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Archive for December, 2006

lj-euroclub-jw.jpgYes, tonight at midnight there will be cheering and fireworks ushering in not only a new year but a new currency.

Slovenia is the first new EU nation to change to the European money since it joined the EU back in 2004, with only 2Million people and a national GDP of approximately $35.2 billion (nearly Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates personal net worth), it is a milestone accomplishment for this small nation.

This will not be a story of a princess turning back into a swan or a maid, because this is no fairytale but midnight it will come and this Cinderella story of sorts will be in the history books as a Euro country.

Being a small country with few people they are trying to make the transition quick and I commend their efforts that I’ve seen in awareness however on delivery I have yet to see any real change except the checkout lines going slower as they have to take both currencies and often give you change in both as well and balance the difference with a pocket calculator!

The night of the 30th I was in town and went to an ATM and made a withdraw, I was surprised to see the software program was still in local currency and the money that came out was also local SIT, in other countries that switched I was told they made it so that it came out in Euro on the first day, but this is a long New Year’s weekend and I really doubt they will have the program and money bins changed by then or even in the days afterwards. They have active actions to get SIT off the street but then still give it to you is kind of counter productive other then to create a mass spending spree as everyone keeps trying to get rid of their SIT, but at least for now it seems like a viscous cycle.

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Videos from the XYZone

I’ve started a topic on this site for video. I started posting YouTube feeds on this site of clips to do with this area, music, culture and fun. In the future I hope to post more of my own productions and documentaries so stay tuned and checking this site for more.

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This is an old clip I found of “rock me” by RIVA, it won EuroSong contest in 1989 and subsequently allowed Zagreb to host the Eurosong event the next year, It was still united Yugoslavia then but a Croatian artist and as you can see in the clip it is full of clips from the coastal city of Zadar, no doubt the town she is from.

What I like in this is the obvious 80’s feel (capturing the era) and it’s international appeal even though it is mostly in Serbo-Croatian except for the line “rock me baby” which is hilarious, and I think a quality that has been lost of late in Eurosong entries and modern contemporary music altogether from this area. Certainly in Croatia and from what I’ve seen in Slovenia too, the inability to have a good time and make good music too, there has been some but this is really a jewel and it shows in that it had for it’s time Continental appeal, something no local music industry has been able to do since.

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Well this Christmas I pasted off with friends at home so the 26th I decided to go to town and see what was going on and what Slovenes do during this holiday.

Walking into town I noticed that there were very few young people out and in fact I seemed to be one of the few less than 40-50 years old that I could see. Most people in the suburbs were catching up on grocery shopping at the local super and hyper markets as despite it being a holiday here they seemed to be doing brisk business.

lj-winter-tivali-park-slo-06-jw.jpgAs I came through the Tivoli park I saw the roller park was converted into an ice rink and many people and kids were taking advantage of the nice weather to have some recreation and fresh air in this way. I might try it some other day with some freinds if I get time.

In coming down the walking street past the old post office I was approached by a woman with a microphone and guy with a large video camera, they asked me what I thought of “pyrotechnics” (fireworks), they were from a local TV channel (POP TV) and were trying to get a feel from the street of people’s opinions regarding that.

As she explained later, it is normally illegal to buy fireworks (other then little crackers and sprinkler sticks), the government however suspends this ban for a few weeks till January 2nd for people to buy, sell and explode such things for Christmas and New Years.

I told her I think it is better when the city does it and I’m looking forward to what the city of Ljubljana does this year as it no doubt will be great to see around the castle and Ljubljanica.

My friends gave a donation to the local fire department that I think is a better way to do it, as they have the knowledge and insurance that covers such activities. I for one being a visitor here I really do not need a New Years trip to the emergency room for burns at this time or an eardrum rupture. It’s just not worth the little fun for the risks in my opinion.

It seems more of a commercial advantage to this ban lifting that I frankly think is unnecessary and probably just the lobbying of the fireworks industry to cash in on this holiday time from the private sector (who already have contracts with cities, town halls and fire stations etc) or keep the black-market sells down, either way it is dangerous to allow high-power explosives to anyone simply because they enough cash to buy it.

lj-winter-fair-concert-slo-06-jw.jpgI then went down to the Preseran square and saw they had a large stage set up and getting ready for a night of free concerts (on the city’s tab) and back up bands testing the equipment.

There was an unusually long line of people making their way into the old church so I decided to follow them in and found they had a fascinating setup of a nativity scene complete with colored lights, figurines and even a small waterfall. I never had time to see the church before but aside from the nativity display this was a very old and historically beautiful building inside and should be visited even if you normally would not, it’s one of the treasures of the old town and today I was able to see why.

christmas-market-slo-06-jw.jpgI then went walking down the Christmas market and got some nick-knacks for friends, I did not realize how big it was and how many booths, but this really is a great thing and bustling with people all the way down the river and all around the market square as well.

Despite the cold everyone was out in the old town and once the kids program started on stage there must have been thousands of people out filling the square, “three bridges” and on down the riverfront, this town knows how to have fun and put on a good show, and the town inhabitants have a good time and show up en-force.

