that all humans are equal by birth. Yet, only the privileged few are assigned a social security number.

How to play a guitar without a hand

Hopping from party to party, we spent some time with teenage refugees from Bosnia who threw a dernek (Bosnian for party) in Astoria. The moment that is difficult to forget was when Darko grabbed a guitar. He played old rock songs from those bygone times. Darko, who lost his right hand in shelling in Sarajevo, duck-tapes the plectrum to the stump tattooed with burning flames. And I can't play the damn thing with both hands right.

The fate of Pisonja & Zuga

Just recently I listened to Rock Under Siege, an album produced by Radio Zid (a Sarajevo's independent radio that kept up its satire throughout the war). It features 13 bands: rock, hard core and techno. Really cool stuff. As Yugoslavia is a territory reigned by paradox, rock didn't die in Sarajevo as it died in Zagreb and Belgrade where it became choked by neo-folk styles favored by 'new rich'. BTW I put excerpts from the songs at Balkans Pages (check them out).

One earlier Sarajevo rock band - Zabranjeno Pusenje - wrote a song about Pisonja and Zuga (described as a very simple two guys at a party thrown by some sophisticated chick whose obviously well placed parents worked somewhere in Iraq; the party gets busted and lovely host asks Pisonja and Zuga to take a present from her - under a condition not to open it until morning; the present of course was a package of dope and Pisonja and Zuga got arrested). Zabranjeno Pusenje had lyrics similar to the Clash. It always seemed so realistic. Still, I was never sure if Pisonja and Suga were real characters (their names would be in English like Piss and Dirt). They were, my friend told me. They were really close, inseparable friends, kind of raw. But they are dead now. They both died in the war. Well, it seems that they always had bad luck. One of them died in Bosnian (Muslim) Army, another one in Croatian (HVO) Army. At least they did not die fighting each other (which was also a possibility, since Bosnians and Croats fought, too). That would be really, really bad luck. They both died fighting Serbian Army. And the guy who wrote a song about them, Nele, he is a Serb. He left Sarajevo with his wife and kid in the beginning and now lives in Belgrade. Therefore there are two bands Zabranjeno Pusenje - one by him in Belgrade and one by his pals in Sarajevo. The Belgrade Pusenje does well in Ljubljana, and the Sarajevo Pusenje does well in Zagreb.

How two U.S. pontoon bridges tied up international press for two weeks in Bosnia more successfully than the snow blizzard (missing the first casualty)

Perry and Shalikashvili did not fly to Tuzla. They flew to Orasje and then walked over the pontoon bridge spanned over river Sava. They wanted to be sure that it is really there after two weeks of difficulties with building those pontoon bridges. Meanwhile 2000 troops were taken over Sava in low-tech, unseaworthy (but apparently riverSavaworthy) vessels provided by Croatian locals, which became the talk of the press in Croatia. Anticipating that bridges would be established any time soon and that M1-A tanks would soon roar en-masse, sinking the bridges below the water level, so to appear as if caterpillars are gliding over the water (the trick Christ used to walk on the water?), like Pentagon P.R. guys earlier promised, providing them with a Somalia-like spectacle, the American press corps waited patiently in North Bosnian mud for two weeks. This is how Reuters missed Begosh - the first American casualty. He got a Purple Heart for driving his humvee over a landmine that exploded. In an AP picture and on TV he appeared on a stretcher with his legs carefully covered. We don't want any panic, do we? Reuters missed all that. It has tons of pictures of pontoon bridges, though: including the picture of a truck carrying destroyed Begosh's humvee (over a pontoon bridge, of course).

Problems with Apache helicopters, that jewel of American aerospace military ingenuity: they don't like storms and lightning, snow and cold, dust and hot weather, wind, rain. They are practically useful only in Southern California.

There are other problems with American high tech weapons. Take for example Apache helicopters. Do you remember how they had troubles flying in the Desert Storm operation because if it was too windy sand would clog their fine turbines? They don't like snow blizzards either: around Christmas time in Bosnia, some of them got lost in Bosnian blizzard. Russian mercenary pilots would take that dangerous flight from Tuzla to Bihac for 2000 DM and a bottle of Vodka in past years. Then in Moscow, too, post offices don't shut down if there is just 2 feet of snow out there. America is not really a winter country. So, the pilots decided to emergency land near Banja Luka. Fortunately, that was after Dayton agreement (in which Banja Luka Serbs got more than they bargained for), so instead of slicing their throats, Serbs almost killed them with too much fatty foods and unbelievably strong moonshine in a party that lasted until the weather cleared. God knows who drove helicopters back to the base. Then again there is no DWI laws in Bosnia (yet).

One would think that at least moderate Mediterranean climate would be suitable too Apache whimsical nature. Wrong. Last summer my friends seized one. They were vacationing on island Mljet, a densely forested, sparsely populated island just few minutes (by helicopter) northwest of Dubrovnik, and approximately the same distance from the U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in Adriatic. An Apache helicopter patrol got caught in one of those summer storms with a lot of gusty winds, lightning and quick, dense rainfall. They lost radio connection with their base and something got screwed with their radar. So, they decided to emergency land. One helicopter was hovering over Mljet's helidrom for a while, hesitating to proceed (pilot said later that he saw anti-aircraft guns down there around the helidrom, and well he wasn't sure if somebody would shoot, and he did not want to shoot because he didn't have any idea where he was and whom he would be shooting at...). Finally a crew of two closed their eyes and landed - right in front of my friends, who strolled from the beach to helidrom (well, Apache helicopters don't usually land on Mljet every morning). Pilots jumped out from the helicopter waving with their maps and asking kind of in panic (heh, this was before Dayton agreement..): "where are we?" My friend told them that they were on Mljet. That was not satisfying. They were interested in WHICH COUNTRY they were. Then, my friend told them that they are in Croatia, which calmed them down visibly, and they responded with "Toni Kukoc". It is good that Croatia has excellent basketball players. That makes Croatia intrinsically a good country.

