Friday, October 21, 2005

I, Ramush - Salon.com

Former Kosovar rebel and prime minister Ramush Haradinaj is a local hero. He also faces war crime charges.

By Ginanne Brownell

Oct. 21, 2005 | Ramush Haradinaj was locked up in a jail cell in The Hague from March until June this year, charged with heinous war crimes committed during Kosovo's war against its parent state, Serbia, in the 1990s. Formerly a commander in the guerrilla group the Kosovo Liberation Army, Haradinaj was elected prime minister in December 2004. His political reign ended after only three months, when he stepped down to face charges brought by the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia).

Still, this summer, images of the darkly handsome 37-year-old loomed large across the region. Billboards bearing his name towered over Pristina, the capital. Shopkeepers along "Bill Klinton" Boulevard taped up fliers showing their support for him. Across the countryside, young and old alike wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Our Prime has a job to do here."

This fall may be the most integral time in Kosovo's history. In early October, Kai Eide, Kofi Annan's special envoy to Kosovo, presented a report outlining whether the perennially wartorn region had met the various democratic and human rights standards set out by the United Nations in 2003. It is expected that Eide's report will open the door for negotiations to begin in November on whether Kosovo will be granted nationhood by the U.N.

Currently, conventional wisdom says it's a matter of when rather than if Kosovo, whose ethnic population is 90 percent Albanian, will be granted conditional independence. Says one former international official familiar with Balkan politics: "The road ahead may be rocky, but the international community wants it to end in some form of independence, because everyone realizes that the Albanian majority will accept nothing else."

If so, it would be a momentous occasion for Kosovo. And for anyone who wants to understand the embattled land, its conflicted leaders, and its tenuous relationship with the West, perhaps the best place to begin is with the story of Ramush Haradinaj.

The man and the myth are impossible to separate in a region that is a dense thicket of dangerous innuendoes, rumors and propaganda. He has been described as highly intelligent and disciplined. A native of Kosovo and an ethnic Albanian, he is almost universally credited with leading his fragile nation toward independence from Serbia, and doing more in his 100 days in office than the previous government had done in three years.

But there is another side to Ramush -- his first name alone is universal across Kosovo. He is a scrappy man who, when provoked, can lash out with chilling results. Earlier this spring he caustically told a group of protesters at a rally to shut up or "I'll fuck your mothers." His detractors describe him as a ruthless military "psychopath" who terrorized his own men and the local population into loyalty. And his ICTY rap sheet details 17 crimes against humanity including overseeing murder, rape and the displacement of people.

Haradinaj's trial is scheduled to begin in January 2007. Provisions of his release from The Hague in June meant that he was not allowed to contact politicians, attend public events or speak with journalists. That time expired in early September and now Haradinaj is planning a return to the political scene. It could not have come at a more effective time. Haradinaj's prime ministerial successor, Bajram Kosumi, has been hit with corruption and sex allegations, and has had a weak support base. Earlier this summer, it was revealed that Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova, who has no heir apparent, is battling lung cancer. So there is no single figurehead for Kosovo at the moment.

Politics in Kosovo have historically been a slippery slope of intrigues and mudslinging, and there are no guarantees that it will be granted independence by the United Nations. Serbs are certainly hellbent not to let Kosovo go. Serbia's President Boris Tadic has said his nation would be open to "more than autonomy" but it would be political suicide in Serbia to be seen to even consider independence for Kosovo. His main concern is that losing Kosovo might bring ultra-nationalist parties back into power. The northern regions of Kosovo also happen to have the greatest concentration of mineral wealth in all of southeastern Europe. And those resources are worth fighting for.

Kosovo has long been fought over as Serbs across the Balkans consider the region to be their holy land. Ethnic Serbs consider Kosovo the original seat of their Orthodox church, while Kosovar Albanians claim to be the original inhabitants. Kosovo was the place where the disintegration of Yugoslavia began in 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic whipped up Serbian nationalism at a speech at the historic site of Kosovo Polje, where the Serb Empire had been defeated by the Turks in 1389. Four wars erupted in quick succession -- in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo -- with violence, mayhem and the birth of the term "ethnic cleansing."

Today, Haradinaj's reputation within Kosovo and among those in the international community has not been crippled by his upcoming trial. Although many observers doubt that he can hold an elected position while he awaits his trial, there is a sense in Kosovo that he could emerge as a statesman-like figure in the status negotiations. "Ramush can play a 'Nixon goes to China' role by pursuing ethnic reconciliation on a daily basis," says Scott Bates, senior fellow for national security at the Center for National Policy. "He has the guts and street credibility to change the tone in Kosovo."

Haradinaj's bare-knuckles beginnings were exactly what Kosovo, battling for independence from Serbia, sought in a leader. His mix of raw intelligence and street smarts jived with Kosovars who were looking to follow someone who embodied the rural Kosovar spirit -- and not someone crowned with traditional Western credentials.

The second of 10 children, Haradinaj was the star kid of the large family. His mother, Ruki, says he was always a respectful and polite child, who from an early age seemed to know innately what was the right thing to do. "He was a child who felt for other people, and though I can try to take credit for teaching him that, it would not be true -- he was born with that gift."

Haradinaj's shopkeeper father, Hilmi, was a member of the Communist Party, and he raised his sprawling family in a part of Kosovo with strong nationalist traditions. "Culturally, Ramush was like someone who came from Arkansas or Tennessee, which is very different than coming from New York," says journalist James Pettifer, author of "Kosova Express." He excelled in school, often being given the opportunity to lead the class in schoolwork, and he used every opportunity to learn. "When he was very little he would write down numbers in the dirt and then erase them and write them over again and as he got older he would read lots of books, even when he was herding sheep he would be reading as he walked," his mother says.

His plans after graduating at the top of his class in 1987 were to volunteer in the Yugoslavian army for a year and then head to Pristina University to study astronomy. That, however, was never to be, though Haradinaj did obtain a university education by completing a law degree last year while serving in government.

Although he impressed his superiors enough to be promoted to corporal (something rare for an ethnic Albanian), the economic situation for the family was becoming bleaker and Haradinaj became an economic migrant. Working odd jobs in Switzerland, France and Italy as a nightclub bouncer, a martial arts teacher and a security guard at rock concerts, Haradinaj also fell in love for the first time. Joanna Carlsson, a young Finnish woman, was his live-in love for several years and is the mother of his eldest son. Their relationship ended around 2001, and in 2003 Haradinaj married a pretty TV presenter, Anita Mucaj, who is the mother of his son, Gjini.

While Haradinaj was living in Western Europe, learning French and English, back home Kosovo was simmering over with tensions as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic kicked ethnic Albanians out of their state jobs and refused to admit them to university. Many in the diaspora, tired of how the Albanian leadership was preaching passive resistance, decided they must fight for their independence and Haradinaj took up the cause, smuggling weapons such as guns and grenades back to his parents' house on trips home.

In 1997, the nation of Albania, which borders Kosovo, fell into anarchy when a series of pyramid investment schemes went bust. Huge caches of weapons were thrown open to everyone, and the KLA, which had formed in 1993 and had been up to that point involved in small-scale guerrilla warfare against the Serbs, reaped the gold mine. The same year that Haradinaj witnessed his brother Luan being killed in an ambush, while smuggling arms across the mountain border between Kosovo and Albania, he proved his dedication to Kosovo by moving back to the region and becoming a point person for the KLA.

Haradinaj would later lose a second brother in the war and a third brother was murdered this past April in what was apparently a blood feud. The Haradinaj home became a guerrilla compound, and in 1998, the Serbs attacked the house and surrounding area hoping to dent the KLA operations in the region. During intense fighting, Haradinaj was shot in the leg, arm and lower stomach. Unable to see through all the smoke, he spoke to a silhouette he believed to be his father, telling him to take cover. The figure was a policeman who fired at Haradinaj. One "bullet hit me [in] the pocket where the keys were, so [it] did not have the full effect, but it caused me 12 different holes where the pieces of metal had gone," Haradinaj later recalled. Running into a room, he found some cheese and used it as a compress on his leg to stop the bleeding. He continued to fight against Serb forces until they eventually retreated several hours later.

