Surely, a bold and daring initiative; perhaps not all that illogical in ideology. However, the question is: how does this merger and the creation of this new institution for the creative industries in fact shape and support a Dutch understanding and definition for the creative industries on a practical and contextual level?
Monday, May 28, 2012
Surely, a bold and daring initiative; perhaps not all that illogical in ideology. However, the question is: how does this merger and the creation of this new institution for the creative industries in fact shape and support a Dutch understanding and definition for the creative industries on a practical and contextual level?
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Last week, a friend asked me about my New Year's resolution; if I had accomplished them. I was ashamed to admit that I had not started 'work' on my resolutions for this year. I simply said I had not had the motivation for them so far. The truth is my resolutions in 2012 were based on ideals; and would not necessarily lead to any practical effect for my long term permanent ambitions and resolutions.
So I thought… I believe I was wrong!
In December last year I drafted up an ambitiously long list of things I wanted to undertake in 2012; also known as my compulsive resolution list - ranging from the more trivial, urge-based (taking up ballet classes, painting more at my own leisure etc. etc. etc.) to more fundamental and needs-based (working in politics so as to share my own political ideas, writing more letters to local politicians to suggest improved policies, starting my own business to offer a business alternative in the cultural sector, etc. etc. etc.).
In a way, my list of resolutions for 2012 stemmed from a fundamental dissatisfaction of the social, economic, political and environmental context I live in.
There is something exceptionally beautiful about this dissatisfaction and inability to achieve motivation for one's resolutions. It generates intense frustration, introspection and self-criticism which does not always have to be seen as negative. In my case, this dissatisfaction has lead to recognition of a greater revelation (not all motivation is equal and personally stimulating). It seems that the very social context which causes my frustrations and displeasure, is also a source of my own creativity.
It is because of displeasure and revelation that I for example write this blog, try to think more out of the box, I keep following dreams, I dream even more, etc.
Dissatisfaction can be a source of creativity if we are ambitious enough to focus, pursue and externalise our motivation to change. I believe that personal insecurity is at times a big reason holding me back from working harder and dreaming stronger. It is my social infrastructure which enables me to overcome such insecurities. The lack of a critical social supporting infrastructure to encourage and challenge us is more important than any individual would be comfortable to admit.
I suppose recognising my own abilities, weaknesses, beliefs and strengths enables me to act on my dissatisfaction in a constructive and creative way.
So, here's a note to self:
Be more daring, more creative and personally motivated to show the entirety of who you are, including the human aspects of vulnerability and your worries. It will undoubtedly deliver more success, integrity, conviction and recognition of abilities.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I am not against the financial cuts. In a time of economic difficulty it is not only understandable but also necessary to proceed with financial cuts. However, I am very much against the manner in which this new policy has been pushed through Parliament and imposed on the sector without obvious insight into the repercussions. The truth is the cuts in culture would have been far less painful if they were done with reason and better understanding of the character of the Dutch cultural field.
It seems like a new discourse has entered the Dutch cultural sector since the announcement of the new cultural policy in 2011. Concepts such as: creative industry, innovation, economic feasibility, etc seem atypical for the cultural sector.
It seems all of the sudden we belong to an industry which has inputs, processes and outputs.
Nowadays when reading newsletters dispatched by cultural organisations I no longer read about artistic merit but more and more there is talk about innovation and economic value of culture.
These attractive policy terms have become central in the revamping of the Dutch cultural milieu. The question is do we really know exactly what we are talking about? Have the policy recommendations and expectations of the government been sufficient to engrave a clear all-encompassing definition on the creative industries? Innovation? Creativity? Art?
My dilemma is should we not create our own understanding of creative industries and innovation by assessing the context, the creativity available, artistic excellence and social impact? In other words should we not consider the socio-cultural value of cultural and artistic outputs before we try to establish economic values?
I believe such a definition is crucial to be able to set organisational objectives, expected impact and propose development within the new redefined Dutch cultural world in 2013.
My second concern relates to the missing link in the whole discussion: Art!
In trying to define economic impact and social relevance are we losing the artistic touch? Are we forgetting that art has values which go beyond simple economic (countable) and social (purposeful) meanings?
The government policy was announced by the State Secretary for culture Zijlstra in May 2011. Already by mid summer it was clear what the new policy would necessitate changes, (unwanted) mergers and most of all deep structural cuts for government funded organisations. Given the speed of the changes most organisations have hastily rallied to redefine their own role within the new cultural constellation in the country. Despite the strong criticism from the cultural sector in the country protests and political squabble have proven to be useless in the policy implementation process.
From developing rushed business plans, to hiring fundraisers, to immediately firing redundant personnel the cultural scene has seen frantic pleas and petitions for support outside of government funding. Looking for financial supporters of the arts and culture in the country outside of government subsidies has proven very difficult.
The rational of the new government cultural policy 2013-2016 is to basically instil entrepreneurship within the cultural sector and thus make it less dependent on government subsidies. In other words, the government have recommended that private partnerships be set up and philanthropic activities sought after.
Given the short-sighted and imperfections of the policy and its rapid implementation, the government has failed to recognise that the Dutch cultural sector has very little, if any, experience with private funding. On the other hand asking cultural initiatives to knock on the doors of banks and corporations for financial support is simply naïve and unrealistic.
First of all these two sectors: the cultural and business sectors speak in different languages. Secondly, if the government believes that a new mentality of partnerships and cooperation should take place in the country then the government should surely take the leading role and broker this new relationship. Instead of an abrupt decision to cut and scrap cultural funding there should have been a phase-out of funding for at least 2 years - allowing for adaptation and acclimatisation as well as education and networking within the sectors. If anything allowing time for the cultural sector to have a wide-scale debate on the issue as well as logical follow up questions like: What and hoe do we innovative? How can we become a cohesive and dynamic industry by supporting each other? How can we ensure and nurture creative talent within our own cultural disciplines? And to what extent would we like to remain artistic? How can we safeguard the arts when the emphasis is so clearly on economic benefit?
2013 will only be the beginning of a new cultural transition in the country. The sector will see a clear 'survival of the fittest' tactics being developed and more and more outward looking organisations. It will see less partnerships and more battle for the reduced subsidies available in the country, and more competition for international possibilities. Moreover, it will be difficult to place job vacancies on the Internet out of fears that local servers would be swamped by sheer numbers of job applications.
On the other hand, I believe 2013 will be a year of new initiatives coming from individuals and small size newly set up cultural businesses. 2013 will see the birth of the Dutch cultural entrepreneur like never before, with a wide range of diversity of know-how and quality (both good and poor). By 2016 the market will filter out the people and businesses who have proven worthy and successful enough to survive the gloom.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
To support this view, I would also have to disagree with the many statements regarding the external recognition of creativity. Instead, I would argue that external recognition is necessary for subjective creative phenomena to be validated and recognized. Furthermore, I would argue that most individual manifestations maybe creative but also are not original. I would emphasize that an individual emotional articulation to a certain extent is creative in itself, akin to what Madden and Bloom would call Soft Creativity, yet it is clearly not unprecedented. In its place, I opt to link creativity to objective originality, which means that originality has the potential to inspire and become recognized in society and then it is deemed to be creative.
Creativity is a personal predilection based on inspiration, experience, and knowledge. Let me explain through a real example: in my discussion with Dr. Klamer regarding my PhD I was asked to provide an intellectual bio, stating themes and issues that inspire me. The logic of the exercise seemed to be that I should base my work and research on my inspirations and my relevant knowledge/experience. It follows that in order for my work to be profound and relevant, it needs to shed light on some issues and bring about certain novelties; thus entailing a great amount of creativity in tackling the issues related to my dissertation. This goes to say that if I were to produce something creative and meaningful in my research, I would also need to be inspired by the themes I would be researching. Subsequently, my ultimate goal would be to inspire others in my field and hopefully transform the domain of research.
