Category Archives: History

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.


Operation Halyard: Using History to Build Bridges Between Nations

Many things have been said of the Serbs as a nation throughout history. Of all these things, at least three most certainly stand to be true: we are stubborn, we don’t respond well to authority and we are always quick on our feet. If there’s a loophole, we’ll find it. And if there isn’t, we’ll make one. The greatest example of these characteristics is also the least known. Let me take you back to the summer of 1944, a pivotal year in the history of the world and one that saw over 500 airmen of the Allied forces kept alive and safe by the illiterate peasants of a mountain village in Serbia…

Somewhere around Gornji Milanovac and Pranjani during WWII

It’s late August of 1944 in Nazi occupied Serbia and the peasants have already sacrificed much of their already meager crop, setting time aside to build a hidden, improvised airstrip near the village of Pranjani on a mountain with an elevation of almost 500 meters. It was a heavy, humid summer with temperatures ranging from the low twenties to the mid thirties (Celsius) and the regular onset of thunderstorms didn’t help in their efforts. In other parts of the world, the Allies were preparing the biggest rescue mission ever. Yes, ever. Why haven’t you heard of it? Because it was planned and executed that well.

Over the years of the Nazi occupation throughout Europe, many airmen were downed during bombing, Intelligence and even rescue missions. Over 500 of them fell somewhere over central Serbia and survived. They practiced escape and evasion techniques until they reached either members of the courageous and friendly village populations or any of the resisting local troops. In cooperation with Allied forces, those same locals and troops organized an amazing feat: Operation Halyard. Operation Halyard was a massive Allied airlift operation behind enemy lines, the largest in history in fact. It was lead by General Draža Mihajlović and members of the American Office of Strategic Services and carried out by the General’s Chetnik guerillas and the Allied forces.

Statue of General Mihajlović in Illinois

Statue of General Mihajlović in Illinois

General Mihajlović kept his headquarters in the Gornji Milanovac and Pranjani region because, while he knew his men had good knowledge of and could conquer the rough mountain terrain, the Nazi troops couldn’t begin to fathom survival in this sort of foreign terrain. Both his troops and the downed airmen, mostly US Air Force, would be as safe as they could be here. This didn’t make Operation Halyard any easier however. The plan was to fly huge C-47 cargo planes and land them smack-dab in the middle of enemy territory during the most massive war the world had ever seen. They would then need time to load the airmen on board and fly out safely again, all from an improvised airstrip on the peak of a rugged mountain. The odds they too would be shot down were huge and the results – simply amazing. The cargo planes and those following came in and got out without any major glitches. The Operation was carried out between the months of August and December of 1944 and over 500 souls were home, safe and sound, for the new year that would bring so much change.

The real deal: Chetnik guerillas and Allied officers on the Pranjani airstrip, 1944.

The real deal: Chetnik guerillas and Allied officers on the Pranjani airstrip, 1944.

Today, testimonials of some of these survivors tell us of the warm hospitality they were afforded by those who didn’t even speak their language. A common goal against repression, occupation and worldwide mass murder made all barriers disappear – they were welcomed and cared for as one welcomes and cares for family.

In an Open Letter to US troops in the former Yugoslavia from over 500 MlAs saved by the Serbian people during World War II, Richard L. Felman, Major USAF (Ret) recalls: “While we were there, those of us who were wounded were given whatever medical supplies they had even at the deprivation of their own troops. If there was one piece of bread in the house, or one egg, it went to the American airmen while the Serb went hungry. If there was one bed or one blanket, it went to us while the Serb slept on the bare ground. No risk of sacrifice was too great to insure our safety and well being. One experience which is forever seared in my memory is the time a village with 200 women and children was burned to the ground by the Germans because the Serbs would not tell them where they were hiding us. To this day, I can smell the terrible stench of their burning flesh. One does not forget such things.”

Major Richard L. Felman on the Pranjani airstrip upon his return to Serbia in 1995

Major Richard L. Felman on the Pranjani airstrip upon his return to Serbia in 1995

Major Felman, who passed away in 1999, shortly after writing the above quoted letter, dedicated much of his life to tell the world of his lifesaving experience. Due to his great efforts, perhaps above and beyond the call of personal and moral duty, US President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded General Draža Mihajlović with the US Legion of Merit award for his contribution to the Allied victory during World War II. This too was kept under wraps for political reasons, so as not to offend the then communist government of the former SFR of Yugoslavia, and General Mihajlović’s daughter, Gordana, finally accepted the award on her father’s behalf in 2005.

In 2007, Gregory A. Freeman wrote a very descriptive and compelling account of what is arguably still the greatest airlift rescue mission in history in his book  The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II. On August 15th of this year, Air Force Attache’ for the U.S. embassy in Serbia Lt. Col. John Cappello, soldiers of the U.S. military’s 1194th Engineer Company, and U.S. Marine Corps Security Guards from the U.S. Embassy attended the 65th anniversary of the Halyard Mission in Pranjani to pay tribute to the Serbs “who saved the lives of over 500 U.S. Airmen and Allies during World War II”. Daniel Sunter, the executive director of the Euro-Atlantic Initiative said, “We’re trying to build bridges between Serbia and the United States using history.” Yet, Operation Halyard was an event that bridged and forever intertwined several nations and hundreds of lives.