The KLA continued to grow from a guerrilla operation to a small, organized army. Both the United States and NATO would eventually back the KLA, a controversial decision. At one point, the KLA was branded a terrorist organization by the State Department and funds going to the KLA were declared illegal. However, as the West was drawn closer and closer into war with Serbia, the KLA was seen as the key organization for providing intelligence.

Haradinaj moved up the ranks to become a senior commander. During a cease-fire in 1998, he came into contact with U.S. and British intelligence agents; realizing that Haradinaj controlled western Kosovo, they nurtured relations with him that would prove invaluable to all parties. The West gained important battlefield intelligence and Haradinaj made contacts that led to his rise as a politician. In March 1999, after months of shuttle diplomacy by the international community, hoping to get Serbia to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO began a bombing campaign that would last three months. Haradinaj, equipped with a satellite phone supplied by the alliance, helped to pinpoint targets for bombing and continued to command his fighting troops.

"Ramush really struck me because he was just so calm and professional and very different from your average KLA soldier," says journalist Stacy Sullivan, author of "Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America," which chronicles the links between U.S. Albanian émigrés and the KLA. But Haradinaj was also said to be a strict commander who would beat his men to maintain discipline. A British military official told London's Observer newspaper in 2000 he had seen Haradinaj beat two Albanian men who supposedly had let Serb police into their home. "Someone would pass [Haradinaj] information and he would disappear for two hours. The end result would be several bodies in a ditch," the source stated.

The ICTY states that Haradinaj's KLA unit kidnapped and murdered 40 Serb civilians, some of whose remains were found decomposing in a canal and had marks of torture. Reports on Kosovo.com, a pro-Serb Web site, say that other bodies were stuffed into wells and that Haradinaj's troops also killed Albanians believed to have been helping Serbs. "[The Serbs] accused us of perpetrating acts so they could justify their actions to domestic public opinion," Haradinaj has said. "I cannot say we were perfect during the war, we were human, [and we reacted] when they attacked our family and values."

After the Kosovo War ended in June 1999, diplomats in Kosovo claimed that Haradinaj was persuaded to enter the political fray by British and American intelligence, which wanted to see the KLA's support split between Haradinaj and another former KLA commander, Hashim Thaci, a more radical and unruly candidate. Haradinaj founded the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), a political party that was considered to be moderate, in the spring of 2000 and began building up clout. Quickly moving his way up the ranks, Haradinaj positioned himself to become the prime minister of the ruling coalition.

There were glitches along the way. In 2000, he was involved in a punch-up with Russian peacekeepers and was injured in a murky attack on his neighbors. During July of that year, in what was allegedly a drunken squabble, Haradinaj was hit in the neck with shrapnel from a grenade and was treated first at Camp Bondsteel and then taken by helevac to another U.S. base in Germany for treatment. In 2001, when reports circulated that Haradinaj was funding his party with profits from petrol and cigarette smuggling, the United Nations forced him to shut down the smuggling operation.

But detractors began to give Haradinaj credit as he quickly turned himself into a polished statesman; instead of running on the obvious issue of independence, Haradinaj tackled issues such as improving education and basic infrastructure. "He seemed young and decisive, able to make the shift from guerrilla leader to political leader, rather like Michael Collins of the Irish Republican Army did in the early 1920s," says Britain's former Europe minister Denis MacShane. At a dinner held soon after Kosovo's first assembly elections in 2001, members were asked to mix and mingle. Haradinaj headed straight over to a Serbian delegate, where he sat down and conversed all evening with him about judo.

An array of Western advisors coached him on how to dress, act and master the subtle nuances of spin. Haradinaj proved to be an able leader, lobbying heavily to have a Serb become his minister of returns. "What was striking was that when he became prime minister, he seemed to grow into the role immediately," says Carne Ross, whose group, International Diplomat, advises the Kosovar government.

Haradinaj's indictment on war crimes was not unexpected, and his reaction to it only reinforced his newfound statesman persona. "He of course had the option to bolt for the hills and become a fugitive, and although if he had run he would have always found a home and a refuge, he chose not to," says a source familiar with Haradinaj. Instead, he stood down from his role as prime minister and told Kosovars to remain calm. However, according to an International Crisis Group report, Haradinaj in private told colleagues a week before his indictment, "They won't take me alive." Some say he meant it as joke, while others say no, he meant exactly what he said.

Haradinaj declared his innocence and said he would do whatever he was asked to do by the ICTY. But he didn't hesitate to declare that the international community had made a grave mistake. "[The ICTY] is treating liberation fighters the same as aggressors who destroyed entire nations and turned the region into ruins," he said, as some of his bodyguards and ministers wept. He also claimed he was a victim of "horse-trading" between The Hague and Belgrade, Serbia's capital, to encourage the hand-over of Serbs such as Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is wanted on war crimes charges in Bosnia, and still remains at large.

Although conspiracy theorists claim that Haradinaj's indictment on war crimes was an act of sabotage to destabilize the region, what it really shows, observers say, is that the ICTY is an equal opportunity prosecutor: Serbs can no longer claim they are the only ones being prosecuted, as Croatians, Bosnians and now Kosovars have been charged with crimes.

"There is a misguided attempt by the ICTY to prosecute Serbs, Croatian, Kosovars equally," says Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, who works for No Peace Without Justice, a nonprofit organization, and was involved in investigating war crimes during the war in Kosovo. Milosevic, currently on trial at The Hague, is the ICTY's most famous catch and someone whom Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at ICTY, fought hard to get and prosecute. Haradinaj says he was charged solely because of his Albanian ethnicity. "If the same accusations were leveled against a Serb, it would not be near the scale of gravity, whether they were true or not," he says.

Of course, whether the charges of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing stick depends upon the evidence. But in Kosovo, there are few people willing to even acknowledge his war crimes. "We investigated cases of kidnapping, disappearances, but we never managed to search cases related to Haradinaj," says Natasa Kandic, founder of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. "No one from Kosovo will talk about that because all people are afraid to speak about his indictment and his responsibility. I think you will not find anyone to talk to you."

The U.S. put Kosovo on the back burner after Sept. 11, focusing on more pressing issues in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it seeks to retain good relations with Kosovo because Camp Bondsteel in central Kosovo is likely to remain a permanent military base for jumping-off points in Eastern Europe. There is also the feeling that though Kosovar Albanians tend to be secular -- 95 percent are Muslim and 5 percent are Catholic -- there exists the possibility that because of the lack of opportunities for growth and a 60 percent unemployment rate, the province could prove fertile ground for regional Islamic terrorism. "The U.S. is feeling that the situation needs to be resolved before it could potentially be a terrorist haven," says James Lyon of the International Crisis Group. "It is an Islamic majority so you have the potential."

Before his indictment on war crimes, Haradinaj's star seemed to shine bright in the U.S. State Department. "Ramush is the kind of man Americans could get excited about," says Whit Mason, an advisor to the Kosovar government. "Ramush built his career on the basis of charisma and vision, which is something that Americans expect of a politician, and [while] the other parties were practicing mudslinging, Haradinaj practically claimed to be apolitical, which is something the Americans found refreshing."

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden has described Haradinaj as "a tough guy [who] looks as if he could lift an ox out of a ditch," and this March paid tribute to him on the Senate floor. "I want to publicly salute him for his personal courage, for the statesmanship he has demonstrated over the last two years [and] I wish him well," Biden said.

However, the U.S. began to distance itself from Haradinaj when Del Ponte and her ICTY colleagues brought his possible war crimes to light. "[The Americans] have been backing him for the long term, and they wanted him to be one of their main vectors of influence here for the next 10 or 20 years," Mason says. "So they did not want him to be prime minister now, they wanted him to deal with these charges, beat them and hoped he would come back and be a powerful leader who is sympathetic to the U.S."

Today, there are strong feelings among Kosovars as well as international observers that if Haradinaj is found not guilty, or even has to serve a short prison term, he is still likely to be a political star in Kosovo. "If the U.S. government is smart they will continue to have quiet, sotto voce conversations with Ramush [to] keep a little bit of oil on the water as we move through this period," says John Norris, a former State Department official during the Clinton administration, and author of "Collision Course: Nato, Russia and Kosovo."

