Friday, April 29, 2022

New Mattress

The old mattress
Back in 2011, I bought a mattress from Ikea.  It was 160 cm (63 inches) wide.  Well after 11 years the mattress was getting a bit lumpy and it was well past time for a new one.

This time I actually went to a mattress store for something a bit better.  The first thing is that I wanted the maximum size mattress which is 180 cm (71 inches) wide.  My first adventure at the shop was explaining to the shop assistant that I didn't want to go with two individual (90 cm) mattresses.  

The shop assistant asked me which side of the bed I slept on and I said "the middle" which is why I don't want to sleep on the crack between two smaller mattresses.  He then tried to explain to me why it is so much better to go with two smaller mattresses.  He asked if I was married and tried to suggest that perhaps my future wife would prefer two mattresses.  I was starting to get annoyed.  Not just because he assumed that I was straight and would have a wife but because I came in to spend money and he was making me not want to give him my money.

I finally just put my foot down and said that this is what I wanted and that was it.  Because the mattress is not a standard size it would take longer to make and to ship it to me from Slovakia where it would be manufactured.  I was told it would take about five weeks and it arrived today.

I'm so looking forward to a good night's sleep.  Now I just have to get rid of my old mattress.  The company didn't offer a service to remove the old one.  It looks like I'll put a message up on the Brno Facebook page to see if anyone wants a free mattress.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Geetha's Farewell Lunch

Today was Geetha's farewell lunch.  I've more or less worked with Geetha the whole time that I've been here in Czechland.  She worked in India with my team located in Brno.  She's always been a rock star so several years ago I sorted out a transfer for her to Brno.  Then a few years later, we worked together in a different team before I left to do something else.

But after more than five years in Brno she's ready to go back home.  That's one of the things about expats.  For the most part they come and then one day go back to their home country or head to the next adventure.

When I first moved here I thought that I'd be here for 2, maybe 3 years, and then either head back to the USA or perhaps end up in another country.  Yet, even after almost 13 years, I don't have any plans to leave Brno.

Safe travels back to Bangalore Geetha!  We'll miss you!!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Partnership for Peace

NATO has something something called Partnership for Peace (PfP).  It's a bilateral cooperation programme between NATO and Euro-Atlantic partner countries that lets partners build up an individual relationship with NATO.  PfP started in 1994 as a way to build security relationships between NATO and non-NATO countries.  Participating countries choose their own priorities for cooperation and the both the level and pace of progress.

The programme allowed NATO to reach out to former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics following the end of the Cold War.  The programme allows countries to build closer relationships with NATO without actually becoming a NATO member.  It's important to remember that the PfP programme has nothing to do with NATO's article 5 which says that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all.  So while Ukraine is a PfP member it is not a member of NATO.  

Here's the list of when countries joined the PfP programme.  Many went on to officially join NATO later on.  

Romania - 26.01.1994
Lithuania - 27.01.1994
Poland - 02.02.1994
Estonia - 03.02.1994
Hungary - 08.02.1994
Ukraine - 08.02.1994
Slovakia - 09.02.1994
Bulgaria - 14.02.1994
Latvia - 14.02.1994
Albania - 23.02.1994
Czechia - 10.03.1994
Moldova - 16.03.1994
Georgia - 23.03.1994
Slovenia - 30.03.1994
Finland - 09.05.1994
Sweden - 09.05.1994
Azerbaijan - 04.05.1994
Turkmenistan - 10.05.1994
Kazakhstan - 27.05.1994
Russia - 22.06.1994
Armenia  05.10.1994
Uzbekistan - 13.07.1994

Belarus - 11.01.1995
Austria - 10.02.1995
Malta - 26.04.1995
Macedonia - 15.11.1995

Switzerland - 11.12.1996

Ireland - 01.12.1999

Croatia - 25.05.2000

Tajikistan - 20.02.2002

Montenegro - 14.12.2006
Serbia - 14.12.2006

In 1999, Czechland, Hungary, and Poland became the first three PfP countries to join NATO.

In 2004, NATO saw its largest expansion when seven PfP countries joined - Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Malta joined the programme in 1995 but left in 1996 and rejoined in 2008.

In 2009 - Albania and Croatia joined NATO.  Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 and North Macedonia joined in 2020 as the 30th NATO member.

In 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia.  It's hard to picture Russia as a Partnership for Peace member considering it invaded Ukraine to keep it from joining NATO in the future.  But by doing do, I don't think it will be long until Finland and Sweden decide to join NATO.

Traditionally neutral countries such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland are all PfP members.  For Austria, the programme allows for cooperation with NATO without joining because under the country's constitution, Austria is prohibited from entering into military alliances and no foreign military bases may be on Austrian territory.  

Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are all neutral micro states that are surrounded by NATO members.  They are all a part of the OSCE but they do not participate the PfP programme.

