Category Archives: Culture

A Belgrade Tradition: 70 Year Anniversary of the First Democratic Protests

On Friday afternoon I was in downtown Belgrade for a couple of business meetings. Aside from the unusually lovely weather in late November, it was a day like any other. I finished both meetings, packed my stuff and got on my cell to call a cab, with juste enought time to get home before my son got back from school. I got the same response from all three cab companies that I called: “We’re sorry but, as a gesture of support to the protests today, we won’t be working for the next hour.” Great. Thankfully, one of my business associates was there with his motorcycle and, knowing his faithful Yamaha steed would get us through almost any crowd or traffic jam, offered to give me a ride home.

Notice I didn’t even bother to ask exactly who was protesting or why. Prostests are so common in Belgrade that most of us tend to just try to ignore them unless they have something to do with the issues affecting our individual lives. Nevertheless, the information junkie that I am, I got home and ended up finding out that the students of the University of Belgrade were protesting new terms for fullfillment of requierments for certain financial aid for tuitions and so on. I wish them all the best in their efforts but I was a student a decade ago and my son is still in elementary school so I’m not really all that interested. Sorry. It did however remind me of a blog post I wrote and tucked away on my hard disk for future use. I thought I’d release it on the exact day that will mark 70 years since the first massive student protest in Belgrade but, with the current students planning on continuing their protest come Monday, this weekend seems like more appropriate timing. We’re taking that step back again now. The one I call retrograde. In fact, take a few steps back ’cause this picture isn’t just big. It’s huge. And you’re going to want to see it.


The year 1939 had been a tough one on all of Europe. In Serbia it was better known as the Bloody Year of 1939. It remained known as such even after World War II, which was just around the corner. What some don’t know and many fail to recall is that, before World War II came about, a vast portion of the Serbian high society, polititians and bourgeoise in Serbia and much of the region, actually liked the ideologies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Yes, you read that right. Don’t forget that Hitler was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938. This vehement little creature with the funny moustache had an ideology that very much appealed to the higher classes and a killer rhetoric. Bluecollar workers and students saw it differently, of course. The Bloody Year of 1939 saw more than 800 protests throughout the Kingdom of  Yugoslavia.

Allow me to introduce you to a few of the characters in this particular story – the story of the first massive organized student and proleterian protests in Serbia. Miloš Matijević, better known as ‘Slim’ (Mrša) was a tall and lanky bluecollar type that had been born and raised on a small, impoverished farm. A hard worker, after years of unsuccessful farming, physical odd jobs and such, he ended up landing a decent gig in the textile industry in Belgrade. In the late 1920’s he became a member of the Communist Party and set his sights on creating better conditions for the working class. True, most of us still cringe at the word ‘communist’ now that we all know what happened post WW II. But all that ‘Slim’ Matijević and those similar to him knew was that it was time for a change and this ‘communism’ thing, equal shares and opportunity for all, seemd like a great idea.

Our next character became a member of the Communist Party in the mid 1930’s and was a Montenegrin born Serb, Radoje Dakić. He was an electro-mechanic working in one of the larger factories of the time in Belgrade and was often arrested for his revolutionary activities and served a sentence or two in prison. A third working class character in the story, but far from the average woman of her time, was Vukica Mitrović. Born in Budva Montenegro, she had attended elementary and secondary schools there before her family’s finacial troubles and move to Belgrade. She was unable to continue her education but soon found an administrative job in  the Belgrade textile industry and joined the Communist Party in 1933. Vukica was arrested in a huge police raid of the offices of the Communist Party in April of 1935 and tortured by the authorities in prison so she would give up certain information and colleagues. Vukica kept quiet and, although a trial was held, she was finally released due to lack of evidence. Her friends called her ‘Sneak’ (Šunja) for her ability to carry out underground revolutionary tasks quietly and efficiently.

