Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Politicization of Everything

This Saturday I woke up a little before noon. Even here in Serbia, I'm maintaining a teenager's sleeping schedule. It was a particularly warm day, and from my window I saw Sandra, my host mom, watching over Nikola and Dusan as they rollerbladed up and down the street.

When I went downstairs and had a late breakfast, I noticed a new map of Telep, our neighborhood, spread out across the table. Two packs of colored pencils were beside it; all were marked with Демократска странка (Demokratska stranka, Democratic Party), the current leading political party in Serbia. As Ivan came inside, he explained to me that campaigners for the May election were already going door-to-door promoting their party. The map of Telep highlighted all the new road construction and other projects around our neighborhood and the city itself. Most of this construction I was familiar with-- it's still going on! I never thought of the North Carolina Department of Transport as efficient, but the difference between the NCDOT and construction here is like the difference between a Corvette and a Yugo. Still, the Democratic Party's flyers were bragging that the Yugo is running at all, which should not be taken for granted.

Nikola had wanted to bring the colored pencils with him to school, but Ivan forbade this. It's wrong, he explained, for kids to be displaying political propaganda before they can truly understand and form opinions on what they're showing.

Later in the day, most of BYP Serbia met up and went to watch a football game. No, I don't mean American football, the sport that's played with almost no foot-to-ball contact, I mean what the rest of the world calls football, and what we call soccer.

I had been warned to stay away from football matches, which, of course, only made me want to attend one even more. Fortunately, I found a way to safely satisfy my curiosity. The game this weekend was between the local team, FK Vojvodina (ranked 3rd in the Serbian "Superliga") and a relatively unknown team, FK Borac Čačak (ranked second from last). Since Čačak is so crappy and not very close, hardly any fans from the opposing team showed up. Occasionally football games get violent here, but generally only when Partizan or Crvena Zvezda, the two Belgrade teams that top the league, shows up. As we were walking toward the game, a group of young men (the youngest, I guessed, was 14 or younger) blocked off a small side road and marched, shouting some sort of chant that we couldn't understand. Remembering the warnings, we ducked off to the side and waited for them to pass. There was no danger; they were far more interested in getting to the stadium than anyone in their path.

As a reward to the Vojvodina fans for their support during a strong season, the club made the game free to all! The Karađorđe Stadium can hold over 15,000 fans, but on this occasion, it was far from full. Though it was free, the fact that the game was pretty much a given win for Vojvodina probably turned a lot of people off.

On the advice of my coworker, we sat on the long side of the stadium, not the North where the more intense football fans gather. During the beginning of the game, they seemed to be more intense versions of American Football fans back in the states: chants, songs, waving flags, and taunts. Since universities in Serbia don't have associated sports teams, the professional teams like FK Vojvodina are the focus of all sports enthusiasm.

The North end of the stadium, with the most avid football fans. Almost visible: a Serbian flag in the shape of Kosovo.
Photo credit: Dominique
The flags, for the most part, were in Vojvodina red and white, with the names of various fan clubs printed across them. Also displayed was a Serbian tricolor with the cross and four cyrillic "s"s (explained at the bottom of this post). Next to another flag of Serbia, right in the middle of the crowd, was an outline of Kosovo with the Serbian flag superimposed on it. Football and patriotism (or nationalism, depending on who you ask) have been tied together closely, and the Vojvodina fans are no exception.

Around halftime the fans in the North broke out flares and torches, a common occurrence here but completely unheard of back in the States. A firetruck was parked in the corner of the stadium, but apparently the flares were not cause for concern, even when one ended up on the track.

The final score was 3-1, with Vojvodina on top. The one Čačak goal was completely avoidable and caused by goalkeeper error, which caused the Vojvodina fans to start heckling their own goalie. He redeemed himself soon enough, and the fans were satisfied with their win. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

U Beogradu (Part 2)

Right across the street from the building of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, where we met Minister Đelić, stands the ruins of the Yugoslav Ministry of Defense headquarters.

