The Monk has been in Belgrade for the last several days. The purpose of the visit was to deliver a paper at a conference held by the Serbian Fire Protection organisation DITUR. It has proved to be an interesting and rewarding experience. The Monk freely admits that he has been very fortunate to be able to travel to many countries as a 'guest' of his professional colleagues and has always been very well looked after. He has also had, as a result, the opportunity to see and experience at first hand aspects of the host country and society that he would not have if he were to go there as a 'tourist'.
Westerners often have a view of a country or nation largely coloured by what they have read in newspapers (almost invariably negative) or seen on television. We tend to form our opinions from limited sources and often negative reporting on some event in any given country. Quite often the experience of the traveller is distinctly at odds with the 'information sources' consulted. So it is with the Serbs. Theirs is an ancient culture, but it is one that suffers from having been sandwiched between many different empires down the ages. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Magyars, Turks and eventually Austro-Hungarians and the Russians have all had a go at dominating and absorbing them. In recent years NATO had a go and the scars are still present, yet the welcome couldn't be warmer, the desire to be accepted as a part of Europe, and perhaps above all, to be recognised as having some legitimate concerns regarding the annexation of land they settled long before the Byzantines and their successors imposed their rule, to provide expansion for some of their more recently arrived neighbours.
There is a rich cultural mix in Serbia. It is now re-emerging in the post communist nation, and they are rebuilding their culture, their lifestyle and their country. There can't be many republics that welcome back the descendant of their former Royal House, and give him an official residence!
It has been a very interesting visit, the Monk's second to this fascinating city, and once again he has found the people welcoming, the atmosphere relaxed, friendly and hopeful. His contact with shopkeepers, hotel staff and the delegates was marked by their warmth, friendliness and by their willingness to help at every level. Should any reader have the opportunity to visit this country and the city of Belgrade - don't hesitate. The experience will be rewarding.