Thursday, October 20, 2005

Independence for Kosovo

From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005
By Charles A. Kupchan

Summary: Given the atrocities they have suffered in the past and the autonomy they are enjoying now, Kosovo's Albanians will never accept continued Serbian sovereignty. The time has come to give them what they want -- independence.

CHARLES A. KUPCHAN is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is "The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century."


Amid the unraveling of Yugoslavia that began in the early 1990s, the United States and its European allies have staunchly defended multiethnic society in the Balkans. The military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, the ongoing peacekeeping missions there, the hundreds of millions of dollars given annually in economic aid -- these sacrifices have been made to preserve the individual states that once constituted a federal Yugoslavia and to prevent bloodshed among the numerous ethnic groups that populate them. Now, however, the time has come to let pragmatism triumph over principle -- and move decisively toward independence for Kosovo.

The most important piece of unfinished business in the Balkans is the final status of Kosovo, the southern province of Serbia, which has been under international trusteeship since NATO's intervention in 1999. Anxious to scale back its obligations in the region and confronted with growing impatience among Kosovo's population, the international community is finally gearing up for negotiations over Kosovo's political future, as provided for under UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Serbs, for whom Kosovo is an ancestral homeland and the site of many important Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, insist that the area remain under Serbian sovereignty. Broader opposition to separating Kosovo from Serbia stems from concern about the potential precedent that would be set by redrawing boundaries along ethnic lines and the likely impact this move would have on the integrity of the borders of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

Nevertheless, harsh realities on the ground make independence for Kosovo the only viable option. In the current state of limbo, relations between the Albanian majority, which is mostly Muslim, and the Serbian minority, which is mostly Orthodox Christian, have reached the boiling point. The Albanian leadership in Pristina, which governs Kosovo in an uneasy partnership with UN authorities, wants nothing to do with Belgrade. Kosovo has already left Serbia's orbit. And throughout the area, walls of hostility divide ordinary Albanians and Serbs. In spirit as well as fact, multiethnic society is nowhere to be found.

Pretending otherwise and denying or delaying independence risks a return to disorder and bloodshed -- and is therefore the greater of two evils. The formal separation of Kosovo from Serbia instead offers the best hope for rebuilding moderation and tolerance among ethnic Albanians, making it far more likely that they will eventually live in peace with Serbs, Roma, and the other minority groups among them.


Driving from central Serbia into Kosovo already feels like crossing a national boundary, and a militarized one at that: Serbian border guards, then a no man's land, then a border control staffed by Kosovo police as well as UN and NATO personnel. In the no man's land, drivers change their license plates; cars with Serbian tags will sometimes be attacked in Kosovo, and those with Kosovar plates are equally at risk in Serbia.

In Kosovo, signs abound that the area has been poisoned by intercommunal violence. NATO troops, armed UN guards, and members of the Kosovo Police Service are ubiquitous, keeping the palpable ethnic tensions in check. Serbs live in fortified enclaves, their access roads often guarded by NATO patrols. Before the war, two of Kosovo's largest cities, Pristina and Prizren, were home to tens of thousands of Serbs. They are now virtually Serb-free. A few smaller towns, such as Orahovac, have maintained their multiethnic character, but the Serbs there live in isolated ghettos, set off from Albanian neighborhoods by a block or two of burned-out homes. Serbs rarely venture into the Albanian section of town, fearful of abuse or worse.

Roughly 90 percent of Kosovo's population of some two million is ethnic Albanian, and most of the rest of the population is Serbian. This ethnic imbalance was long in the making, a result primarily of successive Serbian exoduses to the north during the Ottoman era and, more recently, higher birthrates among Albanians. Since World War II, political power has shifted back and forth between the two communities. In Tito's Yugoslavia, Kosovo's Albanians enjoyed a significant degree of autonomy. Beginning in the late 1980s, Serbia's nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic tightened Belgrade's grip, and ethnic Albanians suffered repression and political and economic exploitation. Milosevic responded to armed Albanian resistance with a campaign of ethnic cleansing that began in 1998, killing at least 10,000 Albanians and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.