"Ramush is a revolutionary and revolutionaries are capable of greatness and brutality, and if you push them into a corner, you don't know what they will do," says Sullivan. "If Ramush thought it was necessary to kill Serb civilians to get his independent Kosovo, he probably would have done it. On the other hand, when he saw that helping Serbs return was necessary for an independent Kosovo, he made sure the Serbs were allowed to return."

Haradinaj, it seems, has done whatever it takes to help Kosovars become independent. Judges in The Hague, who earlier this month ruled that Haradinaj could return to politics, are reviewing an appeal by Del Ponte, who is unhappy with the thought of Haradinaj getting involved in Kosovo affairs. Rumors are circulating that Haradinaj's AAK party might merge with another party, the LDK, led by President Ibrahim Rugova, to become the Democratic Union of Kosovo. If that happens, it is believed that Haradinaj would be the head, making the party strong and united with both the president and prime minister of Kosovo as members. Regardless of The Hague's decision over Haradinaj's reentry into the political life of Kosovo, what is certain is that Haradinaj's presence and influence are still felt across the region. That brings comfort to many and sends shivers up the spines of others.

-- By Ginanne Brownell

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

1.500 ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s southern Kosovo province may have been recruited by Al-Qaeda. Quoting a secret American intelligence report, the paper said that they were organized in a group called “white devils” and were being trained in secret camps in Kosovo for a “holy war”.

Kosovo has been under United Nations control since 1999, and majority ethnic Albanians, mostly of Muslim religion, demand independence, something Belgrade firmly opposes. The international police, tasked with keeping the peace in Kosovo, confirmed this week that groups of armed gangs, wearing black uniforms, have been active lately in western parts of the province.

shqipetarperjete said...

Go fluck yourself you son of a "good" mother.
Your theory of terrorism is not working.The albanians religion is the ALBANISM. When it comes to protect their rights and freedom Albanians join their hands together no matter if they are catholics orthodoxs or muslims. It is proven throughout their ancient history long before you sebs came to the Balkans and was proven few years ago in their war for freedom and independence in Kosova.You must have heard that so many times now and this is what you serbs fear the most. And as per those terrorist groups you are talking about, yeah, Albanians are fighting with Americans and other countries in Afganistan, Irak and elswere to get rid of them. So Budy you are fooling no one. Nice try though......

shqipetarperjete said...

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden has described Haradinaj as "a tough guy [who] looks as if he could lift an ox out of a ditch," and this March paid tribute to him on the Senate floor. "I want to publicly salute him for his personal courage, for the statesmanship he has demonstrated over the last two years [and] I wish him well," Biden said.

Regardless of The Hague's decision over Haradinaj's reentry into the political life of Kosovo, what is certain is that Haradinaj's presence and influence are still felt across the region. That brings comfort to many and sends shivers up the spines of others


I believe that the two paragraphs give a good answer to my serbian buddy about his terrorism b.sh.

Anonymous said...

finally a somewhat not biased articel on serbia from the NYT. BELGRADE IS THE GREATEST CITY ON EARTH as confirmed by this article!!! HAHAHA ALBOS keep bending over towards mecca everyday, living with 10 people per room, making love to sheep and keep beating and pimping ur woman, U WILL NEVER LIVE LIFE AS HEROS, U WILL NEVER HAVE THIS TYPE OF ENERGY!!!!!!

The New York Times Travel

By SETH SHERWOOD
Published: October 16, 2005

NIGHT falls in the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and music fills the air. Everywhere.

Along the banks of the Danube and Sava Rivers, serpentine chains of music-blasting splavovi - floating raft clubs - snake into the inky Balkan night. Fortified by huge meat-kebab dinners and Turkish coffees from Belgrade's myriad cafes, crowds of night owls line up to partake variously of Gypsy bands, electronic mixes, rock 'n' roll and a distinctly Serbian hybrid known as Turbofolk.

As a parade of Puma-clad feet files down the metal gangway to a club called Exile, the night's marquee D.J., the New York City-based techno producer John Selway, prepares for his 2-to-6 a.m. set.

"The most fun places to play are here, South America and Japan!" he shouts over rapid-fire industrial beats, praising the energy of the night life in the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, the name for what is left of Yugoslavia after its unraveling in the early 90's. "They're interested in new music and in building a scene!"

Across the water, the lighted dome of St. Sava Church and illuminated stone walls of the centuries-old Kalemegdan Fortress hover over the capital's skyline. Just six years ago, during 78 days of NATO bombings intended to quell President Slobodan Milosevic's attacks on ethnic Albanians in the nation's Kosovo province, that same panorama exploded routinely in flame and debris.

This night, with Mr. Milosevic on trial in The Hague and Belgrade's doors open to the West, it's only the lights from Exile's open-air dance floor that flash in the night sky. The club's thudding sound system, not bombs, sends ripples through the river.

"I was here in the 1990's, the Dark Ages," says Dean Triantafilou, a Baltimore native, as he leads some fellow Americans to dine in Skadarska, the city's old bohemian quarter. He worked to resettle refugees after the 1991-95 civil wars that shattered Yugoslavia, and now leads tours to Belgrade. "People were selling gas in Coke bottles," he says of those years. "If you didn't spend your dinars in two hours, they were worthless," because of hyperinflation.

As he talks, girls in short skirts and high-heeled sandals wobble up the teeming cobbled street. The nostalgic minor-chord strains of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" float from the hands of an outdoor pianist, whose earnest airs collide with techno music blasting from a nearby lounge called Red Bar.

"Now look," Mr. Triantafilou says. "There's light, there's people. They're ready to party."

This November, it will be 10 years since the Dayton Accords ended the vicious ethnic war in neighboring Bosnia, and it has been five years since Serbia's "October Revolution" - when thousands of protesters flooded Belgrade's squares, burned the Parliament building and forced Mr. Milosevic to abdicate his stranglehold on a country that he had plunged into violence, economic ruin and international isolation. But Belgrade's 1.5 million residents are still waiting for the world to show up.

Consider, for example, what the Serbia and Montenegro chapter in Fodor's latest "Eastern and Central Europe" guidebook says about Belgrade: nothing. There is no such chapter. Ditto for "Rick Steve's Best of Eastern Europe 2005," which gives no travel information on the city and offers only a cursory sketch of the nation's history. The book's maps mysteriously end at the Bosnian and Croatian borders, with only empty whiteness beyond.

Such omissions, alas, are nothing new. Recalling his misguided prejudices before his visit to Belgrade in 1937, Henry Andrews, the husband of the British journalist and consummate Balkan chronicler Rebecca West, remarked to his wife: "I had always thought of Belgrade then as the Viennese see it. As the end of the earth, as a barbarian village." It was scarcely just the Viennese.

West did more than anyone before or since to dispel such illusions and to fill in the blank maps of Balkan life and history. Her magisterial tome "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia," published in 1941 and including her husband's reaction to Belgrade, remains the definitive travelogue about the region and your best travel companion in the city. Treading streets lined with mysterious Cyrillic signs, passing the venerable Art Nouveau exterior of the Hotel Moskva, gazing at the sad-eyed Byzantine saints of the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, you can still see Belgrade as West did.

Then, as now, Old World restaurants impressed with succulent peasant-style masterpieces ("they cook lamb and suckling pig as well as anywhere in the world," she wrote). Then, as now, the city was full of passionate, vigorous people "who speak and laugh and eat and drink a great deal." And then, as now, Belgrade sagged under the weight of its history. Suffused throughout it, West observed, was "the stench of empires."

It was not a poetic exaggeration. For more than a millennium, the city squirmed in the crosshairs of its hostile neighbors: Byzantines, Bulgars, Hungarians, Austrians and especially Ottoman Turks, who conquered Belgrade in 1521 and administered it ruthlessly for most of the next three centuries. Together and separately, those powers battled each other and their Serbian subjects in a round-robin of hatred and cannon fire.

In 1941, just after West's Balkan travels, the Nazi Luftwaffe swooped into the city with more than 900 planes, leveling half of its buildings on a single day in April. Mr Milosevic's deadly campaign in Kosovo - he is charged with genocide - brought in the bombers once again, this time NATO's. Seven decades after West composed her lines, her description of Serbia as "a new country that has to make its body and soul," seems as valid as ever.

