PART SIX: BELGRADE SEMINAR & TRIP TO SLOVENIA
JANUARY 13, 2003 DEBATE SEMINAR IN BELGRADE
Today was to be a day of debate instruction. John Meany and I had agreed to hold a seminar for those staying over an extra day from the tournament as well as any Serbian debaters who wanted to attend. The focus would be on university debaters.
I had breakfast with John and Bojana and we talked about the events of the tournament. We were soon joined by Sonja who was to take us over to the office of the Yugoslav University Debate Network, located in the tallest building in Belgrade on the 16th floor. John and I had coordinated with Mila what we would do. The students would be divided into inexperienced and then experienced students, and then we would alternate back and forth so that two complete instruction programs were going on at a time.
Sonja took us the two blocks over to the offices. The elevators were crowded (some were broken) during the morning rush hour, but we got up to the offices and had a tour. Although the space specifically allocated to the debate network was merely one small office, they are located in a cluster of other groups with shared access to computers (lots of them), meeting rooms, audio visual equipment, and other features.
I took this opportunity to try and check my email, but with over 1000 new messages I was only able to look for news of my fatherÕs health, email renditions of phone messages, and one or two other messages I was curious about. The students were arriving and it was time to begin.
My first session was with beginning debaters. I talked about basic format considerations for both British and American parliamentary debate formats. We went through British four team format step by step and talked about what speakers should do and how. Special attention was given to the obligations of the second proposition team, expected to lead the debate in a new direction while at the same time remaining faithful to the position of the first proposition team. They soaked up the information like sponges. They quickly began asking fairly advanced questions, some of which I answered and some of which I delayed for coverage later. After that I discussed basic public speaking techniques. This seems to be the most popular thing I regularly discuss with debaters, perhaps because it is the most animated or because I often model incorrect delivery techniques in ways that amuse the audience. Again, they asked many excellent questions, especially at the end when I opened the floor to any questions they had.
| Advanced debaters at seminar |
It was time for lunch. I met up with John, who was just finishing his session, and we walked back to the hotel for our meal. I checked for messages because I was expecting contact with my old friend Sima Avramovic, professor at the faculty of law I had worked with in 1997. He and I had grown close during that visit and in our later efforts in joint application for US State Department grants. As well, I had worked with another professor, Obrad Stanojevic. I hoped to see both of them before leaving the next day. But, there were no messages. John and I met with Bojana and we had lunch together. IDEA Executive Director Noel Selegzi was also there, basking in what had been a very successful tournament and event. We talked through lunch and then John and I headed back to the skyscraper and the afternoon seminars.
In the afternoon I would have the experienced debaters, then there would be an open question and answer session, and then there would be some practice debates. Brian and Jen from Vermont as well as Jenny and Brenda-n from Claremont would hear the practice debates.
I was to cover three subjects this afternoon: argument capture (the turn, as we say in America), issue comparison and weighing, and delivery for advanced debaters. I thought we would cover them in that order so that we could end on a lighter note. I started with the three main methods of argument capture, and the group seemed very focused and critically engaged. Once again, the questions were excellent. I continued and talked about issue comparison and weighing and indicated six ways that a debate could indicate that their issues were bigger and more important. It was interesting the way they reacted to a lot of this. I was telling them how to win a debate, not necessarily how to make decisions in their own lives or for real policies. These debate techniques are opportunistic by their very nature, allowing the debater to take advantage of specific situations. It was necessary to pause during the discussion of comparison and weighing to clarify the different between these ideas as debate techniques and these ideas as guidelines for real decision. It is a simple maxim: in debate, we use the best argument for the side we are assigned; in life we choose our side based on the best arguments. Those who fear debate as a school for demagogues need only fear it if this maxim is forgotten. I try and repeat it often.
| John answers questions | Students listen |
We had just begun our question and answer period when the classroom we were using was needed for another program, so we adjourned to join those in the other classroom where John had just begun his question and answer period. John and I make an interested combination at such an event. After 30 years together our ideas bounce off of each other and flow into each other in manner that I find quite delightful and that our audiences often enjoy. And so it was this time, whether following on after another has spoken, or offering disagreements that turn out to be agreements. Soon the questions had diminished and it was time for the practice debates to begin.
