Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brussels Oct 14

Back to Brussels for a NATO meeting. We got in last night and went out -- late, as it turns out -- to find something to eat. More difficult than it sounds.

Brussels feels a lot like DC. A city but not really a city, with lots of officialdom and an early bedtime. We went to meet some of the press crew who are in town with Secretary of Defense Gates, but by the time we found them the kitchen at their restaurant had closed. So we walked around one of the main tourist areas of town, near the fishmarket, looking for something open -- finally found one place that was essentially traditional Belgian food cooked by Greeks and served to Italians. I had the mussels and they were fantastic -- with chopped onions and white wine sauce.

Finding a cab back to the hotel at 11:30 was also pretty difficult, but we finally snagged one, went back, and went straight to bed.

Today Clinton has a NATO ministerial. We started the day at the new EU headquarters (see above). The building is new but seems a little dysfunctional -- a little like the EU itself. But they've obviously spent a lot of money and want to be taken seriously. I'm not sure if the Clinton crew does that yet, but they are spending a lot of time with Euro-officials this time around.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Belgrade-Kosovo Oct 12-13

Hillary Clinton stopped on Bill Clinton Boulevard on Wednesday to view one of Kosovo's main attractions: the Bill Clinton Statue.

Clinton, on her first visit to Kosovo as secretary of state, received a rapturous welcome from the crowd waving U.S. flags and cheering on the Clinton Brand, which many Kosovars see as key to their country's independence.

Clinton stopped and looked up at Bill -- now 12 feet high and a shimmering gold -- and expressed her satisfaction with the likeness.

She then plunged into the crowd, or at least as far as security would allow, pressing the flesh campaign-style and expressing her delight at being back in Kosovo as an independent country.

"I'm so glad to be back after 10 years, it's wonderful," Clinton said as reporters and officials scrambled around, the careful choreography of the motorcade thrown topy-turvy by the unscheduled stop.

Clinton appeared about to leave, but then a local store caught her eye: "Hillary", a women's wear boutique about half a block from the statue. The crowd followed Clinton into the small shop where she took a quick look at the wares, smiled and left -- no sale.

Clinton's stop in Kosovo comes at the tail end of a three day trip through the Balkans that has seen her repeatedly urge the region's fractious leaders to put their ethnic animosities behind them and start seriously working to catch up to Europe.

She spent the night in Belgrade -- which was bombed by NATO in 1999 when Bill Clinton was president as the western military alliance sought to stop Serbia's oppressive policies in the renegade province.

Perhaps predictably, there were no welcoming crowds in the Serbian capital, where security appeared to have cleared the streets and kept watchful vigil, one by one, on the long road out to the airport as she left.

We're sitting in the Kosovo parliament building now, waiting for a press conference of Hillary and the PM. After that we are supposed to go to a famous Kosovo Serbian orthodox monastery, and then another "townterview" with local students before heading off to Belgium.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sarajevo, Oct 10-11 2010

We arrived in Sarajevo last night -- long flight from D.C., punctuated by breakfast (scrambled eggs and sausage) and dinner (cheeseburgers and fries...and baked beans). Typical of the weird, homestyle salt-heavy diet the plane crew seems to specialize in.

We arrived at around midnight local time and were taken straight to the hotel. Hard to see anything, except as we were whizzing past a bridge the driver pointed and said "That's where World War One started". Hats off to remember the Archduke.

The hotel was odd -- a reconfigured "boutique" hotel with all sorts of odd numbered rooms popping up on incorrectly numbered floors, stairs and elevators that didn't connect, Bosnian guards sleeping in arm chairs....we met at the bar for a beer and went to bed.

Except that, of course, it was only 6 p.m. so it hard to get to sleep, especially since the security command post (complete with beeping and buzzing walkie talkies and lots of loud conversation) was directly beneath my window. I closed my eyes for a while and then woke up -- the muzzein from the local mosque was sounding. Morning.

Clinton spent the morning at a "town hall" style meeting with Bosnian students, held in an old neoclassical theater that had run right through the war (apparently on the worst days the shows were presented by candlelight). The students were a mixed group of Serbs, Croats and Muslims, and most seemed pretty receptive to Clinton's message about the necessity of putting ethnic enmities aside and getting on with building the country. Unfortunately everyone except the TV crew missed Clinton on an unscheduled walk down "Marshall Tito Street" just before the town hall -- she was cheered and clapped by onlookers, who remember the Clinton Intercession that effectively pushed the war to its close.

Sarajevo looked like it had potential, although the signs of war are still around in pockmarked buildings and "Sarajevo Roses" -- wherever a shell hit and killed someone in the city, they have filled the resulting crater with red epoxy -- resulting in a rose like sculpture on the street. There are also very few mature trees in the city, as they were all chopped down for firewood during the worst of the siege.

After the town hall and a meeting with Bosnia's three (!) presidents -- one for each nationality -- Clinton went to to cut the ribbon on the new U.S. embassy in downtown Sarajevo, named after a U.S. diplomat who was killed there. She had a few more meetings, we wandered around the embassy compound, and then back to the plane and on to Belgrade.