This building and other targets in Belgrade and all around Serbia were bombed in NATO's 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia (at this point consisting of only Serbia and Montenegro) during the Kosovo War. Here in Novi Sad, all three bridges across the Danube were destroyed. For seventy-eight days, civilians lived in fear of a bomb straying from its target toward residential areas. Sometimes these fears were sadly justified.

The Yugoslav Ministry of Defense building still stands. It's completely uninhabitable, but it remains, in effect, a monument to the suffering during the bombing. No plaques commemorate it, no signs mark it, but driving down Nemanjina Street, a major thoroughfare in Belgrade, you can't avoid it.

No one has blamed me for the war that happened when I was six years old. Everyone's been able to separate politics from real people. To apologize for the '90s would be utterly ridiculous.

But how are you supposed to feel when you see ruins from bombs that had your flag printed on them? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

U Beogradu (Part 1 - Ponedeljak)

I originally intended for this post to include my entire Belgrade trip, but in writing this I discovered that I obviously had a lot more to say about some days than others. For the sake of actually giving you, dear reader, something to read while I write more, here's what I have just about Monday, November 14.


On Monday, the first organization we visited was Centar E8. They're a youth-run organization that has some projects similar to CZOR, in that it empowers youth to identify and find solutions to the problems they face every day. While we were there, E8 promoted two projects for us.

The first is called "Budi Muški," or "Be a man," and focuses on male victims of the strong patriarchy pervading Serbian society. Like in many societies, young male Serbians aren't encouraged to work out their problems and emotions through healthy means. Instead, they have to suck it up, and "be a man." This mindset, claims E8, can lead to a violent society. "Budi Muški" is an effort to show that, yes, men can be sensitive and sensible too. We all found this project to be particularly inspiring, since it shows that gender equality isn't all about working with women. Men have problems too.

The second program was "Neću Drogu," or "I don't want drugs." The title is pretty self-explanatory. The US Embassy in Belgrade provides funding and support to this project, which tries to promote anti-drug values in everyday teen culture. The key to success, they think, is to make "Neću Drogu" "cool." More on that later.

These projects were interesting and all, but by far the most touching story was that of one volunteer who had E8 turn his life around. He was a "problem child," he said, but a few E8 workers helped engage him in his school and community enough that he wasn't expelled. He told us about an E8 camping trip, similar in aim to CZOR's cross-border project, where he was tent-mates with a kid from Croatia. For the first hour or so, there was awkward silence, as each former-Yugoslav expected the other's judgement, but soon the two couldn't stop talking-- a volunteer had to come and make them go to bed. The two are now best friends, even years later, and the storyteller has made even more Croatian friends since then. It's taken him time to feel comfortable on visits to Zagreb, his favorite ex-Yugoslavian city and the capital of Croatia, but one-on-one experiences with Croats of all ages have made this easier. His parents, he says, are still less open-minded and more prejudiced, but that too is changing.

This volunteer's tale was a touching and personal story of what I've seen in my travels. The young Bosnians I've met harbor no resentment toward Bosnian Serbs, the Vojvodina Hungarians I've met celebrate their ethnic culture and their Serbian identity, and the Kosovo Albanian and Roma I met care more about quality Serbian rakija and their Serbian girlfriends than about the region's legal status.

All in all, everyone just wants to live their lives, just like anywhere else in the world.

After leaving E8, we went to a Greek place for a quick lunch. We all had cheap and delicious gyros, bringing me back to my trip to Greece this past February. My only regret from this fast-food joint is not ordering Ouzo when I had the chance!

Our next stop was the World Learning Belgrade office. World Learning is the international exchange agency through which Princeton has organized the Bridge Year program in Serbia and Ghana. Here we met Serbian college students who had studied a year in various places around the United States. It was fun hearing their stories, which are the closest we can get to a counterpart of ours.

