OCTOBER 21, 2015
Unfortunately this blog section has taken a backseat in past months as I worked my days away in Collingwood before moving on to pursue freelance opportunities. Most recently that tack led me to New Hampshire where I reported on the presidential primary, getting a chance to cover everyone from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, as well as several candidates who are no longer in the running. New Hampshire is an amazing and beautiful place and the people I met there were outstanding. Thanks to all the staffers who helped me out with campaign ins-and-outs. Also a shout-out to the great journalists I met on the trail, especially Nicolas Richter of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hillary Vaughn of Fox News Channel, Christian Mower of 93.5 WMWV, freelance photographer Michael Vadon, Tom LoBianco of CNN, Gabriel Debenedetti of Politico and Prisca Pointdujour of the Boston Herald, along with many others and some good Granite State friends I made. I’m thankful for the opportunity and experiences.
I’m now back in on the West Coast of Canada in British Columbia. I’m in the process of getting involved with several journalistic opportunities and continuing to work on new ideas including a possible future documentary. Sidenote, Canada elected Justin Trudeau prime minister last night in a semi-landslide particularly after Quebec fled NDP Orange to go to the Trudeau camp. Interesting times, to say the least. I was working for Elections Canada in a local riding for the day and got a good look at the voting process. That’s it for now, although I am adding a section for breaking news that I have a unique angle or opinion on. I want to put up any such material up as it occurs so that even if the content is not sold to an outlet people have access to my latest thoughts and discoveries here on my website. Adios for now.
FEBRUARY 25, 2015
Long time no update. As noted in “About Me” I’m now working as editor of The Enterprise-Bulletin in Collingwood, Ont. northwest of Toronto. Things are certainly getting interesting here, especially with the addition of several local columnists who have ruffled feathers in some circles of local politics. For my part I’m still learning the ropes but am appreciative for the opportunity to represent an area comprising upwards of 60,000 people and touching on news that often has broader implications and ties to the region, country and internationally. This is particularly the case due to the local MP Kellie Leitch being Canada’s Minister of Labour and of the Status of Women as well as various local influential families and legacies connected to politics and public service from the municipal to provincial to federal levels. Will update the site soon with some clippings from some of the work I’ve done so far here up north.
OCTOBER 9, 2014
It was certainly an interesting week in Budapest, I must say. There to cover the European Congress organized by American Identitarian/white nationalist Richard Spencer, I decided to go to an informal pub night to meet Spencer and a few of those going to the conference. The actual conference had been delayed due to threats from the Prime Minister and a number of speakers therefore not coming. Well, it turned out things were going to get a lot more intense, as Spencer was detained without charge and eventually arrested and deported for being declared a “national security threat,” by Viktor Orbán which I cover in my piece “The Nationalists’ Lost Mojo” for Roads & Kingdoms and an upcoming piece for Foreign Policy which I will link as soon as it’s out.
Seeing how much ideas and discussions can anger and drive a government to action was interesting, to say the least. What would have remained a likely fairly marginal conference is now receiving a lot of media attention precisely because it basically didn’t happen and the leader was hauled to jail and sent home before he could even speak.
One other note: Budapest is an amazing city. I’ve been gone two days and already miss it. Update soon.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2014
I’m off to Hungary in several days, where I will be covering the Future of Europe Identitarian Congress, organized by the National Policy Institute. Essentially a gathering of white nationalist academics and Hungarian political elements including Jobbik, the event will be a unique look inside Europe’s growing far right. From there I am still deciding what to do and will either come back to Georgia or Armenia to cover the Nagorno Karabakh Republic conflict or continue on to Austria, where I hope to explore the situation of the FPÖ and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Austria.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2014
This update is a bit late. Well two weeks late. It’s been fairly uneventful, although my pieces went up. “Georgian winemakers ready to toast end of EU tariffs,” and “You can’t go home again,” both worked out fairly well. Now I’m planning my next move. I have several stories to do here in Georgia and then I may well head to Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia for a time. One of my Georgian stories is basically a go, while the other is awaiting some permission from sources to speak to them. To be honest things have been slow. I’m happiest when I’m working and busy, so with a little bit of self-motivation and hopefully some partnership, networking and team work I’m going to get the show back on the road. Also a piece I did about how the hassle of home-cooked meals on women could be related to a bigger social breakdown went up today on the Federalist. Check it out, if you so desire.
AUGUST 5, 2014
I spent the past two weeks at the hostel near Batumi basically waiting for my Abkhazian visa to come through and then left for Sukhumi (or Sukhum, depending on your nationality/politics) for the next week. The border was fun, including a horse-drawn cart that cost a Lari on the Georgian side and a walk through some fenced in walkways to talk to the Russians, who were OK on the way in but quite suspicious of me on the way out.
