AWIU Congratulates Lepa Mladjenovic on her 2013 Ann Klein Award

December 11, 2012

lepa image-crop color adjustedThe AWIU Journey of Discovery to the Balkans had the privilege of meeting with Lepa Mladjenovic during their trip in June.  It was just announced that Lepa was the recipient of the 2013 Ann Klein award.  Learn more here 



November 21, 2012

OVERVIEW OF OUR MEETINGS WITH ORGANIZATIONS – Balkan Delegation, June 2 through 20

(To be used to jog memories and stimulate thinking on how we could maintain our connections and develop relationships.)

Meetings with Roma organizations and Roma women:

  • In Belgrade  – The 5 Roma organizations met through Lepa, most were pedagogical assistants and worked with Roma children in schools.  Two English-speaking women from these organizations offered their contact information and expressed interest in ongoing communication.  Lepa also is interested in maintaining contact.
  • In Tuzla  – Roma Women for a Better Future  – Larissa moderated our meeting and an elementary school principal and teacher presented their model inclusion program for Roma children.   Larisa is interested in ongoing communication.
  • In Budapest  – Agnes Ostrolayan, Roma Woman of Courage, member of Parliament, along with  filmmaker, Katalin Boisony involved in “I Am a Roma” film project, part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.     Katalin was very interested in sharing her business card and maintaining contact.  Agnes is also open for communications.


Meetings with organizations working to rehabilitate and heal women and families after the displacement, rapes, and loss of family members incurred by the wars:

  • Mothers of Srebrenica  – President, Munira Subasic – Membership of more than 8,000 women, all of whom have lost family members, some as many as 40 to 50 in the Srebrenica massacre.
  • Women in Black in Belgrade

Beba Muhic from BOSFAM of course would be thrilled for any connections we could make in terms of markets.  Milos, the young man who spoke for Women in Black, offered contact information and expressed interest in staying in touch.


 Meetings with organizations working to combat domestic violence:

Meetings with  organizations working to strengthen the participation of young people and women in positions of leadership in their country:

  • Fondacija Cure – Coordinates cultural activities for the purpose of promoting gender equality.  Also focused on training young women for deeper participation and leadership in civic society.  Berina and Jadranka are both interested in maintaining contact.
  • OKC Abrasevic  – Operates a cultural center as a means of integrating youth from the three main ethnic groups in Mostar.  OKC maintains an on-line media center, Abrasmedia , convenes regular round table discussions with visiting artists and cultural figures from surrounding countries.  Program Coordinator, Kristina Coric, is interested in maintaining contact.
  • Open Communication Network, University of Belgrade  –  – Practices debate to promote civic discourse.  
Part of a network of university debating teams. Travels to compete with different teams throughout the area.

·      Women for Women International, Sarajevo  Offers a sponsorship program based in Washington, DC, for job and business skills training of women in Bosnia-Herzegovina.   Director,Seida Saric, hopes to maintain contact and to explore projects.

  • American University in Sarajevo  The President spoke of the university’s interest in expanding upon its undergraduate and graduate programs to address the vacuum in education and training in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Plans to develop distance-training through technology to address technological and business skills needs of women in leadership NGO roles outside Sarajevo.  Esmir Ganic has encouraged continued contact..


We also met with:

June 20–The Delegation Savors The Last Day in the Balkans

October 22, 2012

Our last day in Budapest.  The morning was on our own, some enjoying museums, others experiencing the famous Thermal Baths.  At noon we met M.P. Agnes Ostolykan at a small shop of creative Roma fashions, near Saint Stevens Basilica on the Pest side.  The skirts and jackets had color and flair, and we spent an hour trying them on.  From the shop we had a quick lunch of Hungarian goulash at a nearby café, and then we visited the famous Herend Porcelain showroom.  The displays were dazzling, as were the prices.  A quick stop for afternoon refreshment was at the popular confectioners shop, Gerbeaud, and then another visit to a Hungarian fashion boutique.

The last evening for our Delegation was done up in style, as we dined at the Hilton Hotel on Castle Hill.  Even better, our table was near the wall which overlooks the Danube and the city below.  As the sun went down, the Mathias church spires, Fisherman’s towers, and the Parliament building across the river were flood lit, a fantastic sight.  We dined while listening to romantic music played by four Roma musicians.  Budapest does not get better than this.

The last evening for our Delegation was done up in style, as we dined at the Hilton Hotel on Castle Hill.  Even better, our table was near the wall which overlooks the Danube and the city below.  As the sun went down, the Mathias church spires, Fisherman’s towers, and the Parliament building across the river were flood lit, a fantastic sight.  We dined while listening to romantic music played by four Roma musicians.  Budapest does not get better than this.

June 18–Leaving Ljubjana — Quick Visit to Zagreb–then the Majestic City of Budapest

October 21, 2012

By 8:00 A.M. we were ready for the 350 mile drive to Budapest.  This included a couple of “comfort” stops at modern gas station-convenience stores where we can buy ice creams etc.  The lunch stop was in the Croatian capital city Zagreb.  We took photos of the Catholic cathedral and peeked inside, and our local guide took us to a nearby open market place offering a few handicrafts but mostly fruits, veggies and meats.  I bought some little black cherries and three big ripe green figs.  We walked past their government buildings and a colorful St. Marks church with bright tiled roof.

