Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Guest contributor Laurence Mitchell follows the Tito trail in Belgrade - in a town that is still uncertain about how to handle its communist past and its legendary leader

article summary —

During the difficult days of the 1990s occasional graffiti appeared on Belgrade walls with the telling legend 'the locksmith was better' - a reference to Josip Tito's early employment before he became presidentfor- life of Yugoslavia. Tito ruled for thirty five years until his death in 1980 but since the breakup of the federation his memory has been laced with ambiguity in the Serbian capital. Unlike some eastern European countries where purpose built museums portray the communist period as either horror show or tongue in cheek deconstruction, Serbia is still uncertain as to how best commemorate its recent past. Reminders of the ill-fated Milosevic period are still evident in places - a few bomb-shattered government buildings, occasional nationalist graffiti, even a white-elephant underground station - but the legacy of Yugoslavia's period of non-aligned socialism with Tito as helmsman is altogether more elusive.

I have taken the number 41 trolleybus from Studentski trg in the Old Town to the city's leafy southern reaches. Dedinje is a middle-class suburb that contains an improbable mixture of parks, private mansions, embassies and the city's two premier football stadia. I get off at Bulevar Mira and follow a paved footpath uphill through trees, past an abandoned bandstand sitting in the centre of a shallow, dried-up pond and an area filled with abstract socialist statuary. A courtyard of concrete paving slabs leads to the building I am seeking. This unremarkable glass and concrete edifice, which might easily be the administrative centre of an educational institute or the headquarters of a medium-sized stationary firm, is identified on my city map as the Museum of the 25th of May.

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Laurence Mitchell became a travel writer almost by default having squandered his youth travelling in North Africa and India. Following a stint teaching in Sudan, he went on to train as a geography teacher, which he pursued for a decade or so.

These days he concentrates on writing and photography and, while still drawn to transition zones and cultural frontiers like Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus region, is increasingly more content to explore closer to home. He loves ancient tracks, moss-covered ruins, graveyards and allotment gardens, and believes it is possible to find the extraordinary in even the most quotidian surroundings.

Despite a slight distrust of guidebooks, he has contributed several of his own to the world's literary stockpile – Bradt travel guides to Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, ‘slow’ guides to Norfolk and Suffolk (also Bradt), and walking guides to Norfolk and Suffolk for Cicerone. His travel memoir Westering, which describes a coast to coast walk across England and Wales that connects landscape, memory and spirit of place, will be published by Saraband in April 2021. Visit Laurence's blog.

This article was published in hidden europe 5.