Monday, May 6, 2013

What is Serbia?


I was born in Yugoslavia, and for most of my life there, before the country became nameless, and then completely disappeared, I was proud to call myself a Yugoslavian. I was proud of "Brotherhood and Unity" (Bratstvo i jedinstvo), the idea brought to life by "the communist dictator", a Croatian,  Josip Broz Tito. The same idea that is very much alive here in Canada, only under the cover of so called democracy, the idea that I am still very fond of and which is making me a very proud Canadian today.

Alas, reading today about the history of Yugoslavia, before 1945, when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and  Slovenes was formed, I feel yet another low punch for my own naivety and at the same time I feel that same punch on every Serbian, and former Yugoslavian naive believer. It turns out that the love and the dream was in vain, as the country was never meant to sustain its existence. Some claim that after the disintegration of Austro-Hungarian Empire the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed so that the Kingdom of Serbia gets erased, and its power disperse. I will leave you to research the topic on your own, but please try to avoid the Wikipedia, as most everything that is written about Serbs in recent decades appears to be written by nationalist Croats, in a very biased, anti-Serb way.

One thing seams consistent throughout - Yugoslavia was not meant to last. There was too much tension between Croats and Serbs even back then, and only a "dictatorship" held by Mr. Tito's firm fist was able to hold those tensions together in a civil manner. I, for once, could not see that, and was refusing to hear about any tension and any nationalistic tendencies that were apparently existing behind the "Brotherhood And Unity". I had and still have a Croatian sister, for God's sake, how could I? Living in Canada today, I still don't understand why it wasn't possible. On a second thought, the Operation Storm, the Croats' offensive on Serb civilians in the latest Balkan war, where over 250,000 are expelled from their land and homes in a matter of couple days, and who knows how many are killed, is celebrated as a national holiday in Croatia today! The same Operation Storm that was condemned by the Hague Tribunal as one of the biggest genocides in today's world. Maybe, just maybe, things should be clearer in my head why it couldn't have worked. But it's not. The difference is - I'm at last over Yugoslavia.

Going back to the roots

The point I'm trying to make here is that I was never identifying myself as a Serb back then, I was a Yugoslav, and that was all I wanted to care about. I was aware of all the flaws of both Croats and Serbs, and Bosnians, and Montenegrins,  and Macedonians, and Slovenians, and Kosovo-Albanians, the jokes were going around about all of them, but that was fun, colourful, that was what was making Yugoslavia unique and rich in culture. And I remained a proud Yugoslav all up until the war in Bosnia, when the international community and the media proclaimed Serbs - The Bad Guys. The only bad guys in all the mess created, and everybody who remotely tried to give the other side of the story, from the Serbian perspective, even from a completely objective perspective that does not demonize Serbs -  was as ostracized and condemned as the nation itself. So when Yugoslavs with Serbian heritage, under the constant pressure of the international media, started feeling shame of being associated with their own heritage, I had it! This very condemnation of the Serb nation made me go back to my origins, and start identifying myself as a Serb.

Since then I was doing my small part in showing that Serbs and Serbia are not a demonic country and people, in all my personal and business contacts and activities. It was fun watching people being surprised and confused by seeing a very nice, although a very straight forward, educated, creative Serb-Canadian in front of them, and trying to connect it with the demonic image the media was bombarding them during the war in Bosnia with. At times it was not fun as some people are too dogmatized by the official opinion served by the TV and newspapers, as much as they love to see themselves as open minded and non opinionated. Over time though, as always, things and opinions adjusted, and there is more and more people now questioning what the actual truth was in all of that, and are not too quick in judging the actions of Serbs. However, there is still a long way to clearing the face of the nation.

The image of Serbia I have always known was the one created by my immediate circle of friends, family, the circumstances following my path of living. One friend of mine during our conversation in 2008 when I was visiting and talking about the changes needed in Serbia to better the living conditions and political and economic situation, said: "Who is to make those changes? All the best people have left the country." I said: "You are still there! This is the Serbia I know about. It does exist, no matter what the international community and the media thinks about it. Hard working, creative, highly educated, sophisticated, artistic, ingenious in many ways, hospitable, funny people."