We left World Learning to visit the office of Božidar Đelić, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration. How did Ceca swing this one? Đelić's chief of staff had her undergraduate education at Princeton, and was happy to help arrange this meeting (the third time that Đelić has met BYP volunteers) for us. Katarina Petrović, the chief of staff, has an impressive story herself. After her BS in physics, she decided to return to Serbia and got a job doing press work for the Ministry of Science. She worked her way up through the Ministry until she became Đelić's deputy, and she moved administrations when he did. Petrović's still in her 20s but has already been able to help her country (and advance herself, but that's less important) so much.

From left to right: Ceca (BYP coordinator), me, Jacob, Đelić, Charlotte, Dominique, Yentli, and Petrović

Đelić wanted to hear from us about our perceptions and Serbian teenagers' perceptions of Serbia. We were honest: most of the Serbian teenagers and young adults we've met want to leave the country, primarily because they want a job, but also because they see no future for their homeland. Đelić pointed out that, despite the rhetoric, most are staying. He continued from here, speaking realistically and noting Serbia's shortfalls, but also pointing out its progress. Đelić anticipates that when the EU's decision on Serbia's candidacy for membership comes out on December 9th, it will be a positive recommendation. He doesn't think that the situation in Kosovo will overshadow all of the progress that Serbia has made, and for the country's sake, I hope he's right.

Afterwards, we hurried across the city to an English-language school, where Slobodan Đinović met with us. Đinović was a founding member of Otpor! (name translates to "Resistance!"), the youth-run anti-Milošević movement. The most impressive part of the movement is that it essentially bluffed itself into existence. What started as a sort of game to see how much Đinović & co. could get away with ended up bringing down a dictator. Otpor!'s central "committee" (not a formal organization, so no real name for it) operated with strong discipline, more than any army. After all, anyone can pick up a gun. Non-violence is a lot harder to pull off. They agreed on a single message which they made all their core members memorize. This way, anyone could be a spokesman. Having a designated spokesman makes it easy to decapitate the organization. Whenever Otpor! issued a press release, they had a young person uninvolved with politics (preferably, said Đinović, a pretty girl) deliver the message and then fade away. Their apparent multitude made them look like a viable resistance movement, and their actual number made them difficult to find and stop. Otpor! used high school students to spread the message to their peers, making both the message and the messenger "cool" for being in the know. When the police arrested one of these messengers, the entire community would gather outside the police station immediately and demand his/her release-- after all, s/he's only a student, incapable of doing anything seriously wrong!

Otpor! also spread its image by graffiti and bumper stickers that read "Gotov je!" ("He is finished!" with the "he" referring to Milošević). Posted in every city, these stickers made it seem as though "Gotov je!" was a popular opinion, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even a decade later, the Otpor! fist graffiti is common (though sometime since then, other vandals have extended the middle finger on almost every fist).

Otpor! grew its network all over Serbia, and soon they had the support of various opposition politicians (Đinović tells me that current President Boris Tadić was the narrator at the New Year's party, 2000, which I blogged about during my first day here). Their growing power prompted Milošević to call early elections. His blatant fraud in the election was the final straw: soon, Milošević was deposed.

Đinović stepped out of politics and Otpor! faded away. He returned to his trade: engineering. He was involved with a Wi-Fi provider that eventually, through a series of mergers, turned into Orion Telekom, one of the largest telecoms in Serbia, of which Đinović is now the CEO. But the revolutionary inside of him still called out: Đinović uses some of his profits from Orion to fund the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), which trains people across the world in the non-violent methods that brought Otpor! victory and the Serbian people freedom.

CANVAS has had several success stories, from Ukraine's Orange Revolution to Georgia's Rose Revolution, and even had a hand or two in Arab Spring. But Đinović wanted to talk about the Maldives, an archipelago nation south-west of India which had its first truly democratic elections in 2008. When Đinović visited one prominent opposition politician, who was under house arrest by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the arrestee promised, "When I come into power, you're getting an island." True to his word, when CANVAS-trained activists brought Gayoom out of power in a peaceful revolution, the organization was rewarded with not one but three islands, which they're converting for use as training facilities. I know where I want to intern!

