By pretty much any standard, I’m well-travelled. I’ve lived or worked on every continent bar Australia and Antarctica. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere that’s as filled with contradictions as Serbia. Mostly it reminds me of Greece in the early 1980s… despite not having a coast on the sea, the culture is primarily Mediterranean. The weather, the food, the pace of life, many of the more obvious mannerisms and attitudes. All very Med.
But on top of that are layers of difference. Contradictory as well as complementary. Certainly here in the north of the country, there’s a very definite central / northern European influence. Austro-Hungarian influences are everywhere. The architecture (leastways the pre-war stuff) and a certain “clipped” tone to the accent (though I’m told the south of the country doesn’t share this) means you never forget your proximity to Budapest and Vienna. And this Northern influence sits uneasily with the Mediterranean attitudes.
Though it’s often obscured by the other major influence on Serbian culture — the Eastern. The Slavonic. At the heart of Yugoslavia for two generations, the post-war culture was dominated by Russia. Never entirely within the Soviet sphere of influence (the Iron Curtain became more of a net curtain when it extended southwards towards the Med), Tito tried to walk a fine line between East and West. And in a sense he succeeded.
Obviously that’s a pretty damn controversial view, made all the more difficult to accept in the context of what happened to the region upon his death. Nonetheless, I shall expand upon this view when I return home next week.
For now, I have places to be and people to see. One of the purposes of this trip is to visit with the family of the lovely Citizen S. And the schedule is pretty tight. So until next time…