Mladic found

mladic_arrestedWhile Yuri Gagarin was my heroic rocket into Russia, General Ratko Mladic was my runaway genocidal horse cart into Serbia. I would never compare the two men. I’m just saying it’s sometimes handy to have a focus when entering new territory. And actually my original entry into Serbia in the late 1990s was via the crazy kinetic music of gypsy brass bands. Guca! But I soon got confused by the discovery that this music – developed and played by Rromani musicians – had evolved into becoming the nationalist soundtrack to the idea of a ‘greater Serbia’. How did that happen? Yes, the war in former Yugoslavia proved to be very confusing. For a while I retreated into being a tourist: enjoying the food, the drink, the dance, the people and the non-war stories. I also enjoyed being asked: ‘Um, you do know that lately we don’t actually get a lot of tourists around here?’ Regardless, ignorance was bliss and I even ended up discovering some lovely and largely forgotten wine regions in Bosnia and Croatia… Yes, it’s vital to remember what happened in Vukovar, but it’s also important to visit a place like nearby Ilok. People are people – and the nice ones are often best enjoyed with a glass of fine wine.  

Later, almost 10 years ago, I spent a few months living in Belgrade with my ex-Yugo ex-girlfriend who was working on NIOD’s Srebrenica Report. She was there for Mladic and I was along for the ride. Milosevic had just been arrested two months earlier and so it was hoped that Mladic was soon to follow – or at least that he would want to tell his side of the story of what happened in Srebrenica when the Bosnian Serb troops under his command rounded up and methodically massacred 8000 Moslem men and boys. We ended up staying in Belgrade through 11 September 2001 – witnessing the dawn of the emerging apocalypse in a post-apocalyptic city. It made a deep impression.

My ex-Yugo Ex never did get to talk to Mladic even though he was still being spotted enjoying football matches and restaurants around town (and apparently living – bizarrely – on Yuri Gagarin Boulevard). But we did get to share mixed grill with one of Mladic’s best friends. And while I don’t have the balls to name him by name, I can say with all confidence that this general was a scary little shit – a true mini Mladic, but one who had cut a deal with the International War Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to cover his ass.

Sadly, there is no justice for all. But at least today I can finally update the introduction to my Welcome to Yugoville archive which asked ‘Where’s Mladic?’ The runaway genocidal horse cart is now behind bars a few kilometres up the road in The Hague. Perhaps his presence there will help remind many of the governments of Europe – in particular the Dutch one – that flirting with nationalism/populism is as a dangerous game as it’s always been. Sorry to preach in clichés, but it can really still happen anywhere. That’s what I learned in Serbia – and the rest of former Yugoslavia. People are people. Politicians are politicians. And the damaged are damaged and often dangerous – Mladic being the perfect example. There are always those who are willing to turn the rhetoric of politicians into something bloody. But meanwhile I think I might finally plan a return trip for some crazy ass brass at Guca. Hopefully the people are closer to completely liberating the music back from the politicians. Then we can really eat, drink and dance.

Posted: June 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm.

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Yuri Gagarin in Cuba (50 Years of human space flight)

The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin (1934-68), was our rocket into Russia. But it was usually a wintery Russia. So it was a refreshing change when last month he had us blast us off to a warmer place: Cuba. It was also a bit of a different planet. So thank you, Yuri. Thank you.

Gagarin will always be Cosmonaut Number One. But he also came to hold another title: president of the Soviet-Cuban Friendship Society.  As such, the tiny cosmonaut who had conquered the vastness of outer space also became a symbol for a tiny nation who had seemingly conquered the vastness of American business interests. It was interesting times…

Barely a week after Gagarin’s first flight on 12 April 1961, the US-backed invasion of Playa Giron (AKA Bay of Pigs) tried to overthrow Fidel Castro’s two-year-old revolutionary government. But the attack only worked to strengthen Castro’s position and ally Cuba more closely with the Soviet Union. The resulting increased tensions with the US would build up towards the Cuban Missile Crisis (AKA October Crisis) 18 months later.

So what exactly was the role of the first off-world traveller in the events around what many consider the closest the world ever got to blowing itself up?

