Oliver Appears in Mali Zabavnik Magazine

Earlier this month we were surprised when a friend pointed out that my son Oliver appeared in the Serbian children’s magazine, Mali Zabavnik. The parent magazine, Zabavnik (translation – Party / Amusing) is very famous in Yugoslavia. It was one of the only western style magazines dating back to 1950s published in the former Yugoslavia. It featured Disney and domestic comics and articles with a broad appeal. Its tagline was “For Everyone from 7 to 77”. All of my Serbian friends grew up with the magazine and it is still published today. I also read that when former Yugoslavian leader Tito was asked permission to publish the magazine, he said, “Why not, I like Donald Duck.”

The Serbian government is publishing a version called “Little Zabavnik” for schools and that is where Oliver’s photo appeared. They must have got the photo from my Flickr.com account. I took the photo years ago and it shows Ollie holding the “žito” standing in front of a badnjak , two Serbian Christmas traditions. The photo is used on page 26, in an article about the upcoming Serbian Christmas. I don’t mind the photo was used without my permission, but people usually ask me to use the photos on my Flickr account. Through the years, my photos have been used for the Egyptian Airlines in flight magazine, a solar eclipse photo, or in a web site banner for a conference on the Great Lakes.

It is another nice souvenir of our time in Serbia and I am honored that my son got to be a part of Yugoslavian tradition. The cover of the January 1, 2014 issue where Oliver is on page 26 of the magazine is pictured below.




Peter II of Yugoslavia

This week I took our students once again to the Serbian Royal Palace to take part in the Crown Princess Catherine’s “Children Helping Children” Christmas Gift Drive. The Serbian Royal Family, although they are not officially part of the Serbian government, do live at the palace and serve as goodwill ambassadors of Serbia to the world. They also do a lot of charity work. We were given a tour of the palace and got to meet both the Crown Prince Alexander II and their grandson. This was my second tour of the palace as I went and saw it last spring.

One of the interesting stories of the tour was this portrait of the last king of Yugoslavia, King Peter Karađorđević. The painting was from 1934, shortly after Peter took over from his father, Alexander I following his assassination in Marseille during a state visit. It must have been quite a shock for him to lose his father and become king. Because of being so young, he didn’t take over and his older cousin ran the country. He finally took over from his cousin in a coup de ‘etat in 1941, but fled when the Nazis occupied Belgrade. He ended up living in the USA for many years and died in 1970. He was finally repatriated to Serbia this year, with his remains being buried in Oplenac last May. The painting was found in a shop in Paris years after WWII, as it was part of the works of art that were looted by the Nazis from the palace during the occupation.

Below is a video of the opening of the Crown Prince Alexander’s II speech to us. He is the son of Peter II.

I am fundamentally opposed to monarchies and the idea that a family should be treated better than anyone else. It is ridiculous if you consider in today’s world, we still have kings and queens. It is a big waste of tax money! I guess if the monarchy brings in tourist dollars like England, or can somehow pay for itself, then I can tolerate them. Is the Serbian Royal Family worth it? Does the charity work they do and the good will they bring towards Serbia worth the upkeep of the palace? I don’t know enough about their finances.

The palace and grounds are beautiful and it does make a nice afternoon for tourists. There is a lot of history in the place and Serbians should be proud. I would feel better about royalty if instead of being hereditary, the king could be selected by a panel of experts of someone worthy of the position and who would do a good job of promoting Serbian and helping the disadvantaged of the nation. Usually in families it is hit or miss with each generation. I also wonder what the future holds for the Karadjordjevic family. What will they be like in 50-100 years?



In My Neighborhood – Milosevic Residence – 15 Užička Street

I snapped this photo looking over the wall of a compound just down the street from our apartment. It was 12 years ago this month, that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was in the middle of bombing attacks in Serbia. The purpose of the bombing was to get the Serbian government to pull the military out of Kosovo. About a month into the bombing, NATO targeted the then president, Slobodan Milosevic’s home in the suburb of Dedinje. You can see the photo of the below of the residence from a BBC article from April 22, 1999.

