If Belgrade could speak

by Zlatka Koleva, participant of Our Future Europe 2014

When we talk about Serbia, many well-known clichés spring to mind – the big burgers called pljeskavicas, turbo-folk by Mile Kitic and the war. In fact, the war myth is real, now more than ever. Even the problems caused by floods in the past months don’t give rise to questions on and references to the current affairs of the Balkan region. The recent floods rather remind us of the recent past, when any brave and controversial front page line in the Serbian media was reason enough for blood spilling, jail and public and societal disturbance.

Truth is born in argument, indeed. I, however, wanted to find out what is true somewhere else than that. Neither did I look for truth in the ratio behind conflicting points of view, nor in the eyes of secondary victims. Neither did I in the old-fashioned perspective of administering justice, nor on the faces of those, who, like me, were not there. I looked for it with those people, whose souls lack bias and judgment, completely confused and frustrated by their adults rebelling. Those who outlived the war. Literally.

Our Future EuropeI met them on an exchange program (“Our Future Europe”) for young leaders, with six participants per participating country (Serbia, Kosovo and the Netherlands). I was part of the Dutch team, since I already lived long enough in the so-called Low Lands (3 years and counting). We met in the capital of Serbia, the platzdarm  of all important battles and rebellions – Belgrade. The aim of the project was to concentrate closely on the European Union and its policy tools for conflict resolution. At the same time the effects of media were emphasized; the media as both a driving force and as a useful way of manipulation and information non-disclosure. The media as a fountain of spreading wrongful information and hatred. Above all, we focused on how we, using non-formal education methods, can raise awareness about such issues. How we can show others what we have seen, learnt and experienced on this exchange program.

I started to look around in order to see what was genuine and true to me. I consulted the most impartial and objective third party, the one, who can tell me everything from experience – Belgrade, the city in which even dancers in the park write history. The city, which would never spoil serenity, even if it could scream. It would leave me speechless with its calm and peaceful environment, oh yes, it would… because…

Because if Belgrade could, it would have taken you to a kafana (a Serbian pub) and have ordered you a Jelen beer. It would sing along with you, loud and carefree. No passports, no boarding passes, no visas needed. It would have told you, sincerely, how many women – mothers and wives – have hidden their husbands and sons in the basement, so that they don’t have to go fight against their mothers and fathers in law, their sisters, probably their nephews and nieces. How hard it is for a young person to not know who their mother- and step-motherland is, since the two are in such an inevitably close relationship, that one could not help but wonder whether they fight against each other or giggle. Together. No politician has yet found solid ground and the bravery to elaborate on the innocent childrens’ question: “Why?”.

If Belgrade Could SpeakBecause if Belgrade could, it would have showed you Kalemegdan, at the fortress, with the kings and queens, who can tell you stories too. It would have showed you that, just like the rivers Donau and Sava flow into each other, in the Old and in the New Belgrade history and innovation shake hands diplomatically; yesterday and tomorrow. Remembering what happened yesterday, but looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. Because determination is a one-way ride to the top, and, as we all know, one can fly upwards, rise to unexplored heights. The hummingbird is just an exception proving the rule. If we expect all birds to be like the hummingbird, we would be disappointed by their slow evolution.

If we expect a fish to climb trees and a monkey to swim in the ocean, these two would always be considered the ultimate losers. The same rules apply to collective historical memory: if we blindly believe that everyone will forget what happened in the past, we would be regarded as either reckless enthusiasts or as ridiculous. Nonetheless, we have all the reasons in the world to suggest that human beings are creatures that are intelligent and sensible enough to have the strength and the courage to move on. Because progress, just like a ride in the sky, has just one direction: upward. The moral of the story can be summed up in one simple sentence: keep moving forward. No excuses. That’s what Belgrade would have told me.

Because if Belgrade could… but it can. And it did. It kissed the past goodbye and embraced the EU values. It did not forget the war, but is ready to build a new Belgrade.

My friends, it is high time we changed the characters that play the leading roles in our minds when we talk about Serbia – let the leading roles go to the delicious dish called sárma, the beautiful Kalemegdan park and love.

Our Future Europe” is an exchange program between three NGOs, respectively from The Netherlands, Serbia and Kosovo: Linking Europe (the Netherlands), Youth Education Committee (Serbia) and Integra (Kosovo). Each year six participants per country discuss the importance of post-conflict resolution, what tools can be used to tackle such sensitive issues and how the European integration can be the key to success. OFE 2014 focused a lot on the media influence in times of conflict. Are you Dutch (or officially residing in the Netherlands), interested in conflict resolution, media impact on societies, international relations and Balkan politics? Then you should not miss out this opportunity and apply for OFE 2015! Contact NGO Linking Europe for more information.

This article was previously published on the Bulgarian website Za men.

I looked for it with those people, whose souls lack bias and judgment, completely confused and frustrated by their adults rebelling