So here is a short list of prominent Serbs:

Nikola Tesla

When I was trying to figure out what is it that makes Serbia and Serbs what they are, of course, the first thing I came up with was my renewed interest in Nikola Tesla, as one of the most important figures in modern day history of the world, some claim the most important figure in science and technology of our civilization. I believe his role in our civilization is yet to be fully understood as the world only scratched the surface of what he was inventing and working on. One thing I want to make clear here, once and for all: Nikola Tesla was born of Serbian parents. He was a Serb. Much in love with Yugoslavia though, yet undeniably a - Serb. His father was a Serbian, Orthodox priest. Tesla was born in a village located on today's territory of Croatia, and that is the only touch with Croatia he has. So if anybody claims that Tesla was a Croatian, I hope you will be brave enough to tell them off.
You can read more about him on my Art Vrbaski gallery page:

Mihajlo Pupin

Mihajlo Pupin is after Tesla, the most acclaimed Serbian scientist, physicist and physical chemist. He was born in Vojvodina, today's northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. Pupin is best known for his numerous patents, including a "means of greatly extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at predetermined intervals along the transmitting wire (known as "pupinization")". Pupin was founding member of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA.

Mileva Maric

Mileva Maric was Albert Einstain's wife from 1903-1919. Mileva, Mitza was born in Titel, in Vojvodina, today's northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. She was his main "math collaborator" while he was working on his Theory of Relativity. Her role in his life is yet to be given the importance it deserves. You can read some of her story here:

Ivo Andric

Ivo Andric was born in Travnik, Bosnia, of Croatian heritage, but let's make it clear: he identified himself more as a Serbian. He was a Nobel Prize Laureat for Literature in 1961, for "Na Drini Cuprija" (The Bridge Over Drina). He wrote most of his work in Serbian language, approximately 1/3 in Croatian, and some he mixed both.  He lived in Belgrade, Serbia, and was buried in Novo Groblje in Belgrade.

Here might be interesting to point out that many public and creative figures who marked the Yugoslavian period were originating from Bosnia, and widely accepted as Yugoslavs, yet many were clearly Serbs from that territory.

Aleksa Santic

Aleksa Santic is a locally famous Serbian poet whose work helped mold generations of new writers, yet at the time of Yugoslavia, nobody talked about him as Serbian. Although the world might not know of his name, I list him here as he is one of the crucial cultural figures in Serbia, and former Yugoslavia. I had to go back in my research and dig deep to reacquaint myself with who was really shaping cultural image of Yugoslavia at the time. His poem "Emina" is so universally accepted in all former Yugoslavian Republics - today states, that Croats are very quick to claim it theirs. And that is only one of the examples. I could have a whole blog on its own dealing with only those issues and clearing all the misconceptions. Sometimes, they are intentional efforts of rewriting cultural and civil history of the area by other nationalities in the area, particularly Croats, but that's another topic...

Emir - Nemanja - Kusturica

Emir Kusturica is internationally acclaimed director, musician and actor born in Bosnia, of Serbian origins. His work in film was awarded a few times with Palme d'Or in Cannes, and nominated for best international film for an Oscar. His band "No Smoking Orchestra" still records successfully. For years everybody was calling him a Yugoslav film director, and you could never hear him talk about his Serbian origins. In my opinion, that must be because of the general condemnation of Serbs, especially after the latest war in Bosnia. As the climate toward Serbs gradually started to change, the news about it started resurfacing. Today he lives in Drvengrad, a town in Serbia he built for his movie "Life Is A Miracle", southwest of Belgrade. He is a National Ambassador of Serbia for UNICEF.  He is another brilliant Serbian mind born on the territory of Bosnia.

Goran Bregovic

Although Goran diplomatically avoids declaring himself as Serbian, as he speaks "...the universal language of music..." his work after the initial collaboration with Emir Kusturica has done so much for Serbian and Balkan music, and is acclaimed one of the top World music artists in the world today. His use of traditional brass orchestra originating from Serbia has become a signature sound. He was born of a father Croatian, and mother Serbian. When his parents divorced  he lived with his mother in Sarajevo, Bosnia. He tours with his band "The Wedding and The Funeral Orchestra" comprised of mostly Serbian musicians from professional to gypsy musicians, and Serbian Orthodox Church choruses. He lives between Belgrade, Serbia, and Paris. You can here his music on my you tube channel from his first concert in Vancouver in 2011:

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video:

Novak Djokovic

Nole is probably at this moment the most well known figure coming from Serbia. Following religiously his rise in the tennis domain, through reactions of people in the tennis community, his admirers, and even more so his haters, I have come to realize a few truths about the image Serbs portray in the world. One of the main things is the self confidence and pride this young sportsman exudes. Long time ago, I've read somewhere that a study was conducted of what nation is the proudest in the world. Serbia was right there second I believe, or very close to the top. This was not a surprise. Moving to Canada, having to change my life from scratch, I have experienced the effect of this first hand, and trust me - there was a lot of misunderstanding from the opposite side that was making my life here way more difficult then it should have been. The prouder you appear, the more people around you want to put you down, break you, prove you wrong. Watching those games with Nole appearing almost arrogant in his self confidence, listening to the reactions of the audience, reading the articles and comments, I couldn't but to conclude this is one of the main reasons the world is not on our side. This is in my opinion a misconception coming also from human nature being faced with a strong presence, determined, focused and goal oriented figure, who speaks their mind, who does not put up with BS, and tells it as it is. Nole over time became more careful with what and how he says things, as the community was way too quick to put him in drawers he does not belong to. This brings me all the way back to the cause of World War I, which basically was caused by similar traits of a Serbian guy who didn't want to put up with Austro-Hungarian BS, who assassinated Mr. Ferdinand, and forever put the Serbs on a black list. Nole on the other hand is working very hard to change that. Is he going to succeed? I highly doubt, but I am sure that he will make a big dent in the wrongful perception of Serbs in the world's eyes in general.

Marina Abramovic

Marina is a Serbian performance artist born in Belgrade in 1946, then Yugoslavia. Her both parents were Yugoslav Army soldiers, of Serbian Orthodox origins. She has been a performance artist for almost 40 years untill 2010 she finally made a break through in the major art scene with her 3 month long performance at MOMA in New York. Her performance of sitting for 9 hours every day faced by people from the audience who would sit accross the table propelled her into the stardom, and brought the performance art to the pure art form acceptance it has always been lacking. The simple act of facing another person without words, only sharing the energy of her soul through her eyes was a transformational experiance shared with over 750,000 people in the three months period. She has brought the human connection back to the people while at the same time transforming it into an art form. She is presently working on creating Marina Abramovic Institute in collaboration with the OMA and Rem Koolhaas.
In 2012 "The Artist Is Present" movie was made following the success from MOMA. She is 64 years old and busier then ever.

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video:


Novak was born in Belgrade, but his father was born in Kosovo. When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Novak made an internet appearance before 150,000 people demonstrating against it in the centre of Belgrade. He got bashed for it by the world. I would like to remind the people that patriotism is not nationalism. If patriotism was nationalism, the United States of America would be the biggest nationalistic power in the world. Even more, nationalism is not necessarily fascism, as many try to identify it with. Calling a Serb a fascist, as some did call Nole after that appearance, is plain nonsense. Before proclaiming this, one should know that in the WWII Serbia lost over 1,500.000 people from the fascist occupiers, and was the first to stand against fascist Germany, remaining the fiercest German Nazi enemy on the Yugoslavian territory throughout the war. Also, over 500,000 Serbs were killed or gassed by fascist Croats from then fascist Independent State of Croatia. Google about Jasenovac, or here, and it will be clear to you. This can be found in Vatican archives, CIA archives, Jewish archives in Israel even! I would also like to remind people to go really deep in their research of this topic, and again, not to rely on Wikipedia as most of the time the articles are written by better organized and more unified units of intentionally biased, or plainly anti-Serb oriented writers. You can start on my Art Vrbaski page here if you wish: Art Vrbaski - Kosovo

One thing the Serbs are missing, admittedly, is unity, and organized, continuous marketing of their own history and values, and products, which every other Balkan - so called - "nation" today is better at, especially including some ultra nationalist Croats, and Muslim extremists from Kosovo and Albania. This is understood knowing how corrupted the Serbian government is focussing only on how to rob and suppress their own people, and when asked to sponsor a promotional movie about Belgrade for example by a Serbian director in Canada recently - they answered: "We do not support such projects!".  Or, you can't find a good Serbian beer in a beer worshiping country like Canada, not to mention other products, but you can of course find Croatian! That's because the corrupted Serbian government does not support civilized transactions with the rest of the world, unless the hefty percentage goes into the hidden deep pockets of individual directors - which for the most part is not how the rest of the world functions.

