Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Zdravo from Belgrade.

Our final day in Tbilisi was highlighted by a morning service at the largest orthodox church in the country (and according to some Georgians the largest in the world). The service was fascinating and beautiful both for the ritualistic ceremony and for the songs of a men’s choir which filled the cavernous spaces.

We had an early dinner and tried to catch a few hours of sleep. We awoke at 3AM Monday morning to get our 4:45 flight to Vienna. As we took off dawn had just begun to spray morning light over the hills enveloping Tbilisi. By the time we arrived to Belgrade via Vienna and Munich, the sun had already passed its apex and begun its slow descent toward the western horizon.

We are staying in the center of Belgrade at the flat of Richard Danicic - a current Kennedy School student who has just started his one year mid career program as a Kokkalis fellow. Close by is Republic Square and Mihalova street – the long pedestrian avenue along which people stroll and stop to enjoy an espresso or ice cream at one of the scores of cafes or stands.

It’s been a busy couple of days. The afternoon we arrived we met Ana Trbovich – former assistant minister of foreign economic affairs - and Vuk Jeremic – senior foreign policy to the President. We spent much of today with Katarina Veljovic, a former assistant minister of finance and who is now involved in fostering Serbia’s ongoing transition to a market economy through her work in both the private and non-profit sectors, and through her pursuit of a PHD.

Ana, Vuk and Katarina are energetic and ambitious and seem to represent a new generation of Serbs who are part of building Serbia’s governmental institutions and re-establishing Serbia’s place internationally. In spite of the progress these past years, the shadow of Milosovic and the Balkan war of the 1990s remain. Some of the buildings destroyed by the NATO bombing campaign remain in the city center, undisturbed, like some reminder of the consequences of tyranny and unbridled nationalism.

Though generally optimistic, the Serbians we met also have expressed a degree of skepticism about the political future and whether policy changes will have enough of an impact on employment and the quality of life for the current government to get re-elected in upcoming elections.

After Tbilisi, being in Belgrade feels very much like returning to Europe – the cars, the roads, the cafes, the shops, the infrastructure all feel distinctly European. Even the language, though Slavic, feels more familiar and understandable because it also uses the roman alphabet.

Last night we met up with Nina Bilandzic – a MPA-ID who is working for the European Bank this summer here in Belgrade and a few of her friends. Nina took us to Silicon Valley - an area of Belgrade renowned for its nightlife and so-named because of the scenery to be found within the street’s bars and cafes. By all appearances, there didn’t seem to be many IT professionals out and about. It was a fun night filled with interesting conversation.


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