Thursday, February 24, 2011

Balkan trip (final) day 17: "Change your name or change your behavior!"

This morning we went to the International Church. They meet once in the two weeks and sometimes three times a month. Their church services are held in a hotel not far the center of Belgrade. Samuilo led the sermon and had a message to the people.

In the afternoon we had an interesting meeting with him and with a representative of the IFES (EUS). Later on a professor from the political faculty with a young but very intelligent student were joining too. We discussed about possible projects focused on reconciliation and vision building with students and participants from all countries and areas of former Yugoslavia. After this I was running for another meeting with the representatives of the Serbian Christian Democratic Movement and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. We discussed about collaboration for trainings of the members of the SCDM and about other activities we develop in the region. I was invited to share my experiences about the development of Christian Democracy in East Europe during a special session in May. This meeting was followed by another meeting with a friend who worked in one of the West European embassies in Belgrade. We shared experiences and information on how we can develop and promote traditional family values in the EU.

Finally we left Belgrade. It was already late. The trip was almost finished - as this logbook about our Balkantrip is. Although we could not write all the meetings and discussions we had and the plans we will develop on a public blog, I hope and pray that this logbook gave a bit a picture about the developments in different countries in the Balkans.

It was, however, not only a nice and interesting trip, but we also could work hard with our local partners to look together how we can promote and develop Christian-Democratic values in the Balkans. It is wonderful to see how God put such wonderful people on our path in all these places we have visited, with great visions and plans.

It was also beautiful that our Balkan trip started and finished with both a sermon in Serbia. This morning Samuilo had a great message taken from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of St John which summarized how a Christian leader should be and what values should be the base. Samuilo started with a question "What would you do if you know that you only have a few hours to live?" Because this was the situation. Jesus knew that He would be captured and be killed soon. He chose to be with His disciples and to give some important messages to them. While the disciples were arguing about who would have the most important place in the Kingdom of God (to have the most power), Jesus showed them what real leadership means. He did the most humble job and he washed the feet of the disciples. Jesus was the leader, but He was not a despot. He did not come to rule but to serve and asked us to follow Him. "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:16). Further on in this same chapter, Jesus calls His disciples also to love: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

This means really to be a Christian: not to dominate but to serve: not to hate, but to love. Samuilo told us an interesting story of Alexander the Great. When he inspected his troups, he saw one soldier sleeping while he was guarding an important and crucial place of the defence. He asked that soldier his name. The soldier answered that his name was Alexander. Then Alexander the Great told him: "Change your name or change your behavior" because he had the same name as Alexander the Great. How many times would Jesus Christ not say to us Christians the same: "Please change your name (Christian) or your behavior?" We have to be humbled. Even if we are saved by Gods Grace, our feet always have to be washed (spiritually speaking), to humble ourselves and to love the other.

I hope and pray that during this trip all three of us (Auke, Annechien and me) we could spread this message of action out of vision to the people we met I think that the targets I put for myself were reached: to meet our friends, to develop plans for the region in collaboration with the ECPM and to learn more about the situation in the different countries and regions and in the Balkans as a whole.

At around 23 hrs we arrived back in Timisoara. There I will be for a few days, before we will go back to Macedonia to participate to the international youth leadership forum and where I will meet some of our friends again: the epilogue of this trip. Therefore the Balkan trip is finished but will be continued.....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Balkan trip day 16: Almost the end and the epilogue

This morning we had a breakfast with some friends from the Economic Diplomacy Seminar/ROM and the Boris Trajkovski Foundation. We made the conclusions of our visit and we talked about the Youth Leadership Forum next week. Auke and me hope to be present there (what will be a kind of Balkan trip epilogue).
After this we went to pack our stuff and to have our last stop in Belgrade (Serbia) before we would leave back home in Timişoara. The 17 days trip to the Balkans is almost finished but went smooth. Interesting thing in Macedonia is that there are a lot of toll roads where you have to pay amounts between the €0,50 and €1,-. It is quite cheap but you have to stop many times. I was tired so I slept through the border with Serbia and easily we reached Belgrade. The circle of our round trip was now closed. In Belgrade we had to search a bit but we found the hotel quite easily. Tomorrow will be the last day of our trip with the drive back to Timişoara.