Another important thing about this very painful topic for every Serb I need to point out is: Yes, Kosovo is lost, and that is because Kosovo Albanians are the majority in this territory now. This is how the laws of freedoms today can bite a nation in the butt. But let's not forget that before 1948 Serbs and others were equally distributed in Kosovo with Kosovo Albanians. One important event changed the balance completely and that is when Tito allowed around 400,000 Albanians across the border fleeting from the Enver Hoxha's brutal Communist Dictatorship at the time in Albania. A curious omission in data available on line from the period between 1920's to before 1948 indicating that the population in 1921 was around 430,000, jumping to around 750,000 in 1948. This was intentionally done to weaken the Serbian power in Yugoslavia, and to destabilize the territory of Serbia. Even back then it was known what Muslim extremism in the area is planning to achieve, and as always, a system helps one evil to weaken the perceived other at the time, and then when it becomes too big, finds another evil to fight it with! We are seeing this all the time with the US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, and other areas in the world, including Al Qaeda who were financed and trained by the US Military at some point, and now is killing the US citizens all over the US and abroad, while the US is fighting against it.

This move of importing the number of Albanians into Kosovo as big as the half of the population at the time did do the trick. With this, the organized Albanian (Muslim) extremists started creating pressure on non Albanian population, together with their supporters, to move out of Kosovo. This was done systematically and persistently not only to Serbs, but to Albanians who in majority were supporting their neighbors and wanted to live in peace. Reports of pressure to Serbs and others to sell their properties under value were everyday occurrence, and if they fought against it, the murders, rapes, and tortures of the family members, including children of both sexes were common. Let's not forget, Serbs were in this area from the 7th century, officially reported. Before that there was a bunch of tribes including Illyrians that claim to be today's Albanians. By 1804 Serbs made about 80% of the population. It took about 50 years after WWII for one step of the Greater Albania Scheme to come to fruition with this subtle, majorly non-reported process to happen. The question is how far one has to go to prove that one territory has always belonged to certain people? It is true, the population changes, moves across the areas, settles, removes, outgrows, dies out. What happens when the change is done artificially, politically, intentionally, for ideas beyond natural progression? Then we have Kosovo - and we lose.

Vojvodina and the Surrey Fusion Festival

Vojvodina is the northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. It's a multicultural area which Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, and about 15 other different nationalities share. I always felt a special connection to this area as my last name comes from there, with the family ties from my father's side. Why is this related to the Fusion Festival here in Surrey, BC? Not long ago I decided to represent Serbia at the festival. This is an annual multicultural event where last year over 40 cultures living in Surrey were represented with music, dance and food. There is a series of concerts performed over the two day event, with booths set up in between the stages where every culture showcases it's food, folklore, music, and customs. It's quite a colorful event I was a fan of ever since the first one six years ago. This year I thought I had a clear vision of what Serbia is and what I would like to show at the festival, and that is - multicultural Serbia. I was quite exited about it until I got another punch of disappointment sometime in February this year when my friend coming from this area told me: "Vojvodina is not Serbia. I'm sorry, but it's just not!"

Several things were disappointing in this statement: First, that my close friends are actually in support of separatist movement apparently growing in Vojvodina. Second, that the image I thought I finally clarified about Serbia had just crumbled and i I have to start all over. Third, and most important is that Serbs are their own worst enemies, and that the troubles the nation is going through is in many ways fueled by the inside forces. 

Sure, Vojvodina throughout its history has gone from one kingdom to another, from Bulgarian, Roman, Hungarian, Romanian, and Serbian. But to state that Vojvodina is not Serbia is as absurd as claiming that Belgrade is Irish because the Celts settled there seven thousand years before Christ on their way to the north!

However, with this statement at that moment another statement cut through me razor sharp: In 2004 on my trip through Europe, when I visited my Croatian sister in Split, I will never forget the sarcastic lough my sister had joking about the Greater Serbia becoming Belgrade's backyard (beogradski pasaluk), commenting on the same separatist movement in Vojvodina. At the time again I didn't take it too seriously, but it did hurt. It hurt a lot. Not because I am in support of any stupid idea of The Greater Serbia. It's because I saw my Yugoslavia disintegrating, and then even main Serbia, chunk by chunk, starting to fade into non existence.

Alas, I gave up the idea of representing Serbia at the Fusion Festival until I regroup, and figure out, again, what the real Serbia is.