Another example that merits attention is human speech. Given its originality and its manifestation in that period, when speech was first articulated by homosapiens in the evolutionary process, would this have also been seen as creative? I believe even speech today can be a creative expression of the individual, which in most cases is not original enough. Additionally, I do not always agree with Csikszentmihalyi’s arguments presented predominantly in given examples and analogies. For instance, Csikszentmihalyi links creativity to behaviour without explaining his assumptions and his motivations. The following quote in particular is emblematic in Csikszentmihalyi’s deficiency in clarification, he states “whereas some of the people who have had the greatest impact on history did not show any originality or brilliance in their behaviours, except for the accomplishments they left behind”.
In conclusion, I believe we are problematizing the creation and the process of materialization associated with creativity, before we have scientifically accepted an understanding and definition of creativity. For this reason providing a universal definition and account of creativity is at the minimum a daunting task, and at the maximum, perhaps an impossible one.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
It seems like quite a simple task at first glance: Sustainability means to “maintain", or "support" self-sufficiency. In “NGO parlance”, it means that a supported initiative is able to maintain operations at a satisfactory rate or level through additional external funding. This is usually achieved through monetary and non-monetary means to continue making a positive impact, within the context in which the organization is operating.
It is also the mot du jour among organizations that have any sort of ambition to make a social, political, economic or cultural impact. Making the civil sector organizations in the Balkan region more sustainable, therefore, is a call to action/reaction, a work in progress.
Many argue that sustainability is too vague a term.
It is certainly a mandatory attachment to any good practice. However, sustainability is not an end in itself. In the Balkans it has become a means to achieve local good practices and excellence through donor financial-support.
Therefore, because of the high potentials identified through sustainability – in combination with a lack of clear interpretation of “what this sustainability could be”, from the side of the donors and NGOs in the region alike – debate on this issue has raised many eyebrows among civil society organizations and soured relationships between some NGOs and donors.
Generally, donors understand sustainability as a feasible means to assess the impact, effects and successes of their work. On the other hand, some see sustainability as a mechanism to control the validity of decisions in supporting a specific initiative. The pressure to justify the spending of taxpayers’ money sometimes drives donors to making unfair, if not impossible demands – putting many NGOs in the awkward position of taking unjustified actions. Some have interpreted this as direct interference in the work of an organization, all due to the demand for sustainability.
Is the need for sustainability a donor-driven demand, a unifying concept among stakeholders and donors, or something that draws us apart from the local context and possibilities?
Sustainability can be identified and treated thought various actions:
- securing monetary support for an initiative – fundraising (broad donors base);
- diversification in the field and sector of operations (earning money on the market, privatizing, transforming into a company and attracting investors, building and renting spaces);
- creating visibility and public awareness on a subject which is closeted and taboo;
- audience development though capacity increase;
- diversification in the activity span;
- policy changes related to economic/political and social impact which occurs through implementation;
- capitalization of the experiences acquired through disseminating know-how into other non-project related activities in the region;
- maintaining the flow of mobility of ideas and creativity and progressive thinking, etc.
In this sense, these sustainability scenarios are very much linked to the nature of an initiative, and still, more so to the political interests of the involved donors. It often happens that donors decide to make some of the above sustainability models a crucial requirement for funding. Usually, they demand that organizations create a wide pool of additional income (fundraising).
However, in doing so, the definition of sustainability and therefore the criteria for support can go far beyond what is realistically possible in the regional context – and at times simply be at odds with general legislation.
For example, for the sake of sustainability, organizations are compelled to open up to private sponsoring and income generating practices, which then compromise the charitable nature of the organizations and their statutes.
We already established that sustainably is crucial. But for it to be successful we must look inwards and consider whether internal donor objectives and strategies should be more closely aligned to the needs and circumstances in the region. Some potential activities that could improve the overall quality of donor activities could range from: reorganizing the funding conditions/criteria needed to meet local context capacities; reassessing working practices to ensure that the requested sustainability is attainable and realistic; using one’s own local networks to develop joint custom-made sustainable approaches and working jointly on identifying possible sustainability solutions for the local organizations; and adjusting individual donor expectations concerning the extent of the sustainability demanded; or directly tackling the problem by helping local actions to lobby national governments to pass laws on sponsorships for NGOs and socio-cultural initiatives (social-corporate responsibility for companies) though tax benefits, etc. This could improve the overall quality of donor efforts in the region.
Clearly, information on ideas, integration of expectations, participation in strategies and diversity are key building blocks to help NGOs achieve development and success. In sustainable development both donor and recipient are users and providers of information. There is clearly a need to change from old sector-centred ways of doing business to new approaches that involve participation and co-ordination with NGOs, in helping donors achieve their goals in the region. I believe this is one recipe to achieve win-win solutions in this context.
Usually, sustainability-related demands are driven by donor goals and values. It is therefore our own agendas, cooked up in EU capitals, which we then in turn advocate and put forward in this region.
How can we then pursue sustainability-driven demands and prevent them at the same time from being hypocritical in the local context in which we intend to operate? Is it possible to transpose sustainability practices from Switzerland or the UK and readapt them to the Balkan region?
Are we pushing for sustainability because it is simply sexy to do so? Is it perhaps because it is a must in the developmental work of donor organizations? Does it justify our reasoning for spending taxpayers’ money on international support?
Or, are we all just speaking donor jargon to euphemize the general fatigue and phasing-out tendency of international donors in this region?
Generally, it seems insincere to uphold high sustainability demands in a region where there is a good deal of corruption, political instability and economic hardship. On the other hand, how can the sustainability of our civil society partners in the Balkans be achieved when most donors are pulling out of the region? Who then takes on the task of supporting the NGO sector in a volatile region?
On top of that, amid a global economic crisis, and general donor fatigue in the region – demanding financial sustainability through international funding and a broad donor base for NGOs is simply unworkable and wrong - and not sustainable anyhow!
Let us not forget also that when investing in the Western Balkans, we are in essence investing in a young (future) EU context, because one day the civil society actors from this region will participate in influencing and shaping EU policies worldwide.
So how much sustainability is enough sustainability! It must not be an oxymoron whereby donors demand development and sustained structures but at the same time maintain the Soros “syndrome” of quick exit-strategy scenarios.
Of course, the NGO sector in the region must work closer with the national structures, government institutions and national public bodies. This should be the long-term political objective of all donors to facilitate and broker this cross-sector partnership, which is still new to the Balkans – in line with EU integration strategies for the region. On the other hand, realistically in the current political and socio-economic environment, it is imprudent and reckless to expect an independent initiatives to look for funding within national/regional public structures. This would both weaken the content and credibility of the output of the initiatives (especially those working with sensitive issues like corruption, human rights and media) and potentially open the way to heavy political influence and manipulation of the excellence of a rare independent initiatives in the region.
To add to the complications, sustainability is applied not only to organizational sustainability but to many situations and contexts over many scales, from small local ones to the global balance of support and impact. It can also refer to a future intention: therefore, it is not necessarily a current situation but a future goal, a prediction.
For all these reasons sustainability is perceived at one extreme as nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with little meaning or substance and, at the other, as we see today, also as an important but unfocused concept like “liberty” or “justice”. It has also been described as a “dialogue of values that defies consensual definition”.
So, alas I have failed to provide an accepted definition of sustainability. Instead I would prefer to focus on the responsibility and commitment of donors and partners in the region to reassess demands related to sustainability and put them forward in a useful and realistic manner.
A universally accepted definition of sustainability is elusive because it is expected to achieve many things in a short time, which also reflects the expectations of many donors. We should be looking for a joint understanding; this understanding needs to be factual - a clear statement of a specific “destination”.
Sustainability is a requirement that entails responsibility from both sides in order to ensure success and positive impact – both from the party that demands it and from the side of the organization implementing.
