An American in Serbia: From a Writer’s Notebook
Late night walk through downtown Belgrade uncovers familiar and some new sights and memories
If this were New York., Chicago or Los Angeles, I would think twice before going out for a late night walk. But this is Belgrade, the city which the savages who call themselves the “leaders of the free world” tried to destroy with their bombs and missiles not that long ago (1999). So I never gave safety even a passing thought when I walked out on Saturday night around 10 PM for a stroll through the city’s many parks and streets.
It was a beautiful balmy night with a nearly full moon joining the dance of street lights and floodlights which male downtown Belgrade look like its Christmas year round. I had just finished an evening session at my white piano and felt like some fresh air.
As I walked from my home to the nearby Parliament Building and on to various other points of interest that had meant something to me in the past, I marveled how wonderfully the city has recovered in the last two decades years from the war-torn haggard look I remember when I strolled these streets as a war correspondent in the 1990s.
NOVI DVOR (NEW PALACE)
I paused when I got to the building which is now known as Serbian Presidency. It used to be the royal court of the Karadjordjevic dynasty.
A little over a year ago, by pure chance, Elizabeth and I witnessed here the changing of the guards. We were just walking toward the Presidency building through the Pioneer park. And I was telling her about my first meeting there with the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in Jan 1990. And the changing of the guards ceremony started.
CHANGING OF THE GUARDS AT SERBIA’S PRESIDENTIAL PALACE – BELGRADE, SERBIA – JUNE 16, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic
Here are now some shots of the Serbian Presidency building, aka New Palace, I took on Saturday night.
STARI DVOR (OLD PALACE)
Across the lawn adorned with a fountain and beautiful flower alleys lies an even grander palace which is now the Belgrade City Hall. Like the Presidency building, it was also originally a royal court – that of the Obrenovic dynasty. When I was growing up here, my family still used to refer to it as Stari Dvor (Old Palace).
The Old Palace was partially destroyed on April 6, 1941, Orthodox Easter, during Hitler’s first bombing of Belgrade. Similarly, NATO bombed Belgrade on Apr 6, 1999, also Orthodox Easter (see American Adolf, Truth in Media). And NATO also targeted Milosevic’s home in Dedinje on Apr 22, 1999, the day before they also bombed the Serb TV building killing 16 civilians.
“Birds of a feather flock together”…
(Hitler-Nazis, Clinton-NATO – in case the allusion is too obscure for you. The above wartime art image of Bill Clinton makes the same point quite explicitly).
RUSSIAN CZAR NIKOLAI II MEMORIAL
When I crossed the Kralja Milana (Kind Milan) street to take a look at a monument I saw on the other side, it felt as if I had gone from the past into the future. Because I have never seen this memorial before. Indeed, it was erected in 2014, but it actually took us even further into the past.
The quote I translated above etched on the pink marble of the monument is particularly poignant. It was a promise by Czar Nikolai II from his July 1914 letter to Aleksandar Karadjordjevic that Russia would stand by Serbia in the coming World War.
Which Russia did. Morally. But not militarily. Russia was too far, too weak and mired in its own problems and wars against Germany and Austria, to be able to come to Serbia’s aid. But it is the thought that counts, as they say.
In 1918, Czar Nikolai II paid with his own life and that of his family as the communist mob took over the empire. Meanwhile, Serbian army, originally forced to retreat into Greece by the Austro-German offensive in 1915, had fought back and liberated not just its own country, but all other Slavic lands to the Austrian border. This led to the birthing of a new country by the Treaty of Versailles, the country of South Slavs – Yugoslavia.
Standing in front of this memorial, I realized why the July 17, 2018 memorial procession turned at Terazije on King Milan street and headed this way. This memorial was probably their ultimate destination (see SERBIA REMEBERS NIKOLAI II… AND HONORS RUSSIAN CZAR AND HIS FAMILY, SLAIN 100 YEARS AGO (July 17 – at TRUTH IN MEDIA).
DOUBLE FRESHMAN – AT UNIVERSITY AND HIGH SCHOOL
I continued walking along King Milan street toward the Manjež Park. I used to stay with my relatives at the nearby Njegoševa street, and play in this park with my cousin of about the same age.
This is also where I attended the first year of the Conservatory of Music while still simultaneously being a high school freshman in Sremska Mitrovica. I was also tutored privately by at the time a renowned professor at the Conservatory.
So I was sort of a double freshman for one year – at the university as well as high school.
All that came to an abrupt halt after my father “took me to the woodshed” and convinced me to give up music and become an engineer. But the memories of my one year at the Music Conservatory as a 15-year old remained. And they came gushing back on Saturday night. With sadness and regret that I let my father hold sway over me when I was 15.
Also see… the current Music Conservatory webstie – http://www.fmu.bg.ac.rs/
MANJEŽ PARK BRINGS BACK BROKEN HEART MEMORY
The Manjež park, which also houses the Yugoslav Drama Theater where one of my uncles and aunt was an actors, left a broken heart scar when I was a junior at the university. There was a restaurant back then by that name which was the start of a torrid love affair which flamed out six months later on the Montenegrin coast.
The name manjež, by the way, means dressage. There were horse stables and a royal riding school here all the until 1931.
I continued on from Manjež to the Cvetni Trg (Flower Square) where I spent a good deal of time in my youth with my cousin who lived on Njegoševa street. The square looks nice and modern now. But the old flower shops are gone. Only a couple of contemporary ones remain. And the building in which my cousin lives is now a cultural monument marked by the plaque you can see above.
KOSOVO –> EU — NO PASARÁN (SHALL NOT PASS)
On my way back home, I passed again the Parliament Building, but this time on the other side. And I noticed for the first time a large banner in front of it. I have no idea who put it there. But the message was clear. Kosovo must not be admitted to the EU.
The phrase NO PASARÁN sounded awfully familiar to me. I knew it was Spanish. And I knew it was used in the Spanish Civil War (1938-1939). It felt almost like I spoke it.
Back home, I found its origin. And it was indeed Spanish. During the Siege of Madrid , those words were spoken by Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, a member of the Communist Party of Spain, in her famous “No pasarán” speech on 19 July 1936.
Well, the communists lost and the fascists did take over Spain.
Meanwhile, Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia was enacted on 17 February 2008. The independence has not been recognized by Serbia, nor by five out of 28 EU member states, and much of the rest of the world (see the map)
And so ended the night of a “night owl on the prowl” through the Belgrade streets.