Balkan trip day 15: The Macedonian fortress

In the late morning we were picked up by our friends from the Boris Trajkovski International Foundation. We were brought to the center where we would discuss a bit about the developments and the program during a brunch. When we walked through the center, I was surprised by all the new construction works since I have been here for the last time during the summer.According to one of our friends, they are constructing a kind of triumph arc, an enormous fountain where a big statue of Alexander the Great would be placed. Also a big museum is constructed in the form of a church on the remains of an ancient church found on that place. The construction of the museum caused some tensions because it is taken place within the walls of the old fortress. A group of activists came in the night to destroy the metal framework. Now the fortress is guarded by police to keep the protesters away.

After the brunch we had a great meeting with the local and regional representative of the Bible Society. We discussed about the situation in Macedonia and ways for collaboration. It is interesting to hear his views and also it was encouraging to hear the activities he is doing. After this I should meet a member of the Macedonian parliament. However, he did not reach me and I could not reach him so I started to work in the restaurant where we had our brunch. That was good, because I had a lot to do. When I was working, I received a message from him if I could meet him at the parliament, so I went to the parliament where I had a great discussion with him. We updated each other about the latest developments of the ECPM and Macedonia and ways for a possible collaboration in the future.

After this we had a great evening with the leadership of the Boris Trajkovski Foundation. We were honored that Mrs. Vilma Trajkovska joined us. We had all a good time and discussed about the latest developments of the Foundation, the activities they are undertaking and how we could be involved. The Foundation is organizing now the Prayer Dinner and the Youth Leadership forum that will take place next week. This is a great event where they will discuss about "identity" based on the principles of Jesus. A very actual topic indeed especially for Macedonia. While the good traditional Macedonian music reached high volumes, we could discuss also about the establishments of dialogue groups in the Balkans. After the dinner we drank something with Victor and Marija, our friends from the Foundation, and said 'cheers' for the good, nice and effective evening.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Balkan trip day 14: A special day with friends

Today it was a special day for many, because three years ago, Kosovo declared itself independent with a 'declaration for independence'. Therefore the city was full with different flags: even with American and German flags and also concerts were organized in the cities.

This morning I had together with Jetmir an appointment with a representative of the UNDP in Mitrovica to discuss about a project that we want to develop in Kosovo. The representative of the UNDP was interested in our project and gave a good feedback and ideas concerning the project proposal and was willing to be involved and to help to put this project on it's feet. Jetmir gave good and professional information. For him it was also a good experience on how you discuss and negotiate with representatives of international institutions.

When the meeting was finished we were picked up again and I found out that Auke and Annechien also spend their time well with a friend of Ruzhdi (who drove us around) who got a fine because they went into a one-way street, drank a coffee and came to pick us up.

After this we were brought to Prekaz, a small village where one of the Albanian leaders and his family was killed which the Albanians now saw as the beginning of the war. The heavenly damaged house is preserved and a memorial now. It shows the madness of wars which only brings destruction, sufferings and losses.

After this we went back to Mitrovica where we met our friends from the ROM again and went for a drink in the center of the town. We had a good time together of fellowship and friendship. We discussed also many serious things. We made a group picture in the center. It became quite busy for there was a concert in the city. EU Police and army guaranteed the safety of the people. On the bridge that divided the city I met a soldier from Romania, from Timisoara! He is serving there until June and did not expect problems for today.

In the evening our friends brought us to a special place for our dinner where we could see the whole city. I learned a lot from our friends and it was good to be with them.

When we finished, we went back to Vustri. We went to drink an Amaretto in the favorite place with the father and brother of Ruzhdi and with Jetmir. After a good time we unfortunately had to say goodbye to our friends.

Although we did not have many official meetings, it was good to meet our friends and to have a good time together, to discuss more in detail about the projects we like to develop and to learn more about Kosovo and the cities of Pristina and Mitrovica.

