Chapter 1. Past present and future Serbian history and dilemmas
Serbia and the Serbian people follow a long and exhausting history. From the very beginning, two myths of good and evil were crossed and fought in the field of all evil. The essence of Serbia is not only in the fight itself but also in the maintenance of humanity throughout the fight.
The Serbs as a nation are currently not in happy hands because history did not give them the ability to be winners on the battlefield. Great losses have continuously followed the nation not only in the measurement of human lives but also morally and politically. There has always been a bitter taste in the mouth of Serbians, which has dragged on as a shadow in many aspects of life in Serbia. This shadow has constantly accompanied Serbia particularly with their leaders who come to power. These leaders played a key role in Serbia’s growth, but they still struggled in devoting themselves to their people rather than to their own cult.
It is no secret that if we look at all historical parameters, the imposing of faith indicates that as a nation we had many difficulties showing the right values in the light of accepting ‘the others’ as normal people.
What is striking about Serbia is that in the most difficult moments of defeat, the country has a set of prevailing survival skills. These skills mean that the nation is always rising and constantly enlarging, which is remarkable given that this is a nation that waged war against the entire world with only 3 million people in the third century. This is also the nation that was in-between wars in the 1st World War, the 2nd World War and three separate times against the entire NATO system. This is because of Serbia’s position at the heart of:
The Western Balkans, as it has traditionally fallen under the influence of its powerful neighbours, including Austria in the northwest, Turkey in the southeast, and Russia to the east.
A Serbian kingdom, which existed in the 13th and 14th centuries, but the subsequent Ottoman conquest of the Balkans led to the fall of Belgrade in 1521 and to Ottoman expansion in Central Europe. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Ottomans and the Hapsburg Empire competed for control of the Balkans, and Serbia became one of their many battlegrounds.
However, this did not end the competition among foreign powers for domination of the region. The fragile Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes emerged after World War I, only to be invaded by the Axis powers in 1941. During the Cold War, Serbia was at the centre of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a non-aligned country comprising most of the nations in the Western Balkans. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s led to ethnic violence across the region and severely strained Belgrade’s relations with the United States and Europe. Belgrade and the West slowly improved their ties during the first decade of the 21st century, and Serbia was formally declared a candidate for EU accession in 2012.
Chapter 2. The Delicate Balance
As a Christian and Western nation, Serbia feels it belongs in Europe. This sentiment is partly a result of Ottoman rule, because many Serbians who were opposed to the Turks, turned to the Hapsburg Empire. The Ottoman siege of Belgrade in the early 16th century plays a key role in Serbia’s history, and Serbian nationalists have traditionally claimed that the country is a bulwark of Christianity against Muslim expansion. But Serbia is also a Slavic and Orthodox country with strong cultural and economic ties to Russia. In the late 1870s, Serbia joined Russia to fight against Turkey. Eventually, the alliance helped trigger World War I, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the Hapsburg crown, prompting a complex network of military pacts across Europe.
The next Serbian government will be challenged politically and economically. In its latest report about Serbia’s progress, the European Union warned Belgrade to “professionalize” and “depoliticize” its public administration, reduce its political influence over the judiciary, and improve efforts against corruption. Brussels also said Belgrade has made some headway in the fight against organized crime but warned that it needed to establish a “credible track record” on that front.
In Serbia’s case, the political establishment will remain interested in introducing institutional and economic reforms to attract foreign investment. But the fading hope of EU integration could reduce popular and political support for reforms over time and even renew nationalist feelings in a country where the memories of the NATO bombings of the late 1990s are still fresh. While the region will probably not see a significant escalation of violence in the foreseeable future, the unlikely prospect of EU membership could fuel nationalist sentiments and lead to new conflicts in the historically volatile region.
At that point, it would be hard to picture Serbia as a member of the European Union. And it would seem fantastic to imagine that former Serbian allies would have put the country on the path to accession.
The European Union denies that it has overlooked these issues and insists that, to attain membership, Serbia will have to pass exhaustive membership criteria. These include chapters on the rule of law and human rights. Those negotiations will take years – possibly the best part of a decade. But if Serbia passes all 35 chapters it would finally be in place to complete its transformation. It would no longer be the pariah state of the 1990s – but a respected full member of the European Union.
On coming to power, the Serbian president pledged a radical overhaul of Serbia’s ailing economy and an accelerated drive towards EU membership. The reforms would include squeezing the public sector, reforming the budget, privatizing state-owned companies and expanding the private sector.
As a country in the Eurasian borderlands with long-standing cultural and economic ties with Russia, Serbia will continue the balancing act between Russia and the West. Western governments have a chance to gain influence in the region by providing political and financial backing for energy diversification projects in Serbia. Indeed, Russia’s financial constraints and potential Western willingness to help Serbia break Russia’s monopoly on natural gas exports to the country are already leading to an evolution in Serbia’s position. As Serbian politicians noted during discussions of EU investment in the Balkans: “We need some money from the EU funds, and then you will see the smiles on our faces.”
Chapter 3. Serbian sad path and rise of happiness…Youth arising
Besides the above-described characteristics and risks of everyday life, which are increasingly bringing young people from languishing neo-liberal and social-democratic capitalist systems and those from post-socialist social orders closer together, young people in Serbia are facing some specific risks originating from the anaemic post-socialist transformation. It is common for it to be separated into two distinct periods on the basis of the results of extensive and detailed analyses: blocked transformation during the nineties and extended transformation from the political changes in 2000. Both phases of transformations are “path-dependent” and depart from the model of “successful post-socialist transition”.