After NATO's intervention and the eventual withdrawal of Serbian forces, ethnic Albanians exacted their revenge. During the war and the retribution that followed, at least a thousand Serbs were killed, while tens of thousands fled; their ransacked homes, stores, and churches still mar the landscape. To this day, Albanians continue to dish back the ethnic discrimination they suffered during the 1990s. In many Serbian enclaves, no one holds a steady job; the communities rely on handouts from aid organizations and from Belgrade. As one Serbian resident of Orahovac told me in July, "We don't call this life, we call it an imitation of life."

Although outbreaks of actual ethnic violence are now uncommon, Serbs remain on guard. In March 2004, Albanians rioted across Kosovo, leading to widespread attacks on Serbs, forcing thousands to flee and undoing what little progress had been made in repairing intercommunal ties. This past August, two Serbs were killed in a drive-by shooting.

The communities are so polarized that simple dialogue is hard to find. In a conversation with Serbian residents in Lipljan, one of the few multiethnic towns left near Pristina, a participant invited passing Albanians to join the discussion. One after another scurried away. "Most Albanians are no longer willing to have contact with us," a Serb commented. In Prizren, about 35 miles southwest of Lipljan, one of the few remaining Serbs there explained that she still meets with Albanian friends behind closed doors. "But in public, they pretend not to recognize me," she lamented, "as it is not good for Albanians to be seen with Serbs."

By any measure, the political conditions in Kosovo fall well short of the standards that the international community has set as preconditions for moving to final-status negotiations. Serbs do not enjoy freedom of movement, one of the main reasons that only a handful of those who fled since 1999 have returned. The process of decentralization meant to empower local communities has proved stillborn. Political and legal institutions have yet to mature, stymied by infighting among political parties, crime and corruption, and patronage systems deeply embedded in the clannish structure of Albanian society. Poverty is pervasive, with unemployment topping 50 percent even among ethnic Albanians. An inadequate power supply makes for daily blackouts, and Kosovo's uncertain political status leaves it unable to attract the foreign capital it needs to invest in basic infrastructure.

The case for independence, however, rests not on Kosovo's readiness, but on the lack of realistic alternatives. Ethnic Albanians are now in command, and they are adamant about breaking away from Serbia. As Kosovo's prime minister, Bajram Kosumi, made clear in his office in Pristina, "The people of Kosovo will decide their own future. ... If Kosovo does not become independent, there will be serious consequences." Kosovo's Albanians have reached their limits; the atrocities and injustices of the past, combined with the empowerment of the present, make it all but impossible to envisage the continuation of Serbian sovereignty. Unfortunately, continued sovereignty is exactly what the Serbian government has in mind.


"Less than independence, more than autonomy," Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, explained in a meeting in Belgrade. Under his formula, Kosovo would largely manage its own affairs but remain nominally a part of Serbia and forgo diplomatic representation abroad. "The independence of Kosovo is unacceptable for me, and for all of Serbia," he insisted. Tadic and his advisers fear that an independent Kosovo would imperil not only the Serbs living there, but also the course of democracy in Serbia itself. "Independence will drive a stake through the heart of Serbian democracy," one of Tadic's top aides said. The president agreed, noting that "if independence is imposed on Serbia, we will once more become a black hole of the Balkans. The Radicals [extreme nationalists] will be elected. And they will stay in power for a generation."

Kosovo's independence, however, should not be held hostage to Serbia's inability to trust itself to behave responsibly. The United States and its European partners were too timid in confronting Serbian nationalism throughout most of the 1990s, and much blood was shed as a result. The international community should not make the same mistake today. Serbia's darker instincts need to be extinguished, not accommodated.

