Day 10: Wandering Belgrade

st-sava-temple Without any specific objectives and being a bit burned out from work after my time in Kosovo, I decided today was a day to take a break. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I started the day visiting the Jewish Historical Museum and then made my way to a nearby coffee shop with internet access. As usual in Belgrade, this not only allowed me time to get caught up on work, but it also gave me a chance to meet the very friendly and welcoming people working there.

While at the shop, I also fired off a few e-mails to journalist contacts as well as to the major Serbian political parties. While the Democratic Party (governing center-left), the Democratic Party of Serbia (opposition center-right), the Liberal Democratic Party (opposition left), and even Milosevic’s former party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (opposition right) listed contact information on their sites, the Serbian Radical Party, which came in a close second in the past election, had no contact info available to speak of. I eventually found a phone number for their offices through a Serbian yellow pages website. When I called and asked if they spoke English, they put me on indefinite hold. I suppose I should not be surprised given the isolationist and reportedly neo-fascist tendencies of the Radicals. But given that they are the second largest party in the country, I expected a bit more interest in foreign inquiries. Their offices are in Zemun so perhaps I will have to make a trip up there to introduce myself directly. In the meantime, I will see if any of the other parties bother to respond.

From Everest, I walked back toward Manga Youth Hostel to see if they had rooms available for tomorrow and Saturday evening. On my way, I stopped at Crkva Sv. Marka (St. Mark’s Church) to peek inside. Although the outside is modeled on the architecture of Gracanica’s, you could easily fit 20 of the Kosovo church inside its cavernous interior. The interior is interesting, but not stunning. Clearly I have been spoiled by my visits to the much older and more important churches of southern Serbia and Kosovo. On my way up to the church, I passed by a small monument commemorating the NATO bombing of the RTS Serbian state TV headquarters in which 16 workers were killed and 18 wounded. The largest print simply reads “Zasto?”- “Why”? Although there was warning that NATO would bomb this building, employees were not allowed to evacuate as a matter of national pride. Both moves remain unfortunate mistakes in a very unfortunate war.

I was kindly greeted at Manga and informed that I could indeed get a bed for the next few evenings, so I can check that off my list of things to do. 🙂 I then walked down to Nemanjina, the street that runs southeast from the train station, and was the first street I walked in Belgrade when I arrived a week and a half ago. I stopped to take pictures at the bombed out old Ministry of Defense and then proceeded to walk southeast toward Hram Sv. Save (the Temple of St. Sava), one of the world’s largest and as of yet uncompleted Orthodox churches. Preparations for construction began as early as 1894 on the site where an Ottoman ruler burned the remains of St. Sava, founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in response to a Serbian rebellion some 400 years prior. The work has been stop and go since then, but the exterior is largely completed. The inside is even more daunting and cavernous than Crkva Sv. Marka and construction crews are still hard at work on scaffolding high above the ground.

After getting my fill of Belgrade’s churches, I walked north to an open market to poke around a bit. I will definitely have to come back later to buy some of the vast and varied produce available in one of the hundreds of stands. Heading back into the heart of the city, I walked along Njegoševa, a very popular street filled with bars and restaurants. I stopped for tea and to check my email at a coffee shop along the way. There I had yet another excellent experience speaking with young Belgraders working there. The waitress and her brother, both in their early 20s, professed to have little interest in politics, and then proceeded to talk politics with me for the next hour.

An important theme that I am observing among the young generation here is a greater political pragmatism or perhaps resignation with regard to Kosovo. Bottom line, they do not want to be fighting over this province that they feel they have already lost for the rest of their lives. At the same time, however, they expressed both their deep identification with the province and its associated national mythology and their great disappointment with the province’s secession. Both, despite their self-professed lack of allegiance to the church or jingoistic nationalism, could recite the basic history of the province in some detail.

While some believe this is a sign of hope for resolution of this conflict in the near future when the new generation enters politics, it also clearly indicates that even if this generation is tired of fighting, their attachment to Kosovo remains strong. In the end, I get the impression that even this generation will not let Kosovo go easily if at all. Rather they placed their hope in continental integration believing that national borders will lose their political importance and no longer fuel such contentious politics once (and if) Serbia becomes a member of the EU. One can hope.

I remain exceptionally fortunate to be the guest of Rabbi Asiel this evening and will again enjoy a room of my own, running water, and consistent electricity. I am a long way from Kosovo. Tomorrow I hope to make my way to the teaching museum I mentioned yesterday. I will also be moving back to Manga Hostel in the morning and attending Synagogue in the evening for Erev Shabbat davening. Afterward I will be joining the Chabad rabbi and a group of visiting Israelis for dinner. Life is good.

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