Cyprus is the only EU member that isn't a member of either NATO or the PfP programme. Kyrgyzstan is the only former Soviet republic that didn't join the PfP programme.  It did join the CSTA with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Update: 4 April 2023 - Finland became the 31st member of NATO.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the world's largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental organisation.  It even has observer status as the United Nations.  It began in 1973 as a forum between the west and the east during the Cold War.  The OSCE focuses on arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.  

Its headquarters are in Vienna and today the OSCE consists of 57 participating countries plus 11 observer/partner countries.  The six official languages are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. 

It's basically every country in Europe plus the USA and Canada.  The 11 partner countries are Afghanistan, Australia, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, South Korea, Thailand, and Tunisia. 

Each year a different country assumes the chairmanship for a calendar year and that country's minister of foreign affairs is the Chairperson-in-Office.  Czechoslovakia held the chairmanship in 1992.  An independent Czechland hasn't held the chairmanship yet but Slovakia held it in 2019.  

The chairmanship is with Poland this year.  North Macedonia has it next year followed by Estonia in 2024 and Finland in 2025.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube about the OSCE.

©The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Bosnia, Serbia, Russia, and Z

So while in Banja Luka, I wasn't really thrilled about the Russian Z's I saw throughout the city.  They weren't everywhere but they were visible.

First of all, what's the Z?  The letter Z doesn't even exit in the Cyrillic alphabet. 


I had to do a double-take when I saw people standing in a queue to use the ATM at a Sberbank.  That's because Sberbank, which is Russia's largest state-owned bank, is shut down in Czechland due to EU sanctions.  

My housekeeper mentioned that she had an account with Sberbank but she received a letter that her account would be closed because Sberbank is no longer allowed to operate in the EU and that she would could transfer all of her money to a new bank.  

So why hasn't Bosnia and Herzegovina sanctioned Russia like most every other country over its invasion of Ukraine?  Well, that's because of Republika Srpska and Serbia.  

Serbia and Russia are allies.  For example, because Serbia claims Kosovo as part of Serbia, Russia keeps blocking recognition of Kosovo in the United Nations.    

©DW News

Serbia hasn't closed its airspace to Russia.  Russian flights still can't get to Serbia because the planes would have to cross EU airspace to get to Serbia.  But, AirSerbia is still flying to Russia which means that many Russians are flying to Serbia and then flying onward from there.  Serbia was bombed by NATO in the 1990s and there's distrust for NATO which is good for Putin.  It's funny that Serbia isn't following EU sanctions when it is trying to join the EU.

Bosnia isn't able to pass sanctions on Russia because Republika Srpska vetos the resolutions in support of Serbia.  


I still don't see how anything gets done in Bosia when everything needs to be done by consensus between three parties that were all fighting each other for years only a short time ago.  I wonder how long before this breaks up Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Germany looks like it will ban the Z.  It seems that under German law this falls under forbidding public approval of illegal acts, or something along those lines.

In Prague, the local officials are changing the name of the street in front of the Russian Embassy.  Its new name will be "Ukrainian Heroes" street.  I bet the Russian embassy loves that one.  

Я за Україну. Я за Україною. Слава Україні  Stojím za Ukrajinou!  I stand with Ukraine. 🇺🇦

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Banja Luka, Bosnia and Hezegovina

Banja Luka, or Бања Лука in Serbian, is the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovia.  It is the largest city and the administrative capital of Republika Srpska.  

The city is in the northwest part of Bosnia, on the Verbs river, just over 3 hours by car, 139 km (86 miles), from Sarajevo.  

Banja Luka is home to just around 140,000 while the greater area totals around 185,000 people.

There's evidence that the Romans were here back in the first centuries.  

Banja Luka was first mentioned in writing in 1494.  In 1527 it fell to the Ottoman Empire before eventually becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

At the end of WWI it became part of the the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  During WWII, it became part of the Independent State of Croatia which was a Nazi puppet regime.  Yugoslav partisans liberated the city on 22 April 1945 and it rejoined Yugoslavia.

During the war in the 1990s, almost all of the city's Bosniaks and Croats were expelled.  All 16 of the city's mosques were rigged with explosives and destroyed as part of the ethnic cleansing that was going on.

The Ferhat Pasha Mosque was built in 1579 but it was demolished in 1993.  The mosque was rebuilt and opened in 2016.

The Catholic Church of St. Anthony and Franciscan monastery was also destroyed in 1993 by the Bosnian Serb Army.  Reconstruction began in 2003 after Pope John Paul II visited the site.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was consecrated in 1939.  It was demolished during WW2 and following the war the Yugoslav communists didn't permit the church to be rebuilt.  During the Bosnian war, in 1993, permission was give to rebuilt the church.

There are four Roman Catholic cathedrals in Bosnia and Herzegovina one of them is in Banja Luka.  The Cathedral of St. Bonaventure was built in the 1970s.  It too was damaged during the Bosnian War but it reopened in 2001 following repairs.  The 42m (138 ft.) tall bell tower is kind of funky.

