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New Europe

Day Sixty-seven: Belgrade

Michael Palin - New EuropeIt's midnight. There is ice forming on the puddles on the dockside as I step onto the gangplank of one of Belgrade's riverside nightclubs. Belgrade has a reputation as one of Europe's great clubbing cities, and nightlife here seems to mean all-night life.

I get talking to Tijana, dark-haired, petite, currently working as singer and DJ on tour in Milan, Paris and Berlin, and Jelena, a blonde TV presenter who is retraining to be a film editor.

'I think people in Serbia still feel isolated,' says Tijana. 'If they're talking about other nations and countries it's always "us" and "them".'

Jelena nods and adds that less than three per cent of Serbians under twenty-seven have a passport.

'So they don't have a chance to see anything else.'

Tijana thinks this isolation has led to Serbs being very proud of themselves, and she adds, interestingly, 'There was never a real war in Serbia, so you don't get the same feelings as if you go to Bosnia or parts of Croatia. Belgrade always had this metropolitan glitter, it was the capital city of Yugoslavia too.'

'What happened when the bombs came?'

Tijana can't suppress a smile.

'It was the greatest party ever. Nobody had to go to school, to university, to work. And nightclubs were open all day, and nobody worried about going to bed early, and you could play your music as loud as you wanted and it was... it was crazy.'

Jelena doesn't think things are going to change for the better for a generation, and Tijana thinks things are improving in Serbia, but only slowly.

'I think there is no big hatred towards other nations in the Balkans... but this damned Serbian mentality is always coming to the surface. Like things started changing very progressively, then it all stopped with the murder of Dindic [a reforming Prime Minister assassinated in 2003] and the same mentality that brought Milosevic to the top of the country is now taking things in that direction again.'

I get back to the hotel late, but the lobby is buzzing with black-clad figures. For a moment they looked like soldiers, then I realised that they're all partygoers.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixty-seven: Belgrade
  • Country/sea: Serbia
  • Place: Belgrade
  • Book page no: 163

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