Bombs Over Belgrade

If I were to sum up Belgrade in one word, it would be “gritty.”

After an amazing couple of weeks in elegant Bosnia and relaxing Montenegro it was a shock to the system to be dropped in the center of hot, urban Belgrade.

Also a shock:

I’d encountered my fair share of bombed out buildings in Bosnia, and was moved by the horror of the wars there, but these tall gaping monsters felt different. The dark holes, like missing teeth, seemed almost accusatory. Unlike the shattered remnants of Sarajevo and Mostar, the damages in Belgrade had been inflicted by my own country.

Well, not JUST the United States. It was actually NATO that bombed Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo War. Unfair or not, most of the Serbian anger over the Kosovo issue seems to be directed solely at the US.  Just a few months prior to my arrival, riots has broken out in front of the US Embassy in response to Kosovo’s renewed declarations of independence.

I walked past the American Embassy, now shuttered and boarded up and felt a twinge of nervousness. Belgrade is the only place in Europe where I’ve actually run across anti-Americanism. I never felt unsafe; most of the jabs were harmless, despite their serious undertones. I was subject to a lot of subtle digs though (for example, locals kept sarcastically asking me if I was “looking for McDonalds.”) My friend Liz, a Canadian, managed to escape the hostility.

Needless to say, Serbia did not feel as friendly as the other Balkan countries I visited.

Although it made me squirm a bit, it did give me a picture of Serbian psychology. The people there have strong national pride as well as a remarkable respect and connection with their past.  There seems to be a reverence for the “glory days” of the former Yugoslavia. This was evident when we visited the grave of Grand Marshal Tito.  Even at 10am on an unremarkable Tuesday the place was buzzing.

One of the things that challenged and fascinated me most about my time in the former Yugoslavia was the rawness of history there. In the past twenty years huge shifts in culture, nationality and politics have occurred- often with terrifying force. Serbia sits at the center of these conflicts; many see them as the aggressor, they see themselves as victims. I won’t comment politically except to say that in some ways both are true.

As a result it’s impossible to walk down the street in Belgrade and not contemplate this turbulence. While not the most drastic consequences, the buildings are the ragged physical reminders of upheaval. They refuse to be ignored and refuse to be forgotten.

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24 thoughts on “Bombs Over Belgrade”

  1. I am glad to see people opening up and traveling to Belgrade. Even though America/NATO bombed the crap out of Belgrade and some of the surrounding civilian places, Serbians are still extremely nice to any one coming to their country. I have had the opportunity to travel there a few times and the people are so nice and giving. Just don’t bring up politics because that can lead into hours of debate and really what is there to debate, they got bombed, for what? The city/country is beautiful. I spoke to many Serbians and they might give a little jab here and there but it is given. That is as far as it goes, then we laugh. I have made great friends and I can’t wait for my next visit. At this point in my life I am even looking to move there. As said above Serbians are proud people and are trying not to let the outside take control over their country(BANKS/EU,etc.) Their lifestyle is very laidback and very social. It’s not uncommon to wake up early and have a shot of Slivo with a friend or neighbor before starting the day. Believe it or not but I have been shown more kindness and giving than any of my travels across North America. Belgrade is rich in culture, history and many others things that you will have to travel there to find out for yourself. Never once did I ever feel in harms way, even walking the many street to the wee hours. Good luck and visit this beautiful country, you will not be sorry.

  2. I also think you missed the beauty of Belgrade, people there are warm and Belgrade it’s the most popular destination on Balkan more than half of Slovenians go there every year.. I think u were to foucesd on war buildings to see the true beauty of this city who is loved by so many people from the region u love so much…and yes americans aren’t so popular there no offense but what did u aspect your country bobmed Belgrade? About safety Belgrade is very safe i think that that was just ur bad feeling.. U were there just to explore what war in Belgrade? Don’t u realize that’s painful for them.. I was actually very shocked reading this article..i’m actually from Ljubljana and if u ask people here about Belgrade they will say to u how food there is great,people are nice,warm,happy to see you,the most important they are the best hosts they will give you everything they have even if they are poor.. So i’m more than sure you got the wrong impression but as Belgrade girl said that’s only american impression.. And we all love Tito especially Serbians!

  3. Well, Josip Broz – Tito was half – Slovenian, half – Croatian, born in Croatia and spoke in a Serbian dialekt:):)…He was more or less artifficially made a trans – national hero of all the southern Slavs after the WW2, so you meet people in all former republics of Yugoslavia – who love and worship his name and his “deeds”…

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