We left the early evening for our next destination of our Balkan trip: Macedonia!

Jetmir traveled with us and we brought him to Gostivar where he lives. Then we went to our hotel. Where we arrived at 00:30 hrs, late but satisfied and thankful for the great and effective time we had in Kosovo.

Balkan trip day 13: About Bill Clinton and a Babylonian situation

Today I wanted to learn more about Pristina and it's surroundings. During my visit in December I learned a lot about the political, social and economic situation of Kosovo by the meetings with politicians, youth leaders and representatives of international institutions. Now I wanted to learn more about Pristina and its surroundings.

Ruzhdi and his friend Jetmir from Macedonia showed us the most beautiful places in Pristina. They told more about the places and their opinion about the sights. Although Pristina is a nice city also you could see the consequences of the war. There are a lot of people still missing. They were taken away from their homes. They were transported to unknown places and no-one heard from then since then. The many pictures of the persons that were missed were put on a fence close to there assembly building.

At the other side from the road and further on you find interesting places like the old mosque, the central library and the new cathedral that is being built. Also we visited a small museum with on the ground floor old archeological findings dating back to 4000 BC. The first floor was mostly sponsored by the US state department and told about the history of the United States from their founding fathers and about the road they paved towards the declaration of the independence of Kosovo.

Although the museum was nice, I think that it would be good if there would be a section about the rich culture and traditions of the different groups living in Kosovo. I think personally that this would be very enriching.

Another interesting place was the Bill Clinton square where a big statue of the former US president is laughing and waving to the people walking by. I notices however that is hands were disproportionate with the rest of his body. Did the artist want to communicate something with this symbolically.

After a drink we went to the beautiful caves of Kosovo. The stalagmites and the stalactites were not only astonishing but the explanations of the guide who told many stories and legends connecting with them, made the cave also very special and even mysterious.After this visit we went home and enjoyed a traditional quick dinner. After this we drank the best Machiatto coffee there is (Kosovo is really recommendable for it's Machiatto!). The father of Ruzhdi joined us as well as a cousin who spoke Dutch because he lived in the Netherlands a long time ago, actually a few streets from the place where Auke lived (as he found out). Fortunately Auke did not force him to speak in the Groninger dialect to avoid a complete Babylonian situation.

After this I went to work a bit in the apartment where I stayed. Later on the evening I had a meeting with Ruzhdi, Remy (his brother) and Jetmir to discuss about the project they want to do in Kosovo. This as a preparation for the meeting with the representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that we would have the next morning.

Balkan trip day 12: The different faces of the police

A few hours later than expected but still early enough the car was fixed and as new (in any case from the inside because from the outside it still had tons of sand and dust, imported from all the countries we were traveling to).

Ready to go! Arber escorted us through the city to the road that would lead in the direction of Kosovo. The trip went smoothly. The big tunnel and the highway made it pleasant to travel to the border and due to the new start motor the car was like flying on the street.

At the border, a friendly member of the Dutch police working for the EULEX was greeting us in our own language (i.e. Dutch) and helped Auke who tried to find the right way to pay a special car insurance for Kosovo (for some reason the green card is not valid in the northern part of Cyprus, Iran and Kosovo). The border procedures went smoothly. It was interesting to see police agents from different countries checking the functioning off the customs. On their costumes by a small flag you could find out their country of origin.

Just before Pristina a friend and a brother of Ruzhdi (our local partner) would be waiting for us to escort us to the place where we would stay.

However we missed them and we arrived in Pristina where difficult roads led us to the suburbs of the city. Completely disoriented we tried to found a place easy to be recognised so that we cam call our friends to pick us up. Then we saw some agents who were controlling the cars that passed. I had a nice talk with them and they explained our friends by phone where we were. Also they asked me what car they have in order to stop all these cars for control so that they would not miss us. That was not necessary because they quickly found us.