From his work in Otpor! to his continued dedication to non-violent action worldwide, Đinović is easily one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. He left each of us copies of one of his books, Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points (free download here!), which is essentially a guide to the philosophy of nonviolence and a direct how-to guide to taking down a dictator. It's pretty much the work of Gene Sharp put into step-by-step instructions. I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing with the book (no, #OWS, the US isn't a dictatorship yet) but it's fascinating!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not quite a vacation

Back at home, my friends are all going on Fall Break. Most are going home, some are visiting friends, some are on vacation.

My "Fall Break" was a lot shorter than theirs. Ceca took the other BYP volunteers and me to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina for a four-day trip. On Thursday afternoon, we piled into a van driven by Željko, our fearless pilot whose driving I've gained a lot of respect for after this trip. We cruised through the flat fields of Vojvodina, the province around Novi Sad, until we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain range. We crossed a bridge on the Drina (not this one) and passed through the border checkpoint without any problems. Just like that, we were in another country.

We stopped for a bathroom break, and I stretched my legs and enjoyed the scenery. I glanced up the nearest hill and asked Ceca, "Is that an old fortress?" She looked up and answered, almost dismissively, "Yes, yes, probably Turkish. They're on every hill here." I'm not sure exactly when the fortress was built, but it's probably older than the United States.

The ruins, slightly obscured in fog
We spent most of the rest of our ride to Sarajevo singing along to whatever music came out of our laptops. I recall that "Party in the USA" was popular as we rode down the Bosnian side of the Drina (Yes, I sung along too).

It was just after sundown when we entered the Sarajevo valley. All around us the hillsides were lit up with apartment buildings, houses, stores, and mosques. Though Sarajevo is roughly the size of Novi Sad (give or take a bit-- reliable census data is hard to come by here) it felt larger upon our arrival, simply because we could see all of it at once.

We dropped our bags off at our hostel and went for dinner to a restaurant that serves traditional Bosnian food. I don't recall exactly what I ate, but I remember it was delicious. The restaurant also had traditional Bosnian folk music by a live band. Some of the other diners were really into the music, and even danced along.

Dancing on the tables. Photo credit: Dominique
The next morning, we set out on a tour of the city. Our tour guide, Amir, was quick to paint a portrait of Sarajevo as a multicultural city. The first few stops on our tour were to a Catholic cathedral, a Serbian Orthodox church, and the largest and most prominent of the city's multitude of mosques.

Serbian Orthodox church
Catholic cathedral
One shot of the mosque-- too big to get in one picture!
We also stopped by the corner where Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb nationalist, shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, leading to the first World War. Amir explained to us that, depending on who ruled Sarajevo, the monument at this space has historically alternated between a memorial to the Archduke and a monument to Princip. At one point, there were even footprints in the sidewalk so that you could literally stand where Princip was. Today, a compromise plaque marks the site, simply stating the facts.

Neutral wording
Latin Bridge, roughly where the Archduke was
Getting ready to charge the Archduke's car.
We walked up a hill and past a fountain where, if you drink, you'll come back to Sarajevo (but you have to believe in legends, Amir reminded us).

Needless to say, I drank. Photo credit: Dominque
We all drank from the fountain. Mom and Dad, I don't know when I'm going back to Sarajevo, but know that it's in the plans sometime.

Further up the hill was what used to be a public park. Amir told us that when he was a kid, he used to sled down the slope. Now, that's entirely impossible. During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995, Serb snipers picked off anyone who was within range, and their range included the traditional city graveyards. The citizens of Sarajevo used this park and many like it to bury their dead. After the war ended, it simply wasn't feasible to transfer all of the bodies to the old graveyard, so the park was officially converted.

This was the first graveyard I had visited that wasn't covered in crosses. Mostly Muslims were buried here. All were either killed during the war, or relatives of those who died.

