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Category: Central and East-Europe

“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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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 Christmas Eve (Badnje veče)

Serbian Christmas Eve (Badnje veče)

In Serbia Orthodox Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calander, 13 days after  the Catholic Christmas, which is the 7th  January. In Serbian Christmas Eve is called  “Badnje veče” and it is truely a beautiful gathering with a lot of customs.

Here an interesting extract from the book “Servia, Youngest Member of the European Family” by A. A. Paton from 1848, which  describes these customs very well:

At Christmas, for instance, every peasant goes to the woods, and cuts down a young oak;
as soon as he returns home, which is in the twilight; he says to the assembled family,
“A happy Christmas eve to the house;” on which a male of the family
scatters a little grain on the ground and answers,
“God be gracious to you, our happy and honoured father.”

The housewife then lays the young oak on the fire, to which are thrown a few nuts
and a little straw, and the evening ends in merriment.

Next day, after divine service, the family assemble around the dinner
table, each bearing a lighted candle; and they say aloud, “Christ is
born: let us honour Christ and his birth.”

The church in Cvetke, near Kraljevo, with a beautiful view towards the Zapadna (West) Morava valley, 06/01/2018. 

People gathered around a huge fire, with an oak tree on fire, enjoying the Christmas eve after the mess in the church.

The more sparkles you get when you burn your oak tree branch, the more prosperous your year will be.Afterwards a dinner will be served at home with fish, bread and soup and sweets afterwards. You’ll sit on the ground with hay on the floor, just like in a Christmas stable… . After the dinner there is fireworks and people enjoy the evening in a family setting. Then the next day it is of course Christmas and much more celebrations and customs will follow.

Srećan Božić !!! (=Merry Christmas )

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How our world is changing

How our world is changing

We entered the New Year 2018 and the world is changing as always. The question is if we are just the spectators who are seeing how the world is changing, or are we are actually more then just  spectators who are seeing the world changing? As one of those spectators in daily life I  saw the world changing slowly , no matter where I lived: the Netherlands, Belgium, France,Macedonia and Serbia.

Lately I have been cleaning up my digital photo albums and saw slowly the differences between ” then” and “now” in my world.  In the country were I live now with my love, Serbia, things seems to develop faster, sharper and more abrupt. On the other hand some places don’t seem to change, but if you look good you’ ll see they actually do.

Here a small overview with pictures from Serbia, the Netherlands, France and Greece: they are made on exactly the same spot, but on a different time.

 Beograd, Kalemegdan, before WWI (?)
Source: www.europeana.eu
 Beograd, Kalemegdan, 10th December 2017
Beograd, Kalemegdan fortress in the 1930ies
Source: www.europeana.eu
Beograd, 10th December 2017
 Mortagne-sur-Sevre (France), 1995   Mortagne-sur-Sevre (France), November 2006
Skopje (Macedonia), 04/05/2006 Skopje (Macedonia), 30/06/2016
   
 Culemborg, 1875 (NL)
Painting from spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht (NL)
 Culemborg, 21/09/2009 (NL)
 
 Thessaloniki (Greece), October 2004  Thessaloniki (Greece),05/07/2016
Beograd (Serbia), 11/05/2016 Beograd (Serbia), 08/12/2017
*Note: when no source stated than I hold the copyright of the picture.
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2017 in 10 panorama pictures

2017 in 10 panorama pictures

Here a different year overview than all the other ones 🙂 : the year 2017 in 10 panorama pictures, I made them all myself and you can click on them to view them larger. Enjoy and of course have photogenic 2018 🙂 🙂 🙂 !

1: Snow in Miločaj (Serbia), with a temperature of -20 Celcius, 08/01/2017.
2: Roma (Italy), 01/02/2017
3: Saint Peters square, Vatican city (Vatican), 03/02/2017.
4: The Hague (the Netherlands), 22/05/2017.
5: Sailing near the holy Mount Athos (Greece), 12/07/2017.
6: Watching the sunset from Kraljev Sto (alt.1104 asml), a mountain near Divčibare (Serbia).
7: Climbing in the Ovčar-Kablar gorge, the “Serbian Mount Athos” (Serbia), 23/09/2017.
8: Beograd (Serbia), view from Kalemegdan, 12/12/2017.
9: Beograd (Serbia), view of the fortress Kalemegdan, 12/12/2017.
10: View from the fortress Kalemegdan in Beograd (Serbia) on the Sava river. The mountain on picture number 6 could been seen even from here, 12/12/2017.
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The failing Serbian (E-) government

The failing Serbian (E-) government

On the 28th December 2016 I wrote to the community/City Hall of Novi Beograd (servisnicentar@novibeograd.rs) the following:

Dobar dan,
I want to request an intervention of the Opstina Novi Beograd as soon as possible to clear out the traffic situation on the following location in your municipality:
https://www.google.rs/maps/@44.8261698,20.3877325,3a,49.4y,112.37h,83.32t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sLs95rKWpNsLiMkoGq-sfLA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
The location is at Bežanijska kosa , please see attached picture. The priority situation is not clear ( especially for the cars coming from the left from the direction of the highway) and I already had almost three times an accident. Maybe the lines on the road can be make more clear and you can place additional signs ? 

 I apologise to do my request in English, ucim sprski ali nije sad mnogo dobro. Kad vi mozete pisati mene na srpskom nema problema. Kad vi hocete vise informacije , write me please.
Wishing you a nice day and looking forward to your reply + actions.
Puno pozdrava,
Fabian Vendrig

I never received ANY reply, only the Twitter account  seemed to care a bit, but even via them I never saw any reply or any action. You can write me that ” this is Serbia” , or ” this is normal” and I will reply you: “No this is not normal!” As a foreign national who is paying a lot of taxes in this country the minimum I can expect is that the government reply to my request. It doesn’t matter if it is Serbia, Swaziland or the Netherlands.

