AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA

LEGACIES OF FORMER COMMUNIST SYSTEM REMAIN: LIKE LIVING IN A POLICE STATE – LIVING IN A STATE OF FEAR – YOU’RE GULTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT – PEOPLE SERVE THE POLICE AND THE STATE INSTEAD OF THE OPPOSITE

“A police state describes a state where its government institutions exercise an extreme level of control over civil society and liberties.”

Wikipedia on Police State

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.”

Nicolo Machiavelli  (1469 – 1527), from The Prince

INTRODUCTION

Three years ago, I arrived in Serbia. The idea was to see what living in my native city for about six months would be like after spending half a century in America. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…

Three months after my arrival, a temporary living arrangement became a permanent wedlock. I married my landlady. I grew a beard. I still wear it. I lost some weight. Healthier food and lifestyle, I suppose. Those were some of the good things.

The rest… well, it was a culture shock. So much rudeness. So much senseless bureaucracy. So much unnecessary regulation. So much intolerance.

If you pause in traffic for a moment after the light changes to green, people honk behind you. If they want to pass you on a sidewalk, they brush against you or practically push you out of the way without even an “excuse me.” If you want to buy something in a store, the merchants, especially the younger ones, treat you like an interruption to their “busy” day. And in government offices, you are just a number. And a negative number at that. Nobody smiles or even looks you in the eye. You wait in long lines for everything. Just like in the waning years of the Soviet Union. Everybody looks grim. As if they are waiting to hear what sentence was pronounced on them.

Now we are back in Belgrade for a fourth summer in a row. And my culture shock has morphed into resentment. What are we doing here? Why are we putting up with all this rudeness and shoddy treatments by people whom we are giving our business? (like banks, store clerks, waiters, the police, and various other service companies). And with the trash in the streets. And the congestion and the stink of fumes. And the parking fines.

And the worst of all – being abused by a government whose taxes the people pay, including myself now. I left this country over 50 years ago because of such or worse abuses by the commies. So why allow myself to be exposed to the neo-commies who are in government now? To be like the rest of the sheeple here. Ah, power of love.

June 19, 2021

SERBIA: POLICE STATE LIVES ON

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” 

Bible (Jeremiah 13:23): “

A COUNTRY OF THE YOUNG, THE OLD AND THE MEDIOCRE

“Old habits die hard,” goes an old saw. So do old governmental and social systems.

After the heads had rolled and the chairs of top communist government officials emptied in the Warsaw bloc countries and the former Yugoslavia, the new suits that moved into high offices changed little under them. They repainted the facade and professed love of democracy but never fixed the structural problems of the building they took over. The result is the rot on the inside and the glitz on the outside.

In other words, a farce. An illusion of change and progress. As a friend of mine said a long time go, “the faster we run the behinder we get.” 🙂

One can see the remnants of the old commie system in all facets of life here in Belgrade more than two decades after the last communist dictator was hauled off to the Hague to face war crimes charges (see Milosevic on Trial – Balkans Affairs, Feb 13, 2002).

This is worse than cancer.

A smoker, for example, who quits the deadly habit, is still at risk for developing lung cancer even after 15 years, recent medical studies show.

Serbia’s top commie henchmen is long gone (in fact he died in captivity over 15 years ago (“Put the UN Justice on Trial – Again” – Milosevic Obituary, 3/11/06), but his legacy remains. The “reds” mentality still permeates the hearts and minds of the government officials and their police. Like the black residue of tobacco in the lungs.

And the people – the sheeple – continue to live in fear of such a system and allow the government and the police to abuse them. Just as they did under dictators such as Tito or Milosevic.

The people think that’s normal. Because they have never known anything different. They never controlled their destiny. They never had any rights. And no politicians are offering to be “the new broom that sweeps clean” instead of sweeping the old problems under the rug. And maintaining the status quo. And enriching themselves off of it.

That’s this writer’s “summary judgment” on Serbia today. For some examples, check out:

POLICE CONTROL EVERYTHING, WHERE YOU LIVE, WHERE YOU TRAVEL, HOW LONG YOU STAY…

A few days ago I received an auspicious looking piece of mail. A blue envelope made of course paper like those from a 100 years ago. Inside a letter from the chief of police in our district of the city.

In a nutshell, a full one-page letter said that I needed to show up within 8 days in person at another police station in a different part of the city, about half an hour walking distance, to prove that I still live at the address such and such (where our apartment is).

My wife blew her top when she read it. “I lost a property once a long time ago because of such idiocy,” she explained.

That evening, my wife and I took a stroll to that distant police station. There was a long line in front of the door even though it was already past 7PM (I was told to come before 8PM).

“You’ll never make it in today,” an older police guard told us after looking at the chief’s letter. “Come back early tomorrow morning at 7:30,” he suggested.