One wonders what she would say of the post-Milosevic period. Unemployment remains rife. The former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, a reformist who was instrumental in sending Mr. Milosevic to face trial in The Hague, was assassinated in 2003. Nationalist, anti-Western parties still enjoy support, and foreign governments have accused Serbia of dragging its feet in rounding up fugitive war criminals from the conflict in Bosnia.

On the other hand, the nation has a progressive democratic president in Boris Tadic, a firm handle on the once-ravaging inflation problem and increasing foreign investments. "Airport City Belgrade!" shouts a huge sign next to a construction site on the highway just outside the city. "First Business Park in Serbia!"

Five years after the ouster of Mr. Milosevic, says Veran Matic, a journalist instrumental in the anti-Milosevic campaign and a founder of the B92 independent media group, Belgraders teeter between cynicism and "a kind of hidden hope and a belief in Serbia's wondrous resurrection."

While the streets of post-Milosevic Belgrade may not win a beauty contest anytime soon - rusty trams, drab midcentury buildings and stately but dilapidated 19th-century edifices still dominate the gray cityscape - some glimmerings of the resurrection that Mr. Matic sees are in evidence. In Republic Square, where the ocean of demonstrators and flag-wavers made their most passionate stand against Mr. Milosevic, construction teams are busy renovating the grand National Museum. Green Wreath Square, where the main outdoor market normally operates, is getting a similar makeover.

State-run Communist-era hotels are being privatized and boutique hotels like the smart, crisp Petit Piaf have begun to appear. Style-conscious restaurants, once unheard of in a land of pork-and-potato places, proliferate.

But it's the electricity of Belgrade's street life that makes the greatest impression. "Belgrade," Mr. Matic says, "is a very exciting city for anyone who expects to feel pure human energy."

You feel it along Knez Mihailova, a boulevard of fountains and Art Nouveau details where streams of D & G-wearing women strut past showrooms of Italian furniture, and preadolescent Gypsy musicians thrill the passing throngs with virtuoso fiddling. You feel it within the narrow passages of the Kalenic outdoor market on Njegoseva Street, as neighborhood residents shout "Koliko? Koliko?" ("How much? How much?) at the phalanx of elderly women in headscarves selling all manner of sausages, produce, nuts, dates, batteries, hair dye, sweaters, rice and deodorant.

You feel it especially in crowded Kalemegdan Park, a green swath overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers that West called "the special glory of Belgrade and indeed one of the most beautiful parks in the world." Formerly the citadel of Belgrade, Kalemegdan was long the bull's-eye that foreign invaders variously charged, captured, built up and eventually lost. The Roman well, the Turkish mausoleum, the Austrian clock tower and other abandoned relics form an Ozymandian graveyard of vanished dynasties.

But come dark, a number of outdoor bars and nightclubs sprout in the recesses of the park, and the cemetery of empires is reborn as the booming, cocktail-soaked cradle of Belgrade decadence.

"Anywhere else in the world, you wouldn't be allowed to have something like this in a historical monument," a bearded film student says one night at Bassment, a club that operates against the Kalemegdan battlements in warm months. "Not Belgrade."

A German D.J. duo called Moonbootica has the crowd jumping up and down to electronic music on ground that may once have seen battles for the city's soul.

Like Kalemegdan, the rest of the White City - the literal translation of its Serbian name, Beograd - reaches the zenith of its energy at night. Propelled by some of Europe's cheapest cocktails and taxi rides, the after-dark adventurer discovers that the surprisingly friendly and safe terra incognita of Belgrade holds a bounty of hidden hipster speakeasies, raucous rock 'n' roll dives and nightclubs boasting global talent.

Pick up the glossy entertainment magazine Yellow Cab at the slick bilevel Tribeca bar (Belgraders like to imagine their city as the Slavic counterpart to New York) and you find page after page of listings for exhibitions, theater events, concerts and club nights. If the great Yugoslav unifier Tito staggered from his hillside tomb, he'd find himself in the Continent's last great undiscovered night-life scene.

On a late fall evening, some weekending Britons follow a muffled electronic beat through an undistinguished door along Boulevard Novembra 29, descend a poorly lighted staircase and emerge in a basement bar stuffed with ugly oil paintings, retro-tacky lamps and other vintage touches. To judge from the décor, it's likely that there's a grandmother in some remote Balkan corner filling out a burglary report. The name of the bar, the Association of Globe-Trotters, seems fitting: Only the most motivated travelers can hope to discover it.

"This place you can only find if somebody brings you here," says the bartender, Dejan, serving up bottles of Montenegrin Niksicko Beer and explaining that the owners want to limit the establishment's clientele to loyal cognoscenti. The country's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, has been known to stop in, he adds.

The secret bar phenomenon is very much a trend in Belgrade. Some, like the aptly named nightclub Andergraund, occupy subterranean spaces in Kalemegdan Park. Others, like the cocktail lounge Ben Akiba - where a lively crowd of people in their 30's toasts "Ziveli" amid loud disco and funk - are concealed in private apartments.

"Where are all the people between 2 and 6 a.m.?" playfully asks the online entertainment site Belgradeinsideout.com, one of the rare English-language guides to the city. "They are probably hiding in some places where you can't find them."

Near Slavija Square on a Friday night, however, ranks of splendidly grimy music fans emerge from the woodwork to follow the buzz-saw sound of melodic punk rock reverberating from the outdoor stage of SKC, the CBGB of Belgrade. The every-punk-and-his-mother crowd arrives by the hundreds, chugging Lav Pivo (Lion Beer) from two-liter bottles. Two unshowered rock chicks in Converse high-tops carry a friend who has passed out and lies horizontally in their arms like a drunken log. These are the apostles of the elder statesmen of Belgrade's rock universe, the Partibrejkers.

For a place that has suffered as many privations and embargoes as Belgrade - where rock was a key opposition force during the lean Milosevic years - the locals exhibit musical knowledge as extensive as anywhere in the West. Scanning the rack of top-selling albums at the IPS music emporium, you find the White Stripes, Audioslave and other bands that grace top music magazines in America and Britain.

"They're remarkably well-informed," says Nick Hobbs, a concert promoter who has brought Kraftwerk, the MC5, John Spencer Blues Explosion and other staples of American vinyl junkies to Belgrade in recent years. "We can do things in Belgrade that we can't do anywhere else."

The result is a fertile musical landscape full of acts that would probably be alt-rock icons in countries with better record companies and higher disposable incomes: the hard-driving Lira Vega; the indie-electronic Darkwood Dub; the subversive sonic experimenter Rambo Amadeus.

On stage, the Partibrejkers tear through a succession of Stooges-meets-Kiss anthems while the throng pumps its fists and yells "Oh, Yeah!" Having endured more than two decades of the vicissitudes of their homeland - the post-Tito comedown, the wars of the 1990's, the economic and political uncertainty under the new leaders - the Partibrejkers are perhaps one more inspiring symbol of Belgraders' endurance. "When you have a strong link to the source of life," the group's guitarist, Nebojsa Antonijevic, said before the show, referring to his passion for music, "the outer situation can't deter you."

As the final number ends and people start to shuffle out over hills of crushed beer cans, the lead singer, Zoran Kostic, leans into the mike and offers a final message: "Sacuvajte svoje duse" ("Save your souls").

Punk rock fades to club beats the next evening as a slew of international D.J.'s hits town. While Mr. Selway presides over the turntables along the Sava at Exile, the Israeli trance-music guru D.J. Goblin spins to a sea of bobbing heads at the Baratuna club, and the Shapeshifters, British house-music masters, conjure their mixes at Bassment.

But it's the quiet, historical neighborhood of Zemun that plays host to the weekend's - and the season's - splashiest night-life event. There, as black S.U.V.'s idle outside, a flashbulb-popping crowd of the nation's most famous faces - soccer heroes, music idols, captains of industry - celebrates the opening of a swanky bar-restaurant called Eklektika. With its gauzy white rooms and ambient music, it feels like the sort of place where the "Sex and the City" quartet might schmooze - if their names were Jadranka, Desanka, Zoja and Kaja. But in spite of the sushi rolls and Slovenian wine, at least one V.I.P. is hiding out in a private room and waxing slightly nostalgic tonight.