For some it is immigration – for some it is the rights of traditional minorities, for some it is about civil society and government, for some it is gay rights – for some it is the dialogue between president and government. And for some it is all of the above.
Have we a strategy to tackle the notion of Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue before we can tackle the responsibilities coming out of such a dialogue?
So, I ask myself:
What could we achieve through it?
Can we translate the benefits to our own context?
In my view intercultural dialogue is about creating a fertile ground for individual progress, creativity and motivation to have more imagination on a general societal level – the question is how do we do this in the Balkan region where I am currently working?
I believe that a way to achieve this is by institutionalizing cultural competences and bringing together more people from the region who can understand both sides where this dialogue is missing.
Are we able to talk about these differences which are visible on the streets we pass by every day?
Instead of expressing through monologues - To talk about diversities which were always there or have newly become social taboos – in other words part of society itself!
I find myself to be a mixture of what I stand for – my parents a long time before decided to define “interculturality” in their own way and so had an intimate life-long “dialogue” – and me as a result of that “dialogue”.
I have lived diversity through diverse ethnicities which in Macedonia, my own country is still seen as an inherent disadvantage unfortunately – on top of that being a gay man does not make one’s life easier in this region!
So it seems there is no “intercultural dialogue” when there is an absence of a definition of one’s own local diversities.
With Intercultural dialogue comes the responsibility of inclusion, to incorporate others into this definition to be able to discuss mutually and openly. To talk of a certain aspect of a culture or sub-culture it is crucial to talk with people from that very culture – people who are involved and part of the given issue. The civil society actors need to voice more clearly their own opportunities and possibilities what they offer and what they need vis-à-vis their contexts.
Solutions we are all trying to find, but this we cannot do alone – as we agreed: we need a dialogue – this post today is still on the level of a monologue…
A strong civil society has been created when individuals in that society are aware that they are part of a society. It is the individual experiences which give the flavor to the word “culture” in “intercultural dialogue”.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
By the mere nature of things, we concoct and then cling on to analogies and passionately portrayed parallelisms in order to identify ourselves with a familiar milieu. For reasons which I am yet to understand, I do not seem to have this human facet. I have neither a fixed identity nor do I feel familiarity to my usual surrounding.
Some have told me that I have absolved myself of my own familiar surroundings by choosing to freely and consciously immerse myself in new cultures and live far away from everything which is familiar or simply Home. Others say that the genuine loss of ignorance (or heightened awareness) damages one’s innocence, and breaks one’s association to a unique social/cultural space.
The stuff with which we surround ourselves give us the safety net we need to create a home feeling. These ‘stuff’ give us security, they give us a sense of belonging and purpose – basically it is what makes home, home.
It is this stuff which I am yet to determine and comprehend. The stuff which will redeem me and give me back my own private cultural and social comfort zone - a childhood familiarity and a genuine facilitation to the creation of my own identity.
I might be naïve to question my lack of identity and feeling of cultural/social estrangement. But I question this because living without introspection is, for me, like living without the ‘stuff’ which makes me who I am. Perhaps the intangibles are ultimately the human facets which in fact mean the most – those which we chose to express the least.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
They that feel these statues, and proposed changes to the facades of buildings in Skopje’s downtown, are kitschy and follow the same unfortunate logic as the House of Mother Theresa, the eclectic spaceship-like architectural ensemble built recently in Skopje.
It is not clear whether the “Skopje 2014” project is simply about rebuilding Skopje and giving it a new look, or about redefining the lost soul and identity of the city.
The plans for Skopje have also been estimated to cost about 200 million euro, a very high sum at a time of economic crisis, which the country has unfortunately been going through for most of the past 20 years since independence from former Yugoslavia. Indeed, this project is indicative of the identity crisis that the country and nation have been going through since that independence.
For Skopje, the question of its lost identity dates back to the devastating earthquake that hit the Macedonian capital in 1963, destroying most of the old city. Until then, Skopje had a population of only about 200,000 inhabitants (now it is about 700,000), which classified it as one of the smaller cities in former Yugoslavia.
In an impressive show of solidarity, the world mobilized to rapidly “rebuild” the city with a new, then modern, look, commissioned by the then Yugoslav authorities. The aesthetics were not questioned in 1963 as there was a higher humanitarian urgency to build homes for people without roofs over their heads. Thus, Skopje became a new Socialist super-city, with new job possibilities but without the charm and spirit of the past.
“Skopje 2014” threatens to recreate the 1963 scenario all over again. The project seems to serve the notion of urban disintegration rather than instill a sense of common ownership and of belonging. It has already invigorated the existing divides in Skopje’s different communities, be they religious, ethnic or political.
Gradual improvements and development are natural and are to be encouraged, as they are by nature progressive and dynamic. However, the shock-and-awe nature of “Skopje 2014” is a step too far, and therefore resistance to it is also legitimate.
The government argues by drawing parallels to other European cities that have churches and monuments in their city centres. They fail to recognize that those monuments and buildings were erected gradually, over the long term, and have a distinctive meaning for the cities’ inhabitants. They either signify a specific period in the city’s history, or a specific event that has contributed to the identity of the city, the nation and its people.
In the case of Skopje this project will simply mark the political ascendancy of the VMRO-DPMNE, its coalition ally, the DUI, and the smaller, less significant parties in this coalition.
It is clear that Skopje needs to be improved and made more culturally accessible through the building of sculptures and constructions. Not all the proposed ideas in the “Skopje 2014” plan are bad or kitsch. Ironically the entire debate on the issue seems to be wrongly directed towards discussing whether Skopje will look modern or ugly, or grandious or metropolitan. The issue at hand is moch more profound on an existential level for the residence of Skopje and generally for the whole country. What is lacking in the debate is an explanation on the part of the creators of the “Skopje 2014” scheme and the contextual relevance of this project – alongside a clear policy rationale, outlining Skopje’s urban strategy. Secondly, the whole process of urban change must be made more democratic and transparent, involving all citizens and working on a basis of compromise.
Skopje is a mixed city with mixed needs. Finding the right balance that satisfies most people would be the right recipe and could serve as a symbol of integration and bringing people together. The worry is that the “Skopje 2014” mega-project will not be remembered in the future for its significance but as a reflection of an immature and defunct cultural policy, and for its utter lack of diplomacy and political vision.
That necessary spirit of compromise is not achieved through impulsive proposals, rushed decisions and short films created behind the closed doors of government-sponsored agencies. The current proposal and the way this government has chosen to implement it not only has the opposition up in arms but also the Albanian community, which makes up roughly 30 per cent of the country’s population.
Because of this “Skopje 2014” cannot be a good idea, as it marks out the city as a dividing factor in society. No one wants to live in a city they do not feel part of – and in a democracy no one should be excluded from being part of such important processes and decisions.
A new identity cannot be simply imposed on Skopje. Giving the city a new look will not change the city’s overall attitude and mood. It is the people who make the city and give it its charm and therefore investment in people in essential. Without real content and a sensible policy strategy, it seems Skopje will remain just as repressive and mentally entrapping as it is today – no matter what it looks like.
To make a hotspot of Skopje, to create a regional cultural centre and give a contemporary metropolitan feel to the city – we need to identify first and foremost what for us is metropolitan. What are our selling points on a glocal level? In other words, Skopje requires a sound cultural policy developed in a participatory manner. This can then generate ideas on how best to make use of the amazing human and creative resources available in the city, such as the excellent young urban artists and the visual concepts generated in the ateliers in Debar Maalo and Stara Carsija. Only then can one jointly answer the more overarching question on metropolitanism and identify our own civilizational attributes.
Artists need to be given the possibilities of producing more, and of having the space to present their works. We need artists from other countries to take part in our cultural space and help us recreate our city with participation, by all, in their own way. These are some of the activities that will embed a cultural narrative and reasoning within the future urban constructions in Skopje and which will instill spirit, pride and identity into its people.
