Notes for 1996: Pigs have won tonight...

The Land with Two Christmases

Yugoslavia was a country with two Christmas holidays. They were two weeks apart: first the Catholic, then the Orthodox. Orthodox Christians, mostly Serbs and Macedonians (or Russians), privately count time according to the "old calendar"(Georgian). Since they broke up with Vatican in 11th century, they never accepted Rome's changes of calendar. But what would be bad about having two Christmases? Can you imagine how would a market oriented society take advantage of having TWO consecutive Christmas holiday seasons? Communism, however, canceled both holidays. They were not banned, but they were not publicly celebrated, and those party members who would dare to celebrate were very careful that their superiors don't find out. Instead of Christmas, the state offered New Years holidays (which are right in between two Christmases) as a way of compromise. People's tradition of decorated Christmas-trees was kept. It dates to pre-Christian traditions, anyway. Santa Claus was renamed "Djeda Mraz" ("Grandpa Frost"). Though he looked the same and he also gave presents to children. And when we were children that was only that mattered.

But we ain't children no more. The Serbian New Year, which naturally comes a week after Serbian Christmas, was kind of sacrificed to higher interests of the socialist revolution. It was not a big deal for most of the people for the long time of prosperous economy and vigilant state police. However, the economy suddenly plummeted and Republics state polices were busy spying on each other's political leadership. Big picture was quickly getting out of their grasp. For us celebrating religious and overtly ethnically colored holidays became a way to rebel against the regime. I was at the midnight mess first time when I was 17 or 18, with my high school friends. I've never been there with either of my divorced parents. The church was full of youth. Soccer hooligans and alike. You would never see so many unique haircuts at a midnight mess in the West. Milosevic, out of the regime leaders, was first to realize how to take the advantage of that populist anger and how to turn that anger against other regime leaders and to his profit. Should I mention that he was the champion of Serbian New Year?

This ended particularly painful for Sarajevans. They used to be a city with two Christmases, two New Years, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashana, plus Bajram - a Muslim holiday at the end of the month of Ramazan. Suddenly they were left with no holidays at all.

US troops Christmas in Bosnia vs. Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Also, we should take note that American troops were allowed to celebrate Christmas holidays in that Muslim fundamentalist country, for the difference from a great American middle-eastern friend were troops were stationed a few years ago. Beer was at hand, too. And women don't exactly wear chadors there.

Actually a lot of Croats, Serbs and Bosnian-Muslims seem to be concerned about that. Americans do have an image of procreative Army, given the number of children they made with Vietnamese women. The recent story from Okinawa didn't do much help, either. Then again, who wouldn't fall in love for a green card? Appearance of wealthier and better armed prospects must send shivers through the backs of local male population. Which positively correlates with an increased amount of ugly stories about "black children". The funny thing is that they have no idea that they share that fear with an unlikely compatriot: nationalist (white) Americans. Though a majority among decision-makers, those Americans are however not usually a majority in trenches.

Who exactly is the top dog in Bosnia and who just barks a lot? (re the 16 abducted)

The Dayton Peace Agreement clearly and explicitly demands full freedom of movement in Bosnia. To prove that the agreement is not dead letters on paper, Bosnians started to move across Bosnia. Sometimes they even moved when they did not need to move, just for sake of proving that they can. Well, the Serbs quickly showed them that they can't. Serbs again asserted that they are fully in control of the territory they hold. Bosnian Government (Izzy, Silly and Moe) barked out loudly that this was a flagrant breach of Dayton Agreements and that American cavalry should ride in to rescue their people. Americans, of course, did not leave their barracks. Instead, State Department persuaded Milosevic to order Bosnian Serbs to release the prisoners. Some of them were released immediately, though heavily beaten. The rest was kept a few more days for further interrogation (Serbs lacked manpower to beat all of them enough in one day). If this was a test to show which side has more resolve to use reckless tactics, it was successful: it showed that Americans are not eager to take health risks that other participants of this war take gladly on day to day basis to satisfy their demanding egos. This is quite understandable given the health care costs in America.

Cost of Medical Care and how will America become a Third World country

And health costs in the U.S. are totally insane. Health care reminds of anti-American cartoons in Eastern Europe (where EMS crew asks a man lying down in the street: "What is your insurance company?", he says: "I have no insurance." and they leave him lying in the street. To their credit, EMS would never do that. But hospitals would. When a (homeless) man fell ill across the street from St. Luke's hospital in New York a year or few ago, the EMS picked him up and took him to St.Luke's next doors. St.Luke's, however, refused to accept him because they said they didn't treat emergency cases any more. The EMS took the man to a hospital downtown. Man died in the van. St.Luke's executives were unavailable for comment after this, should I say. More and more private hospitals are shedding their emergency rooms now so that they may refuse emergency cases legally (otherwise they would have to treat them regardless of if they are insured or not). Non-emergency cases they don't have to treat if the patient has no means to pay for treatment. So, if you are uninsured and have a heart attack in the street, you will get treatment, given that EMS is able to find hospital that would take you. On the other hand if you are just hit by a car and injured in a way that is not life threatening, though it may be debilitating or disabling you to preform your job and restore quality to your life, that would be deemed as a non-essential treatment and NOT performed unless you pay for it (preferrably in advance).

More and more employers prefer part-timers, temps and contracted workers - because they don't have to pay benefits for them. 40% of young employees in the U.S. are not fully employed. Very rarely they decide to pay monthly for health insurance out of their own pocket. This may be 200-300 dollars monthly, which in times of continuously dropping real wages seem to be unpalatable. The result is that more and more young people - this is now way beyond the lower income brackets - is uninsured in America. Yet, health care costs that are already highest in the world are still climbing. For a long period of post-war years America took pride of having a healthy workforce with near perfect teeth and functioning limbs, due to advances in medicine and overall social growth. Now, however it looks as if America is bound for the Third World. In ten years with health care policies as they are, there will be people limping around America with teeth like they are from Albania. It is shameful and ethically unacceptable that any medical treatment is withheld for the reasons of money.

