If you are looking for wide boulevards, sleek facades and skyscrapers – do not come to Belgrade. You will not find those things there. What you will find there are slippery cobblestone streets, wounded buildings and people who can take you to the sky. If you are looking for some breathtaking photo ops, it is also better not to come to Belgrade. You will not find them there. But there are stories that will, instead of making you lose your breath, breathe new life into you.
The Balkans are a strange place. It is a corner of the world that somehow always manages to be the centre of attention. It is a peninsula in Southeastern Europe which is so small that you can pee over it, and yet, if you set off along its rutted broad roads, it would take you five days on horseback. Maybe these contrasts at short distances that take long to cover are the ones that shaped the contrasting characters of people living in these parts.
There is a curse saying that all the people born in Belgrade are forever doomed to live with Belgrade inside them. Even if they may not live in Belgrade any more. It continues to exist and grow inside them. If it has nothing else to sustain itself, it feeds on their memories. Not so much on memories of the streets, markets, steps or benches as on memories of all the people who live there. The people who are Belgrade.
When I have the money, I’ll be happy. When I have a stable relationship, I’ll feel fulfilled. When I have a good job, I’ll be at peace. This sort of perverted logic is typical of twisted minds because we are rarely told and hardly by anyone the truths such as: when you are happy in poverty, money will come later, when you feel fulfilled in your solitude, you will be in a relationship after that, when you feel at peace in your uncertainty, you will get a job afterwards.
Belgrade is an unusual city. It is neither more spectacular nor more beautiful than some other cities, but the most unusual one just because, although it has the word city in its name, it is least of all some kind of settlement with apartment buildings, streets and parks. Everyone living in it knows there is much more to it. Belgrade is a story. Belgrade is a person. Belgrade is a state of mind, a way of thinking and living.
Feel free to call me by my last name as I do the same, at least until the moment we both come to the conclusion there is no need for that any more, since showing respect for someone’s integrity has nothing to do with their job title, level of education or age. Therefore, we call each other by our last names for the time being.
We live in a world in which a perfectly ironed shirt, a designer suit, trendy glasses and an expensive perfume can open many doors. If you know how to fake a smile despite the truth of a rotten tooth behind it, if you can throw in some foreign expression during a conversation even though you don’t know the grammar or the spelling of your mother tongue, if you casually mention some exotic destination you have travelled to even though you have no idea what the sights of your own country are, you will be able to open doors, even those which carry the name of a CEO on a silver plate.
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.