Some of the proposed sculptures in “Skopje 2014” might give a positive impetus to such cultural development – as kitsch sometimes provokes real art. Such was the case with the golden toilet seat installed in the Skopje city square as a reaction to the sculptures commissioned by the Ministry of Culture a few years back.
But today’s spirit in Skopje flows from the current spirit of its residence; its youth and the contemporary problems of its population in general, from social problems like the overwhelming presence of homeless persons on the streets, to political ones, like the name dispute with Greece.
Consequently, Skopje requires sculptures that are progressive in idea, freedom oriented and emotional in character; works that reflect the evolution of Macedonia’s identity under the tough and unfortunate decades of economic gloom, social fragmentation and political hardship. Then, Skopje will be a cultural urban city, linking its people not only to 2014 but also back to 1945, 1990, 1995, and 2001, as well as to the future, with equal pride.
Friday, May 01, 2009
From the Balkan perspective, one is taught that Belgrade is an important intellectual and political centre in the region – which in the past decades has created intense sentiment of intimidation, pride, hate and love for the city. As the biggest city in the region, it was the joint capital for now 7 independent countries, and an impressive establishment of the most radical and liberal movements to take place in this region.
To me it always seems like the city breeds on a feeling of lost glory and significance from the past, though the intellectual asset of the people still remains impressive.
I spent the whole day yesterday walking around Belgrade in admiration, and disappointment. It made me think a lot about what Belgrade has turned into in these past three decades. It even brought me to a time which I do not remember as well – when Belgrade was also my capital city. Unfortunately today’s reality in Belgrade is such that one cannot escape the almost daily protests on the Square of the Republic (Trg Republike) - with banners chanting praises for any one of the war crimes perpetrators in the wars of the Former Yugoslavia, or Serbian religious leaders staging anti-NATO and anti-EU gatherings bearing the portraits of Slobodan Milosevic, and the famous duo Mladic/Karadzic. In Serbia religion seems to contaminate the taste that Belgrade living offers to the world.
A few weeks ago, on Easter, I decided to do what is now very fashionable in Macedonia – to go to Church for Easter. An occasion which creates a discomfort with some people of my parents age who in the past times were more keen on an event marking the rational Communist achievements in society than the religious manipulation of the church.
I am not religious, but on such an occasion when so many people get crazy over painting eggs and chocolate bunnies – it woke my appetite to be part of the euphoria.
At the main Orthodox Hram Church in the Centre of Skopje, I stood to look for God. I waited to see my spirituality light up to me in any form, to communicate my verbal wish list on the occasion of Easter. For some reason that afternoon, I had the feeling God was present in the corner of the church, rather than in the richly ornamented altar where my eyes were squinting from the light’s reflection off the golden frescos. So I walked to the dark corner in the inner part of the East Wing of the church.
There I stood looking up and contemplating where to start. And then I heard an older lady sobbing on the opposite corner. I could not see what she looked like – to be able to immediately label her as mad, or sad, or simply in the Holiday blues.
My curiosity made me get closer to the wooden row of seats where she sat with her head hanging over a small piece of cloth she had entangled around her fingers. ‘She has made contact’ I thought. After a few moments my slow steps brought me closer to her spot where I stood next to her. I felt like I would share her sadness.
From that distance it seemed so universal, and so easy to identify myself with her sorrow. She suddenly started to speak out loud, which gave me good reason to turn my head towards her and stare – opening up a window of judgment.
‘Do you think I deserved it in this way?’ she said. At that point it felt like she was talking to me. It felt ominous to be mistaken for God. I realized she was looking up. Why was God ‘up’? Are we not ourselves the embodiment of God? Or do our unquestioned archetypes simply dictate such nonsense?
She had decided to go head on with Thy God in Heaven, and verbally communicate her earthly sorrow for the whole church congregation to hear.
She was disillusioned, and in utterly despair. She was broken by what her life had done to her. But in all that brokenness she did not lack hope - the hope that her God would listen and make it easier on her.
It seemed she had made a big mistake in her life, which was inexcusable even for God’s taste. She communicated her feelings completely but not the reasons for the feelings. And yet she seemed truly repentant. She was there, penitent, emotionally naked for the Heavens, under the many icons which looked down on her.
This event came to my mind here in Belgrade and since then has made me think: Does religion turn us blind towards the reality we have produced? Does it make it easier on us to deal with our emotional past entourage?
While i stood on at the Mouth of Belgrade watching the waters of both Rivers flow into one - I thought about my own mistakes and wrong doings. How unforgivable do I think they are?
The intellectual capabilities dictate the ways how we deal with such emotional difficulties in our own way. Some people cry hysterically, some repent and ask forgiveness to the Lord (inside or outside of a church), some think them through and internalize their emotions, some decide to always be right and simply blame it on someone else. In any case it is because the truth hurts too much that we are not able to always let it in. And yet when the truth hits us on the face – the truth then also sets us and our emotions free.
The truth is a realization, almost a revelation which we decide to acknowledge and recognize. We are all looking for something we want which we are convinced we do not have (any longer). Because the truth is usually a conception of our own imagination – it speaks to us on an emotional level. And the realization that we are incomplete – or that our own fabricated truths are violated - is what drives us to dire desperation to salvage what emotional collateral we can.
My short holiday in Belgrade was a last minute decision and was made against my better judgment. Do we ever decide that we will stop looking for that which we are convinced we do not have? Eventually, when I look back, what I remember best in my life are the things I did against my better judgment. Like the old lady in the church, I had to find my own emotional outlet, and go against my better judgment - because deep down no matter now broken we might seem - hope is never permanently broken. The emotional memorabilia is what makes Holiday blues easier to manage – because there is hope that more such memorabilia are there waiting for us behind the corner of the street, or even perhaps in the clubs of Belgrade.
At the Church in Skopje it seemed like time had stood still. It was not clear how long one must mourn, and be in sadness, it does not say at the Church entrance where one can read the Church Code of Conduct. How long must we pray for that prayer to count? Regardless, in hard times sadness and the hope do not recognize any category of time.
When she deemed it right, the lady simply stood up, dusted off her long purple raffled dress and took a deep breath. She then walked up to one of the bigger icon paintings on that Wing of the Church – bowed down and kissed the painting at the feet of the baby Jesus. “Jesus has Risen” (or Isus Voskrese), she said, to mark her belief in the Easter Holiday, and that in all hope miracles like that of the Resurrection do happen to the good, and to those who repent strongly enough.
Finally, the feelings we develop and those that we lose, the moments we believe we have lost, and those we decide to let go of, those which we are constantly looking for, convinced we do not have – none such situations change the world around us. They change us, and who we are in the world, and how we decide to place ourselves in that world. Because each experience is a lesson – so is our willingness to be open to those new situations – even if this means once in a while going against our better judgment.
Monday, December 29, 2008
The year is closing its books on us yet again! The December page is full of reminders for celebrations not to be forgotten. We rush to be part of the euphoria in the air, with presents to show off the stench we have left on the passing year, and remind others how we hope to do even better in the year to come.
As always in December, it seems that the holidays give a boost to our self-confidence and esteem. We seem to stop talking about wants and hopes, and start talking about resolutions.
My New Year’s resolution is not as selfish and modest. Apart from the obvious: do more for those I love, love harder, live merrier, listen longer, talk less – I also have a special declaration on my wish list to Santa:
My resolution is to imagine, and imagine;
My resolution is to bring imagination back to the mind;
My resolution is therefore to give a resolution to the problem of the ‘truth’ I so often hear about. It is this truth which killed my imagination to start with.
In 2009 I am out to get it back.
To those of you who will be reading this – I wish you: more imagination to be daring, more creativity to be different and more willingness to remember who you really are in 2009.
