Posts Tagged ‘Vienna’

[The following piece was published March 20, 2012, on The Mantle.]

MASERU, Lesotho – Last week was one filled with nostalgia and melancholy.

Li Yu survived the Wenzhou train crash. (Photo: mjj)

From my new base in Lesotho, three other adopted homes – Hungary, Slovakia and China, all dear to my heart – each resurfaced in the news with depressingly familiar story-lines. From thousands of miles away, they reminded me of past reporting – and how little changes.

First up, Slovakia, where I recently lived for five years. One of its historic, hilltop castles burns to the ground – apparently caused by two kids, 11 and 12, messing with cigarettes on a windy day. From an adjacent village, they accidentally set fire to some dry grass, whose embers floated upward, igniting the castle’s timber roof.

Poof! In minutes, a gothic, seven-century-old memento, gone.

The Slovak and Czech reaction? Gypsies! It must’ve been those damned Gypsies! More than a rush to judgment, it was a virtual blood-libel against Europe’s largest and most marginalized minority, known more respectfully as Roma. Over the years, I’ve chronicled countless times [like here, here and here] how post-Communist Central Europe always finds something to blame on the Roma. (Even if there’s no love lost in Slovakia for castles that are essentially relics of Hungarian overlordship, while Slovaks toiled as serfs.)

This fire came on the heels of public outrage over a galling corruption scandal, followed by an election that ousted the ruling coalition. If a beaten child has no recourse toward his parents, he turns to kick the dog. Especially in a region saddled by congenital resistance to introspection, which much prefers to point the finger of blame elsewhere.

Though in this case, soul-searching is well warranted, as a Slovakian art historian asserted. The brushfire threat around the castle always existed, he charged, and state authorities were negligent to protect and preserve it.

“It is forbidden to burn grass and it is certainly wrong to do so, but it is just as sick to put the blame on ‘unidentified perpetrators’ who are allegedly members of a minority in the interest of distracting attention from one’s own responsibility,” said the art-historian, Július Barczi.

Next in the news, China.


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One of Those Days

You ever feel like part of your face is chipping off? (Photo: mjj. On Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna)

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BRATISLAVA — I’m out working late tonight, still trying to clear a backlog of assignments. But I can’t resist sharing with you the cast of characters I just passed in my 10-minute walk to a downtown cafe.

Why? Because for the Slovakia-curious – I know you’re out there, admit it – it’s a quick snapshot of Bratislava’s reality. The Good. The Bad. The Pitiful.

First up, I see a young couple near the corner of Lazaretska and Grosslingova, my home street. They’re holding hands, smiling, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. (Or at least pretending to.)

I haven’t yet seen any touristy, “Bratislava Is For Lovers!” t-shirts. More popular is any reference to Slovak beer. Or its consumption. However, the public mating ritual is certainly a constant around here. And a nice antidote to the politics that tries to poison relations between majority Slovaks and minority Hungarians.

Next, I see a young boy of 4 or 5, gliding on a pedal-less wooden bike beside a middle-aged man, who could be his father or grandfather. Slovaks seem to enjoy their children, especially heading into the great outdoors en famille.

Moreover, Bratislava is not only the capital, but the hub of economic, intellectual and cultural life. You see several generations of the same family here, as in, original Pressburg families. Then there are all the folks from the countryside who came here for university, pursue a career, or simply hunt down any sort of available job. Eventually, some bring their parents here as well.

That means lots of grandparents watch their grandkids, while mom and dad are working. Heart-warming to see, speaking as someone whose kids unlucky not to have grandparents on hand. Warts and all. (more…)

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The International Atomic Energy Agency complains that US and other nations are not contributing as promised. 


By Michael J. Jordan |

Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

from the June 22, 2007 edition

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA — The world’s leading nuclear watchdog warned this week that it’s not getting the money to do its job.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), given the task of monitoring the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea, and others, has also been taxed of late by the so-called “nuclear renaissance.” As countries renew the push for nuclear energy, they expect the IAEA to help safeguard new power plants.


In a letter sent to the 144 IAEA member-states after budget negotiations stalled last week, director-general Mohammed ElBaradei wrote, “You could finance a less effective agency and we will tell you what that would mean – less than credible verification assurance, less than the best safety advice, a less than perfect security function.”


Yet, though the major powers voice fears of nuclear terrorism and nuclear accidents, financial support for the IAEA doesn’t necessarily follow, says Vitaly Fedchenko, a researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.


“There’s an expression in English: Put your money where your mouth is,” says Mr. Fedchenko. “If you’re saying the IAEA is important, OK, but do you really mean that by contributing to the agency? Arranging your spending priorities in a certain way is a political statement in itself.” (more…)

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