STRANGECITY

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Djukic-Dejanovic: SRS You’ve Been Bad Boys and Girls

In Uncategorized on 03/31/2009 at 16:58

Now go to your rooms and think about what you’ve done.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do in this country but laugh and understand that the ever-present charade is part of the charm.

In today’s session of parliament, members of the radical party showed up wearing t-shirts boasting the face of Vojislav Seselj, who has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by The Hague Tribunal and is also the president of their party. When the radicals refused to take their “assigned” seats, president of parliament, Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, “lead them away” from the session and called a 15-minute break. Afterwords, she decided that the session just could not go on in such a manner and called the whole thing off.

While MPs in other countries at least pretend to be doing something meaningful while in session, Serbia’s MPs have decided that it’s just plain passe to pretend and have moved on to entertaining us as a circus should. It’s becoming ever more evident that public discourse isn’t concerned with political matters but which politician said what about another, and when that is the case, the honorable gentle men and women don’t attack each other’s politics, but go straight for below-the-belt insults. Moreover, today’s event is not the first or last of it’s kind, but only the latest proof that Serbia is nowhere near it’s path to the EU, but it hasn’t even started to pack it’s bags for the trip.

After all of that, I ask you, so what?

Yes, it is entirely depressing that the youth of this country is being held back by radicals in parliament and others in power who refuse to pass the laws necessary to get the country on the “white Schengen list”, among other things. It’s ridiculous that they have to stand in line like livestock to get a visa because this country’s image in the world has been entirely ruined by the previous generation, and even if they get one, after hours and days of being degraded by pretentious embassy workers, they wouldn’t have the money to go anywhere anyway because the country’s economy is stagnating. So, the country’s young people are stuck with no prospects, finishing university on an average of ten years, not working and living with their parents until they’re well into their 30s and probably in the same room as their siblings.

But, I wonder, if or when Serbia finally decides to become “civilized” and organized, hands over accused war criminals to The Hague, will it become just like every other European country? Will it lose the charm that draws and infatuates those who’ve lived in the West and come here to live and leave it all behind? Will that be a good thing?

But, those things aside, we are being well entertained, wouldn’t you say?

Now for another gem:

Some of the highlights from the gem:

Ja zbog tebe, ja zbog tebe ostavicu sve
ja bih s tobom, ja bih s tobom
ali nemas gde
ne

Ref.
Nemam nocas ja za hotel
samo, samo neku sicu
necu, dobar si u dusi
al necu, necu u jugicu
nisam, brate, ja za tante mante
volim luksuz, skupe varijante

In translation: She would you know what with him, but he’s got no money for a hotel and wants to in his Yugo. Tough though because she likes luxury and “expensive” things. However, if he had a BMW, it’d be an entirely different story.

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A Change. Of Plan(s)?

In Uncategorized on 03/26/2009 at 19:50

There’s something about this country. I can’t explain it. There’s something about it.

There’s a charm to this haphazard, chaotic place. It’s woven into and in between everything. From the 40-year-old trolley’s that run on tracks which haven’t been fixed for ages, to the out-of-style milfs with cellulite, to the childish and shy way grown people check eachother out at clubs. It’s somewhere in the way my butcher greets me when I go to buy chicken with, “dobar dan komsinice,” refering to me as his neighbour and asthough we’d grown up and played together. But, mostly it’s in the way this place seems to keep going, functioning, with so little to work with and no want for anything more because, as I said, it all just works.

Here, you feel alive, because you’re part of something that’s alive, something that hasn’t yet forgotten how to live.

I want to stay in Serbia. I want to stay in Belgrade. The problem is that I haven’t yet been able to find gainful employment. Though I believe that things work in favor of what’s supposed to happen, I also believe that it’s not shameful to admit it that things haven’t been working the way they’re supposed to.

I may have to leave Serbia, though I said I never will.

This blog is no longer objective. This blog is no longer about only the city. This blog is Belgrade and me.

