Young in Belgrade (take me out of here!)

December 18, 2008

By Martijn van Tol, Wereldomroep

What’s it like to grow up during successive civil wars? What is it like to live in a country whose territory shrinks faster then the latest mobile phone models? In Serbia, work is scarce, self esteem is at depressing lows and due to strict visa policy there’s virtually no way out. Dutch artist Annelys de Vet went to Belgrade to work with art school students on a mission to find out what it is like to be young in Serbia.


De Vet asked Belgrade art school students to design maps and flags of Serbia; not as it really is but as they see it. The results are shown in Belgrade’s underground art gallery Magacin. Its walls are filled with flags and maps portraying Serbia, for instance as a country that has become smaller and smaller until it remains a mere black hole in Europe.

Wounds and plasters

Asked for her favourite piece of art De Vet points at a map of Serbia with plasters, where the Bosnian and Kosovar borders should be. “It’s sad, it’s sensitive and vulnerable, and it doesn’t have an opinion. It just says: it hurts.”

Iva Spasojevic, who created the map: “These are all wounds of which we still feel the consequences. I put extra plasters at the Kosovar border since it is still bleeding a bit.”

Other Football club-Serbs

Dmitar Vukanovic’ flag of Serbia features the official coat of arms, which says: ‘Only unity can save the Serbs’. But Dmitar surrounded it with the names of all the groups he says Serb nationalists are trying to exclude from that unity: muslim-Serbs, roma-Serbs, jewish-Serbs, gay-Serbs, other football club soccer fans-Serbs, neighbour-Serbs, old-Serbs. Together we look at Dmitar’s flag, then Dmitar shakes his head and concludes: “Serbs just can’t get along with each other.”


From gloomy to ironic

The images of Serbia are ranging from gloomy to ironic, but seem to express a clear message: Take me out of here! Mobility, or rather the lack thereof, is concern number one with Serbian youngsters. They can travel to Bosnia and Croatia, but it is very hard to visit Western Europe.

 Many young Serbs feel trapped in what they see as a web of mistakes created by their political leaders.

“I do not blame Europe for the fact that I cannot go there, I blame my own country.” (Iva Spasojevic)

Overprized restaurant

But at the same time they feel humiliated by the EU, especially because of the harsh conditions posed upon Serbian membership. Dmitar: “To me the European Union is like an overprized restaurant with waiters that look down on you.”

Dusan Spasojevic was part of the student movement that overthrew the Milosevic regime in 2000. Eight years later not much has changed and EU membership seems far away. “Sometimes you feel like a second class citizen, for example when you have to wait in front of embassies and visa queues. We are being checked ten times at airports because we are from Serbia and not for example Poland.”

Spending some time with young Serbs makes one aware of the two images of the European Union. The one from within and the one from without. From within the EU looking outwards the world seems like a comfortable downward slope. However, standing outside and looking up its well-guarded walls forms a completely different view. For many Serbs waiting for EU membership is like waiting for death, it is the only certainty the future will bring, and you can wait for it to happen.