Having said this, I also have something to say to my friends from
Patriotism has killed our Imagination because it has taught us that who we are depends on certain traditions, moral value and historic ideology – and not the flesh and blood which made us all lethargic, uninspiring and unimaginative in 2008.
It teaches us that we are ‘Timeless’ because we have a rich history – of people dancing funny archaic dances, of women folding white linen on their heads and men going at it with axes. Timelessness and patriotism are not blind history but the ability to create and recreate one’s own personal creativity, to preserve one’s ideas which will always be one’s own – the very ideas which live on in the very imagination we have lost.
Dear reader, it is about debate, it is about sharing and not about fear of ideas and people who defy what is ordinary and normal in society - To bring out opinions and one’s own personalities from imagination in order to write our own contemporary story which we are all accountable for.
Today we remember Ancient Egypt because of the people who in that time Created with a daringness to Imagine new realities, greater horizons, a better vision and the power to define formidably their own existence when the world around was still all barbaric.
At present we have unique possibilities to leave such footprints in the ‘timelessness’ of our own surrounding. It is very simple and moreover, it is our obligation as people who share the same creative space such as this. This note/post is thus an attempt to leave such a footprint with flavor à la Bertan.
Consequently, my resolution for 2009 is to come out of the societal hypnosis and act to create, to recreate and to share my space in an environment which is inherently open to influences. Next year I hope to create more for others to follow suit, to dare more so others will dare follow, understand myself better so I can also better understand others.
Yours truly and timeless,
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
I don’t think I would make anything up; I would say it as it is!
There was nothing extraordinary about the chiming clatter of the trams passing by his window that early November morning. He’d woken up to his habitual early morning frenzies – his thoughts seemed to be crossing through his mind without a dose of significant revelation. He tried to remember all the things he wanted to do that morning; the thought of his probable failure to succeed in all ambitions seemed too painful to even contemplate. Something about the day’s whim seemed to bother him… He could still sense the smell of aged beer in his mouth, which would not be erased with the morning shot of cold water. He was disappointed that he had no real control over himself.
He liked his small morning habits. They made him seem as though he had a cause to follow. There was something erotic in a morning shot of cold water which would stream down his throat through his esophagus. It was pleasurable pain – as the cold water traveled through him cleansing his body from the evening’s distress.
The day’s ”to do” list seemed to have no hierarchy. He had made all triviality the key dependency to sustain his sanity - to make his life seem all worth it – to have a cause.
He was tired of it all! Even his friends could not appreciate his utter genius.
“Drunken glory,” he muttered to himself.
He reached out his arm to grab his pouch-bag. A puff of smoke would always do the trick.
“Air is anyways lighter than water” – he thought silently.
He was not someone who would lounge about the house in idleness. There was no point in thinking of the past. No one has seen any benefit from that, his father had once told him.
He was a hard worker like his dad, but an even harder thinker, proud of what he was and where he came from.
The sun’s radiance had created a hazy patch of illuminated surfaces in the room. He smiled back at the particles of dust dancing around the wooden floor, as he remembered how he had danced so passionately the night before. It saddened him to think that such nights could wake up to such cold, unforgiving mornings. It made the dimmed bar-lights of the evening seem so murky and inconsequential. It was the regular agony of ‘the next day’ which he so dreaded. It was worse than putting himself to sleep in the evenings.
He was not really a smoker as one would define it. He could smoke avidly for months on end, then, quite suddenly, stop. It would even be years before he revisited the habit. This time, he thought he particularly liked his smoking inclination. Not because it was decadent and unpleasant, but because, for the first time, he felt the thrill of addiction to the habit.
He believed in ideals; in an ideal life which he had created for himself. He hadn’t made it up. He had simply used life’s circumstances to his advantage. He believed that all people and events were there to justify his own existence. A sort of a probation ground to prove his celestial nature. His beliefs in his own theories were zealous when he felt they were convincing!
Religion had never really been prevalent in his life. Though it had cemented his notion of life’s destructiveness which made religion extremely dull and one sided for him. He did not like being told what to do and when to do it, though when rules were in place, he was very careful to obey them utterly.
He believed his life was his own affair. Nothing more than he, could tell him what to think. In his view his external behavior was very different from the person whom he really was in fact, inside. He never really knew which aspect of his being was the more prevalent or accurate, or which he seemed to like more. He was convinced that the only thing he wanted to achieve fully was a piece of mind with himself.He lived for the day which would come. He was infatuated with the future and its uncertainties. The past was where it belonged – in the past. The future would take him further than where he was the day before – it all seemed to offer so many opportunities. And opportunities signaled a sense of wellbeing and hope for his changing personality.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Seldom I would say!
Whether it is because I am chronically tired, or possibly too focused (some would say anal), at times, on details, or simply looking for an exciting moment in the ‘familiar’ – I seem to have had such small enlightenments recently, simply by realizing my own surroundings.
Some might say it is the sense of life in objects or things surrounding us which make them come alive; or the charm in the thought behind a pattern, which might generate a certain passion; or simply the art of life whose mysticism adds to a longing to be even more inquisitive and demanding.
It is not only that physical creation is gifted with innate charm. It is the amount of love and relevance we attach and radiate to things which make them live with us. Either it is a moment’s memory reminding us of passion, loss or happiness, or it is the direct attention we give to things which simply seem to attract out mind and appeal to our sense of what is art and what is simply beautiful. It is through our own openness to feel for things, that that feeling is transmitted and acquired by the object of out affection. In essence, we give life to inanimate objects by simply taking the time to realize what they mean to us, and hence being passionate about ‘the small things’ in and around your life.
In many cases in the past I have found myself simply registering and never recognizing all the crap which surrounds me on a daily basis. It is remarkable how this affects our subconscious and our comfort (gezelligheid, as they would call it in Dutch), and mood when we are in such a situation.
It is that objects around us not only acquire the feelings and passion we invest in them, but it is that the same objects then radiate the same feeling, passion and love back to us, in the same intensity and sometimes even more, when our own moods are down and in the blues.
To be simplistic, one must love Pinocchio, not only to bring him to life, but also to have Pinocchio love us back as a child does its parents!
In essence it is the stuff that lightens our spirits, giving our own surrounding a living spirit and a certain flavor (Шмек – is more the word I was looking for). It is a personal Feng Shui circumstance which you purposefully and consciously must condition around yourself to make anywhere feel a little bit of home.
Finally in my own personal context, I have decided and in certain ways understood that a lot of things in my life in Amsterdam have been intentionally set to quite a temporary mode of existence. From furniture, to books, to my daily rhythm, to my own opinion on Amsterdam – I seem to have never invested much in the past two years, thinking I will leave soon anyways. this is probably one of the reasons for my discomfort with Amsterdam in the past months.
As a foreigner in this city, no matter how long I might be living here, there will be times when my sense of home will seem very distorted and disorienting.
It is exactly because of this that I have decided that I will invest quite a lot in the quality of my surrounding. Therefore like any good Dutchman, I have decided I will spend a crucial part of this Sunday afternoon at the Bijenkorf. There I will look for things to buy which will freshen up my surrounding.
In cases like mine, when one is trying too feel more at home, I suppose it is easier to base your decision to buy stuff out of attraction, appeal or because they remind you of something in the past (preferably a pleasant experience/memory).
Only after a few months will these same objects acquire a spirit and a flavor (again a Шмек) of their own. They will begin to remind you of situations, or times in the day, pleasant of unpleasant, with their own charm. Of course the unpleasant ones we can always chuck out and concentrate on the good things in life.
If nothing else, the feeling that something is yours (sort of created by you) in its entirety, can be a source of unparalleled satisfaction in a dull rainy Amsterdam winter afternoon.
So my tip for you on a Sunday is: Go to Bijenkorf (or your own local equivalent) - Because life is all in the details!
