Mittwoch, 23. September 2015

How Ajvar is Made

This is a practical guide on how to make ajvar [ayvahr]. Let's start with some background info. Ajvar is a versatile dip made from peppers, and it is a winter food typical for the Balkans region. Although it is found from Bulgaria to Slovenia (as well as wherever the Balkan expats live worldwide), it is most commonly associated with Southern Serbia and Macedonia. These are also the regions where the appropriate variety of peppers is grown, to be used in the manufacture of ajvar. I say manufacture, as it is indeed a product of manual labour. Although some industrial ajvar can be found in stores, the quality is not satisfactory, and most people either make their own or purchase it directly from small manufacturers.

The Pepper - Paprika

For quality of the taste, and practicality in the manufacturing process, ajvar is made from large, relatively regular shaped, as flat as possible on the sides, red peppers. The flat sides help to roast the peppers evenly, which is important for the peeling of the skins.

The particular variety is called "ajvarka" (pepper for ajvar), and is rarely found in regions where ajvar is not traditionally produced. Ajvar being only one of a number of winter foods in the Balkans which are made from peppers, green markets offer a large choice of pepper varieties. The peak of the season is in September when the weekly green markets are bustling with sellers and buyers, and the smell of roasted peppers spreads through the neighbourhoods. 

The Equipment

The peppers are roasted on stove tops, most commonly on special stoves for preparing winter foods, jams and such, called "kube" [koo-beh]. This can be a specially made stove, or a repurposed segment of a metal barrel. Some people use other types of equipment ranging from regular stoves, to any metal plate over an open fire - I've seen stolen traffic signs being used for this.

For people living in houses with gardens, making winter food is a convenient opportunity to burn any cut branches or other organic material which is free. Otherwise, people use fire wood.

If you are making typical quantity for a household in Serbia, the quantity is such that you will need extra large pot(s) for the cooking part. My family makes around 40 mason jars per year, which requires some 80 kg of peppers, several kilograms of eggplant and condiments. We use a 35 litre pot with a diameter of 70 cm.

Other equipment you might need are colanders, knives for taking out the stems (we find it easier to take the stems out before roasting), and for this purpose you best find something similar to an apple core cutter, preferably a bit larger. Another thing you'll need if making a large quantity is a large wooden ladle. For mincing the roasted peppers you'll need a mincer - mechanical or electric. We went electric some years ago and life is much easier now. Tongs are very convenient for turning the roasting peppers. The rest of the equipment is stuff easily found in most households - baking trays, knives, bowls, pots with lids...

The Recipe

Every family has their own recipe. Opinions on what makes a good (perfect) ajvar vary. Some would say that ajvar has to be made from peppers only, or that it should have garlic, or to be spicy. If you feel something is off in the recipe you're using, feel free to make adjustments to taste. That's the beauty of it - if you make your own, you can make it perfect.

For around 20 mason jars (0.7 l) of ajvar you'll need:

- 40 kg of ajvarka peppers
- 8 kg of eggplant
- 2 l of sunflower seed oil
- 50 gr of mustard
- 4 spoons of salt (or per taste)
- 1 small cup of sugar (Turkish coffee cup)
- 1 small cup of wine vinegar
- 15 gr of preservative

...and a lot of labour. Making a batch of ajvar this large takes two days. It is doable in one day (three of us did it this year), but at the cost of making one of the more difficult phases longer. Not allowing the roasted and peeled peppers enough time to drain the excess water means the frying phase takes longer. Standing over the stove and constantly stirring ajvar for 4 hour is not easy. That's around an hour longer than with drained peppers. You can count on spending one weekend making this batch, and that is with minimum two people. Number of people is not that limited, but you need at least two people during the key phase - frying requires one person constantly stirring and one fuelling the fire. The fire needs to be strong so constant stirring is a must.

Phase 1 - Washing, Drying, De-stemming 

We're skipping the phase zero - finding the right peppers, making sure the ones on the bottom are as nice as ones on the top, buying the peppers, haggling about the price, fighting off other buyers, and the logistics of bringing it all home and organising your workforce. Let's assume you took care of that splendidly, and are now ready to get down to it.

