Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Once Upon A Time In Herceg-Dalmatia

Far more important to the Big Picture than details of Severina's love life is the proposal, reported in Večernji list today, to turn certain adjacent areas of Croatia and Bosnia into a Euroregion.

The rationale of a Euroregion is to connect municipalities on either side of a border, improve co-operation, promote common interests, and give local councillors something to do. The thriving Alpe-Adria organisation, linking up town halls in adjacent regions of Austria, Slovenia, Italy, and Croatia, isn't a Euroregion itself, but gives the general idea.

As the newspaper presents it, the proposed new Euroregion would include two counties in Croatia (Split-Dalmatia and Dubrovnik-Neretva), and three from BiH (Western Herzegovina, Herzegovina-Neretva, and Herceg-Bosna). The project's main advocate seems to be the Split-Dalmatian župan Luka Brčić, who tells VL that 'Regional connection is a trend in contemporary Europe. If we want to be part of that Europe, of course such cooperation will be inevitable in the future..'

Supporters of the project are reported as saying that the proposal isn't a revival of Croatian Herceg-Bosna but 'an economic and cultural connection with adjacent counties in the Republic of Croatia (RH) '. Although, to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies, they would say that, and reader comments on VL's online edition are predictably ranging from 'IF HERZEGOVINA FELL, WHAT WOULD BECOME OF CROATIA?' to 'We've had enough of Dinaric-Balkan terrorism and primitivism. Dalmatia belongs to the Mediterranean circle of regions, and you'd push us into the BALKANS.'

Whatever the economic and cultural realities of Dalmatian-Herzegovinan transnationalism, so strong is the 'symbolic geography' of Herzegovina in the Croatian imagination - and the contested memories of 1990s nationalist adventurism in precisely these parts of BiH - that, if the idea is more than a filler on a slow news day, it isn't likely to slip quietly under the media radar.

As for Herzegovinan-Croatian 'cultural cooperation, wait until the release of the next Thompson album (portentously titled Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj (Once upon a time in Croatia)) to hear more than anybody ever needed about that.

Obligatory Severina Gossip Snippet

It would be remiss of the Gazette not to point out that Severina has apparently got herself a new bloke, economist (yes, economist) amd Adrien Brody lookalike Mate Čuljak.

Says Severina: 'Mate works at the Croatian Privatisation Fund, so he's giving me instructions in my private life.'

Surely it doesn't take an economics degree to remember to turn the damn camera off?

More Hot Slovenia Action

On a gentle stroll through the archives at The Glory of Carniola last week, the Gazette briefly considered a quick post on a Slovenian turbo-act it unaccountably managed to ignore while in Ljubljana, a charming and unassuming little quartet called Atomik Harmonik. What with one thing and another, it quite slipped the Gazette's mind.

Until yesterday, when Slovenian television announced its finalists for this year's EMA festival, the annual Slovenian pre-selection for Eurovision. Looking at Slovenia's recent Eurovision record, RTVSLO clearly have something to prove.

Much was expected two years ago from wronged disco diva Karmen Stavec, who'd controversially lost the year before after the voting system broke down and EMA supremo Miša Molk decided in favour of a transsexual trio from Ljubljana. She came last in the final.

Much was expected last year from chirpy lovebirds Platin, who presented each other with engagement rings on stage at EMA and promised to get married during Eurovision in Istanbul. They came last in the semi-final.

Much was expected this year from casting-show winner Omar Naber, who acknowledged his target audience by shooting a bare-chested preview video knee-deep in a pool of water. He came... well, no, he didn't. But he didn't get much further, either.

For 2006, RTVSLO are taking no chances. Among the favourites will be the woman who might as well be The Glory of Carniola's house band, Natalija Verboten. And the turbo-schlager sensation of 2005, Rebeka Dremelj. And, inevitably enough, Atomik Harmonik.

Two-girl two-guy Atomik Harmonik resemble a fusion of Verbotenovanje with the British chart-pop tradition of groups like Steps, the sort who pick up the songs the Swedish pop industry doesn't want. The two blondes, Špela and Špelca, have an almost English affection for matching kitsch uniforms such as firewomen or that old favourite, the nurse's outfit.

If the whole of Slovenia wakes up one Sunday morning in March '06 wondering how on earth it's meant to look the rest of Europe in the face after voting en masse to be represented by this lot and a song called Polkaholik, the Gazette would want to make it known that it disclaimed all responsibility as of, well, this minute.

