Beer Kingdom
Part 1Belgrade School of Life
"We'll be Communists only when all our citizens are living in Belgrade" exclaimed Serbian poet Matija Beckovic back in 1970s. He was referring to the natural desire of many Yugoslavs to become citizens of their national capital. But he was at the same time sarcastic, because compared to the other big European cities, including some in Yugoslavia itself, Belgrade didn't have much going for it.
Travelers from the West always complained that Belgrade was dirty and its services bad. Belgrade to them resembled some locations in Asia and North Africa, but lacked the charm and exoticism. Travelers from the East, in a hurry to taste the real Central and Western Europe, stayed in Belgrade only as long as their train did-usually the famous Orient Express.
Instead of writing THE BELGRADE QUARTET, Lawrence Durrell wrote letters to his friends (he was press attaché to the British Legation in Belgrade in the 1950s) complaining of Belgrade's drabness and "the curious stale smell that the Yugoslav public seems to carry everywhere with them".
It didn't help matters that Belgrade suffered heavy bombardment in both world wars; the few preserved houses, monuments, and cobblestoned streets suffered from the speedy efforts of Communists city officials to turn Belgrade into a "real socialist metropolis". Every Sunday, the Belgrade daily POLITIKA would print a photograph or a drawing of a long-gone "historical monument" under the title "Belgrade that is no more".
What it lacked in architectural wonders, Belgrade tried to make up in people. During twenty years of Communist rule, over a million people moved to Belgrade. They came from all parts of Yugoslavia, and brought their habits, their manners, their morals, and their relatives, as well as the above-mentioned " curious stale smell ". Bearing in mind Yugoslavia ("that is no more") had three major languages, a number of dialects, three major religions, two alphabets, and many ways of preparing and preserving food, it's no wonder Belgrade became a Communist Babylon.

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As the author is all for anonymity, we'll respect his wishes to stay unknown and omit his name from this text. However, the above article appeared in Volume 17 #2 of the San Francisco Review of Books, for Fall 1992. The author of TRUE WEST and some other plays is on the cover, dressed as a cowboy.
Copyright 1996 Bahus Enterprises