Growing up in 2000s Serbia

, by Goran Miletic

Growing up in 2000s Serbia
The Yugoslavia national basketball team that won the 1989 FIBA EuroBasket, two years before war broke out. Wikipedia Commons.

Throughout my childhood international media traditionally branded my country as the home of murderers, while the national one either ignored the Yugoslavian War or blamed it on third parties. It was therefore almost inevitable that I grew up surrounded by questions regarding my identity. What did my country represent? And after a thousand years of history in the European continent, surely our values were similar to those of the rest of Europe?

The Yugoslavian wars broke a nation created, after World War One, in an attempt to ensure peace and unity in the Balkan region, which had only recently been liberated from the Ottomans and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Thirty years after the conflict, six sovereign and independent states have emerged – to which, in 2008, Kosovo was added.

Although I was born soon after the Kosovo War, I was never raised in a nationalistic environment. My parents would, here and then, mention the time when “They bombarded us. We could hear the planes in the skies, heading for Niš but that was it.’’ With”they", I always assumed they meant the Western Europe and the USA. And even though my father was mobilized in both the Yugoslavian and the Kosovo War, I did not grown up listening to his war stories; in fact, my father shared little to nothing about his experience in the Army.

I would lie if I pretended my father liked Ustashas and Bosnian Muslims. He was, after all, a product of his time, where not doing so would see you branded as an anti-Serb, a disgrace to our Christian values. That being said, his own political views were not shaped by religion or ethnicity: many Muslims still live in southern Serbia, and we have close family relatives in neighboring Croatia. Rather than disliking Croatians, Albanians or Bosnians, my parents’ hate was (and still is) targeted at the Yugoslavian regime at the time, which they viewed as corrupt and incompetent.

His love for Yugoslavia goes deeper than a communist regime which he neither disapproved of, nor particularly liked. Nor was it rooted in absurd notions of a Greater Serbia. His love for Yugoslavia was patriotic: the unity of the Balkan nations, after centuries of common suffering and pain under foreign powers brought together for the common good. This was the country he loved, and that in which he was born. My parents were born Yugoslavians (albeit in its Serbian part) at a time where nationalism had not yet fully erupted.

When, in 2008, Kosovo broke away from Serbia, my parents were worried Serbia would mobilize the Armed Forces again, in a move that could lead to another war. War was the last thing anyone in the Balkans wanted. Kosovo became a taboo topic in our house. My parents are not truly religious as much as they are traditionalists, who follow Serbian traditional Orthodox Christianity. We never visited Kosovo, never planned to go or have anything to do with it.

Our lives have not changed since Kosovo declared independence, and will remain unchanged whenever Serbia formally recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign independent country. However, the mainstream opinion was that ‘Kosovo still was Serbia’ and that by losing Kosovo, Serbia would lose its historical, religious and moral center. Nothing further from the truth. Although we would all rather our country preserved its territorial integrity, Kosovo is out of our grasp: both countries would do well in moving on, allowing us to focus on a future of happiness and prosperity.

After the Yugoslavian Wars, Serbs have been branded a people of bloodthirsty, non-European barbarians who lost any remaining humanity by terrorizing Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovar people. In my humble opinion, this is a grave mistake Europe should not commit. Many Serbs feel a close connection to fellow Europeans and to European values, which they associate themselves with. As we enter another decade, Serbia is no longer the country it was in the 1990s. I sincerely hope that, throughout this decade, the Serbian people and government strive towards membership of the European Union, and finally re-integrate with the rest of the Continent.

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