"It used to be a positive thing to be a Yugoslav," says Dan Tana, the Serb-American whose namesake Hollywood restaurant is a favorite film-star hangout, with a sigh. "Milosevic did more damage to Serbs than Hitler did to the Germans."

His somber remarks, at first, seem to have sprung from the same undercurrent of wistfulness that West found so many decades earlier. "Autumnal doubtfulness," she eloquently called the mood.

Then, suddenly, Mr. Tana's face lightens. Just outside the door, ringing cellphones, clinking glasses and greetings of "dobro vece!" ("good evening!") filter through the soft-glowing, milk-white rooms.

"But I've brought many Americans to Belgrade, and they all fall in love," Mr. Tana goes on, passionately. "Our future is bright, but it's going to take time."

IF YOU GO

Getting There

Visas are no longer required for American citizens traveling to Serbia and Montenegro for up to 90 days.

While there are no direct flights from the United States to Belgrade, several European carriers fly there. A recent Web search for round trips from New York in late October found a wide range of fares, starting at $535 on Lufthansa through Frankfurt, but with most over $800.

Getting Around

At the airport, avoid the renegades approaching you with "taxi?" come-ons since legitimate cabs must be called (and should cost about 600 dinars - about $8.50 at 73 dinars to the dollar). But the JAT airline bus, which you can catch on the curb just outside the terminal doors and a bit to the left, costs 140 dinars and leaves the airport every hour on the hour. It stops at the central rail station and at Slavija Square, where taxis are easy to find and many hotels are within walking distance.

Central Belgrade is fairly compact, so walking to key points of interest will rarely take more than a half hour, and often less. City taxis are abundant, cheap and well-metered, and can be hailed in the street or at major hotels and squares. Rides around central Belgrade should run 150 to 200 dinars. A trip to the popular raft-clubs along the Danube and Sava Rivers costs around 250 to 350 dinars.

Taxi drivers may or may not speak English (you can ask them with a well-rehearsed "Da li govorite Engleski?"), so it's always best to take a marked map or a written address for the driver. A list of taxi companies and other useful information can be found at the Web site of the Tourist Organization of Belgrade, www.tob.co.yu.

Where to Stay

With the few noted exceptions, dial 381-11 before the numbers below from outside Serbia and Montenegro. Hotels often quote prices in euros, but not necessarily.

Le Petit Piaf, Skadarska 34, 303-5252, www.petitpiaf.com, was opened last year in the heart of Belgrade's small but lovely (and lively) old bohemian quarter. This pioneering boutique hotel offers 12 sleek, modern rooms and suites with phones and high-speed Internet access - a local rarity. A good breakfast is included in the room rates, which start at 150 euros ($183, at $1.22 to the euro).

Hotel Moskva, Balkanska 1, 2686-255, www.hotelmoskva.co.yu, occupies a stately Art Nouveau building that is one of Belgrade's most recognizable landmarks. Equipped with TV's and phones, the 132 rooms themselves are unexceptional, as is the included breakfast. Doubles from 136 euros.

Garni Hotel Splendid, Dragoslava Jovanovica 5, 323-5444, www.splendid.co.yu, is a good budget option in central Belgrade, if you can handle the dated 1970's feel. The 40 simple, clean rooms have TV's and phones. There's also a restaurant and bar on the premises. Doubles from $58.

Where to Eat

Daco, Patrisa Lumumbe 49, 278-1009, attracts a crowd with its ersatz rustic environment - raw wood-plank floors, exposed beams, farmhouse knickknacks- and huge portions of sopska salata (diced cucumbers, peppers and cheese) and hajducki cevap (pork kebabs) backed with rakija (fruit brandy). Dinner for two, without drinks, is around 2,000 dinars.

Zaplet, Kajmakcalanska 2, 240-4142, is a beautifully designed contemporary space with large windows, lots of right angles and muted fabrics. The extensive menu features appetizers like grilled goat cheese with red pepper and caper salsa, and entrees like filet mignon with gorgonzola-hazelnut butter. Dinner for two runs about 2,500 dinars, without drinks.

Tribeca, Knez Mihailova 50, 328-5656, is a strikingly modern and aggressively stylish restaurant-lounge with its own CD of club music ("Tribeca Chill-Out"). You can enjoy the grilled, bacon-wrapped chicken filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and sweet peppers, then stay for cocktails. Dinner for two runs 2,200 dinars, and cocktails 350 dinars.

Where to Drink

Ben Akiba, Nusiceva 8, 323-7775, is a lively cocktail lounge hidden in a second-floor apartment roughly across Terazije Street from the Hotel Moskva. Go to the end of Nusiceva, turn right and look for the apartment stairs to the left.

Club of World Travelers (Udruzenje Svetskih Putnika), 29 Novembra 7, 324-2303, is yet another of Belgrade's many hip, hidden bars. Enter this quiet residential building, go to the end of the lobby and descend the stairs to the right.

Idiot, Dalmatinska 13, no phone, attracts Belgrade's alternative set - musicians, artists, self-styled hipsters and a smattering of gays and lesbians. This indoor-outdoor bar fills the street in summer and packs its brick-vault basement when the weather gets cool.

Where to Dance

In summer, the banks of the Danube and the Sava are lined with splavovi - nightclubs on rafts - featuring everything from Gypsy bands to electronic music to a distinctly Serbian mixture of sentimental lyrics and disco beats called Turbofolk. Many places charge no cover, or at most 5 or 10 euros.

One of the top spots for imported D.J. talent is Exile, Savski Kej, (381-63) 205-545, which sits along the west bank of the Sava.

True to its name, Andergraund, Pariska 1a, 625-681, www.andergraund.com, is a subterranean den of decadence near the southwestern corner of Kalemegdan Park for house, funk, R & B and hip-hop devotees.

Around the corner and down the hill from Andergraund, at Karadjordjeva 9, is Bar Balthazar, (381-63) 706-3302, which opened in September. A nondescript doorway, guarded by bouncers, leads to a staircase down to the brick-roofed basement. Despite the name, Balthazar is more club than bar, with thundering house and techno beats.

Where to Rock

Akademija, Rajiceva 10, 262-7846, www.akademija.net, is a longtime favorite rock 'n' roll dive for top local talent.

SKC (Student Cultural Center) at the corner of Kralja Milana and Resavska Streets, 360-2000, www.skc.org.yu, features major bands not only from the Balkans but also from the rest of Europe and North America on indoor and outdoor stages. It also puts on art exhibitions, films and other cultural events.

Dom Omladine (Belgrade Youth Cultural Center), Makedonska 22/IV, 324-8202, www.dob.co.yu. is a top spot for touring bands and bigger names from Belgrade.

Sightseeing

Kalemegdan Park, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, is Belgrade's most beautiful green space. It is where the Romans, Byzantines and subsequent early settlers of the area once lived. The park houses a zoo, military museum and numerous centuries-old structures left by the various powers - Serbian, Austrian, Turkish - that occupied and controlled Belgrade in later eras.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Usce Save BB, Novi Beograd, 311-5713, www.msub.org.yu, sits just across the Sava in New Belgrade. It displays Yugoslav art since 1900. The current exhibition, "On Normality: Art in Serbia 1989-2001," looking at responses to the Milosevic years, runs through Nov. 7.

SETH SHERWOOD is a freelance writer based in Paris.

9:41 AM
Anonymous said...

finally a somewhat not biased articel on serbia from the NYT. BELGRADE IS THE GREATEST CITY ON EARTH as confirmed by this article!!! HAHAHA ALBOS keep bending over towards mecca everyday, living with 10 people per room, making love to sheep and keep beating and pimping ur woman, U WILL NEVER LIVE LIFE AS HEROS, U WILL NEVER HAVE THIS TYPE OF ENERGY!!!!!!

The New York Times Travel

By SETH SHERWOOD
Published: October 16, 2005

NIGHT falls in the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and music fills the air. Everywhere.

Along the banks of the Danube and Sava Rivers, serpentine chains of music-blasting splavovi - floating raft clubs - snake into the inky Balkan night. Fortified by huge meat-kebab dinners and Turkish coffees from Belgrade's myriad cafes, crowds of night owls line up to partake variously of Gypsy bands, electronic mixes, rock 'n' roll and a distinctly Serbian hybrid known as Turbofolk.