Rifat Burdžević

Rifat Burdžević was a baby faced and strong voiced young man. He was born in a small town in Serbia where, after having been orphaned at the age of two, he was raised by family members and enrolled at the Law School of the University of Belgrade in 1933. Last, but certainly not least, there was Aleksandar ‘Leka’ Ranković. ‘Leka’ Ranković was born in Obrenovac and raised mostly by his mother as he had lost his father at a young age. Ranković is a story all on his own so suffice it to say he would later become one of the most significant characters in the Communist Party of the former SFR of Yugoslavia.

These are the five main characters that, though they would have been nothing without the thousands they had following them at the time, organized and carried out an unlikely but successful mass protest. It was early December of 1939 and the workers, the students, the people – were fed up with low wage hard work, lack of bread, milk, other essentials and the lack of interest from the government in all these matters. A protest was organized, mostly by the five young people you have just been introduced to in the above paragraphs. The protest was scheduled for December 5th, 1939 and a permit for such a gathering was requested from the authorities. The permit was denied and warnings issued to the organizers, students and several trade unions. The next day, the organizers rescheduled the protest for December 10th and applied for a permit again. The second permit was also denied and warnings once again issued. The organizers, students and workers had no other choice but to use guerilla tactics. The protest went undergound for the next couple of days. The organizers made sure that the word got out to the authorities that the protest was planned for December 15th, each time giving them a different location. The students and workers had leaders among them that knew that the protest would in fact take place on the evening of December 14th and their task was to gather as many protesters as possible in the sidestreets around the one designated area – Slavija Square.

I imagine it was a cold and gray afternoon. It must have already been dark as the protest leaders and group leaders went from house to house gathering their fellow protesters. Police and guard had heard a rumor that the protest would happen a day early, but units were now hopelessly scattered around several locations in the city and any other information was scarce. The day had been pretty much like any other but as 7 pm approached, it was an empty and eerie sight. Those who were present say that the usually busy Slavija Square was deadly quiet and without a soul in sight except for a few policemen.  Slavija was. The streets around Slavija weren’t. They were absolutely packed with protesters.

Slavija Square, Belgrade, early 20th century.

At 7 pm, Leka, Vukica, Rifat, Radoje and Miloš came out to the center of Slavija Square. Rifat, the young and fiery law student was usually their spokesman and a great one at that. As he yelled out “Down with bloody war! Down with high prices! Down with terror!…” the protesters began to flood the Square. By God, it must have been an awesome sight. Police began regrouping, beating and arresting protesters. Many were injured and many killed. But it was too late. This began days of the most massive protests this region had ever seen. Protests began in other cities of the region and they changed the future and marked history. Mission accomplished.  When will the world learn that the fate of a nation lies on the shoulders of its children, its workers and its intellectuals?

The above is another amazing part of history that has simply been forgotten by most. So much so that as soon as the new democratic government came to power, a few years ago, the street where it all began was renamed from 14th December street to Cara Nikolaja II street. Not that anyone really noticed because most didn’t know why it carried the previous name in the first place. I wonder if the current government remembers how they themselves came to power in October of 2000. I wonder if they realize that, communist or democratic, they had a common goal. I wonder if they realize that they did the exact same thing 60 years later. December 14th marks the 70 year anniversary of the first massive democratic protests in Belgrade. I’ll be having myself a glass of wine around 7 pm and toasting anyone and everyone who took part in it. I hope you’ll join me.

