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Category: Balkan region

Everything about the Balkan region!

Kajmakčalan

Kajmakčalan

Kajmakčalan is a 2528 a.s.m.l. meters high mountain on the Greek-Macedonian border. This is the second time I climbed this mountain, the first time was in 2011 (see here), but this time with my wife and two Dutch friends who are also interested in WWI history (and not only about the Western front). Since 2012 I did read a lot about the First World War and started even a research together with two friends (see www.secanje.nl) of whom one is now my wife (my dear Tanja). Back then it was the end of a tour through former Yugoslavia, just like the famous Yugoslav song “od Vardara do pa Triglava” (from the Vardar river in Macedonia to the Triglav mountain in Slovenia, I did it only the way around). Now it was a climb towards WWI history: on this mountain in September 1916 a battle took place between the Serbian army (part of the Triple Entente) and the Bulgarian army (part of the Triple Alliance) .

The church Sveti Petar (the top is called Profitis Ilias-(Sveti Ilija in Serbian) on the summit of Kajmakčalan.

The battle was eventually won by the Serbs on 30th September 1916, but after huge losses on both sides.  In Serbia this mountain is almost considered holy as it was for the Serbian army the first victory after their losses in 1915 and the retreat of the Serbian army to the Greek island of Corfu via the Albania. It was here, at Kajmakčalan, where the Serbian army resurrected from their ashes and it was here that they started to liberate their country (back then this was the Greek-Serbian border).

Ramonda nathaliae, also known as Natalie’s ramonda. The flower is considered a symbol of the Serbian Army’s struggle during World War and can be found also on Kajmakčalan.

The church was recently restored ( 2016 ?), but unfortunately it was not done properly as the front part of the church is not white any more. It seems the cross on the top was also hit by lightening or a storm. A truly hope that funds will be available to repair the church and to keep it in good shape for further generations seen the historical value of this place.

Front view of the church “Sveti Petar”.

Above the entrance is written in Serbian: 
“Mojim divjunacima

neustrašivim i vernim
koji grudima svojim otvoriše vrata slobodi
i ostaše ovde
kao večni stražari na pragu otadžbine”

Translation in English: 
“To my fearless and faithful

colossal heroes,
who opened the gate of freedom
with their own chests
and who stayed here as permanent guards at the doorway of fatherland”

Inside the church you can light a candle, write in the guestbook and see the urn of Archibald Reiss. Rudolphe Archibald Reiss (8 July 1875 – 7 August 1929) was a German-Swiss criminology-pioneer, forensic scientist, professor and writer. He investigated the Austro-Hungarian war crimes committed in Serbia in 1914 and 1915 together with the Dutch doctor Arius van Tienhoven.  He retreated towards Corfu together with the Serbian army and followed them towards the liberation

After his death, his body was buried in the Topčider cemetery and, at his own request, his heart was buried on Kajmakčalan hill. The urn containing his heart was later demolished as revenge by the Bulgarians in World War II, but there are other stories that the JNA (=Yugoslav army) soldiers took it when they retreated in 1991 when Macedonia became an independent country.

Inside the church “Sveti Petar”, with at the right the urn where the heart of Archibald Reiss was kept.

It is hard to imagine that on this beautiful mountain so many soldiers died. Večna im slava! (=Eternal glory to them !)

Panorama picture of Kajmakčalan (click to enlarge).

*All pictures on this page are made by me on 18/08/2018 when I climbed Kajmakčalan.

And for those who want to climb this beautiful mountain themselves, here the route:

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“Trst je naš”

“Trst je naš”

Last week I enjoyed with my wife a small holiday in the region of Trieste, in the Northeastern corner of Italy. We were in Grado (beaches), Muggia (a small nice village on the coast) and Trieste itself. Trieste has an amazing history and lies on the border of the Roman, the Germanic and the Slavic world.

15/07/2018: Trieste as seen from Monte Grisa.

Until the First World War this city was the main harbor of the Austrian-Hungarian empire and thus an important city.  The Austro-Hungarians built the “Südbahn”(=Southern railway) , connecting Vienna with Trieste which boosted the harbor of Trieste further. It was, and still is, a free port and the most important harbor for Central Europe or in German “Mitteleuropa”.

14/07/2018: Trieste, the Canal Grande (Grand Canal).
14/07/2018: A view from the castle of Duino, close to Trieste.

