It’s Only Normal
If I say it in London, I am met with surprise. If I say it in Belgrade, I am met with disappointment. But I just keep on saying it, hoping that eventually the simple and ineloquent truth of the statement will eventually penetrate stuffed ears and thickly conditioned minds:
Serbia is a Normal place to be.
Over the years that I have been here, nothing affects me quite as much as the impression I had first time I came here. I did NOT see people eating babies for breakfast. I did NOT see a population dressed in black and carrying long jagged swords in the streets. I did NOT see a people celebrating evil and worshiping the Devil.
What I saw was equally shocking, and it altered my opinion of Serbia forever. I saw that there were normal people walking around. I saw that they were wearing the same brands as I was. And I saw that they had the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations as I had. In short, I saw that this was a normal country, filled with normal people (as much as people anywhere are normal) getting on with the day to day business of living.
If this sounds boring, it should be refreshingly so. The image that people have of Serbia abroad is conditioned and formed by a media which only has hunger for gore and brutality. The picture painted of Serbia, therefore, is composed of the palette from the 1990s. This was an extremely difficult period for the country, of course, but, as I get to know and see this place better with each passing day and year, I come to recognize that period as an anomaly.
Sadly, the country has done very little to improve its external image in all these yea
rs and the negative impressions remain. Yet anyone who has come here and actually spent a little time here realizes that the reputation is exaggerated. Serbia is not the center of the stellar universe, nor is it an idyllic garden of earthly delights – but in the same way, it is not the nexus of depravity and horror either. This statement tends to disappoint everyone: the Serbs themselves see themselves as a little bit more; the foreigners, before they come, before they know, would like to maintain the dread. No one wants to be just plain old normal. But, and I apologize to everyone involved, Serbia is just another normal place.
It is all matter of information. The less we know, the more we allow our imaginations to take flight. We like to polarize the world into black and white, but this is only possible when we know almost nothing, no real facts, about a place. Example: my only knowledge of Siberia is that it is a cold place where the Soviets used to exile people. My only knowledge of Tahiti is that it is a warm and beautiful place. And yet the Tahitian and the Siberian are just folks – and if I got to know more about both places, I am sure that my opinion of Siberia would improve while my view of Tahiti would be less enthusiastic.
I spend a lot of time “selling” Serbia to people and businesses. The reason for this is quite simple: if I or others like me do not do it, general ignorance will prevail. So when I address groups of businessmen in the UK on the idea of investing or working here, I try to paint the picture as it is. Since my experience has been good in Serbia, I can continue to be upbeat about working here.
But it is just another normal place. Nothing more, nothing less.
Travel to Serbia
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