Wash all the peppers individually, like you would for a salad. Ideally, you would organise a Ford-like conveyor belt where one person would be washing the peppers, another drying them off with a cloth and a third already de-stemming them. Makes you miss your family if they're not around to lend a hand.

If you spot any peppers with a small round hole, around a millimeter in diameter, you can discard those - they have a worm living inside. Other imperfections are usually acceptable, presumably they can be cut off. 

Remove the stems and the seeds. The seeds are edible and any grandmother would tell you that they are good for digestion, but some people don't like them. If you don't want any, try to take out as many as you can at this phase, but don't worry if some remain - you'll be able to take out the rest in the peeling phase.

Clean, dry peppers without stems are ready for roasting. Roasting can overlap with phase 1.

Phase 2 - Roasting

This is a pretty straightforward phase - roast the peppers until they are soft and the skin has large black patches, but don't burn through the skin. Keep the fire medium to strong and constant. One person could do this, but everything is easier if you have company.

Put the roasted peppers in a sealed pot (we use a vat with a lid) so they get steamed further. This will make peeling them that much easier. The peppers will need some time to cool off before you can proceed with peeling. 

Parallel to preparing the peppers, you'll need to prepare the eggplants. Peel them, cut lengthwise into four pieces and put in an oven on 200 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, until they are soft. They are to be minced with the peppers in the mincing phase.

Phase 3 - Peeling

Peeling the peppers is a relatively slow process, but not that difficult. You'll have time to talk to your family or friends, listen to music and unwind. The goal is to remove as much of the skin as possible, especially the black parts. 

We sit around a colander, the container with roasted peppers and a trash bin. Another thing you'll need is a bowl with water so you can rinse your hands every once in a while. The skins tend to stick to your fingers.

Take ten or so roasted peppers into your tray and start peeling. Put the unpeeled peppers in one end of the tray and the skins in the other. You can open the peppers and remove the seeds as well. Opening the peppers also helps with the draining in colanders. Don't forget to put a bowl under the colander and make sure it's deep enough, you can expect a couple of centimetres of drained water.

Phase 4 - Mincing

As I said, you can proceed with mincing and frying the same day, but you'll pay for that with extra time needed for the frying and stirring part. An electric mincer will help complete this phase in no time. You can also add the roasted eggplants to the mincer.

Phase 5 - Frying

Put around half a litre of oil in the pot. Keep the fire strong and constant, to speed up the process. You'll add the rest of the oil throughout the frying. Don't forget that you need to thoroughly stir ajvar all the time*. This is not an easy job, and perhaps soon someone will invent a machine to do it, or have they invented it already?

Ajvar will reduce by several centimetres, and the trick in knowing when it's done is in the consistency of it. Put your ladle perpendicular to the pot all the way on the bottom and pull towards you - if you can see the bottom and ajvar doesn't close the gap right away, it's done. 

Now is the time to add the salt, sugar, vinegar and mustard. Taste it and add more salt if needed. In the end add the preservative and you can take ajvar off the heat once it's been throughly stirred in. 

Phase 6 - Canning

You'll need to prepare the jar and the lids parallel to frying. This is where a third person comes in handy. The jars and the lids need to be washed, sterilised and pre-heated in the oven. This prevents the glass from cracking and helps create an airtight seal once you put the lids on. Put them wet and upright in the oven, on 75 degrees for 20 or so minutes, until the dry off. The lids should stay in shorter, so they don't burn. Around 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can machine wash them, and slightly pre-heat them afterwards.

Use a ladle to fill the jars. Don't add too much at once, add a ladle to each jar, then repeat until they are full.

Spread the ajvar on top evenly and tighten the lids. Then wrap the jars in a blanket and leave to cool naturally, to avoid condensation under the lid. This will also create an air-tight seal.


Unopened jars can be stored in a cellar or pantry, but open jars are best kept in the fridge.


Ajvar goes best with white cheese, like Greek feta, or traditional Serbian cow cheese. Bacon, garlic, fresh hot white bread are all friends of ajvar.

Ajvar fried with bacon and cured meat and eggs, with a side of couscous and Serbian white cheese

And again, eggs with bacon, with couscous, cured meat, Serbian cow cheese, and ajvar on the side.

*Video courtesy of Milan Stojkovic.