It is true that extreme nationalists might come to power in Serbia in the wake of Kosovo's independence. But if Belgrade becomes more belligerent, turns its back on the war crimes tribunal operating in The Hague, and veers away from integration into Europe, Serbs will only find their country more isolated and impoverished. By making clear that the nationalist agenda has been leading the country down a blind alley, Serbia's loss of sovereignty over Kosovo could well result in the strengthening of Serbian centrists.

Rather than threatening doomsday scenarios if Kosovo becomes independent, Serbia's leaders should be doing just the opposite: talking about life after separation and preparing the public accordingly. Yet to date, only one high-ranking Serbian politician, former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, has publicly endorsed letting Kosovo go. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Tadic, both of whom have the nationalist credentials necessary to call for moderation and compromise, have failed to rise to the occasion.

Instead, the Serbian government has encouraged Kosovar Serbs to boycott elections in the province and distance themselves from Pristina, only intensifying the Serbian minority's political isolation. Belgrade has played down Serbia's culpability in the ethnic violence of the 1990s, tolerating nationalist myths and strengthening popular belief in the inviolability of Serbia's territorial claims. Belgrade is correct to worry about how Kosovar Serbs would fare after independence, but its behavior has done little either to strengthen its case for keeping Kosovo in the fold or to ready its citizens for the impending loss of their southern province.


As it eases Kosovo away from Serbian sovereignty, the international community should make independence contingent on three conditions. first, Pristina must make substantial progress on putting in place the essentials of a functioning state. To accomplish this goal, Kosovo's government must strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law, clamp down on corruption and crime, and redress widespread poverty and unemployment.

Second, Pristina must do much more to ensure the well-being of those Serbs who choose to stay put. Many Serbs intend to quit Kosovo if it becomes independent simply as a matter of principle. To encourage them to remain, ethnic Albanian leaders will need to capitalize on the prospect of independence to promote tolerance and protect minority rights. Reviving multiethnicity will become easier as Kosovo formally moves beyond Belgrade's reach, enabling Albanian moderates to neutralize militant voices. As Ruzhdi Saramati, a former brigade commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, put it in a meeting in Prizren, "Independence will help end extremist elements within the Albanian community."

As part of its effort to safeguard minority rights, Pristina should also agree to put Christian sites throughout Kosovo under international supervision. Well over a hundred churches and monasteries have been destroyed or damaged since 1999, many of them during the 2004 riots. Numerous religious sites are now armed camps, guarded by NATO troops and barbed wire. To ensure that they remain secure and accessible, these sites should be given international protection for the indefinite future.

Third -- and most controversial -- the international community should reconsider its blanket opposition to the partition of Kosovo, indicating instead that it is prepared to accept partition provided that Pristina and Belgrade both consent. From the Ibar River north to the boundary with Serbia proper, Kosovo is populated almost exclusively by Serbs. The area is about 15 percent of Kosovo's territory and contains about one-third of its Serbs. Pristina makes no pretense of governing the region, which in most respects remains functionally a part of Serbia.

Granting northern Kosovo to Serbia while the rest of the province becomes independent would relieve Pristina of the futile task of trying to assert control over a region that, come what may, intends to maintain its links to Belgrade. In Mitrovica, the area's main city, Albanian and Serbian communities already reside on opposite sides of the Ibar, making it an attractive location for Serbs who choose to relocate from other parts of Kosovo. As long as Pristina is disabused of any hope of swapping northern Kosovo for Albanian enclaves in southern Serbia, partition would also represent a compromise of sorts, enabling Belgrade to claim that it has not been left empty-handed. As one of President Tadic's advisers stated, "If we are looking for a compromise solution, partition seems to be the easy way out."