Friday, November 25, 2005

First As Tragedy, Then As Beauty Pageant

The Gazette is still rubbing its eyes at the news, from the Novi Sad tabloid Svet via Croatia's Index, that the hot-chocolate-wrestling impresario Slavko Adamović is to organise a Miss Partisan beauty contest in Požarevac to mark Dan Republike, the national day of Titoist Yugoslavia still celebrated by purveyors of kitsch nostalgia (and by Zabranjeno pušenje, too).

President of the jury will be the Serbian actor Bata Živojinović, famous for playing the title role of a Partisan leader in a 1972 WW2 Yugo-epic called Valter brani Sarajevo (Valter defends Sarajevo). According to Aleksandar Hemon in the Village Voice, the film is apparently a favourite of Ničija zemlja director Denis Tanovič.

Požarevac supporters of the Serbian royalist Četnik movement, serious rivals to the Communist Partisans until their dismantling by Tito in 1945-6, are not to be outdone. So, as soon as they can find enough cockades for the girls' woollen caps, they are going to organise Miss Četnik.

Charshija Queen, meanwhile, is reporting another Miss Partisan contest in Smederevo. Indirectly, Tijana Dapčević, the Budva Festival, and her Yugo-kitsch performance of Sve je isto samo Njega nema have got to be to blame for this.

Svet comments that 'maybe the men from Nacionalni Stroj [the far-right group who recently attacked a human rights seminar at Novi Sad University] will organise a Miss Volksdeutsch contest - so that we have all the beauties from the National Liberation Struggle'. Well. Not quite. But don't let Boris Dežulović mention Severina's Hrvatica again.

Fame Alkademija

Gazette favourite Alka Vuica will finally be holding her anniversary concert to mark 20 years in the music business as a singer and lyricist - or rather, 21, because the show was originally supposed to be held at the same time as her Cirkus album was released last year.

This version of the concert, now titled Alkademija and scheduled for 18 December in the Tvornica club, Zagreb, will feature unplugged versions of songs from her six albums, and she ought to be joined by Oliver Dragojević, Nina Badrić, Josipa Lisac (for whom Alka wrote the classic Gdje Dunav ljubi nebo), Tony Cetinski, Petar Grašo, and possibly Massimo Savić.

Unfortunately for the multi-talented singer, whose cv also includes several books of poetry and a cookbook, Nova TV has refused to recommission her talk show Jedan na jedan, on which her impressively transnational array of guests have included Goran Bregović and 80s folk-pop icon Lepa Brena. Still, a new set of poems Adamovo rebro is said to be on its way, along with even more of a treat - her biography Profesionalka.

Alka isn't afraid to be outspoken, and on occasion can combine showbusiness he-said-she-said with insightful criticism. Six years ago, when Doris Dragović was hounded by much of the Croatian press for agreeing to play at New Year's Eve in Montenegro, Alka used her column to attack Croatian hypocrisy in stirring up such a fuss over a musician when Croatian-Serbian commercial relations were already being established in every other field. On the other hand, during last year's 100% artificial Seve-vs.-Edo-Maajka scandal, she managed to lay into Edo, Croatian punk band Hladno pivo (music for 'drunk children'), 'urban' music (calling it 'black turbofolk'), not to mention Seve herself, for taking over the 'etno' style she says she was the first to use in Croatian pop.

Such a convoluted headline such as the above is also intended to introduce the already announced comeback of Alex Parks, late of Fame Academy, who rescued a ropey second album with a rather better live performance at the London Scala last night. (Keep the cellist...!)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Girls On Film

Croatia's number one export Severina is diversifying her portfolio. More precisely, she's spent the autumn on stage in Miroslav Krleža's classic of Croatian drama, Gospoda Glembajevi, and now also in Čekajući svog čovika, a semi-musical set in WW2-era Split about a woman waiting for her husband to come back from the war. As so often with Seve, the major selling point seems to be that she wears an outfit like this.

All this has inevitably been the cue for several journalists to ring up various actresses for quotes along the lines of 'Severina's taking our work away', and for several other journalists to ring up Severina so that she can go I'd like to see them sing!.

