Today was another day for sightseeing and enjoying Belgrade. Our first stop was the National History Museum. I was particularly curious to see the place they assigned to Kosovo, in both ancient and modern history. This impressive old building is centrally located, only a block away from the National Assembly, so it is a wonder I have not yet visited. Unfortunately, like many other museums in Belgrade, its main exhibits are indefinitely closed for renovation. So much for that idea. At least I gave it a try.
Next we took some photos at the National Assembly, particularly the odd sculptures out front (see above). According to a staff member at Manga Hostel, one of Serbia’s old national poems relates a story about how, after a victorious battle, soldiers from the Serbian army danced in celebration on the battlefield. To commemorate this ballad, a sculptor made two statues on either side of the steps leading up to the Assembly of nude men “dancing” with their horses. In one, the soldier has hoisted his horses front legs over his shoulders while he gives a pained look to the heavens while in the other the man is frontally embracing his horse. Dancing indeed. You do not have to be a genius to figure this one out. While it is this artwork that was chosen to be featured at one of Serbia’s most important institutions is anyone’s guess.
Our next stop was to Crkva Sv. Marka to see its artistic Byzantine-inspired exterior and cavernous interior. We also visited the neighboring small Russian Orthodox Church built by people fleeing the Revolution at the turn of the century and the bombed out old RTS building nearby. Then we visited Manga hostel where I made a reservation for Sunday night. Unfortunately they have no space for me on Monday because of a huge influx of tourists returning from the Exit Festival in Novi Sad. I will have to find another hostel for that evening. Later we made our way to Njegoseva Street and up to the city’s third and final farmers’ market that we had yet to visit. There we bought fresh apples and apricots before walking over to the St. Sava temple and nearby St. Sava chapel. While I had visited the temple once before, this was my first time to the smaller church next door. Inside, the walls are covered in bright, colorful frescoes which are clearly much newer than anything I saw in Kosovo, but impressive nonetheless.
We also visited a local hair salon for a badly badly needed haircut. You can ask Lina for the before and after pictures, but they did a nice job. After some struggling with language barriers, I managed to talk a bit with the people there about, you guess it, Kosovo. While everyone working there was insistent that Kosovo is Serbia, I was particularly struck by the owner of the salon. Originally from Novi Sad, she is Serbian by citizenship but Slovak by nationality. Coming from Vojvodina, the most ethnically diverse region in the whole of the Balkans, I would have expected that non-Serbs would be rather dismissive of Serbian claims to Kosovo. Rather, she was insistent that Kosovo is Serbia and could not be legitimately separated from the country. Hopefully tomorrow we will go to Novi Sad and speak with the locals there. I am very curious if this is a pattern that will hold.
Before heading back to the hotel, we went to the American Corner to check our email and get caught up on the world outside Serbia. I was also able to confirm that I will in fact be hosting a discussion at the cultural center on July 21 at 5:00 pm at Makedonska 22 in the . The title of the seminar will be “The Future of Serbia and Kosovo” and, if you are reading this post, live in Belgrade, and speak English, I hope you will come! Our final stops of the evening were Knez Mihailova for dinner and gelato and the hotel to crash for the night. Tomorrow to Novi Sad and back again for Shabbat!