« Venturing into new waters .... | Main | The music of Celts »

September 24, 2006

Visit to Belgrade

Visiting Belgade for the first time is quite an experience. It is a city of contrasts and it is a city with a rich and varied history, not least because, since this spot was first settled in neolithic times, it has stood on one of the worlds major cross roads for history. It has been under Grecian rules during the Macedonian period, under Roman rule, then under the rule of Byzantium and, after a brief period of independence under their own Kings - know as the Despot - invaded and conquered by the Turks. Indepednence was again won after a protracted war but the southern provinces of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia remained under Turkish domination for several more centuries.

Belgrade has been the capital of Serbia since 1500 when the then Despot moved here from the original capital located in modern Kosovo. It is small wonder that the Serbs are unhappy about the segregation of Kosovo from their nation as it is the birthplace of the Serbian nation, it is where their Kings are buried in the old capital and it is the place where the Turks were eventually driven from their land. The legacy of that occupation is to be seen in the conflict of today, between Orthodox Serbia and Muslims living in Albania, Bosnia and now seeking a separate Muslim state in Kosovo. In part that history is one of enforced conversion to Islam - the Selucid Turks and later the Ottoman empire forcibly removed all boys aged five and over annually from Christian Serbian (and other subject peoples) homes and, after compulsory conversion to Islam, trained them as the Sultan's personal guard, the famed Janissaries. Those who did not make the grade as Janissaries were castrated and put to work as eunuchs in the palaces and houses of the rich and powerful. This is a legacy that will not soon be forgotten since the Turks ruled these southern provinces until 1836, and memories run long here!

The Citadel in Belgrade incorporates Roman structures, medieval and later buildings in its remains. Today it is a public park and a meeting place for the city's young men and women. It is also home to a fascinating museum and a fabulous restuarant!

As every school child knows, the First World War was sparked in Sarajevo by the assasination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his consort by a Serbian patriot. Again, the rest is history, but what is seldom understood is that the Archduke represented a country whose fading Empire had recently fought an abortive war in the Balkans which had resulted in a seizure of parts of Serbia. Tempers ran hot and the incredible series of blunders that resulted in the almost opportunist shooting must surely be one of history's great mischances. Again, attempting to unravel the right and wrong of the Balkan War of 1912 - 1914 is almost impossible. The consequences changed the entire world order.

Belgrade is almost two cities. Nova Beograd is on an island between the Sava River and the Danube, Old Beograd is on the peninsula between the two rivers, with the Citadel crowning the high ground which commands the approach to both. Architecturally, Belgrade has suffered heavily from its position on the cross roads of world history, since every invader seems to have burned or destroyed large chunks of it. The communist years have not helped either, leaving a legacy of neglect and lack of maintenance that now needs to be addressed if the best of the city's rich legacy of buildings which survived the last two world wars is to be saved.

But what can one say of the people? Plenty. They are hard working, keen to catch up and be a part of the Europe they feel they belong too, proud of their heritage and a little defensive of their recent history. They are generous, they have a sense of humour and a deep sense of purpose. Everywhere there are signs that they are rolling up their sleeves and getting down to rebuilding what they lost under the communists, but they are doing it with hope and with pride in themselves and their history.

One thing will stand in my mind - the sign on the remains of a downed F-117A Stealth bomber:

"We apologise to the USAF for downing this aircraft - we were not told we weren't supposed to be able to see it."

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 24, 2006 06:23 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


You do think about the worlds troubles don't you.

I was so sad when NATO attacked Serbia. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict, i'll never forget Tony Blair. His supercilious sincerity and seemingly total lack of historical knowledge or understanding, was shocking. I feared for the future.

Posted by: Simon at September 25, 2006 10:37 AM

Sadly the absence of any understanding of the history of anything other than the "social struggle" is what marks this generation of parliamentarians as the shallow and ignorant bunch they are. They understand the value of nothing other than catching a headline and being "seen to be doing something" rather than to act in understanding and good will. As far as Blair and his puppeteers are concerned everything is a soundbite, quickfix - no need to understand anything, least of all the implications and impact of their actions on anyone but themselves.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at September 25, 2006 05:00 PM