And how much money they actually ask you for a "non-essential treatment"?

TimAn Arthroscopic Debridement of Meniscus (knee) performed ambulatory with local anesthesia costs close to twelve thousands dollars when you sum up all different charges. Five of those twelve thousands, hospital wants in advance. I had injured my knee. The situation is not life threatening obviously since I can live and even walk around (though it hurts with those slippery streets now). But I can't run and I can't squat, which makes me half-disabled for my job as a lifeguard and personal trainer, and which makes me really depressed. So, in a way, it is life-threatening: I am suicidal without levels of physical activity I am used to. Fortunately, I am insured in Germany. Absurd as my life is - I can't get a German citizenship, but I can get German health insurance. My young American friends envy such a position. They'd give up half of their American citizenship for German health insurance. Now, Germans would pay for the cost of my treatment even here. Though, they are not extremely happy about that. Just recently they told me about a list of their PPO-s (preferred providers) that might be cheaper - but none of them seems to be in New York area. Of course, if I don't have the eternally-going-on-immigration-case, the smartest way would be to take a plane to Munich and do the surgery there at a fraction of hugely inflated American price. But if I go, I won't be able to get a visa to come back to the U.S. Which means if I go I should plan it like a more permanent move. That means moving stuff, which I can't do now in the middle of the worst winter in the century with a bad knee. So, what everybody expects from me? To jump of a high-rise? That would solve all my problems, wouldn't it? Theirs, too.

In sixties, when my aunt was a young woman, she enrolled in a masters program at the Music Conservatorium in Wiesbaden, Germany (she is a piano performer). A young Croatian/Yugoslav woman first time in the Western world - she was completely overwhelmed. Then, she got pursued by a committed gentleman. The gentleman was a U.S. Air Forces colonel, a commanding officer of NATO base near Frankfurt. He would came every evening of her performance to pick her up in a white Chevrolet convertible, bringing dozens of roses.

Arguably, he was her dream guy: an American prince, not really riding the white unicorn, but Chevrolet convertible in still relatively shabby post-war Germany came very close to that. They married and he took her to the States. He retired from the military (also he had to give up CIA, because he had married a foreign citizen - he showed me a newspaper article about that later), and started to work as a private eye for real estate investors. My aunt, meanwhile assumed the posture (and size) of an American suburban wife. Weird neuralgia prevented her from further performing, so she concentrated on teaching, and on rising their son.

My cousin was always a reckless adventurer. At the age of four he climbed the tallest tree in some park in Washington DC, and the Fire Department had to come to take him down. It made the news, too. Later he became a bmx bikes and skateboarding aficionado. His dad remained a military man without an army, a devoted Republican, who run over to his neighbor Gerald Ford to be the first to congratulate him when Ford was elected President, and once he spend six hours trying to persuade me that German Greens (Die Gruenen) are sponsored by KGB (that was in the time of Pershing missiles crisis). Also, does anybody remembers a picture where Nancy Reagan is promoting racial "brotherhood and unity" by standing with one white boy and one black boy on her sides in some school? Well, the white boy is my cousin. There is probably some inner-child crowd's explanation why boys that grow up with strict, commanding fathers always develop some sort of reckless behavior.

At the time when I came to the U.S., my cousin was finishing high-school with bad grades, sported a Mohawk hair-cut and dreamed of starting a band like Nine Inch Nails, which all displeased his father, who was dying of bone cancer. At that time he worked as a Special Investigator for the State Department (he was interviewing Jewish immigrants from Russia in Rome; his Russian was perfect and without an accent). Despite his annoying commanding attitude and recalcitrant hawkish right-wing platform, he was a nice dude to hang out with on his yacht or at the barbecues. But he died. My cousin enrolled GWU, but he had even less patience going to college than I had in my time. He dropped out in a year. Now he has jobs as a D.J. and works on his music (which is kind of industrial sound). My aunt is more supportive of that lifestyle than his father would be, since she is a musician, too. Although, she is not a great fan of industrial.

A few years ago my cousin acquired an inguinal hernia. This is a nasty thing. I had it, too in his age. For as long as I could "push it back in", I was reluctant to go under the knife. I remember all my jeans from that time having a hole in the right pocket, because the fabric wore off from constant rubbing. Hernia insidiously becomes the part of your subliminal. Even now, ten years after the operation I find myself "checking" that place unconsciously. He waited for his hernia to "get stuck", too. This is when you start to panic. It doesn't hurt, but it is probably the most discomforting feeling I've ever had. And it kills your sex life instantly, which is not something you'd accept at the age of 22. So, you want to do the operation the same day. In Yugoslavia, hernia operations however were not priority (they are considered non-essential anywhere) and I could get one in four months. Fortunately, I knew a lot of doctors and nurses at the hospital in Zagreb, and I got mine operated in a week. Of course, in Yugoslavia there was a universal health coverage. Which is not the case in the U.S.

My cousin was insured by his father's veterans insurance until the age of 21, then he was insured by college insurance, but now, like so many young Americans he has no health insurance whatsoever. When he tried to get a health insurance, they did the physical and found the hernia, so they agreed to give him a policy but only with the exception of the hernia operation (which is a pre-existing condition).

In this country it really sucks to be young with no money and with a pre-existing condition that is not life threatening.

My aunt managed to put up some money to cover the exaggerated costs of health care, hoping that Medicaid will come up with the rest, when the bills arrive, and my cousin had his surgery. Now, we can compare our experiences (since I just had a knee surgery) and talk about cruelties of social Darwinism.