2011: January to June; Marking Time

June 2011
The week after our return from Austria/ Germany, we continue the discussions with Elisabeth and Dušan. Elisabeth and Michael fly into Dubrovnik for an intensive weekend of talks, and a productive site visit. We feel that the core team is gelling – there are limits with emails, and so face-to-face meetings are vital, especially as the working language is English which can mean mistakes in interpretation for non-native speakers.

The Green Building Council continues its relentless pressure as well, of course. We have agreed to organise a seminar in September to coincide with three events: the 20th anniversary of Montenegro’s parliament declaring the country an Ecological State (20th); the annual Construction Fair in Budva (21st to 25th); and a World GBC ‘World Green Building Week’ (19th to 23rd). While people have been allocated tasks, James is pretty sure nothing much will happen until the end of August, when panic will erupt. We fly out on our annual visit to UK a week after Elisabeth’s visit, so are effectively out of contact for three weeks. A major step is to submit an Expression of Interest to the World GBC, in effect applying for membership. World GBC rules state that only one organisation is a country can be officially recognised (from a World GBC standpoint). Our status up to now has been that of an Associated Group, leaving us open to any other group in the country pre-empting us for recognition. What is only explained to us after the EoI is sent in is the cost of membership – we were left out of a circulation about 2 years ago on the subject. The USD5000 is a mighty sum for a small organisation, when we cannot even afford part-time staff, let alone full-time people and an office.

May 2011
May Day holiday is followed, once again, by the slava of our landlord’s family. As before, this takes place in our house, and we spend several days cleaning and clearing the main living room. We correspond with Elisabeth, as well as with Prof Dr Dušan Vuksanović, who has agreed to put the Montenegrin team together, over the division of work between Austria and Montenegro. James also has to produce the final version of the poster for the Passivhaus Tagung in Innsbruck at the end of the month.

In between all this, we have to go to Emden unexpectedly for a family funeral; while lovely to see family there, the circumstances are of course not what anyone would want. Complicated flights from Dubrovnik via Frankfurt and Bremen, but at least possible.
Inevitably, this being Montenegro, there is a last minute panic over the printing of the poster, which James had entrusted to a usually very competent girl who designed our ‘roll-up’ for the GTZ exhibition last year. She had passed the job on to a printer capable of producing that A1 format, but had neglected to give precise instructions, or indeed to do any design work on the material. Upshot was that on the day before we were due to leave for Austria, he spends a couple of hours sitting alongside the printer trying to adjust text and images to fit in a coherent and reasonably attractive way onto the sheet, and collecting the finished product as we drive past there the next day. An adequate job but not as good as James (as a former Master Printer) would have liked.

The Passivhaus Tagung is as good value as ever, despite appalling weather (snow the first evening, and rain most of the rest of the time). We are getting known, and meet up with people whom we met over the previous 2 years. Encouragingly, we also make more good contacts for possible suppliers, including a Croatian firm, Troha-dil, who make windows to PH standards. A short weekend with the grandchildren in München, and we make our way back to Risan. En route north, we break the journey in Split, instead of driving 12 hours non-stop to Gersdorf on the SI-AT border. Anke’s first time in Split, and we manage to see something of Diocletian’s palace. The rest of the town is not so inspiring, though the road system has improved dramatically since James was last there in the late 1990s. In Gersdorf, we meet up with Elisabeth and her husband Michael who take us to a ‘Buschenschank‘ in the ‘Weingebiet’ on the border for a delicious meal. These establishments are licensed to sell only cold meals to accompany their wines, the food being also ‘hausgemacht’ – ie meats, chutney, cheeses which are produced on the premises. We had had no idea before that the area was such a well-known (in Austria) producer of wine. Of course, we return there for a meal on the return journey. Instead of Split, we overnight in Trogir – much more to our liking than Split. James had trawled the internet and found a delightful small hotel in the Old Town, Palace Derossi, which suited us admirably – will definitely stay there on future trips.

April 2011
We meet Mayor Maja Catović again on 04 Apr. She is highly confident that the municipal council, the Škupstina, will pass the Risan DUP by the end of the month. When James suggests that neither of us would like to be meeting in September to hear her say that the DUP would be another 3 or 4 months, she gets quite annoyed, and insists that the DUP will be through. We go on to meet her Secretary of Urbanism, Snezana Raicević, who is somewhat less optimistic, telling us that it will probably come down from the Ministry in May, possibly even June. Far better news is that she tells us the coefficients which apply to the plot: 20% and 60%. Though less than we had hoped for, at least we now can start detailed planning on that basis. It gives us a footprint of 80m2 and 3 floors, totalling 240m2. By the time the extra thickness of the walls is taken account of, it means effective living space of about 190m2, of which one floor is used for the ‘conference centre’ – where the house will be explained to people.