As a parade of Puma-clad feet files down the metal gangway to a club called Exile, the night's marquee D.J., the New York City-based techno producer John Selway, prepares for his 2-to-6 a.m. set.

"The most fun places to play are here, South America and Japan!" he shouts over rapid-fire industrial beats, praising the energy of the night life in the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, the name for what is left of Yugoslavia after its unraveling in the early 90's. "They're interested in new music and in building a scene!"

Across the water, the lighted dome of St. Sava Church and illuminated stone walls of the centuries-old Kalemegdan Fortress hover over the capital's skyline. Just six years ago, during 78 days of NATO bombings intended to quell President Slobodan Milosevic's attacks on ethnic Albanians in the nation's Kosovo province, that same panorama exploded routinely in flame and debris.

This night, with Mr. Milosevic on trial in The Hague and Belgrade's doors open to the West, it's only the lights from Exile's open-air dance floor that flash in the night sky. The club's thudding sound system, not bombs, sends ripples through the river.

"I was here in the 1990's, the Dark Ages," says Dean Triantafilou, a Baltimore native, as he leads some fellow Americans to dine in Skadarska, the city's old bohemian quarter. He worked to resettle refugees after the 1991-95 civil wars that shattered Yugoslavia, and now leads tours to Belgrade. "People were selling gas in Coke bottles," he says of those years. "If you didn't spend your dinars in two hours, they were worthless," because of hyperinflation.

As he talks, girls in short skirts and high-heeled sandals wobble up the teeming cobbled street. The nostalgic minor-chord strains of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" float from the hands of an outdoor pianist, whose earnest airs collide with techno music blasting from a nearby lounge called Red Bar.

"Now look," Mr. Triantafilou says. "There's light, there's people. They're ready to party."

This November, it will be 10 years since the Dayton Accords ended the vicious ethnic war in neighboring Bosnia, and it has been five years since Serbia's "October Revolution" - when thousands of protesters flooded Belgrade's squares, burned the Parliament building and forced Mr. Milosevic to abdicate his stranglehold on a country that he had plunged into violence, economic ruin and international isolation. But Belgrade's 1.5 million residents are still waiting for the world to show up.

Consider, for example, what the Serbia and Montenegro chapter in Fodor's latest "Eastern and Central Europe" guidebook says about Belgrade: nothing. There is no such chapter. Ditto for "Rick Steve's Best of Eastern Europe 2005," which gives no travel information on the city and offers only a cursory sketch of the nation's history. The book's maps mysteriously end at the Bosnian and Croatian borders, with only empty whiteness beyond.

Such omissions, alas, are nothing new. Recalling his misguided prejudices before his visit to Belgrade in 1937, Henry Andrews, the husband of the British journalist and consummate Balkan chronicler Rebecca West, remarked to his wife: "I had always thought of Belgrade then as the Viennese see it. As the end of the earth, as a barbarian village." It was scarcely just the Viennese.

West did more than anyone before or since to dispel such illusions and to fill in the blank maps of Balkan life and history. Her magisterial tome "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia," published in 1941 and including her husband's reaction to Belgrade, remains the definitive travelogue about the region and your best travel companion in the city. Treading streets lined with mysterious Cyrillic signs, passing the venerable Art Nouveau exterior of the Hotel Moskva, gazing at the sad-eyed Byzantine saints of the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, you can still see Belgrade as West did.

Then, as now, Old World restaurants impressed with succulent peasant-style masterpieces ("they cook lamb and suckling pig as well as anywhere in the world," she wrote). Then, as now, the city was full of passionate, vigorous people "who speak and laugh and eat and drink a great deal." And then, as now, Belgrade sagged under the weight of its history. Suffused throughout it, West observed, was "the stench of empires."

It was not a poetic exaggeration. For more than a millennium, the city squirmed in the crosshairs of its hostile neighbors: Byzantines, Bulgars, Hungarians, Austrians and especially Ottoman Turks, who conquered Belgrade in 1521 and administered it ruthlessly for most of the next three centuries. Together and separately, those powers battled each other and their Serbian subjects in a round-robin of hatred and cannon fire.

In 1941, just after West's Balkan travels, the Nazi Luftwaffe swooped into the city with more than 900 planes, leveling half of its buildings on a single day in April. Mr Milosevic's deadly campaign in Kosovo - he is charged with genocide - brought in the bombers once again, this time NATO's. Seven decades after West composed her lines, her description of Serbia as "a new country that has to make its body and soul," seems as valid as ever.

One wonders what she would say of the post-Milosevic period. Unemployment remains rife. The former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, a reformist who was instrumental in sending Mr. Milosevic to face trial in The Hague, was assassinated in 2003. Nationalist, anti-Western parties still enjoy support, and foreign governments have accused Serbia of dragging its feet in rounding up fugitive war criminals from the conflict in Bosnia.

On the other hand, the nation has a progressive democratic president in Boris Tadic, a firm handle on the once-ravaging inflation problem and increasing foreign investments. "Airport City Belgrade!" shouts a huge sign next to a construction site on the highway just outside the city. "First Business Park in Serbia!"

Five years after the ouster of Mr. Milosevic, says Veran Matic, a journalist instrumental in the anti-Milosevic campaign and a founder of the B92 independent media group, Belgraders teeter between cynicism and "a kind of hidden hope and a belief in Serbia's wondrous resurrection."

While the streets of post-Milosevic Belgrade may not win a beauty contest anytime soon - rusty trams, drab midcentury buildings and stately but dilapidated 19th-century edifices still dominate the gray cityscape - some glimmerings of the resurrection that Mr. Matic sees are in evidence. In Republic Square, where the ocean of demonstrators and flag-wavers made their most passionate stand against Mr. Milosevic, construction teams are busy renovating the grand National Museum. Green Wreath Square, where the main outdoor market normally operates, is getting a similar makeover.

State-run Communist-era hotels are being privatized and boutique hotels like the smart, crisp Petit Piaf have begun to appear. Style-conscious restaurants, once unheard of in a land of pork-and-potato places, proliferate.

But it's the electricity of Belgrade's street life that makes the greatest impression. "Belgrade," Mr. Matic says, "is a very exciting city for anyone who expects to feel pure human energy."

You feel it along Knez Mihailova, a boulevard of fountains and Art Nouveau details where streams of D & G-wearing women strut past showrooms of Italian furniture, and preadolescent Gypsy musicians thrill the passing throngs with virtuoso fiddling. You feel it within the narrow passages of the Kalenic outdoor market on Njegoseva Street, as neighborhood residents shout "Koliko? Koliko?" ("How much? How much?) at the phalanx of elderly women in headscarves selling all manner of sausages, produce, nuts, dates, batteries, hair dye, sweaters, rice and deodorant.

You feel it especially in crowded Kalemegdan Park, a green swath overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers that West called "the special glory of Belgrade and indeed one of the most beautiful parks in the world." Formerly the citadel of Belgrade, Kalemegdan was long the bull's-eye that foreign invaders variously charged, captured, built up and eventually lost. The Roman well, the Turkish mausoleum, the Austrian clock tower and other abandoned relics form an Ozymandian graveyard of vanished dynasties.

But come dark, a number of outdoor bars and nightclubs sprout in the recesses of the park, and the cemetery of empires is reborn as the booming, cocktail-soaked cradle of Belgrade decadence.

"Anywhere else in the world, you wouldn't be allowed to have something like this in a historical monument," a bearded film student says one night at Bassment, a club that operates against the Kalemegdan battlements in warm months. "Not Belgrade."

A German D.J. duo called Moonbootica has the crowd jumping up and down to electronic music on ground that may once have seen battles for the city's soul.

Like Kalemegdan, the rest of the White City - the literal translation of its Serbian name, Beograd - reaches the zenith of its energy at night. Propelled by some of Europe's cheapest cocktails and taxi rides, the after-dark adventurer discovers that the surprisingly friendly and safe terra incognita of Belgrade holds a bounty of hidden hipster speakeasies, raucous rock 'n' roll dives and nightclubs boasting global talent.