Samstag, 13. Dezember 2014

Decent people

I've talked and debated with a lot of people lately about politics. It's really a national pass-time in Serbia, discussing politicians, their actions and laying it all out there. Doesn't really matter if you disagree, the opinions of average Serbian voters can't be changed without a heavy use of propaganda.

For some time now, no longer than 10 years, so coinciding with the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, at least in my mind, I hear people say, and say it often, like some sort of credo:"All politicians are the same." Not "alike", but "same". Well, I disagree, and I'll explain why.

If I must generalize, I'd say that this statement is closer to voters of democratic persuasion. A brief note, in Serbia "democratic" means "all those who beat Milosevic in 2000", and in a more narrow sense "whatever coalition exists around the Democratic Party and it's prominent ex-members". I make this distinction, because Democracy is one of the main reasons why people perceive politicians to be "same". This is because the "non-democrats" have embraced Democracy, and seem to be doing fine using it to win elections. The shift came after a mega-flip on the part of our current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic. If you follow Serbian politics, you may have gotten the impression that AV is the Alpha and the Omega of Serbian (not only) political life, all thanks to Democracy.

Also, don't get me wrong, I'm not against Democracy. It is, as they say, the least bad political system known to man. Any discontent with the political system in Serbia is not due to flaws in Democracy, but flaws in institutions and low political education of the people. I like to make a distinction between "the people" (narod) and "the citizens" (gradjani), to make known that there is in fact a difference between an entity which is characterized by its natural and historical heritage, and the group of people who are educated on their political rights and actively use them to support and promote their political views, for instance by voting in the election. When I say "citizen", I mean this latter type of people.

Another problem in Serbia is the heavy dependence on the State. So many people are employed by the State that the campaign promises and election outcomes can directly affect someone's salary or job. Keeping this class of people happy is of course expensive and directly contrary to any promises of reforms. So, if you promise reforms, you do not get elected. If you do not promise reform you do not get elected. If you promise both, you get elected. If you then deliver on reforms you do not get re-elected. Tricky, and perhaps the reason why so many politicians can be caught lying.

To me, AV and Zoran Djindjic are not and cannot be the same. Likewise, AV and Vladimir Pavicevic are not the same. Neither are AV and Boris Tadic, but since he's a hasbeen, I won't talk about him much. The main point about AV is his arrogance and, in later years, pathos. AV of ten years ago was arrogant on the border of combative. Now that he is in power, he has developed the pathos, which he uses to draw sympathies as in "Poor me, everyone's attacking me because I want to change things." The thing is, with the power he has, even if everybody was attacking him (which they aren't because almost all are trying to please him), he'd still be able to push whatever changes he wanted. The problem is that he is both not willing to make important changes, nor does he know how to make them, and he's surrounded himself with yesmen with no qualifications.

Since the last elections there's been a new parliamentary party, Nova stranka (New Party), and although it only has 2 MPs (out of 250), it has been very vocal. From the public appearances, mainly CSPAN-esque broadcasts of the parliamentary sessions, I have gotten the impression that not only is Vladimir Pavicevic saying and doing the right things, things one would expect of a critical, yet constructive, opposition party, but he is doing so in a well argued and calm manner. He is what I would call a decent politician.

So, here we are with a generally decadent political class, led by AV and Nikolic, people who got rich doing nothing but politics most (in AV's case all) of their lives. It is safe to say many of them are no strangers to all sorts of corruption and nepotism. There are surely many generalizations to be made about them, but to say they are all the same, even if they all say they are for EU membership, or that they all want reforms, and all can achieve a higher standard of living for the people, well, that's just not true.

One can choose who to vote for based on all sorts of criteria. In the election campaign, the cacophony is such that politicians often say paradoxical things. Some people choose to vote based on general principles, such as the stance towards the EU, Nationalism, economic policy, etc. There are others who tend to their narrow interests such as their pensions, jobs, local issues... I base my decision on as much information as I can get, about all of them (both issues and politicians), trying to make sure I'm not lied to. If, for instance, a politician has been a opposed to the EU membership, and then changed his position, I welcome his change of heart, but I would not vote for him, because he should have known better in the first place. If he gives clearly false promises and tries to lie his way into the Cabinet, I won't vote for him. If he actually won an election and then did not deliver on his promises (that helped him gain support), I don't vote for such a guy. If he uses tabloids to smear his opponents, I cannot vote for him. If he is not a decent human being, a person I would be happy to know and be proud to be associated with, I will not vote for him. It makes one long list, but it is all fairly simple - if you are not a decent person, politics or not, I will not vote for you.

