< SWITCH ME >

True love can only exist between men. Micky Limun, main character in Serbian director Srđan Dragojević's new movie "Parada," a veteran from the Bosnian war and owner of a Judo gym, would probably agree without hesitation, having met friends for life on the front lines. Micky is a Serbian war hero, a macho, a hooligan, a petty crook – and highly homophobic. Thus, he is not amused when his fiancée's wedding planner offers his services only in return for him protecting a gay pride parade in Belgrade. Not an easy task in today's Serbia.

The last actual Gay Pride in Belgrade took place in 2010. 5600 policemen had to protect about 1000 activists against 6000 right-wing extremists. More than 100 people got hurt. For the last two years the parade has been cancelled due to security risks. The movie meets its viewers exactly at this point: in a macho society where the majority have resentments against homosexuals, and gays and lesbians are confronted with hostility and exclusion.

With a heavy topic like this, one would expect a niche film, a drama for intellectuals. Instead "Parada" is a comedy, and with more than half a million viewers in the Balkan states and several international awards, it is one of the most successful recent movies in the region. Being a Serbian-Croatian-Slovenian-Macedonian-Montenegrin co-production the movie seems to touch a common issue in the otherwise divided ex-Yugoslavian countries.

Published in Cafe Cinema
Saturday, 12 May 2012 18:30

Homemade Rakija, Homemade Problems

Already amazed by the hospitality of people all across Europe, Serbia yet exceeded the idea we had of hospitality and helpfulness. A few minutes after checking in at our hostel in Belgrade, a round of homemade Rakija stood in front of us. "It's on the house!", the hostel owner welcomed us. During the following night with some more Rakija and a glance at the Belgrade nightlife, we nearly forgot that we had stumbled into Serbia in the midst of an election campaign. We were reminded the next morning when some Danes, part of an NGO monitoring the upcoming elections, claimed their reservations and made us get out of bed earlier than intended. On the 6th of May, the elections affirmed the mandate of the present pro-EU government; in two weeks' time, there will be a run-off between two pro-European presidential candidates. Is Serbia inevitably heading towards the EU? (This article was originally published for the Euroskop project, a travel blog about today's Europe.)

Our perception of things gets somewhat clearer in the course of the day. Dušan, a student of law in Belgrade, takes us to the citadel atop of the city centre where we wander past stones dating back to Roman civilisation. While we enjoy the view onto the slow and mighty Danube river, Dušan gives us an insight into Serbian culture and history. It is a rich history, and Serbs are rightly proud of it: in its golden age in the 14th century, for example, Serbia established one of the first all-encompassing constitutions in the history of mankind. Many legends surround the arrival of the Ottomans, when Serbia long perceived itself as the defender of Christendom - and eventually lost. The collective memory is still marked by the 500-year Ottoman occupation thereafter. Another point of reference is the communist regime of Tito, when Yugoslavians lived relatively unbothered (when obedient) and were economically well-off - an idea of strength that today's Serbia struggles to live up to.

"Many people do not stop lamenting over those glorious pasts," Dušan complains, "I am certainly not one of them." Neither are mainstream politics of the last years when it comes to European affairs, it seems. Since the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000, the country has continuously been turning westwards. Liberal Pro-European Boris Tadić was elected president in 2004. In 2009, Serbia applied for EU membership and since early 2012, it has been an official candidate. After the elections on Sunday, nearly all the parties now represented in parliament are in favour of membership. Even the nationalist party and their leader Tomislav Nikolić, competitor to Tadić in the upcoming presidential run-off, has become an ardent promoter of the EU. The great paradox: none of the leading parties recognise Kosovo's independence. By contrast, 22 out of 27 European countries have recognised it, and some even make it the conditio sine qua non for the EU membership of Serbia. The motto "Europe and Kosovo" is completely utopian. Yet all the political driving forces boast that they will make sure Serbia joins the EU as well as keeping Kosovo.

The motto "Europe and Kosovo" is completely utopian. Yet all the political driving forces boast with it.

After our visit to the citadel, we meet Andrej Ivanij, a Serbian journalist and correspondent for Austrian and German newspapers. What is the Euro-enthusiasm of Serbian politics all about? "Politicians present the EU as a promised land. It is a story that is easily told: accede to the EU – and get money." As for ideological differences, there is no longer a right-left distinction, Ivanij assures us. The only remaining dispute is the question whether to be in favour or against EU membership. Serbian politics has flattened out: crucial issues like the 27% unemployed are not addressed, but simply put aside by the prospect of EU membership. Quite an easy way out for politicians. Many Serbians buy the story: the prospect of European funds is just too alluring.

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