The train journey from Sofia to Belgrade (Serbia) was near perfect. If one enjoys long, old fashioned 'clickety-clack' rail adventures. It was a sleeper train which left Sofia station at night and reached Belgrade early the next morning. The duration of the journey was long enough to cater for a good night's sleep – fresh and ready for adventures in Belgrade at seven in the morning!
|A map showing the division of the former Republic of Yugoslavia into various smaller states, including Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.|
Serbia was not a 'bucket list' destination for me. I imagine any non-European Muslim will be skeptical about visiting Serbia, due mainly to its history of committing genocide against Bosnian Muslims. Belgrade was added grudgingly to my Europe 2015 Extravaganza itinerary. The city was an easy connection from Sofia and provided an entry point into Bosnia and farther into Central Europe.
Serbia and the Serbs are closely associated with the Bosnian genocide, killings which primarily took place purely on the basis that most Bosniaks are Muslim. The civil war which led to the break-up of the former Yugoslav Republic produced many massacres and many war criminals. The war reinforced the notion of the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian region as a tinder box ready to ignite larger European conflicts, like World War One in 1914.
|A Bulgarian train stands at a station in 2012|
My apprehensions about Serbia were such that I imagined Serbian immigration authorities will give me the 'Double Second Degree' treatment as a result of my Pakistani heritage. Pakistan, after all, was one of the few countries which provided Bosnia with more than just moral support, sending material and weapons also. A fact not missed by the Serbian authorities as noted by the Serbs formal request to produce a Pakistani general for prosecution at the International Court of Justice.
As it transpired, Belgrade was a wonderful experience. From entry until exit, Serbs were friendly. Knowledge of English was widespread, making the visit just that more comfortable. As for the war and war criminals, it seemed like nothing never happened. An ugly memory which is not to be discussed, particularly as Serbia moves forward in its quest to become a full member of the European Union.
Stay tuned for more on Belgrade in my next post.
Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, specially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Imran can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.