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<nettime> Trip to Montenegro
Ivo Skoric on Thu, 14 Aug 2003 02:15:58 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Trip to Montenegro


US and EU always play opposite teams in terms on policy on what to do 
with countries of former Yugoslavia. While EU was for independence of 
republics, US was against. Now that all except Montenegro and Serbia 
are separated, EU is against the independence of Montenegro, and US 
is encouraging.

EU gives aid to Montenegro proportionally to its size, which is 6% of 
what SMG get. USAID gave $40M to Montenegro - of $90M that they gave 
to SMG altogether.

Montenegro is an incredibly politicized society. They embraced 
democracy with an uncanny zeal. The names of opposing political 
parties, as well as derogatory slogans, are practically everywhere, 
including the faces of traffic signs.

It seems that other problems are sidelined until the question of 
independency is solved. And, although there is a feeling of an 
unfinished job, as long as Serbia and Montenegro are together, and 
that establishing borders and then opening them up seems to be the 
most agreeable solution, that does not look as the most pressing 
issue at the moment in the country in which 1/3 of population is out 
of work and the rest receives around $200 a month.

The economic catastrophe is heightened by the Montenegrin use of Euro 
- yup, they are not in EU, but Euro is their currency, driving prices 
to the EU levels. Gas is 3 times as expensive as in the US. And they 
wanted to rent me a car in Podgorica for 60 Euro daily.

Fantastically - the seven days trip to Greece from Podgorica costs 
less at 400 Euros. Yet, of course, the poverty is not everywhere - 
this is early capitalism, and there are people that are insanely more 
rich than their neighbors, often from dubitable sources.

That's how I got a car for 30 Euros a day: the rent-a-car franchise 
operator simply rented me his wife's car. And speeding tickets are 
cheaper than in the US (15 Euros) - of course you pay them on spot.  
And they make a good money, since in Montenegro my driving is 
considered mellow. The roads are in utter disrepair and given one of 
the most punishing geography they are not for faint-hearted (plus 
there is bunch of flowers on the side of the road marking accident 
spots every couple of kilometers).

Besides rampant poverty, and widening the gap between rich and poor, 
there are other problems more pressing than independence. One of them 
is garbage. Litter is everywhere. People simply need to get in the 
habit of picking up their non-bio-degradable plastic bottles and 
carrying them away. Maybe there can be some ideas on what to do with 
them - but certainly beaches are not the right place for those to be 
left there.

The other is drought and the derivative problems of water shortages, 
power capacity drop, and forest fires. EU commissioner Romano Prodi 
just announced creation of an European emergency response body for 
sych situations. This year Europe experiences an unseen heat wave - 
kind of what the US had the last summer: and forests around 
Mediterranean are burning.

In Montenegro they burn almost unopposed. I literally drove through a 
forest fire yesterday, which reached the highway, and firemen were 
nowhere near. The fire around Tivat that reached the town was put of 
with the help of the Army and air support from the neighboring 
Croatia.

A combination of those two problems is one of the worst cases of 
neglect of citizens welfare I've seen in Europe so far. Podgorica is 
a city of useless bridges - over rivers that do not flow anymore due 
to the drought. Some of those bridges are intentionally blocked for 
car traffic - but since riverbed is dry, people drive through the 
"river" near a restaurant that built the terrace overlooking the 
river (perhaps in slightly wetter days).

More interesting is that they also let their sewage empty into the 
dry river bed. Walking through it I stumbled over the large smelly 
puddle surrounded by the illegally built housing, and I found the 
source pipe. Disconcertingly, that is not sewage from those houses, 
but from the army barracks. Ok, army is very big in Podgorica, given 
the closeness of Albanian border, large refugee camps on the South-
East end of the city, and generally high crime rate, but that's not 
an excuse for creating a health hazard in the city.

Otherwise there are interesting anecdotal developments - like 
Podgorica is full of graffiti crosses with 4 S's - a traditional 
symbol pf Serb nationalism, yet a wedding car column proceeds 
smoothly with the Albanian flag perced highly on the forerunning car. 
In the middle of the city there is a concrete post built under the 
bridge for jumping in the unbelievably cold river Moraca (which is 
described as cold in many poems). The post is so high that in the US 
the insurance companies would build double row of electrified barbed 
wire around it. Here anybody with balls can do it (and die, of 
course, if he doesn't do it right). And being ballsy seems to be of 
high importance to young Montenegrin males (judging by their 
driving).

Underneath the problems accumulated through 15 years of wars and bad 
government there is stunning natural beauty of deep canyons and steep 
high mountains that pack the Europe's driest and the Europe's wettest 
spot in the very small space. The temperature difference between 
Podgorica and barely 100 miles afar National Park Durmitor is 30-40 
degrees. Ski Resort at Zabljak provides in-bounds extreme terrain on 
pair with French Alps, and canyons of Tara (the second deepest in the 
world), Piva, Moraca, Zeta, Lim,... cover much of the glacier melting 
created geography. Interestingly, Montenegrin mountains are largely 
undiscovered by tourists, who are baking at the coast.

Ivo

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