In Havana, we not only got to ask the first black dude in space (who incidentally credited his dentist wife for his Yuri-competing grin), but also an old chess-playing buddy of Che…  Thanks Yuri! We also went off-road in search of a school and a goose farm named after Gagarin. It was ‘ganso journalism’ at its best. Especially since due to unforeseen circumstances (stereotypically involving an unlicensed 1950s Chevy and a young lady of the Revolutionary Police), we went without an interpreter. But luckily the international language of Yuri got us far (as you can see in the above clip).

However the fact that the Spanish word for goose, ganso, is also Cuban slang for gay, did lead to a few moments of deep confusion. Thanks again Yuri!

Posted: April 12, 2011 at 10:05 am.


World’s biggest kroket


My friends, the brothers Marijn en Michiel Slager of Zeeuwse monster rock band Nuff Said, just posted their above video report (in Dutch) from the ‘world’s biggest kroket’ event that took place in Amsterdam in October 2007. I was also reporting from this special day in grease history. I recall being as excited as Kermit the Frog when he reported live from the scene of Humpty Dumpty’s nasty fall. Now thanks to the Slager Brothers, I can relive those happy, but mixed, memories. I pasted my own report here:

A marketing sham. But at least it was a freebie feast.
Amsterdam Weekly, 1 November 2007
By Steve Korver

Kom op, met die grootste kroket,’ says a 10-year-old boy, pretty much summing up the anticipation felt on Rembrandtplein last Saturday, before the kroket manufacturers Van Dobben presented their much-hyped ‘world’s biggest kroket’ — a 250 kilogram, one-and-half-metre long and half-metre thick hunk of deep-fried meat-and-potato goo, which required a bubbling bath of 1,200 litres of oil to bring its shell to maximum crustiness.

A talking head from the company explains over the microphone about how they wanted — with the help of an advertising agency — to do something ludieks, and give something back to Amsterdam. ‘After all, they’ve taken away most of our amsterdammertjes.’ So, Van Dobben decided, as compensation for the loss of these iconic parking poles, to give the world its biggest kroket ever. It makes perfect sense really.

As the crowd grows restless, personnel are handing out — for ‘gratis, eh’ — regular-sized kroketten, not only of  the standard beef ragout version, but also ones stuffed with haring, beer, apple pie or pea soup (the ‘snertkroket’ as one onlooker described it). All of these versions had been submitted to public scrutiny in an online vote during the past month, to decide which of the fillings would form the stuffing of the elephantine version.

As the volkszanger Dries Roelvink takes the stage, a thick Amsterdam accent rises from the crowd to note how the overtly tanned Roelvink is the perfect poster boy for this event: ‘Hij ziet er uit als een doorgebakken kroket!

Roelvink was the ambassador for the idea that the world’s biggest kroket should have the pea-soup filling. When Petra Boots, the editor of Weekend who’s presenting on stage, makes a joke about how it would have been more fitting for him to have represented the beer kroket, he answers: ‘Well you’ve obviously never seen me in my yellow swimming trunks.’ The crowd exchanges looks of deep confusion: What the hell does that mean?’

Finally the big moment arrives, as the monster kroket — supposedly filled with the vote-winning standard beef ragout — gets rolled up the red carpet, accompanied by a meatball shaped security guard with a handlebar moustache. The crowd presses in with cameras over their heads, so they can have a good look. Another chunky Amsterdam accent enquires: ‘What’s going on? Do they think a naked lady is going to pop out of there?’

It’s a mob. Kids start breaking out in tears. A mother starts to panic and call out for her ‘Luukje!’ The woman behind the microphone tries to keep the mood light: ‘There’s a kid under the kroket!’ The mother is not amused. More children start crying. And is that a fight breaking out in the corner?

Finally, the crowd thins enough for less aggressive folk to come in close for a gander. It’s big alright. The size of a human hotdog. But it’s also a big disappointment. Only a few people actually taste it and for good reason, it seems: the crust/ragout ratio is obviously out of whack — it’s pretty much the same thickness as a normal kroket, and the filling is obviously more potato than ragout.

When asked what’s going to happen with the kroket now the display is over, a man in a Van Dobben uniform answers: ‘I guess it’ll go in the recycling bin.’

But the crowd seems satisfied. Only one small group, out to give grease yet more of a chance, decides to head up the road to eat shrimp kroketten at Holtkamp on Vijzelstraat. Sometimes it’s just worth it paying the extra.

Posted: April 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm.

