Belgrade: East vs. West

There are so many buses parked at the bus terminal in Belgrade that you can’t see the end. Immediately after I got out of my bus, a taxi driver came to me, offering his service. Obviously it was a taxi cowboy who wanted to make money on tourists. It is typical practice in many south-European cities. Always call a taxi by phone and negotiate the price before the drive. You will save money. I declined the drive and left on my own crippled feet – I contracted some infection on my ways and my right foot was swollen and purple.

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Refugees in the park.

All of a sudden, I came across my water bottle that I had forgotten on the bus. Someone must have thrown it out. Looking for the ticket office, I walk around a park full of people. Maybe they are just resting but it also might be a demonstration. Indeed, they are refugees from Syria, who gather in the city parks. Because of this, the prostitutes had to find new places to work.

Bus station is covered; little bit reminds me of an Arabic market. On the third attempt I get to the right ticket office with international tickets. The inscriptions in Cyrillic are unreadable and locals do not bother to translate them. A boy approached me, begging money for a ticket. Later I came across him three more times. He was from Macedonia, travelling Balkan for one month already. He needed to put together enough money for a ticket home. His family can’t help him as he lives with his old grandparents with no money. I encounter stories like this in Bratislava amongst the homeless people. Living standards differ from country to country and maybe our homeless are on the same level as the poorest earners in Macedonia.
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We are already on the train station. A policeman with a machine gun is patrolling at the door. He speaks English and replaces the missing signs that would lead me to the office. Guys in front of me discuss the situation in Europe. They were travelling around south Europe because the West is too expensive for them. Greek one said that they could withdraw only 60 EUR a day from the bank. Another one replied that in Serbia the average salary is 300 EUR, so it could be withdrawn in 5 days. Employers are not willing to pay more because many young people abuse the system. They get themselves trained at home and elope with the new skills abroad. Therefore the employers started to target different potential employers – women in late 30s – and as a result many young people are jobless.

Queue was reduced because a few girls were sent to another station, from where they could get a train to Romania. In the meantime the Macedonian returned. But I already had my ticket to Budapest, surprisingly cheap for 15 EUR, and I left the station.

Literally, there was a policeman at every 5 meters. The members of Bosnian presidency were visiting Belgrade. They wanted to discuss cooperation and dust the fire that was rekindled after the incident during the commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre. Stones were thrown at Serbian president Vucic. Moreover, the city is full of refugees, sitting in parks and on the streets as if they still were on the boats. After I walked along a building destroyed during NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, I had no doubts that he security measures are justified.

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su2016partizancrvenazvezdaThe street in the wider centre towards the Partisan stadium remind me of my natal town. Guy in shorts stood up from a de-assembled motorbike to show me the road to the stadium. He took me to a silent alley with a big screwdriver in his hand. But he wasn’t able to explain more than ‘first right’. Apart from the guy in the hostel, I did not hear good English and the signs are also problematic, because of the Cyrilic alphabeth. Luckily, I found the stadium. Belgrade is famous for the on-the-sword rivalry between the fans of two football clubs: Partisan and Crvena Zvezda (Red Star).

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From the stadium I walked to the Temple of St. Sava – the biggest Orthodox temple in Eastern Europe. From there I headed to the Republika Square passing hotel Moscow that reminds me of the communist history and architecture. Yugoslavia adopted socialism in the 1940s but it wasn’t as strong as for example in central and eastern Europe. It was the politics of Josip Broz Tito, and also the strong Arabic legacy – present mainly in Bosnia – that did not allow the country to change its nature completely.

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As Ivo Andric writes in The Bridge on Drina, Balkan is a kind of bridge between the East and the West and therefore it is hard to understand it. In 20th century, political and economic interests, often envisaged by a few individuals, had to be prioritized to the public will… Andric associates the war with the goals of the Western Empires, not the people living in the country. The minds of the simple men can be easily manipulated, what I understood in Sarajevo, when a street vendor recommended to me Mickey Mouse and a cap with the golden eagle, adding that ‘America good.’ I met American culture at the Republika Square, where a cheerleader gave me a free malt drink. They were promoting American football.

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Signs in Latin alphabet are often missing, people don’t speak English and limit the answer to ‘turn right and ask there. There are so many patrolmen on the streets that it reminds a police state and parks are taken up by Syrian refugees.

Apart from the above mentioned facts – and my feet that were burning with blisters – it’s OK.

Belgrade does not have such multiculturalism like Sarajevo and it is visible that they are in deeper negotiation with Eastern Europe. The services do not meet the standards of the EU but the people are willing to apply the rule of thumb: the tram driver let me get on for free, when I did not have enough change for a ticket and a woman at the market gave me a free peach.

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