Photo Courtesy of the BBC

I asked my friend why the government has not demolished or repaired the home. He replied that there is a large, unexploded Tomahawk missile buried in the center of the house. It is difficult to detonate safely. He said he saw it for himself. I don’t believe that there is still a missile there. If any of my readers can confirm or deny this, I would love to hear from you.

The NATO bombing raids lasted 78 days. NATO planes flew 37,465 “sorties” and attacked over 900 targets, many of them repeatedly. The raids did stop Milosevic and the JNA did pull out of Kosovo. Sadly, over 500 civilians died from the bombing in Serbia and Kosovo. It is horrible that in modern warfare, civilians die more than soldiers.

There are only a few buildings left that still show evidence from the bombing. It would be good to make this into a museum documenting the Milosevic years in power as Yugoslavia was breaking up. The grounds are large and there is another large building next to the residence that could be used.

This is one of the fascinating stories of the residences found in my neighborhood of Dedinje. I am frustrated that I don’t speak Serbian well enough to find out more information about most of the properties. There is also not much in English about Dedinje.

I would love to take a walk around inside the compound to see what it looks like up close.

Update (May 21, 2011) I found this article about the house that was written in the British newspaper, The Independent in 1999 by Robert Fisk.


15 Uzicka Street: home to Tito and Milosevic, ‘legitimate’ target for Nato


Robert Fisk in Belgrade

Friday, 23 April 1999


SO NOW it’s a “command and control centre” is it? When I last walked through the door of Number 15 Uzicka Street – targeted by Nato in the early hours of yesterday morning – it contained a large desk, 14,000 books, some fine paintings by Sava Jovanovic and a brace of Persian carpets. It must have looked much the same when Her Majesty the Queen – our very own Elizabeth II – visited President Tito here.

And as it did when Winston Churchill and his son Randolph dropped by to see the Grand Old Man of Yugoslavia. Or when Nixon came to visit. And Lord Mountbatten. And U Thant, the former United Nations leader, and Nehru and Indira Gandhi and the queens of Holland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The only thing which they assuredly were not shown – and to which even The Independent’s correspondent was refused admission to seven years ago – was Tito’s “Room of Ladies”, containing a series of nude statues and portraits of reclining girls which reflected the interests of the priapic old dictator.

Into this extraordinary shrine, we are now told, the Yugoslav regime had installed a command and control centre. Was this computerised “nerve centre” in the bedroom of the two-storey collonaded villa? Or next to the library where the works of Hegel nestled beside volumes of partisan- brigade history? Or in the old cinema where Tito enjoyed watching Richard Burton playing the role of – yes – Marshal Tito? Or near the flocks of wild birds shot by Tito and religiously stuffed for posterity? Or in the Room of Ladies? Or alongside the old boy’s desk, left as it was when Yugoslavia’s Titan left work for the last time for hospital and death?

Inevitably, President Slobodan Milosevic and his family had moved into Tito’s former residence a couple of years ago. And equally inevitably, Nato attacked it. The laser-guided bomb, dropped yesterday from a lone aircraft high over Belgrade, exploded in the bedroom.

And a few hours later, there was Ken Bacon in the Pentagon, wearing his familiar spokesman’s bow-tie, telling us it was “a command and control centre”. I can believe almost anything of this war. I have no doubt that Nato hates Mr Milosevic. I can see why. But this looked to me very much like an assassination attempt on a head of state.

Normally both Mr Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic – the professor of Marxism who wrote a very angry letter to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday – and their children, Marija and Marko, lived here, along with a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson, also Marko. But they were wise enough to stay away on Wednesday night; after all, Nato had fired cruise missiles into the headquarters of both Mr Milosevic’s and Ms Markovic’s political parties a few hours earlier. It clearly wasn’t a good night to spend in the old Tito villa, renovated in somewhat spectacular style by the Yugoslav President and his wife.

