Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Serbia defied all my expections.

Hello and welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoyed the Adur Festival. Sadly, we missed most of it because we were in Serbia.
     Before our visit, the only thing I associated with Serbia was Milosevic, Karadzic and Srebrenica, so I expected a ruined country populated by swaggering thugs. The truth made me feel disorientated and embarrassingly ignorant.
     We stayed in the capital, Belgrade, and it felt just like a small European City.

Skadarlija Street

     It lacked the piazzazz of most Western capitals, but it was clean, safe and the main public space, Kalemegdan Park, was welcoming.

Kalemegdan Park 
There was a vibrant cafe culture.

Knez Mihailova Street 
The food was delicious.

                                                 Cheesecake with berries at Klub Zabar

     And the people? Apart from the cabby who thought gay people were mentally ill, everyone was professional, friendly, hard-working and thoughtful. They seemed tennis mad and there was a playfulness about them. Indeed, a group of giggling middle-aged men came bouncing into our restaurant one night to hide from their friend outside.
     However, after being asked by the umpteenth person, whether we liked Serbia, I began to suspect a collective sense of insecurity.  Our reply always elicited the same response, even by our homophobic taxi driver, relief and delight. Were my preconceptions common then? I hope not, because the Serbians were lovely. That's why I don't want to put the boot in about Belgrade Zoo, but it lets them down.
The wolf pit at Belgrade Zoo 

As always, it was spotless. The day we went, school parties were visiting and the kids cheerfully mooched from one enclosure to the next. A steep path led to the back of the zoo and there, wolves, a lone lion, horses and bears were kept in hot, deep concrete pits, some tastelessly overlooked by an expensive restaurant. Further along, a cat constantly paced along the edge of its small cage, only breaking step when a neighbouring feline came out to hiss at it. Apart from the leafy, spacious Cheetah enclosure, it was grim, and our trip left me with a lasting sense of disquiet.
     Talking of which, were you one of those who felt that Shoreham Airport should not have allowed the Nazi flag to be flown there last week?

Filming Woman In Gold at Shoreham Airport

     They were only up a day, but I understand that there were lots of complaints because it coincided with the eve of the D-Day commemorations.  Yes, it was chilling to see them, but I thought them neither disrespectful nor offensive because it brought home the reality of what the Allies were fighting for, to stop that flag flying in this country. Seeing the Swastika, made me recall the words, "for their tomorrow, we gave our today," and it made me feel more grateful to the Allies than ever.
     NEXT WEEK, Mella Punchard will share her thoughts on this year's Adur Festival and the week after, I'll return to the third in the series of, "a day in the life of."
Thanks for dropping by and see you next week.


  1. Well you were brainwashed because the mainstream media and key NATO governments were heavily slanted and lied and exaggerated against the Serbs, while ignoring the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of them as well as torturing and beating them to death in Muslim and Croat run camps.
    The media would even show photos of dead Serbs and claim they were non-Serbs. For instance at the beginning of the Bosnian war there were two children killed on a bus. At their funeral there was a bomb attack and it was quickly put on a French news station. However people watching the funeral noted the Christian symbols and a Greek-American woman who happened to see it saw that the priest conducting the ceremony was Serbian Orthodox. So she realized they were Serbian children. She saw the same funeral on CNN but with the priest carefully cropped out and CNN claimed they were Muslim children. A diabolical lie. And CNN using photos and videos of Serbian victims and claiming they were Croats or Serbs or, on the other hand, ignoring or blocking news of what was happening to them was how they did the entire war. BBC and other mouthpieces for their governments were the same.

    UN soldiers who were there in Sarajevo did witness the Muslim forces provoking Serbs on a regular basis. As well they caught some of the staged attacks - including killing Sarajevo children all to demonize the Serbs.
    One witness to this was British longtime politician Lord David Owen. During his tour of Sarajevo, the Bosniak forces were staging attacks constantly then telling him it was the Serbs' doing.
    One attack was timed right when he got out of his car and not to far people were killed by mortars. Only he HEARD the LAUNCHING of the mortar, as did the UN troops (Canadians) and knew it was close "less than 200m away" and therefore was firmly and well within Bosnian Muslim controlled territory.
    They had the most numerous infantry in Sarajevo and in Bosnia as a whole - we are talking 2-3 times in the Sarajevo area and in BiH as a whole a factor of 4 to 5 times. So a BIG difference. Not to mention Croatia had brigades stationed within BiH for the ENTIRE war - and even months after they had a brigade south of Brcko in violation of the Dayton Accords. A SFOR officer told me that.
    UN reports also blame the Bosnian government in Sarajevo for interfering with the utilities more than the fighting as well as not distributing the food (which was regularly coming in by UN convoys) to the civilians. 60% was not distributed at all and the UN believed the government was stockpiling it. What was distributed was most all for the army or went to the black market.

