From Bozeman to Belgrade: Moving the Borderlands Lodge N & P

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A lot has been going on over the past couple of months. For me personally, the biggest project has been moving. Yes, after twelve years in its present location, the Borderlands Lodge is headed to Belgrade: Belgrade, MT, that is--the little Montana town with a Balkan flavor. 

I've lived in a lot of apartments over the years. There were four in Montreal when I was in college, and then another four in Istanbul when I lived there in the 90s. I won't even try to count how many places I rented when I was a graduate student/post-doc researching in Istanbul, Baku, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Ufa, Moscow, Simferopol, Batumi, and Tbilisi, not to mention Princeton, Providence, and NYC. 

When I got my job at Montana State in 2009, I was living again in Istanbul, having flown out to Turkey--for the second time in my life--on a one-way ticket and no concrete plan for return. I'd finished my PhD and was feeling somewhat invisible after two long years looking for tenure-track work in the USA as a professor. I was riding out a post-doctoral research grant I'd received and, other than applying for various jobs, no real idea of what was going to happen next. 

Moving from Istanbul to Bozeman in the summer of 2009 was an adventure. I didn't have a lot of stuff, so I shipped out what little I had stored at my parents' place in Ann Arbor, then used the remainder of the moving expenses MSU had given me to rent a car and drive out to Montana from Michigan. It was a great trip, and gave me a feel for the enormity of the distance and the land extending between my childhood home and my new adult one. 

I rented a two-bedroom apartment in MSU's family and graduate housing with the assumption that it would be a short stay. It made no sense for me to fly out to Bozeman for a week, frantically try to find a place while staying in a hotel, and then head back to Michigan. Instead, I figured that I'd get a temporary place on campus and move out within a year. 

Arriving in Bozeman in early August of 2009 after a weeklong drive from Ann Arbor, I liked the apartment I'd been given. It was on the second floor, had a little balcony, and provided me with a great view of the Bridger Mountains. I had a better view than almost anyone I knew in town, and the apartment was at all times filled with natural sunlight--it's a gem of a place in that respect. 

I also really loved the international flavor of the neighborhood. In Family and Graduate Housing, I had neighbors from Turkey, Russia, Mongolia, Iraq, Armenia, and many other countries. I felt like I had discovered a small international niche for myself here. The fact that I owed tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt also made me appreciate Family and Graduate Housing's relatively low prices in comparison with the typically astronomical rent costs in housing-poor Bozeman. 

So you can imagine my consternation when I learned last fall that Montana State's senior administration had decided to evict 78 faculty and staff members from their homes in FGH--and that they were doing so right in the middle of a public health crisis. Don't get me wrong--I certainly didn't feel like the university owed me this housing for the rest of my career, but the timing of evictions was truly mind-boggling. It's certainly been an eye-opening experience. 

Unlike most of my colleagues who are getting evicted, however, I was at least in a financial position to move out and buy a house. After living in my FGH apartment for 12 years, I'd managed to pay off my debts and save some money, and in fact I'd occasionally looked into buying a house at various points in recent years. 

In mid-March I closed on a place in Belgrade, and I'm really excited about it. Belgrade is the next town over from Bozeman, and is where the airport is located. Belgrade's a small town--with a population of about 10,000--and doesn't have much of a nightlife district, but it has a small stretch of bars, restaurants, and the like. I'm about a ten-minute walk from the center of town, and am equally distant from the YellowStream bus to MSU's campus in Bozeman, so I won't have to drive much. And the little house I've bought is, frankly, a dream-home, at least as far as I'm concerned. 

Back when I was a freshman in college I had a friend in the dorm named Tony. I remember right after Thanksgiving I went to hang out with Tony in his room and asked him how things had been "at home." With a world-weary sigh, Tony explained to me that he'd had fun seeing his folks and all, but hadn't really felt like he was at home anymore. "I guess home is where your record collection is," he surmised. 

Now that I've removed almost all of my belongings--including my record collection--out to BG, my place in FGH doesn't feel quite as much like home as it used to, but I'll always retain real affection for this apartment. Twelve years is easily the longest I've lived in one place since moving out of my parents' home. The longest I'd lived in any other apartment was the last one that I rented (for five years) in Istanbul in the 90s. Prior to this place in Bozeman, my apartment on Göknar Sokak had always been the one I'd remembered the most fondly. 

