Bloody spring in Macedonia

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Early Saturday morning the Macedonian town of Kumanovo was awakened by a major shootout and grenade explosions. According to local media reports, police officers were attacked by an armed group, estimated to be 70 fighters strong.

TV NOVA morning news reported that one whole part of the town was blocked by strong police forces, and many more of Macedonian army and police units were arriving from other places.

Unofficial reports confirmed three police officers had lethal injuries, while another 11 were wounded and were receiving care in hospitals.

Police action is in progress, and results are yet to be seen. There are unconfirmed reports of casualties on the other side as well.

makedonija 2Kumanovo is a small town in northern Macedonia. This state is widely known for its long-lasting dispute with Greece, which has been unwilling to recognize their name due to historical reference.

With a mixed Christian and Muslim (Albanian) population, Macedonia has not been excluded from violence based on ethnic or religious grounds.

In 2001, Albanian paramilitary groups took control of a region close to Kumanovo, claiming their right to independence. Many months later and after the loss of hundreds of lives, Macedonia prevailed and peace talks resulted in wide democratic rights for the Albanian minority.

However, one month ago a strong group of the armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) took control of a police outpost on the border between Macedonia and Kosovo and sent a message to the Macedonian government that they will fight for Great Albania. This, in general, reflects the wish of some Albanians to unite all of the nation in a single state, along with the territories where they live now. This 18th century idea affects all neighboring countries — Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

By Miroslav Velimirovic

Kosovo, still fragile after seven years of independence

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Kosovo is well known for the war and consequent NATO campaign against Serbia. Armed conflict ended in 1999, and the forces of the Western alliance took control of the Serbian province, where they maintain a fragile peace over the area.

Tuesday, the young state celebrated seven years of independence, but a fancy and expensive ceremony is not going to be seen this year. Spend Ahmeti, mayor of Pristina, explained that due to a lack of money there has been a massive exodus of Kosovar citizens, an event that started in the beginning of 2015.

Albanians from Kosovars are often seen all over Western Europe. Most of them are hard working and stay away from crime, but some are notorious for organized control of drug trafficking, human trafficking,and other illicit activities.

482262_pristina-twitter_fFor many years, poverty and instability drove them, just like members of many other nations, towards the West. And this flow was constant and balanced, legal or illegal. But from December last year, numbers have dramatically increased, topping up to 18,000 immigrants from Kosovo registered in Germany in January alone.

Every night, dozens of busses are packed with people carrying light luggage only. A 50-seat bus often takes 150 people on board. Whole families, with children and bare essentials, are starting the trip to the unknown. Dramatic pictures have waved through the world, photos and videos showing masses of Balkans on their way to Europe.

And, of course, many theories have been offered, many reasons given for the exodus. As someone who was in the country for 15 years, working with UN and EU missions, I see this as the only way toward a brighter future for those involved, fully aware that such a future is not waiting for them in Kosovo.

The United Nations maintained peace and showed presence, but failed to fight corruption and some UN officials were even found to be involved in it. The EU came in with great ideas and an even greater budget, but results were hardly visible. A system has been built, but corrupted. Many laws and regulations passed the Assembly; however, their implementation is yet to be seen. The highest local officials are involved in a series of illegal activities. Low-scale corruption is widely present and is an everyday experience.

There is now a proven record of a much higher rate of cancer in the region, often explained with regards to the bombing campaigns and the usage of depleted uranium for anti-armor ammunition.

On top of everything, a full day’s wage on a construction site (10 to 12 hours) is five to six Euros. And those that get such a job are happy; there is a long queue of people waiting for one.

Kosovo is now poorer for hundreds of thousands of Serbs; they all fled to Serbia proper, having safety as a priority in life. Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, had a pre-war population of 40,000 Serbs — counting few dozen these days.

albancikosovoodlazak01This sudden and massive outbreak of immigrants is obviously organized, since there is no war conflict now. Poverty was there last summer as well. Most likely, organized crime has a huge interest in this. They are the ones trafficking people across borders and away from police patrols. Those that can’t pay will be in debt and pay later, but more. There are established prices for safe passage through certain critical areas. The rumour is borders are to be closed; a new war in Macedonia and a possible conflict with the Serbian minority, etc, initiated the exodus. Many of them reported intimidation, suffered from Wahabi activists recruiting fighters for Syria. And if people have nothing to lose, they will resort to desperate measures.