Review of The Forgotten 500 by Aleksandra Rebić

Review of "The Forgotten 500" by Aleksandra Rebić

My question is: Are we willing to wait another 65 years to learn of the great feats that are happening today? My answer is, plain and simple, loud and clear – NO. Please, remember to read the fineprint on the pages of History. It will make all the difference when you sign your contract with Time. To all those involved in the success of Operation Halyard – I personally salute you all for a mission well executed and a lesson learned. Thank you.

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 @

Picture by Kate3078 @

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.

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

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 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 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 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.

Serbia and the E.U.: Who Needs Who More?

Sigh… When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would stay away from anything political because Belgrade and Serbia have been manipulated by everyone’s politics too much for too long. I am sad to say – can’t do it. Must be a genetic thing, a mild form of Tourrette’s perhaps, but I’m going to have to speak my mind.

I don’t have much in the sense of a formal education.  However, for an autodidact, I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and an above average understanding of the world around me. When I come across articles like the one I ran into today on The Sofia Echo, about Serbia possibly applying for E.U. membership by the end of this year and how great that would be for the Serbian people – it just pisses me off. First I’ll tell you why it pisses me off and then I’d be very grateful to anyone out there who could tell me I’m wrong and explain it to me.

Aside from the ton of reading and the mandatory interest in politics one must have to be able to survive in Serbia, I grew up in Portugal in the 80’s and 90’s. For those of you who don’t know, from the early 1930’s, Portugal was under the totalitarian regime of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. As dictators go, Salazar is probably the most underrated of them all. After an almost 40 year dictatorship, the man died in 1970. His regime fell in 1974. I think that about covers the extent of his power. Thus, the Portugal I was raised in went through a much longer and tougher transition than the Serbia I’ve been raising my child in since 2000. And someone in Serbia’s current government might want to give someone in Portugal a call, because they’re making the same time altering mistakes that some of their democratic “revolutionary” predecesors made. Or at least read a book on the subject. Just a suggestion.

Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 and a lot of things went downhill from there. Soon enough, those wonderful, sunkissed, organic tomatoes were replaced by the imported, greenhouse crap that tastes like soaked cardboard. Portuguese wineries had to modify entire winemaking processes to meet E.U. regulations. Other E.U. laws and requirement have had serious negative influence on both Portuguese agriculture and tourism, two major industries in this country’s economy. I really don’t see how Serbia’s fate in the E.U. would be any different.

Organic tomatoes grown in Melides (Alentejo, Portugal)

I’m just going to say it. I firmly believe that, especially now with the economic mess they’ve gone and gotten themselves (yes, themselves) into, the E.U. needs Serbia more than Serbia needs the E.U..  Stop gasping and gaping at the screen, for pitty sake, and think about it.

Serbia, as it is today, is that good looking, ingenious kid that was born on the wrong side of the tracks. Think “Good Will Hunting”.  Serbia has the know-how, the infrastructure, the experience, the raw materials… you name it. Need highly educated experts? Got it. Or is cheap production and workforce what you’re looking for? Got that too. Someone who understands your newest technology and can implement it? Yup, that too. In fact, we’ve dabbled in mass production and innovative technology a few times ourselves. We just don’t have the financial resources. You know – the cash, the bread, the greenback, the moolah? Yeah, the stuff the E.U. pretends it still has.

Oh, and you know what else? We’ve got this cute little thing going on with Russia, called tariff-free export. And maybe you’ve heard this too – Russia and a few other countries in the region (that we’ve got this rockin’ relationship and trade agreements with) happen to make up a market of 200+ million consumers in one of the fastest growing FMCG markets in the world. What was that? That same market has been declining in Western Europe and North America? Shuddup! Really? And production costs have been rising there too? Wow.  And our guys are expecting trade with Russia to increase up to 60% this year. Who would’ve thunk it?

Simpo furniture factory in Vranje, Serbia

Simpo furniture factory in Vranje, Serbia

Wait. I just got this great idea. There are already a few European companies outsourcing production here, but it would be so much more practical if Serbia was an E.U. member state. Then any European company could move their production and other elements of their business here, where it’s all cheaper, high quality and close to home. Getting rid of those pesky tariffs and customs regulations would help and it really would give the Serbian economy an initial boost so the good ol’ boys in the current government would look good. At least as long as they’re in office. Hey, but let’s not let everyone in on this. Let’s pretend Serbia hasn’t entered the E.U. untill now because of lack of full cooperation with the ICTY. Then let’s pretend that some E.U. countries will support its candidacy out of their genuine concern for the people of Serbia and the fact that Serbian citizens don’t have the average European salary and can’t always travel freely. If the citizens of Serbia realize the E.U. really needs them, God forbid, they might up the ante on this one.

This time, in the article I read this morning, that genuine concern comes from Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. Sweden happens to be the current holder of the E.U. presidency. Funny coincidence too. The massive Ikea, a Swedish company, signed a strategic partnership with Serbian furniture manufacturer Simpo in May of this year. Ikea’s aim, as they stated then, is to outsource production here and enter the Russian market while covering demand in South Eastern Europe as well. And Tetra Pak, the food processing and packaging giant of Swedish origins, has been outsourcing production to the Tipoplastika factory in Gornji Milanovac (Central Serbia) for years now. Guess what. Just this January, Tetra Pak management declared this very production plant as the best among their 42 plants in the world. Hey, I just read this stuff. You do the math.