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Unfold Amsterdam hits the streets

Unfold_Vol01_01_COVERUnfold Amsterdam has officially hit the streets. Every two weeks, Amsterdammers will be able to pick up this free English-language poster/mag highlighting the work of local artists/designers and covering the best of what’s going down around town. Hopefully it will fill the gap left since the demise of alternative weekly Amsterdam Weekly. In fact, Unfold Amsterdam arises from the luminous efforts of some of the more luminary ex-Weekly staff and freelancers. So I dig it indeed. Especially this edition’s poster by Simon Wald-Lasowski. So check, check, check it out — or at least put your finger on the pulse by checking regularly at their sweet-looking website.

Also keep your eyes out for the Unfold special edition covering the mighty Klik Amsterdam animation festival coming up on 15-19 September.

Posted: September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am.

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Squatting Declared Illegal in the Netherlands


Squatting has been declared illegal by the national government. Is it really the end? My friend Lennart Vader of Nepco, who I used to hang out with in squats building UFOs (long story), wrote an excellent editorial last week in Het Parool newspaper where he argued that the ban was a blow against creative culture. Read it here (Dutch only). It’s simple really: free space begets free thought which begot all the things that make Amsterdam great. Including some really freaky UFOs. Below I’ve pasted my long-evolving Squat Time Line which has been published in various forms over the years.

~1000 AD – First inhabitants (i.e. fishing squatters, homo squatus) come to the boggy mouth of the Amstel to settle what is to become Amsterdam…

1275 – By granting toll privileges for beer to the hamlet, Count Floris V establishes a viable business climate.

1342 – With the building of the first city walls, the economically-challenged must now squat outside the wall’s perimeter. This establishes the trend of the poor ever moving outward as the city expands.

1613 – With the Golden Age in full effect, the canal ring is being dug and built for the housing of the prosperous. Squatters are pushed outward again…

1965 – The first squatting (in the modern sense) occurs when a young family moves into an empty living space on Generaal Vetterstraat. The general populace — not sympathetic to the way speculators held on to their (empty) properties to drive up rents and property values — begin regarding it as a viable way of dealing with the housing shortage.

1966Provos introduce the ‘White Housing Plan’.

1969 – ‘Handbook for Squatters’ becomes national best-seller

1970 – May 5th first national Squatters Day

1971 – The High Council determines that squatting does not conflict with the law — namely, entering an emptied house is not trespassing on private property. May the squatting begin… but with the extra danger of property owners now doing the evicting themselves with the aid of knokploegen (‘fighting groups’).

1975 - Ruigoord is squatted as an artists’ village of eco-hippies. Even though it was threatened to be submerged as part of the new Africa Haven, it exists to this day as a kind of snow globe for a lost age.

1978 – Groote Keyser (Keizersgracht 242-52) was established and became the focal point for the city’s 10 000 squatters.  

1979 – The establishment of Radio De Vrije Keyser (who continue to broadcast  40 years later)  occurs at the height of the squat movement.

1980 – Regarded as the most violent year since World War II. In February, hundreds of by now highly organised squatters retake Vondelstraat 72 by constructing barricades — until tanks deal with the situation. On April 30, the date of Queen Beatrix’s inauguration, huge riots break out — until tear gas deals with the situation. Squatting becomes yet more highly politicised with as a result, factions emerged and infighting occurred — just like in the real world. The beginning of the end…

1981 – A bailiff who had regularly tipped off squatters with the ‘removal’ dates of squats (so they could be ready and barricaded…) receives a gilded crowbar as thank-you.

1986 – The heyday of hard-core squatting considered over.

1998 – Two mega-squats who represented more the cultural/artistic side of squatting are emptied. After 10 years, De Graansilo, with its bakery, cafe-restaurant, dozens of artist residents and 100 000 visitors per year is emptied for high rent housing. The 1994-established Vrieshuis Amerika — home to regular parties, the largest indoor skateboard park in the country, and 75 artists and businesses — is emptied and destroyed in the name of the Sydney-fication of the harbour front…

1999 – The former Film Academy, OT301, is squatted and granted a sense of permanence as the city belatedly realises that there are no affordable inner-city spaces left for artists. The concept of establishing broedplaatsen – ‘ breeding grounds’ of the arts — enters local politics. Tax money is found to basically rebuild what had already existed at no cost…

2000 – The concept of broedplaatsen establishes itself over next decade with NDSM in Amsterdam North as poster child. Some keep the political squatting dream alive. While other more culture-oriented squats such as ADM,  Societeit de Sauna, Service Garage and Schijnheilig continue to do wacky things in wacky places.