We went quickly to Vusstri to the hotel where Auke and Annechien would stay. I got an apartment to my disposal. In the hotel my friends from ROM were already waiting for me. I should meet them in Mitrovica that evening but because we left Albania late and because of our searching time in Pristina we were so delayed that Ruzhdi thought it would be better to invite them to us. During the dinner we discussed about the situation in Mitrovica and about reconciliation projects there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Balkan trip day 11: How to spend Valentines day in Tirana

In the late morning we discussed the program of the day with Shaban. First we would have a walk in Tirana to show Auke and Annechien. After this I had a meeting with a representative of a political movement that is active to promote democratic values for the youth. It was very encouraging to see his professionalism and activities he is developing. Also he was very positive about the 'Center for Dialogue and the promotion of European Values' and he also wants to be involved. After this we had a short meeting with the Albanian minister of foreign affairs to hear his opinion about the demonstrations that happened in January, to explain a bit about the ECPM and its involvement in Albania, the statement we made because concerning the events and the initiative for starting activities that we would like to develop in Albania. He was positive about our activities and about the work of Shaban and the development of his Center for Dialogue and promotion for European values'. Also he invited us to meet us to have a longer meeting the next time when I will be in Tirana. After this we had other meetings with a parliament member from an opposition party and an MP of the biggest governmental party. They were both very positive and cooperative in our plans to develop a dialogue structure and trainings amongst the youth of all the political parties which was seen as very important especially now many political leaders are confused after the events in January.

After the last meeting we wanted to go for a dinner. However in the middle of a very busy road, the motor was broken. While we had to face claxoning by miracle there was a space for the car after the parked cars there and also one other car left. While I kept the place by blocking it with my colossal body Shaban and Auke pushed the car to the side. After that we called a friend of Shaban who came, looked and said that he will come, take the car in the night when there is not too much traffic and to repair it. Later it seemed that the problems were with the starting motor and a benzine pump. I got the feeling that we were creating a whole new car with all the technical problems of the car with spare parts now from Germany, Holland, Croatia and Albania. According to Auke this made the car a truly international car.
We went for a dinner with Auke, Annechien, Shaban and Arber (who helped us a lot during our time in Albania). It was valentine's day today and we got a special Valentine's menu in a restaurant on the top of a building with a wonderful view of the city. We were also a table away from the rapper "Big Ali" who made me even feel "little Leo". Hopefully the car will be fixed tomorrow for our trip to Kosovo.

Balkan trip day 10: How Albanian roads can be and how beautiful the Castle of Shkodra is

After packing our stuff Sinisa came and brought us to the road that would lead us to the border of Montenegro. It was a bad road but through beautiful nature. The border procedures went quickly and the first thing I saw was a goat that stood in the middle of the road probably checking all the foreigners that passed the Albanian border.

We arrived on the road to Shkodra but because of all the constructions it was almost impossible to travel on it. Half on our way, Shaban our contact person was waiting for us with two cars with a local delegation from his party in Shkodra and Koplik. They showed us the city, invited us for a coffee and brought us to the beautiful castle of Rozafa on a mountain overseeing the city of Shkodra. Also the museum showing the history of the city was very interesting.

In the late afternoon we arrived in Tirana where after some hours of rest went to the office of Shaban and had a dinner with some representatives of the 'Center for Dialogue and Promotion of European Values' that he recently officially registered. We discussed about the big demonstrations and unrest that cost the lives of three people last month and that the center is of crucial importance now to stimulate dialogue amongst the parties on order to avoid these clashes in the future. Tomorrow I would have many meetings in order to know more about the political situation and if there is a common ground and willingness of the different political parties to have their youth involved in the development of on dialogue based on basic democratic values focused on the common good for Albania.