Autumn in Belgrade: So Much To Do, So Little Time

So much has been happening in this not-too-big, not-so-small city in South Eastern Europe that it’s been difficult to focus on just one thing. The days are getting shorter, the workdays longer and the news headlines more bleak. The summer of 2009 is over, done and gone. Here’s a short recap of its last days:

The Belgrade GLBT Pride Parade was cancelled at the last minute, Serbian athletes are back on track and achieving success, the EU is considering Serbian candidacy for entering the EU by the end of 2009 (not likely, believe you me), the Belgrade Zoo welcomed two more white Kruger lion cubs into the world (if that don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, I don’t know what will), Serbia’s air carrier JAT’s mechanics had a long overdue hissy fit due to which flights were grounded untill yesterday, the Serbian government has decided to cut some 14 thousand jobs in the public sector to meet requirements for another IMF loan it has so eagerly been awaiting (They need the loan to create a better living standard and more jobs for Serbs… Huh? Wait. I’m confused…), and there’s no way I can wrap this up without mentioning Brice Taton, the 28 year old French Toulouse fan who was viciously beaten by football hooligans in Belgrade on September 17th and lost his life to those injuries just days later. The latter came as a huge shock to Belgrade as this is a city where one rarely hears of anyone getting mugged much less brutally beaten. Belgrade and France mourn Brice still but I’m afraid that, come this time next year, his name will be forgotten along with so many others.

Brice Taton

Brice Taton

Such is life in Belgrade. We learn to take the bad, find what good we can in it, and go about our daily business. The year has been pretty good to us so far, taking into consideration the state of the global economy, and the weather is still holding up. Another one of those mild Indian summers is just barely hanging on and I feel we’re just days away from a full fledged Belgrade Autumn. Although a typical Belgrade autumn can be tempermental and unpredictable, with rain, sunshine and even a bit of snow here and there, most Belgraders will tell you this is their favorite time of the year. Perhaps because this is when Belgrade shows its true colors, in all shades, light and dark.

October is the begining of the theatrical, concert and party seasons in Belgrade. Sure, we have the summer festivals and concerts all year round but, to be honest, we wait for all the tourists to leave to get the really good stuff out.  Within the next month and a half, Belgrade will play host to ZZ Top, Cesária Évora, Diana Krall, Tom Jones, Eros Ramazzoti, Simple Minds, Josipa Lisac, its very own Riblja Čorba, and that’s not counting those due to perform at the 24th Belgrade Jazz Festival beginning October 24th. That’s still not even the half of it. If your musical tastes are a tad more eclectic, don’t forget to check out what’s in store at the several venues of Belgrade’s SKC (Students’ Cultural Center). If you lean more toward the classical, then it’s the Kolarac Foundation Hall (home to the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra) you’ll be looking for.

Theatres in Belgrade are a whole story that deserve a post of their own and I promise to get around to that soon. Also, this is when many Belgrade nightclubs reopen after a long summer’s rest. My personal favorite is Bitef Art Cafe where I’ll, once again, be a regular on Tuesdays and the occassional Saturday. In the meantime, I’m hoping we can put some of the recent bad news and vibes behind us, while remembering the people and lessons involved. Welcome to an incomparable and unparalleled Belgrade Autumn. Enjoy!

Serbian vampires: They Don’t Sparkle. They Glow.

I only got a couple of hours of sleep and woke up at an ungodly hour, again. I went out to get breakfast around 6 AM and had another one of those “God, I love this town,” moments as I stepped out into the already vivid streets on this chilly morning. Within 15 minutes, I was back at my desktop, Turkish style morning coffee in hand, reading through my personalized Google news and Google reader. As the sun came up over the city that truly never sleeps, I ran into this blog post about an early 20th century blood sucking boogie man in Belgrade. Or rather, a vampire.

Curious as I am and with nothing better to do this early in the morning, I go on a little Google powered vampire hunt. Turns out Count Vlad himself may have left a few decendants in this region. First I need to explain that Serbs are quite a superstitious nation. Really superstitious. People here have spent centuries concocting ideas that could raise the dreadlocks on a Jamaican voodoo priest’s head. This is the only place on Earth where you can actually be killed by a draft if you sit too close to an open window in mid July.  And you wouldn’t take hours or days to develop some illness and then croak. No, you’ll drop dead right then and there, any Serbian woman over 60 will tell you that.  So I’m wondering why I haven’t heard of all the vampires that seem to be occupying the region. Not only that, but why am i only now finding out that linguists have accepted that the very word “vampire” comes from the old Serbian “бампир” or “лампир” even though there are some three other possible etymological explanations?

In Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Heryegovina and other countries in the region, the definition of what a vampire was seemed to differ from the generally accepted one throughout the world. Sometime at the beginning of the 20th century, Harry de Windt included an entire section in his book “Through Savage Europe” and extensive explanations as to the superstitions and strange beliefs of people in this region. He writes:

“In Herzegovina a vampire is said to be the soul of a dead man, which leaves his grave at night-time to suck the blood of its living victim. I was told quite seriously that when one of these monsters was exhumed near Belgrade it showed every sign of life, and was sleeping and breathing as peacefully as the man had done before his death, a century before ! This occurred thirty years ago, and according to custom the corpse was decapitated, and a stake driven through the body, which was then burnt – the grave being purified with water and vinegar.”

People here believed that these were lost souls who came back after death. They also believed that this breed of blood sucking walking dead needed to return to the grave every now and then to rest and avoided sunlight because of their appearance. However, if more than 30 years passed and they were not disposed of in the manner described by de Windt, they no longer needed to return to the grave and took on an appearance identical to other living human beings, able to walk in open daylight and often marrying the living and producing offspring.

Picture by Kate3078 @ deviantart.com

Picture by Kate3078 @ deviantart.com

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of vampires. I love a good vampire as much as I love the other blood sucking, living dead humanoids that walk this not so green Earth. I’m just saying that the superfluous superstitions of this region may have gone a little too far a long while ago. Then again, the existence of a particular breed of undead indigenous to this region would explain all the pale faces and the action going on in Belgrade every night. And, no – we don’t sparkle in the sunlight. We glow in the dark.

Belgrade LGBT Pride: Then They Came for Me

As a writer, one needs to find an almost perfect balance of objectivity while staying true to one’s experiences and opinions. Whether amateur, blogger or professional author, every writer knows this is never easy. For days I have kept quiet about the upcoming Belgrade Gay Pride Parade. I decided to make this blog about the history, culture and everyday life in Belgrade. I’ve known for weeks that the Parade was something that merited a post of its own as it has much to do with culture. It has been one of the main topics in local and international media lately. So why didn’t I? I’ve been avoiding the subject because, to me, this is a very personal issue. I am an active bisexual and have known of my sexual preference since I was 14.

EuroPride London, 2006

EuroPride London, 2006

This isn’t exactly my coming out of the closet. Most of my friends and family know this. I’m sure my colleagues at work suspected but I never made it clear and I believe most will be surprised if they read this. I’ve always left room for those who may want to pretend they don’t know. I don’t flaunt it and I don’t hide it. It is what it is. Let me make myself clear, I don’t really like any kind of parading or flaunting. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to public displays of affection, whether homosexual or heterosexual. And I deplore the chaos any kind of parading creates in downtown Belgrade. I’m also not a feminist and I don’t see the point of the institution of marriage at all in the 21st century, much less of a same sex marriage. Commitment is not about a signature on a piece of paper and equality is attained through work, time and sweat, not parading and asking for this and that.

However, the Belgrade LGBT Pride Parade scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 20th, brings up some local and international issues that need to be brought out in the open. This too is never easy. There have been several threats made by different conservative organizations (all speaking in the name of the “Serbian people and society”), individuals, warning by the Serbian Orthodox Church and a “guarantee” for the safety of those participating in the Parade from Serbian authorities. Several Serbian actors, musicians, artists and other prominent figures have shown public support for the Belgrade Pride Parade and the LGBT community in general lately. I salute them. In modern day Serbia, some are literally risking their careers by doing so.