This Christmas concerts include big name Croatian singers including the heart-throb Gibonni, (every girl in Croatia and Slovenia aged 15-50 is in love with him) Petar Grašo, Danijela and the relatively newcomer Slovene singer/songwriter Nashia among others.

How it seems to work here (and I’ve talked with some city event planners in Croatia) and in virtually every large city in this area I’ve been to the city organizes free city concerts usually in conjunction with a city fair (where the city rents booths to venders to recoup some of the expense) be it summer or winter and then try to get big name acts (depending on their city or municipal budget) to throw these concerts in the town squares often competing for talent with rival towns.

This year Ljubljana basically copied the autumn concert season line-up as these artists have all done the rounds nationally to sell-out crowds in hotels, concert halls and casinos for ticket sells and now hve got hired to repeat it for the capital city’s New Year bash.

Music is a great leveler and one of the areas that these countries are willing to “overlook” being from another country. Many Slovenes say the Croatian language sounds better in song then their language and so Croatian singers capitalize on that advantage in this way as their logic and experiences and expressions are still very much from the same school of thought. Bosnian and Serb rhythms and music (turbo folk) also find some appreciation amongst Croatian audiences so they all seem to be able to hit the right note, as least for the time being and room for all of them to shine in this obviously small language market.

I really hope some day there will be musicians from this area that can think past the stereo-type and initial ostracism to make cross-over music with their rhythms in English for the world. It would not be easy but I know this is a important element still missing in the self-confidence effort needed in taking these nations on the world stage.

Where would the Swedish band ABBA be in international music history if they only sang in Swedish? everyone here understands English, but to sing it they have to sing a western song, not one of their own.

The program tonight was mainly for kids but it was great to see how they ushered in the St. Nik on a wagon pulled buy Slovenia’s treasured and world renowned Lipica horses that added a unique touch to the night that otherwise included dancing snowman and kids action songs on stage, not really my thing, but I hope to catch a concert or two over the next few nights.

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As a follow up on the article #44… where I talked about Croatians playing world level sports I thought it would be interesting to see where they currently stand in the sport of basket ball.

A few years ago I was told that Croatia had the most “imports” in the game then any other country but that is no longer the case, this was the stats I found from the 2005-2006 season. (in alphabetical order)

Bosnia and Herzegovina 0 (1 inactive player)
Croatia 4 (plus 2 inactive)
Serbia and Montenegro 8, the most of one nation in the league for that season (plus 4 inactive)
Slovenia 5 (plus 3 inactive)

Collectively as former Yugoslavian nations they total 17 active players out of 82 foreign players making up nearly 20% of all active foreign players playing in the NBA that season. Of approximately 450 players registered in the whole league that year 16.6 % of them (27 players) came from this little area of Europe .

To break it down for you, Slovenia with five players (and only 2 million people back home) had as many as Russia (population of approx: 145 million), Croatia (pop approx: 4.5 million) with 4 active players tied with large nations like France, Brazil and Argentina. Serbia and Montenegro with 8 had two more players then the second place Lithuania which had 6 players.

With the recent event of Montenegro becoming the worlds newest country this summer (2006) it farther fractures this area’s break down and perticularly what was last year Serbia and Montenegro is now two independant countries and the 8 players that they had colectivly are now from one of the two sides.

It’s not just basketball or sports for that matter but I just thought the NBA was a good ‘micro cosmos’ example, as it is often been nicknamed the “united nations” as (at least as U.S sport are concerned) it has a lot of foreign players from all over the world. The same study could be done for football players playing in international clubs, skiers, water polo or any number of sports or skills but I do not have the time now to research it.

Little is much, when it is talent from here.

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Today the veteran and outspoken American politician Dennis Kucinich (most probably originally spelt Kučinič) formally declared his intent to run for USA President in 2008, his second attempt at the highest office and being the 44th President of the United States of America.

Kucinich has roots in the XYZone, the son of a Croatian father (truck driver) and Irish/American mother(housewife) came from a poor childhood to became the mayor of the ethnically mixed U.S. city of Cincinnati in 1976 (at age 31) and currently is a five-term U.S House of Representatives for Ohio State’s 10th district.

Not that it really matters, as he is a political long-shot and he did not get more then just a few percentage points (between 0-2) in polls last election in 2004 but it is interesting to me how diversified people end up that are originally (or have roots) from this part of the world. If there was a U.S. President (or world leader) with roots to this part of the world it would be an interesting (yet symbolic) note that one of theirs is so high profile on the world stage.

I remember watching Toni Kukoč playing alongside Micheal Jordan for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s, I had no idea where Croatia was on a globe but I knew he was the “Croatian Sensation” and “the spider from Split”, everyone who followed basketball knew he was Croat.

Then when no one expected it in 1998 an unknown football (soccer) team on their first trip as a nation in a FIFA World Cup with unusual looking checkered shirts and amazing skill took the pitch and world stage by storm taking on and beating some of the best teams in the world to help Croatia get 3rd place in the tournament, behind only football superstars Brazil and event winners and host nation France. If that were not good enough the Golden boot (for most goals scored by a player in the World Cup) also went to Davor Šuker of the Croatian team.