Lidija guided us to a traditional restaurant, Didov San, where we had the usual starters of salami, prosciutto, cheese slices, olives, and buttery cheese, and fried bread balls. Then shredded cabbage and tomato salad.  Entrée: grilled turkey breast and fried potato slices, followed by walnut cake, coffee and tea.

We left Zagreb around 2 P.M. and traveled on, stopping awhile at the Hungary border where we all had to show our passports, and we got into Budapest around 8 P.M.  The country side is flat, with a distant mountain range, lots of green crops, corn rows, bushy trees, but not many houses.  There were a few little tractors.  Villages and towns are more Austrian-looking with churches and tall spires, and not as many of the Adriatic red tile roofs.

Sadly, it was a while getting to our hotel, which is several miles from the Danube, and the poor driver went round and round on the one way streets.  It seems that their GPS failed them, and some roads were blocked off with yellow ribbons because Bruce Willis is in the city making a movie.  Finally Lydija and Ivan hired a taxi to lead the way to the hotel, which is on a narrow one way street.  Buildings are not too interesting from the outside, but the interior of the Hotel Palazzo Zichy is new, sophisticated and a blend of very modern with saved touches of the original 19th c. building.  Very dark gray walls with brocade pattern in the same gray, and beige on some walls, the dining room has wine upholstered chairs and napkins.

We were hot and tired, and gathered in the lounge for free drinks.  There was a discussion about what to do with the rest of the evening. Then most of us grabbed taxies (three cars) and rode across the Danube to the Buda side and up to Castle Hill, where we were left off at the base of the grand 700 year old gothic Mathias church, and the Fishermens Towers, and walls and arches, all lit up.  And there were grand vistas across the Danube to the amazing Parliament building, also lit.  So, we took photos and walked aimlessly in the direction of the Hapsburg Palace.  The entry to the Palace courtyard, a beautifully decorated arch, was lit up, so we went in and it was the most delightful moment, looking across the vast cobblestone courtyard at enormous buildings wrapping all four sides with an elegant Grand Portico. We imagined golden carriages dropping off royal guests back in the 1800s; and a man was playing a crude box of a guitar and singing romantic songs from the 1940s.  It was magical.  And again, a balmy comfortable evening so it was idyllic.  After taking our fill of photographs, we found taxis and returned to the hotel.

Ljubljana, Slovakia June 17–The Delegation Spends an Evening Experiencing the Charm

October 21, 2012

Sunday, June 17: Ljubljana, Slovakia.

This is such a pleasant city, and not overwhelmingly large. Of course there is the large modern business and shopping district, but there is also a nicely preserved, large older part on the other side of the river which cuts through the city.  There, historic buildings from Austrian and earlier Renaissance periods are preserved and the streets are vehicle-free, just bicycles and skaters.  Clean and not too crowded, the people seem friendly, and it is just enjoyable to be here.  On the hot (80s) summer days, there are outdoor seating areas beside most cafes and restaurants, with people enjoying their meals al fresco.  Gelato stands are popular. The one on the main square featured 24 flavors including cantaloupe, coconut, and varieties of berries and other fruits.  Nearby is a crepe vendor.

So, this morning we walked a few blocks from our hotel, passing expensive shops with high fashions, back to the central square near the big pink Catholic Church.

Our local guide, a knowledgeable young lady named Helena, told us about the buildings and the city’s history, took us into the Cathedral, and let us do a little shopping.  Our lunch was at Gostina Sestica, a traditional and touristy restaurant, where we had mushroom soup, the usual shredded cabbage salad, veal in cream sauce with mashed potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and a nut-cream layered cake, coffee and tea.In the afternoon we got on the van and went to the suburbs, where we had a meeting with Dorijan (pronounced “Dorian”) Marsic, Director of a de-mining company called International Trust Fund (ITF) to Enhance Human Security.  This organization raises funds and provides services and coordination for the actual de-mining contractors.  ITF works with the USA and various governments.  They have cleared Serbia and Slovenia, but are still working on places (off limits to people) in Croatia and Bosnia.  Mr. Marsic was leaving soon to survey the needs for de-mining in Libya.

Returning to Ljubljana, a group of us walked to the Funicular near the Pink Catholic Church Square, and ascended a nearly vertical hillside to the city’s castle.  An informative video showed that the site had been first a Neolithic settlement, which evolved into a Roman fortress, a Slavic village, and finally a real castle built by Germans in the 14th century.  Later, it was possessed by Turks, then Austrians and now it is a center for art and music.

After our Castle tour, we rode back down and walked along the river, bought ham and cheese crepes and gelatos and indulged in people-watching on a balmy summer evening.