Extending up the hill. Usually, Muslim graves point toward Mecca. Because of the circumstances, the bodies aren't oriented in any particular direction. 
A small creek runs through the graveyard
The inscription is from the Quran, and reads, roughly, "And do not say about those who have died in the way of Allah, 'They are dead!' No, they are alive, but you do not perceive it." The fleur-de-lis at the bottom is a symbol of Bosnia.
Visible from the graveyard: a mosque, the Orthodox church, and the Catholic Cathedral.

At one point when we were talking about the siege of Sarajevo, Amir mentioned his own experience. "I consider myself lucky," he said, "I only lost my father, my grandmother, my cousin, and our apartment." I wasn't quick to agree with him about luck, but compared to the 11,000 who died, I suppose he was.

Though the city has been largely fixed up since the siege, it still has its scars. Amir, who, like the other Bosnians and Serbians I've met, appreciates dark humor, told us that for a time, Sarajevans referred to their city as the "Swiss cheese city."

Swiss cheese
A "Sarajevo rose"

In the afternoon, after a nice large lunch of ćevapčići, we visited a professor from the philosophy faculty at the University of Sarajevo. We discussed the role of identity during and after the conflict. Before, under Tito's rule, all three religions lived more or less in harmony. When Yugoslavia began falling apart, the national/ethnic identities that Tito had suppressed came surging forward. Though Catholics/Croats, Orthodox/Serbs, and Muslims/Bosniaks are indistinguishable by looks, they quickly found ways to differentiate themselves. The primary way was by name: a man named Amir or Sulejmanović was probably an ethnic Muslim, for example.

The professor told us about his own experience living in Sarajevo. His name was slightly Serbian, so he was somewhat ostracized within his own faculty. But when his young son, who has an even more Serbian name, was in preschool, the teacher treated him far differently from the others. He would get punished more often than the other kids, with time-outs where he had to sit in a dark room by himself. When the professor finally found out about his treatment, the preschool teacher claimed that it was the child's natural agressive Serbian blood, and not her fault at all.

The irony in all of this is that the child is incredibly ethnically mixed. Croat, Serb, Bosniak, Turk, like many other Bosnians, he's all of the above. His discrimination wasn't even ethnic-- the kid just had the wrong name.

Amazingly, Yentli has a friend who lives in Sarajevo. They met when she was an exchange student at Yentli's high school in Lancaster, PA. The two met back up, and we all joined her friends in a café. Our curfew was unfortunately early (~10:00PM) both nights, so we didn't get to hang out with them as much as we'd have liked.

On Saturday morning, we visited the Tunnel Museum. During the war, Serb forces nearly completely surrounded the city. The UN struck a bargain with them: the UN would control the airport and allow aid relief as long as they ensured that no Bosnians went across the airstrip to the free Bosnian territory. The Sarajevans then dug an 800-meter tunnel under the airport, through which they smuggled food, people, and weapons. One side of this tunnel is preserved.

The house hiding the entrance to the tunnel
The tunnel itself
We then visited the Historical Museum, which was housing a special exhibit on the siege. There was also a "Wall of Truth" where Bosnians posted photographs, messages, and information about friends and families who had died during the war. It was originally timed to coincide with Ratko Mladić's plea at the ICTY, but it has been left up since then.

Flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (not the current political entity) with battle scars
"Watch out-- sniper!"
A European watchdog mission accidentally left their satellite phone when they fled during the war. This phone was the only link that the President of BiH had to the outside world during the siege.
Part of the Wall of Truth
More of the Wall of Truth
Jacob and I pose with Tito

For the rest of the day, we had free time. We explored the city and did a bit of shopping. Walking down a major touristy street, we heard some singing/chanting. Glancing around the corner, we found some sort of march with people waving the Turkish flag. The marchers were shouting something in what I presume was Turkish (though even if it were in Bosnian, I wouldn't have understood) but all I understood was "Allahu Akbar," the global refrain of "God is great." I'm still unsure what the protest was about.

It struck me that if we had a group of sixty Muslims carrying a flag and shouting "Allahu Akbar" in the United States, the media would freak out about it. Here, it's not even news.

We also stopped by the large mosque during prayer time to hear the muezzin's call. This was the first time that I had heard the call to prayer in real life, and I found it quite beautiful.