There's even a Ukrainian church that was built on the site where a Ukrainian Greek church was destroyed during WWII.  Restoration began in 1998.  The exterior is done but the interior is still a work in progress.

The National Theatre of the Republic of Srpska was founded in 1930.

At Memorial Park, there is a memorial to the Yugoslav partisans that died fighting in WWII.

Banski Dvor opened in 1932.  Until 2008 it was the seat of the President of the Republika Srbska.  Today, it is home to the city administration and it is a cultural centre.

The Palace of the Republic is the official residence of the President of Republika Srpska.  It was built as a bank in 1936.  After WWII, the communists used the building as the People's Bank.  During the Bosnian War the building became a place for youth meetings.  After the war it was the home of the National Bank of Republika Srpska and the Ministry of Finance of Republika Srpska.  In 2008 is when the official residence of the President of Republika Srpska moved here from Banski Dvor.

The Office of the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska is a modern building.  I was surprised that the armed guards allowed me to take photos of it.

Gospodska is Gentleman's Street, and it is full of shops with cafes and bars tucked in side streets.  

The Museum of Modern Art of Republika Srpska was established in 1971.

In 1930 the Museum of Verbs Banovina opened.  In 1982 the location was moved to the Worker's Solidarity House, next to the national library.  In 1982 it became the Museum of Republika Srpska.  There's some interesting displays inside but there's this odd taxidermy collection that I didn't really understand how it fit in with the displays.

Next door to the museum is a library.  I assume it's the national library but I could be wrong.

The Arie Livne Jewish Cultural Centre was inaugurated in 2014.  It is the only such facility built in the Balkans since WWII.  It contains one of only two synagogues in Republika Srpska.  Before the Holocaust there were a few hundred Jewish families in Banja Luka but today the number of families is in the tens.

Tržnica is the central market where you can find pretty much everything.  There are plenty of fruits and vegetables plus lots of clothing shops.

The Kastel Fortress is on the left bank of the Vrbas river.  It's medieval but it sits on the site of previous Roman fortifications.  It is one of the city's main sights.

The Vrbas river runs through the town.  The river runs for 250 km (155 miles) and it is a tributary of the Sava river.

At Banj Brno is the monument to fallen Krajina soldiers in the National Liberation War (1941-1945).  It opened in 1961.  It's a good hike up to the the top of the hill.  Thanks to Covid, I'm still not allowed any strenuous exercise for another couple of months so I took my time on the way up the hill.  But on my first post-Covid hike, I'm glad that the 18 km (11,25 miles) didn't do me in.

There are Republika Srpska flags all throughout the city.  On the other hand I think I only saw maybe two Bosnia flags out.

There are also lots of murals for the Vultures which is the local football team.  

I saw a few murals across the city of Ratio Mladić, who led the Bosnian Serbs during the war.  In 2017 he was convicted of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The Serbian text translates to "Unification has started and it can't be stopped."  I assume this has to do with the desire to merge with Serbia

What I didn't care for was all of the open support for Putin and Russia in the invasion of Ukraine.  I saw more than one Z in the city.  

There were even Z t-shirts for sale.  It wasn't a souvenir that I wanted. 

Я за Україну. Я за Україною. Слава Україні  Stojím za Ukrajinou!  I stand with Ukraine. 🇺🇦

Saturday, April 16, 2022

My Easter Trip

With Good Friday and Easter Monday, always falling on a Friday and a Monday, it means that we are always guaranteed a four-day weekend every year in Czechland.  We never have to worry about either day falling on a weekend which would cause us to loose it.  For example in December we only get one day off this year for Christmas because the 24th and 25th fall on Saturday and Sunday.

The catch is where to travel to during the four day weekend because most things are closed on Friday and Monday.  I had planned to visit Banja Luka in 2020 because (1) it's been on my list of places to visit for several years and (2) because most people there are Orthodox it means that their Easter isn't until 24 April so everything will be open while I'm here.

I even flew on Ryanair to get here.  Well, sort of.  I flew on Lauda which flies on behalf of its parent company which is Ryanair.  Basically it's the red Ryanair.  I'm still not a fan of Ryanair but the flight from Vienna was just an hour and I can deal with a short flight.

Due to Covid and lockdowns, I haven't seen Katka in about three years.  I caught the train to Vienna and she met me at the main station.  It was so good to see her and to catch up over lunch.  We got caught in some rain on the way back to the station.  It then started to hail which was a surprise.  

Steve and the kids met up with us at the Mitte station.  I can't believe how big they have gotten.  So freaking cute.  Hopefully the whole family will be able to make it to Czechsgiving this year.  

So I'm finally on my Easter trip in Banja Luka.  Just two years later than originally planned.  Now it's time to grab some breakfast and see if the city was worth the wait.