It is of course hard to find such men in today's Serbia, but not impossible. I've found at least two political options I can vote for, and this might mean that the times are changing.

Donnerstag, 27. März 2014

The approach to attracting foreign investors in Serbia

The rant

Yesterday, ten days since historic elections, and still around a month from the formation of the new government of Serbia, news were refreshingly low key after a campaign that was all over the ether and the internet. We are, however, still not blessed with news devoid of talk of foreign investment and ways in which Serbia is exuding efforts in attracting them. The gem of the day that triggered me into writing this piece was the conspicuous Russian investment (term used very loosely) in Serbian railroads. Our Russian partners are willing to invest in a whole new line, parallel to the existing one, leading from Belgrade to Pancevo, not even full 20km from the Serbian capital. Also conspicuously, Serbian president Nikolic and incumbent PM Dacic were there to show support for the project and esteem for the Russian investors/creditors. Interestingly enough, the reports of this significant event are missing from B92 or Blic websites, probably due to higher importance of other news, such as the arrest of SIEPA directors and one former minister for reasons of poorly-hidden corruption. Luckily, we have RTS to provide us with an article on the event.

Among the messages heard in the address of the president, he pointed to the chance for Serbia to raise itself from "a decade of stagnation". If I am interpreting this correctly, in the decade before previous, Serbia was prosperous. So, it is only during the rule of the "democrats" that Serbia reached its most disastrous economic moments. And presumably, in the coming decade of "progressive" rule, Serbia will prosper. Likely, because we have Russia to rely on for loans such as this one. Somehow, I remember things differently. Maybe the president is confusing his own prosperity during the 1990s with the misery of the majority of the people that occurred at the same time. Not everyone got massive apartments from the state.

But, I was most irritated by the reporting on RTS, during the "Beogradska hronika", a daily show that deals with all things Belgrade. The reporter from Pancevo, presumably a local, was glad to report that new trains will race at currently unimaginable 120km/h between Belgrade and Pancevo. This is after the bridge on Danube is strengthened and the new line is completed. So, in several years' time, at least. I couldn't stop from wondering how and where exactly will this new, probably Russian train, on new "Russian" tracks, achieve this speed? It is only 19km between Belgade and Pancevo, even less when you take out the bridge and all the turns, and I'm too lazy to calculate the acceleration and actual gains in saved time, but really, who can explain the massive time saving benefits of this project to me?

Another thing that the reporter mentioned, his comment on the benefit the city of Pancevo will gain from the project. He ended his report with remarks that not only will the new tracks connect Pancevo with the rest of the world and serve as a lure for fresh foreign investment, but there will also be some beautification done around the railroad and the station, which will undoubtedly impress the visitors and investors coming to Pancevo by train. 

The approach "logic"

Let's not talk about the standards of good news reporting and expectations of a reporter. Let's not talk about all the lies politicians tell daily. Let's not talk about the credibility of our president and the government in formation. Let's not talk about the special place our president has in his heart for all things Russian, and how ridiculous the PM looked trying to speak Russian (no link on the internet?). These are all part of the reality of living in Serbia, which is scarring a healthy mind every day, beyond face-palms. Let us talk about what Serbia is doing to attract foreign investors and what the approach is.

The "logic" is:"We are a poor country, ergo we need money from abroad so that we can develop. All foreign money is good if we can call it an investment, even falsely. Investment equals higher employment and higher employment equals votes for the politician who takes a picture with the investors." I have to mention here that this model went as far as to actually say:"We need foreign investment that creates employment, so we will pay for each new job opened by foreign investors." The SIEPA I mentioned earlier was the government agency that promoted this model and paid thousands of euros per job opening to the investor. And nobody said a word.

