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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Jan 7 2004 (IPS) - Despite a legacy of 200,000 deaths and more than 50,000 disappearances during the war in the Balkans, the young are prepared to forget – perhaps because they have less to remember. Reconciliation among young Croats, Slovenes and Macedonians on one side, and Serbs on the other seems possible now.
Despite a legacy of 200,000 deaths and more than 50,000 disappearances during the war in the Balkans, the young are prepared to forget – perhaps because they have less to remember. Reconciliation among young Croats, Slovenes and Macedonians on one side, and Serbs on the other seems possible now.
Several days of New Year celebrations made Belgrade seem the capital once again of what was Yugoslavia. As the New Year began, many young people turned to the old.
It was unimaginable only a few years ago that anyone from former Yugoslavia outside of Serbia would show any interest in Belgrade. Serbs were seen by Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and others from the former Yugoslavia as deserving to remain cut off from the rest of the world.
The legacy of the wars that split Yugoslavia through the 90s was a bitter one, with more than 200,000 dead and more than 50,000 reported disappeared. Most of the victims were non-Serbs.
But many youngsters do not want to be tainted with the politics of the last decade; they are prepared to forget the recent past that is such a heavy burden to the elders.
That made the flood of youngsters into Belgrade more than a New Year party. This was reconciliation coming from the people, and not dictated either by the West, or arising from the “brotherhood and unity” programmes of Josip Broz Tito who headed the unified Yugoslavia from the end of World War II until his death in 1980.
For a while over the New Year holidays, parts of Belgrade looked like former Yugoslavia again. Youngsters, speaking their own languages and Serbo- Croatian, the language everyone learned before the country fell apart, were all over the place.
Thousands of young people arrived in Belgrade from the former Yugoslav republics Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia for the celebrations. Most of them were children when their former homeland fell apart in the wars of the 90s.
Some of this was just the pull of Belgrade. “I wanted to see what this city looks like,” Bostjan Gregor (24) from Ljubljana in Slovenia told IPS. “I heard from friends that Belgrade was good fun.”
Through the 90s Serbia was the pariah nation of the Balkans. No one travelled to Serbia other than those with relatives there. The harsh visa regime between the newly formed countries and Serbia wiped out other contacts. Phone lines were cut for years.
All that changed after former president Slobodan Milosevic fell from power three years ago. The visa regime was relaxed. Belgrade, that had managed to save its attractive and cosmopolitan face through all the hardships became a target for youngsters from former Yugoslavia.
Famous for its riverboat restaurants with live Gipsy music playing until the morning hours, and affordable even for the young with just pocket money, Belgrade became their favourite spot for entertainment.
Many former Yugoslavs grew up carrying an image of Serbia as an aggressive nation that caused the wars. Now some see hope because the young can find Belgrade fun.
“I wanted to see if the stories about the good night life were true,” says Bernarda Josic, a young Slovene teacher. “Besides, I wanted to see what a city of two million looks like.” Slovenia and Macedonia each have a population of two million, as much as Belgrade.
Most visitors decline to talk about the politics that tore their former homeland apart. “It’s not something that I understand, I was a child then,” says Marko Jansic (22) from Zagreb in Croatia.
Many visitors come to Tito’s memorial at the House of Flowers, Gordana Jankovic from the Belgrade Tourist Association told IPS.
“Tito, you were the greatest. You managed to keep them all together”, an inscription in the visitors book reads. It is signed by Tijana Maneva, a young Macedonian from Skoplje.
The house Tito lived in within the compound is not open to visitors. It was damaged in a rocket fired during the North Atlantic Treaty organisation (NATO) bombing of Serbia in 1999. NATO forces believed incorrectly that Milosevic could be hiding there.
Football became a great unifier, it was a tradition that everyone from former Yugoslavia shares. Marakana, the famous open-air football stadium and home to the popular Red Star team drew Croats, Macedonians, Slovenes and others. This 100,000-seat stadium is the biggest in the Balkans.
Youngsters from recently warring nations shared a new warmth. “People were nice, they helped with the buses and explanations,” says Janko Simancic from Zagreb in Croatia.
Janko and his friends went to see the ruins of the Ministry of Defence and General Staff buildings destroyed in NATO air raids. The two are located across the street from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Serbian Government building in a densely populated neighbourhood. The buildings were hit several times by precision missiles. “We didn’t know the city itself was hit,” Janko says.
Like many other visitors, Janko went also to see the luxurious home of former warlord Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan near the Marakana football stadium. “We had heard it was something,” he says.
Arkan, the notorious warlord who led paramilitary Serb units in Croatia and Bosnia was assassinated in a Belgrade hotel four years ago. His young widow Svetlana and their two small children still live in the palatial house.
Svetlana, or Ceca as she is better known, was the biggest folk star of former Yugoslavia. Millions of pirate copies of her CDs were sold across the Balkans in the 1990s, and her music is still popular. In 2002, she drew a crowd of 100,000 at a concert at Marakana. She plans another concert this year.
Many youngsters from outside Serbia say they will come for it. “Times have changed and we have peace now, so why not,” Janko says.
Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Jan 7 2004 (IPS) - Several days of New Year celebrations made Belgrade seem the capital once again of what was Yugoslavia. As the New Year began, many young people turned to the old.
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