On the way back, I noticed a crate of Jelen Pivo (literally "deer beer," one of the more popular brands in Serbia) at a gas station. I realized that I hadn't noticed either Jelen or Lav, its major competitor, served or advertised anywhere in Sarajevo. What was different about that gas station? Simple. It was in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated sub-national entity, while Sarajevo was in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Muslim and Croat section. It was telling that the rift between the two regions is so deep that they don't even serve the same beer. Also noticeable when we crossed into Republika Srpska territory: suddenly, everything was written in Serbian cyrillic, not the latinic script common to Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian. From names to drinks to alphabets, everything has an ethnic connotation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Najlon Pijaca

On Saturday morning, Dominique and I woke up early. We met up at Futoška Pijaca at 6 AM (šest sati ujutro, na srpskom) and grabbed a bus to Najlon (Nylon) Pijaca, a flea market.

A few of our classmates from our Serbian lessons had gone a couple weeks ago, and they came back with a tuba. Dominique and I didn't intend to join their brass ensemble, but we were curious to see what we could find.

After consulting one of my coworkers, we found out that we were supposed to go very early, but we still showed up before most of the stalls even opened. We wandered around and into a small smoky café, where I grabbed a coffee, more to heat my hands than to wake me up.

After waiting a bit longer, we walked around all of the stalls. Apparently on Saturdays, Najlon focuses more on clothes. But there were plenty of other interesting things there. If you can imagine it, it was at Najlon. Even packaged candy and detergents-- I have no idea how the vendors got those.

I was mostly looking around, but I had one or two vague goals. One, I was always looking for interesting books. Two, my friend Seth's father asked for a Yugoslav/Serbian police or army badge. Dominique was looking around at old cameras.

I found a book of anti-NATO graffiti collected from Belgrade during the bombing. The price I was offered was 100 dinars. I countered with 50 and the vendor immediately accepted-- I could have gone even lower. Clearly, the surcharge for being a foreigner is more than 100%. Still, I don't regret my purchase or spending a few cents extra on it.

Dominique found lots of old cameras, but decided against buying any.

Future Pulitzer winner.
Showing off the special features
I tried to haggle down the price of a Serbian Army pin that I found, but it didn't work. "They [other vendors] sell for 500," the man said in simple Serbian, hoping that I'd understand. I didn't believe him until I found the exact same pin for 500 dinars elsewhere in the market, just as he said. Three hundred dinars later, I was the proud owner of a slightly-broken, possibly replica* Serbian Army pin.

The man had more pins than he had room for.
*Both this vendor and the 500-dinar vendor assured me that theirs were authentic, and each pointed to different signs of their authenticity. The 300-dinar vendor also had one that was clearly a replica to show for comparison.

Seth, forward this picture to your dad.

Declaring ourselves successful, we rode the bus home and napped. I napped on and off for the rest of the day, while Dominique went out later for another round of shopping, this time at proper stores.

A little bit tired, but proud of my finds.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Samo Slike

I don't have a solid theme to write about this week, so instead I'm posting a lot of pictures, as requested. Nikola borrowed my camera and made a short video explaining the family, so I'll probably post that sometime soon.

Milošević-era propaganda: "Serbia, keep your heads up!"

The five of us at Nenad Čanak's breakfast, with his niece
A horse-drawn cart. It later passed me, driven by two Roma men.

The Catholic cathedral. The tile roof is exceptionally beautiful.

Dušan, the younger brother, in front of a giant piece of ham.

Nikola and Dušan showing off the watches I gave them for their birthdays

The view down the street from the CZOR office balcony

A typical Socialist-era apartment building (Not my house... I still need to get a good picture of that)

Preparing for a play with the Inclusive Youth Club

Ceca, our fearless leader

The six of us at our weekly meeting

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Waiting for the Sixth

Today marks eleven years since the one-day revolution that ousted President Slobodan Milošević from power.

There aren't any festivities, no celebrations, not even any commentary from major politicians. Aside from a few news stories, it's a typical Wednesday.

