The beautiful voice of our travel coordinator Fredrika marked the beginning of this Thursday and to the familiar sound of “Sankta Lucia” we got ready for yet another intense and thrilling day on the Balkans, our second day in Belgrade and Serbia.
For most of us, the first meeting of the day was at Humanitarian Law Center where we met with Jelena Krstić and Budimir Ivanišević, the Executive Director of the center. Humanitarian Law Center works in post-Yugoslav countries with promotion of rule of law and acceptance of the legacy of mass human rights violations. They document war crimes in order to support accountability and prevention of historical revisionism, and also work on war prosecution and represent victims of war crimes.
A topic that came up many times during our time in Serbia was the mentality of “looking ahead into the future and leaving the past behind”. The education program that Humanitarian Law Center runs was founded as a response to this, and the idea is that the past is vital for future political accountability and reconciliation. According to Krstić and Ivanišević, the Serbian population is not ready to accept crimes in the name of the country and it’s a major challenge to deal nationally with the past. Students don’t study their own country’s recent history until higher university level. Finding reliable sources of information is problematic, and especially when this is not guaranteed in schools.
A moved, and very thankful travel group after one of the best meetings during the trip.
Before leaving, we had the honor of being shown around in the archives. Boxes and more boxes of documented war crimes like names of victims, types of crimes, newspaper articles, recordings of prosecutions concerning the conflict and many other forms of evidence are stored here. For me (Rebecka), and I think I speak for all of us, walking around in the archives was a very moving experience.
We walked through Belgrade’s city center and christmas markets and ended up at a restaurant where we shared different dishes of amazing Serbian food. We ate so much great vegetarian food in Serbia which was to our surprise since we had heard from everyone from the Serbian Ambassador in Sweden to the minibus driver between Budapest and Belgrade that in Serbia you mainly eat meat.
The main shopping street of Belgrade, decorated for Christmas.
After lunch, we said goodbye to the part of the group that was flying back home to Uppsala earlier. The rest of us continued walking in the sunshine to the Belgrade Fortress and the Kalemegdan park, where you get an incredible view over the city. From there we were in a hurry so we got into taxis to get to our next meeting. Belgrade’s traffic is chaotic to say the least. Our driver speeded and changed lanes as he felt like it, all while chain smoking Serbian-style.
The tough girls of the travel group guarding the Fortress of Belgrade.
Our last meeting of the day was with Forum for Ethnic Relations which is a forum of academics organising around ethnic relations. We discussed the high number of constitutionally recognised minorities in Serbia, the 100% tax on Serbian goods that has been recently imposed by Kosovo and the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. We also talked about how resources like water and energy affect control over territory and the conflict with Kosovo.
The ones who didn’t go to the meetings that day took the taxi to the Museum of Yugoslavia and The House of Flowers outside the city centre. The House of Flowers is the mausoleum of Josip Broz Tito, the former dictator of Yugoslavia, and his wife. The museum was very enlightening and also important for us to visit. Many of the Serbs that we had been talking to glorified the socialist era under the dictator Tito, and the museum was no exception. There was one exhibition, “Memories of Yugoslavia”, with the obvious purpose to revive happy and light memories and associations from the socialist era of Yugoslavia. The most memorable thing we saw was the collection of batons from Yugoslavia. Every year, to the Day of Youth (Tito´s birthday), an official baton was made and carried through the Yugoslavia. It was one way to unify the big country and the people with the ruler. Local communities, schools, factories and others made their own batons and sent them to their leader Tito. Approximately ⅓ of the 23 million inhabitants of Yugoslavia were involved in the process of the batons, either by creating or transporting them or simply by touching the same batons that Tito himself later were going to hold in his mighty hands. Furthermore, we also got a deeper understanding for the Balkans and the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia which we appreciate since many of the issues Balkan of today is facing has its roots in the late 20th century’s wars and socialistic rule.
The House of Flowers with Tito’s grave.
In the evening we had dinner together. Some of us also visited the oldest mosque in Belgrade, the Bajrakli Mosque, which was built during the 16th century when the Ottoman Empire ruled over the area.
Rebecka Bjuremalm and John Öberg