Yesterday, I got an email that I’ve been hoping to get for a long time. It was a letter from a Serb whom I’ve never met, nor heard of. Far from being a letter of praise or even an announcement that someone loves my work, this was a letter of complaint…well, I think I should just share it and then we can talk about it more.
You spent a weekend or two in Serbia with a few semi-intelligent and ill-mannered Serbian guys, visited few places, and derived so many conclusions about the whole Serbian nation from their drunken stories and conspiracy theories…
You state that Serbs drink all day, they do not recognize any ex-Yugoslav country, they hate everyone incl. Americans and Muslims… You even say that we love Hitler, although 1/3 of Serbian population was killed in WWII. Dafuq?! Thats the same as if I concluded that all Americans are fat and stupid, or all French smell bad, all Muslims are terrorists or all Scots have snake in pocket…
I don’t question your right to write, but I just wanted to say that you wrote some not very objective things, and made a lot of mistakes based on lack of info. But if you do not have representative sample, how can you so strongly draw conclusions…? I would recommend spending a week in Belgrade, not with some rednecks, but in hostel/hotel (pay up) with educated european Serbian hosts, and meet the country for what it is – community of people with all good and bad sides there are to one nation.
Now…you might be asking, why was I waiting for this email? Am I going to defend my conclusions? What’s the deal?
The deal is that when I wrote those stories about Serbia (See them below) – I knew they were extreme, I knew they weren’t fair, and I had a fair notion of going back and changing them because in truth (and I did mention this) – I did meet quite a few very nice, intelligent, thoughtful Serbs while I was there and most of my experience was colored by one ill-mannered Serbian redneck and a few bad encounters. So, why didn’t I change them?
Almost immediately upon publishing, I started to receive some of the most hateful, nationalist, awful emails from self-righteous Serbs who told me they would kill me and went to great lengths to be aggressive, ignorant, and in a word – awful. I didn’t receive a single thoughtful criticism, in fact, every email re-enforced my existing prejudice – but the thing is, I knew that prejudice was wrong. I’d met plenty of Serbs who were wonderful – so I told myself, as soon as I get a thoughtful response, I’ll apologize. Given the number of emails I was getting and that I tried to respond to each of them with politeness – I didn’t think it would be long.
Now, more than a year later, finally, that response has come. Now, I ‘d like to say – Serbian people, I’m sorry. You’ve suffered a lot, you’ve endured a lot, and in truth you were kind to me, a stranger visiting your country. From Alexandra, the woman I met on the bus into Serbia who grew up watching American bombs fall on Belgrade and now works to root out corruption from the Serbian government to Milan, my friend who loves trance music, everyone, and everybody to the stranger who took the time to write me this email to the kind people I met along the way – I’m sorry for lumping you in with the bad eggs.
I’ve gone through and tried to edit my stories so that they reflect my bad experiences in Serbia as incidents with individuals instead of with your nation as a whole. Please let me know if I’ve missed any generalizations. I hope someday to return to Serbia and discover the beauty that I missed the first time I was there.
Here is a wonderful book to read that deals with the beautiful tiger in the Belgrade zoo – The Tiger’s Wife and if you are going to go to Serbia, here are a number of Serbian cities that you may want to visit along with listings of accommmodations.