Sonja informed me that Sima would try to meet me at the hotel at 6 PM, so I quickly walked with John back to the Hotel Excelsior. Sima was, indeed, waiting for me in the lobby as I arrived at 6 PM. We embraced and made our way to the restaurant to converse and share our recent histories.
| Author with Politika reporter and Sima Avramovic | Sonja translates during the interview |
Sima Avramovic had greeted me in 1998 at the faculty of law as we worked together to train debaters and stage a public debate about censorship and freedom of the press. I had lectured on several debate related topics at the faculty of law to large and enthusiastic crowds. He and our colleague Obrad Stanojevic had traveled to Novi Sad for an all-Yugoslavian law school conference where I had observed, learned a lot, and made important contacts. Sima had entertained me at his home and outside in his orchard, where we had prepared and shared hearty country fare and good conversation, including his assistant, Mishko, who was now quite successful as a scholar and law professor. We had continued to work in later years on getting a grant from the US State Department that we failed to receive (because the faculty of law had received a larger grant from State, and could only receive one at a time, I learned now), and we had carried on a constant and important email correspondence during the NATO bombing of Serbia. It was so good to see him again. His report on the progress that had been made in law instruction in Serbia was gladdening. I also learned of his happiness at being a grandfather and that his orchard was better than ever. His work with the rhetoric program at the faculty of law and the student group, Forum Romanum, was also continuing and improving. He had hoped for more and more rapid changes in higher education, but clear progress was being made and he seemed gratified about that. We discussed possibilities for future cooperation and visits.
Sima had called our colleague Obrad Stanojevic and he was able to join us for a brief time. It was wonderful to see him, and I teased them both about how five years had left them looking the same and had left me older and greyer. They were polite enough to disagree, but it is nevertheless true. Bojana joined us and we all shared a New YearÕs traditionally drink, called brandy tea, but simply warmed schleibovitze. I liked it, but tried not to drink too much because it was orthodox New YearÕs Eve and I wanted to be awake to see the fireworks.
Our visit drew to a close as both had family engagements for the evening. I was invited along but said that I needed to stay near my students and conserve my strength for my morning departure for Slovenia the next day. We said good-bye with the knowledge that we would be together and work together again.
The reporter from the publication Politika was there. I remember her because she had interviewed me in 1998 after our public debate on censorship. We recognized each other. She interviewed me extensively and fortunately Sonja was there to be my translator, and she did an excellent job. I wish that more of the questions had been about debate, but often you have to try and work it in around some of the other issues raised by the media in such interviews.
| Debaters prepare for a night out | Fireworks at orthodox New Year celebration as seen from my hotel window |
After the interview I sensed a slight unease in the restaurant staff, and realized that they were waiting to serve us dinner, and that many of them would be able to go home after we ate. John had pushed off for the Hyatt, so I urged those still there, like Bojana, Noel, Sonja, Brian, Jen, Brenda-n, Jenny, Dragan, and others to begin our meal in the interests of the staff.
We had an excellent and jolly meal. Noel had many interesting stories to tell, and the young people began planning their evening experiences. I assumed that I would carry on at the hotel and then go to sleep after the pyrotechnics. The reporter for Politika decided that she would accompany the debaters on their evening festivities and make it a part of her story. Of course, I never saw it as I left early the next day.
Bojana and I made plans for our trip to the train station the next day for our train journey from Belgrade to Slovenia. I had another drink or two and continued our most interesting discussion, but son it was near midnight so I excused myself and went to my room.
I watched the BBC World news briefly, and then it was midnight. I watched the fireworks from my window and managed to snap a few fairly mediocre photos of the display, and then slipped into sleep, knowing that my stay here in Belgrade was ending the next morning.
JANUARY 14, 2003 TRAVEL TO SLOVENIA
I awakened and packed. This was a mild challenge given that I had more things than I arrived with and also because I had been here in Belgrade for a while. My dirty laundry had made it clear that I have been gone for two weeks. I had done some wash in the tub earlier, but it had taken a few days for it to dry. However, this morning it was finally all dry and I could pack it away.
<== View of parliament from my hotel window
<== View of parliament from my hotel window in Belgrade
I headed downstairs for breakfast. Bojana was already there, as were Arif and his partner from Kazakhstan. I had the usual and some hot tea as Bojana called a taxi. The taxi arrived and we were on our way to the train station.