The Tube

In Uncategorized on 03/26/2009 at 18:01

I may have found the Belgrade club where everything just falls into place, including the people, the music and the atmosphere.

The tube has no pretensions of being as, let’s say, “classy” as it actually is.

The outside of the club on Dobracina street, in the city’s centre, is fairly discreet, and though there’s usually a line outside, you won’t be looked up and down and price-tagged before being “allowed” in. Another plus – the bouncers don’t look like gangsters/drug dealers.

Though I am generally weary of places I have to wait to get into, I did wait, because you just have to try new things sometimes, and you get tired of going to basement clubs. Also, God knows I’ve been to Plastic, and was allowed to jump to the front of the line only because the club manager heard crowd I was with speaking English, so, I’m not exactly ashamed of being price-tagged.

As we descended the stairs, we were quickly overcome by how truly relaxing the atmosphere was. Although what who considers relaxing is rather relative, I think most would agree with me.

The club was filled with a patronage that seemed to have fought with honor and survived the war of puberty with no complexes intact, and therefore had nothing to prove. The crowd was not flashy, they smiled, and all seemed to be having down-to-earth conversations.

However, it soon became clear that there was one thing missing that is present in most Belgrade clubs, which has recently started driving me more and more towards wanting to become a hermit. This is the Balkan phenomenon of spending more time staring at others than talking to or dancing with the people you are with. The tube is price-tag/x-ray-free.

On the night I visited the Tube, the club’s regular DJ Peppe was spinning. Peppe plays a strange mix of funk and electronica and has been a staple on the Belgrade club scene for decades. He started on the scene over 20 years ago with the Belgrade Funk Brigade.

His fan base calls themselves “Peppists” and religiously follow the DJ from club to club every weekend. I met two Peppists at the place, who told me that if I didn’t end up in love with Peppe by the end of the night, they would embarrass themselves by singing Womanizer by Britney Spears with full-on choreography from the music video.

The other regular DJs are Pookie and Coba, who both have as solid of bios as Peppe.

Peppe added to the strangely relaxing mix of the club, which, surprisingly, was also put together in an interesting, minimalistic way. Most of the club is done in a sort of black fabric, with only the long, but low, table/bar in the middle.

As I write about the Tube, I am reminded of a conversation I had recently about how difficult it is to find a place to go to where the club looks nice, the people are great, and the music is at least bearable. It is difficult, though I don’t know whether you’ll sympathize with my sentiment.

For me, the Tube is that place. Everything fell into place and I, yes I, agreed with the look, people, and music of the place.

The only complaint I had about the Tube is that the drinks are a bit on the pricy side, with the average mixed drink going for 500 dinars.

That aside, I would recommend you check out the place, if for no other reason than to see whether out tastes coincide.

The Tube
Dobracina 12

Bitef Art Cafe

In Uncategorized on 03/26/2009 at 17:58

This Dorcol club is a aesthetically pleasing escape from the techno-charged and smoke-filled basement scene.

Located behind the Bajloni open market in the Mira Trailovic Square, this club has achieved a cult following among Belgrade intellectuals of all generations. However, it’s not pretentious or stuck up. Quite on the contrary, it’s very warm and welcoming.

Perhaps this is so because of the type of people that visit Bitef Art. I had a poetry professor once who said that there are two types of intellectuals. The first type are those that have become bitter because of an understanding that the world is one giant unjust mess and blah, blah, blah, and have now decided to sit around and judge everything around them and talk about it at length. The second type are those who have come to terms with this fact, realised that they can’t really change anything, and have decided to laugh about it.

The people of Bitef Art are the second type, and though I didn’t speak with each individual there, I will go out on a limb and say that they were out to have a good time judging by their enthusiastic dancing.

I visited Bitef Art on a Tuesday, when, unbeknownst to me at the time, they have their karaoke night. Had I known it was a karaoke night, I would not have gone because when I think of karaoke, I think of poorly lit basement bars, a horrible sound system, and Midi-type audio files playing in the background of a drunk 19-year-old who can’t sing.