It was that last thing the reporter on RTS remarked that really unearthed the roots and showed the extent of the approach in everybody's subconsciousness. When he said that all the beautification will impress the investors so much that they will want to invest in Serbia (my words, not his), it really couldn't be more obvious - Serbia is building Potemkin villages!

What most people lose from sight, being constantly fed this narrative of attracting investors at all cost and using all means (except doing it systematically and with a plan), is that logic that actually attracts investors (and solves some other problems, such as brain drain) is:"Let's create a country in which people who live here would enjoy living in." Clearly, a country in which its own citizens do not want to live in (Serbia lost some 65,000 people through emigration in the past decade, and several hundred thousand in the decade before that) is in a bad position to attract anyone else, unless they are desperate enough to escape anywhere from places like Syria. A country that does not make it easy for its own citizens to open their businesses will inevitably fail to attract foreign capital, modern technologies and know-how, and maintain economic growth and prosperity. But the "logic", being what the politicians want to talk about, is in all the news. It is the dominant narrative and the excuse for all ad hoc moves the government makes to attract investors from abroad.

It is not easy to create a business environment that is healthy and functional, although there are many pointers how to do it, and we have the human capital to do it. What stands in the way is the system that uses political parties as employment agencies and state money distributors. What lacks is a system based on institutions. Like the business environment, institutions are not really there, because the political parties do not know how to function in a fair system. Political parties ARE the problem.

In the time between the elections and the formation of the government, expectations and hopes run high. In my case, that people who can make reforms happen will be appointed to key positions and be given free hands. Seeing the old faces on TV and increasing numbers of people who kiss the emperor's ass is annoying. Let's just wait till the next elections. Knowing their incompetence in anything other than winning elections and operating tabloids, all odds are in favor of the government failing to make a difference. This leaves some room for the parties not invited to join the government to sit out this round (if they can survive that long without fresh money stolen from the state). For everyone else not directly involved in running the country, it's same old same old.

Montag, 4. November 2013

"My First Job" Revolution

I recently joined LinkedIn. A little less recently I graduated with a master's degree in Economics. I'm 27 years old and for some time now my father's been throwing phrases at me such as this one:"I'm only obligated to pay for you until the age of 26." So, yes, I am looking for a job. Its not a new thing to me. "Been there, done that" after finishing undergraduate studies and it wasn't very successful. Maybe because I graduated in November 2008, just when the crisis was starting to dominate as the world's No.1 "sorry we can't hire you" excuse, but who knows...

So, I'm on LinkedIn now and I consider myself to be active there. I expanded my network to over 225 people in about a fortnight and I am now trying to make this network work in my interest. As I was reading the news feed on the homepage, there seemed to be a lot of "My first job..." titles authored by people known and unknown. And it got me thinking about why my mind is drawing a blank about MY first job. It's not that I haven't worked. Even as a child my parents would make certain tasks into "jobs" and "pay" my brother and me to do them. I've also done a number of internships that I guess qualify as work, but I still wouldn't call any of them a real Job. As my father would put it:"You're 27 and don't have a day's worth of work experience."

Most people posting these articles on LinkedIn were talking about them delivering newspapers, working as lifeguards, and whatever kind of a summer job you can think of. But this is not something typical in Serbia. Sure there were kids my age who got jobs as waiters during university years, but isn't that already too late to start working? And especially so in a country where people don't have much money (but yet love to sit around in cafes all day drinking coffee with friends)? Probably has something to do with the "children" living with their parents basically till the day parents die. One does not simply move out of your parents' place in Serbia.

So, I guess what I'd like to see is a society that promotes work from a young age (not in a child labor kind of way), and have them do professional internships by the time they're in high school, so that as university students they could be looking for full time employment with relevant experience "under their belt". Revolutionary? Hardly. But there seems to be a lack of both demand and supply for summer jobs, which is actually a waste of resources when you come to think of it. And I do believe that you need money to be changing hands a lot to have a functioning economy, which Serbia isn't. Not really.