Friday, September 07, 2007
My first encounter with Yoga was 4 years ago when I traveled to the Shivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat at Nassau, Paradise Island of the Bahamas. (An Ashram refers to an intentional community formed primarily for spiritual uplifting of its members, often headed by a religious leader or mystic, often referred to as a Yogi).
It was truly magical, I remember, to be in such an isolated island in the Bahamas, with overwhelming natural beauty all around, conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation.
In 2002, I was asked by a friend I had met in New York whether I would be interested to travel to the Bahamas and give a sequence of lectures to people training to become Yogis, on peaceful conflict resolution and mediation, based on my own work with conflict resolution in South Eastern Europe. Essentially, she wanted me to talk from the point of view of a young man, who has experienced and also worked arduously with other youth in conflict environments. She was, of cause, also responsible for the Forum of World Religions within the UN, and had chaired the Committee for a longer time.
Without thinking twice I accepted the offer which at the time sounded too good to be true...
Now four years on I am once again confronted with Yoga, but this time I feel I have a refined, more mature awareness and sensibility to its teachings.
Even 4 years ago the Ashram itself was full of incredible and fascinating new discoveries.
I will never forget the scary episode which happened to me in the Bahamas a la E.M. Forster’s character of Adela in the Marabar Caves, from his novel “A Passage to India”. It was a terrifying experience of realization of my own lack of spirituality - comparable to a spiritual Pandora’s Box!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
It has taken me a longer time to put my thoughts together and try to verbally transit them. A tedious task since I have come back even more confused and with a feeling of cognitive desperation.
There is no, one, right, way to describe a mood – it is to be experienced and felt in a moment in time. I also do not dare to generalize, but simply to speak of my point of view in reference to my own contexts and other previous experiences of seemingly similar situations.
Georgia is a classical case of post-Soviet Communism, with a devastated economy, whose people are convinced of their European heritage and identity. A country where food is not merely a means to nutrition and life, but an outright science – where quality is also assessed through its abundance - Fit for a king (or should I say Stalin)! A phenomenon that stands in stark contrast to the overreaching poverty in the country, so visible on the main streets of its capital city, Tbilisi.
Highlights were: indeed, the excellent food, the sulfur Hamam-like baths, the folklore, the architecture, its proud people, and possibly most of all the protracted, heartfelt and wonderful toasts given at a traditional Georgian dining table.
Georgia is a country of firm and die-hard believers in Georgian Orthodoxy. I had the opportunity to also visit the seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Mshketa. I have never in my life seen such zealotry as that manifested by Georgian church goers. The ecclesiastic protocol is such that one goes around the church and shows one’s devotion by praying at virtually all frescos including kissing the martyrs’ feet portrayed in the images - lighting a handful of church candles, (for women) wearing a head scarf, special prayer at the church alter and finally lingering on in the church, leaning on one of the columns in contemplation before going about one’s business.
All in all, a fascinating image, which to me seemed more like hypnosis – a mass of disillusioned and broken individuals under a spell in search for metaphysical salvation from the cruelty of the material life.
It was difficult to be there, to witness my own obliviousness to the human need for direction and spiritual revelation.
Work wise the meetings which I organized in Georgia shed some further light on the overarching familiar disillusionment resulting from a failed political system.
I had the opportunity to meet many interesting, bright, young people in Georgia.
Before departing a rush of powerlessness and hopelessness came upon me while I was packing my bag.
The next morning with a happy face my colleague and I set off to Armenia to continue what we labeled as an adventurous holiday in the Wild, Wild East. The six hour car ride worked up a storm in my stomach. My advice: Don’t drive in the Caucasus – find a driver… it is part of the experience to be driven.
The car ride was like my own personal formula 1 rally, bump ride. In Armenia cars, (probably due to size) have the absolute right of way! Pedestrians are mere bumps on the road to TRY to avoid if possible, but by no means to stop or slow down.
After stopping for a break (read: a throw up session) we continued the Tbilisi-Yerevan ride in the big black Mercedes through the magnificent mountainous terrains of Armenia and its completely human-depleted regions.
It was like passing one ghost town after the next. My tour guide (read: Lonely Planet Guide) mentioned something about 2/3 of the 4 million Armenian inhabitants living in the capital Yerevan, and the rest in the impoverished countryside. Though it was like a time-machine (traveling a zillion miles a minute) I was happy to be in the big bad Mercedes car heading for Yerevan.
We arrived in the hot afternoon to a sizzling 42 degrees. I found Yerevan to be much more of a Mediterranean city (or European if you wish) than Tbilisi. An architectural combination of classical modern (Communist) architecture, and contemporary architectural designs. It felt like Yerevan was built after the Cold War, only to find out that old classical Armenian architecture is no longer ‘in’ among the nouveaux riches of the architectural elites of Yerevan. So, old buildings were simply torn down and replaced by huge glass monsters.
Armenia is known in the world for a number of things. Among others are: Cognac, especially the Ararat brand (which Stalin would have shipped to Churchill in crates during the Cold War – a MUST for tourists to try), its diaspora (which makes up for three times the population living in Armenia today), the Armenian Church (not to be mixed up with the Coptic Church).
Economically it was very clear that Armenia is better off than its Georgian neighbor, and yet politically more problematic given corruption in all levels of government, contraband, and its links with Russia (satellite state) and Iran (oil/energy).
The economic revival has been mostly attributed to Armenians powerful and relatively wealthy diaspora (mostly living in the USA, Russia and Europe) that injects millions of Euros back into the Armenian economy through real estate ventures, private endowments, sponsorships and direct government support.
A few things I enjoyed a lot were: the lavish fruit assortments served with a glass of Ararat Cognac, the extremely friendly inhabitants of Yerevan, the market next to the Iranian mosque, and spending time with my colleague/friend Isabelle indulging in the galore which is Armenian salads and fruits.
One thing which is inescapable in Armenia is the topic of the Armenian Genocide which was carried out by the Turks at the beginning of the 20th century. What Armenians call ‘European Armenia’ is currently part of the Turkish Republic. The famous Mountain Ararat (as in the Cognac brand) is an inherent part of Armenian identity. Today this mountain territory belongs to Turkey. It is ironic that Armenians are reminded of the genocide and the geographical partition of the country by this very mountain which overlooks Yerevan from beyond the closed off Armenian frontier with Turkey.
Armenians claim that more than 2 million Armenians were massacred by the Turks, whereas Turkey refuses to recognize the crimes as genocide and claim that a mere few thousand Armenians were non-systematically killed.
November will be the next time I travel to the region, this time to Georgia for the Arts Festival organized by the Stichting Caucasus Foundation, and then to Baku, in Azerbaijan for a few meetings with colleagues there. I will be very curious to see Azerbaijan, especially after my travels to Georgia and Armenia.
Recently I read that Azerbaijan holds first place in economic grown in the world, with a whooping 26% economic growth in 2007.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
When working for a relatively bigger cultural foundation, size DOES matter, therefore number of participants too.
At this relatively small gathering a lot was said about the different activities that individuals and organizations are undertaking in the countries of the Mediterranean basin, European, African and Middle Eastern.
Within one of the workshops a Dutch artist shared his experience of running a (brilliant) project in the divided city of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. Basically, this project was about creating an improvised orchestra, using artists and non-artists on both sides of the wall dividing the Turkish and Greek parts of the island. Speaking about his ambitions he said he wanted his art to transcend its artistic nature and transform as well as deform reality; or in other words, enabling reality to become art through spontaneity. It all sounded quite odd to me!
Imagine, he said, if one could create an impeccable musical harmony by having a whole city neighborhood, in all its habitual existence, all of a sudden burst into song. So you would have people on the street, people in homes, people in cars, and people on bikes singing in perfect group harmony and synchronization - sort of a musical like thing, I guess.