I would have to wait three years till I watched Goran Ivaniševič play Pat Rafter in the 2001 Wimbledon finals to see XYZone in the sports limelight again. I’d already found Croatia by then and saw the game in on local Croatian TV. It was a historic event and seemed like it was one man against the world, and in a way it was. Was Goran (and his Eastern European roots) going to just be second best yet again or be the victor of one of the biggest individual sport events in the world. He won and put Croatia on the world map, not so much as a nation, (the 1998 World Cup team had already done that) but a showcase of the resilience of one of their own people. Before playing this event he was not considered at his peak performance (ranked 125 in the world) and only scraped into the event with a wild-card and after many ups and downs of his colorful career here he was on center court of that final game once again.

Many times in the game he was down, but he kept going and would not give up till the last point of the last set was played out, with perseverance and a little luck he won the grueling match and will be forever remembered in sports history as the only man ever to win Wimbledon (to date) on a wild-card, as well as the first Croat ever to win that event.

Be it a prominent President, sportsman, inventor or maybe even one day a Pope, look out because there is a good chance that they will be from the XYZone, they have a lot to give and the motivation to see it through.

I always tell others not familiar with the region when they ask me “what is there in former Yugoslavia to offer the world?”, without hesitation I say, it’s people! That is the single greatest resource I have found here. It is not the tourism, industry, or nature, those are all good, but the people is what makes this area what it is and will be even more in the near future.

Inventions, science, arts, architecture and sport have all thrived here before and I am sure will again once they dust off the socialist conformity mindset and gain back their self confidence, they have no lack of talent when they put their mind to it, I’ve seen it in small and large ways these few years and it will only snowball.

You might wonder where all this ‘talent’ is then? Well look around you. Half of Bosnia is keeping most of Western European and Scandinavian cities, offices and parks, clean, safe and cared for.

They may not be running the show, but in a way they are.

They are using the best equipment, chauffeuring the best cars, teaching the most elite kids, and cooking the finest meals. They are learning, watching and saving up money and knowledge that will eventually be brought back to their country in one form or another. Their kids are in the worlds best collages and getting the best educations and will become some of the future leaders and industrialists of our time.

The same is the case with other XYZone nations but on a little smaller scale then the example of Bosnia and on different social levels but the knock-on effect will be just the same. One country’s cook is another nations land owner, I know that to be a fact.

The meek shall inherit the earth.

Right now what we are seeing is what I’d call the “sacrifice generation” those that fought for freedom, work in foreign lands and do humble jobs to build their dreams and a future for their children. America went through a similar time after the great depression of 1929, as did Germany and Japan after World War two, they made the sacrifices that the “baby-boom” generation and now “X” generation enjoy today, Dennis Kucinich and his father Frank are just one example of that.

I am fortunate to be young enough to hopefully witness and document this same ‘fruition’ come about here in the XYZone in the next few decades as this new “benefactor generation” enjoy the results of the sacrifices currently being made by the older generation. Sure there are already some who have their cake and are eating it too, but the best is yet to come.

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nevis-book-anton-tomazic.jpgTitle: Second Place of Birth: Nevis
Author: Anton Tomažič
Language: English and Slovene (in separate books)

Available at: Amazon or AuthorHouse
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This is a fantastic story, not only one of courage and overcoming but also because it is writen by a Slovene living here but about a place so not like here.

It this book is many things ; adventure, history, love, politics, family and a true Slovenian spirit is what I love most about this book. This really could have been many books in that someone suddenly finds himself in an impossible situation but it is very cleverly woven in all these other things that the author has learned in his vast and full life that makes the book stand out from any other adventure/overcoming book I’ve read.

Being that it happened to a Slovene national is what first brought me to read this book as I wanted to see what a Slovene’s perspective would be on this kind of place and event that unfolded as I’m currently visiting here and covering the people, places and history of this area.

Although the English version I read seemed a bit translated and hard to read on that account the content was of the most interesting nature both from an adventure aspect (surviving on pure grit and resourcefulness for 8 days alone in the jungles of a Caribbean island) and from the aspect of human soul-searching and reflecting on life and faith.

I also greatly enjoyed the personal connection he had to events that unfolded after the Second World War, particularly the massacre of Kocevski Rog that I want to study more about and visit the location like I did at lake Krn, Žiri, and Cerje, if I get the chance on this visit.

His unique “insiders track” of the historical events and reestablishment of the independent Slovene nation and the important part Mr. Tomažič personally played in those formidable years of the nation in the early 90’s was also astounding to read.

There is really no denying that this authors’s life has a real propose and this book tells of the chapters of his life so far and stand to prove that life spent for God, family and countrymen is the greatest life one can have.

I hope one day that Mr. Tomažič writes a memoir of his whole life and all he was able to do with this second lease on life and ‘second birth’. It certainly has brought a lot of answers and insight for me into Slovene life and history, and much more relatable thanks to this incredible book.

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