I am a Serb, both by heritage and nationality. I am a law-abiding citizen of my country. I am a woman. I am a bisexual. First and foremost, I am a single mother and, although I don’t flaunt my sexuality, there is a certain fear that comes with living my life the way I do. I know that it’s a little different for bisexual women, but we are no more truly accepted in society in the Balkans than gay or bisexual men. Anywhere. Much less so in Serbia.

Just recently, my mother, who has been referring to my sexual preference as my “experimental stage” for the past 12 years, flat out told me that she is afraid my son “will be a faggot” because of my “deviant lifestyle”. Yes, she said faggot. Yes, she called me deviant. Yes, my own mother. She followed that will a consoling, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. You know we’d love you even if you were a murderer or a thief.” Wow. So that’s where I stand in society? With the murderers, thieves, and other scum of the earth? Good to know.

Let’s set aside the fact that this is my mother. This comes from a woman who grew up in Belgrade in the late 50’s and was involved in student protests here in the early 60’s. This comes from a feminist homemaker who insisted that her husband put her name on every account he ever opened or piece of property he ever bought since the day they were married in 1966. This comes from the woman who first showed her naked breasts on Yugoslavian film in 1961 (DR. by Soja Jovanović, first banned and released in 1963). This comes from an educated woman who has seen half the globe, speaks four languages and has lived in several countries. This comes from the daughter of a woman who had two university degrees before women had the right to vote and spent her life as a working mother of three. That’s what pisses me off. Not the fact that she’s my mother.

My father (78), on the other hand, doesn’t talk about it much. In fact, he’s not much of a talker at all. His family is his life. He doesn’t say it but he has spent a lifetime showing it. All he’s ever said on the subject of my sexuality is that he worries about my safety. But the occasional wink sent my way or comment about a good looking woman passing by that I get from him means the world to me. My father is living proof that commitment, love, and acceptance don’t come from words but from actions and with time.

The opposite pretty much describes Serbian society’s general view on LGBT rights at this point in time. It’s all on paper, but you don’t exactly feel the love around here. Male homosexuality was illegal in Serbia from 1977 until 1994, with Vojvodina revoking that ban as an autonomic region from 1978 until 1990. Female homosexuality was never legally addressed at all until 2006. I’m guessing the good ol’ boys didn’t mind seeing some girl-on-girl action every now and then.

Which brings me to a few more examples from my personal experiences as a bisexual woman in Serbia. Most men in this country, like most anywhere, are initially pretty open to it. Unless they’re in a serious relationship with you. Plural and possessive are two quite different things that people often confuse.  If it’s just a passing fling then we’re fine, but if I’m “their” life partner, woman, wife, mother of their kids – they expect a prim and proper example of a Serbian woman. My ex husband, while we were still dating, became extremely angry when he realized one evening that my sexual interest in women wasn’t a “phase”. We worked it out and our relationship went on. I later found out that he “accepted” to work it out beacuse he thought, once we were married, I would forget about my need to be with women. Last year, I ended up romantically involved with a longtime friend. Months into this new relationship, he told me he understood my need to be with women. He said he knew it was because I never got what I really needed from the men in my life. He saw it as a form of rebellion on my part. Oh, and of course he knew just what I needed and would “convert” me in no time. I ended the relationship as peacefully as possible some days later and haven’t spoken to him since. I told him to give me a call once he grows a pair of balls. He hasn’t. Called, I mean.

My mother, ex-husband, and above mentioned ex-boyfriend were all born in Belgrade. They have all attended university. They have all traveled and speak more than one language. They are prime examples of the urban, middle class population of Serbia. And they all believe homosexuality is an illness.

I’m sick of being seen as either fascinating or diseased because of my personal preferences and what I do on my own time. Live and let live.

As @Blogowski wrote in his recent blog post on the subject, even the controversial and conservative Martin Niemöller wrote:

“First they came for the communists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Note: Comments that are verbally abusive, threatening or promote violence of any kind will simply not be approved for publishing. Don’t bother.