When he saw that I was looking at him like a “chicken looks at a sewing machine” (see earlier posts) he told me a short story he had experienced: There was once a musician from rural-land China that was brought to Western Europe to attend a classical music concert. He had never been in Europe, never seen a concert, nor had he ever the chance to listen to musical instruments which are used in classical concerts. At the night of the concert he was sat at one of the better seats, with optimal acoustics. A 30 minute warm-up or the orchestra preceded the concert of the famous Beethoven piece due that night.
At the end of the protracted classical concert, the Chinese guest was asked which part of the Beethoven piece he like best. He replied, “The first part - before the lights were dimmed!”
Beauty is not always to be found in the art or art!
This made me think how we live our lives today, under codes of conduct which we have established ourselves through our society – making life monotonous, predictable and simply dull.
I respect artists because they have the ambition and creativity to draw our attention to the many things which we have stopped questioning, and realizing. And by doing so they give us a mental slap on the face (and brain) and smile kindly at us saying: “but how could you have not seen that before?!”
Thursday, June 28, 2007
So I went to work, ended up in a longer meeting and not really working. After the long meeting I thought I would go to the gym and run it out. When I got there I sort of accidentally ended up going to a yoga class, which was great though.
Upon leaving the gym I saw I had a few missed called from a friend who I had not seen in a long time. So I listened to my voice messages, only to find out that he had called to invite me to a George Michael concert in the Amsterdamse Arena (basically the football stadium where the Ajax club do a lot of partying). His neighbor had given him two tickets for the concert.
When I saw the time I realized the concert had already begun. I gave him a call anyway to thank him and say how MUCH I would have loved to go…
Long story short he was in his car sort of on his way there, so he drove by and picked me up and we went to see George perform Outside in Arena!
It was a great concert, I didn’t stop dancing. My friend was so very kind to offer me his spare ticket, since his loving half was not able to go.
It’s strange how when we really want someone to be there next to us, to enjoy - we almost imagine that one is there next to us also enjoying it. This way I had a feeling that they were in fact both there with me dancing, enjoying, and making nasty comments about what George was wearing.
Though age has caught up with the reformed pubic WC-cruiser, his voice seemed to be unaffected!
So at the end of the day I ended up not having a real working day, also not really working out at the gym, and finally not meeting up with the friend I had planned to. But in any event, it was a fantastic day. I wish Amsterdammers were not so obsessed with making appointments so much. Would make life so much more spontaneous and immediate.
I love my friends because in unexpected places in unforeseen moments, they simply give you the world, without being aware of it. In this case because of my friends I had the privilege and excitement of an unplanned day, of fun, laughter and leisure.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Yesterday was an extraordinary day. It is not often that I have the pleasure and honor to lunch with a Princess – and I’m not talking about any of my Amsterdam princess-friends.
HRH Princess Margriet, the sister to HM Queen Beatrix der Nederlanden, until recently served as the President of the European Cultural Foundation, where I have been working for over 2,5 years. Her tasks have now been taken over by the Queen’s daughter-in-law, Princess Laurentien van Oranje Nassau. It was my first time to see her in a more informal setting and have more time to enjoy her company on a low-key occasion.
It turns out Princesses der Nederlanden can also enjoy a simple sandwich for lunch, with a glass of average wine. It totally shattered my childhood impressions that Royalty simply do not eat!
After the welcome speech, we went through the informal protocol of talking about the weather, and the beautiful building in which the European Cultural Foundation is housed in Amsterdam.
Highlights of the day were definitively the lavish photo sessions with the Princess in her dress - a light, summery 60s/70s dress with a beautiful flower print of prevailing pink and red colors.
After some tasty bread crusts and boozing it ont with wine, a few semi-professional-choir-singer colleagues of mine decided to give ‘Madam’ a treat to her ears. It was great a real Pride and Prejudice moment on a sunny Thursday afternoon. After a wonderful adaptation of Empty by the Cranberries, I was quite astonished when HRH made a comment indicating that the only place where she likes singing is in the shower. How wonderfully down to earth of her.
Upon departure, while thanking everyone individually Princess Margriet was fortunate enough to be holding my hand when she slipped on the garden step. I was so relieved she didn’t fall in front of me, and proud I succeeded to hold on to her! She humbly thanked me and complemented my strong arm that helped her hold on and not trip over. I felt like a real hero who saved the day!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Seeing him immaculately dressed, composed, happy - with his beautiful wife by his side - was like seeing myself in a mirror!
Growing up together, knowing him inside-out my whole life, having the worst fights and the best laughs - I felt like it was me who got married.
A week after the wedding I am now back in Amsterdam again trying to reflect back on memories and on our delphic connection. Letting go of a memory to witness growth and love is probably one of the most fulfilling images and impressions I have experienced from my last trip to Macedonia for this wedding.
The wedding was beautiful – it was loud, it was tasty, happy, drunk and exhausting… everything a perfect wedding should look like.
Apart from the fantastic aspects, it was a big meat Market – like any other mass family occasion, a wedding becomes a platform where one promotes and shows off one’s children who are at a “ripe” age to get married. In that same fashion I was introduced to around 10 beautiful women – friends of the family or distant enough relatives for a “connection” to be acceptable and permitted by law.
I miss Macedonia sometimes, usually mostly for the trivial and unimportant, crazy small reasons.
Knowing one’s roots and appreciating one’s own character as a nourishment of those roots is a key to be able to overlook the craziness and hilarity - and simply be proud and content with oneself, one’s family and one’s family’s friends.
But today I am most proud of my brother and his beautiful wife, the newest member of the house of Selim!
Monday, June 18, 2007
These thoughts, the priceless discussions, all sound different when the tone is low. Alas things are different, things have changed!
Change is what I have been preoccupied with lately - more like fascinated and terrified at the same time.
Change is an archetypical notion indoctrinated within human existence – to be aware and proud of change - to see change as a positive development! In fact change is almost congruent to progress, improvement and enhancement.
Perhaps, for the many writers who have treated the theme, change was too much of a painful endeavor. To some it was simply a loss of an ideal. Not a matter of positive or negative occurrences, simply a matter of anguish, sorrow and pain.
Romanticism was one such time in literature. The likes of Wordsworth, Byron, Dumas, Poe, Pushkin saw change happen too fast – they simply chose to go back in time to rebel – to fight change in their own minds, preserving whatever was ideal and beautiful.
For them whether imposed or initiated, change saddens the heart to a fundamental level of disaster. Pathos was therefore the engine of their drive to create and create - to produce art out of an ideal and out of remote beauty. Adapting to change was succumbing to loss of beauty – romantics chose to fight it and found enlightenment in the sheer sadness – the power to display all beauty, when it is no longer there.
It seems there is one thing more terrifying than the rest. In change one sees truth - truth which becomes unbearable without the familiar. What is worse, there is an inherent unflattering certainty about that truth – a realization that truth is consequential. No matter the change, the world keeps on turning.
Have I seen the truth, or am I just a lost romantic, lost as ever?
A friend of mine read out a poem for me, written by Wystan Hugh Auden called “The More Loving One” which perfectly illustrates this post:
The More Loving One
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
W. H. Auden
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Two years ago I moved to the Netherlands. This change of cultural and geographical context constantly challenges me to not only adapt and adjust but also question my own values and principles, as well as assess Dutch societal dynamics.
Recently a friend of mine told me: the best way to fit in in the Netherlands is to be ignorant (mostly mistaken to be tolerance).
These words continue chiming in my head.
Though pragmatic, I am a terribly curious cultural manager, I will bring in my experience from working for a rather unique organization in Amsterdam, the European Cultural Foundation - an independent organization committed to culture, the arts and Europe.
Before I go on please allow me to briefly tell you about some activities of the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) in the context of today’s topic:
- Since 2006 the ECF has streamlined most of its activities toward intercultural dialogue. This means that the ECF explores people's actual artistic and cultural experiences of diversity. ECF campaigns for cultural policies and conditions that help to make these experiences positive ones.