Second they asked for telephone, radio or any other means of communication, not immediately available on Mljet (which is basically a National Park resort with very little amount of residents). My friends took them to a nearby cafe. They ask pilots, just casually, who was the commander, but it seemed that pilots couldn't readily remember and they started a humorous quarrel pointing to each other saying: "he is the commander." This was cool. In about an hour, with the storm still raging, an unseaworthy skiff propelled by 4 HP motor, noisily arrived carrying two individuals that carried symbols of Croatian Army on their rags. One of them had an obsoletely old gun. Another had formidable moustache. Meanwhile neighborhood kids started to play with the helicopter, and one of the pilots run to lock the gun before somebody accidentally blew the village away. The Croatian soldiers disembarked and walked straight to Americans. They did not speak any English, so my friends proved handy as translators. "Why didn't they ask a permission to land?" - "Because our radio was not working." - "Uhu, let us all go to our base, where you will explain that to our commander, and then we will see what to do with you." At that point Americans got really scared, not because they thought they'd be killed by Croats, but because they didn't really believe that that 8 feet long skiff would be able to carry them all alive to the base - after all, even the mighty Apache was humbled by the storm.

My friends went with them. One of the Croat soldiers stayed to guard the helicopter from kids (because they were the only enemy force on the island, bent on bending and screwing precious things in the helicopter). Riding in the boat through the storm and the six feet high swell, everybody in boat was wet and Croatian soldier amusingly apologized to Americans for getting them wet. At the base pilots met their colleagues (from other helicopters) who stood there with their hands up, while Croat soldiers were walking around them giggling. Two pilots who were with my friends, already understood that Croatian soldiers have no intent to harm them, so they laughed at sight of their friends who looked like POWs just because they couldn't understand their captors (and their captors could not understand them). Croat commander decided to send a fax describing the situation to UNPROFOR command in Zagreb (which was at that time responsible for all UN/NATO operations in Croatia and Bosnia). This was the only fax machine on the island, and commander was very proud of it. It definitely had a special place in his life.

Once the fax was sent, they could only wait (the chain of command was long: UNPROFOR notifies UN, UN notifies NATO, NATO notifies American military command, American military command notifies its ship in Adriatic...), so Croatian commander decided to shorten the wait the Balkan way: with food and drink (American soldiers are bound to gain weight in their mission in Bosnia, obviously; after all if you look all military commanders on all sides of Bosnian war - they all gained tremendous amounts of weight over the past few years. Only civilians look kind of skinnier.). The Croatian feast consisted of roast lamb and strong Mediterranean wine. Over the dinner jokes were exchanged. Commander joked that Croats should keep pilots and their helicopters and paint HV (Croatian Army) on helicopters and have pilots teach Croats fly them. He argued that would end the Serb advances in Bosnia swiftly. Pilots managed to put up with the joke in good humor.

Finally the answer arrived from Zagreb: pilots should be let go as soon as the storm is over, and they should immediately return to their aircraft carrier for necessary repairs on their helicopters (it seems that lightning messed up some fine communications electronics in their machines). Croat and American soldiers exchanged military pins (Americans got Croat checkerboards and Croats got American airborne units badges). Everybody took a picture with Apaches. American pilots took a bunch of picturesque brochures from a nearby tourist office and shove them under the instruments in the nose of helicopter's cockpit. They liked the island. My friends asked them if they ever visited Dubrovnik. They did not. So, my friends advised them to fly a fifteen minutes south-east and land on Stradun (Dubrovnik's corso) and play the same stint there - we lost contact with our vessel, where are we, oh, you have a cute city here, and the wine is just fine. Later, my friends got letters from the pilots and a thank you letter from the air craft carrier command.

A Chechen cab driver in NYC

Returning home from the last party we attended we were driven in a yellow cab with a political message. On the window behind driver's head facing passengers on a back-seat a hand-written note said something like: Russians out of Chechenya, and the usual approach (Russians = slaughterers, Chechens = poor innocent victims). I was stoned and a little paranoid: what if that burly, frown, mustached driver takes our Croatian for Russian? Maybe it would be better to speak English? We definitively assured him that we were on the right side. After all Serbs and Russians are big friends, aren't they? That was, by the way, the first time I saw a Chechen (it was his first time to see Croats, too). I always believed that in New York city lives at least one sample of each existing world ethnic group. I know that a lot of people (American and foreign) don't like that about New York city. I find it highly interesting, because it is a proof that people may cooperate for common good while still preserving their cherished ethnic and religious differences, and this quality is hard to find in other places on this planet.

Bosnia- Chechenya

Nobody suggests that Chechens are peace and democracy loving fellows after they took hostages at Pervomajskaya. But by Yugoslav rule of thumb, ratified by the NATO protectorate over Bosnia, ethnic groups should be allowed to assert their sovereignty over the territory they claim for themselves. So, why are not Chechens protected by UNPROFOR against the brutal Russian onslaught. Grozni was a city larger than Sarajevo - yet it is now destroyed heavier than Vukovar. After all, Russian enormous firepower by far outguns Serb roughnecks. Which also means, to stop Russians, UN would have to have command over nuclear weapons. Which it doesn't have. But NATO has that command. Of course, that means back to fall-out shelters built in fifties and sixties. So, Chechens would be rather left to their own devices.