“Tour Called Nostalgia” Through Belgrade’s Musical History on Belgraded.com

Here’s a heads up for you history and music buffs alike. I was just about to head out the door but decided to check out Belgraded.com before I did that and I came across this wonderful post about a new little tour of downtown Belgrade – a tour through the history of music (from the 19th to the 21st century) on the regular no. 2 tram route. Check the above link for all the scrumptious details!

While the idea for this tour comes from Belgrade’s rock journalist, Peca Popović, I did some checking and it turns out that these tours are going to become a regular autumn/winter sightseeing attraction, according to statements made by Radmila Hrustanović, Deputy Mayor of Belgrade. Ms. Hrustanović also added that the tours will be lead by several authors, architects, musicians, artists and other prominent figures of the Serbian intellectual and artistic corps, begining with Peca Popović himself.  Kudos to Mr. Popović and the City of Belgrade! I want me a ticket for this ride. 🙂

P.S. I think I’ve mentioned this (a million times) but I highly recommend subscribing to Belgraded.com. Good stuff.

Serbian Football: The Most Important Irrelevant Thing in the World

Serbia has been called Europe’s best “producer” of young athletic talent in the past. Back in the day of the former Yugoslavia, with other countries in the region, we formed some of the most successful national teams in the world. Yugoslavia had a population of some 23 million, but even with the little over 8 million population it has today, Serbia can still put together a team that countries eight times its size couldn’t buy, much less muster up.

Although numerous teams and individuals have had great international success: the Men’s Waterpolo National Team, Men’s Basketball National Team, Jasna Šekarić, and now Novak Đoković, Jelena Janković, Janko Tipsarević, Ana Ivanović, Milorad Čavić and others, football (soccer) is still the biggest jewel in Serbia’s crown of sports. I suppose that’s why we call it the most “important irrelevant thing in the world” round these parts. Sure, there are many Serbs who aren’t football fans. But ask them what they’re doing when the boys in blue, waht we call the Serbian National Football squad, are playing. My bet is they’re watching along with the rest of us. If you’re ever in Belgrade when the boys in blue are playing a game (anywhere) or the city derby between FC Partizan and FC Red Star is on, you’ll see, hear and feel it. And here’s how it all started.

In the spring of 1896, just some twenty years after the first official international football match ever, Hugo Buli, a young Belgrade Jew, returned from his studies in Germany. Among other things, Hugo brought a new shiny ball with him – a football. He soon reconnected with old friends and brought the ball with him when he went to see his friends at Soko Belgrade Sports Society. By May of the same year, Soko had an official football section. The Serbian Football Society was founded just a year later, again on the initiative of Hugo Buli. The first President of the Society was Mr. Feti Bey,  Turkish Consul to Belgrade and the respected Belgrade attorney, Mihailo Živadinović served as the first Vice-President. The first official clubs were Bačka from Subotica (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Šumadija from Kragujevac, founded in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Things just took on a life of their own after that. The game almost plays itself here. Almost.

The Serbian national squad played their first international match against HAŠK (Croatian Academic Sports Club, founded in 1903) from Zagreb in May of 1911 and lost by 0:8. Clubs and matches continued to develop throughout the region and, after WW I, the Yugoslavian Football Association (Jugoslovenski Nogometni Savez) was formed and football gained much of the form it still has in the region. The state championships were first held in 1923 and came to a standstill in 1940, by which time the YFA headquarters had been moved to Belgrade. Over that period, 7 championship titles were taken by Serbia’s best clubs, mostly dominated by BSK (Belgrade Sports Club). Matches and competitions remained unofficial throughout the period of WW II, although they were played.

