Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reflection: никад више = never again = nie wieder?

The title of this post refers to a German slogan that arose after WWII: Nie wieder Fascismus, which means "never again fascism". At the memorial park in Kragujevac, we saw a monument stating something to the effect of, in Serbian, "never again a massacre like this". (Kragujevac was the site of where Nazi soldiers executed 2000+ Serbian civilians over two days in revenge for battle losses they suffered.)

But, in light of occurrences like what happened in Srebrenica, one questions how sincerely has Serbia (and other countries in the Balkans) taken this pledge to never again commit massacres of civilians? And, how guilty do they feel about such massacres?

These questions bring me to a comparison of Germany and Serbia's post-war national mindsets. First, we have to recognize that Serbia is less than 20 years removed from the Bosnian War, and just 13 years removed from the Kosovo conflict and being bombed by NATO forces. Germany is now almost 70 years past the end of WWII. Second, we have to recognize that the scales of the two military campaigns (Germany's and Serbia's) are vastly different, as are the acts committed by each side. Nevertheless, both countries are seen as largely having been "at fault" in their respective wars.

Serbian teenagers and older still remember the NATO bombing, and many harbor suspicions that the U.S. and Israel are conspiring to make Serbia a puppet territory for "the West". Teenagers' fathers and grandfathers may have fought in the Serbian army, and may still think the country was better off under Milosevic. Few Germans are still alive who lived through WWII. Post-war Germany, besides becoming an economic powerhouse, has been characterized by a pervasive sense of guilt and need for reconciliation. When I was in Germany in 2000-01, living in a student dormitory, German students would frequently want to discuss their regret and guilt over what occurred under Hitler's regime. In our brief time in Serbia, the recent wars were largely not discussed, except when it came to NATO's bombing. That is not to say that no wars were discussed at all - Serbia's military prowess against the Ottoman Turks and Austro-Hungarian forces were highlighted repeatedly.

The only time I heard a Serbian refer with a sense of regret to the recent wars was in our discussion with an English class at the university. I can't remember exactly what the context was, but I think a student had asked us what we thought of Serbia, given the atrocities that occurred in the Bosnian war. His using of the word "atrocities" stood out to me, since it implicitly acknowledges shame or regret for what happened.

A more macro-level difference in the two countries' mindsets has to do with nationalism. For most of the time since WWII, nationalism in Germany was frowned upon and usually associated with neo-Nazi movements. From what I saw, it wasn't until hosting the 2006 World Cup, and Germany's successful run to 3rd place in it, that Germans were encouraged to be proud of their country, and could fly German flags without guilt. Serbians, however, have no qualms about displaying their national pride. (In fact, a Serbian would probably read that last sentence and ask "Why should we have qualms?) In a continent where European unity and Western ideals are strived for, Serbia has stubbornly resisted these pressures, in contrast with Germany, who has been a strong proponent of the E.U. and the U.S. From what I've read and experienced, this strong sense of national pride comes from the combination of the Serbian orthodox church (84% of the country is Orthodox), and Serbia's long history of military battles with neighboring powers.

But, as the EU becomes increasingly important and powerful in the world, will Serbia revolt and stay centered in itself, or evolve and find its place in a unified Europe? Or, develop a recognition that one can still be proud of being Serbian, but not proud of all everything that Serbia has done, yet still maintain national pride and work together with Europe without compromising its hard-fought-for ideals?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back in the USA

We left our hostel at 3:30am this morning and saw the Serbian sunrise from the airport.  We arrived back in Winchester a bit before 6:00pm.  All of us were sad to say farewell to Serbia, but glad to be back in the states at the same time.

This past week was jammed pack with activities.  Our group explored Serbia’s past by visiting the Mesolithic settlement at Lepenski Vir, Roman ruins at Viminacium, ethno village of Sirogojna, Skull Tower (the Ottoman Empire’s attempt to prevent further Serbian revolts), and Memorial Park.  

The village of Sirogojna demonstrating Serbian life in the 19th century.

Skull Tower:  The Ottoman Empire created a tower out of 952 skulls of fallen Serbian warriors to act as a warning to those opposing the empire.  Only 58 skulls remain.

