Quick update

Parliament has voted to set the election date to 5 June–just before Ramadan starts. Under the new decision, Parliament will dissolve on April 7, that is, 60 days before the early parliamentary elections on June 5, which was determined through amendments to the Electoral Code.  SDSM did not vote, but commented that it was yet another defeat for Gruevski. So hang on–we are in for a wild ride it would seem!

How (not) to buy a carpet in Istanbul

Susie and I arrived in Istanbul right after the bomb went off and tourists fled the country like crazy. At times it felt like we were the only tourists around. The vendors in the shops certainly treated us that way. Restaurants were empty. Stores were empty. Sales people were out on the street begging us to come in. One carpet store, located just below the Sultanahmet mosque even had a person sitting in the window tying the knots that oriental carpets are known for. Our first night we told the guy at that store we’d checking him out later as we walked by on our first night. But that’s what we told everyone. Fortunately not every one remembered us or we would still be there.

Cotton Warp, silk pile
100% silk. Looks like floral postage stamps

Our next morning, we set out to explore Istanbul. But this carpet  guy grabbed us first, said, “you promised you would come back today,” and offered us tea. What the heck! We can just look and have some tea. It will warm up our hands and we have no intention of buying carpets. Ah, but now the wonderful Cihan enters the picture. He begins to ask us what we know about carpets and it turns out that we know nothing. We learn about different materials used, knots per square inch/meter. Rugs that look one color and then they flip them around and they look like another color.  I particularly fell in love with one carpet that looked like floral postage stamps. But it was 100% silk and costs a lot of money. This carpet is not big enough to cover a sizable space in any room. It is designed as an accent. Then there is the other carpet that is made from  cotton and is signed by the maker as an original work of art. It has a very southwest feel to it. But it is also very expensive.  And now Susie starts getting into it and finds an antique carpet that would look perfect in her husband’s law office.  Nope! Cannot do! Just too much money. Cihan continued to talk to us about his other business ventures and we find out that he owns the cruise company that took us out  on the Bosphorus the night before. He could describe the boat in detail and tell us that it has only been in service a couple of months but it is the top of the line of his boats.  He has businesses in San Francisco and even has a green card for the US. This guy is either an  incredible businessman or a hustler. While he chatted he would pull  out  another carpet for us to look at. Anything to keep us there and looking. He finally  came down in prices enough that Susie and I succumbed to his tactics–but I was only buying  the cotton one–no more, no matter how much I loved the other one.

Now, I don’t travel with a credit card–only a debit card and just before we went into the store, I had pulled cash out so I would have pocket money to buy things if I wanted them. Debit Cards have daily limits and so I could only pay for part of the rug. I went back to the hotel, called my bank and had them raise my daily limit so I could pay for this. They had seen the initial debit come in and were about to put a flag on my account because it was Turkey and a bomb had just gone off there. I told them that it was indeed me and please remove this limit. We tried to run the card again and it didn’t work. So I called the bank from his store. The bank can see no record of an attempted transaction–perhaps it is on his side. So he pulls out a different machine–same result. Okay he said–let’s just try in the morning. Okay. So we do and same result. So this time, I went to the teller machine and pulled out the balance of the cash. In the meantime, he had laid out my floral stamp carpet and poured me more tea. Man, I love that carpet! So I go down  to pull more cash and wouldn’t you know–Turkey has a daily limit on how much cash you can pull. Okay, you will have to wait until tomorrow. Cihan is incredibly patient. Of course when you are the only customers around, what choice do you have.