No one I spoke to yesterday knew what Mr Milosevic did with Tito’s desk or with the massive volume of snapshots I found in the house seven years ago with the soporific title National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia. Given the couple’s admiration for Tito, they must have been kept. But where? In the basement? And what happened to Sava Jovanovic’s Portrait of a Girl which once stared wistfully down on the library? Was it shredded by the bomb?

It was a strange, pompous, old house, built in the fashionable middle- class 1930s suburb of Dedinje, with big, square lawns and straight military paths through the trees. You could see how it appealed to General Lohr, commanding officer of the Wehrmacht’s Army Group E, who moved in during Germany’s wartime occupation (one of Lohr’s aides being a priggish young intelligence officer from Austria, a certain Oberlieutenant Kurt Waldheim who went on to become president of Austria in the 1980s.) And how it must have appealed to Tito when he moved in after the war.

One of his former secretaries had shown me round 15 Uzicka Street. By Tito’s desk, the hands of a clock were stopped at the minute of his death. But already, the government had been deconstructing the Tito myth, turning his 25 May Museum into an exhibition of Serbian military history with frightful photographs of old Serbian women being hanged by a grinning rabble of Austrian and Bulgarian soldiery. Dust sheets half covered the junk of admiration which Tito had collected: the hunting rifles from Churchill, Brezhnev and Zhukov, the diamond-studded ash-tray from Nasser, the coffee service from Saddam Hussein.

“They’re getting rid of things so fast these days,” the plump and elderly retainer had puffed as we entered the residence seven years ago. “Who knows what they will close next? We don’t even know how long this place will last. If Tito was alive today, he would not have believed what has happened.” Too true, I muttered to myself yesterday as I puffed my own way up the hill in the rain towards the old Tito museum that lies behind No 15.

The gardens were overgrown. The wet grass was conquering the concrete floor of the fountain. Graffiti was splashed over park benches and walls. At the door of the museum, I was met by a Serb policeman. “I am sorry, the museum is closed,” he said. And he shook his head in a weary, amused way when I asked if there was any chance of taking a look at what was left of No 15. If I wanted to find the secretary who had shown me round all those years ago, he added, I would have to remember her name and apply in writing to the authorities. Khaki figures in rain capes watched me from the trees.

The only head of state to be wounded in action during the Second World War was buried close to his residence and I asked the Serb policeman if I could take a peak at Tito’s tomb, just in case the concrete slab had cracked as the dictator – 19 years dead – turned in his grave. The policeman shook his head with a smile.

Nor could I find out if another tomb, the grave of Tito’s young partisan mistress that lay in the garden of No 15, survived the Nato bombing. For yesterday, the old man’s home was as broken as his dreams of brotherhood and unity. Heaven knows what happened to Nasser’s ashtray. Or Saddam Hussein’s coffee service. What on earth would Tito have made of Mr Bacon’s revelation of a “command and control centre”? Best not to imagine. Another army, half a century past, had tried to assassinate Tito. And the clock stopped here a long time ago.

Lepa Brena Sings at ISB

Lepa Brena, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Last Saturday we were lucky to have the biggest recording artist in the history of Yugoslavia sing a tribute to our graduates. Lepa Brena has sold over 10 million records and sang at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. She sang after the ceremony in honor of our graduates, one of which was her son. She sang “Hajde Da Se Volimo” (Let’s Go Spread Some Love) and the crowd and I loved it.

She was very nice to do this and it lent a special touch to our commencement exercises. I found her to be a funny, generous person and want to thank her for making it a better day for all of us. I have to get more of her music. I love this song. Below is the original video.

The Eastern Gate of Belgrade

Yesterday errands took us over to the suburb of the famous “Eastern Gate” of Belgrade. The gate is an apartment complex that is a highly visible landmark as cars enter Belgrade on the main E-75 freeway from the east. The Genex Building, also on E-75 but on the other side of Belgrade is known as the “Western Gate.” The two communist era “Socialist Realism” architecture style buildings are the most highly visible of a city full of these monsters.