Balkan trip day 9: Citizenship and Podgorica

This morning we had a meeting with our contact person Sinisa who discussed with us about the current situation in Montenegro. The situation is not that positive. Although the country is focusing to integrate in the European Union and is an official candidate for membership in the EU, there is a lot of corruption and individual interests that determine the Montenegrin political scene. Besides, the obtaining a legal status (citizenship) for people who are living for decades as refugees from other countries of former Yugoslavia is (still) problematic. The strange and unrealistic criteria and the bureaucracy are working against them. This has as consequence that thousands of people from different areas from different countries of former Yugoslavia are living in Montenegro for 12-15 years, but do not have a legal status as well as many people from the Roma background that did not receive any identity card. This is a significant number, because the official number of inhabitants of Montenegro is only about 620,000 people. Also politically the opposition is very divided. The Serbian opposition tried to form a joined coalition but did not succeed and the opposition became fragmented. It is interesting if and how the EU could deal with these challenges.
In the afternoon Sinisa showed us some interesting parts of Podgorica like an old bridge with parts of the old city wall and a very old church that was very important but unfortunately lies on ruins now. After this we met Emil, representative of the Montenegrin member party of the ECPM. He gave us an honest and balanced view about the situation of the party and the activities that the ECPM could develop Montenegro. This meeting was in a small restaurant where the food was excellent but where the smoke of the smoking people made from my lumps a paved highway (unfortunately smoking in general, but especially in restaurants is a big problem in (South) East European countries).
After this meeting, Auke and Annechien had some free time in the city when in a personal discussion with Sinisa we were developing new ideas for regional collaboration in the Balkans.
In the evening we visited him at home with his lovely wife and children. The time in Montenegro was a blessed time before we are heading to ... Albania, the next stop in our Balkan trip.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Balkan trip day 8: The road to Montenegro

This morning we woke up earlier, because we would have a long trip today. We left around 08:00 hrs from the hotel where we stayed. A great place only two tram-stops from the center of Zagreb. It was nice weather although still quite cold and the temperature showed minus 7 degrees. However the weather soon became warmer and the environment changed and so did the weather. We quickly reached the coast and while we in the beginning of the trip were walking on ice and snow, now it was nice spring weather with a clear blue sky (with a temperature of around plus 13 degrees! A difference of 20 degrees between the morning we left and the afternoon. Together with the beautiful surroundings, I thought already about the summer. The road was good, and we stopped in Dubrovnik to see the panorama of the city. After Dubrovnik we had to leave the highway and it took a long time before we reached Kotor, a beautiful city on the coast in Montenegro where we had our dinner. After the dinner we went further to Podgorica where we arrived around 22:00 hrs. In Podgorica we met our contact person Sinisa who brought us to the guesthouse. There was not too much news today and I am happy about it, because it was only a day of traveling and after the problems we faced between the Bosnian and Croatian border last time, I was relieved that we arrived sound and safely after a long trip.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Balkan trip day 7: Croatian initiatives, NGOs and EU

This morning we had a great meeting with a political initiative group. I was impressed that we were working with the same contact persons in Brussels. Also I liked their motivations and recognize also the same basis as the ECPM. We agreed to work together on some concrete activities like courses and trainings. It was sad that also in Croatia there seemed to appear only two opinions about the European Union: either to be very Eurofile or to be very Europhobic. No-one seems to give an honest, well-balanced and objective information about the Croatian accession to the European Union. With the expected referendum in Croatia about it's accession, this can turn out to have a negative impact in their society. Also there is a lot of fear because of the continuously ungoing lobby coming from the West for liberalistic laws that are against basic Christian values like the protection of life, promoting family values based on traditional marriage while 80% of the population see themselves catholic. Also there is fear about the consequences that the accession will bring to their traditional industries like the shipbuilding industry and for the SMEs. The Croatian government seems not to answer sufficiently to this fear and not to promote conservative policies, but to just want to go with the flow and to enter the EU as soon as possible.
The same kind of worries were also explained by a representative of the Croatian ministry of social affairs in the afternoon. She mentioned that both government as the civil society are not ready yet to enter the EU. Although the NGOs seemed to be better prepared than the government, a lot have to be done to teach the NGOs to think more project-wise. The governmental institutions should understand more about the necessity to involve the NGOs more in their activities and not to see them as threatening for their positions. It is interested that she mentioned that the Dutch Matra program helped very much even more than the strongly financed EU IPA programs.