Upon arrival in Sukhumi I noticed two guys speaking English with a French accent and the word “guesthouse.” Seeing as I hadn’t arranged accommodations I teamed up with them and jumped out of the marshutka. The two guys, who happened to be French journalists as I later found out, were called Camille and Bruno. We were shown to a guesthouse for three hundred rubles a night (about 10 dollars).
(The guesthouse was also the place I met a heavyset Russian man with a Dolph Lundgren haircut who was a chess and table tennis coach, supposedly. He loudly asked where we were from and announced he was from “Ze Russian Federation!” and made it clear we weren’t super welcome. Several days later when I came back to check out he basically accosted me, accused me of being a spy or working for the FBI and in a half-joking, belligerent manner made it clear he wasn’t quite buying that I’m a journalist interested in Abkhazia. “But what interest you about our Abkhazia and the region here?” he demanded repeatedly. He also guffawed as he announced how much the West was deluded that Abkhazia is in any way ruled or controlled by Russia. We’d all be friends drinking chacha if not for all the meddling West, he claimed. He admitted the past days that he had thought the three of us were “masking” (spying, presumably). As I told him I wish I was working for some agency, because I’d probably have a lot more money. I also probably wouldn’t stay in a public guesthouse where I could be approached by random Russians, nor would I go somewhere almost everyone speaks Russian without speaking it. But, you know, details.)
In the five days I was there we did interviews of the foreign minister of Abkhazia Viacheslav Chirikba, enjoyed some time on the stone beaches packed with Russian tourists, looked around Sukhumi and got the chance to visit an amazing family for a few days.
I also managed to break my phone for the second time, this time by being too rough in taking out the Georgian SIM card when I bought an Abkhaz one in Gali. As I walked around asking if there was a repair shop I went into a photocopy centre where I met a young man called Daniel from Syria. Daniel (photo centre) is enthusiastic and speaks English at a level sometimes better than a native speaker. As he said he had a private tutor in Damascus from North Carolina. His family are refugees from the Syrian conflict. Ethnic Akhaz who were deported by Russia in the 1800s during the Caucasian War live all over including Egypt, Turkey and Syria.
Daniel invited me to stay at their home for a few days and I also asked if the French guys could come: I reckoned it would make their Abkhazian trip even better and I was right. It was nice to get up in the cool air of the mountain foothills and enjoy the quiet of the country.
Daniel’s family lives in a northern region of Abkhazia, with a house given to them after they arrived by neighbours, a bit of furniture from the UN and plates and basics also given by neighbours. As Daniel said when they first arrived in Sukhumi before moving to the village some people thought they were entirely Arabic culture or not really Abkhazian, but after seeing them dance at a wedding they said “After 150 years you haven’t forgotten our dances, you really are one of us.”
Daniel and his two younger brothers commute to Sukhumi for work and also garden and farm around the house. The hospitality and welcoming attitude of the family was incredible, his mother and relatives served us the most amazing food, his father is a great dad and they are doing their best to carve out a new life, but also feel like nothing is stable anymore. What the family’s been through is so much, but they gave us everything they had including delicious food and a lot of laughs. We also went to the river several kilometres away on the last day we stayed there and swam in the freezing water and built a kind of dam/pool.
I hope to write an article about Daniel and another article about Abkhazia and its geopolitics. I wrote one from the Georgian side that will be at Foreign Policy soon so now I’d like to do another that tells more how Abkhaz see their situation and relation to Georgia and Russia.
I’m still waiting for my past article to be up on BBC, and hope it resolves OK with recent news that Russia is cancelling its Free Trade Agreement with Georgia. More to come.
JULY 25, 2014
I’m near Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast finishing up an article for BBC. The past week has been quite the adventure — talking to one of the top economists in Georgia, touring an organic winery in the Iori river valley of Kakheti, getting an inside view of the Georgian dairy industry near Akhaltsikhe and getting stuck in a jeep crossing a river to a large blueberry plantation near Ureki.
Incidentally the trip to the winery also involved crossing a river.
As Georgia prepares to begin economic integration with the EU it’s certainly an interesting time over here. It isn’t all sunshine and roses, either. The Agreement will likely see a rise in food prices as Georgia opens its economy to more EU goods and must meet EU standards even for domestic production. The long term benefits, however, could be significant, especially as education and technology gain a stronger foothold in the hinterlands of post-Soviet thinking that still abounds, especially in rural Georgia.
I will post my piece when it is published, and also have other news coming up about a second piece I did recently that will soon be published at Foreign Policy.