Sonntag, 17. März 2013

Zašto ljudi ne koriste bicikl kao prevozno sredstvo u Beogradu

Daću vam šniclu na početku, što bi rekao moj profesor sa fakulteta: ne voze ga jer niko ne vozi bicikl u Beogradu. Svaki drugi razlog je daleko iza ovoga. Čak 78% Beograđana rado bi koristilo bicikl, kad bi videlo da i drugi to rade i kad bi postojala kultura upotrebe bicikla kao prevoznog sredstva. Ovo i slična izmišljena istraživanja će vam potvrditi da se ne radi o nedostatku infrastrukture (43%), nebezbednosti u saobraćaju (41%), lošim vremenskim prilikama (32%), nemogućnosti kombinovanja poslovnog odela i bicikla (21%), nedostatku bicikla (17%),odbacivanju čitave pomisli jer misle da su stari (13%) i tome slično. Svi ovi ostali razlozi gledani skupa navode Beograđane da ne sedaju na bicikl kad kreću na posao u čak 167% slučajeva, što je svakako samo po sebi besmisleno, čak i kad ne bi bilo izmišljeno. Isto tako besmisleno je i sedeti u autu u gužvi pri povratku kući, a sami ste deo problema.

Mislim da je za Srbiju veoma karakterističan način na koji su moji roditelji gledali na moju želju da u Beogradu tokom zime na isteku vozim bicikl koji sam dovukao iz Austrije: „Pa ti si lud, da voziš bicikl po snegu i hladnoći!“. Voleo bih da su imali pristup Norvežana koji je sumirao jedan naš iseljenik: „Ne postoji loše vreme, samo loša garderoba.“

Šta još ima da se kaže? Možda da se odgovori na ono „Ah, pa lako je Holanđanima...“? Šta je tu lako? Nema nigde ništa lako (trostruka negacija!), sve se mora izgraditi, ako smo vredni. Nekoliko stvari treba uraditi: izgraditi infrastrukturu (biciklističke staze i trake, semaforsku i ostalu signalizaciju, parkirališta za bicikle, stanice za samo-opravku bicikala), promovisati bicikl kao održivu alternativu automobilskom saobraćaju (poznate i uticajne ličnosti da budu viđene na biciklima), uvesti podsticaje za korišćenje bicikla umesto automobila, kao i takse za ulazak autom u centar grada.

Nema se para za sve ovo? Ma nije moguće! A ima se para da se ne radi ništa? Ko to sebi može da priušti? Zar je jeftinije ne pokušati rešiti problem saobraćajnih gužvi uključivanjem bicikla u saobraćajni sistem Beograda? A koliko novca ode za potrošeno gorivo u gužvi? Ko plaća potrošeno vreme u zagušenjima i začepljenjima zbog previše automobila (koji su ovde lična prevozna sredstva)? Koliko velelepnih mostova će rešiti taj problem?

„Nije naša kultura takva...“ Pa, jeste, naša je kultura da deca na biciklima ginu pod točkovima automobila.  Uzgred, takva je bila i holandska kultura, pa su je promenili. Ovo će najduže trajati, ali ako odmah krenemo u tom pravcu, pre ćemo izgraditi društvo u kome je saobraćajna nezgoda između automobila i bicikla šokantna i retka.

Svakoga dana saznajem za nove načine da se Kultura vožnje bicikla uvede u društvo. Uvek me obraduje duh biciklista koji ih povezuje i inspiriše da zajednički pokušaju da prilagode okolinu jednom zdravom i pametnom načinu života. Ne verujem da u toj borbi mogu da izgube, jer nikada neće odustati, bez obzira sa koliko malo razumevanja ih drugi sputavaju i otpisuju. Nećete razumeti tu snagu ubeđenja u ispravnost bicikliranja dok ne probate i sami.

Mittwoch, 1. August 2012

On Serbian Society, a Critique and Suggestions

(The text was published online on in the "My Life Abroad" section, on July 31, 2012. In one day it became the most read and most commented on article on the entire website. Politika is the oldest and arguably most influential newspaper in Serbia.)

I am determined not to go back to Serbia. I owe nothing to that country and it has denied me a lot of things. What my parents have relayed to and made possible for me is more than most of my friends could have counted on from their parents, and that’s a burden of its own kind, which has always bothered me.

I first left Serbia for real in 2009, for one month. It was to go to a summer school in Austria. A second one followed the next summer and after that, the study programmes. I owe my parents for financing the summer schools with an apparent strain, believing that it would lead to my improvement in German. I made the studies possible by winning scholarships. Since then I’ve lived mostly independently, in a financial sense, in Graz.