Next morning (third day) while Susie is performing her morning ablutions I thought let me check out his website. Oops, not a functioning site. Well, let me google the company and see what I find. They are being so wonderful to us. No shipping charges and they assure us there will be no duties on these carpets. (They weren’t expensive enough apparently to merit duties). Surely there will be people praising him. Just the opposite! People calling him a cheat and a thief and if you read the fine print on the bill of sale all sales are final. They suggested you take pictures of anything you purchase and that you put your initials or name on the back. So with my iPad open to the page with the critical reviews, Susie and I go marching back to the store and demand to see Cihan. He comes dashing in and we tell him and show him what is on this website. He seemed truly shocked. We asked if he would unpack the rugs and let us take pictures. He said, why don’t you put your name on the back of them as well. Now we are beginning to feel better and not worried that we have thrown away money.

Rug Salesman
Eileen, Cihan and Susie

He tells us that our rugs should be at their destination in about a week. So I tell Steven to expect this delivery. Susie doesn’t tell Briggs. She just tells him to watch for a package that Aunt Mabel asked her to send. After two weeks, the rugs have not arrived. We are beginning to panic. We will wait one more week and then contact Cihan. And that is exactly what Susie does. Wouldn’t you know, that very day, Steven gets a  call from New Jersey asking if they can deliver rugs on Sunday afternoon. And sure enough they did. And, of course, the driver tried to sell him more rugs. Wonder if Cihan was driving the truck.

So the moral of the story: Learn as much about carpets before you go whether you plan to buy or not. The carpets are freaking gorgeous and you never know what kind of deal they will give you. And if you see Cihan? Tell him Susie and Eileen say hello.

Political Unrest Update

Many things to talk about but at the moment it is the political climate that is most important. What I am posting is not my writing. It comes from our Safety and Security Manager. I know nothing more than what these Press Notes say.


February 22, 2016

 EU-U.S. Assessment: All media carry straightforward reports about the statement of Ambassador Baily and the EU Charge D ’Affairs Lukas, highlighting the part that at this stage the necessary conditions for organizing credible elections on 24 April are currently not in place and that it is up to the Parliament to decide on a new possible date. Several media comment that, reportedly, the battle now is to convince VMRO-DPMNE leader Gruevski to accept June 5 as a new date for early parliamentary elections. In a brief statement, SDSM said Ambassadors’ assessment confirms what SDSM has been saying and what citizens already know.  Soon after the assessment was announced, Commissioner Hahn tweeted that “substance and quality of elections are more important than date,” which has triggered many positive comments on FB

In expectation of the EU-U.S. assessment on the preparations of elections, media reported that its disclosure was postponed several times, and cited the U.S. Embassy that the letter was held off at the request of party leaders. PlusInfo speculates that it was DUI that requested the disclosure of the assessment to be postponed, and several media cite SDSM, VMRO-DPMNE and DUI representatives denying to have requested postponement.

In addition, media report that at the request of U.S. Ambassador Baily and the EC Delegation, an unexpected leaders’ meeting was summoned at the Parliamentary Club, which the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, did not attend. Several media reported that Gruevski boycotted the meeting, speculating that he notified the U.S. and EU representatives that the assessment on the preparations of elections is not relevant. Telma comments that international missions interpret Gruevski’s gesture as a refusal to accept the assessment.   Deutsche Welle cites VMRO-DPMNE saying that “it was Gruevski’s call, which the party will additionally clarify.”

Following the leaders’ meeting, DUI leader Ali Ahmeti urged all political parties to work in finding a mutual solution and compromise. Ahmeti said the Przino Agreement must not fail and underlined that DUI will not confront the international community and the party is on the same lines with them.

Earlier yesterday, VMRO-DPMNE Ilija Dimovski urged the State Election Commission to hold an urgent meeting that would be broadcasted live on TV and reveal how much time is necessary to clear the voters’ registry. Dimovski added that there is no credible argument that SEC and other institutions are not prepared to organize elections. While pro-government media continuously report that there is no response by SEC to VMRO-DPMNE’s request for a public meeting, Dnevnik is in “search’ of foreigners’ mistakes. The paper reports that the international community is mistaken when insisting on clearing of voters registry because the registry cannot be subjected to public scrutiny and correction without a previously set election date.   