Severina's linked with two films, as well: Duhovi Sarajeva (The Ghosts of Sarajevo), where she's starring as a Split student searching for her half-brother in Sarajevo, and, possibly, a new musical by the 1970s Croatian director Lordan Zafranović. This clearly represents quite an advance in Seve's film career: after all, her last release went straight to video.

24 sata, however, reports she has competition for the lead in the shape of starlet Žanamari Lalić.

On the face of it, there's no contest. Žanamari is the winner of Hrvatski Idol - don't mention her failure to make the finals of the German edition the previous year - who began her post-reality career by pottering around with some water jugs on this year's Dora singing Kako da te volim. The second-, third-, and fifth-placed contestants from that series took the same route: they ganged up as Feminnem, entered the Bosnian final instead, and went all the way to Eurovision with a Swedish schlager pastiche. (One Feminnemica then threw a minor hissy fit because Croatia had given maximum points to Serbia-Montenegro instead of them.) Here, incidentally, is what they all sang to get there: think Aguilera, Anastacia, and the casting-show stalwart You Make Me Feel Like Throwing A Brick At The Screen If Anyone Ever Sings It Again A Natural Woman.

Severina, on the other hand is... Severina. And anyone expecting (more) barbed comments on her extensive film experience should go elsewhere, such as to Hajduk Split's stadium, where an entire Croatian football crowd chanted at her to take her clothes off in August when she sang the national anthem before the team's friendly match against Brazil.

Non-Comeback of the Week: Ivan Mikulić

You may remember Ivan Mikulić as the grumpy Croatian representative in Eurovision 2004. You may remember him as the star of Jesus Christ Superstar, who told one newspaper during his time there that he wouldn't have joined the cast if they'd offered him Judas instead of the title role.* You may remember him as Sandra Bagarić's partner on celebrity Milijunaš last Easter, where he managed not to have heard of Alcatraz prison, Sid Vicious, or the fact that when you choose an answer a little light goes on.

Mikulić is now in a huff again about a special musicals evening to be held in the Lisinski Hall at the weekend. According to Večernji list, he was invited to take part a month ago, was never called again, and was finally told last week that he wouldn't be included.

Whatever was going on with Noći mjuzikla, Mikulić is beginning to acquire a reputation as a serial complainer as far as Croatian showbusiness is concerned. After a long-running quarrel with the lyricist of his Eurovision entry, he excelled himself at the actual contest by falling out with the entire delegation from Croatian Television (HTV) over - allegedly - his belief that the defunct secret service of socialist Yugoslavia was poisoning his food.

The delegation head Aleksandar Kostadinov, HTV's Lepa Brena-disliking head of entertainment, is currently more occupied not answering the phone when journalists call to ask the song by the Bosnian rapper Edo Maajka which has just been banned from HTV and TV Nova. This may be to do with not broadcasting songs called Mater vam jebem at half past eight in the evening, or, as East Ethnia suggests, to its sharp criticisms of post-Dayton politicians. Up to you.

(* Although the actor who did play Judas, Ervin Baučić, resurfaced in the Croatian Eurovision pre-selection this year as the male vocal on Magazin's classical-kitsch number Nazaret. Whether that counts as ample experience or mixed messages, the Gazette is undecided.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Ludacris

No Rock 'n' Roll Fun reports that US rapper Ludacris - whom without extensive Googling I can only describe as occasional actor and one of Usher's collaborators on last year's minimally titled Yeah - has provoked a minor showbusiness-ethnopolitical scandal by incorporating a Confederate flag into his outfit at the recent Vibe awards, where he performed his new song Georgia.

In fact, Ludacris (or Chris Bridges to his mum) wasn't just waving the flag, as XRRF suggest, but wearing what the Confederate team tracksuit would be on some awful parallel Earth where Lincoln had lost the Civil War and the Confederate South competed on its own in the Olympic Games.

The inevitable explanatory press release states that the outfit symbolised 'the oppression that we as African Americans have endured for years', and was intended 'to represent where we came from, to remind people that Ray Charles' original "Georgia" was written because of that racism'. The performance in fact concluded with Ludacris taking off and stomping on the Confederate outfit and revealing the African colours of black, red, and green underneath, or, in other words: 'In order to move forward, we must never forget where we were'.

With any luck, nobody responsible for the annual Croatian Eurovision striptease will have been keeping up with this...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Want That One

Love-it-or-loathe-it catchphrase comedy Little Britain series three gets going on BBC1 at 9pm tonight, and so here, via Diamond Geezer, is a Clicky Clicky Guide to the show. Trust it to be today that the website of co-creator David Walliams goes up the spout.

