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.

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