After the Second World War the Yugoslav troops liberated Trieste from the Germans, but that lasted not long: the city came after 40 days under British / US military administration. In 1947 Trieste became the “Free Territory of Trieste”, an independent city state under UN protection. In 1954 Trieste, part of zone “A”, became Italian and zone “B” became part of Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav partisans wanted to have Trieste and their sentence was “Trst je naš” (Trieste is ours). They did not get it, but now it doesn’t matter any more as the whole area (Zone A and B, plus the whole of Istria) is now in the European Union and the borders disappeared. Triest, Trieszt, Trst, Трст or Τεργέστη is a pleasant city where the Germanic, Roman and Slavic world meets. Depending of your view the Balkan starts or ends here, Italy as well and yes once back in the old days also the Austro-Hungarian empire. I can strongly recommend to visit Trieste and the region, because it is a very interesting city & region and can´t wait to go back.  As Dutch living in Serbia, loving Italy, I almost want to say:  “Trst je naš!”

14/07/2018: a statue of the famous writer James Joyce who lived also in Trieste.
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Living on the border of the European Union: Kenđija in Serbia

Living on the border of the European Union: Kenđija in Serbia

Last weekend I was with friends in Kenđija, located in the Northwestern part of Serbia, where Serbia meets Hungary and Croatia. When I opened my Google maps I saw the map below and was pretty surprised: according to Google I was in Croatia !

We did not passed any border post, neither we saw a sign or anything else: we were still de facto in Serbia.  The real border is currently in the middle of the Danube river. My friend who has a weekend house there told me that they pay for all utilities which are delivered from Serbia. Beside it is the (disputed) border between Serbia and Croatia, it is also the border of the European Union. Serbia is candidate member state of the EU, but until Serbia will join the EU this is an EU “outer” border.

Batina in Croatia as seen from the Serbian shore of the Danube river, 26/05/2018. 

On Wikipedia you can read the following information about this still ongoing border dispute:

The Croatia–Serbia border dispute refers to differing views held by Croatia and Serbia regarding their border in the area of the Danube River. While Serbia holds the opinion that the thalweg of the Danube valley and the center line of the river represents the international border between the two countries, Croatia disagrees and claims that the international border lies along the boundaries of the cadastral municipalities located along the river—departing from the course at several points along a 140-kilometre (87 mi) section. The cadastre-based boundary reflects the course of the Danube which existed in the 19th century, before meandering and hydraulic engineeringworks altered its course. The area size of the territory in dispute is reported variously, up to 140 square kilometres (54 square miles).

The dispute first arose in 1947, but was left unresolved during the existence of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It became a contentious issue after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Particular prominence was given to the dispute at the time of Croatia’s accession to the European Union. As of September 2014 the dispute remains unresolved, and the line of control mostly corresponds to Serbia’s claim.

Interestingly this situation started in 1699 with the Treaty of Karlowitz, which transferred Slavonia and a portion of Syrmia (now Croatia) from the Ottoman Empire to the Habsburg Monarchy at the conclusion of the Great Turkish War. The rest of Syrmia was transferred to the Habsburg Monarchy through the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. And yes the Dutch diplomat Jacobus Colyer was mediating during both peace talks….

The place where we were was very nice with beautiful nature, it reminded me a lot to my old home country the Netherlands. So I spent a nice weekend with my friends on the Habsburg Monarchy shore with a view to the Ottoman empire…..

Kenđija, 26/05/2018: a view towards the old Danube river, which was the former border between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy , currently the Croatian-Serbian border according the Croatian government. De facto this is all Serbian territory.

 

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Traffic safety in Serbia

Traffic safety in Serbia

I have almost been living for 4 years in Serbia and I love it here (and I have no intention to move away with my Serbian wife from here). I have been driving for 2 years here in Serbia: I wrote already earlier about “the unwritten traffic rules in Serbia” (link).

The traffic is a challenge here. I bought recently a dash-cam for the purpose of recording what is going on: I hope I will not have to use these images, BUT I hope people will realise that we have to drive safer here in Serbia and that is the reason why I posted some of my dash-cam videos on YouTube.

Last Monday B92 wrote even an article about it (which you can find here) and others (Blic, Kurir) took it over. I wasn’t informed about or someone contacted me, but OK, never mind. I got a lot of positive comments, but also some negative comments. These are reasons why I wrote this blog.

My main goal with posting those videos is that people become aware that the traffic safety has to increase in Serbia: too many innocent children & adults die or get wounded on the Serbian roads and according to me that has to stop. The money all these accidents costs can be better used for healthcare or education (or better roads!) according my humble opinion.

And if you think I want to portray Serbia in a bad light, I invite you kindly to continue to  read my blog and see how I love Serbia 🙂 . If you are still not convinced (and think that I am anti-Serbian) then also see our website www.secanje.nl : this is about our voluntarily research to the fate of the Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands…..

