Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister For May 27

Cruising Danube Through `Tinder Box of Balkans’

My column was missing from the Daily Eagle last week because Verena and I were away on a historical River Danube cruise, boating hundreds of miles from Belgrade up to Vienna. It was sort of a birthday gift -- Verena weighed all options and decided we should travel through Costco, which resulted in the best vacation we’ve ever had. This cruise focused on Eastern Europe where many wars have been ignited—the most recent conflict being the 1990s bombing and “cleansing” onslaughts following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

We arrived in Vienna aboard The River Ambassador, a lush, sleek Uniworld cruise ship, which we boarded six days earlier in Belgrade, Serbia.

Any PBB reader looking for a negative word about Uniworld, River Ambassador Hotel Chief Celina Sousa or our brilliant tour director Piet Appeloos won’t be happy with our review.  In short order, the programs promised for Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia were even better than described in the advance literature.

The food was first class and the service even better, thanks to a staff that was thoroughly helpful but never obsequious. Guiding the Ambassador and its crew Capt. Evert Bakker, a tall gregarious guy who was the epitome of the in-charge Dutch sea captain.

As to the daily programs, this trip up the Danube was a well-researched journey into area known as the Tinderbox of Europe.  One day we were listening to a Belgrade university professor who admitted Slobodan Milosevic was a “nasty dictator” for bombing neighboring Croatia in his quixotic effort to create a ‘Greater Serbia.”  The next day we were having dinner with a widow in her Croatian home as she showed us photos of her rebuilt house when it was bombed into splinters by Milosevic’s air force in the 1990s war. She had nothing bad to say about the Serbs, but remained silent as she displayed the before-and-after photos.

The southeastern Danube has been the crucible for clashes between East and West since the days of the Roman Empire. As the commercial nexus between diverse civilizations, the beautiful Danube was for centuries the only Balkan “highway.” Its banks were regularly stained with the blood of invaders, most notably the Ottomans, who controlled Belgrade for 300 years.

As a result, despite the music, art and architecture that it has nurtured throughout the East European countryside, the Danube has been the road to catastrophe for untold millions.
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How We Got There: Verena Went to Costco

In the interests of full disclosure, we did not travel as press.  We paid full price for this 10-day extravaganza that Verena arranged through Costco. That’s right, Costco, the place where most people go to stock up on a two-year supply of Bounty paper towels and such.

Why go to Eastern Europe instead of reveling in the highly publicized and refined amenities of the northern Rhine cruises?  In retrospect, the smoothly run River Ambassador offered its own amenities usually featured at the most expensive ocean cruises, living up to its reputation as the shining star in the Uniworld fleet.

In addition, anyone who wants to know the origins — and the persistence -- of the ever-present East-West clash which haunts us today should start in Belgrade. The Serbian capital  started out as a Celtic settlement at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and has been destroyed about 40 times the past two millennia.

Many here have already forgotten that the U.S.A., through NATO, was responsible for bombing key buildings in Belgrade in the 1990s as part of the effort to stem the tide of violence wreaked by Milosevic and his henchmen. Serbs we talked with were courteous and hospitable, but a trace of resentment is still detectable when they find out you’re an American.

Ultimately, we toured by bus through Vukovar, Osijek, Budapest, Bratislava, then Vienna with well-informed local guides. They were gracious and honest and pointed out the beauty as well as the destruction along the venerated Blue Danube, which was the inspiration for the Strauss waltz and remains one of the most significant waterways in the world.

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Wien May Not Welcome Mayor Weiner

If Anthony Weiner wins the Democratic Primary, and hence the election, some people we talked with in Vienna, Austria, believe their historic city may be hit with a lot of unappreciated satire in the world media.

On our visit to Vienna, Verena and I were reminded that “Wien” is the Austrian word for Vienna. So, a natural term for a resident there would be ‘Wiener.”

One Vienna resident simply smirked when shown a story in the “World News” section of the Financial Times headlined “Weiner Eyes Political Comeback in NYC.” His response, typical of those we received on the topic, indicated a  “Mayor Weiner” wouldn’t be a welcome visitor in historic Wien even as a winner.

Though Europeans, particularly the French, are accustomed to their leaders having open affairs -- which don’t harm their standing in the slightest -- they, like some New Yorkers, may have a hard time accepting a Mayor Weiner. If the determined Democrat had simply had a mistress followed by a public confession, he would probably still be in Congress.

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Kings Inn To Review Pitfalls Faced in  ‘Dismissal Motions’

The Kings County Nathan Sobel American Inn of Court will cap off its active CLE year by delving into a tender topic that has long stirred a degree of unease among plaintiffs attorneys: dismissal of actions for failure to prosecute under CPLR 3216.

What constitutes a failure to prosecute under 3216 will be explored by a talented panel led by A.J. Justice Barry Kamins and barrister Paul Weitz the evening of May 28 at the Brooklyn Bar Association on Remsen Street. They will consider the options facing attorneys under the topic  “When Is A Dismissal Not a Dismissal Under CPLR 3216,” according to Inn President Marc Dittenhoefer.

Keeping with the tradition of the Ancient English Inns of Court, the organization’s members will enjoy a delicious buffet dinner if they show up a half-hour earlier at 5:30 p.m., says President Dittenhoefer. Setting up the event are Executive Director Jeff Feldman and acting Administrator Lucy Disalvo.

A special feature of the evening will  be the permanent relocation of the Inn’s charter alongside the painting of late Surrogate Nathan Sobel, in whose honor the Inn is named. The Hon. Randall Eng, presiding justice, Appellate Division, will preside at the ceremony.

Other Inn officers include President-elect Justice Ellen Spodek, Counselor David Chidekel, Treasurer Justice Arthur Schack and Secretary Acting Justice Miriam Cyrulnik.

In keeping with an 800-year-old English Inns of Court tradition, the group is governed by a Board of Masters. Kings Inn Masters include Hon. Gloria Aronin, Jon Besunder, Appellate Division Justice Cheryl Chambers, Larry DiGiovanna, Steve Finkelstein, Steven Goolnick, Appellate Division Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Justice Barry Kamins, Federal Judge William Kuntz, Justice Carl Landicino, Victoria Lombardi, Mark Longo, Judge Joanne Quinones and Paul Weitz.