It's not that people here don't consider the 5th of October Revolution a good thing-- most agreed with it at the time, and most still do now. But it didn't go far enough.

The story of the October 5th Revolution is quite inspiring. Отпор/Otpor, a resistance movement whose name is literally "resistance," worked a grassroots campaign to ensure fair elections and to show that the Milošević regime was vulnerable. The opposition parties put aside their differences, and the Democratic Opposition of Serbia fielded a single compromise candidate, Vojislav Koštunica. When Milošević attempted to steal the election, Otpor and the DOS called him out on it. Two weeks later, one million people from all over the country showed up on the streets of Belgrade. The police, after some scuffles, and the army supported the protesters, and the courts declared Koštunica President.

This is the part of the story that's supposed to go, "and they all lived happily ever after." But they didn't. The fall of Milošević didn't bring the fall of corruption and bureaucratic hindrances, or restore pride in the idea of Serbia, or guarantee all Serbians a living wage. It didn't even keep Yugoslavia from disintegrating further: in 2006, Montenegro became independent; in 2008, Kosovo declared independence (current status subject to debate).

The phrase I've most often heard when I ask about the legacy of the revolution is, "We're still waiting for October 6th." The revolution happened, but for the average Serbian, not too much is different. The sweeping changes promised by the DOS were never implemented.

In many countries, major democratic revolutions are turned into national holidays. Here, there's simply no reason to celebrate October 5th.

(B92 English story on the anniversary)
(Radio 021 [Serbian] story)

Edit: President Boris Tadić spoke on the anniversary. He disagrees with the Serbians I talked to, and instead claims that Serbia has moved forward "драматично" (dramatically). Even he concedes that he's disappointed by the lack of progress in some areas, especially the country's "system of values," but notes that it's only been just over a decade.
(B92 English)
(Radio 021 [Serbian])

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pride and Prejudices

The second ever Serbian Gay Pride Parade was scheduled for Sunday, October 2 in Belgrade, but it was cancelled by the government at nearly the last minute.

Back at home, the Pride parade is no big deal. We have a few counter-protesters, but they were always peaceful, quiet, and holding up signs misinterpreting select passages of the Bible. My mayor, my friends, and I marched last year.

But there's nowhere like Chapel Hill here in Serbia. Most of the Serbians I've met here were ambivalent about gay rights, or even supportive, but I have to remember that I have the mother of all sampling biases: I'm talking to English-speaking people who have the patience to deal with an American, many of whom are affiliated with NGOs working for other minority rights. The graffiti, as always, shows a rougher side: I remember that during our first week here, I passed some graffiti that read "Ово није земља педера": "This is not a country of faggots."

Last year in Belgrade, six thousand hooligans and right-wing counter-protesters attacked the parade and their riot police protection. They trashed much of the city, and over one hundred cops were injured. This year was expected to be just as bad, and the police were extremely hesitant to provide protection again.

Officially, all major public events in Belgrade this weekend were banned, both the Pride Parade and its several peaceful counter-marches, for Family Values and similar ideologies. In reality, the government caved in to the threat of anti-gay violence.

I haven't faced much prejudice against myself personally as an American. I look plausibly Serbian (enough to fool a few Serbians here) until I attempt to speak the language, but even then, the default assumption is that I'm British. People here seem surprised that an American would visit Serbia, let alone Novi Sad. The most negative reaction I've gotten was from a bus driver, who said to a group of us that he likes us but doesn't like our government. I can respect that. If I mention that I'm from Северна Каролина (North Carolina), they generally respond by either hiding their nonrecognition or by eagerly replying, "Ah, Michael Jordan!"