The train station was not far, and I remember it from 1997 because that is where we had met the bus to go to Jabuka for the ten-day debate camp. We purchased tickets and made our way to the small snack shop and had a beverage while we waited. I snapped some train station photos while we waited. We boarded a fairly modern train and found a cabin that was unoccupied. The train did not seem that crowded and we pulled out of the station.
| Belgrade train station | Our train is ready |
We rolled by the city of Belgrade and out into the countryside. Bojana and I were enjoying sharing ideas and impressions, and as we stopped to pick up more passengers I had an idea of how to keep our cabin to ourselves. I feel a little guilty about this, but I must confess what I did. Whenever we would stop and more passengers would get on I would start speaking loudly to Bojana (but in a friendly way) and gesticulating wildly, with the thought that no one wants to get into a cabin where a loud conversation is going on. At each stop it seemed to work, and we could not help but laugh. We decided to test our theory, so at the next stop we just sat quietly, and sure enough five Roma people piled into our cabin and must have made three mobile phone calls within ten minutes. They seemed very friendly and one woman had a beautiful embroidered coat. They exited within two stops and we returned to our companion deterrent speaking patterns, and for the rest of the trip we had our cabin to ourselves. Of course, this could also be due to the fact that there were very few additional passengers after we crossed into Croatia.
| Croatian border | Working on the journal during the train trip |
We crossed into Croatia and the immigration officials checked us out. It was interesting to note that they used flashlights to look under the seats to make sure that no one was hiding there.
We continued on our way and kept up a running conversation about organizing local debate clubs, fund raising, and the future of IDEA and debate in many nations in the post-Soros funding era.
Bojana walked down to the restaurant car while I watched our stuff, and she returned with two huge sandwiches. I shared the old adage about never eating anything bigger than your head, but I plowed into my sandwich anyway. It was fresh and delicious, with delightful bread.
With every mile we traveled north there were changes that were obvious to me. The income level seemed to be rising, as the houses were in better repair, the roads looker better kept, there were more and newer cars, fewer outdoor toilets, etc.
By the time we approached Zagreb things began looking more and more like Western Europe, with subtle changes in architecture and urban development. The day wore on and soon the sun was setting. We crossed the border into Slovenia and again had an immigration check, this time a bit more thorough.
Now we were into Slovenia, and I was to discover an incredibly beautiful and friendly country, in many ways much like Vermont Š beautiful mountains, forests, lakes, and lovely small towns. I just say, however, that for the next few days of this diary I will do my best to give proper place names and names of the kind people I met, but since they use a number of characters not found in my current alphabet set, my spelling will be approximate at best. Slovenian, as Serbo-Croatian, uses the letter J as we in English would use the letter Y. Also, many words and place names have no vowels (by our normal rules). I often teased Bojana that they had words (including her last name -- Skrt) with no vowels at all. I teased her about her claim that the letter R could be a vowel. She finally silenced me, however, when she pointed out that since I can say these words, such as Trst (for the coastal Italian city of Trieste), that proved that R could operate as a vowel. She had me on that argument.
We exited our friendly train at the first stop, Brezice, where Mitjia Turk, who coached the English language debate team at Gymnazija Novo Mesto, our first stop, met us. He drove us through the snow-covered countryside, stopping so I could snap a photo of a beautiful castle located on a lake. We proceeded on to Novo Mesto, and small but extremely beautiful riverside town, dominated by the pharmaceutical firm Krka (R as a vowel, I guess). It was lovely in the night, and I looked forward to seeing it in the sunlight.
We stopped at a small hotel and checked in. My room was beautiful, modern, stylish, and impressive. After a brief refresher, Bojana and I met in the restaurant for dinner. I learned about the conflict raging in Slovenia between two brands of beer -- Lashko and Union. I decided to try Union this night, and found it tasty and a bit sweet. I asked Bojana to help me select something from the menu that reflected Slovenia traditions. She suggested the fresh game meat (this evening it was venison) along with a sort of baked pastry called Strukjli. I was an instant fan of it. After dinner and a single beer it was off to bed, because the real work in Slovenia would begin the next day.