The main motive for my desire to leave Serbia was the need to leave behind an unhealthy environment. The frustrations I was surrounded by all around, and from which I tried to stay away as much as I could, threatened to change who I was and turn me into a prisoner of the circumstances who would then grow his own frustrations for not being able to influence his environment. It’s a well-known story - school, University, a job, a family… Only, life in Serbia hasn’t been that simple for a long time, because the formal accomplishment of these life goals does not lead to the feeling of accomplishment I strove for.

Education, as much as some people boast it’s the best, is in fact catastrophically bad. I do not claim that the learning programme is bad in itself, but the system is bad. Teachers of all levels might be the biggest losers of Transition. Not so much in the financial sense, as in the loss of social status, which reflects itself in the relationship teacher-student-parent. The education in general is losing pace with the times we live in, and being an intellectual is not on the wish-list of today’s youth.

Universities, of which there are many sorts, are not functioning for the benefit of economy and science. I do not know of our professors giving the students tasks such as, for instance, contacting a large company and working on the development of a strategy for increased energy efficiency, something which I saw first-hand in Austria. How useful this would be for the students and the economy in particular, I do not need to explain. Those who understand get it.

Finding a job has been a problem of our society for so long that there are many stereotypes – Gastarbeiters, political cadre, jobs through connections/bed, interns-volunteers. Choose one that you identify with the most. The only thing missing is meritocracy. Industry throughout Serbia is dying off under pressure from the new class of “capitalist-privatizers” (joint with corruptible politicians), who have privatized the former common property, then broke it apart, sold out and destroyed, along with the lives of the workers.

To form a family is therefore not an easily attainable goal. Only the madly brave or just mad get married. The birth rates are of course falling, but who cares… Family values? Turbo-folk “Grand Production” is educating your kids, not the street. It is now common to sit in a café, watch who’s passing by, what they’re wearing, who they’re with, where they might be going… The youth is idling, because they are waiting for jobs. Only, one does not get a job, but find it, my dear Youth.

In spite of my (obvious) deep disappointment with the Serbian society, I catch myself, and quite often, making plans for changes. I come up with concepts for businesses I would start, consider steps I would take in resolving certain issues, plan a “grand return”. I believe that’s in common for many of us living abroad. It’s just that I know in advance that our “enlightened” projects are doomed to fail. Our return does not initiate massive changes we dream of. Maybe we regress, give up too soon, don’t approach the problem in the right way. Maybe the environment holds us down, maybe they don’t understand us. All in all, one man can hardly cause major changes. Unless that man becomes a part of a group of people with the same goals.

My latest thoughts about initiating change are directed at getting organized into citizens’ initiatives. I’ve started to notice that something is brewing in Serbia. There are groups of people working on changes, such as the organized revolt against the BusPlus (Belgrade’s new public transport ticketing system), Beocyclization, Serbia in Motion, etc.

Serbian society is not used to having this kind of movements. It has always been the State that was the main actor in all areas, even (paradoxically) in organizing the civil society. And it is exactly the civil society that needs to control politics and the government, not the other way around. Citizens, instead of subjects.

Is the life abroad better than life in Serbia? It has more quality (saying it’s better would imply normative stance, which is something I’ll try to avoid), and I believe that to be the consequence of the difference in the organization of the society. “Over there” the social system works, while ours is just a façade for a system of political benefits and an organized rip-off of the citizens. To which extent is the fault within us and how much it’s the Great Powers to blame is not irrelevant, but we shouldn’t fixate on that. It is up to us to work hard on the construction of our own society, taking into account the basic consensus around the issues of corruption, equality and tolerance in a civil society where one’s belonging to a minority group is not a factor in determining and attaining one’s rights. Only the civil society organizations can create the awareness about this, and it is why I want to get engaged in it, and I extend the invitation to everybody else.

The desired effect is to change the state of mind towards not tolerating bad things anymore. The belonging to a group can give you the feeling of confidence to step out against something and openly say it’s wrong. A change for the better, no matter how small it is, is good, one should not despair. I plan to keep on writing about this, thus giving my own contribution to our society.