Last week I mentioned here in passing that I liked architecture in Serbia. A commenter replied, "Architecture? Which architecture? Many years ago famous architect Le Corbusier said about Belgrade that it is the ugliest city built on one of the most beautiful locations".
This is just one of many times I've heard or read Belgrade-based people use the words Belgrade and Serbia interchangably -- as though they are two words that mean the exact same thing. For example, the Facebook Group Expats in Serbia proclaims, "Let's gather and relish the joys of Beograd together."
I cannot begin to express how annoying this constant, knee-jerk, unthinking Belgrade=Serbia is for people living outside of Belgrade! We all understand how big and important Belgrade is... but that is not an excuse for Belgraders to swagger about thinking they are the Serbian End All and Be All.
You're not. And that attitude is going to bite you in the backside someday because for people outside Belgrade it fractures Serbia into Belgrade vs Not, instead of unifying her as a whole. But this line of discussion strays into politics and I'm not a political beast, so I'll stay out of it.
For the record, my Serbian home is in downtown Sombor. As many citizens of Sombor say, it's the perfect place if you are a child or raising a family, and it's a fine place for retirement, especiallly early retirement if you can manage it. If you're in your 20s, you'll probably go nuts and move to Novi Sad or Belgrade for a few years. It's also not fabulous for many types of jobs (but what smaller cities are?)
Sombor is beautiful architecturally, filled with art and artists, packed with cafes, and a great mix of people. You'll find Serbians who've lived and worked around the world mixing with Vojvodina farmers. It's a friendly town with just enough people that you never feel as claustrophobic as smaller places can make you, nor as lonely as bigger ones can. And did I mention a house downtown can still cost as little as 35,000 Euros?
I've done a lot of traveling, living in or visiting nearly 60 cities in 10 countries. Sombor is one of my top five favorites of all time. It suits me just fine. It also suits a lot of natives so much that many times I've heard people debating if becoming a more famous town would ruin what they like about it. Being a little artistic backwater is pretty awesome if you have a small-but-assured income. (We'd all like to see a bit more economic vitality though.)
I'm aware that this whole Belgrade-Is-The-Universe thing is partly a demographic movement which will inevitably someday change at least slightly. Many people in Belgrade are perhaps the first or second generation off the farm. They still have ties to the old village in the middle of nowhere where there are no jobs, less education, and the horrible feeling (especially for young adults) of being stifled in a vacuum while real, exciting life goes on elsewhere.
Most American citizens felt the exact same way about 90 years ago. My own grandfather raised with 10 other children in a sod hut (house made of earth) on a farm in the prairie jumped on cattle train going East to Chicago as soon as he hit 18... just as all of his siblings had done before him. He never looked back.
And now his grandchildren all sing praises of the various small towns and cities they've moved to around the US and world, from Newport Rhode Island to Sombor Serbia. We won't move back to the farm, but we know from experience, you can have a higher quality of life in a small city than in anywhere larger. This thinking is so prevalant in the US that bookstores and magazines are full of stories of "The Best Small Towns in America".
I bet you a bunch that in decades to come, Serbian magazines and books will cover similar topics... In the meantime, the next time you hear someone in conversation refer to Belgrade as though it is completely synonymous with Serbia, please correct them for me. Thank you.