Pick up the glossy entertainment magazine Yellow Cab at the slick bilevel Tribeca bar (Belgraders like to imagine their city as the Slavic counterpart to New York) and you find page after page of listings for exhibitions, theater events, concerts and club nights. If the great Yugoslav unifier Tito staggered from his hillside tomb, he'd find himself in the Continent's last great undiscovered night-life scene.

On a late fall evening, some weekending Britons follow a muffled electronic beat through an undistinguished door along Boulevard Novembra 29, descend a poorly lighted staircase and emerge in a basement bar stuffed with ugly oil paintings, retro-tacky lamps and other vintage touches. To judge from the décor, it's likely that there's a grandmother in some remote Balkan corner filling out a burglary report. The name of the bar, the Association of Globe-Trotters, seems fitting: Only the most motivated travelers can hope to discover it.

"This place you can only find if somebody brings you here," says the bartender, Dejan, serving up bottles of Montenegrin Niksicko Beer and explaining that the owners want to limit the establishment's clientele to loyal cognoscenti. The country's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, has been known to stop in, he adds.

The secret bar phenomenon is very much a trend in Belgrade. Some, like the aptly named nightclub Andergraund, occupy subterranean spaces in Kalemegdan Park. Others, like the cocktail lounge Ben Akiba - where a lively crowd of people in their 30's toasts "Ziveli" amid loud disco and funk - are concealed in private apartments.

"Where are all the people between 2 and 6 a.m.?" playfully asks the online entertainment site Belgradeinsideout.com, one of the rare English-language guides to the city. "They are probably hiding in some places where you can't find them."

Near Slavija Square on a Friday night, however, ranks of splendidly grimy music fans emerge from the woodwork to follow the buzz-saw sound of melodic punk rock reverberating from the outdoor stage of SKC, the CBGB of Belgrade. The every-punk-and-his-mother crowd arrives by the hundreds, chugging Lav Pivo (Lion Beer) from two-liter bottles. Two unshowered rock chicks in Converse high-tops carry a friend who has passed out and lies horizontally in their arms like a drunken log. These are the apostles of the elder statesmen of Belgrade's rock universe, the Partibrejkers.

For a place that has suffered as many privations and embargoes as Belgrade - where rock was a key opposition force during the lean Milosevic years - the locals exhibit musical knowledge as extensive as anywhere in the West. Scanning the rack of top-selling albums at the IPS music emporium, you find the White Stripes, Audioslave and other bands that grace top music magazines in America and Britain.

"They're remarkably well-informed," says Nick Hobbs, a concert promoter who has brought Kraftwerk, the MC5, John Spencer Blues Explosion and other staples of American vinyl junkies to Belgrade in recent years. "We can do things in Belgrade that we can't do anywhere else."

The result is a fertile musical landscape full of acts that would probably be alt-rock icons in countries with better record companies and higher disposable incomes: the hard-driving Lira Vega; the indie-electronic Darkwood Dub; the subversive sonic experimenter Rambo Amadeus.

On stage, the Partibrejkers tear through a succession of Stooges-meets-Kiss anthems while the throng pumps its fists and yells "Oh, Yeah!" Having endured more than two decades of the vicissitudes of their homeland - the post-Tito comedown, the wars of the 1990's, the economic and political uncertainty under the new leaders - the Partibrejkers are perhaps one more inspiring symbol of Belgraders' endurance. "When you have a strong link to the source of life," the group's guitarist, Nebojsa Antonijevic, said before the show, referring to his passion for music, "the outer situation can't deter you."

As the final number ends and people start to shuffle out over hills of crushed beer cans, the lead singer, Zoran Kostic, leans into the mike and offers a final message: "Sacuvajte svoje duse" ("Save your souls").

Punk rock fades to club beats the next evening as a slew of international D.J.'s hits town. While Mr. Selway presides over the turntables along the Sava at Exile, the Israeli trance-music guru D.J. Goblin spins to a sea of bobbing heads at the Baratuna club, and the Shapeshifters, British house-music masters, conjure their mixes at Bassment.

But it's the quiet, historical neighborhood of Zemun that plays host to the weekend's - and the season's - splashiest night-life event. There, as black S.U.V.'s idle outside, a flashbulb-popping crowd of the nation's most famous faces - soccer heroes, music idols, captains of industry - celebrates the opening of a swanky bar-restaurant called Eklektika. With its gauzy white rooms and ambient music, it feels like the sort of place where the "Sex and the City" quartet might schmooze - if their names were Jadranka, Desanka, Zoja and Kaja. But in spite of the sushi rolls and Slovenian wine, at least one V.I.P. is hiding out in a private room and waxing slightly nostalgic tonight.

"It used to be a positive thing to be a Yugoslav," says Dan Tana, the Serb-American whose namesake Hollywood restaurant is a favorite film-star hangout, with a sigh. "Milosevic did more damage to Serbs than Hitler did to the Germans."

His somber remarks, at first, seem to have sprung from the same undercurrent of wistfulness that West found so many decades earlier. "Autumnal doubtfulness," she eloquently called the mood.

Then, suddenly, Mr. Tana's face lightens. Just outside the door, ringing cellphones, clinking glasses and greetings of "dobro vece!" ("good evening!") filter through the soft-glowing, milk-white rooms.

"But I've brought many Americans to Belgrade, and they all fall in love," Mr. Tana goes on, passionately. "Our future is bright, but it's going to take time."

IF YOU GO

Getting There

Visas are no longer required for American citizens traveling to Serbia and Montenegro for up to 90 days.

While there are no direct flights from the United States to Belgrade, several European carriers fly there. A recent Web search for round trips from New York in late October found a wide range of fares, starting at $535 on Lufthansa through Frankfurt, but with most over $800.

Getting Around

At the airport, avoid the renegades approaching you with "taxi?" come-ons since legitimate cabs must be called (and should cost about 600 dinars - about $8.50 at 73 dinars to the dollar). But the JAT airline bus, which you can catch on the curb just outside the terminal doors and a bit to the left, costs 140 dinars and leaves the airport every hour on the hour. It stops at the central rail station and at Slavija Square, where taxis are easy to find and many hotels are within walking distance.

Central Belgrade is fairly compact, so walking to key points of interest will rarely take more than a half hour, and often less. City taxis are abundant, cheap and well-metered, and can be hailed in the street or at major hotels and squares. Rides around central Belgrade should run 150 to 200 dinars. A trip to the popular raft-clubs along the Danube and Sava Rivers costs around 250 to 350 dinars.

Taxi drivers may or may not speak English (you can ask them with a well-rehearsed "Da li govorite Engleski?"), so it's always best to take a marked map or a written address for the driver. A list of taxi companies and other useful information can be found at the Web site of the Tourist Organization of Belgrade, www.tob.co.yu.

Where to Stay

With the few noted exceptions, dial 381-11 before the numbers below from outside Serbia and Montenegro. Hotels often quote prices in euros, but not necessarily.

Le Petit Piaf, Skadarska 34, 303-5252, www.petitpiaf.com, was opened last year in the heart of Belgrade's small but lovely (and lively) old bohemian quarter. This pioneering boutique hotel offers 12 sleek, modern rooms and suites with phones and high-speed Internet access - a local rarity. A good breakfast is included in the room rates, which start at 150 euros ($183, at $1.22 to the euro).

Hotel Moskva, Balkanska 1, 2686-255, www.hotelmoskva.co.yu, occupies a stately Art Nouveau building that is one of Belgrade's most recognizable landmarks. Equipped with TV's and phones, the 132 rooms themselves are unexceptional, as is the included breakfast. Doubles from 136 euros.

Garni Hotel Splendid, Dragoslava Jovanovica 5, 323-5444, www.splendid.co.yu, is a good budget option in central Belgrade, if you can handle the dated 1970's feel. The 40 simple, clean rooms have TV's and phones. There's also a restaurant and bar on the premises. Doubles from $58.

Where to Eat

Daco, Patrisa Lumumbe 49, 278-1009, attracts a crowd with its ersatz rustic environment - raw wood-plank floors, exposed beams, farmhouse knickknacks- and huge portions of sopska salata (diced cucumbers, peppers and cheese) and hajducki cevap (pork kebabs) backed with rakija (fruit brandy). Dinner for two, without drinks, is around 2,000 dinars.