I personally love looking at them and have been reading some on their development. The Eastern Gate Apartments were built in 1976 and there are three buildings that form a circle and they house around 2000 people. They were built in 1976 and the complex is named after the town of Rudo, Bosnia. The idea behind communist architecture was to glorify the common worker and downplay individualism. They loved cement in those days as it is the main structural and decorative medium. Today’s apartments are made more of brick, wood, glass, and steel.

I am so curious to know what it is like to live in them. As I wrote, they are interesting to look at, but I am not sure what the residents think. I would imagine the hallways, stairwells, and elevators must be a disaster because they are not well-maintained. The majority of Belgraders live in apartments, but it seems that they do not devote much resources to communal upkeep of the buildings and grounds.

I guess the reason I like this architectural style so much is that it is so different from anything I have ever seen. They remind me of a science fiction movie of a Orwellian future, a type of “Blade Runner” post-apocalypse skyline.

I hope I get a chance to go into one. All of my current Serbian friends live in smaller apartment buildings. I’ll be blogging more about these Socialist Realism buildings in future posts.

Another View of the Rudo Apartment Complex

Visit to Air Force One (Well Sort of)

At last weekend’s Serbia Open, we had a pleasant surprise upon arriving. I parked my car on a side street and we went through someone’s yard to get to the stadium. When we emerged through the yard, we came upon two policemen that directed us across some railroad tracks. On the tracks, was the ex-Yugoslavian leader, Tito’s famous blue train. Serbia being a relaxed country, (I think of it as a Slavic Spain or Latin America), they of course let us enter the stadium via this unofficial route and gave us a tour of the train.

Tito and his wifes chair were bigger than the rest of the chairs
Tito and his wife's chair were bigger than the rest of the chairs

Tito didn’t like to fly and so he ordered a train to be constructed. It had bedrooms, bathrooms, dining rooms, meeting rooms, etc. Very presidential like the Air Force One plane for the US President. It was built in the late 40’s early 50’s and he toured around Europe with it quite a bit. Many world leaders were hosted on the train.

After his death, the train stood idle, but about 10 years ago, it was restored. The train is available to rent for groups and it is perfectly restored. My son Owen commented that it looked like the set from an old James Bond film. So right he was as you can see from the photos.

I really felt a sense of history walking through a few of the cars. The train was as the tennis tourney because they hosted journalists and guests for a luncheon and press conference. I wonder what conversations took place in it. I definitely want to rent this train for my farewell to Serbia. So I guess it was in a way, a visit to the Air Force One of its time. Except in this case, instead of the presidential plane, it was a train, and about 50 years ago.

There is much nostalgia for the time of Tito here in Serbia. Yugoslavia was then ahead of its neighbors in Eastern Europe as it was out of the Soviet sphere of influence. The economy and freedom of travel in the 50’s – 70’s was very nice. Tito died over close to 30 years ago and those living memories are being forgotten. It was not a sustainable economy however, and the bottom would have fallen out of it, but nevertheless, during the Cold War, Yugoslavia mattered. It is sad that all of the former republics of Yugoslavia felt so strongly about being independent. I believe the quality of life for all would have been better if they could have kept it together. Brotherhood and Unity!

Titos Bedroom (his wife slept in a separate room)
Tito's Bedroom (his wife slept in a separate room)

Am I rich? Serbian Hyperinflation of the 1990’s


With all of the talk of the global economy and media buzz about the global recession, I was very curious to learn more this denomination of Yugoslavian currency I bought at a market in Belgrade.

The bank note is real and it was issued in 1993 at the height of the hyperinflation during the chaotic times of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was the largest denomination of the ex-Yugoslavia and nominally worth 500 billion (US terms) dinara. At the time, it was virtually worthless by the time it was printed and released to the public.

I thought I had lived through tough economic times the past 6 years in Venezuela under the economy destroying policies of President Chavez. But the 30+% annual inflation and currency exchange controls pale in comparison to the craziness of 1990’s Belgrade. A bit of background…

When Yugoslavia was breaking up into the separate nations of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Serbia, it not only generated political chaos, but economic chaos. The economic output of Yugoslavia dropped 70% from 1990 to 1994. The government tried to compensate by printing more money and passing laws making it illegal for businesses to lay off employees. On top of this were the war and UN sanctions making it more difficult manage the economy. The result was an inflation rate that peaked at 313,563,558 % per month which comes to 851 with 78 zeros behind it. Amazingly, this was not the highest inflation ever! In neighboring Hungary during WWII, they had an inflationary rate of 4.16 trillion per month and they also had the largest bank note. Serbia does have the record for the longest sustained hyper inflation. 