Media expect the political parties to officially present their reactions to the assessment. Deutsche Welle notes that while the views of the politicians are completely polarized, experts welcome the assessment because it reflects the real situation as to whether conditions for elections are in place.  Pro-government portals cite journalist Vasko Eftov’s FB status recalling that two months ago he said that when the opposition in one country is weak, the international community takes the role of the opposition.

What Next?  There is lot of speculation and forecasts as to what will happen next and whether the country will be pushed into a deeper crisis following the negative assessment of the international community and the insistence of VMRO-DPMNE to go on elections on April 24.

Media note that unless the decision for the dissolution of Parliament is not changed by midnight tomorrow at the latest, elections will be held on April 24.  Media note that after DUI said yesterday that the party is supporting the international community, the parliamentary majority is not compact any longer and VMRO-DPMNE will have to come up with a position.  VMRO-DPMNE after its moves yesterday has lost the support of the international community, but it is uncertain what the party’s next steps will be, some media comment.

 Some comments suggest that in this new situation what can follow is “mobilization and demonstration of resistance against the foreigners by the VMRO-DPMNE ‘army.” In his latest FB post, anchor and VMRO-DPMNE proponent Milenko Nedelkovski calls on the people to go on the streets. “That’s the solution,” he says.

 In Vecer today, Dragan Pavlovic Latas blames the “foreign umbrella” for creating the crisis and building a “parallel system” in the country with support from SDSM and Soros people in Macedonia and most recently, with DUI, as opposed to VMRO-DPMNE, which “undoubtedly is the party that guarantees the Macedonian national identity and the country’s stability.”  “That is why it is worth fighting against this threat. And winning,” he concludes.

 Dnevnik commentary by analyst Mirka Velinovska criticizes President Ivanov for not reacting against “this terrorist savagery of American, British and European ‘diplomats’ in Macedonia.”  “How credible elections results could be if they are ensured by an imposed party election commission which has been established by the aggressor; monitored by the unreliable OSCE; if a foreign Embassy gives orders; if observer is the unreliable and Sorosoid party organization MOST, while voters are recruited and distributed by IM [Interior Ministry]-SDSM,” she says.

 VMRO-DPMNE Cancels Cooperation with Mediator Vanhautte:  Media cite a press release by VMRO-DPMNE, announcing that the party cancels cooperation with the mediator for his “insults” against VMRO-DPMNE and other parties participating in the negotiations, as well as for his “constant humiliation” of the Macedonian people.  As far as VMRO-DPMNE is concerned, Peter Vanhautte is a tourist in this country as of today and we recommend he visits the Museum of the Macedonian Revolutionary Fight,” the party says.  Online media carry the latest tweet of Vanhautte that he plans to write a tourist guide on Skopje, asking where is the VMRO Museum, which has received a lot of sympathy on FB.   In the meantime, after his tweet that he is surrendering and there will be no elections on April 24, the EC delegation has dissociated from Vanhautte’s tweets, underlining that the official communication with the EC Delegation in Macedonia goes through its Press Office.

And next today’s information.


February 23, 2016

 State Department Statement:  VOA cites a statement by SD officer asked to comment the latest developments in Macedonia.  “We continue to support Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts.  On Sunday, February 21, the U.S. and EU delivered a joint assessment to the Macedonian Government on the preparations for holding credible parliamentary elections.  The assessment states that currently there are no conditions in place for holding credible elections on April 24.  The major point of the assessment is that the State Elections Commission needs additional time to carry out its working assignments.  Preparations should not be rushed.  We encourage law makes to take into consideration the assessment from yesterday and consider the possibility for determining another election date.  Although time is short there is still time for the leaders to react before the scheduled dissolution of Parliament on February 24 to make sure that conditions for credible elections will be in place,” the statement says, concluding that the U.S. and EU will continue to support election preparations especially the work of SEC, and the need for urgent reforms in the media and wider.   

