Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hints of the UN plan for Kosovo emerge

Hints are beginning to emerge on the UN plan for the future of Kosovo.  According to a UPI article:

Kosovo, whose 1.8 million population is 90 percent ethnic-Albanians and about 100,000 Serbs, will be a state without a seat in the United Nations and without a foreign ministry or armed forces, Belgrade's Beta news agency said.

Apparently UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented the draft of his final status solution to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  According to parts of the plan already published the plan seems to include “more than autonomy, less than independence” and doesn’t include Serbian sovereignty, which is an interesting mix of positions.

At the same time, despite rumors of delaying status talks because of Serbia’s constitutional referendum and imminent parliamentary elections, the US government is pushing for a final status decision by the end of 2006.

Returning Sesame Street Productions for Kosovo

As a follow-up to last week’s post about Sesame Street…

NEW YORK, October 30: Kosovo broadcaster RTK yesterday premiered the Sesame Street international production Rruga Sesam (Albanian language)/Ulica Sezam (Serbian language).

The 26-episode Rruga Sesam and Ulica Sezam feature Muppet segments from Sesame Street's international library, as well as local content, such as 26 original and locally produced live-action segments highlighting similarities of children from different ethnicities living in Kosovo, and the importance of play in their lives. In addition to airing on RTK, the productions will also broadcast regionally on three Serbian-language broadcasters: DTV, TV Most Zvecan and TV Herc Strpce.

I don’t know why this intrigues me so.  Maybe it’s because the first Hispanic Americans I ever met where on Sesame street?  Having grown up in a small, ethnically-homogenous Minnesota town Sesame Street really did help me see the world was bigger than my little neighborhood.  That sounds pretty lame as I write it, but true none-the-less.

via Worldscreen

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rruga Seam....Sesame Street comes to Kosovo

That childhood staple, Sesame Street, has come to Kosovo.  I’ve actually known this for a while, but never seen anything in the English press about it.  Now “The World According to Sesame Street,” a documentary is explaining how the kids program has become a global phenomenon.  The LA Times says in a review:

It runs in more than 120 countries, mostly in dubbed versions of the original, but in more and more places — beginning as far back as 1972, after an inquiry from Germany — it is being produced locally, retooled for the native audience, with new characters and settings reflecting native culture and concerns.” The documentary focuses on productions of “Sesame Street” in three countries places: Bangladesh, Kosovo and South Africa. 

According to the PBS site, Independent Lens:

Creating a locally produced Sesame project in Kosovo was more than just creating a children’s TV show. As Producer Basia Nikonorow explains, “We really believe that a Sesame project could aid in the peace process.” After years of violent ethnic strife between Serbs and Albanians, the show had the potential to build peace and tolerance with a new generation of children, showing them that their ethnic counterparts were just kids, too.

At the same site you can see some videos of the production team.

I think this is pretty good stuff.  The children of countries places like Kosovo need all the help they can get in forming a future multi-ethnic home, where all ethnic groups can live in peace with one another.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Next hurdle...the VAT

 With increasing government responsibility come increasing government control.  When it comes to Kosovo this has generally been fairly positive as the local provisional government brings the legal system up to what I can only assume are fairly European norms.  The Value Added Tax, however, has been nothing but a pain over the last two years.


The VAT is a sort of national sales tax and one I’m all for.  But the way the VAT is being applied to NGOs and charities is causing a lot of concern.   Up until a couple of years ago all relief supplies (used clothing, bedding, etc) were exempt from customs and the VAT.  Organizations, Christian and otherwise,  were able to bring supplies and donations into Kosovo without paying what can amount to taxes of about 26 percent.  Over the last couple of years, however, the government is seriously clamping down on various tax loopholes including assessing the VAT to charity work.

On example of the problems this creates is with Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes that have been distributed in Kosovo since the war.   This year SP is hoping to send 100,000 shoeboxes to Kosovo.  However, unless the tax codes on charity work are loosened, local organizations would be liable to pay 26 percent in taxes on these shoeboxes.  That is, a value would have to be assessed on the shoeboxes and taxes will have to be paid on that estimated value.  No one has the money to pay taxes on donated items.  The shoeboxes will stop coming to Kosovo.

Obviously this really jeopardizes, not only the SP shoebox distributions, but many other kinds of charity and benevolent work as well.   Please pray that the parliament not sign into effect the draft law on the VAT or that amendments would be made that ease how the law is applied to NGOs.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Evangelicals and Kosovo...what the ???

The propoganda war is heating up over the final status of Kosovo and apparently some well known American Evangelicals are taking sides, here, here and here.

I am a little bewildered by these statements from Robertson and Falwell.  As far as I know neither they, nor their staffs, have ever visited Kosovo or spoken with evangelicals in Kosovo, let alone the Albanian leaders of the evangelical church in Kosovo.  I am bewildered that they would either take sides, or allow themselves to be placed in a position where they appear to be taking sides.

The Albanian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs fought a vicious war, but it is a mistake to confuse anti-Serb with Anti-West.  Roberston is quoted as saying: "We unleashed this curse upon the world!". He add that it was "absolutely scandalous that we should permit the establishment of an Islamic state in Kosovo and Metohija by robbing a sovereign state of part of its territory, with the aid of American money to boot."

Islamic state?  What the heck? 

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ever-present Albanians

One of the most interesting things about traveling around Wisconsin is the people you meet.  What’s more, I’m constantly surprised by the number of Albanians in Wisconsin.  This morning I ate breakfast at a restaurant owned by an Albanian family, apparenlty one of several in the area.  After breakfast I had the chance to chat with the man for a while.  He’s from Albania, though he also lived in Macedonia for a while before coming to the US in the ‘70’s.

The Albanian people are everywhere.  It’s pretty neat.