A bridge that changed your life…

So it’s been a little while since my last report, and to be fair not a lot happened.
I spent a good chunk of it in a very small village in the countryside of the eastern part of Serbia, near the Danube river and Romanian boarder. I didn’t get out much, apart from two trips to church on the Saturdays and I was lucky enough to be taken along to a birthday party. That was an experience!
When I was told we were going to an 18th birthday party, I thought “hmmm this will be interesting”, and I was not disappointed. It honestly looked like I had walked into a wedding reception. The decorations screamed wedding, everyone was dressed to the nines, the main man greeted people as they arrived, photographers recorded everyone’s entrance, and hovered about taking snaps of the lively celebration. It started off fairly quiet, with this being broken by an an amazing ensemble of not one accordion but two, and a violinist, drummer and a player on keys. So many amazing accordion ummm interludes, I guess that’s what they were. Here I was thinking the accordion, as an instrument, had been put to bed like the harpsichord, or kazoo, but no, I have never been so wrong. People seemed to love it too, so I guess that only confirms it’s validity as a means of getting the party started.
And it cranked from 2pm in the afternoon well beyond when we left at midnight. There was traditional Serbian dancing, foods and ummm the traditional smoke of a hundred cigarettes.
After that joyful occasion, I pretty much just got to work stacking large logs into neatly packed rows. Good honest work.
Sadly it rained from Thursday on, which meant, the work was more undercover and thus easier. I had a great time staying with Dragan and Vera, my Workaway hosts, with their two awesome German shepherds, 3 cats, and 300,000 bees. Though I didn’t have much to do with the bees, apart from enjoy their produce. It’s great knowing that you can return to a place in the future and be welcome, which I would like to take them up on. I managed to be a hang of a lot more effective learning the local language. Attempting to put two words a days into my vocabulary. I made this a focus as I can use this knew knowledge of Serbian in Belgrade, in Bosnia, though they call it Bosnian, and Croatian in Croatia. Apparently I’m not meant to call it Serbian any more, which will probably catch me out. But, I guess English becomes Scottish when in Scotland, so it’s fine…

I spent two great days exploring around Belgrade after I finished up on the farm. My accomodation was right in the middle of the city, which was gold. ‘Tis an interesting place Serbia, it has a troubled past, an ancient past full of struggles, oppression by many tyrants, plenty internal and external strife, and some very recent. And yet, the people are so darn friendly, and so very proud of from where they have come.
However, one criticism; they have pretty much ignored the whole refugee situation. They have thousands squatting around their country with many in Belgrade itself, only to be left to their own devices, except for the wonderful and very hard working volunteers and NGOs that feed and look out for them. The thing is, Serbians themselves know what it is like to be refugees, to be persecuted in places they called home. To be killed, hunted, and derided. So I find it a bit weak and shortsighted that they have responded with mostly apathy, with spottings of hostility.

It’s a poor country, that’s kinda obvious, but it also meant the price of things was a lot cheaper than other parts of Europe, and when you’re on a budget it’s amazingly cheap. We’re talking 60 cents NZ for a 500ml bottle of local beer, at your local supermarket. Coffee, and by coffee I mean a Macchiato is 150 denar, $1.80 nz… I’ve made the move to Macchiatos, because for some reason the Balkan people prefer long life UHT milk instead of fresh, which tastes poor in a coffee. I’m a bit perplexed by their preference, I’ll try and get to the bottom of it and keep you posted.
After my last big travel days I remembered my great dislike of taking the bus. So instead of putting myself through an 8 hour ordeal on a stuffy, packed bus. I paid just a little more to a travel agency that run a door to door shuttle service from Belgrade to Sarajevo, 5 hours later I’m here. I’m fairly excited by what I’ll get to see and do. The very first thing I did, after I got kinda settled into my accomodation, again super central, was to head to the bridge that changed History. It’s now called the Latin Bridge, it was the place where Gavrelo Princip assassinated the crown prince Franz Ferdinand of Austria Hungary in 1914. It was a pebble moved by a grain of sand that caused a landslide that caused the very mountain of history to be changed forever.
Honestly, it’s such a crazy thing to wrestle with, no offence to Sarajevo, but it’s a fairly insignificant kind of place, and yet when you see the plaque, telling you the spot where the shots rang out, it’s crazy to think of the unforeseen impact.
As you probably didn’t know, this was the event that instigated the war that began all wars… WW1. Gavrello Princip was a Serbian nationalist, looking to free his home land of yet another foreign oppressor, they’d just managed to throw off the Ottoman yoke, only to be taken over by the Austrians. Austria-Hungary, naturally, declared war upon Serbia, who being Slavic, appealed to their brethren to the far North, the mighty Russian’s for protection. The Austrians in turn, asked their allies to their north if they had their support, the might of Bismark’s Germany. So yeah, when the Russians started to mobilise their troops, the Germans had to follow suit. And because Russia was allied with France, that meant we had a real war on our hands.
However it got bigger when Germany, in order to sort out the French, before they could sort out the Russians, had to pass through Neutral Belgium. They asked very politely for the Belgians to let them pass through, but the Belgians, couldn’t allow this. And thus they destroyed roads, bridges, rail, whatever they could to stop the grey mass of German forces. The Germans retaliated harshly and so the Belgians appealed to the consigner of their neutrality, Britain. And thus is how NZ, Aussie, Canada and whoever else was in the commonwealth went to war with Germany.
But you see that simply cannot be where the implications of Princip’s actions end. WW1 was the instigator of the fall of the TsarĀ in Russian to the communist regime, it paved the way for Hitler’s fascism in Germany. Which lead into WW2, the Cold War, Korean War, war in Afghanistan, and thus September 11th. It led to Britain taking Palestine off the Turks which lead to the regimes in the Middle East today. I.E Syria.
It is really quite amazing to consider the reach of the actions of a radicalised 19 year old Serbian Nationalist. Naturally he didn’t act alone, but that’s something if you’re interested you can ask me about another time.
It’s funny really, as we tend to have the belief that one person can not change the world. It’s that picture of the boy on the beach throwing star fish back into the ocean after a storm- ‘You can’t change the world but you can change it for the people in your sphere of influence’. But that is proven completely false with Princip. Because, though he didn’t mean to, his actions are still impacting us today. I mean how many people died, because of him? You have the millions from WW1 the millions of WW2, the millions related to the spread of Communism and the countless numbers outside of those conflicts. You have to wonder, if the young 19 year old knew the outcome of his actions, would he go through with it?
I saw a t-shirt in Belgrade with Princips face on it with the words “It’s a matter of Princip” as in it was the principle of the thing. Still, I find this incredibly hard to reconcile.
And so, I walked away from the spot to ponder. To mull over the share amazement of the story, I mean if you don’t know it, look it up, or again ask me, as the timing of the thing is like it was fated to happen… it’s amazing.
I’m pretty happy to be in Sarajevo, I’m here until Friday when I take a short bus ride, thankfully, down to a place called Konjic, from where I will be picked up by my next workaway, to be a rafting guide on the Naretva River, that’s sure to be fun. However before then, I’m really looking forward to frequenting the Bridge that changed the world, just to try and take it all in. But also, seek to learn more about the principle as to why I’m in Sarajevo. Because I wouldn’t be except for that darned bridge.


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