Via Londonist, it seems that posters are now being released for the much-delayed V For Vendetta, although whether - given the subject matter - they'll be as ubiquitous on the Tube as the ones for Domino were last month is another question. 'Rejected artwork for the last Franz Ferdinand CD' appears to be the order of the day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Vesna Goldsworthy: Found In Translation

The Gazette's university became a book-tour staging post again last night when Vesna Goldsworthy, literature and creative writing lecturer at Kingston University, dropped by to talk about her memoir Chernobyl Strawberries.

Goldsworthy moved to England from Belgrade in 1986 (and 'England' rather than 'Britain' is deliberate on her part), and worked in publishing and the BBC World Service before returning to academia to teach English literature - rather than her old subject of comparative literature in translation, which isn't a strong point on UK syllabuses (syllabi?).

She began to write Chernobyl Strawberries as letters to her young son after she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. Finding solace in the letters while recovering from surgery, she wrote them up into a volume for friends and family which, one of her friends being her literary agent, ended up at Atlantic Books. The rest is serialisation in The Times, appearances at Hay on Wye, and translation into German and Serbian.

Goldworthy's previous book, Inventing Ruritania, took a post-colonial approach to English literature's depictions of the Balkans as a 'Wild East'. Murder on the Orient Express, The Balkan Trilogy, and Gazette childhood favourite The Prisoner of Zenda are all accounted for. (She discusses many of the same themes in an article for Eurozine.) Giving it a title wasn't an easy task, nor was it helped by one individual's suggestion of Inventing Transylvania in the belief that Bram Stoker - or the Rocky Horror team?! - had done precisely that.

She sees the two books as 'companion volumes' now - not just through representations of the Balkans, but through the writing of Olivia Manning, whose Balkan Trilogy, based on her experiences in Romania and Greece during her husband's work for the British Council in 1940, inhabited a similar borderland between novel and biography.

Manning called her work a novel, Goldsworthy a memoir (or 'reminiscences' for the Serbian translation), but their territory isn't too far apart; Dragana Obradović, writing for Balkan Academic News, has captured the ambiguity far better than me.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Alpe-Adria, Welcome To The Fold

First of all, the fourth Carnival of the Balkans is up and running, with a multi-lingual round-up of recent Balkan-related stuff in blogland. (If only London had a resource like Slavs of New York...)

Among other things the Gazette learned from Carnival #4 was that Yakima Gulag Literary Gazett now runs the fifth largest nation in the NationStates.net virtual Balkans. The NationStates political simulator is the creation of Max Barry, who might be better known as the author of anti-neoliberal satire Jennifer Government. (It's coming to the screen, supposedly. One or other of the Knightley-Portman conglomerate will presumably be in the frame to play Jennifer at some point.)

What you do is answer one of those political-opinions questionnaires that one can waste quite enough time on anyway, pick a flag/currency/name et cetera (unfortunately for the Gazette, Illyria was taken), and wait for NationStates to feed you a policy or two. The Grand Duchy of Alpe-Adria blinked into existence a couple of hours ago, and will be extremely happy to remain an unassuming statelet with a flag it must have picked up at a Liechtensteinian car boot sale.

Edit: and no, The Worshipping Empire of Ruslana Lyzhicko is, oddly enough, not me...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You Couldn't Make It Up

The mawkish decision to adorn Tuesday's front page of The Sun with a photo of a bloodstained casualty of the 7/7 bombings in London, in order to legitimise Tony Blair's (now famously defeated) proposal to detain suspected terrorists for up to 90 days without charge, without any permission from the subject of the photograph, was asking to be described as tasteless in any case. (Banner headline: Tell Tony He's Right.)

There's a different word when the picture turns out to have been a professor of media studies like John Tulloch.

Tulloch is currently Research Professor of Sociology at Brunel University in south-west London. Since the 1980s, Tulloch's work has included researching Doctor Who and Star Trek audiences, analysing Shakespeare and Chekhov performances as theatrical events, and investigating perceptions of risk in contemporary society... including the fear of terrorism, which he'd discussed at a conference in Kent two months before the attacks.

In an interview in today's Guardian, Tulloch talks about the
and expresses his anger at the political manipulation of terror - which any Sun hack with a Google connection could already have discovered in Tulloch's August interview with Australian newspaper The Age.

