When people around the world hear the name Serbia, they usually cannot remember where or what this country is. Some mistake it for Siberia, and some for Syria. Only after they hear the word Yugoslavia – then they start to remember. Of course, this often happens because Serbia was once the largest country of the great Yugoslavia.
Serbia is located in the region, known collectively as the Western Balkans, which is positioned at the historic crossroads. For a long time it stood between the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy; between the Warsaw Block and the NATO Pact; between the East and the West.
Anyone, who has never been to Serbia, might easily see that Serbia is really “the east of the west” and “the west of the east”, down to the smallest detail – from the architecture to the national cuisine. If a person travels to the very South of Serbia, for example, to Vranje, he or she might feel as if they had stepped into a novel, by the famous Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk. There are houses with a typically Turkish interior, even though the last Turk left Vranje 200 years ago.
The situation is also similar with the North. Take, for example, Subotica – the northernmost major city, where the atmosphere is very similar to that of Germany. So as you can probably see now, Serbia is exactly that – the spiritual and the cultural mix of the East and the West.
To anyone who comes to Serbia for the first time, it will be quite clear, after only about a couple of days, that what makes Serbia truly stand out – are its unique specialties. In the first place – it is the country’s sheer hospitality. If you come from the Western World – you will quickly discover that Serbia is the country where the “business sterility” of the West ends, and where the Eastern openness and hospitality begins.
There is no place in Serbia where you will not be able to spread a tent, and do some camping without any fear that someone will scream at you to go away. Practically everyone will be happy to be your host, and you will get numerous invitations for lunch and dinner. Simply speaking – Serbs are such people!
The other thing is the cuisine. Of course, there is almost no country on the Planet, where the locals do not brag about their own cuisine. But I, who am a traveler myself, can tell you that – Serbian cuisine is one of the things that you must definitely not miss, while you’re exploring our country. Serbian cuisine is very strong, greasy, and savory, but it’s incredibly tasty!
In Serbia, there is no city, in which a festival dedicated to some regional food is not held. There are grilled dishes, dishes with beans, cabbage dishes, and cheese dish festivals. And of course, we even have some festivals devoted to wine and rakija, the Serbian national drink.
On Traditions and Multiculturalism:
As for the traditional habits and customs in Serbia, one can surely say that Serbia is a very liberal country. Although, every true Serb will say that he is a conservative – he or she will mean it mostly nominally and formally. In general, this phenomenon can be seen on two levels: the urban, large cities, on one hand, and the small, rural villages, on the other.
The large environments work like anywhere else in the world – they are mostly free and without much prejudice, while the “traditional spirit” persists in the rural areas. People respect older people, and the concept of family; they celebrate “slava” (a family holiday that honors “the protector of the house”).
As for the multiculturalism and respect for differences, if we exclude the Central Serbia, which is mostly homogeneous – both South and North are heterogeneous regions, where several millions of different nations live side by side, and speak dozens of their own ethnic languages.
As a country that was once part of the Eastern Bloc and which did not cope well with the transitional period, Serbia has some major economic problems. We can add to this mix the lack of strong political culture, good educational system, and the devastating wars that happened about 20 years ago, in the former Yugoslavia. All of this can be taken into account – concluding the statement, that the economic situation in Serbia is not so great.
Also, the wages are very low, even too low – for this part of Europe. There’s also a huge mortality rate and a large outflow of the population, especially the young adults with a finished high-education degree.
As far as the medical insurance and the healthcare system are concerned – it is practically free in Serbia. Everyone has a kind of free medical insurance. Both – those who work, and those who are looking for a job, at the Employment Bureau. However, the issue is that, as with everything that is free – it is usually not very good. Due to the presence of significant poverty in Serbia, a good medical insurance is very expensive. Those who can afford – mainly go to the private hospitals. While the public insurance in itself is good, it can be bad because of the system, and it rarely comes to all users in a justly manner.
On the National Spirit:
What makes a local feel especially proud when it comes to Serbia, is the realization that we have a strong will to succeed and survive. We survived the 50 years of brutal communism, then Bolshevik – the nationalistic dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic, and then the two decades of the so-called “transition leaders”. Despite everything, Serbia is a country that regularly competes for medals at the world sport competitions. Serbs have won in the mathematical, philosophical, and even the programming Olympics, over the years. It is a big thing for us!
If I were to become someone who can create policies in my own country, I would change a lot of things. First of all, I would pursue the projection and lustration of all those who systematically urge to bring democracy to Serbia. After that, I will pursue the laws that regulate corruption, crime and the private property. And finally, I would invest heavily in the general education.
If someone were to donate several millions of dollars to be invested in certain issues that Serbia is currently facing, I am afraid that money alone would not be enough. But, if the funds were to be distributed to one thing only – it should certainly be for the treatment of poor children. It would not change the country as a whole, yet it would change everything for the little ones.
On the National and Religious Holidays:
As for the national holidays, Serbia has many. Serbs are the people who adore holidays. During the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in particular, most Serbs had a big issue with the Queen Maria Theresa, who did not wish to tolerate the Serbian tradition of celebrating something every other day. Of course, besides the national holidays, there are the religious ones, which are equally important in Serbia.
Some of those most important religious holidays are the Christmas and Easter. Christmas is mostly celebrated in a close family circle, with some special religious rituals practiced in almost every house. Easter is a little different – people visit one another, their tables are filled with food, and they celebrate it for a few days.
On Customs and Sayings:
There are a lot of phrases and sayings that Serbs use in our every-day language. We especially like to curse, which happens almost uncontrollably. One of the most common sayings is: “bre” – a shortcut from a Greek word, which means “a fool”. It is widely used in Serbian language, but almost no one knows what it means.
Lastly, Serbian men often refer to each other as “brothers” or “mates”. They often hug and kiss in public. The Serbian custom is to kiss someone, especially someone, whom you had not seen in a very long time, three times on both cheeks.