But, at Bitef Art, t’was not so.

When we first walked in, we didn’t realise that what we were listening to was indeed karaoke. There was a live band, backup singers and two hosts, one of which was B92 radio-show Igor Brakus. In addition, the exceptional thing about this karaoke night is that the singers weren’t the only ones enjoying the music, the crowd was dancing and engaging them.

The club’s centre of focus is the stage, which has a number of variations and shapes depending on the event in question, and it’s almost as though the rest of the club evolved from the it.

At stage-left there is a balcony, which was constructed in such a way to give the club a sort of airy feel. In other words, the fact that there aren’t two floors, but rather a balcony means that the ceiling is higher and frees one of the claustrophobia/paranoia present in most basement clubs.

Now, since we’re on the topic of basement clubs like Francuska Sobarica, there is also another very specific point to delve into as far as Bitef Art is concerned. In the Sobarica, I have on a number of occasions been on the verge of tobacco poisoning because of the lack of ventilation. Though I am a smoker, I’ve become weary of too much cigarette smoke. In Bitef Art, most people don’t smoke, which is a relief.

It’s also not very dark in the place. This is because of the very thoughtful lighting system.

I would recommend you check out Bitef Art on a Tuesday, however, the club offers a number of other options like themed nights, and live jazz bands.

Bitef Art Cafe
Skver Mire Trailovic 1
063 594 294 Bitef Art Cafe

Francuska Sobarica

In Uncategorized on 03/26/2009 at 17:56

Everyone’s always been a bit suspicious of my obsession with gay clubs. I’m not talking about gay and lesbian clubs, I mean clubs for gay men. They don’t seem to understand the inherent charm of a place where no one in the place will even turn to look at you, much less check you out. Knowing this gives you endless freedom to act, well, like an absolute moron, which makes for an infinitely more beautiful night than a visit to a standard Belgrade meat market like Club BlayWatch by Hotel Yugoslavia.

Francuska Sobarica is not a gay club, but the ladies and gentlemen frequenting the place are so incredibly out of it, that there’s basically the same effect of a gay club.

“Whatever do you mean, Vanja?”, you may be asking yourself. So, as we say in journalism – show, don’t tell, so I’ll let facts do the talking.

The last time I visited the Sobarica, approximately 45 per cent of the population was over 45, according to an infallible head count I did. On the other hand, a completely infantile 17-year-old, wearing his grandma’s track sweater and work-out shoes from the early ’80s and white sunglasses, was doing something, which to me looked like an aerobic workout, in the middle of the crowd. A group of trashed metal-heads in the back of the dance floor were swaying and screaming. A group of five hipsters, wearing shawls, tight pants, infallibly perfect shoes were standing in another corner.

It was in this unimaginable mix of people that one realizes that they can do no wrong. The people I was with and I decided, since there was absolutely no prospect of meeting a sane human being that night, to act like the biggest morons there, and therefore had a good night.

The Sobarica is  a bit difficult to get to if you don’t know how to get there to begin with. It’s on Francuska street in the centre of town. There are no signs outside of what looks like an abandoned residential building. Once you walk through the door, and go through the courtyard of the building, you find yourself in the basement club.

The club is nothing special as far as the decor goes, and looks like any average club anywhere in the world. In addition, it’s fairly small.

It’s my recommendation that you completely avoid the place on the weekends and go there on Tuesdays, when the music is not the standard techno from the late ’90s, but rather a mix of indie and ’80s pop.

However strange it seems for me to say this, I do recommend the place, though I may be a bit biased. Why? Well, I was never a very nostalgic person, but, recently, I’ve been looking for a place that reminds me of those run-down, back alley places in somewhat dangerous parts of town you go to in America because, well, you’re that kid. The Sobarica reminds of these places, and has, over time, become close to my heart.