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“Sorry we did not know it was invisible”

“Sorry we did not know it was invisible”

When NATO started to bomb Yugoslavia on 24/03/1999, it was the 1st war of NATO without an UN mandate. In the heart of Europe bombs were dropped and the results of these bombardments can still be seen and felt in Serbia.

18/03/2018: Monument on the hill of Straževica (in the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica) commemorating two non-commissioned officers killed by NATO aggression. This hill was the most bombarded place in Belgrade as underneath the army HQ was located.

Besides the huge economical loss of which Serbia is still suffering, there also a lot of personal tragedies which never can be calculated in money of course. During the 78 days of the military campaign, the Serbian government estimates that at least 2,500 people died and 12,500 were injured (article).

The first time I visited Serbia, in 2004, I did not feel any hostility towards me and I was positively surprised. Ten years later I decided to live in the capital of Serbia, yes Belgrade, with my Serbian wife. In those 3,5 years I never ever felt being blamed or attacked about these bombardments. I have noticed that many people don´t want to talk about it in detail, it is still considered a traumatic event for many which I of course completely understand and respect. To quote somebody: “we could not believe that we were being bombed at the end of the 20th century”.

One truly amazing story which keeps inspiring me is the story of my dear friend Zoltán Dani. He was a colonel in the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade from the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When NATO started the bombardments he had of course to do his duty and defend his country.

In the evening of 27/03/1999 he and his team shot down a stealth F117A from the US Air force, this type of plane was thought invisible. Zoltán and his team made some modifications on their radar system, spotted the plane and shot it down. The pilot, Dale Zelko, used his ejection seat and was later rescued by US forces.

That is already amazing, but what is even more amazing is that years later Zoltán came in contact with Dale by accident and they became….. friends… First Dale came to visit Zoltán in Serbia and later Zoltán went to the USA. Two documentaries were made about these visits: 21 sekund (link) about the first and “Drugi Susret” (the 2nd meeting, link) about you guess their 2nd meeting. These documentaries are very interesting to see how foes became friends (see also article here).

Dale Zelko (left) from the USA and Zoltán Dani (right) from Serbia.

Zoltán told me the background and reasons why he became friends with his former enemy, because he remembers also the pain, the fears and the angers just like many other Serbs when NATO started to bomb Serbia.

The author of this blog and Zoltán Dani, Belgrade, February 2017.

Everybody can shoot a plane down, but not everybody can become friends with his former enemy. Let this story give inspiration to many.

If you want to see “Drugi Susret” then you can come on the special event on 27th March at 17:00 to Art Bioskop Kolarac Studentski Trg 5 (Google Maps) in Belgrade (fb event here). 

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Holocaust memorial day

Holocaust memorial day

The 27th January it is #HolocaustMemorial day so that we never forget the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it seems that anno 2018 we seem to forget a lot of things.

Recently I had the honour to meet one of the survivors of Jasenovac on a preview of the exhibition about this concentration camp, which was “the Auschwitz of the Balkans“, where at least 100.000 people were killed (and this is even a low estimation). Even German SS officers at that time were shocked by the crimes committed by the Croatian Ustasas (which collaborated with the Nazi’s).  There was also the only concentration camp for children…

13/01/2018: Mr Rončević talking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade, Serbia.

The exhibition opened today at the United Nations palace in New York and Mr Rončević (the survivor) spoke at the opening today about the horrors he witnessed.  When I brought him home 2 weeks ago he told me that he is satisfied that finally after all these years he could speak freely and that the government finally acknowledged the horrors he had to witness. The Serbian government arranged that he could speak in New York today, as during Tito’s Yugoslavia it was forbidden to speak about Jasenovac, because it could damage the brotherhood and unity between the Croats and the Serbs. Now he could speak freely about the crimes he had to witness.

Meanwhile it is for me unbelievable to see that an European country like Croatia (even member of the EU)  tried to prevent this exhibition (see article B92) and therefore try to cover the genocide of Roma, Jews and Serbs committed in Jasenovac.

Pictures below: Made by myself, 13.01.2018 at the Serbian ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade.

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Serbian integration lesson: “the Greek beaches”

Serbian integration lesson: “the Greek beaches”

It is almost 3 years ago that I moved from the Netherlands to Serbia and slowly but surely I integrate more and more into the Serbian society. I have to admit that it is not always easy and my patience is tested many times, but  patience is always rewarded. The holiday season is in “full swing”  so I want to share my Serbian integration experiences regarding this topic here on my blog. So where do Serbs go? It is actually very easy, because most Serbs are mostly going to the ” more”. “More” is Serbian for sea, so my wife told me all the time, ” this we need for the more” , ” that we need for the more”. As I am from the Netherlands which is a true sea nation ” more” is a pretty wide term for me, but for Serbs it is pretty clear: it is the sea in Greece or the sea in Montenegro. Greece is the most popular destination, with the peninsula of Chalkidi (which is below Thessaloniki) as number one destination.

