Fire from Ice

Goran Rizaov

Back in the days of the post-Yugoslav “transition”, we used to pay around 1,000 Deutsche marks (around €500 in modern terms) for a fixed phone line.

I was young then, but still old enough to remember that the installation of a phone line was an occasion for family-wide celebrations. Compared with how we use phones now, that era seems centuries old.

Back then, telecoms companies were owned not by private interests or the state – but by the people. As citizens in a socialist system, we were told we were building a kind of “social property”. In reality, the utility companies were controlled by the government, through its chosen executives.

Over the last two decades, the ownership of many large utility companies changed hands many times – passing from the people to the state to a variety of private owners. Vast profits were made, not always honourably.

But trying to unpick what really happened in that period is like trying to make fire out of ice.

In the 1997 film, The Edge, the character played by Anthony Hopkins suggests a way for doing this. Just mould the ice into a lens which can be used to concentrate the sunlight and spark a fire. Sounds easy, right?