Many in the international community insist that the partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines would send a dangerous signal, condoning ethnic segregation and fueling fragmentation elsewhere in the Balkans. This argument is not without merit. It would have been best if the peoples of the former Yugoslavia had been able to live together amicably in a unitary state. The breakup of Yugoslavia certainly violated the civic values on which multiethnic society rests -- as would the independence and partition of Kosovo. But when the best outcome proves impossible to achieve, the imperatives of stability ultimately require compromising the principle of multiethnicity. Just as these imperatives provide a compelling rationale for Kosovo's separation from Serbia, so might it be necessary for Kosovo itself to be partitioned in order to bring peace to the region.

Furthermore, Kosovo's situation is unique: its independence, and even its partition, is unlikely to trigger further unraveling in the Balkans. With or without the territory north of the Ibar, Kosovo's independence promises to stabilize Macedonia by forestalling the radicalization of its ethnic Albanians and neutralizing Albanian extremists throughout the region. Even if it does not, it is Macedonia's treatment of its Albanian minority that will do more to stabilize (or destabilize) the country than developments elsewhere. And although ethnic tensions continue to bedevil Bosnia, its future, like Montenegro's, will be little affected by Kosovo's ultimate political status or boundaries.

It is well worth keeping the option of Kosovo's partition on the table, therefore, especially if doing so would provide Belgrade with sufficient inducement to make a deal. The international community should also be prepared to sweeten the pot by offering Serbia more economic assistance, relief from its $13 billion in external debt, and a clear pathway to membership in NATO and the European Union.

Securing Kosovo's independence will ultimately require the approval of the UN Security Council. Russia and China, both of which struggle with separatist movements at home, are unlikely to relish an outcome that effectively embraces secession along ethnic lines. But neither country has compelling interests in the Balkans. Russia's affinity for its Slavic brethren in Serbia is of minimal political consequence, and both Moscow and Beijing are intent on maintaining good relations with the United States and Europe. It is difficult to imagine that either Russia or China would make serious trouble over the future of a small tract of land that has no oil, no nuclear weapons, and a GDP of less than $3 billion.

The peaceful separation of Kosovo from Serbia will require sustained and adept diplomacy from the international community, courageous leadership from Belgrade, and tolerance and good governance from Kosovar Albanians -- all commodities that have been in dangerously short supply. Nonetheless, Kosovo's independence is the best hope for finally settling one of the most intractable feuds in the Balkans, defeating the remnants of extreme nationalism in Serbia, and laying the foundations for a Balkan politics that focuses on the opportunities of the future rather than the wrongs of the past.


Anonymous said...

great article, my favorit section would be:

"Kosovo's independence, however, should not be held hostage to Serbia's inability to trust itself to behave responsibly. The United States and its European partners were too timid in confronting Serbian nationalism throughout most of the 1990s, and much blood was shed as a result. The international community should not make the same mistake today. Serbia's darker instincts need to be extinguished, not accommodated."

so f-ing true!!

Anonymous said...

You split Kosova and you have opened pandora's box. It's not true that Kosova is somewhat an artificial territory which he implies. It has had well defined and recognized borders even by Serbia itself. So there is no possible precedent whatsoever there. On the other hand, splitting will set a bad precedent.
Also, north of Mitrovica is not monoethnic - it has been ethnically cleansed by the Serbs. Add to that the fact that it is the richest part of Kosova and I doubt Albanians would let it go.

Otherwise some great ideas in the article. I liked the fact that the author visited the damn place, especially when considering that Foreign Affairs is more of a scholarly publication.

Anonymous said...

When he talked about splitting he forgot about Medvegje, Bujanovc and the other lands Albanians live in south Serbia. That chunk could go too.
Like the blogger above said, its Pandora's box.

Anonymous said...

I hope the russians or the serbs exterminate you like roaches before giving up their land to prosfygies like you.You should be happy that we hellenes dont walk through pristina with our army.We would decimate you in a day.Then we would hunt down you dogs in skopja and kill 2 birds with 1 stone and take out the skopjiani as well.Hellas is forever. You turkosporo aren't worth arhidia.

Anonymous said...

to the last poster! I am watching you through my "Nisansku Spravu", cigansku mater ti jebem!

