Serbia is a country people are leaving from. Here, cosmopolitans were long ago identified with traitors, gentlemen with the hen-pecked, the intelligent with nerds, the aspiring with the conceited. Then extreme nationalists, sexists, stupid ones and scumbags were given space to call themselves patriots, and the state became too narrow for the broad-minded, stifling for the generous, dark for seers. It is sad when there comes a day when your hunger outweighs your love of your homeland, when the draught blowing through your wallet opens your house door and your passport turns into a one-way ticket.
It sounds contradictory, but you leave Serbia because you love it. You do not stay here because you are stuck, and you will be of better use to it if you succeed. This is something that those who were hungry during the economic crisis can relate to, those waiting anxiously for their fathers to come back from the war they had been forcibly sent to, those who slept in bomb shelters during the bombing campaign, who protested and stirred up revolutions, while completing their university studies on time only to end up working at the newsagent’s.
Patriotism is when you feel shivers when your national team is playing, and you decide to leave nevertheless. Patriotism is when you always burst out crying to A Dissidents’ Ballad, and yet you decide to leave. Patriotism is when your mother is crying because you are leaving and yet you go. Patriotism is when you leave a piece of your soul with every friend you are leaving behind, and yet you leave. Patriotism is when you know The Lord’s Prayer by heart, and yet you decide to leave.
Without a second thought.
Because you had enough of that shit, you had enough of employers who act like slave drivers, politicians who steal, the hypocritical church, nosey neighbours, being paid peanuts, double standards, worshipping money, bootlickers, opportunists, fake smiles and evil eyes. Because you never even had the bare essentials, so there was nothing to lose. Because everything that your ancestors had acquired was gone, so you have no one to be ashamed of you if you do not make it there. Because you have nothing to remember that would at least make you look back and wave goodbye.
You leave this place not because it is much better out there, but because it is certainly not worse. You do not stay here not because it will never get better, but because there is no time to wait. Good opportunities stopped coming this way long ago.
Serbia has become such that even the air is scarce here. Food has been in scant supply for a long time. Smiles and security seem never to have existed. Only those still barely breathing stay. Those struggling like a fish out of water. Those beating the air. Barely making ends meet. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Serbia is a strange Balkan plot of land where the most beautiful plants spring out and grow, are grafted and inoculated, but flourish and blossom elsewhere. Usually somewhere far away. In foreign lands. As they grow they are fertilised by hardship, poverty and fear. Their seeds are watered by rejection, lack of understanding and pain. They grow through frost, winds and darkness before they blossom. And then you hear the sound of buzz saws. That is the time to leave. Most frequently with no other alternative but to climb over the fence into a neighbour’s yard and blossom there. That is the time to put an end to mere survival and start living. All this could be expressed more briefly – it is time to say goodbye.
Translated from the Serbian by Svetlana Milivojević-Petrović
This post is also available in: Serbian