Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tbilisi's Historic Center

This week I'm in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, also called Tiflis.  I was here eight years ago and Tbilisi's Old Town had undergone a remarkable transformation since then. While it still reflects its long period under Soviet rule, many historic buildings have been restored and the city has a very pleasant pedestrian zone with many lovely outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars. On my last visit, the city was being spruced up for an impending visit by George W. Bush.  And the city now has a President George Bush Street (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1485205/posts).  Do you know any US cities that have streets named after George W. Bush?   

I'm feeling lazy and won't write much on Tbilisi in this blog. But I will include several of my photos and provide a few links at the bottom for anyone who might be interested in post-soviet Georgia or in Georgian history and culture.

Map of Georgia showing the capital Tbilisi
Restaurant: "KGB - Still Watching You"
Cute Canopy on an Ethnic  Restaurant

One of Many Orthodox Churches

Tbilisi Synagogue
Mosque near City Baths 

Statue of St. George with Church in background

Old fascade and porches under renovation

Produce shop

VIP Hotel, Tbilisi

View from Old Town across the Mtkvari River
Tbilisi Baths
Houses on hillside leading up to Castle
Restaurant near Mtkvari River
Souvenir Shop
Stelzer Haus German Restaurant 

View from Mtkvari Bridge Towards Old Town
Cock of the Walk

Interesting Door on a Night Club

Old House With Classic Tbilisi Balcony on City Wall

Folk Dancer Sculpture

Office of the Georgian Orthodox Prelate

Billboard for an Art Exhibit
Old Georgian Architecture With Typical Balcony

In Front of a Tourist Shop

Pedestrian Zone with Restaurants

That's the end of my photos and here are a few links on the Republic of Georgia, Georgian History and Tbilisi.


Final note:  During my stay I had conversations with several Georgians.  When I asked those over 40 if they yearned for the old soviet days, without exception they said yes. I was very surprised and when I asked why, they typically said that life was simplier then with less worries, that people were closer and more friendly, and that the youth have become more aggressive and materialistic. In other words they seem to have liked the Nanny state and miss it.  I don't quite know what to take from this but I found it interesting.  I also have the impression that younger Georgians don't necessarily agree with the older ones.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kosovo's Valley of Death

Map of Kosovo

Greetings from Pristina, Kosovo. Yesterday I visited nearby Gazimestan, which is Serbo-Croatian for "Place of Heros" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazimestan).  In 1953 a monument was built at Gazimestan to commemorate the 1389 "Battle of Blackbird Field" also known as "the Battle of Kosovo" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kosovo) which was primarily waged between the Serbs and the Ottoman Turks.  In 1989 this monument served as the venue for a speech by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle.  The speech preceded a violent surge in ethnic tension prior to the break up of Yugoslavia.

Gazimestan Monument
 The following inscription on the Monument is know as the Kosovo Curse and is attributed to Serbian Orthodox Saint and Martyr, Prince Lazar:

"Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth
and of Serb blood and heritage
and comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
may he never have the progeny his heart desires
neither son nor daughter.
May nothing grow that his hand sows,
neither dark wine nor white wheat.
And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!"

Here is a bizarre video version of the curse followed by an analysis of the curse's meaning!

In a sense, the Kosovo Curse is real. The Kosovars, primarily ethnic Albanian Muslims, have had the historical misfortune of living among the repressive and oft-waring factions of Muslim Turkey, Orthodox Christian Serbia, the Catholic Hapsburg Empire and Stalinist Albania.  While Tito kept his thumb on the powder keg known as Yugoslavia for many years, the keg burst with his death and there has been almost continuous friction since. The most recent Kosovo War began in 1998 when Kosovars, who are 90 percent Muslim, declared themselves independent from the Serbian Government  in Belgrade and founded the Republic of Kosovo.

This 1998 Vanity Fair article describes the brutality of the Serbian response:

Due to NATO intervention, the Republic of Kosovo continues and is now recognized as an independent country by the US, NATO countries and a hand full of others.  Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize an independent Kosovo. The US has a provisional embassy in Pristina and will begin the construction of a new Embassy in 2014. The following links provide information on the NATO role in this war, on the new Republic of Kosovo and on the extent of its diplomatic recognition. 

Here is some information on Pristina, Kosovo's capital city.

And to end this, here is a photo I took of  the Bill Clinton statue on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina, which recognizes his role in Kosovo Independence.  He gave a speech at its unveiling in 2009.

Bill Clinton Statue in Pristina, Kosovo