Well, this is it. It truly feels like the past 4 months have just flown by. I left Belgrade on Sunday, and will be traveling through Europe for the next two weeks. So in a sense, it feels like this semester isn’t really over, and I’ll be heading home to Belgrade soon. But the reality of returning to the US and to Whitman is slowly creeping in…
For this last post, I want to talk about something that really pulled this whole semester together. After returning from Sarajevo, I heard that there was going to be a protest in Belgrade’s city center. The protest’s slogan was “stop bloody shirts”, referring to the insane amount of political violence in this country – recently, there was an opposition leader in politics who was randomly beaten up. However, it was very unclear who was organizing the protest, and what exactly was being protested.
Of course, I had to attend. My host mother gave me her “protest whistle” to bring – in Serbia, protesters whistle “to drown out the voices of war criminals”. And on that cold night, as my bus was pulling into the city center, that’s almost all I could hear – whistling. A huge crowd of people – farther than I could see – filled the streets and the square in front of the faculty of Philology. I joined two of my friends, as we listened to a man speak to the crowd. It was difficult to understand (it was loud and in Serbian), but he spoke about the need to end the violence and the government’s dictatorial power. After he spoke, there was a man on a megaphone singing (in Serbian, of course). I couldn’t understand, but I noticed nobody was joining in. Later when speaking with my host mom, she told me he was singing a nationalist song about Kosovo, which is why they quickly moved the protest to begin marching – wanting to avoid any disruptions or violence.
We met up with some friends who work at the Youth Initiative for Human Rights and marched down past the parliament building (where everyone boo’ed) and then past the RTS building (a government-owned media outlet) and then back around to where we had begun the march. As we walked in the streets, I noticed how very few young people were participating. It was mostly older people, perhaps those who had been politically active during Milosevic’s rule. But I rarely saw any students or people my age.
When I talked to my host mom about this, she said most of the young people in this country don’t care or are pessimistic about any sort of political change. The young people in this country are all hoping to get jobs in Western Europe and get out of Serbia. She also talks about this, saying she doesn’t think she’ll see any positive change in her lifetime.
So why am I telling you about this protest? Because throughout this semester, we’ve been studying the politics, the social movements, civil society, wars, everything that has led up to this moment. And the state of Serbia and these other Balkans nations today, have not improved. From speaking with people from these places, I’ve found how desperate the situation is, and how not much seems to be near in terms of change.
Yet there was this protest. They’re saying over 10,000 people showed up. And there was another protest the night before I left. Perhaps this is the beginning of something? With the protests in Paris, and London, and Budapest – maybe something’s beginning to happen.
When I speak to my host mom about these issues, she tells me she sees a similar path in the US. Trump is slowly changing the system, just as Milosevic did in Yugoslavia. And at some point, there will be no return. So this is our time to be proactive about our country, our lives, the rhetoric that’s being used, how we treat other human beings. A big thing I’ve learned being here, has been the importance of being politically active and conscious. As I said in an earlier post, you are your nation’s history and actions. Citizenship entails responsibility, and that is something many people forget.
While I’m not ecstatic at all about returning, I know the things I’ve learned here and that have changed my perspective will continue to motivate me in my academics and future work.
I’m a global health major, and while that may seem so far-off from what I’ve been studying this semester, it’s not. Learning about this “post-conflict society” (quotes because is it really still post-conflict?) has shown me how conflict doesn’t end when a war ends. A society doesn’t just magically heal. And rather than narrowing my focus on immediate symptoms of conflict (access to healthcare, education, etc), I am trying to see the bigger picture – the factors that contribute to health inequalities and these cycles of war, poverty, and disease. It’s all intertwined, and the whole world is a part of each and every conflict.
I am extremely happy with how this semester has gone. I have learned so much about a part of the world that is often overlooked. I have made incredible friends and connections with professors, NGO workers, and other students. It’s sad to leave, but I know this isn’t goodbye, and I will continue to keep up with Serbian politics and my family while I’m away…
Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo… you’ve been so good to me and I am lucky to have seen the beautiful culture and people which make up the Balkans. Hvala vama, i vidimo se uskoro!