European countries are facing the problem with great concern; these numbers are too high, especially when combined with those coming from Syria, Africa and other places. Austria has organized direct flights for repatriation purposes only. Hungarian and Serbian police are working together, trying to prevent thousands of illegal crossing attempts every single night.

A stable economy and personal prosperity in a safe environment are the only conditions required for people of any nation to stay put and abandon any idea of risky change.

Analysis by Miroslav Velimirovic

Eighth Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival

Eighth Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival
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BELGRADE, Serbia — Happy are the ones who retain childhood for their entire life time, enough to believe in fairy tales. Emir Kusturica decided to share his fairy tale, and he struggled hard throughout his life to bring it closer to his audience. A famous director, author of “Sećaš li se Doli Bel,” “Arizona dream,” “Underground,” and other movies, he is one of seven directors Bertrand Tavernier in Kustendorfwith two films that have won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Once he said, “Every time I’m shooting a movie I want to kill myself. Because I don’t see the light in the end of the tunnel.”

The eighth Kustendorf film and music festival took place Jan. 21-26, 2015, and the festival might be the light waiting at the end of Kusturica’s tunnel.

Kusturica has had a great influence on the seventh art with his movies. Many younger authors followed his approach and copied the surreal in their effort to allure the audience to dream and step into the movie scene.

Alex Garcia arrivalKusturica continues with his wonders, so he built Drvengrad (Wooden City) in Mećavnik, Serbia. Drvengrad is a whole village made of natural materials, mainly wood and stone, creating a magical structure of traditional architecture and new artistic trends.

Drvengrad hovers between museum, large art exhibition and gastronomic venue. Along with the cinema, musical events are organized all over the place. On top of everything, a small and cute wooden church reminds us of the Russian way of building.

one of many concertsStarting in 2008, this place has hosted the Kustendorf movie and music festival, creating a chance for young directors and actors to meet their older and globally famous colleagues. Over the years, many eminent actors and directors have visited the festival; we will mention only few of them: Nikita Mikhalkov, Jim Jarmusch, Johnny Depp, Isabelle Huppert, Monica Belucci, Andrei Konchalowski, Alfonso Cuarón, Bertrand Tavernier…

The Kustendorf movie and music festival awards young authors with three eggs: Golden, Silver and a Bronze one. For 2015, the winners were:

The Golden Egg – Giacomo Abbruzzese for the film “Stella Maris;”

The Silver Egg – Marko Sopić for the film “The Bag;”

The Bronze Egg – Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson for the film “Whale Valley.”

Drvengrad 1There is also an award handed out for films yet to be made…





The festival is unique for its surroundings. Amid hundred year old pine forests and clean rivers, a narrow-gauge railway passes through the old train 2village of Mokra Gora (549 residents), just under Drvengrad. The railway was active from 1925 to 1974, connecting Belgrade with Adriatic Sea. Rebuilt in recent years, it is a tourist attraction now. Many visitors are here to experience the joy of the steam engine whistle and a cowboy-style coach. Unlike other parts of Serbian Railways, everything is in order here. The train starts when scheduled and arrives on time.The coach is clean, personnel dressed properly. Old train, old engine, new rails. A long time ago, this was a very convenient way to travel from Sarajevo to Belgrade. Now, another section of old railway has been reconstructed and will connect Višegrad with Kremna. The total length of the planned railway is around 50 kilometers. The entire area is 245 km away from Belgrade and another 136 from Sarajevo. Only half an hour away from Mecavnik, there are another two mountains, Tara and Zlatibor, both offering attractive tours and decent hotels.

And, in this picturesque and exciting area, Emir Kusturica created a unique hive, attracting others to come and contribute to this spring of creativity. Inactive in terms of politics, he is always ready to emphasize his anti-globalism and injustice towards small nations. We wish him many more festivals and bright light at the end of the tunnel.

By Miroslav Velimirovic