Beograd Zdravo!

So I finally met Mr Popovic–he really exists! And his old world charm was very much in line with my fantasies of an Hercule Poirot figure and Shoba n I had a grand time getting sightseeing tips from him in French…. tho she was struck by the fact that he didn’t mention Tito’s mausoleum as a must-see whereas he did recommend the Palais Royales. I think her leftist sensibilities were a bit peeved!!It is true that most Serbs love Tito and give him a rating of 11 on a scale of 1-10! ( Francis Tapon, Hidden Europe 314). As do those of us from the “third world” who grew up during the cold war and were fans of the non-aligned movement which allowed us to feel a little bit in control of our destinies by avoiding the overt need to submit to either of the super power camps. Despite the fact that the man was a dictator whose socialism allowed him nonetheless to acquire 32 homes over a 35 year one-man rule of Yugoslavia- many in our generation admired Tito for the same reasons the Serbian peoples did: he kept the country independent, he was politically savvy by extracting money from both the soviets and the Americans without falling into either camp, he blended Yugoslavia’s many factions ( he himself was half Croatian and half Slovenian and married to a Serbian)- and he truly crushed all forms of nationalism, cracking open the tribal mindset of the Balkanians. During his “reign”‘Yugoslavia did pretty well economically. But after the break up of the country following Tito’s death at the end of the 20th C- the economy went to shambles and the old stereotypes of the violent, crime ridden Balkans have re-emerged- though in recent years things have started to improve after the end of the war that destroyed so much, leaving the region a symbol once again of the horrors of ethnic cleansing. Well– driving into our Airbnb this morning and later walking around the part of town we’re staying in- Shoba n I were struck by the shabbiness of the buildings- the Beograd train station is closed for renovation- and general impression is of a third world country, not Europe. In fact, Belgrade is reminding me of Karachi and Shoba of cities in India. Maybe Popovic just wanted visitors to his city to see something reminiscent of the glamor of yesteryear in Serbian history….But we did see a newspaper with Noam Chomsky on the cover- and across from our Airbnb, a Cuba youth hostel…. socialist ideals seem to live on. We enjoyed an Italian dinner ( irredentism!!)– some Roumani violin playing by a man who could have been from Rajasthani ( Shoba dancing to the strains of his strings… check out the video below!)–and posing in front of the Cuban hostel as a reminder of our memorable travels to Havana in 2011. Check out my article on our Cuba trip in counterpunch here https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/28/unforgettable-cuba/

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