July 2017: boat trip mount Athos (Greece), photo made by myself.

So we went this year for the second time to Neos Marmaras (link) which is a lovely place on the “second finger” of Chalkidiki. My wife discussed with her colleagues  already months before which are the nicest beaches there and where to go. My colleagues also told me where to go and which place is where. On the Serbian state TV you have a program, 24SAT, which describe ever possible way to Greece (and Montenegro) and where to stop, eat &sleep. Unfortunately you can ‘t make everybody happy as I have 1 colleague from Montenegro who was angry with me, because I went to Greece and not to “his” lovely & beautiful Montenegro: sorry Jasco ;-). And so I have more Serbs around (if not all) me who went to Greece or soon will go (and yes Jasco, one family member of me is going to… Montenegro).

July 2017, City beach in Neos Marmaras (Sithonia,Greece), photo made by myself. 

Moral of the story: since I live in Serbia my knowledge about Greece is increasing very fast. I know Serbs have to work hard and a lot the whole year so I wish them all happy holidays and of course I wish that to everybody else as well ! Enjoy your holidays!

July 2017: Sunset in Parthenonas (Sithonia, Greece), photo made by myself.
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Thessaloniki Railway station

Thessaloniki Railway station

Last wednesday (05 July 2017) I was at the railway station of Thessaloniki in Greece.

On the 9th October 2004 I was here the last time. Why I do remember ? I do remember as it was from here where I took the train further into the Balkans: first to Skopje and afterwards I also visited Serbia and Bulgaria. Thus, it was from here I took my first steps into the Balkans.

Not a lot has changed since then, as you can see below on the picture I made on the same spot, but then almost 13 years later. 

The only thing which changed is that I am married to a beautiful lovely Serbian lady and that I live in Serbia now which is in the the heart of the Balkans….

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Missing the train to Western-Europe

Missing the train to Western-Europe

The day starts more or less with the Eurocity train “Avala” to Vienna, which leaves Belgrade at 07h36, while some earlier local trains have already left. The next international train they can catch is the 10h55 train to Schwarzach St. Veit (Austria) via Zagreb. If they missed that one then 40 minutes later they could try their luck on the 11h35 to Budapest. Then the whole day there is no chance to catch a train towards Western-Europe. Two night trains leave Belgrade, one at 21h20 to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and 30 minutes later to Budapest.

Belgrade,the locomotive depot , 17/03/2017.

They could simply jump on a train and go to follow their dreams, but now it is a problem as the borders are closed. One of them told me they are all from the same village in Afghanistan and he wants to go to the UK. They are on the run for war and poverty and they live now next to the old Belgrade train depot. Hundred years ago it wouldn’t be a problem to go to the UK from here as there would be every day an Orient-Express towards Paris with a connection to London.

The railway man allowed them to stay, almost as passengers who missed their train, but they have been missing their trains since half of December.

The place where they are waiting, Belgrade 17/03/2017

A lot of (Western) NGOs (like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, but also Dutch organisations etc.) and media outlets (like NOS, BBC etc.) showed the alleged bad treatment of refugees here in Serbia. I had again the opportunity to ask them (the refugees) about these allegations as a human being and not as an journalist or a member of an NGO who needs a sad story.

We just had a normal talk and at one point they told me that they have not been treated badly at all. Yes the conditions were tough during winter and yes the situation is far from good, but bad treatment? No, not at all and the Serbs are friendly to them and they do not encounter any problems here in Serbia. They could go to a refugee centre, but they do not want to, they explained to me, because they want to leave Serbia and go to Western-Europe.

I could only wish them luck and hope that one day they will catch the right train towards their dream. Sincerely, I wish them all the best.

Belgrade, Serbia, 17/03/2017
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Chalkidiki = “boring”

Chalkidiki = “boring”

Chalkidiki is in Northern Greece and it has three peninsulas. Currently we are visiting the second one (the middle finger some people would say) and we have to admit, it is really boooring….  See the pictures and judge yourself.

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As you can see: nothing interesting here.
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They did not tell us that the sea has waves…

 

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As you can see the coastline is really boring.

 

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And then those stupid flowers everywhere.

 

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The sunsets in Chalkidiki are also nothing special, just like the ones from the movies.
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Better leave your slippers and sunglasses on the beach and run as fast away from here….

Hope this photo impressions helped you to understand that actually it is really boring here and that there is nothing to see here in Chalkidiki.

ps) for those who do not understand irony: we really love it here, it is so beautiful and the people are really friendly 🙂

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