So, what is Serbia?

Serbia is a continental central European country, conveniently cut of from the Adriatic coast by some of the ridiculous treaties that supported Catholicism over Orthodox Christianity, political over natural and human conditions. A country that was put in prison for its pride. Perhaps, there is a conspiracy against this nation, perhaps not, we will never live to know. A friend of mine (who is from Vojvodina of Slovak heritage told me recently another sad fact: "Slovaks will disappear one day. Together with Serbs." 

Before that happens, maybe the best definition of Serbia comes from a Canadian friend of mine listening to me dissecting everything that might make this culture unique. And let me be clear: not for nationalistic reasons. Only, and I repeat, only for cultural reasons. I told him that nothing in Serbia is really, truly unique: the country is surrounded by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and indirectly Italy and Greece. I don't count Montenegro, as it once was Serbian, and for corrupted politicians ruling this country today this was proclaimed a nation, just so they can help smuggle cigarettes and humans to the West, and that way fatten their international bank accounts. I don't count Macedonia either, as they would love to be a part of Serbia, before they become a part of Greater Albania as one third of their population is Albanian. They are unfortunately the next step in the Balkan Muslim extremist Albanian expansion. And I don't count Bosnia and Herzegovina as the bordering areas of this so called nation today is Serbian anyways.

So you have food that is similar to all of them, yet is not quite theirs either. You have dances that are influenced by all of these areas, with the folk attire resembling the neighbor's - just not quite. You have music as colorful as any and all of the above. You have people speaking similar dialects from any of those countries, yet they are clearly Serbian. Being under the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) for over 300 years, the influence of this culture is quite strong as well, but still, it's just not Turkish. 

You have burek (a type of baked or fried pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo) almost like Turkish, you have goulash almost like Hungarian, you have sarma almost like Russian cabbage roll, pasulj almost like Hungarian or Turkish pea soup, cevapi almost like Turkish barbequed meat, leskovacka pljeskavica almost like Greek and Turkish barbequed meat, srpska salata almost like Greek salad, francuski krompir even, almost like French Potato, and they can all be the neighbor's food - but they are not. They are Serbian! 

You have gajde (bagpipes) almost like Celtic's, accordions almost like Austrian (probably from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Goblet drum almost like Middle Eastern, gusle almost like Albanian, fiddle gingara almost like Irish with a gypsy twist, davul drum almost like Turkish, dangubica almost like bouzouki in Greece, frula almost like Hungarian or Greek flute, tamburica almost like Greek bouzouki, kaval almost like Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian or Macedonian flute - but it's not. It is Serbian. 

While I was beating my head over figuring out what it is that makes Serbia unique my Canadian friend simply said: "Don't you see? Serbia is all of that. Isn't that great? That is awesome!"

So why can't we Serbs be proud of that? Shouldn't we be? Well I am. The richness and subtleties of this rich culture is for people to discover, to study, and the deeper you go, I assure you, you will love it more and more. As for the "Beogradski Pasaluk (the Belgrade backyard)" I say, whoever want's to go - they can go - and they should go. Since the break up of Yugoslavia, my home town of Jagodina has seen a miraculous change - the business and political forces in power have brought this previously unknown town into the center of Serbian attention. It's an example of success, becoming a tourist and business centre that was never possible in the former country with the money going every which way but into the Serbian hands (with the exception of Belgrade as the former capital of Yugoslavia).

If only the political structure could become less corrupted, this country could very quickly develop to its full potential. I wait for it. I wait for the quality people in Serbia that DO EXIST to rise and bring the change one day. I know it will happen. And for anybody who is too quick to judge the nation, I plead please do your research thoroughly, objectively, take your time. I'm yet to hear that a Serbian decapitated a fellow passenger in a bus in front of 50 other passengers like it happened here in Canada some time ago. I haven't heard of Serbian kids going rampage through public schools killing tens of their fellow students and teachers like in the US. So which country or a nation is more developed, civilized, and progressive is a very relative matter. Every nation has its bad seed, and it's up to us to open our minds and figure out the real truth.

Now, I am again proud. Proud of being a Serbian-Canadian, and bringing a part of that richness to this multicultural country, as imperfect as it might be. And one day I just might represent Serbia at this Surrey Fusion Festival, unless someone gets inspired and does it before me...

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video: