So my friend Ivo has some family members who live in Belgrade, Serbia and when they found out that I would be in the area they very graciously offered to host me while I was there. Not being one to pass up living with locals, home cooking and cultural immersion I accepted the offer. This proved to be a wonderful but very challenging experience for me. Ivo’s cousin Ilija is around my age and so it gave me a local to hang out with and chat with and show me around and we also hung out with his friends, which was great fun and led to some fairly hilarious experiences. It was challenging because my time was literally no longer my own and time to myself was at a minimum. For an introvert such as myself that wore me out as I need time alone to recharge my batteries and it also meant that my previously planned schedule for traveling around Serbia was thrown out the window.

Luckily, Ilija has a similar sleep schedule to myself. Stay up late, sleep in until 11. I imagine it would have been slightly nightmarish had he wanted to get up and do stuff at 6am every day. Ilija and friends were super amazing about showing me around and Ilija gave up something like a week of his time to chauffer me around to different sites and things to do in Belgrade from day one. They took me to Kalemegdan fortress, took me out for drinks, showed me the river walk, different sites and museum’s around town, including Tito’s mausoleum, and what will be the world’s largest Orthodox Cathedral, Sveti Sava, when finished and it will be a site to rival the Hagia Sofia in size. Don’t hold your breath though, they’ve been working on it, from planning to the current state of it for over 100 years and it’s still pretty much just a concrete shell. But that will all be for a different post.

It’s always interesting spending a lot of time around locals, especially youth, because it gives one insight into the culture, both traditional and more modern. It also gives a good insight into what they learn growing up. Most people never realise just how biased their education is growing up and will never see it for various reasons. Textbooks are often edited by either the government or interest groups who have a significant amount of sway in what is portrayed in the books and how texts are edited. One example can be seen by a few very radical Southern Christian fundamentalist groups who believe that history books should be changed to give their skewed perspective of American and World History or the many conservatives who believe that Creationism should be taught as a Science under the guise of “Intelligent Design”. Another example is the denial of Armenian genocide in Turkish history books or the very recent introduction of Aboriginal studies in school textbooks in Australia.

Once again, I digress. So the attitude and interesting historical perspective I heard from the Serbians I was hanging out with regarding the rest of the Balkans makes me want to get someone to translate Serbian history textbooks for me to read. It also made me very keen to speak with youth in other Balkan countries about their attitudes towards Serbians.

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past 20 years, there is an ongoing conflict between Kosova and Serbia. Kosovan’s are of Albanian heritage and generally speaking ethnically Muslim while Serbs are Slavic and ethnically Serbian Orthodox Christian. Serbians claim that Kosova is their’s and have been trying to cleanse the area of Kosovan’s for over 100 years. Under Tito, Kosova was given pretty much free reign to do as they pleased under an autonomous government. When Tito died the government decided it was high time to stage another ethnic cleansing. While I was spending time in Serbia with Ivo’s family they did their best to try to keep me from going to Kosova by saying it was dangerous, the people there attack buses and people coming from Serbia, they hate Serbians, Women travelling alone are frequently attacked, etc.  Needless to say this made me even more keen to visit.

When we were on our way to Montenegro I was asking them why they don’t go to the Croatian coast on their holidays. The response I received was “They hate us there. If they see a car with Serbia plates they vandalise it and they won’t give us good service anywhere.” When I asked more about it they said it wasn’t all Croatians, just the really young nationalists who were generally under the age of 18-20. Speaking with Croatian youth it would seem that there is truth in this. My generation says it’s a stupid conflict, it’s done, it’s in the past and everyone should move on. Plus so many people are of mixed heritage (Ilija himself is half Croatian half Serbian and most of his friends are part something) that they feel it’s ridiculous. It’s apparently a younger generation who was born during the war that seems to have this grudge against Serbians and actually do vandalise the cars and refuse to serve them or provide them with decent service in restaurants, etc.

When I was asking about Montenegro there was more than a hint of Serbian bitterness at the independent little country. Under Tito, Montenegro had an autonomous government. The words in Montenegro tend to be slightly different from those in Serbia, though not as different as those in Croatia. When I asked about this they said that Montenegro wants to separate themselves from Serbia. They definitely weren’t happy about it. They said that Montenegro was ALWAYS a part of Serbia but suddenly they decided to break away and now they are in cahoots with Kosova. I found this interesting as Montenegro was never Slavic. The coast was actually originally settled by the Illyrians and the eastern mountain ranges have large pockets of Albanians. The Slavs didn’t move into the region until later. I found this a rather interesting viewpoint and this is why I’d be interested in reading their history books.

Needless to say, I didn’t ask anything about Bosnia. I decided to wait until I went there to see what their attitude is towards Serbians. If nothing else, it was a very interesting first look into the perspectives of those living in the aftermath of Yugoslavia and I was very interested to travel other Balkan countries to find out their perspectives as well.

What I’m reading now: Lonely Planet Guide to Morocco

What I’m listening to now: The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle by Missy Higgins

Please vote on my poll about where to go next!