Photographs, words and sounds



In the light of yesterday’s referendum in Croatia that made one form of discrimination (agains gay marriage, in this case) a part of the country’s constitution the words of Karima Bennoune yesterday in an interview with Michael Enright ring sadly true:

“Fundamentalisms are the political movements of the extreme right that in the context of globalization manipulate religion to achieve their political aims. They are basically power projects that use religious discourse to justify an extremist agenda.”

Karima Bennoune in an interview with Michael Enright
(You can hear the whole thing on CBC’s Sunday Edition website.)

On the photograph is the Old Bridge in my home town of Sisak.

[Old Blog] Childhood landscapes

[NOTE] I am still catching up on these journalog entries for my cultural geography class. These have been submitted in print form already, but for various technical and time reasons I was not able to post them to the blog. These are somewhat improved versions.

Entry 9 – February 2, 2009
Landscape of my childhood
It’s really late and I should probably be in bed, but I keep thinking about this week’s readings, especially Mitchell and his ideas about landscape.

In 2007, we (my partner and our two girls) went to Croatia to visit my parents for about six months. One of the things that floored me was a change that happened to the landscape of my neighbourhood over the last couple of years. I used to know the physical geography of that place like the back of my hand. A busy road separated the mixed residential neighbourhood from a wild bush and corn fields on the other side. Once you made it through the corn fields, you would get to the the train tracks and then, eventually, to the the river. We were not allowed to cross the road because it was so busy, but nonetheless, the tracks, cornfields and the river were my playground. On late summer nights, we would steal a few cobs and roast them over the open fire on the nearby river beach. My aunt remembers working in those fields as a child in the post World War II years. Once, I was maybe nine, we built a raft on the river, which, as soon as we stepped on it, promptly sunk. I came home covered in mud up to my neck. Parental discipline was somewhat different then, too.

The point of the story is that none of it exists today. With the transition form socialist to market economy, the landscape has changed dramatically. Black poplars that used to line the road were cut down so that drivers can see billboards planted instead. Where the bush and cornfields used to be, now there is a string of big box stores, gas stations and car dealerships. My Canadian born daughter was more familiar and certainly more comfortable with this landscape than me. It was when I first saw it that for the first time I felt uprooted and unsure of my identity.

The change in the landscape of my childhood is indicative of the change in power relations that happened over the span of the last 10-15 years. Croatians, like most Eastern Europeans embraced the rampant consumerism of cheap goods not because they particularly enjoy shopping in big box stores staffed by cranky and poorly paid cashiers, but because the ability to spend the money you don’t have was presented as a western thing to do. It was a sure way to happiness, just like all those smiling faces you see in the commercials. And it was very carefully marketed that way.

I am not bemoaning the loss of small stores per se, but I am upset that the connections (between local producers, store owners and consumers) that were far more equitable have been replaced by a set of distorted and hidden power relations which deepen the local, regional and global problems. That it happened without a word of protest and for the benefit of multinationals and a small group of people whose sudden wealth is of dubious origin only adds insult to the injury.

Croatian word of the day:trgovina store


[Old Blog] Entry 55

It’s been a really lousy day. Not much we can do about it. It’s really in the hands of the police now. Hopefully, it will get resolved quickly.

This is what you would see if you were to sit in my favourite high school bistro. It’s been a long time since I had a cup of coffee and gin and tonic there. Some of you may find the Zastava 101 car amusing. There are still quite a few of those out there on the streets.

Well, there are not many places in the world where this could happen.

This is one way to deal with the damn things.

[Old Blog] Entry 19

I realized that the quotes from Michael Adams might appear as American bashing. That is by no means my intention. His book is an interesting exploration of two neighbours with very different values. That is all there is to it.

Another bit of observation from Michael Adams and his book Fire and Ice: “It is interesting indeed that these two New World nations have each won the sweepstakes in two international competitions: the Americans for the highest standard of living on the planet and the Canadians for the best quality of life. The Americans have done this by being motivated by the notion of individual achievement; the Canadians by balancing individual autonomy with a sense of collective responsibility… Americans go where no man has gone before; Canadians follow hoping to make that new place livable.”

This is where I come from. Sisak is a small town in central Croatia. It has beautiful stories to tell and quite sordid once, too. It is a lot like elderly poor you can see at the main market in Zagreb just as the farmers leave their stands. In their clean and neatly pressed, but worn out suits they walk around picking up discarded produce – the only food they can afford as they wait for their next pension check. It is a sight that can make you cry.