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Column: A Croatian in Belgrade

 Liceulice - Serbia 01 November 2019

The former capital of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, holds surprises for a young Croatian who expected the worst but received the best. (717 Words) - By Krunoslav Stojaković


Liceulice_Column Krunoslav Stojaković

Krunoslav Stojaković in Belgrade Photo: Krunoslav Stojaković

Belgrade. For the first time, and the last one for a long time, at the end of 80's I travelled with my parents to the capital of Yugoslavia. My aunt studied tourism there. The most striking comparison was my impression from Kalemegdan and its zoo which was bigger and more exotic than in my small Tuzla and its even smaller zoo. When I returned to my grandparents and their pigs, cows and sheep I thought of how this journey came to happen.

When the 1991-1992 Yugoslavian civil war, my aunt left her town and came to live with my parents in Germany. She lived in the house along with me and my sister and for a pretty long time my only thought about where she came from was. "Where on earth is Yugoslavia? "

At University I became more and more interested in Yugoslavia. It was a country which was doomed to failure. Nobody wanted it. Nobody mourned it; it was seen as the orphan of Imperial designs on the Balkans.  To this add some experiments in communism, self -management, fraternity and unity, and you can see why a unified state of Yugoslavia was an aberration to many. For many but me.

Parts of my masters' thesis, which was related to the concept of the national state as understood amongst the clergy in 19th century Croatia, surprised me. The modern, conservative, priesthood always emphasizes that only an ethnically clean Croatia is good and natural. However their predecessors consistently fought for the emancipation concept of the south Slavic union but also for the multinational project, similar to that which we see today. The difference is that they saw the intermarriage of states and peoples as being proper. This is in direct contrast to the idea of national exclusivity, promoted by the modern day clergy.

When I started writing my dissertation proposal I had to travel to Belgrade. I had to visit the archives. I wanted to interview protagonists of the 1960's cultural avant-garde. My parents expressed concerns: "Everything has changed, son. You are a foreigner now."  I didn't know anyone, and I was to be completely alone as a Croat in the capital of Serbia. But my aunt, whose tourism degree wasn't acknowledged in Germany where she worked as a nurse, calmed them: "Don't worry, I know people where he can stay as long as he want". She wanted to come with me and visit old friends.

Landing in Belgrade we found her old colleague from campus waiting for us at the airport. I was to live with a family of strangers for a month. The city at first seemed to me as an anthill, constantly in panic and motion. Everything was on the move, buses were driving everywhere. Old trams were curving on rails that were invisible due to the overgrown vegetation. A cacophony of individual street concerts was made by horns. Cafes were full day and night.

At first I went to the library every day and till the close time I investigated newspapers and magazines, and then I went to the shop with my hosts. Then we went home together. The day would end as spectacular as it had started. But, the longer I stayed in Belgrade the later I went to the library and the earlier I came back. But Darko (the hosts' family's son) and I started to explore Belgrade's night life. I acquainted Belgrade's "raja" as we call people in Bosnia. By the end of my second visit to Belgrade I was practically a member of the family. I returned home invigorated.

I had to travel to Belgrade again as my time with Darko had shortened my library trips and I needed more information. This time my visit lasted six months. I drove from Zagreb via Highway of Fraternity and Unity and at the end of my trip the hosts greeted me as an old member of their family. On this occasion I had enough time to talk to Borka Pavicevic, Dusan Makavejev and Zelimir Zilnik as well as to Jovan Cirilov, co-founder of the famous Belgrade Theatre Festival (BITEF). I met a bunch of very interesting and brilliant people. No one was concerned with who I was -Slovenian, Croat, Bosnian, Macedonian or whoever.

My Belgrade family, like my parents, more and more frequently asked me when my dissertation would be finished. But my usual answer was: "As soon as the National Library starts to operate"…And soon I was really done.

In the meantime I have been in Belgrade several times. I am always in touch with my Belgrade family. I am always happy when I travel from the airport to the center.  And I always feel I am at home. Belgrade is my capital town.

Translated from Serbian into English by Marijana Rakic

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