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Srbija 2020

Where the streets have no name

Can you see it?Can you see it?

With the news that in their infinite wisdom, the governing city authorities of Belgrade have decided to rename (yet) another 300 streets, this is my attempt at using this specific example as a metaphor for the way waters are muddied in Serbian politics and important issues are left unanswered and unresolved.

In the wikepedia article on the word(s) ‘street name' Serbia holds the dubious honour of being held up as an example of a country ‘where sometimes streets are manipulated for political purposes'. Few would disagree - apart from maybe with the word ‘sometimes'.

What we see time and again is the tendency of the sitting government attempting to colour history to a shade of its liking. Thus street and square names tend to change according to who is in charge. The two pictured examples are not at all uncommon.

The somewhat symbolic street name can on occasion mobilize both sides of the political debate as it did when some brainiac came upon the idea of naming a Novi Sad street - Slobodan Milosevic. Intentional or not it spurred passions and supporters of the democratic block soon demanded that a street named Zoran Djindjic be allowed instead.

A related debate - which also helps highlight my rather disparaging view, is the one concerning the Cyrillic versus Latin script - i.e. should streets be signposted in Cyrillic (to ostensibly preserve Serbian culture) or Latin (to help tourists and make minorities feel more welcome)?

Then we have a compromising opinion within that debate suggesting we use both scripts and in ethnic minority areas, such as Vojvodina or Sandzak, also include the minority language. And of course there are also the extreme positions that argue passionately for Cyrillic, as if Serbian culture would die without its every day use, or those totally against it, as if Cyrillic smells of nationalism and is a primitive relic from the past that should be tossed into the dustbin of history at the first opportunity.

In the midst of all this, from time to time I feel forced to take a stand, if for no other reason because of the sheer absurdity of some of the arguments. But most of the time I wonder.

I wonder why people want to talk about renaming Serbian streets when safety standards are appalling and thousands of people die from traffic accidents every year.

I wonder why nobody complains about the millions of Euros of cost to the Serbian economy caused by traffic and infrastructure delays each year. Instead they would rather push the debate on whether to have a ‘light' or ‘heavy' underground system back to the drawing board. (Better to argue than to take action right?)

I wonder why people appear to be more interested in talking about the price of fuel when pollution related diseases such as asthma are on the increase. It has never been so bad in the country. Where is / was the outcry after the recent Belgrade smog?

I wonder why we are endlessly discussing language script for street names and whether people notice that many streets don't even have names. Never mind the puzzled tourists and residents wandering up and down streets in the city centre unable to find a sign marking the name of the street they are in. Artificial debate? Never, let's get passionate!

People line up like lemmings to discuss allegedly ‘sexy' subjects and the pattern is always the same. One side of the political debate comes out in support of a particular initiative / idea, then the other mobilizes its party followers to either oppose this initiative or to put their own one in place. The media follows the debate with relish, people get emotional about what they believe, bitterly arguing the point. Then the issue is forgotten by almost everyone and nothing is done. Later some senior party official may decide - perhaps whilst people are distracted by an election. If word gets out quickly enough the process repeats itself. So what is wrong with this? Its democracy after all, right?

Well, the problem is that politicians and their cheerleaders are setting a debate that concerns all of us. What they want is for people to get emotional about supporting their side of the political debate - what they are less interested in is actually solving problems Serbian citizens face every day. (the best English language guide and blog to Belgrade)

180px-Svetogorska.jpg18.96 KB

Oh, how annoyed I am by this idiotic practise

But I don't ask myself why they don't get first to more urgent problems. I ask myself WTF!?, i.e. Why are they doing it at all?

And the next question that comes to my mind is: What's so wrong with me to think that the street names actually serve to help us orientate better through the city?

And is something very wrong with me when I can't grasp the fact they "city authorities" don't find anything wrong in these constant changes?

How could we expect anything else from our "representatives" when they can't master the simple task of the function of the street names!!??

promena naziva ulica = nacionalni konsenzus

problem preimenovanja naziva ulica samo pokazuje koliko ce se neke bitnije stvari vrlo tesko menjati u srbiji.
to je ta podeljenost (na Dve Srbije...minimum...)

Slazem se. But I dont

Slazem se.

But I dont expect the 'less educated' block to see this. (I dont mean they are stupid, I'm talking about the survey statistics showing that those that vote for SPS/ SRS are less likely to have educational qualifications).

My expectations lie, above all, with the educated part of the population. Change in the political landscape depends on these people.

Idiotic practice indeed

You are not the only one. I've lost count of how many Belgraders I've spoken to who despair the changing of street names from one year to the next.

But this is only a symptom of a wider problem. The wider problem is that people are being manipulated into being sidetracked with details in order that they dont talk about real problems.

Now remind me, who benefits when you dont talk about real, concrete problems?

Wouldn't it be wonderful...

...if they named a street after you? Then, when someone asks who you are, we could say that we don't know, because like a real coward, you still continue to hide your identity from us. Are you some kind of Clark Kent/Superman type who has to hide his identity?

To my dear cyber stalker

I am impressed Marko with your contribution to the topic.

You delight me with your Star Wars / Superman references mixed in with the occasional insult. Its the height of wit, it really is.

Still, I think your obsession with details and nothing about real issues says quite a lot about you. I bet if you lived in Serbia you would be very easy to manipulate indeed.

Happy new year...


Well i guess people like to talk about the 'minor' things such as street names because they seem easier to solve, and everybody really can be an expert on a lighter subject, than on some subject requiring some expertise like traffic accidents reduction.

I'll go with the flow, and join the lighter debate, not because i don't like the tougher ones but because i don't feel i can contribute in a constructive way. I really don't see the issue about placing the street name signs in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, maybe even English on certain translatable places ('square' for example).
How much more could that cost?

Yes, Viktor - its

Yes, Viktor - its understandable that people talk about issues like street names but I think that since people walk and drive along streets every day they should debate conditions rather than the symbolic. After all I'm sure that people will agree that holes in streets need to be repared a lot quicker than debating whether we should have a street name after some cetnik, communist, former Prime Minister and the associated bitter discussion that usually comes with it.

Why dont they talk about that as much? I think its because the media doesnt talk about these topics nearly as much and nor do our politicians and public figures who love debating things like history for example (because in the end its hard to prove anybody conclusively right or wrong).

There are though as you know many reports about people dying in traffic accidents, even if they are short.
I wonder what would happen if journalists actually wrote about whether passengers were wearing seatbelts or not...

Cost? Well, Andzeljkovic's Parking Servis is making a fortune already. If they employed another 200 or so people put order into place on the streets and sidewalks. I bet that money per year would exceed expense of putting up signs of every street corner of Belgrade in every European language!

I don't understand!

It seems to me that most are against the changing of cyrylic letters being replaced by the latin ones. Ok, if this is the case, why don't the citizens of each community organize something that will, instead of replace or delete the latin letters, simply print below or above, the Cyrllic letters so that both are shown?

If this were done enough by the citizens in every city the government would sooner or later have to recongize the fact that no matter what they do, cryillic will never go away. But then organizing citizens of any nation is easier said than done! :(

Citizens are strong in numbers even if it may take a few years for this number to be recognized. It's a proven fact that if citizens of any country stand together for anything long enough, this cause will eventually win over the government's way of thinking.


As long as ordinary people

As long as ordinary people bicker amongst themselves John those in charge dont have to do anything - thats how I understand it.

The best policy, when you dont have anything to offer, is to try to sidetrack people into issues that they can get passionate about. That way they dont notice how incapable you are (one is).

For the evidence look at Yugoslavia's break up in the 90's. In Serbia people were distracted and manipulated with all kinds of issues whilst in reality the economy was sinking into a black hole. Of course the so called 'national' issues, (Serbian minority in former Yug states) that the economy was being 'sacrificed' for, also lost. Although, they only saw that after they had naievely thrown their support behind political leaders who then abandoned them.

There is a pattern in all of this. That is what worries me.

Wherever national minorities

Wherever national minorities are concentrated in larger numbers, there are street signs in one of the 5-6 languages (Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Rusyn...). Obviously, this is the case in Vojvodina - in those municipalities where a certain minority comprises at least 10-15 percent of the local population. This, of course, is in addition to all the other cultural rights they enjoy (state-subsidized ethnic newspapers, TV, radio, schools...).

One of the most taken-for-granted rights is the right to have an ethnic political party. Most, if not all, Western "democracies" prohibit this.

In many respects, Serbia is far more liberal and democratic than she's being given credit for.

Street signs are, therefore, a distraction and a right that doesn't really matter. It's a useless right, if you will. It does not make the minorities' daily lives any better. There's no better way of "welcoming" minorities than giving them the same rights I, as a Serb, enjoy.

As for the tourists, those places most frequently visited by them ought to be bilingual (Serbian Cyrillic & English). That's the case in many instances, although more has to be done. One important thing to keep in mind: transliteration is key. Not many foreigners are aware that "j" in Serbian is pronounced "y"; that "c" in "Decanska" is not a "k" but a "ch", etc...

The confusion is solely the consequence of Serbia's adopting the Latin script. If you read any Serbia-related, pre-1920 books or newspapers in English, you will notice that the transliteration rule is followed to a t. It had to be done, because there was no Latin script in Serbia at the time. A good contemporary example is Russia, where the names and words are always phonetically transliterated into English, because the Russians don't use the Latin script. If Boris Yeltsin was a Serb, his name would appear as "Jeljcin" in English-language print -- hardly the correct way of writing it. Imagine trying to pronounce it while following the rules of the English language. The same rule applies to Japanese, Chinese, Arabic...for obvious reasons.

This is one of the practical reasons why I am in favour of the Cyrillic script.