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.

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“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.

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, Infostud.com, 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 HyperStudy.com and the above mentioned Infostud.com 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.

Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress: The Legends and Miracles of Little Kalemegdan

We’ve come to the last days of summer in Belgrade. This happens to be, by far, my favorite time of the year in the city.  With kids back in school,  adults back in their work routine and hoards of university students settling into their dorms and getting ready for the fall semester that begins in October, city life becomes a little more functional as the lovely Indian summers that have become common in Belgrade linger on.  This is the perfect time to attempt to see all that Belgrade has to offer.

In September and October, I make visits to Kalemegdan a daily habit and I believe you’ll find almost everyone in the city does. Kalemegdan is the oldest urban part of Belgrade. When I say oldest, I mean this is the spot where the Scordiscians settled in the 3rd century BC.  You can read more about that in the “About Belgrade” section of this blog.  Today, I’d like to reveal a little more about my favorite part of Kalemegdan Fortress, called Little Kalemegdan (Mali Kalemegdan).

Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion

Cveta Zuzorić Art Pavilion (photo courtesy of The Tourist Organization of Belgrade)

Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion (photo courtesy of The Tourist Organization of Belgrade)

Whether you’re looking to take the family on an outing or a killer date, this is the perfect spot. Little Kalemegdan is the small Eastern section of the Park and Fortress, just off Knez Mihailova and Francuska streets. If you make your way from Knez Mihailova, you’ll run into the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion, which often hosts interesting exhibits and parties, but also has a lovely indoor cafe as well as a relaxing esplanade. Mom and dad can have an espresso while the kids are free to roam about and play in the grass or, if you don’t have kids, you can just enjoy the sights and sounds of a lazy afternoon, just meters away from busy downtown Belgrade.

The Belgrade Zoo

If you’ve come from Francuska Street or decide to continue down the path behind the Pavilion, you’ll find the Belgrade Zoo, also dubbed the “Garden of Good Hope”. I can’t be too objective when it comes to the Belgrade Zoo. It happens to be one of my absolute favorite places on Earth. I used to spend so much time there as a university student that some of the employees thought I worked there.

Statue at the Belgrade Zoo dedicated to Gabi, the German Shepherd who battled a puma that had escaped, saving the life of one of the Zoos guards in the process.

Statue at the Belgrade Zoo dedicated to Gabi, the German Shepherd who battled a puma that had escaped, saving the life of one of the Zoo's guards in the process.

The Zoo will quite possibly be one of the smallest you will come across and its location, among the hustle and bustle of Belgrade traffic, may seem inappropriate and disturbing. What you will find, however, is literally an oasis in the midst of a busy city.

The Zoos homage to Sami, the good-natured chimp who escaped several times during the late 80s and soon became Belgrades adored mascot

The Zoo's homage to Sami, the good-natured chimp who escaped several times during the late 80's and soon became Belgrade's adored mascot

The Belgrade Zoo is one of the most successful zoological gardens in the world when it comes to breeding. This is why it is currently hosting various species, some quite rare, from all parts of the globe. Last winter, two white Kruger lions were born in the Garden of Good Hope and seem to be very happy calling this their home. White Kruger lions are said to number less than 50 worldwide and their existence is maintained mostly by selective breeding in zoos and wildlife reserves.  Belgrade is home to 10% of that population. I think this, and other similar facts, boosts the Belgrade Zoo into the “must see” category.

The Kalemegdan Terrace (restaurant)

Once you’re done with the Garden of Good Hope, turn right at the exit and keep walking uphill. You’ll find the Kalemegdan Terrace (Kalemegdanska Terasa) restaurant there. The menu is international, although I would recommend the Serbian dishes on there. Now, I’m used to good food. Really good food. And Kalemegdan Terrace doesn’t have the perfect dishes, but they haven’t failed me yet. The restaurant is pretty high-end with prices to match, but well worth it for both the food and the atmosphere.

Kalemegdanska Terasa (courtesy of Portal-Srbija.com)

Kalemegdanska Terasa (courtesy of Portal-Srbija.com)

The staff and service are almost impeccable, so much so that anything goes here. Allow me to clarify. Family outing? No problem. They’re kid friendly, have plenty of space on the terrace itself for kids to roam a bit and great desserts (bribe material, should you need it). Business meeting? Again, not a problem. They’ll set you up in a nice cozy spot, away from the kids and other distractions. Large party? I would recommend a reservation, but the Terrace is large enough that they will always accommodate you easily and quickly.

Just a few words of advice though:
1.) Don’t sit too near the edge of the terrace. Suffice it to say the Zoo is directly below. The staff is there to make sure you aren’t aware of this fact.
2.) On a scorching Belgrade day, this is the place to go. They have fans that spray mist across the entire terrace. A decadently lovely experience as you look over old Belgrade and enjoy your meal.

The Ružica Church & St. Petka Chapel


Done with lunch and feel like walking it off a bit? I was hoping you’d say that. The Ružica Church and St. Petka Chapel are next, just hang a right again when you leave the restaurant.  Careful going down those stone steps though, as they’re a few centuries old and just a little worn. The Ružica Church is the oldest church in Belgrade. The history of the location is long and interesting but will have to wait for a post of its own. A brief account will do for now.

St. Petka Chapel

St. Petka Chapel

There have been several legends passed on as to the first Ružica Church, erected here during the rule of Serbian king Stefan Lazarević and destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1521.  One legend says that a knight, while tending to an injured maiden, found the water spring that still runs beneath the Saint Petka Chapel today. He used the healing water from the St. Petka Spring to nurse her back to health and she had a church built on the spot in gratitude. Another legend says that, around the same time, Serbian troops were surrounded and trapped in this spot without food or water. The miraculous spring appeared and enabled them to survive. Yet another legend says that three sisters, Ružica, Marica and Cveta, each erected a church here to show their devotion to Christ. Usually, I’m a relentless truth seeker. In this case, I find ignorance is bliss and choose to believe a little of each of these legends.

A view of St. Petka Chapel and the Ružica Church from the park below

A view of St. Petka Chapel and the Ružica Church from the park below

The current edifice was first erected in the 18th century as a gunpowder storage facility and later converted into a military church. The church was badly damaged again in WW I, restored in 1925 and has been under the protection of the city and state since 1965.The St. Petka Spring still flows today and the water it yields has proven medical benefits. The Ružica Church, with the St. Petka Chapel, has been declared the 8th among the 10 Most Unique Churches of the World by the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA). Don’t miss the opportunity to see it.

There is a special comfort in walking through old cities. A feeling of serenity that comes from the knowledge that its roads have been paved by generations before we came to stand there and that the passage is safe. There are very few places in the world that bring that comfort in more volume than Belgrade’s Kalemegdan.