This is my first post to B92 (thanks for inviting me Dejan!) and I feel rather self conscious about it. Which proves to be inspirational because that is the way I think most Serbs feel about America. According to most of my Serb acquaintances, America as a country hates Serbia. America is a big mean bully, glittering with gold, nuclear weapons, and Hollywood celebrities, that personally hates Serbs and wants to cause problems for them.
When I married my Serb husband, none of his family and friends from Serbia came to the wedding in the US even when we offered to pay for all travel. People from many other countries, however, happily accepted. When my company in the US hired several Serb-based workers, some refused to come on paid trips to the home office in the US. Others came after much persuading but were terrified when getting off the plane that Americans would be mean to them personally.
The truth is different.
At most, 2% of Americans know what and where Serbia is. Some of these roughly six million people are in positions of power and have weilded that power wrong or rightly to make Serbs unhappy. Others, like myself, have supported Serbia. Most of the bad bunch get joy from pushing smaller countries around, so you can't take it very personally. Bullies are bullies. That's all.
The remaining 98% of Americans (that's about 274,000,000 people) do not know where Serbia is, or if it exists. If you ask them "What do you think of Serbia?" They will reply, "what is Serbia?" They are slightly more likely to have heard of Belgrade, but then it's been around longer. And even then, they won't know what country Belgrade actually belongs to. They would be completely shocked to learn America-prompted NATO forces bombed Serbia, and would have no idea when or why it happened.
It's not that Americans are stupid or ill-educated. (More than 40% of us have college educations.) It's just that our culture worships business and entertainment far more than politics, so politics are not discussed routinely in the US the way they are in Europe. It's not considered polite to bring up politics at a dinner party unless guests whose jobs are in politics are present. Also, you must understand we have 50 states and hundreds of our own cities, many of which are the size of Belgrade, to know about. That takes up a lot of room in a newspaper or TV news report. Then our news covers the rest of the world next, and in the general scheme of things, Serbia is only a very tiny part of the rest of the world. Lastly, not many Americans are of Serbian blood. Ireland is a tiny country which most Americans know lots about because so many people have ancestors there.
So the fact is, nearly no one in America knows Serbia exists, much less has any passionate hatred for it. Serbs visiting the US will recieve a wholehearted warm welcome. We like visitors. We like foreigners. We love to be hospitable. We are the people who add "Have a nice day!" with a big fat smile onto the end of every conversation. We may be a little shallow at times, but we sure are friendly.
Why am I telling you this? I think Serbia has a big opportunity at this moment in time, You can make an impression on the world, grow your national "brand". You can decide how you would like Serbia to be perceived and then use marketing and PR to get the word out. There is an information void waiting to be filled.
If you just complain like sullen teenagers that "Everybody hates us" then that is what will happen. (Does anyone besides a Mother love a sullen teenager?)
If however, you decide that you think Serbia and Serbs are fantastic, then the world is likely to join with you in your opinion.
The fact is, I and many of my expatriot friends (people from other countries who have lived in Serbia) think that Serbia is a very special country. Many of us have moved to Serbia or plan to move to Serbia. We like it here. It's a wonderful place. Too bad more Serbs don't agree with us.
But then many of you don't have the perspective of being a foreigner here, let alone travel to other countries. I hope to bring that perspective to you in future posts.