GBC ME work takes up most of our days. It has become a full-time job, though neither of us want this, but none of the others have the experience to put it all together. Halfway through the month, James meets, thanks to Branko Lukovac our excellent Board member, the Minister for the new mega Ministry for Sustainable Development and Tourism. This was formed in the new government under Igor Luksić, who took over from the seemingly ever-present Milo Djukanović who suddenly resigned just before Christmas. It combines elements of the former Ministry for Spatial Planning and Environment – which itself was only a year old in that form – and the Ministry for Tourism. Anyway, Predrag Sekulić agrees to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with us, emphasising joint work on revising the Building Codes and supporting rating systems such as BREEAM, DGNB and LEED. All well and good, except that we will sign this MOU when he opens an Ecological Fair the following week, 20 April. Almost non-stop work ensues, especially for Anke on the marketing side, to prepare adequate documentation, not to mention the MoU itself. We manage, just, with about 90% of what we would like available on the day. Sadly the organisation of the event itself turns out to be a shambles as we were not in control of the timings, but we do achieve a degree of press coverage and GBC ME is now officially launched. All we have to do now is get more paying members!

The end of the month is occupied with Easter (weekend 23-25) and of course the Royal Wedding in UK, between HRH Prince William of Wales and Kate Middleton, now HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, on 29. In between, on 28 Apr, we attend an interesting conference on Energy Efficient Lighting, sponsored by GIZ, and find out some useful info which will help us in the house.

March 2011
More Montenegro Green Building Council work at the very beginning of the month. James signs a Memorandum of Understanding with Bosiljka Vuković the Head of government’s Office for Sustainable Development on the 1st. OSD has always been very supportive of the GBC. Indeed it was of course its then Head, Ljubiša Perović, who set up the initial meeting in November 2008 which we later were invited to join.

We drive through to spend the first week in Macedonia. Young friends of Anke, Maja and Ace, whom she met within her first week in Skopje in 2004, get married on 05, and invite us across to help celebrate. Lots of fun despite the inevitable loud music (fortunately we are not too near the loudspeakers), lots of dancing and lovely to be treated like family. We take time out to catch up with other friends over lunches and other visits. Among them is a young man whom Anke helped with advice and contacts in his setting up a business to process ecologically produced honey. Ogi has spent the past 5 years trying to get planning permission to build a small factory near a small town in the south-east of the country. He has incredible stamina and has refused either to pay bribes or be put off by the complications the local bureaucrats, and the central ministries, have thrown at him. We see flashy TV adverts encouraging people to invest in Macedonia – the reality is totally different. Anyway we have a lovely hour or two with him at his home; he has children the same ages as the youngest of our assortment of grandchildren. Anke remarks afterwards that we are collecting proxy-children and proxy-grandchildren!

On our return journey via Struga we stop off to see more old friends – James’ interpreters in the early days of his time in the country. Both are doing ok in their respective new careers. One has extremely well-put together apartments for short holiday stays, right on the lake side of Lake Ohrid, with fantastic views across the water to the mountains. The other is very busy with ecological work, something he had been doing before working for EUMM. We discuss with him a possible workshop/ seminar on eco-tourism, something again which Anke had been working on during her time in Macedonia, when she helped found a regional NGO, 4x4x4 Balkan Bridges. We meet, as always when in Struga, at Faruk Luso’s cafe (Cafe Regata). Faruk’s son Erdal is a highly accomplished sailor, and represented Macedonia in the ISAF Volvo World Youth Championships last year in Istanbul, when he came 47th. Sadly with the parlous state of Macedonia’s economy, Faruk cannot continue to fund his son, and finding other sponsors is near to impossible.

We also overnight in Tirana. Anke loves driving there – it is totally chaotic and challenging, especially for a woman as macho Albania men are determined to cut her out! We stay at the Broadway, secluded and comfortable, with excellent rakija! It is great to see James’s former boss Maryse Daviet (now the French ambassador) and catch up with Florian Raunig (Austrian ambassador, previously in Montenegro).

