…And a look at today.
I’ve always loved Independence Day. It and Christmas are my two favorites. I love the sense of community that both holidays engender. At Christmas it’s community parties, singing, decorations and a feeling of celebration. The fourth is a gathering of the community out of doors, for the fireworks (click here), the parade, which I missed this year because I was on the air…
…the food booths, music, cirque performance,
and the games (three legged races, sack races, corn hole, ring toss, and homemade ski ball) on the Totem Square lawn.
Then there is the old car parade. During the pandemic, when there was no parade, the owners of old cars decided to have their own parade to lift our spirits. They were locked safely in their cars we were waving from our porches, socially distant. That old car parade has become a tradition for the Fourth of July. I went to Whale Park to take pictures at the beginning and then made it home quickly to wave as they went by.
I have spent a fair number of 4ths outside the United States. Missing the holiday I love. Spring 1997 was a chaotic one for us. We evacuated from Albania in March as the country collapsed and for the next five months we wandered Europe training, troubleshooting, and helping organize media development programs. We worked in, I think, 6 countries. We even spent a week with our friends Dave and Carol Lam in Belgium while waiting for reassignment. We did this all on the carryon bags that we left Albania with.
The week before Independence Day, 1997, the Croatian government shut down several independent radio stations on the Dalmatian Coast. The US Embassy asked Suzi and me to go down to report on the closures and to make a show of American support for the shutdown stations. America had influence; Croatia was trying to curry favor with the U.S. in its diplomatic war with what was left of Yugoslavia. We arrived in Split on July 3rd. As we arrived, the government decided to allow the stations back on the air. This is from my letter to family written on July 5th.
The situation in Dalmatia is both better and worse than we thought. The stations are back on the air after being shut down for about a week. Radio KL was off for seven days, nine minutes. The managers feel that this was harassment for their independent news programming, and a way for the government to give the competition, Radio Dalmatia, allegedly owned by friends of the ruling party, a clear competitive field for the week it started broadcasting on new frequencies. The stations shut down were in areas where radio Dalmatia was expanding its signal.
One station “City Network” is run by an intense young man who is terrified. He refused to shut down and is now facing a 10,000 DM fine for not obeying the order, even though he got a letter from the ministry, the day after he refused to close, confirming that he had paid his fees he was accused of not paying. Vedran came back to Croatia from New Zealand, where he had immigrated, to invest in the newly independent country. He was even elected to the Split city council as an independent. That, he says, is what started his problems. He refused an offer to join the ruling party and claimed that a minister threatened his broadcast license if he didn’t join. They even sent out a press release saying he was joining the party. He decided not to run for re-election but to devote himself to the station, and so refused to close it down. When stations do not obey an order to shut down the police come in and confiscate the station’s FM exciter, a key part of the transmitter. Now he is frightened. “I have lived in a democracy, and this is not one.” He burst into tears during our discussion.
At Radio KL, the driving force and co-owner, also named Vedran, a devoted radio crazy whom the government does not particularly like. He does an ombudsman program, taking problems phoned in by listeners and confronting the city government officials with them. Vedran is a big-bearded man with a booming voice. A back slapper who is always in motion. He had just gotten his exciter back. In the middle of our discussion, he looked at his watch.
“Oh God, It’s July 4th, Independence Day. What are you doing working, shouldn’t you be on the beach or eating a McDonald’s or something? How do you celebrate?”
“On the beach, eating a McDonald’s with a beer. We’ll be heading for the beach this afternoon, but I see no better way to celebrate Mr. Jefferson’s revolution than standing with you this morning at this station.”
“So, you think we are revolutionaries. GOOD!” He threw an arm around each of us and said, “We have beer! Let’s go to a bar.” (I’m glad I didn’t mention fireworks.) He grabbed a CD on the way out of the station, got us to a bar, where some of his staff members were celebrating a birthday, bought us each a beer, and announced. “These are Americans, and this is July 4, play the CD.” He handed it to the bartender who popped it into the player behind the bar. We all started dancing to James Brown “Living in America.”
It was a rewarding Fourth of July, but better than fireworks and a parade? I could have used some frybread. But we did make it to the beach that afternoon.
In Sitka, the frybread is great this year, as is the other food at this year’s Independence Day booths. What better way to celebrate our holiday than with Italian Sausage, Polish Sausage, German Bratwurst, Mexican Street Corn, Native American Fry Bread, and good old American hot dogs, made with Alaskan reindeer.