Category Archives: serbia

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.


Smoking in Serbia: “Protection Instead of Prohibition”

This past Tuesday evening I dropped by the “Protection Instead of Prohibition” initiative party at Cantina de Frida on the new Belgrade side of town. Although Germany seems to top the ‘highest number of smokers in Europe’ list, Serbia can’t be far behind. The Ottomans were notorious for their smoking habits and a large part of Serbia was under Ottoman rule for over 500 years so it all does make sense. Belgrade is also famous for its social and night life.However, in keeping pace with the rest of Europe, the Serbian government has been passing laws on banning smoking in recent years. The latest one, banning smoking in cafes, restaurants and other similar venues is currently being discussed, critisized and revised by many. The organized initiative “Protection Instead of Prohibition” is looking to find a compromise that will leave both smokers and non-smokers happy and able to enjoy each others company in public places.

Frida atmosfera

Several prominent figures in Serbia have again stepped up for a democratic and fair decision in the matter and have shown their support for the initiative. These include the Serbian Society of Literary Authors and several actors, musicians, an other public figures. Among those showing their support at the party, was one of Serbia’s favorite actors, Mima Karadžić, who was bright and sociable, cigar in hand, once again confirming his reputation of being a man’s man.

Mima Karadžić

Mima Karadžić

I also ran into another Serbian actor and one of my professors from the Academy of the Arts, Ivan Bekjarev, a non-smoker but ready and able to support any fair initiative or cause.

Ivan Bekjarev

Ivan Bekjarev

I’d like to point out that, although I am a smoker, I agree with banning smoking in certain places and/or events. Those would include hospital zones, school zones, and government institutions and similar buildings. The list would, however, exclude cafes, clubs, bars, restaurants and other venues for social interaction. It wouldn’t be fair to smoke out the non-smokers among us, yet it would be just as unfair to deem smokers personae non gratae at social events. Wise are the words of “Protection Instead of Prohibition” – areas designated for smokers or smoking and non-smoking sections would be the right middle ground to go for.

Bend 1

The matter of a smoking ban isn’t so much about one’s rights as it is, plain and simple, about the practical effect it has on the economy.When smoking was banned in cafes, bars and restaurants in New York City in 2003, these businesses saw huge losses immediately. The results weren’t too different in the Netherlands when the same ban was passed last year and, having little choice, many have resorted to opening smokeeasy cafes throughout the country, finding they are better off paying the occassional fine when caught than losing customers. Germany has passed several smoking bans over the last few years, but either provides for the possibility of obtaining permission for smoking sections or, in some regions, simply does not implement the bans. France has also passed an entire set of laws, yet entirely excluded cafes, restaurants and similar venues from these bans. Considering that both anti-smoking laws and smoking itself are nothing new, we should look to the prior experiences of other countries and the current statistics realted to smoking in Serbia for guidance. With both a global and a local economic crisis still in bloom, bans and restrictions, when we are prepared to dish out a few bucks for the pleasure of spending a night on the town with friends, are the last thing we need.

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.

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.”

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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. 😉

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.

Higher Education In Serbia: A World Class Degree May Be Closer Than You Think

Education has been an important, almost crucial, part of the Serbian culture since the late 12th century when the youngest son of then Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja decided to rebel. The young Rastko Nemanjić chose a peculiar path of rebellion, one of knowledge and spirituality, and ran off to join an Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos on the Chalkidiki Peninsula in Greece at the tender age of sixteen. His father joined him a few years later and both men devoted their lives to spreading Christianity and knowledge throughout the land. Rastko took on the monastic name of Sava and his father took his monastic vows as Simeon. They were both canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church as St. Sava and St. Simeon respectively.

Throughout history, St. Sava has been celebrated as the father and patron saint of education in Serbia. Yes, even during the long socialist era, during which elementary, secondary and even higher education were free and available to anyone.

School of Management Studies (Faculty of Organizational Science) of the University of Belgrade

School of Management Studies (Faculty of Organizational Science) of the University of Belgrade

Higher education is still available to most in Serbia today and at quite a low cost. Serbia has several state universities throughout its larger cities and quite a few, mostly specialized, private universities. These institutions of higher education are quite respected throughout the world, although there are a few downsides. Lower tuitions do open the doors to those who could almost certainly never afford this level of education in most developed countries, but also creates a great lack of funding. This in turn leads to the slower innovation and development of new sciences, technology and branches of existing studies, creating a diminished choice for our future college and university students.

Most people who wish to pursue either a graduate or undergraduate degree in fields that are supposedly non-existent in Serbia, decide to do so abroad, if and when they can afford it. Many of us, however, don’t like to see this massive outflow of young intellectuals, an occurrence that has become known as the “leakage of brains” in Serbia. The most popular informational local website for students and graduates,, offers quite an extensive list of colleges and universities throughout the world, along with some words of advice, for those who wish to take this road.

Dartmouth College Campus

Dartmouth College Campus

The institutions of higher education in this country, however, have had long standing cooperations with relevant institutions worldwide for decades. With the implementation of the Bologna Convention (Bologna Process) here and in other European countries, this cooperation has expanded and strengthened. This now affords local students the oportunity of pursuing at least a portion of their studies abroad. This has recently become a second option for those who wish to continue their education in fields or techniques not yet available here. There are also many foreign and locally owned private universities such as European University in Belgrade and The University of New York in Belgrade, both of which are a part of international networks of highly respected schools.

The third choice and one people seldom seem to even know of, much less choose, is that of external or distance studies. There are quite a few schools abroad that offer this option today, enrollment requires nothing more than it otherwise would, and the degrees offered are exactly the same as if the student was attending on campus. Of course, independent study always requires a bit more willpower and personal organizational skills than the usual route. This is why some foreign schools offer additional classes, training and exam periods right here in Belgrade.

British Council in London

British Council in London

I believe my personal favorite, the External Programme of the University of London, has been around these parts the longest. UoL has been working in cooperation with the British Council in Belgrade for years, offering an “internationally recognised Diploma, Bachelors and Masters courses, available wherever you are in the world by distance learning and flexible study” and with exams held once a year in Belgrade. Other universities, such as the University of Leicester, also offer simillar distance learning programs. Sites like and the above mentioned will help perspective undergraduate and graduate students in finding a school in their desired location and field.

Whether you’re a foreigner living here or a local, whether looking to attain a Bachelor’s degree or to improve your current educational status, we hope you do that here in Serbia. Let’s start creating a new confluence of minds here instead of the all too common drainage of brains.