I know the current prime minister want to clean up the image of the Serbian government with E-government, local democracy etc. etc. : she has a long way to go it seems and I can only encourage her and I truly hope that she will succeed !

12/05/2016: Centre of Belgrade: An old Yugoslav sign to Skoplje (=Skopje, MK).
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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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An unknown Slovak&Czech WWI mass grave in Serbia ?

An unknown Slovak&Czech WWI mass grave in Serbia ?

In December 2016 we published, with the help of the Dutch embassy in Belgrade, a brochure about the “Serbian Soldiers of WWI who died in the Netherlands” (link). After that our research did not stop, because we continue to search for families of those soldiers and more information. A week ago we contacted the webmaster of the website www.velikiborak.com for more help / information, because one of 91 Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands was from Veliki Borak.

Radosav Jovičić died the 26th January 1919 in Dordrecht ( the Netherlands) and the webmaster Saša got us immediately in touch with the family of this soldier. The same afternoon we were in the car heading towards Veliki Borak to meet them. When we visited the church of the nearby village of Leskovac ( Kolubari) we found the memorial plate in the church with his name on it together with his comrades who died as well during the period 1912-1919 ( Balkan Wars & First World War).

Memorial plate inside the curch of Leskovac (Kolubari), Serbia. Radosav Jovičić’ s name is on it as well.

While we were guided around the church we were informed about a mass grave with Slovak and Czech soldiers buried together with Serbian solders next to church. The names of the Serbian soldiers and from where they were are on the monument , but no trace of those Slovak & Czech soldiers. Somehow it intrigued me how those soldiers arrived here in Serbia and how found their death, just like those Serbian soldiers we are investigating who died in my home country the Netherlands.

The mass grave with the remains of Serbian & Slovak& Czech WWI soldiers in Leskovac (Kolubari), Serbia (click on the picture to enlarge).

The story is nevertheless much more complicated, because Slovakia and the Czech Republic were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. At the end of 1914 the battle of the Kolubara was fought between the Serbian and Austro-Hungarian armies in this area. Meanwhile back home in Slovakia and the Czech Republic the Austro-Hungarian empire wasn’t that popular any more and “pan-slavism” gained popularity. Without the names of those unfortunate Czech & Slovak soldiers or a death certificate, or a report about this grave it is difficult to understand what happened here and why they died. Where they killed during the battle ? Were they wounded and died ? Were they Prisoners of War who died in captivity? Did they defected to the Serbian side ?

The church in Leskovac, with at the right of the church the mentioned mass grave (between the church and the tree).

We contacted the local priest who has unfortunately no records about the graves. Meanwhile I contacted several friends who have expertise in different fields regarding WWI history and I also informed of course my friend from the Slovakian embassy here in Belgrade. They gave me valuable pieces of information and they confirmed me that there are many of those kind of graves, mostly they are known, but this one did not appear on a Slovakian list we found.

Without names, official records / acts about those unfortunate Slovakian and Czech soldiers it is difficult to understand why they ended up here and why they were buried together with their Slavic brothers in the Serbian soil. Nevertheless I will continue the search so that they will not be forgotten.

The Slovak/Czech/Serbian mass grave in Leskovac (Kolubari), Serbia, 04/03/2017.
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Serbian presidential elections

Serbian presidential elections

In April (the prediction is +/-30/04/2017) there will be Serbian presidential elections. It seems the campaigns of the different candidates finally started this week. Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister, Aleksander Vučić announced that he will be a candidate for the SNS party ( the “progressives”) and yesterday it became clear that Tomislav Nikolić, the current President, wants to be re-elected (for the same party?). Since then the situation has become unclear.

Meanwhile I can imagine how the media outlets in my old home country and “sphere” will report about Vojislav Šešelj who is running as a candidate as well: don’t forget Šešelj is a very intelligent man and was never convicted for war crimes, he was just a suspect. When I studied Law I learned the difference between a “suspect” and a “convicted person”, but people nowadays seem to forget the difference.

Those same media outlets will report (again) that these elections will be a choice between “the European Union” and “Russia”. As a Dutchman who has already been living for 2.5 years in Serbia and studied the Balkan politics & history already before I have to disappoint you: it is none about that. The elections are just an internal Serbian battle of power consolidation.

We saw last year a “no” in the Dutch referendum on an agreement with the EU and Ukraine, we saw a Brexit and we saw Trump becoming the president of the United States. Since then I have only heard “doom scenarios” about what could happen and what will happen. It was clearly a failure of the current (political) elite to come with answers to the problems of the people from the street. The question next coming years will be if the ones who won will come with the right answers and solutions: I am personally very curious.

Isolation is not an answer, either in the Netherlands (elections next month), France (elections in May) or Germany (elections in September). Back in Serbia I do not foresee that a political landslide will occur. Serbia will be committed to integration in the EU, but also will keep the “special” relationship with Russia. Is that bad? Of course not, but it is of course up to the Serbian voters to decide if they want a change or not. No matter what their choice is, I just hope that it will be the best choice for Serbia.

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Brochure “Serbian Soldiers of WWI who died in the Netherlands”

Brochure “Serbian Soldiers of WWI who died in the Netherlands”

Last Thursday we presented here in Belgrade the results of our research to the fate of the Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands. We wrote a brochure published by the Dutch embassy which you can download here: “Serbian Soldiers of WWI who died in the Netherlands”.

We are as a team very proud of the result and very grateful to the Dutch embassy in Belgrade for supporting us. It took us a couple of months of work to have this result. If we count from the beginning we are already 4.5 years busy with our research and we will continue.

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