Zaplet, Kajmakcalanska 2, 240-4142, is a beautifully designed contemporary space with large windows, lots of right angles and muted fabrics. The extensive menu features appetizers like grilled goat cheese with red pepper and caper salsa, and entrees like filet mignon with gorgonzola-hazelnut butter. Dinner for two runs about 2,500 dinars, without drinks.

Tribeca, Knez Mihailova 50, 328-5656, is a strikingly modern and aggressively stylish restaurant-lounge with its own CD of club music ("Tribeca Chill-Out"). You can enjoy the grilled, bacon-wrapped chicken filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and sweet peppers, then stay for cocktails. Dinner for two runs 2,200 dinars, and cocktails 350 dinars.

Where to Drink

Ben Akiba, Nusiceva 8, 323-7775, is a lively cocktail lounge hidden in a second-floor apartment roughly across Terazije Street from the Hotel Moskva. Go to the end of Nusiceva, turn right and look for the apartment stairs to the left.

Club of World Travelers (Udruzenje Svetskih Putnika), 29 Novembra 7, 324-2303, is yet another of Belgrade's many hip, hidden bars. Enter this quiet residential building, go to the end of the lobby and descend the stairs to the right.

Idiot, Dalmatinska 13, no phone, attracts Belgrade's alternative set - musicians, artists, self-styled hipsters and a smattering of gays and lesbians. This indoor-outdoor bar fills the street in summer and packs its brick-vault basement when the weather gets cool.

Where to Dance

In summer, the banks of the Danube and the Sava are lined with splavovi - nightclubs on rafts - featuring everything from Gypsy bands to electronic music to a distinctly Serbian mixture of sentimental lyrics and disco beats called Turbofolk. Many places charge no cover, or at most 5 or 10 euros.

One of the top spots for imported D.J. talent is Exile, Savski Kej, (381-63) 205-545, which sits along the west bank of the Sava.

True to its name, Andergraund, Pariska 1a, 625-681, www.andergraund.com, is a subterranean den of decadence near the southwestern corner of Kalemegdan Park for house, funk, R & B and hip-hop devotees.

Around the corner and down the hill from Andergraund, at Karadjordjeva 9, is Bar Balthazar, (381-63) 706-3302, which opened in September. A nondescript doorway, guarded by bouncers, leads to a staircase down to the brick-roofed basement. Despite the name, Balthazar is more club than bar, with thundering house and techno beats.

Where to Rock

Akademija, Rajiceva 10, 262-7846, www.akademija.net, is a longtime favorite rock 'n' roll dive for top local talent.

SKC (Student Cultural Center) at the corner of Kralja Milana and Resavska Streets, 360-2000, www.skc.org.yu, features major bands not only from the Balkans but also from the rest of Europe and North America on indoor and outdoor stages. It also puts on art exhibitions, films and other cultural events.

Dom Omladine (Belgrade Youth Cultural Center), Makedonska 22/IV, 324-8202, www.dob.co.yu. is a top spot for touring bands and bigger names from Belgrade.

Sightseeing

Kalemegdan Park, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, is Belgrade's most beautiful green space. It is where the Romans, Byzantines and subsequent early settlers of the area once lived. The park houses a zoo, military museum and numerous centuries-old structures left by the various powers - Serbian, Austrian, Turkish - that occupied and controlled Belgrade in later eras.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Usce Save BB, Novi Beograd, 311-5713, www.msub.org.yu, sits just across the Sava in New Belgrade. It displays Yugoslav art since 1900. The current exhibition, "On Normality: Art in Serbia 1989-2001," looking at responses to the Milosevic years, runs through Nov. 7.

SETH SHERWOOD is a freelance writer based in Paris.

Chris Blaku said...

Quoted from a "secret" intelligence report. You need not say more.

Moreover, the religious fanatics of the region have been the Serbian Orthodox people who have equated their history with the story of Christ. The most prominent terrorist organization in the Balkans was the Black Hand, the Serbian secret society that assasinated Archduke Ferdinand to start World War 2 in Sarajevo, still very active in the region today.

The "holy war" was waged by the Serbians themselves, as described vividly in the Bosnian massacre video, which showed an Orthodox Priest blessing the Scorpion killers, and telling them to "put down the Turk once more," implying to their Islamic roots.

Anonymous said...

"The most prominent terrorist organization in the Balkans was the Black Hand.... still very active in the region today."

1. Still very active
2. H aha hahahhahahahahahahaa
3. Ridiculous.
4. Smoke less dope, dope.

Anonymous said...

Hey, can anybody tell me where one can have sex in Belgrade other than in the streets where serbian whores are sworming. Some of them are good looking though but it might not be safe. I hope they won't ask visa for albanians.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious enough: The writer lives in PARIS.
He forgot to mention the bodies of masacred people one can find all over Belgrade. That might be a higher attraction. A killer never changes its habits, thank god the Serbs have to deal with them now.

Anonymous said...

Bull shit look at u dirty Albos and ur Calling our women whors then why do you rape them in Kosovo u Jackass?
What dead people are you talking about on the street look at Tirana or pristina averywhere where albanians live its a shit hole u jackass. And if u dont like serbia go to your own country and try to solv your problems i think you have more than enough.

Anonymous said...

Read the article above this one. It will tell you were to find dead bodies in Belgrade. They're exclusively Albanian, pregnant women and children included in the victims.

Serb bloggers there's a couple of Serb street vendors in Tirana. I wonder why they are selling in the streets of Tirana if its so great in Belgrade.

Anonymous said...

he is termed a "psychopath" and albanians see him as a hero. that says it all about that society.

Anonymous said...

Hey you see Milosevic as a hero, and that says plenty about the Serb society.

Anonymous said...

Tis is a to say that we all saw the Belgrade article in the last weekend New York Times. Great.
The only thing is missing is the info to tell us all...where do we get laid in BG???
where are the whorehouses, massage salons atc.

Anonymous said...

"where are the whorehouses, massage salons atc."

that is an albanian kosovo speciality--and with their own women no less. shameful:

Majority of trafficked females are from Albania
KosovaLive

19 October 2005

The Anti Trafficking Police said yesterday in Prizren that the number of victims of trafficking in Kosovo is increasing, whereas majority of them come from Albania.

The police made those comments during Human Trafficking Debate funded by the US Office.

Michaele Clark, Director of the OSCE Anti Human Trafficking Department, said that the purpose of such debates is to increase the public awareness against this occurrence, as well as to encourage debates among the institutions that fight this negative occurrence.

Sejdi Maralushaj, Police Anti Trafficking Unit in Prizren, said that the number of Kosovar victims of trafficking is increasing, and in most cases they are older than 20, but there were also the cases of minor females.

Anonymous said...

Rambush kicks ass.

Anonymous said...

"4:45 PM, Anonymous said...
Hey, can anybody tell me where one can have sex in Belgrade other than in the streets where serbian whores are sworming. Some of them are good looking though but it might not be safe. I hope they won't ask visa for albanians.
Thanks."

I tell you. There are no need to go any further than downtown Pristhina. The 1000s of albanian girls hanging out there are more than willing to be "done". And they LOVE it !! Believe me. They are superb !!

Anonymous said...

Slavisha I'm telling you Jelena likes sucking it.

What's up with the Serbs and their girlie names. Slavisha, Sinisha,Dragisha, Kemisha.

Anonymous said...

hahahahaha...i guess they are the cocksuckers all around ballkans...they know all the places where the hores are...it takes one to know one...

Anonymous said...

the King is back! there are some kings around him as well. You know that serbs liked him more than the liked some serbian leaders? Because they know, Ramush will not allow them to cry. He will fuck their muther fucking asses and they wont say no at all!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Albanians have been treated harshly for far too long. For all their cultural differences, Greece has taken in Bosnian, Serbian, and Albanian refugees. It is true that there are many Albanian thieves, but it is also true that the Serbian immigrant population has also been problematic. In Belgrade, the Serbian women are virtually indistinguishable from prostitutes. Even in the US, most of them have the well deserved reputation for being whorish vain twits--even those in graduate programs. It is simply their culture. There are of course exception, but it is just that: exceptions and not the usual norm of their race. Serbian women are a dime a dozen and at times genuinely deluded, often chain smoking slut-dressing, course tramps.

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