Young people often describe their financial and material situation as average, although there are objective differences. In the narratives, they are often aware of the material and financial difficulties of the family and the efforts that parents make to provide all that is needed. While growing up, some of them lived on the edge of existence with not enough funds for food in the household. Their inclusion in the sphere of employment was unavoidable, in order to bring them above the poverty line.
Young people in Serbia still face strong constraints such as inefficient education, high unemployment, financial and living dependency, and a deep feeling of exclusion from politics. And yet, their perception of their own future and their satisfaction with life are rather optimistic. Concerning Serbia`s accession process to the EU, many young people in Serbia have reservations, but at the same time, show a very pragmatic attitude to its necessity. We need recommendations for policies and decision makers in Serbia on how to improve the living conditions of young people and to show the younger generation of today that they are needed in order to build a better future in a country still in transition, but also one on a long road toward Europe.
Chapter 4. Happiness is not in the money, happiness is where your friends and family are…
My American friend and I discussed the prospect of happiness and money within America. These are his words:
“Many of you can’t wait to come, to realize their American dream, as I will continue driving the truck and try to gather some money to make ends meet. This life is not easy with an average paycheck of $2,500 while a rent for an apartment is $800. Food will cost you $600 if you want to eat healthily. Phone bills will cost around $150, health insurance around $270, car gas at a minimum $200 dollars, car insurance $150, and rental instalments $300. The dream is in Serbia, where your friends are, family, church, graves, village and happiness”.
Chapter 5. Television & Drinking habits and drinks in Serbia:
Television is, by far, the main source of news and information. The flagship public network, RTS1, is among a handful of outlets that dominate the market. There are more than 90 TV channels and the average viewer spends more than five hours a day watching television, the highest figure in Europe.
“Rakia has long been something that only old people drank in villages. Young urbanites preferred Scotch or wine or beer, but in the last few years, young people have begun drinking it again. Bars are stocking high-quality versions of it. And some are even making cocktails with it.”
If you’re travelling in the Balkans, avoiding rakia is about as difficult as evading yoga mat–wielding tourists in Bali, zip lining in Costa Rica or bad restaurants in any neighbourhood called ‘Little Italy’. Rakia, which is just an umbrella term for fruit brandy, is ubiquitous. Where grapes grow more liberally, they make loza, a grape-based rakia. Here in Serbia, where the plum is the national fruit, it’s all about šljiva, or plum-based brandy. There’s also rakia made with quince, apricot, apples and even bananas.
Everyone has a father or grandfather who happens to make their own rakia. And, like an Italian mama’s Bolognese sauce, it’s always ‘the best’. In fact, the culture of rakia has long been a mostly personal endeavour, with Serbs making and drinking it at home. There are more than 10,000 private rakia-makers in Serbia, and the Serbian government allows citizens to distil up to 200 litres per year – they just can’t sell it, although many do on the sly.
“There should be a smoothness to it. Old-school rakia drinkers still want that rough texture to burn your throat a bit. It’s macho. But the new high-end rakias, it should not only be smooth but there should be a nice balance of flavours. You should be able to equally detect the fruit and the oakiness from the barrel.”
And for those not wanting to head straight to the hard stuff, most bars offer a menu of cocktails, including a mulled rakia for winter and refreshing tonic-laced drinks for summer.
“If you think of it as a 10-story building, we’re at floor two in terms of the development and evolution of rakia. We still have a long way to go. But at least we’re not in the cellar anymore.”
Rakia is moving up toward the heavens, divine indeed.
Chapter 6. Poem for the end from my alter-ego older brother Dejan Stojanovic :
Sadness and Happiness
It is not possible to express the most precious insights,
To see all that craves to be seen,
To visit even the closest neighbours in the universe,
To learn all that needs to be learned,
To live without dying,
And I am sad about it.
But I lived
And I am happy about that.
The poetic thought is often expelled from life because its market value is zero dinars. In a world that no longer knows how to hear the silence that is spoken, because it has something to say, we are deluded by the ruthless and unreasonable self-praise and noise we make.
It seems that we have forgotten how the song of a small, inconsequential slave living in a cage sounds, only occasionally going to the window to greet a day that he can no longer see because he blinded himself in the darkness of the room that is his whole world. Fortunately, the sky, the sun, freedom, and joy of flying, as well as a sharp lucidity are still present in his blood and memory, and he sings about them.
Chapter 7. And for the end:
It is refreshing and healing to remember that there will be no flood, that when we go, the planets will continue to turn, that some new kids will create beauty, sincerity, air, more precisely oxygen, that we all breathe. Because without oxygen everything is clever, nice and well-knit and eventually dies. We who are accustomed to breathing on gills sometimes forget that life is indestructible, that life and art exist not to be calculated. It is not easy to be a poet and be a man in a world where words have usable value and serve as a valid form of money to enter the main establishment, even when this establishment is blurred and illiterate. This establishment is usually well-ranked in cultural and political circles and maintains its sessions and promotions through municipalities and cultural institutions.