No one has even attempted to associate me with the NATO bombings during the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. Everybody I've run into has, like the bus driver, clearly been able to separate American bombers from American individuals. I've run into several Bosnian Serbs who were eager to set the record straight for me about the war. One, who identified himself as a refugee, told me that his father, uncles, and grandfathers all served under General Mladić, who is now spending some quality time in The Hague. Mladić was a hero, said the refugee, who is now in his early 20s and studies computer science at a local university. "Do I look like a war criminal?" his friend asked. Standing together outside a hole-in-the-wall fast food place, we all looked like we could have been Princeton students. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mađara & more

This weekend, I went on two excursions from Novi Sad. The first was on Saturday morning. I woke up at 5:30 so that I could get ready to catch a bus to Bačko Petrovo Selo, a small village with a population of roughly 7,000, of which 70% are ethnic Hungarians. Igor, the other volunteer, and I were there to document and help Attila, a resident, and his crew of volunteers rebuild old benches in the local park, and pick up trash along the riverside. As far as I could tell, Attila was the only one who spoke any English. Many of the volunteers spoke roughly as much Serbian as I do, and since Hungarian and Serbian are entirely unrelated languages, I didn't understand a word they said in their native tongue. I wasn't alone: Igor spoke no Hungarian either. I felt like an outsider more at that moment than at any other time in my trip.

Volunteers assembling a bench
BPS has only about one or two blocks of "downtown"-- the rest is houses and fields and farms. Igor and I went for a quick walk down to the riverside, where we watched farmers ferrying their tractors and other equipment across: BPS is too small to justify a bridge. Still, they had a football (soccer) field, and what seemed like an active kids' league. Igor explained to me that most small villages have their own football teams, and they often travel locally to play each other.

Ferrying farm equipment
The second excursion was with the other BYP kids. We piled into a van to Subotica, the second largest city in Vojvodina, after Novi Sad. There, we met up (in front of the McDonald's; we joked that it was the only place the Americans would be able to find) with two of Ceca's former students and a local tour guide, who was leading a group of Serbian bankers around the old town hall. All of the signs in Subotica are written in three languages: Serbian cyrillic, Hungarian, and Croatian. The city is only about 10km (6 miles) away from the border with Hungary, and Subotica prides itself on being multiethnic: Hungarians are the plurality, followed by Serbs and Croats and Bunjevci, a small Slavic Catholic ethnic group that is distinct from Croats (not quite sure how).

Old town hall
One of the other BYP-ers asked what the oldest building in Subotica was, and our companions showed us the Franciscan Monastery, which they said was built in the early 1700s. They told us that Subotica didn't have any really old buildings, which amused me and reminded me of a saying I'd heard: in America, 100 years is a long time; in Europe, 100 miles is a long distance.

Synagogue and Holocaust memorial
We also visited the synagogue, which was pretty run down, but still impressive and beautiful, especially the roof. We weren't allowed inside because of fears that the ceiling would collapse. Subotica had one of the largest Jewish populations in Serbia: roughly 7,000. But only around 1,000 survived the fascist occupation, and now the Jewish community numbers around 200. The synagogue is under renovation, but the population simply isn't enough to keep it open. One option is to do as the synagogue in Novi Sad has done: it's now a community center, where you can go to hear classical and choral music. Indeed, the synagogue at Subotica, when reopened, will double as a Jewish culture center.

Chinese food in Serbia: not that different from Chinese food in the US
After lunch (pretty good Chinese food, though to be honest, I prefer Serbian cuisine. Subotica is known for its delicious gulaš, and I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get to try that) we went to the nearby zoo. For the most part, this was really fun. I especially liked the Meerkat exhibit, and I saw the ugliest camel in the world. There were a few sections that were very depressing. The bear and the leopard were kept in cages about as large as my room, and they both looked sad. I know that this sort of mistreatment is by no means unique to Serbia, or even this part of the world; still, the animal rights activist inside of me hurt a little.

A bear, chillin'

Meerkats. Visitors can go into the glass outpost for a closer look.
We played cards on the lakeside for a while, and then drove back to Novi Sad. One thing that I'm still not used to is just how flat Vojvodina is. You see nothing but grain fields for miles in any direction, spotted with both modern farm equipment and horse-drawn plows. Occasionally there's a tower off in the distance, usually the top of some old chapel.