Monday, January 17, 2011


Though Serbs tend to go through life with a short-term focus, the ten changing to eleven is a clear-cut way for them to recognize time’s passing. And this evidence of senescence (what a fun word) brought many a conversation about Serbian politics, problems, and lack of change at literally every gathering of friends and family. Much of the time in such gatherings was spent laughing, reflecting, eating, and dancing and most of this was done in Serbian but if they could speak English they graciously spoke in this tongue when discussing these heavier matters for my benefit.

Everyone agreed that times were bad in the Milosevic era from 1989-2001, but most contend that times are still just as bad if not worse because the world economy has declined and because things are more complicated. Last October was a milestone for Serbia as a decade in a tried democracy. Milosevic was taken down in October of 2001 and after that fair elections were held and the government was reorganized. This reorganization intended to create a more stable and fair political structure but from the public’s perspective it just created a more complex design for figuring out who’s at fault. My host dad said “Milosevic was wrong and everyone knew” but now with the various ministries and levels within each the public cannot track the actions of each. Even though they now have the right to vote they don’t know who’s doing what so they don’t want to vote at all, either because they don't want to be uneducated voters or because they have lost interest, hope, and faith in the government and for most unfortunately it’s the latter. I too cannot keep track of the various wings of Serbia’s local, regional, and national government and my host dad said the only thing to remember is that “everyone’s corrupt, everyone’s promising and not doing, and everyone’s taking bribes.” Obviously this is greatly exaggerated but similar statements are consistently followed by nods and various sounds of agreement which implies that the public believes this to be true, almost invalidating the fact that there are good politicians out there.

My host mom talked about the health care system now and in the 90s claiming that ideally it should be better now because it’s supposed to be paid for by the government through work but that actually it’s worse now because employers (her employers for instance) aren’t signing and submitting the necessary documents and instead pocketing the money for their company. Since no one knows who in the ministry of health is supposed to monitor this process the fraud is going unnoticed and she’s left without health care. As for unemployment, Serbia has proof of the poor economy with 80% of its working population without a job.

The overall consensus of the past decade seemed to be that times aren’t better, just more confusing, and perhaps the worst part is that it’s diluting Serbia’s only personal exposure to democracy. My host uncle said “that’s what democracy does” after hashing out the past ten years. They aren’t living in good examples of democracy and capitalism so their views are being turned against them, and since the US is working with the government people think that the US is trying to impose their system “on the rest of the broken world” (host dad).

Strasno was the most common word used in these conversations and it means terrible. Serbia’s current state really is terrible and neither I nor those who've contributed in these talks have a clue how to help.

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