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Human rights issues still plague the Balkans

Human rights - Auschwitz sculpture

Human Rights Watch released their 2016 report earlier this week, a 600+ page tome examining human rights issues from around the globe. Around half the world’s countries are given their own chapter in the report. In the Balkans, Bosnia and Serbia/Kosovo were singled out, while Croatia received condemnation for its treatment of refugees.

Even simply skimming the report makes it clear that Balkan countries face many of the same human rights issues: Failing to treat the”other” – whether that’s a refugee or a minority – with full respect. Difficulties providing the proper resources for an independent judiciary. The inability to fully relinquish power over the media. If other states from the region had been given more attention, similar problems would likely have been highlighted.

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What is burek?

"Zeljanica (7185484943)" by Francisco Antunes from London, United Kingdom - ZeljanicaUploaded by Smooth_O. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

I’d heard tale of the mythical burek before I’d even purchased my first plane ticket to the Balkans. As a group of us sat discussing another mouthwatering regional dish, cevapi, and bemoaning its absence in our lives, a friend rolled her eyes. Everyone always talks about those little sausages, she pointed out, rather dismissively. No, what we were really lacking was easy access to burek.

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Balkan Explorer Best of 2015


#BestNineIn2015 is quite the popular hashtag over on Instagram, revealing users’ most liked photos of the year. In the spirit of the tag, I put together Balkan Explorer’s own “Best of 2015,” highlighting nine of reasons I choose to live where I do. May this clear up some of the mystery and confusion and head-scratching that inevitably occurs when I say I voluntarily reside in Belgrade, Serbia.

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Walking to Coffee in America


Coffee and walking. Two things that are incredibly difficult in America. At least, they’re incredibly difficult in the suburban environs of the Pacific Northwest.

At home in Belgrade, it takes me four minutes to walk to my favorite coffee shop. It’s snug and cozy in bad weather, filled with people chatting, while in the summer it’s difficult to find a seat on the spacious patio. But if I were in dire need of caffeine, there are at least two other cafes within a two-minute walk. This is not just a big-city thing; you’re going to find cafes on nearly every street in any town.

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Defining the Balkans

Montenegro Landscape

The Balkans, as a region, is not easily defined. Throughout the course of history the countries have expanded and retracted, with contemporary states falling under one empire or another, and every once in awhile managing to gain a few brief years of independence. These days, though, that independence also seems to include a new sense of identity, with many rushing to disassociate themselves with a regional label that often implies backwardness at best and bloodthirstiness at worst.

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I’ve been in Montenegro nearly eleven months now, and I finally feel like I am coming into my own.

For the first nine months, I was terribly off-kilter. There were moments of joy, of course, but most days involved tears, often ugly, messy tears. It was like the world’s longest detox, but the drug I was removing myself from was my former life. I was Liz Gilbert in India, but without the benefit of the meditation cave.

And without the yoga. Or the vegetarian diet. I told myself I could concentrate on physical health once my mental health had stabilized. There was nothing self-destructive going on — I wasn’t living out the immortal phrase “I eat to much, I drink too much, I smoke too much, I want too much” — but I didn’t deny myself, either. Burek, pizza, rakija, beer, bread…the Balkan diet doesn’t go in much for fruits and vegetables, and I was perfectly fine with that.

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