Francuska Sobarica
Francuska 12

Everything You Need to Know About Belgrade Taxi Norms

In Uncategorized on 03/26/2009 at 17:54

Annie Nieman was visiting a friend in Belgrade. She arrived on a train, and stopped a taxi to take to her friend’s apartment near Cvetkov open market on Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra. The ride should have cost no more than 600 dinars, but the driver charged Nieman €50 (roughly 4,600 dinars).

What Nieman didn’t know that it’s common knowledge that you’re not supposed to take a taxi right in front of the train station, bus station, or airport because these drivers are usually not with a trusted company, and often have rigged, too-fast metres.

Nieman says that her friend threw a fit when she found out how much she had paid for the ride.

“But, how was I supposed to know? No one told me how much a taxi is supposed to cost, and the driver said my friend’s apartment was far away,” Nieman told Balkan Insight.

There are many such horror stories, and many new comers to the city are often taken advantage of by shameless drivers. And, through Belgrade taxis are cheap when compared to those of other capital cities, if you’re not keeping an eye out, you may be short-changed like Nieman was.

In addition, many taxi drivers in the city are often reckless. They drive on tram rail lines, or in between lanes during rush hour, and are most often speeding. They also very much dislike taking passengers on short rides.

It is important that you only take taxi’s that are licensed with a company. The quick way to tell if a driver is licensed is to pay attention to their marker on the top of the car. If a car is licensed, they will have the company name and the driver’s identification number on them. Unlicensed drivers usually only have a white marker with the word “TAXI” on it.

Inside the taxi, a price list and the driver’s identification card, with the city’s blue coat of arms, must be clearly displayed. The fare should be displayed on the metre, which should also be in clear view.

Since July of 2008, the starting fee for a taxi is 119 dinars. The per-kilometre rate is 49 dinars at the low tariff (Mon to Sat 06:00 – 22:00) or 52 dinars at the high tariff (Mon to Sat 22:00 – 06:00, Sunday and public holidays).

It is often cheaper to call a taxi by phone, and some taxi companies offer a 20 per cent discount. The Beogradski taksi company uses normal daily rates for rides during the night, weekends and even on public holidays. They also offer fixed rates to the airport.

Generally speaking, there should be no extra charge for luggage, but if the driver wishes to charge you he is required to say so before the ride or you don’t have to pay. In addition, some drivers may agree to transport pet(s), though they are not required to do so.

As far as tipping is concerned, tipping is not expected, though it is appreciated if you round off the fare. The tip may be as little as 10 dinars.

Have you’ve been wondering where to sit in the cab, since many Belgraders sit in the passenger’s seat with the driver? There is no social norm about where to sit, and you will not be considered rude if you sit in the back.

Crisis? What Crisis?

In Uncategorized on 12/20/2008 at 01:19

Though there may be fewer Christmas gifts under the tree this year in the rest of the world, the city’s retailers say they haven’t felt the effects of the global slump.

If you were in Belgrade last year during December, you may remember how crowded the city’s shops and malls were when the pre-New Year sales started. This year, though many stores have started their sales already, the shopping districts and malls seem nowhere near as packed and the shopping hysteria we saw during the 2007 holiday season seems to be missing.

Whilst retailers across the world seem to be in meltdown, predicting some of the worst Christmas sales in decades, Belgrade analysts and retailers say that there hasn’t been much change in sales volume when compared to last year, adding that the global financial slump hasn’t yet affected Belgraders’ spending.

In the US, despite heavy discounts and limited-time deals on goods, the average holiday shopper has bought much less than last year, according to a survey by the country’s National Retail Federation which showed that over 47 per cent of shoppers had not yet finished their gift shopping by the second week of December. A massive 41 million people haven’t yet started shopping. Moreover, according to another survey published by America’s Research Group and UBS, over 40 per cent of shoppers say they will spend less this year.

The situation is much the same in the UK, where iconic brands such as Woolworths have slipped into receivership and retailers have been frantically scrambling to re-negotiate lease contracts and payment terms. According to a Confederation of British Industry survey, 67 per cent of retailers reported lower sales in the first two weeks of December, compared to the same period last year.