Moving is never easy, especially after having lived so many years in one place. Doing so in the middle of a pandemic is a real hassle, but I've been gradually taking my stuff out to the new house. Without question, the summer will be taken up with getting lots of new things and organizing things the way I want them, as well as familiarizing myself with my new environs.  

In the rest of the world, meanwhile, much more momentous developments continue to take place. One news item that caught my eye has little to do with the parts of the world I work on. Instead, it's connected to Northern Ireland and the recent uptick in violence there

Such an eventuality was, in fact, the first thing I thought of after the Brexit vote in 2016. I often use the example of Northern Ireland as a way of getting my students to think about what most of them assume (initially, at least) is endemic violence between religious groups in the Middle East. For decades in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics invoked religion in violence that was inherently political. Once a political solution was hammered out, the violence went away. No one would say that Protestants and Catholics are somehow hard-wired to hate and kill each other, whether it's in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. But it's easier to make such sweeping declarations when you're talking about a part of the world--such as the Balkans, the Middle East, or former Soviet space--that you know little about. 


I found Stephen Cook's article on Turkey in Foreign Policy to be quite interesting. The article relates to government-friendly news agencies in Turkey claiming that a coup was allegedly being planned after 104 retired admirals wrote an open letter criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's idea to create a new canal linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.  Cook argues that the letter played into Erdogan's hand, allowing him to claim "coup!" at precisely the moment that support for the ruling AK Party in Turkey is softening. 

I say: sure, of course. This is what RTE has been doing ever since he became Prime Minister in 2002. 

Of course the real interest in building the canal is financial. The AKP's model of politics is similar to that of Putin's in Russia in that it relies heavily upon proceeds from the construction industry. Enormous construction projects like this one are, collectively, the straw that stir the political drink in Turkey. 


US sanctions on Turkey over Ankara's purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missiles went into effect this past week



From The Guardian

Open source intelligence reports have shown that tanks, rocket artillery, and short-range ballistic missiles have been transported to just 150 miles from Ukraine, where Russia has established a large new military staging area.

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov on Friday defended the Russian military buildup, calling the border region a “powder keg” and saying that Russia “will not stand aside” if it believes hostilities could lead to “mass civilian casualties”.

Those followed remarks by Dmitry Kozak, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, who said one day earlier that Moscow could “come to the defence” of its citizens in Russian-backed separatist territories – where it has issued more than 650,000 passports since 2019 – if Kyiv tries to retake its territory.

Passports and citizenship: these are hardly new tools of international statecraft. If you're interested, you can read about the Russian empire's use of subjecthood (or "citizenship") in this article or in my book, Turks Across Empires. 

Regarding eastern Ukraine, for the last several years (since 2014, in other words) my sense has been that eastern Ukraine was much more useful to Moscow as a potential threat, as opposed to a desirable region to annex in the manner of the Crimea. As I've discussed elsewhere, the big industrial cities of eastern Ukraine are hardly as attractive to Putin as the Crimea, and certainly these places do not resonate with the Russian population in anywhere the way that the Crimea does. 

So, employing the possibility of instability in eastern Ukraine is something that seems to be of more potential use to the Kremlin than actually invading eastern Ukraine, occupying it, and incorporating it into Russia--something that I would be surprised to see happen now.  

The Balkans

The town of Visegrad, Bosnia, was the setting of Ivo Andric's The Bridge over the Drina. Now it's situated in the so-called "Republika Srpska," the Serb-controlled eastern half of the country. 

Apparently, the town's administration has decided to declare Monday, April 12, the "Day of Russian Volunteers," celebrating the Russian mercenaries who fought on behalf of the Serbs during the civil wars/genocides taking place in ex-Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. 

From Balkan Insight

The “Day of Russian Volunteers” marks the day when three Russian volunteer fighters were killed in 1993 near Visegrad in the 1992-5 war in Bosnia: Konstantin Bogoslovski, Vladimir Safonov and Dmitry Popov. Several others were wounded.

In April 2017, Bosnian Serbs in Visegrad, which was mainly Bosniak before the war, erected a monument in the shape of an Orthodox cross to the Russian volunteers who fought on the Serbian side, angering Bosniak war victims and their associations.

The installation was organised by the RS government’s Committee for Fostering the Traditions of Liberation Wars, the RS Veterans’ Organisation and the municipality of Visegrad.

The exact number of Russian volunteers who fought in the Bosnian Serb Army during the war is not known, but media have speculated that there were between 500 to 600.

Bear News

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More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.