Between the meetings I showed Auke and Annechien the city of Zagreb and ate a traditional goulash with home-made noodles in a small restaurant. Also we joined the beautiful panoramic views.
In the evening I took a small walk alone through the city to think about the meetings I had and to pray for the future of Zagreb and Croatia. Further we had all a free evening which was also good on order to prepare for the trip tomorrow to....... Montenegro.

Balkan trip day 6: Zagreb - ANWB & STEP

This morning I could sleep a bit longer, because the car was being fixed in the morning. It was not that bad to have a bit more time for myself. Around 13 hrs we could leave to Zagreb. The car was fixed. The ventilator in the engine was broken but now the car should not have any problems anymore. We had a smooth trip to Zagreb via the highway. In the meantime I was preparing the topics we would discuss in the evening. We arrived around 15:30 hrs in our hotel that was nice and established in the center. I took the tram to the city to have the first meeting. Auke remained in the hotel , because he was quite tired. Ofcourse he was tired of the traveling, but he also woke up early to take care that his car was fixed well.

However when that was going ok, he had to fight with the Dutch national automobile club (ANWB). When he closed the agreement with the ANWB, they were quite nice, but now there were problems, they will pay this time but showed a hesitation to care for us for the rest of our trip because a short misunderstanding on the telephone. I did not know that an agreement so easy could be changed in this company and am more surprised that this organization could monopolize the Dutch market although I still hope that they will either realize what the word “agreement” means or either we will be saved for any accidents for the rest of our trip and for the coming three months…. I can imagine that Auke was tired and I relieved him and Annechien from their obligations so I went alone to the next appointment ;-)

I arrived in the center where I had a good meeting with a great person who is working for a big Christian NGO, but also had a great knowledge about the political situation in Croatia being himself involved in many activities. After this, Auke and Annechien arrived in the center and we went to a combined meeting of “STEP” (IFES Croatia) and “Partner Business Association” (a Marketplace Ministry). We had a great discussion about the basic values of Christian Democracy but even about the question if Christians actually should be involved in politics. I was impressed about the questions that were asked during the session. The history of Christianity is not to be proud of and religion is easily used to manipulate your will on others and to dominate them. We discussed together about examples of politicians in the Bible and what “Christian” really means: not to dominate but to serve the people, not to lead by the sword but by the Spirit, and to be salt and light in the society that includes also politics. It was a great session that started around 19 hrs and finished around 22 hrs 30! It was nice and the people were great and interested in the topics. They have elections next year so it was also quite actual. Auke helped me very much with putting an outline of my presentation and all the answers on the white board. Also he explained and promoted the activities of the ECPYN that received a lot of interest of the young people of Step. After this, we had another meeting with our contact and key person and leader in Croatia. It was great to see him after such a long time and to see that God puts him in a position to really help and build up (future) leaders in business and (hopefully) also in politics. Tomorrow will be a new day with important meetings in Zagreb!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Balkan trip day 5: Turkish coffee and a broken car

This would be the last day that we are in Sarajevo. In the morning we had a meeting in the national parliament with a former member of parliament. We explained about our activities and for possible ways to collaborate. After this meeting we had a 1,5 hr break where we visited the remains of a tower, enjoyed a panoramic view of Sarajevo and drank a Turkish coffee on the central square. After this we went to the philosophical faculty where we had an appointment with the dean and vice-dean. We had a good discussion about Christian Democracy within the Bosnian context. The faculty was very interested to collaborate also with the European Christian Political Foundation for developing analysis etc. on topics related to Christian Democracy.

It was now early afternoon and we went back to the "Residence" hostel that became a kind of home for us. The owners (a very energetic Bosnian man of 68 who is running with the luggage on the stairs and his wife who worked before in a diplomatic function at the government) helped us to find a good hotel in Zagreb and explained us how to leave the city in the right direction. It was not a pension but more a home for us and we had the feeling that we came as guests and left as family.