Well, I was not about to get up that early just because of some police bureaucracy. But I did go back there in the afternoon the next day. The line was even longer. A female guard told me that all these people had made prior appointments.

“Well, can you do it for me now for another day?”

“No, that’s not my job,” she replied. “You must do it online.”

“Where online? At what site?”

She did not know. But another older man who overheard the conversation told me I can to do it at the eUprava site.

“Why are the lines here always so long?” I asked the policewoman before leaving the station. “Is there a sale on passports?” I joked.

“I wish,” she laughed. “I’d be the first one of here.”

At least she was honest. But her comment also shows us what the wheels of the regime think of the regime here.

BAD TECHNOLOGY IS WORSE THAN NONE

When I returned home and tried to do use this eUprava site, I experienced another example of a poor use of modern technology. First, before I could make an appointment, I had to register as a new user uploading all my credentials.

Okay, that’s unnecessary bureaucracy but so far so good. Trouble is it took me over half an hour to register. Because the site was so poorly designed and it kept bouncing me back to the opening page.

When I finally fought my way into this site, I could not find the category under which I should make that appointment. The closest it came was Personal ID Cards and Passports. I spent another half an hour trying to get to the place where I came make an appointment because the site was so slow or crashing.

When I finally made it, it turned out there were no slots opened till the end of this month. That’s when I gave up and shut down my computer.

“That’s terrible,” my said when I told her what had happened. “You should write a story about that. Because this woman who is the prime minister of Serbia keep boasting about the new technology she has brought into the government.”

“New technology is good if it works and helps people save time,” I said. “But bad technology is worse than none.”

Because it just serves for the system to reject you without a chance to appeal to a human being. You’re left with a choice of tearing your hair out or giving up.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU EVERYWHERE

“What are you going to do now?” my wife asked me.

“I’ll do it the old-fashioned way. I am going to write a letter to that police chief and send it registered mail.”

The next day I did. In the letter I explained that we had been away from Belgrade for several months which is why we were not home to receive the mail in person. The day after that, I got a phone call from the police chief’s assistant.

“You did not have to wait in line for something like that,” she said.

“Well, tell that to your guards who would not let me in. I showed them the chief’s letter.”

“I am sorry. They must have been new.”

They were not. The first guard was probably 60+ years old. But I said nothing.

This assistant explained to me that the police expect you to be available all the time at the address on your personal ID card (like the drivers license back home in the US). And if you’re not, boy oh boy… Harsher notices follow. And eventually a policeman shows up ready to cuff you, as happened to me here on June 11 (see AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA: GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT, June 1-11, 2021).

“What if you have more than one apartment? Or several houses?” I wondered.

Well, the police don’t care. Any time you are away for more than 90 days, you must first report to the police to let them know of your travel plans. And then extend it somehow from abroad if you stay away longer.

No kidding. That’s what the law here says. Apparently. At least according to that police chief’s assistant. So she had me handwrite a statement that I was away but did not know this law and that I would not do it again in the future (see above).

“Can I get a copy of that letter” I asked.

“Sure,” she replied and disappeared to make a copy.

She returned about five minutes later. “Sorry, our copy machine is busted and is making poor copies.”

I looked at her in disbelief. The first copy machine was created in 1938. That’s hardly modern technology.

“Can I take a picture of it then with my iPhone?”

“Sure,” she replied.

And I left the station shaking my head.

A COUNTRY OF THE YOUNG, THE OLD AND THE MEDIOCRE

You need to put on your rosy glasses and relax about many things here,” Bane Andjelic, a good friend of mine opined last week. “They are not going to change in a 100 years.”

Maybe not for another century. But things certainly aren’t changing for the better fast. Old habits die hard, as they say. And so do old bureaucracies.

What Serbia needs is a vigorous young generation of people who are willing to dedicate themselves to making things better not just for themselves but for the whole nation. As JFK said in his inaugural speech 60 years ago (Jan 20, 1961), “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Alas, I have not met any such people here in Serbia. Even that young policewoman is itching for a chance to leave the country. As are most young or young-middle aged people who have not yet left.

What’s left is a country of the young, the old and the mediocre.

As to what this country may look like in 100 years?

Who know if there will even be a Serbia in 100 years. Take a look at these sad statistics,

SERBIA IS DYING
Population shrinking, death rate 57% higher than birth rate

Serbia has been enduring a demographic crisis since the beginning of the 1990s, with a death rate that has continuously exceeded its birth rate. It is estimated that 300,000 people left Serbia during the 1990s, 20% of whom had a higher education. vSerbia subsequently has one of the oldest populations in the world, with the average age of 42.9 years, and its population is shrinking at one of the fastest rates in the world. A fifth of all households consist of only one person, and just one-fourth of four and more persons. Average life expectancy in Serbia at birth is 76.1 years.