Memorial Park: The site of Nazi execution of over 2,000 men and boys.

We also looked at religion in Serbia through visits to Saint Sava Temple, Bajrakli Mosque, and Belgrade Synagogue.   Additionally, we visited the Tesla Museum and Stopica cave.

Thank you Shenandoah University to giving us the opportunity to experience the great country of Serbia!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Soccer in Serbia

Today, our last day in Belgrade, we were originally supposed to be attending a Partizan - Jagodina soccer match. Those plans lost their luster when we found out from locals in the know that a group of Americans might be a target for abuse at a game near the anniversary date of NATO's bombing of Belgrade. But, it turned out we couldn't go to the game anyway, because of some fan troubles after a previous match.

This lack of a game was especially disappointing to the men in the group, but Milos was able to arrange a pick-up game at an indoor field next to his former high school. The American players were too good to be allowed to be on the same team, so it ended up Milos & Mitch +3 vs. Scott +4. Milos & Mitch prevailed 7:6, but everyone enjoyed the exercise after a week of meat and more meat.

Archaeology 101, pt 1

On Tuesday, we met our driver and loaded up the van for our road trip. Our first stop was the archaeological site at Viminacium, a legionary camp (then town) that was home to two legions, the 7th Claudia, and the 4th Flavia Felix, until Domitian instituted a law forbidding the stationing of more than one legion in a place, and the Flavia was re-stationed at Sigidunum (the site of modern Belgrade). It took about an hour and forty-five minutes to get there, so we had a chance to talk a bit about the differences in the different houses of worship we’d visited the two days before. Milos explained some of the reasons for the differences in the Orthodox cathedral to what people used to western Christian sects expected. Emily K pointed out the differences in ritual, but also the commonality of having very clear rituals to follow. Emily S’s comments began a discussion on the position of women in Abrahamic religion, which led to a more general overview of each religion’s holy books, the development of canon, and interpretations of behavioral rules found in scripture. There were disagreements, and most everyone had something to say, or ask, or correct.
By the time we were finished, we’d made it to the farming and mining area outside Viminacium. We saw the signs of a thermoelectric plant from a distance, and then the first of several strip-mining rigs. I suppose we should be grateful that strip mining is in part responsible for unearthing enough of the site that the digs were started, but it’s clearly a challenge to the archaeologists’ plans; not only is there the possibility that parts of the site will be destroyed, even though the rigs have been moved further away, but also, the local farmers who own the land have less incentive to sell their land to the foundation. Mixed in with the mining and power equipment were several villages.
The houses in the villages represented a vast mixture of ages, styles, and social position. There were many tiny derelict houses, perhaps one or two rooms with covered patios, stuck here and there, often near barns or on the roadside. Milos said that they were the homes of agricultural workers, mostly Roma. It’s clear that there is a strongly ingrained hostility to Roma here, as there is in many parts of Europe. In Belgrade, it’s very common to be approached by children, or mothers with babies, begging for money. It’s different than the panhandling we experience in big American cities; we are more used to adult men, I think. Apart from these houses, there were older homes, most several stories high, as well as newer homes and some in the midst of construction. They are all constructed of brick and/or cinder block, with stucco or plaster on the exterior. There was very little wood construction, and the houses were all variations on the same style.
The house that Milos’ family lives in was much like these houses. The ground floor is the original part of the house. As his brothers grew to adults, the family added stories, so that each son can move into his own apartment when he marries. Each apartment has a separate entrance, and there are terraces on each upper floor. The houses we saw outside Viminacium were much the same, although it seemed more common there to have terraces that ran around the house on all four sides. The similarities in style, and the fact that families still build their own homes, seem to me to be connected. Most of the men seem to have building experience; it’s not so much that form follows function as it is that form follows experience and training.
We arrived at Viminacium and were taken to the ruins of the mausoleum first.
Once we'd looked at the site, we were taken to the Underworld; Charon waited for us at the entrance, and although there was no boat or Styx, our guide, Bilana, paid our way:
I can't show you pictures of the frescos, some of which were original, because we couldn't take any :-)
But I can tell you that we had to walk almost doubled-over to see them. We walked along a tunnel, and off to the sides were little nooks. We could stand inside each one, each less than a square meter in breadth, and a bit under two meters high. The frescos were on the ceiling and down to the upper half of the walls. The earlier ones were pagan, but the last (of the three) included an laburnum. The Christian connection plays a very large part in the tour, which makes sense considering that the camp lasted till the mid-fifth century. Still, it's interesting that the several hundred years of pagan tradition are not as evident. Partially, this is down to the state of the digging. I asked Bilana if there were a Mithraeum, and she said they had recently found what appeared to be one, but it hasn't yet been excavated.
Once we had finished in the mausoleum, we went across to the main complex of the site. I was really impressed with the whole thing. Obviously, it is all new, and like most reconstructions, it was borderline kitschy, but it was also incredibly cool, and I can see it being used by scholarly groups for many years to come. It is planned as the first in a series of such complexes; the foundation has been applying for EU grants to build several facilities all along the Roman military routes in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia. Each will have a hotel and conference center, but the focus will be on the archaeology.
Our tour of the main complex went something like this:
First, a large peristyle courtyard built large enough to hold performances of several kinds...
Signage in Latin!