BSK was “reconstructed” after the war and renamed Metalac in 1945. Just years later it received the name it still carries today, OFK Beograd (Youth Football Club of Belgrade). OFK Beograd has become renowned over the years for the afore mentioned “production” of young talent and great contribution to the success and particular style of football played in Serbia over the last century. Many of the great European clubs, such as Napoli, Feyenoord, Panathinaikos and Juventus, fell to the blue and white squad that the fans had dubbed “the Romantics”. They played the game for the sheer love of it and it seemed to work.  For a period of some 20 years, up untill the late 1990’s, OFK lost some of it’s former glory. Its influence had not been forgotten, however, and since then they have been making a nice comeback to the football stage. With the coming of OFK’s second century of existence, I believe there may be a new golden era in store for them.

The same year the reformation of OFK began, FC Red Star was founded in March and FC Partizan in October, both in Belgrade. For over 50 years now, these two rivals have been battling it out on the national scene and helping each other achieve greatness on the international scene. Many young players transferred to both clubs from OFK over the decades. Together, these three clubs are the Holy Trinity of Serbian football.

Over the past 50 years, Red Star Belgrade has won 25 National Championships, 22 National Cups, been UEFA Champions League semifinalist twice and Champion once (1991). Red Star Belgrade also took the 1991 FIFA Club World Cup in 1991 (Intercontinental Cup) and the independent World of Soccer Cup in 1977, defeating Celtic in the finals (who would take the Cup the next year). The club saw troubling times during the 90’s, partly due to the ban enforced on all Serbian sports at the time, but mostly due to horrendous management by the club’s self-serving officials. (Yes, I just called out Dragan Đajić and his merry men. Damn straight.)

In the meantime, FC Partizan should be praised no less. Partizan was the first Eastern European club ever to play in the UEFA Champions League (European Champions’ Cup) in 1955 and the first to reach the finals in 1966 (against Real Madrid). The club was first established as the Yugoslav People’s Army football club, but became independent just a few years later in the 1950’s. Partizan holds 21 National Championship titles, 11 National Cups and has been tremendously active on the European scene throughout their history and in recent years. Perhaps the best proof of this longstanding tradition is the recent confirmation by UEFA that FC Partizan has the second highest ranking youngster school in Europe, right after Ajax Amsterdam.

We’re back on the subject of breeding young talent. I believe even most Serbian die-hard football fans are unaware of what we have growing in the back yard, or rather the Serbian second and third divisions. Want to watch some real football being played? I suggest roaming the smaller Serbian cities and towns and catching a match while you’re there. Or just drop by one of the local football fields in Belgrade on the weekends Awesome moves, smooth plays, old school footwork, these boys play the game for the unadulterated joy of it. The win is just the icing on the cake.

Yes, I am one of those die-hard fans. It’s a genetic thing. I hope you all enjoyed this post as I’ll be writing more on the subject, including the up and coming culture of Women’s football in Serbia. We’ll be seein’ you in South Africa come 2010. 😉

Kotor Bay, Montenegro: An Hour’s Flight & a World Away from Busy Belgrade

The official end of the summer is fast approaching and I haven’t taken a vacation yet. Two weeks at my parents’ 2.5 hectare mountain paradise in Central Serbia could only constitute as another reason for a holiday, if anything. Alas, my son has already started the school year and if we’re to play hooky it has to be quick and close by. He says he’s not too interested in revisiting any of the countries we don’t need extensive paperwork for and there’s just no time for Visa applications right now. Luckily, we have close family in Montenegro that we haven’t seen in a while. Best of all, it’s just a hop and a skip away.  Yes, just the hop and the skip will do, thank you. Add a jump and we’d be on the Croatian coast.

Slovenian Beach in Budva, Montenegro

Slovenian Beach in Budva, Montenegro

You may have heard a few complaints about taking a holiday in Montenegro. I guarantee that the people making those comments haven’t travelled much. Ever try staying at an inn in one of the dodgier neighborhoods in Paris? How about roaming the rural parts of Italy? And that adventurous backpacking trip through India? Checked out what a holiday in beautiful upstate New Jersey has to offer? Yeah, all wonderful to visit, look at, even experience but every place leaves that certain je ne sais quoi to be desired, n’est pas? For those of you who are forever complaining about something, I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that you stop reading this right now and check into your local Hyatt Regency for a few days first thing tomorrow. It’ll save you a load on holiday expenses and any 5 star hotel is really the same so don’t even bother going anywhere. Scoot now. Get packing while I continue.