- Last year ECF with partners launched The Civil Society Platform for Intercultural Dialogue to help ensure that the 2008 EU Year of Intercultural Dialogue has much more than merely symbolic importance.
European cultural organizations and networks, as well as organizations dealing with related issues such as migration, education, youth and social affairs, are part of the platform. The platform's aims are to map, exchange and disseminate best practice throughout Europe; produce content, policy analysis and recommendations; act as a consultative body for the EU in its preparations for the Year of Intercultural Dialogue; and to make its own contribution to 2008.
The platform will meet twice a year during an initial 3-year pilot phase.
- Another interesting programme is ECF’s Mobility fund called STEP beyond, which stimulates and supports individuals in cross-cultural creative projects throughout the European continent. This fund motivates young artists and cultural practitioners to explore, experience, gain inspiration and stimulate innovative creative connections through:
§ Exploring unknown grounds and discovering different ways of working and networking as well as
§ Collaborating and exchanging views and ideas
- Apart from its regular Grant Programme supporting European projects the ECF is currently also developing a new project that will be launched early this summer. It is an online community for people and organisations working in the field of culture in Europe. The project is a network of cultural users connected to other users to share: projects, information, contact details, personal opinions, etc.
- Through European experience we at the ECF focus on the ‘migration of minds', we explore the potential richness of ‘trans-cultural' identities and advocate the best conditions for developing intercultural competence.
Today people are increasingly less interested in organizations. They are interested in causes. Causes they can now engage in, in a variety of ways.
Today we will of course try to go beyond plain words and discuss causes such as global citizenship, cultural mobility, education, and cultural diversity.
Increase in worldwide migration is presenting new challenges to civic, cultural and human rights education. Countries in Europe have become migration societies characterized by ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, but also by manifold and complex national, cultural and social traditions. It is due to migration and other social dynamics that: education, knowledge and facilitated mobility are becoming crucial in fostering a shared European Citizenship.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today is not an ordinary day. Think of the speed in which we today access information. We live the NOW generation, the age of the impatient person. According to a recent survey, the patience of the regular internet user waiting for a website to be opened does not exceed more than a few seconds.
Information is simply a few seconds away. However, this does not mean that our world today automatically makes anyone an expert.
Though internet can bring people together around subjects of common interest, it cannot replace social or geographical societies. Face to face communication is crucial in rapidly changing societies. Mobility is the engine of democracy today through which individuals gain knowledge, experience and comprehend today’s current social dynamics.
European educational programmes like Leonardo, and Erasmus for students have been indispensable for creating vibrant and globally competitive citizenship.
As the world seems to be getting smaller and mobility an ever common occurrence, participation in global trends and indeed new developments is also becoming an Everyman business.
There is something inherently wrong with our system of governance, as we heard yesterday. Freedom to move, to be mobile, is one of the four fundamentals of economic freedoms. It results in: Learning, Objectivity, Earning, Openness and Broadening of horizons.
Mobility is a right of every citizen and it is therefore a constituting pillar of citizenship.
Mobility is essentially the stuff that citizenship is made of. So what went wrong?
When talking about mobility, it would be remiss not to point out the obvious: The clear political connotation difference between the terms immigrants/migrants in Europe (with a negative undertone) and communities which are mobile in Europe (with a positive undertone).
It seems the term FAIR needs to be associated to freedom of movement – to create and foster a global European citizenship.
Intercultural dialogue, and mobility serve to engage people not just as spectators. Culture and mobility, in tandem, spell out a win-win situation for European integration. Therefore positive implications of mobility must also be very closely considered. Coordinated actions through independent educational projects with this aim can make a great impact on citizenship education in European migration societies.
Today some countries in the EU look on to incoming migration (even to migration resulting from EU enlargement) with fear, desperation and impossibility.
Mobile individuals or migrants (whatever you prefer!) with hybrid cultural backgrounds play a central role in the process of education, culture and integration. However what we lack today in Europe is an institutionalized infrastructure out of which individuals can learn and have their voices heard. What we lack is an anthropological approach to integration and migration policies.
Therefore, efficient and improved information on mobility is crucial. Cultural studies and studies on impacts on mobility/migration should be incorporated within extracurricular activities and taught to young people in Europe - to create an equality of citizenship among all Europeans.
The software of citizenship also needs reexamining, in order to foster more accountability and responsibility among individuals and communities. Our aim today is to create a MOBILITY CULTURE as well as a culture of being mobile. Cultural education in this sense is a way to provide migrants with political curricula - to connect citizenship education to migrants.
There are a number of commendable organizations which are currently running inspiring projects: facilitating acceptance, accountability, redefined cultural identities and a new social cohesion.
Europe would not be what it is without its diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen, without migration in Europe (or mobility) I would also not be here today and have the honor to introduce to you this session.
Migration has given Europe a myriad of advantages, opportunities, progress and competitiveness – positive impacts to which many politicians remain oblivious and dismissive.
Unfortunately, we live a new form of modern apartheid. Today’s apartheid defines inclusion and exclusion along ethnic and social borders. A new class system of cultural and political citizenship levels has emerged, thereby creating varying degrees of social stratification.
There are also many examples successfully combating these new cultural frontiers. Yet, diversity, for long a core mantra of Europe, has become ambivalent, a source of politicised discomfort and individual insecurity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today I can still not give you a simple universally accepted definition on what it means to be Dutch. I am still struggling as a newcomer in the Netherlands to position my own identity and therefore find my own space in Dutch society.
Perhaps, in the end, my Dutch friend was to some extent right. Perhaps we are all sometimes slightly ignorant (which we camouflage as tolerance). Perhaps, as a Macedonian living in The Netherlands, I will always remain Macedonian. One thing I know for certain; being in the Netherlands I have still not got used to Dutch food. Though living in the Netherlands has given me perspectives which I otherwise would have never had. Mobility has enabled me to become objective toward my own culture and has emphasized my sense of citizenship.
Mobility is a fact of life in Europe – and Europe needs an accelerated view on mobility, migration, education and culture. Citizenship education develops a common sense of purpose and belonging which European societies desperately need.
I came to Portugal for a conference on Citizenship education, migration policy and mobility in the EU. All in all good times, and interesting discussions.
Meeting new people is also part of mobility and through meeting new people finding out new choices. Speaking to a colleague yesterday about professional ambitions, we ended up talking about so called LIFE LAUNDRY.
Life laundry in essence means assessing one’s life goals, and basically filtering out what is necessary and what not.
After thinking about my own wishes, needs and expectations, I find a lot of things that compose my day to day life might be a little too redundant. So I have decided to make some changes, and focus on personal development. Apart from fully throwing myself to learning more about the process of identity building in the Netherlands, I have decided to also work more on personal education, on matters which I work with but on which I am not theoretically educated. To some extent I would like, as much as possible, to get rid of certain insecurities but also base my practical, and empirical results and outcomes on proved theory. Perhaps going back to doing a second MA would be a good step and a logical way forward. I realize more and more that what I would like to learn more about is policy development and comparative political dynamics in the EU. Of course I strongly believe that South Eastern Europe should remain my domain since to this topic I also bring in my personal experience which means a more anthropological approach to developments in that region.
My time in Lisbon made me think more and more about a necessity to carry out “laundry” initiatives on more aspects of my life. To in a way optimize performance through introspection, which also means to take courage to localize my deficit and act upon it. It definitively does take guts to do so. Since once one identifies a deficit it becomes very difficult to go on without making bigger changes in life – at least this is the case with me.
Thanks to my current job at the European Cultural Foundation, I am lucky to be able to travel as much as I do and to have this opportunity to self-assess. In the next post I will publish the speech that I gave at the Cultural Centre of Belem on 28 April.