Tulloch's next project will address the narratives of 'heroes, victims and survivors' which have crystallised since the bombings, and their use/misuse for political ends. The Gazette looks forward to his conclusions almost as avidly as it wonders what the next inappropriate Sun exclusive is going to be.

And you thought it couldn't get more surreal than the Sun's editrix being taken into custody for an alleged domestic with her 'hard man' 'soap star' boyfriend...

It's Nothing Personal, Brena

Generally, the Croatian press reduces the rich panoply of Despina Vandi cover-versions and Footballers' Wives-type dress sense that is Serbian pop into two particularly symbolic figures: Ceca Ražnatović and Lepa Brena.

Ceca becomes value-judgment cliché number one for well-trodden, widow-of-the-etc-etc reasons. That makes Brena, perhaps the most emblematic figure of 1980s 'newly-composed' consumer culture, value-judgement cliché number two. Brena's remembered, fondly or not, as a symbol of socialist Yugoslavia. Perhaps not unrelatedly, invoking Brena is the insult of choice to trot out against Croatian singers like Severina or Maja Šuput if they venture into similar musical territory.

Alka Vuica had Brena as a guest on her talk show Jedan na jedan in March this year, the singer's first public appearance in Zagreb since November 1990. Luckily for Alka, Jedan na jedan goes out on Croatia's first private TV channel, Nova TV. Acknowledging Brena's existence on Croatian state television HTV is apparently still another story.

HTV has come a long way from the Antun Vrdoljak 'cathedral of the Croatian spirit' era, or so it would like to think. But according to Novi list, plans for Brena to appear early next year on an HTV talk show Ništa osobno (Nothing personal), presented by Nives Ivanković, were too much for Aleksandar Kostadinov, head of entertainment at HTV and the man who, as head of Croatia's annual delegation to Eurovision, spent most of May 2004 receiving 'evils' from Ivan Mikulić.

Kostadinov told the newspaper: 'As long as I'm the editor of thr Entertainment Programme, Brena will not appear on it, so she won't appear on Ništa osobno either. It's not about her being politically unacceptable, because that's not the case, and I can cite [Serbian actress] Ljubiša Samardžić recently appearing on Večernja škola as an example. Simply, in my opinion there is no place for Brena's music, or in general the music which has characterised her, on HTV.'

So that's all right then, Aleksandar...

Help Eric!

Eric at East Ethnia will shortly be helping sociologists at the University of Niš to compile a sociology of culture textbook for a new regional MA in cultural studies.

Accordingly, he's looking for texts published since 1990 which would 'be helpful in understanding the production, character and social life of culture' and offer useful comparisons and analogies for the Balkans. If you've got any suggestions, do run them past him at his relevant comments page.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tabloid Tales

Via East Ethnia (news of whose demise has been greatly exaggerated), this is what you get when a German political scientist gets his news from Serbian tabloids Kurir and Srpski nacional for a week...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ex-Yu What's On In London

In lieu of a proper post this half-week, a rushed-off-its-feet Gazette has just about got time for a round-up of some ex-Yugoslav-type events in London over the next month or so.

The Blue Elephant Theatre in Southwark is presenting an 'Art in the Balkans' season all month, including three plays, an art exhibition plus a handful of new films from Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia. Arsen Ostojić's three-strand Ta divna splitska noć (look out for Mr Gangsta's Paradise, Coolio, as an American sailor, plus Croatian singer Dino Dvornik as more or less himself) on 20 November; Srđan Vuletić's Sarajevo thriller Ljeto u zlatnoj dolini the next day, and Svetozar Ristovski's Iluzija on the 27th. Not to mention a documentary double bill on 7 November which includes Igor Mirković's Sretno dijete on the Yugoslav new wave scene.

Newish Serbian cinema is being covered by the Institute of Contemporary Arts' No Exit season - four Serbian films from the late 90s onwards, including Srđan Dragojević's Rane, which the ICA wants us to think of as a Belgrade predecessor of City of God.

Musically, Croatian musician Darko Rundek and his Cargo Orkestar are in town on 19 and 20 November to play at Pizza on the Park as part of the London Jazz Festival. On the folk side of things, 27 November will see Halid Bešlić at the Café de Paris.

The amount of things like these going on is probably one reason why I haven't had time to post...