St. Đorđe Isle in Kotor Bay, Montenegro

St. Đorđe Isle in Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Right then. Montenegro may have it’s flaws, but the landscape itself will not only make up for those but knock your jaw to the floor. I can add all the pictures in the world here and none of them could convey the unique feeling of humility and awe that rushes through you as you stand at the base of Kotor Bay, your head tilted back as far as it will go, staring into the sky above at the imposing, majestic limestone Orjen and Lovćen mountains.

My aunt married in the Kotor Bay area some 40 years ago and I have passed through there almost every summer since I was born. Subsequently, my portrayal of this region will be anything but objective.  Kotor Bay, which is actually not a bay but a ria (like a fjord and the largest one in Europe outside Scandinavia), has a cozy warmth to it that I believe can’t be encountered in any other part along the Adriatic coast. The water is always just a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the Adriatic. My cousin’s house is literally right across the street from a small beach so my morning routine is as follows: wake up, brush teeth, slip into bathing suit, grab towel, slide into flip flops, make my way down to beach, order coffee (yup, there’s a cafe/bar on the beach), jump into the water, swim out about half a kilometer to the place where the currents of warm and cold water sway me back and fro as I float on my back, resting and looking at those same mountains I mentioned above. Once I’ve rested enough, I make my way back to the tiny, quiet beach to have my morning espresso and read the morning paper they always have on hand at the cafe. Priceless, wouldn’t you agree?

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Kotor’s Old Town is a UNESCO site and the history and architecture of the towns along the entire bay are nothing less than captivating. If you happen to be a history buff, like myself, then you know all of Eastern Europe is like Disneyland and Montenegro is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Here’s a short account of that history for now. Hopefully, I’ll be blogging more on the subject after our little trip. I’ll be staying in Herceg Novi, a little farther down the line, between Kotor and Igalo. That’s the hop and the skip. The jump I mentioned before would take you straight to Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast down that same road.

Gate of Old Town Herceg Novi

Gate of Old Town Herceg Novi

Igalo isn’t all that interesting except for the Spa there. On the other hand, while Kotor is historically fascinating, it still has colossal problems regarding infrastructure such as fresh water distribution and sewage. Let’s not get into that right now, but if you plan on staying in Kotor, look into that first. Herceg Novi is the best of both worlds as it has all the modern amenities one needs and leaves one open to all other activities and towns in the Bay.

Old Kotor

Old Town Kotor

Other than sightseeing and decadent behavior on the beach, activities in Montenegro and Kotor Bay include scuba diving, white water rafting, hiking, kayaking, paragliding, horseback riding, sailing, and so much more. I find the aptly named montenegroholiday.com sums it up quite nicely and offers a search for accommodation as well. Nothing is exactly cheap these days, but a 10 day stay in Montenegro shouldn’t cost you much more than what you’d spend staying at home and trying to salvage whatever is left of the summer.

I should also mention that there’s a Marine Biology Institute in Kotor and it has recently been nominated by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) to be the center for the preservation of biodiversity for the Adriatic region. Aside from being a scientific research center, the Institute is also open to tourists so my son and I will definitely be visiting while in Herceg Novi.

Sunset in Tivat, Montenegro

Sunset in Tivat, Montenegro

If you’re in the Belgrade area and haven’t taken much time off this summer, I hope you’ll take that one hour flight down to the Montenegro coast. September is always the best time to visit any tourist destination, especially the Adriatic as the water and air temperatures are closest around this time. Besides, I don’t know about you, but I was taught never to arrive first to a party and to leave when the party is at its best.