Back in Risan, we spend most of our time sorting out the marketing side of the Montenegro Green Building Council. The members of the Marketing Committee had signally failed to do anything in terms of developing policy over the past year, so Anke generously agrees to take on the task. Several long days (and well into nights) later she produces a comprehensive set of policies, a promotional leaflet, and other material to take the GBC forward and allow us to talk sensibly to potential members.

We get an email from Professor Ljubomir Miščević, a friend whom we meet at the Passivhaus Tagungs, who is leading a 2-day seminar on passive houses at the Faculty of Architecture in Podgorica on 10 and 11. We had not been told about it, or invited, by GIZ (the new name for GTZ) who arranged and paid for the event, and go up to Podgorica to pop in and greet Ljubomir. We are seriously offended by the lack of thought (at best – at worst one could argue it is deliberate ignoring of our work on promoting the passive house concept) by the folk in the GIZ energy efficiency section, and make our feelings felt to the country director.

February 2011
We finally get back into our original apartment this month! Like many people we watch fascinated as events unfold in the Middle East and North Africa. We think back to 1989 in Central Europe and wonder if the changes will be as productive and successful as then.
In the middle of the month, we learn that the DUP has been returned to the Municipality from the consultants doing the revision, and will be sent to the Ministry for its (final?) approval. This is of course very disappointing, especially as we are told by a Montenegrin friend who has good contacts within the municipality, that it is very unlikely that the DUP will be passed by the Škupstina before the end of the summer, and most likely not before the end of 2011. We consult with Dušan about what is the best way to proceed – probably another meeting with Mrs Catović. We still do not know the coefficients we can use for the size of the building. Based on our plot area, we are allowed a specific percentage for the basic footprint (ie the area of the building on the ground) and another percentage for the total living space (ie all the floors). It makes a considerable difference if the footprint is 25% or 30% (95m2 or 114m2), and the overall living space 50% or 80% (190m2 or 304m2), not that we want a house of 304m2 anyway, but certainly more than 114m2. This lack means that we cannot begin to do any detailed planning, which would allow us to submit plans faster once the DUP is passed.

One effect of this delay is on our vines. In late January, we had pruned them back heavily with the plan of moving them this month to a temporary site on our neighbour’s land. When we started to dig out the roots, we found that – as anyone who really knew about vines would have told us – the roots go very deep. The concrete walls and other obstacles make it impossible to get a sensible amount of root clear just digging by hand. We decide to leave them where they are and will try to excavate them once the building work starts and we demolish ‘Le Beton’. We hope that they survive the pruning and produce fruit this year.

James writes the 2 page summary of his presentation for the Passivhaus Tagung. He feels very tempted to start the actual talk with ‘How do you build a Passive House in Montenegro … you wait … and wait … and wait!’

January 2011
Orthodox Christmas follows its traditional format at the stone house. One major difference this year is that during December our landlord clears out the rather shambolic storage in what James calls the ‘bothy’ (a Scottish term for a dilapidated shed) and the landlord’s family call the ‘sušava’ or drying room where hams and fish used to be dried. He installs a hood and proper chimney over the place where the open fire is lit and tidies up the room so that it is now reasonably habitable. So on Christmas Eve (06 Jan) instead of sitting outside the bothy taking turns to hand-turn the spit, the family and guests can sit inside the room while a small electric motor turns the lamb over a fire that more or less doesn’t smoke the room out. Wine and rakija add to the occasion. As non-Orthodox we are allowed to eat some of the cooked lamb hot, in contrast to the tradition of eating it cold on Christmas Day. As Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, everyone eats fish.

A major occupier of time and energy in January is the organisation of the Burns Supper on the 29th. This year more than previously, it seems to be left to Anke and James to get the guests. Compared to the two past events, most of the ex-pat British community still are in UK and we concentrate on publicising the concept in Podgorica to the International Community there. This also involves us driving up there to hold Scottish Dancing sessions at a friend’s house. While enjoyable once we are there, it does require time and commitment to put it all in place. The evening itself is a success, with James’ grandson Alec flying in for his third appearance as our bagpiper.

On 24th, James gets an email from the Passivhaus Tagung organisers that he is to produce a 2-page article for publication in the official Tagung literature. This means that his proposal for a poster presentation has been accepted! Also that he gets a discount on the conference fee – Anke still has to pay full price (for PH members).

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins