Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thessaolniki Conference: Day 1

Our first “real day” of the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar, started with a yummy fulfilling breakfast! I was, of course, one of the first people down there from our group. But slowly the others started trickling down. (As a note, these early wake ups have seriously messed up my sleeping schedule! I am still waking up at about 7:30-8 am, but am staying up later than when I did at the conferences…) This was also part of our “informal social time” built into the conference schedule. (yes, they tagged breakfast as social time, like we weren’t already going to do that.) After social time, we headed across the street to the sister hotel of where we were staying and got ready for the conference to officially open.
The executive director of the Fulbright commission in Greece was there to open the conference up! She was followed by the Consulate General in Thessaloniki, Catherine Kay (I had already talked to her and looked forward to meeting her in person. Before we headed down there we received an email from some one at the Fulbright Commission [who shall remain nameless] asking use to use FYROM instead of Republic of Macedonia or even Macedonia while giving our presentations for the sensibilities of those who were in the audience of Greek origin. We were outraged to say the least. It is repeated over and over and over that our research is ours alone and doesn’t represent the official US government views and how we are independent researchers. But here we were being asked to change our views and our research. We were not cool with this (there were three of us asked to do this). I emailed our embassy here asking them how did they diplomatically deal with this issue so I could try to find a diplomatic response. And ended up involving our embassy, the consulate in Thessaloniki, the IIE office in DC, and the embassy in Albania. In the end, it was suggested by Catherine that we just use Macedonia and not mention the dispute in public. Or at least in our presentations.) She was quickly followed by George Frowick, the Cultural Attaché at the US Embassy in Athens. They then answered a few questions that we put to them, before having to run away to their next engagement.

They showed us a video of Fulbright Greece since 1948. It was highlighting the different accomplishments and programs that the Fulbright Commission in Greece has done since the beginning of the Fulbright program. They are the 2nd longest program in the world and the longest in Europe. (According to Wikipedia, China was the first program ever.) I tried to find the video for you, but to no avail, it is not online anywhere! After a short break, we had our first student presentations. Like the presentations in Ohrid, I think these deserve a bit about each one, so you get that now! Even if you don’t like it!  :)

The first presentation was by Dr. Leon Nar, who is a professor of Greek Literature in Thessaloniki. It was supposed to be on “Thessaloniki, the Future of the Past 1912-2012,” but it was more on the random history of the city. He jumped all over the place from place to place in the city to different times. So forgive me if these notes are a bit convoluted. Apparently on August 5, 1917, there was a 30 hour fire that destroyed the city, especially in the Jewish community area.  Greece also participated in the “exchange of populations” with the Ottoman Empire.  The Muslim populations “left” Greece and moved to Turkey while the Greeks “left” Turkey and went to Greece. However, many of these people didn’t speak any other language than the one that they left. Then WW2 happened, and 50 thousand were taken and only 2,000 returned. This obviously decimated the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki. Also to add insult to injury, Jewish gravestones were used to pave the roads and build houses while Greece was occupied. Throughout the years, Thessaloniki was neither a province or a capital. It occupied a weird position of having existed longer than Athens, but not being the capital. (About this time I got lost in his monotone reading of 20 some odd pages without stopping and had trouble paying attention. ) He did mention something about former Yugoslav people moving towards Greece after 1991. I wanted to ask him about how Greece doesn’t recognize minorities, but our questions were shushed because he had to go to work and lecture.

Then we had lunch upstairs at the hotel. It was a salad, meat option or pea stew, and dessert. It was interesting to talk to people more and get a bit more of a feeling of what others are doing. We also got to talk with a lady who is a fellow completing research for her next book.

Then we had our first student presentations.  They were “kind of” grouped into related topics. But not really. The first group had four people presenting.

Gerald “Bill” Gugerty, The Sexy Microfinance Industry: Dispelling Myths to Refocus on Poverty”: In the 1970’s the industry became “sexy,” and has even been called this in academic publications apparently. 2005 was actually called the Year of Microfinance. But there are a few negatives: the over promotion of sustainability , anti-private market moves, and the lack of concern for the environment. A major problem is that the movement could be self-sustaining, it collects enough interest to pay bills and fund new ideas. Some microfinance agencies have become self-sustainable, but they are still being funded by the major aid agencies. But in becoming sustainable, many have a mission drift with no longer focusing on alleviating poverty. These “sustainable” ones are funding bigger loans that are still not fundable by normal means, but they are too big to be real community changers, and many people are left out of the loan process.  If they are sustainable, then private investors can choose to invest in it rather than have aid funds.  Another problem is the environment. It is often overlooked or ignored in the progress of development. This is really troubling because poor people rely disproportionately on the land they work for their survival. If their loans help them destroy the land, then they are not able to continue providing for themselves. We need to refocus on the poor and poverty alleviation as the main goal.