The trip went well and I started to sleep in the car until I was rudely woken up by a hit of Auke's elbow. "There is smoke coming out of the car, we have to get out!" he told me and I saw smoke coming from the front hood. Jumping out of the car we saw water under the car. And it was a great place where it happened: just between the border of BiH and Croatia! After standing for around 30 minutes in the cold, the Croatian Automobile Club came (called by a friendly Croatian couple who helped us). We pushed the car down and before the border the car was put on his car and we went to the Croatian border. However because of a small problem an irritating customs officer, the car has to be brought down from the car of the automobile club and the car has to be pushed back in the line of the customs and before the post, the motor has to be started again else we were not allowed to cross the border.... After Auke again was pushing the car, waving again to the first customs officers who were surprised why he was standing in line again, the car (thanks God!) could be started again! Else I think that Auke was still pushing the car around the custom post and waving to the customs officers! However so far so good and we arrived safely to the car service, slept in their pension and the car would be repaired tomorrow morning. I was happy that the first meetings were planned for tomorrow evening!

Balkan trip day 4: Reconcilliation in Sarajevo

Today I had two important meetings. The first meeting was with the secretary of the International Fellowship for Evangelical Students (IFES, here called EUS) that took place in a well-managed office. It was good to see how the organization is operating. Their main activity is to organize English courses where also is discussed about how you can follow Jesus. They have active students and also a good collaboration with the Dutch and American branch of IFES. We discussed about possibilities to develop a project focused on reconciliation amongst Serbs, Croats and Bosnians and about other possible ways of collaboration. Also she gave me insight in the political situation of BiH and she gave me advises about key persons I should meet. It was also wonderful to be together with a fellow believer and follower of Jesus. It was good to pray together for our activities, for the situation in BiH, unity amongst the believers in the Balkans and for fruitful meetings during my trip in the Balkans.

After I left I asked a police agent (who was arranging the traffic) where I could find a taxi. He pointed that there was a taxi at the other side. I told him that when I would be there, the light would be green and the taxi would be gone. So he uses his whistle, stopped the traffic (the traffic light was green) and made a gesture to the taxi to come. I thanked the police and got in the taxi and leave quickly so that the traffic behind could drive again.....

In the time that Auke & Annechien were visiting the tunnel under the airport from the war of '92-'95, I had a meeting with an interesting Franciscan priest. He made a mixed choir with orthodox, Catholics, Muslims and Jews who are singing their traditional songs: in order to pay respect for each other and to highlight the importance of diversity. Also he forms a network of theologians of each religion with even a network of women theologians from Christian and Muslim background. He wants to show that religion a base for values is but that it is misused by manipulation for political motives.

After a constructive 2,5 hrs discussion where I learned many things about the situation in BiH but especially about the way the different religions are looking for ways to collaborate in order to teach the people the real value of faith: to serve the people and God and not to dominate the people.

In the taxi back home the taxi driver told me that he and his father were working in Germany for 20 years to earn and save some money to buy a small house and a shop in Sarajevo. Only one year after he came back the war started. Now his wife has a shop and he is earning some money as a taxi driver.

After I came home we talked about our experiences today and went to eat something in a restaurant in the Bazar. Tomorrow will be the last day in Sarajevo.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Balkan trip day 3: Rest and travel

Today it was a day of rest and travel. In the morning we went for a coffee and a Serbian breakfast (we got Pleskavica with French fries) in a small cafeteria on the banks of the Danube river. When we finished, I showed Auke and Annechien the fortress.

The park was nice, the weather great and the fortress looked more beautiful then I saw before because of the clear weather and sun, and the (probably) last snow of this winter. After this we went by car for the long trip to Sarajevo.After traveling through the city to find the right bridge (we almost went a bridge too far), we started a long trip. Auke found a shortcut so we passed Tuzla. We stopped there for a coffee and to eat something. I tried to contact some friends from the Wave project for a coffee, but they were unfortunately not in the city. It was actually not that bad, because after we left Tuzla we were confronted with a big fog and because it was dark, it was not easy to travel. However after a difficult road accompanied by the nice music of Balkan 2000 in the background, with roads that went up and down (and so were our moods sometimes :-)). We arrived tired but happy and safe in our pension/hostel in the center of Sarajevo where a very friendly host (68 years old Bosnian) was waiting for us and prepared even sandwiches for us with a traditional cheesecake (made of pancakes, cheese and so on). We were thankful that we arrived safely in Sarajevo: our forth stop after Vršac, Pančevo, and Belgrade.