Got to go meet the gang, but stay tuned for the rest of the tour!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nom Nom Nom #Serbia

Over the past few days we have experienced what a beautiful country Serbia truly is; from the fortresses to the people.  But there is one part of Serbia we have left to talk about...FOOD! The food in Serbia you say, "Fierce!" or in serbian жестока. 

**Warning the following images may cause extreme mouth-watering**

The day always begins with a fresh pastry...or a few pastries...

What's better than a donut?
A bigger donut filled with Jelly and Pudding!!
LUNCHTIME! How about some veal stuff with ham, cheese, and bacon
and topped with everything else possible.

When in Serbia, do as the Romans do...? Wait...
Roman lunch!

Dinner. There are no words to describe Serbian dinners. So enjoy
the pictures!!

The remaining pictures are of our 5-course meal provided by Milos's loving family!

Yum Yum Yum #Serbiarules

We're done...till lunch!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lepenski Vir!

Today we saw some awesome sights! My project for the week was to learn about Lepenski Vir and tell the group a bit about the site on the way there.  Enjoy! 

Lepenski Vir was settled between 6000 and 5500 BC during the Mesolithic era (9,500-7,500 BC) and was discovered in 1965 by Dr. Dragoslav Srejovic.  (The Meslolithic era was the transitional period between hunter-gatherer nomadic and farming settled cultures.) It was a semi permanent settlement on the Danube River in the Iron Gates Gorge.  The people that settled there had a diet that relied heavily on fishing and it seems that a lot of their culture was based around fishing and the water.  The people lived in dwellings that were shaped like trapezoids and geometrically coordinated throughout the settlement.  It is suggested that the dwellings were modeled after the large mountainside on the opposite the Danube from their settlement (below).  While at the museum, the speaker mentioned that each dwelling used the measurement of the dweller's shoulders for calculations when building.

Each dwelling had a concrete foundation with a built in fire pit and the shelter was built from sticks.  The homes were used as burial grounds and once someone was buried under the dwelling, it became sacred and was no longer inhabited.  When the bodies were buried under the dwellings, some of the bodies were placed in geometric shapes to mimic those of the dwellings (right). 

At Lepenski Vir, some of the oldest and most “monumental” sculptures in Europe have been found.  The sculptures are of creatures made of stone and they are half fish, half human.  There was one sculpture at the head of each fireplace in each dwelling (left).  Since the culture revolved so heavily around fish, it only makes sense that the people idolized them.

It is believed that many important rituals happened on the grounds of Lepenski Vir and continued to happen there even after most dwellers became farmers and moved to higher ground.  The people of Lepenski Vir spent 2,000 years living on the edge of the Danube without leaving for any length of time.  It is the oldest settlement of its kind in Europe and it is amazing that we were able to see some of the artifacts and the location that helped shape the transition into the Neolithic era.

ALSO, Lepenski Vir is a great candidate for the show Ancient Aliens…

****Someone with the fish face picture of everyone please comment and post it!!***