Anonymous said...

Giddens: No chance for Kosovo independence (BBC WIRE)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Advisor and one of leading world sociologists Anthony Giddens has said that he sees no chance for independence of Kosovo. “This is still an open issue. At issue is an extremely delicate
situation… and I don’t see a chance for Kosovo receiving independence.

Dont hope to much !! It might backlash.

Anonymous said...

If hell-ass is forever how come you are sweating about Kosova. You exterminated the albanians of Chameria but Kosova would be your death in a playing field anyday. And if you ever got it on with albanians your turkish brethren would go ape on you fags in a day. And please don call yourself european you are way darker than anything an albanian could ever shit.

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

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, 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."


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,

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,, 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,, 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,, 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,, 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,, 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,, 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, is a top spot for touring bands and bigger names from Belgrade.


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,, 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.

Anonymous said...

fIRST AND FORMOST Mr. Charles does not have HISTORIC FACTS STRAIGHT. Second this is exactly the Serb agenda of getting the most valuable part of Kosova. Third splitting a city that still has Albanian property taken from the war is a bad idea. Kosova is trying to repatriate Serbs who even sold the property for handsom amounts of money to Albanians, but for Kosovar Albanians no such offer exists. How many Albanians are repatriated on the other side of the river? I know a lot of people who still have property on the other side of the river. The city as a whole is still and was an Albanian majority. Why should we again try to please Serb extremist? Mr. Charles article seem as if written straight from Belgrade.

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.

Anonymous said...

I am laughing my butt over these profoundly stupid and oxi-moronic greek and serbian "philosophers" on wishfull thinking on what they like to see and do to the all albanians.
One thing is a fact: serbian occupancy is over, greeks should get a piece of a cow crap on their face.
There is a new beginning for all the ALBANIANS: Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox religion that is not really so important to us.
Being albanian is #1, religion is a personal thing.
Religion always divides.
Long live free Ksova!!!

Anonymous said...

To the Greek posting those racist comments about decimating the Albanians and Macedonians I say bring it you fuckin brown bitch!
In a matter of secons you would see the Turkish flag flying over Athens!!! We have as many soldiers as you have people!!! And out of the 11 milion people that live there 2 milion are Albanians, Macedonians and Turks.
I wish you would start aBalkan war, God I wish. Because then Albania could claim Tsameria, Macedonia could claim it's southern lands occupied by Greece and we would claim the rest.
You want to talk about decimation, the Turkish troops would exterminate you to the last like the varmin that you are.
Fuck Hellas with a big Turkish dick!!!

Anonymous said...

WRong Because the Serbians would help the Greeks (This is coming form a serb)and so would Russia and you didnt notice that greecE is in NATO AND THE EU LOOK AT THE FACTS UR MORON. long live serbia greec and russia

Anonymous said...

I understand that this is a holy land for the serbs and albanians, but today this land is a home to 90% of kosovar albanians. lets be realistic. would any of you want to live in your house and have your neigboor tell you what to do..?
If Serbian people think Kosovo should stay in Serbia, then why is their sister Montenegro about to break away? How does someone expects Montenegro leaving and kosovo staying? it makes no sence whats so ever. And people that put religions into this are big loosers in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Well i dont think Albanians want to get religion involved at all. Serbs , Greek and Russians do thoug. When you get religion involved then well you see albanian are majority muslim. Now a days MUSLIM = TERRORIST . So with that USA (mr Bush) will back his brother in arms Putin . There we go we have another Chechnya.

As one other blogger said in different article. If u involved religion KOSOVA will be the place well it will be declarded 'CLASH OF CIVILASATIONS'

Maybe after all Kosova is the Holyland

Personally BRING IT ON YOU HELLAS,SHKINAT(serbs) and KURVAT (RUSSIANS) well IF you mess with my honour bring it on YOU Fcking YANKS (biggest terrorists) if u want. We will be victorious

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