    And the city was DIVIDED with the front lines actually running in the middle not far from the infamous Holiday Inn where the reporters stayed.
    The Bosnian Muslims had superior mobility and had mortars on backs of trucks as well as portable ones. They even used ingenious methods such as putting them on a train car and pushing it out to launch an attack then pushing it back. Many of the big media hyped attacks were actually done by the Bosnian Muslims and timed before big decision upon the Serbs - such a UN Security meeting for sanctions. So these attacks were timed to do damage to Serbs as well as be an excuse.
    There were even cameras set up in advance to record one of the Markale attacks - the Bosnian capital's only two professional news cameras were already there near the scene, positioned to capture the explosion, yet at a safe distance. It shows foreknowledge.
    Investigators' reports which pointed to the attacks coming from Muslim-held territory were squashed or pushed aside by bigwigs such as Madeleine Albright who had an agenda going on and always made sure the Serbs would be blamed, even if evidence pointed to others.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to give such a detailed and thought-provoking response.
    I don't believe I was brain-washed, but I do accept that I was not involved enough to question the reporting. Indeed, by now, I would normally have forgotten the names of the protagonists and events except that they have cropped up since the end of the conflict, and if you sling enough mud, some will stick.
    All wars are dirty. Goodies aren't the ones wearing the white hats and baddies those with black. All wear grey. Only in extremely rare occasions can one say unequivocally, that was wrong.
    That said, I don't want this blog to be over-shadowed by the war. The point of this blog was to urge people to challenge their preconceptions and visit Serbia with an open mind.
    Once again, thanks for your contribution and for reading my blog.

  3. Anonymous,

    You obviously have a great insight into this conflict and your views are, I'm sure, mirrored across Serbia. You highlight some very important events that deserve a closer examination. But please don't think we are all naive!

    Your complaint against the press may well have some credibility but the press is a fallible animal. It reports what it sees or hears, however skewed or subjective. It has to report quickly and so will make mistakes, mistakes that the public with some knowledge can rebuke and correct. Those contradictions should be reported. If they are not, then the press loses credibility. Accuracy is key to press credibility, rubbish-in = rubbish-out, but communication is a weak link! Better communication should lead to truer pictures but sometimes others, with their own agendas, will interfere with the truth and bend it for their own purposes. Hence the phrase 'The Fog of War' is not about the weather!

    And CNN is not the only news reporting company in the world. Try the BBC.

    Let's not forget the politicians in this. They will always have an agenda. The almost universal hatred by the British public of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair over the decision to goto war in Iraq is an example of how, when the truth comes out, the public reacts resulting in a loss of trust and a deep suspicion of all politicians and their motives. I hear the same about Serbian politicians! So we are not so different on this point.

    Liz, brainwashed? No! I think that is way too strong and you potentially crush all the positivity of the blog. The public are not so easily led by politicians or the press anymore, my friend. We've had our fingers burned too often. Hence the comment in Liz's blog that she felt "disorientated and embarrassingly ignorant" should not be seen as naivety but something you should feel rightly proud of. If your city or country can change one person's mind, then you can change many. And that is what Liz is trying to do too. So to attack her as being brainwashed is not helping your very valid cause.

    It's more to do with "...does it (a war/conflict/campaign) affect my daily life?". If I'd been a kid in London growing up under the permanent fear of an IRA bomb going off then I would know more about that then any conflict in, say, the middle of Africa. I knew more about the IRA threat because it was on my doorstep everyday. I learned later about the African one, where 800,000 people were killed in 100 days - that's my town each day! - but that African conflict did not stop me going to school or give me nightmares about being blown up playing down my road. Was I brainwashed by the press about the IRA threat or an African conflict? No! So this is a silly remark you make and a poor attack on a good natured blog.

    The reality is that Serbia is a beautiful place and with wonderful people, fantastic views and scenery, food and drink and a strong desire to work hard, be proud and to create a future for all their people to live in peace and prosperity. Something that is a universal. I have made some new friends here that I hope I will stay in contact with for a very long time to come. I see Serbia as potentially becoming a strong player, if not THE strongest player, in this region.

    But it is an IF, not a when. Many things need to change, as you are probably more aware of then me, corruption being the biggest complaint I hear. Even if ALL the truth of your conflict never comes to light, it must not be allowed to stop progress, for the future we create today MUST be better than the present, otherwise we do our children, and their children, a great disservice by not removing the obstacles that held back previous generations.

    I hope others do read your reply as it deserves reading and enquire for themselves about the events you mention. But just think for a moment, is it the message you want to get across to others interested in coming here and helping in the future of Serbia?

    I wish you all the best, Anonymous, whoever you are.

  4. Richard, thank you for another detailed and thought-provoking comment.
    You make lots of points but the one on which I would like to focus concerns attitudes to war. I agree that unless we have an acute social conscience, like Tanya - featured in an earlier blog- it's easy to be indifferent to conflicts that don't directly affect us. Once indifference sets in, there are less people scrutinising the reports and therefore the chance of inaccuracies slipping through increases. The question then becomes, how is indifference tackled?

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