But, it seems that shoppers will keep buying in Belgrade for the time being. Bosko Trmcic, of Serbia’s Ministry for Statistics, said that he expects consumption to plummet much later than it has in the rest of the world. Though discretionary spending statistics for November and December haven’t yet been published, he added that he doesn’t expect to see change much from this time last year.

“We are expecting a slight fall in consumption in November, but the financial crisis hasn’t affected the country yet as it has the European Union,” Trmic said.

“This fall happened in the EU over two months ago, and I’m not sure when it will happen in Serbia. It will, just not yet,” he added.

Trmic said that November discretionary spending is nearly always smaller than that of October, and he expects that the numbers this year will be slightly lower, but not significantly.

In 2007, 22 per cent of Serbian household income was spent on discretionary goods. By the third quarter of 2008, discretionary had nudged ahead by .5 to 22.5 per cent.

Retailers agree with analysts that the financial crisis hasn’t affected holiday shopping.

“Currently we don’t have any pre-New Year discounts, but nevertheless, we haven’t felt that shoppers are spending any less than they were spending last year,” said Lidija Pintic, manager of Mango at Delta City.

Jelena Bukazic, manager of the Esprit store in Delta City, echoed Pintic, saying “We have started to discount because we do this every year and not because of the financial crisis. There really hasn’t been a change and people are spending as much as they do every year during this time.”

Gay Belgrade Remains Locked ‘in the Closet’

In Uncategorized on 12/13/2008 at 00:37

Serbian capital’s small lesbian and gay community has learned to safely maneuver what they see as often hostile streets.

Graffiti declaring “Send Karadzic to The Hague” had appeared one day on “Eifranloo’s” street. Later that day, walking back home, a man he describes as a neo-Nazi was standing next to the graffiti.

“He started yelling: ‘Do you know who drew this? I’m looking for the person who did this because only a fag could have written this, and you look like one. Did you?'”

Eifranloo, 20, who wants to be referred to only by his nickname, says he just kept on walking, ignoring the thug’s comments. He says he has learned how to avoid conflict of this sort.

Eifranloo has been living in Belgrade for over a year, and avoids outright expressions of his sexuality in public. When walking on the street with his boyfriend, he certainly doesn’t hold his hand.

“Belgrade is pretty anti-gay, but also anti-anything that deviates from the Balkan norm,” he says. “However, I don’t feel unsafe. I’ve learned how to act, but I think that if a foreigner came to Belgrade and wasn’t aware of how to keep his sexuality hidden, he’d run into trouble. In this city you have to think hard before you make any move.”

Many activists, and people, from the gay and lesbian community, echo these sentiments. They say that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender scene in Belgrade is very small precisely because of the unwelcoming and often homophobic atmosphere. They believe this is rooted in several systematic failures, such as the refusal of the police to offer adequate protection and in the unwillingness of most politicians to be associated with “anything gay”.

Public attitudes in Serbia have yet to reflect the sweeping changes that have been made in Western countries in recent decades in relation to lesbian and gay visibility.

A study by the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy found that 70 per cent of Serbs still see homosexuality as a disease. More than 50 per cent of people in Serbia think state institutions should work to prevent homosexuality, and 50 per cent also think that homosexuality poses a danger to society.

Recently, however, Queeria, an organization for the promotion of queer culture, received a €3,000 grant from the Ministry of Culture for the development of a website. This was the first time an LGBT group had received any funding at all from the Serbian government.

“In this country, we experience violence, we experience hate, we experience discrimination, but the problem that Queeria tries to highlight is political disqualification, which is by far the most damaging,” says Slobodan Stojanovic, a member of the organisation.

“To be honest, this is a fairly small grant, but the minute this became public there was a discussion about who works in this ministry, and whether they are gay, or married,” he said, adding that the tone of the discussions only highlighted the way in lesbians and gays remained outside political life.

Predrag Azdejkovic, also of Queeria, echoed Stojanovic’s statement, saying that the reasons that contributed to the small size of the gay scene in Belgrade went very deep.

