Living back in Europe makes one draw comparisons to the last time I lived on the old continent. At that time I was in Switzerland. Today, we live just a few hundred kilometres to the South, and the dichotomies are fascinating as these two places are almost exact opposites from a social cultural perspective. Switzerland, being one of the oldest democracies in the world, is now a highly regulated civil state. There, there is almost nothing that isn’t written into some form of legislation. At the same time though, the Swiss are a very progressive, open minded and liberal society (think of famous Needle Park in Zurich).
Here, we have the other side of the coin. Montenegro, being only three years old, is one of the youngest democracies in the world and is only in its infancy from a regulatory perspective. Many laws are new and have still not flowed down to all levels of authority. If you want something to get changed, you can actually participate in the transformation. Remember, there are only 650’000 citizens here, so we are dealing with a country the size of a small town in Canada. Almost everyone knows someone at in a “high’ government position. Progressive, open minded and liberal they are not… that is in its infancy here.
However, the countries are not opposites in everything. Oddly enough, they share an abundance of firearms. On the one hand, the Swiss have a gun in every household where there is an individual eligible for military service. I used to have one in the closet and (reluctantly) drag it out every time I was called into service. I never really thought much about it as I knew everyone else had a gun too. You even kept your ammunition at home in case you were ever called up in an emergency.
I had heard that there were lots of guns in Montenegro too. Here though, the fact that many people carry them around seems more disconcerting; perhaps because they are not part of a strict state apparatus. You can hear them being fired on New Year’s Eve, at weddings and other celebrations. They seem to get carried around even if there isn’t a celebration, and we got a first hand account of that last weekend.
Remember my last posting about community? Well, during a dinner party last weekend neighbours from a few doors down came knocking to join in (what they must of considered) the fun. We welcomed them in with their bottles of local Grappa (called Rakia) and they quickly integrated into the expatriate group, even with their limited English. Turns out one of them had a nice little hand gun tucked into his jeans which I only noticed by chance as he sat down beside me. The stories about the abundance of arms abruptly became reality.
Needless to say, I asked him to take it and put it in a safe place (outside of our house). He did, and as if nothing happened, returned for more of their Rakia and community building (sans firearm).
Two worlds, separated by a few hours of driving. One old, one new. Sharing common attributes. Perhaps we are not that different at all.