As you might have guessed, this made people’s lives very difficult during this time. People survived through a variety of creative measures. Thankfully, Serbia has rich soils and most people have relatives living in the countryside to feed their extended families. Eventually, the Dinar died as a currency and was replaced by the German Deutschmark. Today, Serbia has an inflation rate of around 10% and a stable Dinar currency. Tim Judah, in his book “The Serbs: History, Myth & Destruction of Yugoslavia” has an excellent detailed description of this time in Serbian history. 

Pictured on the front of the note is the Serbian poet, Jovan Jovanović. He lived in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s and was born in Novi Sad. He is famous for his children’s poetry. Below is an example of one his poems,


You could think that darkness 
is so scary strong, 
powerful and dreadful, 
and–you would be wrong.

Fortunately, it is 
not at all this way: 
You just light a candle 
and it runs away.

Jovan Jovanović Zmaj 
Translation: Dragana Konstantinović

Another translated poem can be found on Dragana’s website. On the reverse side, pictured below, is the Serbian National Library. The library is still open today and is located next to Saint Sava’s Cathedral in downtown Belgrade. 

Family Holiday Journal December 21, 2008: Visit to the 25th of May Museum

Lil’ angel Oliver sure looks holy in this photo. We stopped at the St. Sava’s Cathedral with his grandfather, Hermes Chavez (affectionately known as “Popa” by the boys) to show him the scaffolding. Hermes owns a scaffolding rental and sales business in his hometown of Santa Cruz. The cathedral is under restoration now that is is finally peaceful in Serbia.

The girls (Alejandra & Nadia) went with Brad & Ocean to the big outdoor market downtown while Hermes and I took the boys the cathedral. We then visited the 25th of May Museum. The museum holds memorabilia and the mausoleum of the former Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz “Tito”. The museum is named after his birthday. The day used to be huge in Yugoslavia. One of the events was the annual running of the baton across the country by socialist youth. The boys were fascinated with the different batons.

They wanted to know which baton was the oldest (1945) and the newest (1985). The first was right after WWII when the Partisans rid the country of the Nazis, and the final one was five years after the death of Tito. There was a wall display of different batons that were gifts to Tito. The boys were picking their favorites. Most had very cool socialist themes. There was the heavy industry factory baton, a red star on top of a standard screwdriver, another with a JNA tank, a rocket missile, etc. Perhaps I’ll have them make their own batons in the Communist Style of the 60’s and 70’s. A big part of the complex is showcasing the gifts Tito received from Heads of State and Yugoslav citizens throughout the years. The current exhibition were a display of all of his hunting rifles and equipment. He was a big-time hunter and there were antler trophies mixed in with the guns, and photos and videos of his hunting trips. Tito started the Non-Aligned Movement and the museum housed many gifts from developing countries including an elephant tusk gong from Burma and a devil carnival mask and costume from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. My only criticism of the museum is I would have liked a bit more information about his career and personality. I envisioned the place like the Carter Center or Clinton Library, that would be a place to for scholars to study the writings, photographs, etc. of Tito. It was more a showcase of his gifts more than anything else. It does hold his remains. Owen asked should we say a prayer when I explained that his remains were probably buried under the big marble tombstone. I replied that he was an atheist and didn’t believe in God so we shouldn’t.The museum is close to our house, located between Haid Park and the Partizan Football Stadium.

For a man that believed in communist ideals, he sure lived a life of luxury.

The boys yearned to be good socialist youth!
The boys yearned to be good socialist youth!

Oliver, Owen, and Sebey loved running around the complex. The grounds were nice although a bit neglected. They were running up and down the hills and stairs and in between the many trees. We then went home and played soccer in the yard with Brad. Nadia is cooking a delicious soup while everyone else is playing Wii.