 Reactions to Assessment by Political Parties:  VMRO-DPMNE has issued a reaction underlining that “the EU and U.S. representatives did not present a single serious and credible argument in support of their thesis that the country is not ready for elections, which clearly shows that the assessment is based on a political decision, rather than facts.”  For VMRO-DPMNE this could lead to deepening of the political crisis.

 SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, on the other hand, reiterated at a press conference yesterday that there can be no elections on April 24 because basic conditions have not been met for holding fair and democratic elections, something that has been directly confirmed by the international community.  He also said that should elections be held on April 24, SDSM will not stand still.

 DPA and DUI have reiterated the position of the international community that there are no conditions in place for elections on April 24.  Smaller ethnic Albanian parties, including NDP, Besa and Uniteti have also supported the international community assessment.  In addition Dnevnik writes that DUI is having intensive communication with VMRO-DPMNE in order to overcome the crisis.  “Off the record, DUI tries to convince the government partner to accept postponement of elections, a decision that should be reached through a consensus by all four parties,” Dnevnik says.

 MEPs in Macedonia:  Media report that three Members of European Parliament (MEPs) Richard Howitt, Ivo Vajgl, and Eduard Kukan have arrived to Skopje in a mission to “rescue”  the Przino Agreement.  Media note that Ambassador Orav announced the visit yesterday on Twitter, underlining that parties need to find solution and today is the last chance.  Media speculate that there are two possible scenarios, one that VMRO-DPMNE will not give up April 24, and two, that a compromise on postponement can be reached under the condition that a fixed date must immediately be determined.  So far none of the parties in Parliament has asked for an urgent session of Parliament to discuss postponement of election date.  Democratic Union leader Pavle Trajanov has appealed to all parties in Parliament to terminate the decision for Parliament dissolution.

 Beaten to Death Over Politics:  Media report that an 80-year old man from the area of Bitola was beaten to death by a drunken fellow villager because of opposite political beliefs.  The killed R.S. reportedly praised the work of Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva, which infuriated R.D. who beat the old man to death.  The offender was detained whereas the prosecution started an investigation on the incident.

 Refugee Crisis:  Koha reports that over 600 refugees from Afghanistan remain stranded in the transit center for immigrants in Tabanovce at the border with Serbia, after the northern neighbor closed its border for this category of refugees.  Dnevnik also reports about accumulating refugees in Tabanovce and that in addition to Afghans, refugees from Syria and Iraq are also being returned to Macedonia.  Dnevnik’s editorial headlined “Macedonia Cannot Be A Camp for Returned Refugees,” reads that Macedonia made the wrong assessment in choosing to believe the promises of Balkan countries which are now returning refugees to Macedonia.  MIA stringer in Brussels reported that the European Commission denied that the border crossing between Macedonia and Greece was completely blocked after Austria closed its borders for refugees from Arab countries and Africa.  Citing sources from the Foreign Ministry, Vest reports that the authorities in Macedonia will not make unilateral decisions for closing the border, but will rather concentrate on preventing illegal crossing.  However, if after March 1 the number of refugees continues to be 6,000 a day, mainly economic migrants, then it is a matter of time when unilateral measures will be undertaken, the source has said.

 Referring to a briefing by the Foreign Ministry, Nova Makedonija reports that Macedonia does not plan to build refugee camps for now and that the EU has not even requested such a thing.    Utrinski Vesnik reports that several thousand refugees are waiting to enter Macedonia at the southern border, near the Greek city of Polykastro.  Nova reports this morning that Greek police started an action to transfer migrants from the border to shelters in Thessaloniki and Athens.

 Me again:

This is a lot to read and process. We have seen no signs of violence and have not had any “Stand Fast” warnings. With that being said, the people of the Balkans are passionate. Anything could happen. However, if my family is any indication, the only people that will be fighting will be the politicians while the rest of the region goes on with its every day life. Peace.