2010 – Squatting declared illegal by national government of the Netherlands. Meanwhile most city governments (the ones who actually deal with squatting) will likely just ignore this ban for the short-term anyway.

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm.

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Unfolding Election





For those who want a, um, concise view on the national Dutch elections, my pal Floris Dogterom is writing a series of reports on the still very-BETA website of Unfold Amsterdam. This web/paper  publication is a very welcome endeavour to fill the void left by Amsterdam Weekly‘s demise and includes a lot of Weekly alumni. They won’t be truely kicking off until 1 September but meanwhile the website already features a savvy choice of what’s going down in town. Check it out! It will rule! Support!

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am.

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San Francisco Panorama

panoramaYesterday I bought a Sunday paper that should last me quite a few Sundays. It’s the one-off San Francisco Panorama brought to you by the always inspired folks behind McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. It’s pretty old already but I think it took until their third run until there were enough copies leftover to make it to Amsterdam’s Athenaeum. (But I guess I could have also just ordered it here.)

Anyway, it’s pretty mindblowing. Basically they wanted to present the relevance a paper newspaper can still have in our internet world: so it’s all in-depth journalism by amazing writers complete with high quality art, photography and design. They even give a run-down of the budget to inspire others to come up with their own daily newspaper. It actually comes across as a cross between a (really really nice) Sunday paper and a  (really really nice) alternative weekly. And certainly, if I was still the editor of an alternative weekly, I’d definitely steal — I mean, get inspired by — some of their ideas. It’s really, really that great. Gotta bless those paper products!

Posted: April 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm.

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Moscow Metro

Posted: March 31, 2010 at 6:47 am.

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Routes Award 2009














Thanks to  the  European Cultural Foundation,  I interviewed two very  inspiring folks:  Borka Pavicevic (pictured) and Stefan Kaegi. They  were the winners of  the Routes Award for Cultural Diversity 2009  for their work in theater championing the voices of  the “other”.

Borka, in particular, has long been a hero of mine ever since I first visited ex-Yugoslavia. As the founder of  Belgrade’s Centre for Cultural Decontamination, she has fought the good fight against a steady stream of nationalists, gangsters and populist pricks.  The Centre was one of the first places I went when I felt dirty  from sitting behind  Mira Markovic, wife of Milosevic, on a flight between Amsterdam and Belgrade in 2001.

I went to  the awards ceremony in Brussels a couple of weeks ago and certainly had a couple of culturally diverse moments. It was at the Royal Flemish Theater and when we arrived early,  my friend and I went to the  next door  cafe  to kill some time. The waitress  refused to talk  Dutch with us — which we thought ironic since we were at a Dutch-language theater for an award’s ceremony dedicated to cultural diversity.  

After the ceremony I went over to introduce myself to Borka and she greeted me very warmly thanks to some  common friends (ah, I do miss the Balkans sometimes…). She asked me if I had  ever met Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. I hadn’t so I shook  the princess’s  hand. Then Borka wanted to introduce me to   some Belgrade journalist — “you actually probably  know him, he’s the one that they tried to blow up with not one but two bombs.” But just as I was about  to shake his  hand, a plate of oysters came by and the crowd — royalty, journalists, etc — swooped in.  It was a moment of true diversity. The oysters were dang tasty as well.

But really, read the interviews:
Borka Pavicevic
Stefan Kaegi

Posted: February 12, 2010 at 9:36 am.

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War criminals of yesteryear, part 1

Arkans-HouseTen years ago Serbian warlord Reljko ‘Arkan’ Raznatovic  was shot dead  in the lobby of a Belgrade hotel. He was a gangster. He was a nationalist. He was the Mr Clean of ethnic cleansing. I wrote about him in ‘Arkantecture: A Field Guide to Serbian Gangster Kitsch‘.   The picture on the left is of his former home in Belgrade where I believe his widow, the turbofolk queen Ceca, still lives. Apparently a movie about Arkan starring Vinnie Jones will be released later this year.   Ouch.

Posted: January 16, 2010 at 11:24 am.

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