Tag Archives: belgrade

Refugees in Belgrade

Last week I went down to the refugee center by the main bus depot in Belgrade. I spent 5 hours sorting through clothing donations, folding, tidying, and helping people find what they were looking for. I helped a boy find a jacket for a younger brother, and apologized when I realized the backpack I had found him – one of the very last that we had in stock – was ripped. I helped a little girl find a pair of leggings and a new headscarf. A man cluelessly searched for underwear for his 3 children – all under 5. Many people asked for socks and belts. We didn’t have any left.

There was a heat wave in Serbia last week. Many of the people passing through on their way into the EU were looking specifically for shorts and t-shirts. I found pant legs on the ground where people had just taken scissors to full-length jeans and couldn’t contain my bafflement. Don’t they realize winter is just around the corner? I asked another volunteer helplessly. These people are trying to make their way to Austria? To Sweden? In shorts?

I don’t think I’ll ever really know how dire the situation is for some of these people. Traveling a dangerous path for months, cut off from family and support, unable to speak the language, living in a tent in a park. One man overhead some volunteers talking about the situation at the border in Hungary. He didn’t speak any English, but he interrupted, repeating Hungary over and over desperately. The volunteers told him “No Hungary. Croatia. Go to Croatia.”

Croatia then closed off its borders as well. They reopened yesterday, but the temperature has been dropping steadily with the promise of true autumn on the wind. Whether they’re called ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’ these people are all anyone is Europe is talking about these days. I suppose this is what history is made of – crises with unimaginable endgames. What will happen to these people? How many more will come? Will the borders with their walls and their guards buckle under the sheer number of asylum seekers or will the masses finally turn back, defeated and depleted, to pass the cold season right here?

Updating Belgrade

The bombed buildings of Belgrade: first stop on every bus tour of the city.
Eerie skeletons of former Yugoslavia, bearing the scars of the ‘NATO aggressors.’
Fascinating historical landmarks with big gaping holes through which one could see crumbling staircases, wiring stripped bare, and yes, the odd tree branch growing through the rubble.
Tony Blair called them a health hazard and insisted they be torn down.

The former Yugoslav Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal affairs, situated on a busy main street, and a staple view of my daily bus route to work.

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These buildings were bombed by NATO in 1999 and left, untouched, ever since. They serve as…a reminder? A statement perhaps? Or maybe there just wasn’t enough money or bureaucratic motivation to ever do anything about them. Anyway you put it; these buildings are one of the highlights of any trip to the Serbian capital. Grim, dark, morbid, and utterly unique.

Today, as I rode the bus home, sweating through my teacher-appropriate blouse and inwardly grumbling about the lack of personal space in Serbian culture I looked up to find that one of these dubious cultural institutions had been covered foundation-to-roof by an enormous advertisement. The broken bones and gut-rot of Serbian victimhood had finally been hidden away, and, judging by the newly landscaped front lawn, soon to be replaced by an updated space for a city that desperately needs updating.

I suppose even in the the Balkans one can’t hold on to the past forever.