May 3, 2023. I am on the plane from Warsaw to Podgorica. It has been almost 11 years since my last visit to Montenegro - country where I lived from Aug 2010 till Dec 2011. Also it is 9 years since my last visit to Balkans in general. In May 2014 I was in Macedonia where I took quick decision to move to the United States.
I hold many nice memories about this region. I remember many nice people that I have met.
But today I want to tell you small less pleasant story. It’s about nationalism and stereotypes. I will try not to make any conclusions. It is just one story.
When you are in Balkans it’s hard to escape the topic of Balkans wars. I recommend you to watch BBC documentary on this topic.
Every country experienced these wars in very different way. Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia - each had their own story. I am not going to describe it here.
The elephant in the room is ofc Serbia. When you travel in other countries you may hear some sad stories of broken families of people surviving siege and so on. But when the discussion touched Serbia you quickly learn that they have former generals who became war criminals who never have been prosecuted and just hide in small Serbian villages. For a while you cannot comprehend that. How is that possible? It’s one thing to commit crimes and another not to prosecute people who did them.
So back to 2011. I live in Podgorica and decide to spend a weekend in Belgrade. I don’t need visa to visit Serbia and it is not going to be my first time there. I buy overnight bus ticked and reserve hostel for one night.
At the middle of the night bus reaches the borders. All the passports are collected. After 5 minutes bus driver comes to me and asks me to go talk to the officers. Those are guys with kalashnikovs in the uniform. They ask me where am I going. I tell them I want to spend a weekend in Belgrade and I have my hostel reservation. I show confirmation for the payment I made to the hostel's confirmation printed from my email. They tell me that this document is not enough - that I need to get “formal invitation from the hostel" printed on actual paper.
I told them that in all other countries my confirmation and receipt is usually enough. Officer tells me with the smile “this is not other country, this is Serbia”, he takes his feast and makes double tap on his heart while saying “Serbia”. It looks a bit surreal and I am just smiling - he and his friends are smiling, it’s clear it will not be possible to change their mind. It’s a middle of the night and they clearly enjoy making my life more difficult. Bus driver gets nervous (everything lasted like 5 minutes), he tells me take my things from the bus.
Luckily at the exact same time there was stopped bus that was going the other way. I took my backpack and boarded bus back to Podgorica.
This was the only time in my life when I wasn’t allowed to enter some country. It was surreal experience not because of the result but because of the words and emotions of the border officers.
In those people I can definitely see how some soldiers would take extra pleasure torturing people 20 years ago somewhere in Bosnia. To reject someone is fine, to reject someone and derive pleasure from it - it’s a bit psychotic.
That is the story. I had more on Serbia and Balkans. I will write it next time.