Anja Vojvodic, Women in Politics: Progress and Impact in the Serbian Context: In Serbia, there are no legal form of discrimination against women.  They make up 22% of the national assembly. Further,  2 of 17 ministers are female. Out of 150 mayors, 10 are women. But out of the 23 city mayors, only 1 is female. The Ministry of Social and Labor Policy recently did a survey and found that 43 % of Serbians believe that abortion should only be legal for health reasons. When Serbia wrote the National Strategy for Gender Promotion/Equality law, they wrote it so that every 3rd person on the party lists should be the under-represented gender. (Not specifically female or male, so in case it changes down the road.) Women usually run to help change the situation in Serbia

Richelle Bernazzoli, Keeping the State Viable: The security-Identity-Integration Triangle in ‘Euro-Atlantic’ Croatia: The security/identity nexus is where identity is fluid and context based, with geographies of inside/outside. Security is about guarding real and imagined boundaries. When we look at NGOs, state sovereignty might be strengthened by EU/NATO structures. A representative of the Meshihat Islamic Community, stated that they were no longer a minority party because they were now part of the larger international community. There is also the idea that Croatia has fought harder for western democracy than any other state and deserves to be a part of the EU with in Croatia. When looking at integration, people look towards identities that are beyond their national ones.

Cody Brown, Risky Endeavors: He is looking at those who participated in the Croatian Homeland War (1991-95). Participation was largely voluntary, and there wasn’t a draft. He is looking at why they decided to join. Literature states that it was greed (material gain) or grievance (oppression by the Serbs) that led people to join. However, his research doesn’t agree with these findings. If it was material interest, the soldiers didn’t see anything for the first 6-8 months. Of the 14 people included in this presentation, 10 of them had grievances: 2 had partisan family deaths, 4 had been arrested by the communists, 2 faced harassment, 10 were NDH supporters (the wrong side of the war in WW2). But given that killing was indiscriminate (not military targets), it represented a threat to all groups not just a specific group. Regardless of the attitudes to the other group (ie Serbs) it might be riskier to NOT participate than to participate. When asked why they joined at the time that they did, those he has interviewed replied: fighting was all around-7, Croats would be slaves if we didn’t fight-8, couldn’t watch it go on with out me-6, wanted revenge-1, independence-8.

After a short coffee break we went back for more student presentations. There were also four people in this panel!

Nicholas Sveholm, A Mighty, Crumbling Fortress: Diaspora, Romania’s German Speakers and the Volksgemeinschaft: After WW1, the Germans discovered that they had lost “brothers” in other areas, after they lost part of their territory. The ironic part, is that Romania was never part of an Unified Germany. Yet, diaspora organizations were created to aid those who were separated from Germany. The aid organizations used these areas as case studies to see what is really “German.” Mostly the aid organizations helped on a cultural level with schools and churches. These people rarely defined the diaspora, but the people who did define it were based in religion. There is some language difference between the two groups (mainland Germany and the Romanian enclave). The Germans in Romanian applied to help from the Germans in Germany when taking tests in Romanian, because they didn’t know that language very well.

Daniel Pout, Negotiating Identity: States, Migrants, and the Instability of Proper Names: (This one isn’t as long, because he was mostly telling stories about the people he interviewed and I didn’t wrote those down.) Identity is never just about the self, but it is also about the community. The state authorities (at borders) yield a lot of power in deciding who you are. But how do you convince others that you are who you say you are? Borders aren’t just at the state level anymore. When 6,000 ethnic Macedonians “left” Greece and went to Bulgraia, most of them then moved on to Macedonia because they felt like that was a better homeland. Even though the Greeks considered them Bulgarians and they were encouraged to take Bulgarian citizenship.

Ellen Rhudy, Identities Formed in Opposition: Albanian National Identity in Albania, Macedonia and Kosova: (Ellen lived in Debar, MK as a Peace Corps for a few years, which is where many of her stories come from.) In Debar many people strongly identified with their Albanian roots even more strongly than in Albania. They often would recognize the Greater Albania idea. They even named some kids after towns in Albania. While they are Muslims, they practice a slightly different way than those in Albania proper. The Macedonian-Albanians are working within the legal system of MK, but those in Kosova succeed from their state. Albania was created in the 1930s, but it wasn’t Albania deciding where they borders were- the Great Powers were. While there is a strong regional identity, they unit over other factors (such as religion). The “oppressed Albania” idea also helps to unite the Albanians. Some of the differences that can be observed between Albanian proper and the Albanians in the other countries can be attributed to the Former Yugoslav times when they were separated.

Andy Halterman, Exploring the success of Vetёvendosje: The Vetёvendosje are a left wing Albanian nationalist organization founded in 2004 (after the UN administration). They successfully use Albanian imagery in their advertisements. They never use the Kosovo flag. They have had political meetings in virtually every village. They were a social movement until the most recent election when they joined the national legislature. Now they balance political power  and street activities. They appeal to the idea that independence is an ongoing process. He is seeing how they succeed and why. And how they are able to negotiate the political party vs. grassroots idea.

After the presentations we went to the Consulate for dinner. Dinner was basically the exact same thing as the day before. Did I mention how delicious those potatoes were? But we got to meet and talk with Catherine Kay (the Consulate General mentioned earlier).  It was nice to just talk to people again and relax. While I wasn’t allowed to get a picture that day of the consulate, I was the next day. (but got yelled at). Like seriously people. If I was a terrorist or something, do you really think that a random picture of an elevator is going to do anything for me? But I digress.

After dinner, we went and had drinks by the White Tower. More chit chatting and hanging out with Americans = more fun! Greece even sells alcohol after 7 pm! (shocker, right?!?!?) Then sleep for another early day!

See you around the world!

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