Cablegate in the Balkans – And the winner is:

Croatia, apparently.

[NOTE: New link to cablegate site is ]

Of the 251,287 secret US Embassy cables which Wikileaks began making public yesterday, 2,053 relate to Croatia, according to the ‘Cables by Country‘ graphic on Wikileaks Cablegate website. Bosnia & Hercegovina is next at 1,419, followed by Serbia & Montenegro, with 1,244. Slovenia comes in a distant fourth with 947, with Macedonia (783) and Montenegro (503) bringing up the rear.

While it’s not as high on the list as its southern neighbors, Slovenia-related cables were the first to score points in the media avalanche which began last night CET. Advance material supplied to The Guardian, Der Speigel, Le Monde, and The New York Times included in passing a mention of a strongarm deal the US offered to Slovenia. Most of the accounts went something like this:

The (New York Times) also cited documents showing the U.S. used hardline tactics to win approval from countries to accept freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It said Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if its president wanted to meet with President Barack Obama and said the Pacific island of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees.

Milan Balažic, spokesperson for Slovenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied that any such deal making transpired, insisting that Slovenia cannot accept Guantanamo detainees on legal grounds and that PM Borut Pahor does still have a  visit to the US scheduled for next year. The statement I read didn’t specifically say however, that Pahor would be meeting with Obama. [See update for the ‘real’ story in this, according to the actual cable.]

As of 19:30 CET today only 243 documents have been published so far; nothing Slovenia-related has been posted yet. According to the Cablegate site, the documents will be released in stages over the next few months.

Updated 30-Nov @ 11:00 CET – Not sure how much time I’ll find for updates here; I’ll try to post any applicable (former Yugoslavia) links I come across via twitter.

May pic(k)s

This is the Pula Arena (or amphitheatre, or coliseum), in the Istrian city of Pula, Croatia. Built in the 1st C. AD, it’s the sixth largest of 200 surviving Roman arenas. The last time I visited here was 32 years ago.

Well maintained these days, at its peak it was able to accommodate more than 20,000. There’s a nice little museum on the premises (admission 40 KUN/EUR 5.53/USD 8.16/), an absolute must stop.

The rest of my personal dandy dozen or so from the month of May, shot in Losinj, Croatia, and various spots around Slovenia, are here.

Previous: [Apr 09] [Mar 09] [Feb 09] [Jan 09] [2008]

Pula 01, originally uploaded by pirano.

Corruption in Croatia

It’s not very new, but surely, this deserves a few more views, no?

Via a BBC story today on corruption and organized crime in Croatia comes this youtube vid (in Croatian) of Josip Matanović, a former VP of Croatia’s Privatization Fund (CPF), accepting a big ole envelope of cash.

Can anyone help with some quick translation? Direct link is here.

Unrelated: Former porn actress Lidija Šunjerga is an independent candidate for Mayor of the Dalmatian city of Kastela, just north of Split. Have never been, but from the pics I’ve seen, it looks like a nice place. She apparently didn’t make the cut for Big Brother Croatia a few years ago, but did manage a spot on the cast of a Croatian version of Survivor. Via Balkaninsight reports that her platform focuses on gender equality and envirnmental protection.

‘I want to have this with ostrich!’

I’ve mentioned Wine Library TV before, an informative and entertaining wine tasting program hosted by New Jersey-based Gary Vaynerchuk. With more than 80,000 viewers a day, it’s a popular program, and he’s already been making the rounds and spreading the word through various (US) national TV appearances.

Last week he took on three Croatian wines: 2006 Vivoda Malvazija, 2006 Kutjevo Mihalj Gracevina, and the 2004 Zlatan Otok Plavac Mali. The latter varietal, from Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, is widely accepted as a close relative to zinfandel. And he was thoroughly impressed.

“I want to have this with ostrich!” he said. That’s a good thing, by the way. Check out the episode here.

One small glitch: he describes Croatia’s Istra as being near the Italian border. True, it’s not very far. But there is a tiny country, with lots of good wine of its own, squeezed in between the two.

60 Second Motovun Advisor

When you’re bopping through Croatia’s Istria peninsula, don’t forget to look inwards. Inland that is.

Smack dab in the center of Istra is the village of Motovun (population 400 and decreasing rapidly), a spectacular hilltop medieval settlement (elevation 270m /885 ft) affording sensational views of the Mirna river valley and mountains both near and far. The city walls date back to the 12th C., and the impressive city gate to the 15th when it was called Montona D’Istria. There’s simply no place like it in this area.

Istria figures prominently in the Croatian Tourism Board’s international PR campaign; part of that is for the region’s food and wine. The wine offerings are topped by Malvasia (Malvazija) and Teran (Carso Terrano) which both do quite well on both sides of the Slovenia-Croatia border. (In general terms, Malvasia is probably better on the Croatian side, Teran better on the Slovenian.) Local goat cheeses and olive oils are fabulous and bountiful, but perhaps the biggest culinary lure –certainly the most expensive– are the white and black truffles that are plentiful (if you know where to look) in the forests nearby.

The rapidly dwindling population is leading to serious problems for the hilltop community. Outside the main tourist season the village is virtually empty, with basic services beginning to disappear, and the infrastructure deteriorating. Current development plans, calling for the construction of polo grounds and a golf course and vacation villas for several hundred residents, are hotly debated. [More from the NGO Motovun Eco Town.]

An absolute must day trip if you’re in the area, and there’s plenty of interest to warrant spending a night or two in the area. The town also hosts a film festival each summer.

Wine: I bought one bottle, Kozlovic Othello 2003. Why? It’s a red blend (70% Teran, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot) and at 146 HRK (20 EUR/28 USD), it was the most expensive on the shelf of a delightful gift shop/local museum. That’ll tell me one of two things: it’s either a little-known bargain at that price, or, an overpriced offering targeted at day trippers and I was stupid enough to buy. I’ll let you know. Soon, I think.

A few more pics here.

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Motovun 04, originally uploaded by pirano.