Thought bubbles and assorted jottings
The national character
In Australia, a myth asserts that the national character was forged in a battle against the Ottoman Turks that was bravely fought but lost.1 In Serbia, a myth asserts that the national character was forged in a battle against the Ottoman Turks that was bravely fought but lost.2 The difference is that the Serbs were defending their country against a foreign invader, whereas we were the foreign invader.
Serbia has suffered hundreds of years of attacks, invasions and occupations, including months of bombing by NATO in 1999; Australia has suffered only one serious foreign attack since European colonisation. I wonder if this has contributed to a certain stoicism among Serbs and an occasional, undignified triumphalism among Australians.
As painters in Australia celebrate sunlight,
so painters in the Balkans celebrate shadows.
Canberra’s population has a greater proportion of people from the countries of the former Yugoslavia than any other Australian city. For many decades they have asserted an enormous influence on Canberra’s culture, but their contribution has remained almost completely unacknowledged. (A 2008 article in the Canberra Times alluded to the fact, but it went almost completely unnoticed.)
Balkan hospitality is legendary. We've made friends with people in Montenegro and Serbia who became wonderfully generous hosts. Even complete strangers can be unexpectedly welcoming. A farmer in South of Serbia invited us into his home simply because we were walking past his front gate. And it's not the only time that's happened.
Crafts and Art
Unlike Australia, the visual arts are valued in Serbia, in spite of difficult economic times. Artists are respected. Their art schools foster both innovative contemporary art and traditional skills. Some traditional crafts have struggled to survive but craft works are still being produced in the distinctive style of each region, with a remarkable level of skill.
Atmospheric pollution is common in major cities, it was even severe in Canberra during the 2019–20 bushfire season. According to news reports, older diesel cars, domestic heaters, factories and nearby open-cut coal mines contribute to a smog that sometimes envelops Belgrade. According to Ruth, it’s probably millions of cigarettes filling the air with tobacco smoke.