Balkan trip day 2: the new ECPM members

This morning we went to Pancevo where we met the leadership of the Alliance of Romanians in Vojvodina a party that became member of the ECPM. In an emotional discussion they explained the challenges of the Romanian minorities in Novi Sad and... the difficult relation they experience with the Romanian authorities in Bucharest.We discussed also about the relation between Novi Sad and the minorities and Belgrade. After a long discussion we agreed that a constructive and positive dialogue should be developed amongst the minorities and with Belgrade: not based on confrontation but based on dialogue and negotiation.

In the afternoon we went to Belgrade and had a meeting with Dusica and the Serbian Christian Democratic Movement also a new member of the ECPM. It was good to speak with them and to hear that they already planned some trainings, investigating basic documents about Christian Democracy and different topics and formed already opinions on different actual issues. In the evening we went to diner together with Dusica who is also active in the Belgrade Business Initiative and in the activities of the ECPM for a long time.

Balkan trip day 1: fact finding in Vršac

In the first two weeks of February, I'm travelling through the Balkans with Auke and Annechien. During this trip I will visit projects, will go on fact finding, meet collegues and friends etc.

Day 1: Lenuca organized a meeting with the president and with a member of the Executive Board of the Assembly of the Municipality of Vrsat (resp for minorities and religious affairs)and with a deputy from the Provincial Assembly of Vojvodina.
I discussed about ways how Vojvodina with many different minority groups can have a positive impact in the development of Serbia and its possible future accession to the EU. As a more autonomous province it would be good to work to construc...tively build up its local multi-etnical society based on the different minority groups that are living there, but also should become a positive motor for Serbia's possible future accession to the European Union.It is encouraging to hear that recently good laws were passed in the general assembly of Serbia concerning Vojvodina although also it is always very important how these will be practically implented.

The discussions were effective and fruitful and gave insight in the situation of the municipality of Vrsac, the impact of the Romanian community in Vojvodina, and the situation of the minorities in the province. Also it was good that the meeting got also quite some attention on the local media. I expressed the importance of the cultural and religious diversity and to maintain their values and traditions. Also within a more and more globalized and united Europe, we should always protect the national and local diversities, culture, freedom of religion and traditional values that gives its people identity, gives direction and protect the individual responsibility.

After explaining about the ECPM and about my points of view for the local media, I introduced Auke who gave a statement on behalf of the ECPYN to them and an interview. Our statements were broadcast during the day and on the local evening news. The newspapers will publish it in the weekend and the course of next week. It is encouraging to see how the media was interested to hear our opinions and I hope that with Gods help I could make a positive contribution in the discussions about the role of minorities in Vojvodina and in Serbia.

After the meeting we were shown the beauty of the city Vrsac and its surroundings with its beautiful churches and cathedral (after the cathedral in Zagreb the biggest catholic cathedral in the Balkans). Also we visited the residence of the Serbian metropolitian bishop: a beautiful palace. That the city was also developing well was shown by the new stadion and five star hotel. The small city seems to position itself as the place to organize trainings and meetings outside the bigger neighbouring cities of Belgrade and Timisoara: far enough but not too far from them to organize effective business retreats and trainings: a strategy of the city that I considered as well-thought, also good for the development of local Small and Medium enterprises.

In the evening I was invited to speak at a prayer meeting of the local Baptist church. It was so encouraging to hear the reactions of the people and the way how God works in their hearts.

Also it was good to have a prayer time together. I felt that it was really important that also at the end of the the first day, in the first stop in the trip, we prayed together for the politicians in Vrsac, Vojvodina, Serbia and in whole Europe. Also together with Auke and Annechien it was good to pray for the rest of the trip.

Tomorrow we are heading to Pancevo to meet the Alliance of Romanians in Vojvodina and members of the Serbian Christian Democratic Movement both fresh members of the ECPM.