June 16 Ljubljana, Slovenia

June 20, 2012

June 16.  Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana Castle

This clean, modern (while preserving 17th and 18th century architecture) city has charmed us all.  The pronunciation is Lyoob-leeyana.  We thought that we had witnessed one of the most wondrous sights at Plitvic National Park, but in some ways Lake Bled out does Plitvic when it comes to Old World European scenery.  The city of Bled is about 40 miles east of Ljubljana, on the shore of another aqua blue lake.  As we rode along the side of the lake we suddenly saw a tall narrow craggy cliff and at the top of the cliff was perched a fairy tale 12th century castle built by a German king.  In addition, on a small wooded island  near the cliff was an old church with a tall spire.  Only row boats and small excursion boats are allowed on this crystal-clear lake.  White swans completed the dream-like atmosphere.  We could not take enough photos.  Our guide took us up to the castle, where we stood on a terrace and photographed the church island and visited a fine little historic museum.  After the castle visit, and lunch on the deck of a nice restaurant, most of the group walked half way around the lake for better views and photos, while others including myself browsed along the vendors stalls near the restaurant, and took photos of the graceful swans, mallard ducks, and some cute little children dressed for a summer outing.  Merry Lee Eilers. 

June 15 Split

June 20, 2012

June 15.  Split:  A large trendy harbor city  with palm trees, significant Roman ruins, and crowds of tourists.

It was the night of important European Soccer play-offs and the Croatian team tied with Italy and remained in the play offs as a result.  There was much cheering, and many soccer fans sported shirts and hats with Croatian red and white check pattern.  Croatian flags flew on cars.  We sat in an outdoors sports bar near the Diocletian Palace

Diocletian Palace

and helped cheer on the team.

Everyone enjoyed the Luxe Boutique Hotel, which is small and very new and contemporary.  Airy and light with modernistic furniture, and purple orchid flowers tucked into tall-stemmed clear glass goblets on each white table.  Lavender light effects in the bar and reception area, and a color scheme through out of purple and aqua.   It had everything there including a hot tub and sauna.  Although we hated to leave such artistic luxury, we went on to a day of unparalleled scenic beauty in Plitvic National Park.  The park is set in a lush green country side, with grass pastures, agricultural crops, wild flowers, and forests.  Amid a forest we alighted from the van and followed our guide, Lydia, down about 100 stone steps and along a path through the woods until we came upon a lake of clear aqua blue.  As we waited on the dock to board a small ferry, we could see trout in the crystalline water.  By ferry we cruised down this blue lake about 3/4 mile to the other end, where we started along a trail and saw the first of many waterfalls, as the water from this upper lake poured over low cliffs into a smaller lake below.  Walking along this next lake, and making way for many park visitors, we were amazed by the clear aqua water and the many little falls as it spilled into the next lake below, and the terraced  lakes and falls repeated a few more time.  We were now in a narrow deep canyon, sometimes walking on rough hewn plank board walks, until we reached the lowest lake.  Then it was a climb on a path with switch-backs until we were back in another parking area where our van was waiting for us.  We hiked and cruised about two and a half miles in all today.  The weather was about 80 degrees and the blue sky enhanced the blue lakes.  We will never forget the beauty of the Plitvic Lakes.  It is one of the most scenic places in the world.  Merry Lee Eilers

June 12: Diubrovnik, Coatia More Balkan Dances

June 20, 2012

June 12: Afternoon.  Dubrovnik, Croatia: We were now strolling in the Old Walled City

Old walled city of dubrovnik

when Judith spotted a poster announcing an evening of Folk Dances.  Some of us bought tickets in the Old City and after a light dinner al fresco, on a balmy evening, we walked outside the walls and along the harbor a little way to a collection of ancient stone buildings.  One of these, which lacked a roof, was an auditorium in which we saw 24 dancers brilliantly perform similar kolos and czardas, this time dressed in colorful ethnic costumes.  Between their dances, 12 male musicians played and sang while the dancers changed costumes for the next number.  The dances and lively music were memorable, another treasure to cherish from this trip to the Balkans.  Merry Lee Eilers.

June 11, Mostar: Dances of the Balkans

June 16, 2012

June 11

In this era of rock and rap, it is a rare treat to hear traditional ethnic music and watch young people happily preserving the dances of their local regions.

AWIU Balkans Delegation on the bridge at Mostar, June 10, 2012

In Mostar, Bosnia Herzogovina, we were invited to Dzemal Bijedić University, where the President greeted us and walked with us to the Drama Department.  We sat up front, in rows of students’ wooden fold-up seats, and were presented with a rehearsal of a program of ethnic folk dances.  Clad in jeans and tee shirts, 16 young men and women put on five spirited and complicated Balkan dances.  Their complex steps and patterns were precise, and the music kept us tapping our toes.  Merry Lee Eilers


American University, Sarajevo

June 14, 2012

Our visit to American University inspired hope for the long term future of Bosnia Herzegovina. The President, Denis Prcic and three key faculty met with us on a Sunday noon as they were concluding an earlier meeting. The president eagerly shook hands with each of us and explained their educational mission.

Judith Jaikitis listens to the President of the American University of Bosnia Herzegovina

The University, established in 2006, is based on principles of American education. This includes emphasis on multiethnic inclusion, understanding of American law, and principles. Key areas of study are business and econimics, international law, technology, and diplomacy.