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In the series of direct meetings with the citizens of our region, the final RCC’s Street Installation took place in Belgrade, Serbia. On a lovely sunny winter day (23rd December ) in the very heart of Belgrade – Knez Mihailova Street – Serbian citizens had the opportunity to openly discuss with the RCC their troubles, worries and the difficulties they are facing in their daily lives and to voice their opinion on regional cooperation in the Western Balkans.
I must admit my initial concern that my fellow Belgraders might feel self-sufficient and reluctant to participate in any kind of a public survey with economic and political connotations, especially since it is about regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. That they would probably feel overloaded with their own problems or even worse, prejudiced with negative feelings originating from the wars and animosities of the last 25 years and simply not care about regional cooperation. Fortunately, I was wrong and blissfully happy because of that!
What I was personally proud to see was that even during these economically volatile times with unemployment rates in double digits, Belgrade still sustains its smile and an open heart. We were warmly welcomed by Belgraders who demonstrated an interest in the work of the RCC and saluted the efforts invested in regional cooperation in all socio-economic areas. Needless to say, the citizens want – above everything else – jobs and work opportunities. Not a great surprise, the RCC heard the same in all the other regional capitals where we held the street installations. But in Belgrade, we could see a generational difference in the perception of the need for regional cooperation. The older generations spoke nostalgically about what they call “former times” or “the good days when we all lived together”. The younger generations, not remembering those “former times”, were more pragmatic by seeing specific benefits of regional cooperation in joint endeavours, when working, earning, traveling, learning, and generally connecting on various levels: among “ourselves”, with Europe, and with the rest of the World. Yet, the conclusion of the different generations is the same or almost the same: “In this region we can simply not go far without each other.” The message given to the RCC was: “Keep up the good work”. Thank you, Belgrade.
On a personal note, I was happy with this warm welcome from my fellow citizens and the attention and care for the cause we work for. And all this with an overall positive emotion. This brought me back to the reasons why I love my hometown. And these reasons are not primarily in its centuries old and history telling walls, or its museums and monuments; the picturesque scenery of a city standing like a crown on the confluence of two rivers; its sometimes kitschy and sometimes charming contradiction of classic, socialist and modern architecture; nor the classical and avant-garde art; a cosmopolitan atmosphere on the streets and in Belgrade’s lively restaurants, cafes and clubs… First and foremost, It is the people that make up the soul of Belgrade. People whose hearts remain young regardless of their birth year. People who will offer an open heart and a warm welcome to its visitors. People who proudly represent a better kind of Belgrade and will want you to remember it and come back with a smile. The kind of Belgrade I come from. The kind of Belgrade I will always belong to, wherever I may roam.