Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Signing off

As one small lawyer starts her new job, I regret having to sign off my blog. Below you will find snipets from an article I wrote on my experience as a lawyer working in Serbia. I will leave the post up for about a week before I pull my blog off the Internet. Thank you all for reading along with the adventure of one small lawyer.

"Happy is the country that has no history." The experience of Serbia and Montenegro shows this truth. The Balkans have been the political fault line of Europe where the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires faced off, major battles of the World Wars were fought and the Iron Curtain fell. Against this backdrop, the former Yugoslavia disintegrated, atrocities were committed on a scale unseen in Europe since World War Two and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes.

Serbia and Montenegro emerged from the conflict as a tenuous state-union with a failing economy and crumbling infrastructure. While joined in one country, Serbia and Montenegro have different laws on many issues and use different currencies. Montenegro’s upcoming referendum on separation will decide the future of the union. While the referendum is important, the negotiations over Kosovo will determine whether the country disintegrates into conflict once more. In 1999, former President Milosevic was forced to pull out of Kosovo and United Nations (UN) has governed ever since. Negotiations are currently being held to determine Kosovo’s future status. The province is divided between ethnic Albanians who want independence and ethnic Serbs who want to remain within Serbia, and negotiations are further complicated by the province’s historic and religious significance for Serbia.

Another important aspect of my work was leading the research and writing of the Annual Report on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Returnees in Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo). After reviewing all of the available literature, I drafted field research questionnaires and with my colleague, Vladmir Petronijevic, I travelled to Kosovo and Montenegro and met with representatives of the UN, the UNHCR, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and local advocates to complete our research. The report is a survey of the circumstances and rights of refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees, asylum seekers and the victims of human trafficking. We considered the conditions for integration and return, access to health care, education and justice, as well as, the issues faced by displaced people like repossession of property and pension benefits.

I was struck by how many of the problems faced by refugees and displaced people were based in the gaps in the system and could be remedied by legal reform. The importance of law to society can be more clearly seen where one can see its absence.

It was a privilege to participate as a colleague at a crucial time in the legal development of a nation. As Serbia and Montenegro faces the aftermath of Milosevic’s death, a referendum in Montenegro and negotiations of status for Kosovo, I look towards the future of a people who welcomed me and a place that will always be my second home.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Serbian as a second language - remembered

A story that will have to be included in my article... I am a sandwich.

Monday, April 24, 2006

First impressions...again

I am still taken with the friendliness of everyone in Belgrade. I think about all of the conflicts, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman, the World Wars, the Cold War, and the disintegration and isolation that followed. Given even half of this history, one would expect the people to be a little standoffish, less than welcoming. I found myself welcomed deep into the hearts of my friends and colleagues. I will never forget that welcome and Belgrade will always hold a very special place in my heart because of that warmth.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Reflection Series

Having returned from Easter with my family in the flatlands, I know must turn my attention to everything that I need to do before I start my new job and move into my new apartment (yes, one small lawyer now has shelter of her own). Two of the tasks I have to complete before May 1st are writing an executive summary for the Annual Human Rights Report for Grupa 484 and writing an article on my experiences in Serbia for the Canadian Lawyers Abroad issue of LawNow magazine. As I will be spending a lot of time reflecting on my work and my personal experiences in Belgrade, I will try to post at least one thought per day.

Today's Thought
When I first started at Grupa, everyone was getting ready for the tenth anniversary events. I had been transported from my private office in Edmonton to a small office shared by three and a very open door. There were moments when 5 or 6 people would be crowded in our office, 2-3 different conversations and/or phone calls, when I thought I would lose my mind if I heard another word in Serbian. I couldn't understand anything, it all sounded like yelling, and I was supposed to be good with language, at least I thought I was in English. I think back on those days and smile because then I think about moments only a few months later when I would understand snippets of conversation in Serbian and be lovingly coached along in simple sentences.

My efforts to be both teacher and student in an informal language exchange resulted in the Canadian Corner. I prepared this while waiting for my computer to finish downloading and saving the many reports I read as research for the annual human rights report. Very Slow Computer. You will note that the days of the week are in English, French and Serbian (very p.c.) and that there are lists of new and favourite English and Serbian words. Almost everyday we added to the list. There is also a map showing the birthplaces of the previous interns, postcards from the prairies and the mountains and some Canadian coins.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Day Time TV - a whole other world

And I thought I had culture shock when I moved to Serbia. It's not enough that day time tv regals you with more talk shows, soap operas, and home decorating shows than you can possibly stomach. MTV2 has launched a startling show: Date my Mom. Seriously. A guy goes on dates with 3 Moms and decides which daughter to date from those dates. No, still not kidding. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, rivers running red (or maybe just the Red River flooding) and Date my Mom, sure signs of the downfall of civilization. And people wonder why I wanted to look for a new job right away.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The wait is over

Finally, one small lawyer is once again an employed lawyer.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lessons in Italian

I wore my fabulous Italian leather jacket for the first time yesterday. The day was warm and sunny. While I watched out for puddles of melting snow I remembered the small shop in the Santacroce district of Florence where we bought our jackets. My brother and I walked into the shop and before we said anything the young saleguy said "Hi, where are you from?" As it turns out, he had a friend who lives in Vancouver (loves snowboarding) and had debated immigrating to Canada himself, before being conscripted to work in the family shop. As we were trying on jackets and settling on a black leather on for my brother he said "there, it's perfect, you look Italian....except for your shoes". We both looked down at our hiking boots, a little dusty from being worn for our entire trip. "That's how I knew you weren't from Italy, you can't even buy those kind of shoes here". I never thought I would be betrayed by footwear.

I'm not the only Canadian to report this type of shoe-ism. A former colleague, blond and beautiful, had been concerned that she might encounter unwanted attention during her trip through Italy. She did, only it wasn't quite what she expected. "They just kept looking at my shoes with disgusted" she remarked upon her return.

Our lesson in Italian -- be prepared to be judged by your shoes. Go for comfort while hiking around the Roman Forum, but understand that the while your lips are saying "Buona sera", your shoes are saying "I am Canadian".