So what Serbia needs is nothing short of a Messiah. Someone who will kick the sh… out of the old communist system, awaken the nation from its doldrums and reenergize it into creating a better place for all citizens not just try to enrich themselves.

Or else it will perish.

3 Replies to “AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA”

  1. Dear Bob,
    I find it very upsetting to read your journal about living in Serbia. While things you describe are all true, the slant you are giving to your stories is making them extremely negative. I am in particular irked by someone coming from the US calling Serbia a police state.

    In the US police daily kill people during routine traffic stops. In total police kill more people in the US in one day than in Serbia in five years.

    Police can seize your cash and property under suspicion that you may use it in a crime in the future and you have to prove that is not the case (civil forfeiture laws). Few succeed.

    Government conducts mass digital surveillance of the citizens. Elimination of cash is one of the more insidious tactics for the government to know exactly where you are at any time and how you spend your money.

    No-fly lists of suspected terrorists. Justice system where it is important who wins the case, not the truth. One of the consequences is that mentally ill people are executed for the crimes they may or may not have committed. And so on.

    Here in Serbia you have had unpleasant experience with the police only because you have not bothered to get acquainted with the laws of the country you came to live in, expecting that the same rules apply as do in the US. Your wife, being a landlady for a long time, knows well that you have to report to the police anyone residing in your property within 8 days.

    We are a country (like most countries in the world and all in Europe) that has a national ID card and real legal residence must be recorded in it. There is nothing particularly “police state” in those laws.

    You do not watch for traffic signs and when you are caught on camera breaking traffic laws, you call Serbia a police state. Tell me please, what would have happened in Arizona if you broke the law and then left the country for six months? There wouldn’t be a warrant for your arrest? I had one in Virginia in 1988 for unpaid parking tickets because I moved and didn’t change the address on my driving license, so the summons were repeatedly sent to the wrong address. I was actually cuffed when stopped for a traffic violation.

    I know you originally left the country because of communism, but today’s state of affairs has nothing to do with that period and are not the communist legacy. Our system of bureaucracy dates back to Austo-Hungarian Empire and is the same as in Germany and Austria. Civil servants were well trained for their job (although not very friendly in interactions with the population). I can testify, as someone who has been living here during communism, that while unpleasant it functioned quite well.

    It is democracy and multi-party system that brought it to this state of affairs. Each party coming to power, and there were many in the past 30 years, awarded its activists with positions in the administration without any concern for the qualifications. We have nurses working as agricultural inspectors and 30-year-old activists with high school diplomas and no working experience sitting on the boards of public institutions and companies. Usually they miraculously get a PhD within a year from some private university.

    All these negative things you write about as if they are exceptional. The whole of Western World is dying out. No developed country has a population growth. Western Europe is in a particularly difficult situation because of it. Even China has allowed for a third child recently because of it. Yet the way you write about it appears Serbia appears to be the only country with this problem.

    I understand you are miserable here, but promoting such a negative picture about Serbia is really below someone who has been fighting for the truth all of their life. Do not forget that I have been falsely accused and in jail for 3 months. If I were to put that into focus and view Serbia from that perspective I would have left long time ago and would have probably written the way you do.

    Compared to the US or EU, people here are free. There are far fewer restrictions of what one can and can’t do, far less surveillance, life is relaxed, people are friendly, food is by far better, nature is in a lot of places untouched and spectacular, arts scene is thriving. Yes, there is poverty, corruption, pollution, negligence but not more so than in any other European country. You make it look as if these things are particular to Serbia. So, while your facts are correct, what you write is really not the truth.

    Regards
    Bane.

    1. Thank you for expressing your thoughts so clearly and eloquently. I just want to clarify a couple of things for you. I have written much worse things about the police in the US. Here are some examples in case you’ve missed them… POLICE HARASSMENT IN AMERICA: “WHO WILL GUARD THE GUARDS” – https://truthinmedia.net/2014/10/07/police-harassment-in-america-who-will-guard-the-guards/ and OBAMA REFUSES TO REVERSE MILITARIZATION OF POLICE – https://truthinmedia.net/2014/12/02/on-police-militarization-in-america/

    2. I always speak the truth as I see it. I don’t try to wrap it or hide it in any national flag. I care about Serbia. That’s why I became a war correspondent, as you know, and spent more than a decade risking my life and the well being of my family to bring the truth out to the world about the Balkans wars. That’s why I am also now trying to awaken the sheeple from their slumber and show them that they don’t have to put up with shoddy governments and police abuses. That they deserve a better life and freedom. That fleeing the country is not the only route to a better life. If I were younger, I might run for president. Alas, now someone else will have to take the torch. Or else Serbia will slowly wither and die in the next 100 years as the sad statistics at the end of my article point out.

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