“The gay population faces many negative messages on a daily basis, which differ in intensity from attacks on one’s dignity to death threats,” Azdejkovic said.

“These messages lead to fear, retreat from public life, and hiding, and often result in you starting to hate yourself,” he added, explaining that this was why many gay Belgraders chose to remain “in the closet”.

However, Azdejkovic said Belgrade was still less homophobic than other Serbian towns and cities such as Jagodina, Krusevac, and Cacak.

Boris Milicevic, an LGBT activist and program manager of Belgrade’s gay club, Apartman, said the city had a population advantage over Jagodina, Krusevac and Cacak.

“The advantage of Belgrade is that it is a city of 2 million, so you can hide there more easily than in smaller towns. And since Belgrade is the capital, LGBT groups can more easily pressure the government,” Milicevic said.

Milicevic added that although Belgrade’s gay scene was small, it did exist. There were now several clubs like Apartman, Toxic and Black.

A source, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not an “out” activist, told Belgrade Insight that gay clubs in Belgrade were neither public nor mainstream for safety reasons.

This 22-year-old student from New Belgrade added: “The scene here is pretty undercover. If everyone knew where these places were, who knows what might happen?”

He agreed with Eifranloo that he has learned to act in order to stay safe in Belgrade.

“I can’t hold my boyfriend’s hand when we’re walking down the street, I’m used to that,” he said. “I don’t expect this to change. This the Balkans, after all.”

Danguba – The Beauty of Southeastern Europe

In Uncategorized on 11/09/2008 at 13:13

Hey, remember when glam metal was cool? I don’t. But, for the sake of argument, I’ll assume it’s because this movement overtook the world before I was born. Or, maybe, I’ve been oblivious to its prevailing influence. Maybe, I’ve been living in an isolated Indie circle for far too long.

 

I have to admit, when we walked into Danguba, I felt a bit uneasy. As we descended the stairs to this tiny, dark club, I swear, time warped and we were on the set of a Whitesnake music video. I’d never seen so much teased hair in one place before, and, God, I didn’t think they made leather jackets anymore.

 

“How is this possible?” I thought to myself. “It was 2008 a few seconds ago!”

 

But, then:

 

“No, Vanja, you have to give it a chance. Your hipster friends can’t save you now. This is what you get for making fun of them then. This is assimilation. This … is karma.”

 

Who said that?

 

Fine. So, I gave it a chance.

 

We squeezed our way to the front, settled in next to this one guy I was told to avoid at all cost – apparently, everyone there knew each other. 

 

The cover band, Pro rock, was lead by a greasy haired man in a black cut-off t-shirt and ripped jeans. He was screaming Shot Through the Heart by Bon Jovi.

 

As the night progressed, I calmed down. Yes, I even danced a bit. At one point, I found myself in sync with the place. A familiar tune came from the synthesizer, a tune people the world over would instantaneously recognize, and before the lead singer could begin, the entire crowd – me included – was yelling “I, I just died in your arms tonight, it must have been something you said, I just died in your arms tonight.”

 

Although, however pretentious you may be when it comes to music, I know you’ve listened and danced to this song when no one was around. You may have even played it on repeat. Several times.

 

I am still a bit in denial about what happened that night. I think I experienced musical freedom.

 

It was then that I came to understand the beauty of Danguba – it isn’t your typical Belgrade scene. In fact, it’s a bit of a place to escape the smashing Janet Jackson look-a-likes my colleagues Zoran Milosavljevic and Richard Wordsworth keep writing about, and that in itself is a bit of a charm.

 

One of the most interesting things about Danguba is that everyone is really there just to have a good time listening to music they truly enjoy. That’s something you have to appreciate, no matter what your tastes may be.

 

In other words, I’m recommending the place, but don’t tell anyone I did.

 

To get in is heinously cheap, only at 100 dinars. The drinks follow in the same vein, with nearly everything under the 100 dinar mark.

 

 

Klub Danguba

Cirila i Metodija 2