The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War

I just finished reading this book by Misha Glenny. It is the second book I read by him and it was an excellent read. Glenny worked for the BBC as a journalist covering the conflict with the break up of Yugoslavia. He is considered by many Serbs to be biased. In this book he points out war crimes against civilians from all sides.

It was a chaotic and horrible time in the history of Serbia. With the fall of the Soviet Union Eastern Europe faced a time of uncertainity. The end of Yugoslavia was probably the most violent repercussion of the end of communism in Europe.

It would have been great if all of this could have been done peacefully. I think somewhat the force of history and more poor leadership caused this violence. For the good of all, I think all the republics that made up Yugoslavia should have stayed together but it was not to be. The Yugoslavia experiment ended up being a group of tiny, ethnically homogeneous, nations. I was surprised to learn that 12 “parastates” were declared during this time. The secession from the federation of Yugoslavia would have been easy and violence free if all the nations were ethnically pure. The two closest ethnically pure republics, Slovenia and Serbia, ended up with not much violence occuring. The bulk of the war occured in the Serbian parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercogovinia where many groups lived together. It was a confusing war as there were many factions. Some of the major sides were the Bosnian Serbs, the JNA (Yugoslavian Army) consisting of mostly Serbs but also other ethnic groups, the Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims. Each side had their different factions and paramilitary groups which added to the mix.

Glenny was a witness to much of the war and his descriptions are tragic and horrifying. World War II was devastating for Yugoslavia and so many families experienced death and violence during that time. The effects of WWII played big factor with this war as massacres were remembered from that time. Being an American I have trouble understanding violent hatred between ethnic groups and people staying in one place generation after generation. For example some of the Serb villages in Croatia have been Serb dominated for hundreds of years. The biggest shock for me writing the book is the violence suffered by civilians. Entire cities were made to evacuate on a moment’s notice before the oncoming invading army. Families were traveling by car, tractor, and eventually foot to escape. Many didn’t make it.

In Glenny’s previous book that I read, The Balkans, he describes how larger nations meddle in the affairs of the smaller Balkan states. It is no different with this war. Germany, the US, Russia, the EU all played a part, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

The book ends with the Dayton Accords. Bosnia was divided into two parts, a Serbian controlled Bosnia called the Sparska Republic and a Croat-Muslim federation on the other.

It is too bad that the Serbs were depicted in the media as the only villains in this war. It was interesting to read about the rise of Slobodon Milosevic. He won less than 50% of the Serbian vote and thousands of Belgraders protested against him and the war. Since I live in Belgrade, I was curious about what the people here did. Most people in Belgrade didn’t participate in the war, but suffered from the years of international blockades and the NATO bombings, that happened after the book was written. When the JNA called for a draft, 90% of the young men eligible hid from the service. I will be talking with my friends about their war experiences and hopefully documenting a bit about what they went through. Very sad the whole thing.

The first nanny we interviewed upon arrival to Belgrade, said she came to Belgrade from Croatia, leaving because of the war. She said that her life in Croatia for her family was much better than here, and it was tough for her father to start over. It is sad that the countries of the former Yugoslavia couldn’t maintain a big ethnic diversity. I believe this enriches nations and makes life better for all, generally.

I’ll be reading more about the history of this fascinating country of Serbia and blogging more here.

According to data collected by the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, RDC, 98,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war – 57,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians. Bosniaks accounted for 64,036 of the dead, Serbs for 24,905 and Croats for 7,788.

The RDC also provided a detailed picture of what happened in Brcko.

RDC’s Snjezana Filipovic said their research showed that between 1991 and 1995, 1,432 people were killed in Brcko, with 226 people still missing. Most atrocities were committed in 1992, when 944 people were killed, including 505 civilians – 409 men and 96 women.”

Excerpt from “Voices of Victims Heard at Belgrade Conference” Institute for War and Peace Reporting web site that is covering the International Court of Tribunals for the ex-Yugoslavia trials. September 12, 2008.