Self-respecting Serbs learn to laugh again after

The Sava Centre in Belgrade is not, it must be said, an inspiring building. The 1970s conference-cum-concert hall stands in a wasteland in the high- rise district of Novi Beograd. With its glassed-over entrance hall, it looks like a giant conservatory crossed with a hospital block.

Not, at first glance, an obvious place to witness a miracle. None the less, the mood at the charmless Sava Centre this week has been just as extraordinary, in some ways, as the dramatic events on the streets.

Djordje Balasevic is a fortysomething singer with receding hair and an amiable air of scruff. A very European mixture of chansonnier and raconteur - try mixing Georges Brassens and Billy Connolly and see what you get. In Serbia, he has long been enormously popular. His songs are lyrical, peppered with irony - sex, drink, pain. He has been singing for 20 years, and his following includes both the middle-aged and the young. In the past, he has been part of the staple diet of Belgrade television.

But, as this week's concert made clear, no longer. More changes will have to take place in Serbia before Balasevic again becomes the television bosses' favourite. Balasevic delivered non-stop contempt for the government of Slobodan Milosevic - its crassness, warmongering, hypocrisy, riot police, and its dead-end lack of policy. The 4,000-strong audience adored it. Old and young, they blew whistles, cheered, cried, and sat bewitched. And, above all, they laughed.

And that was the real miracle: the happiness in the hall. This was an evening of Serbian innocence. In recent years, Serbia has drowned in its own myths, always blaming others for its misfortunes. But that is no longer the only Serbia.

Balasevic chattered on, with tales of Milosevic, of politics, and of Balasevic's travels - most recently, to Britain. He described applying for the visa, the questions at Heathrow, and how he got into small-talk when he finally arrived. A new acquaintance asked where he was from. "Xcdvarqzia," came Balasevic's mumbled reply. Asked again, he repeated: "Xcdqzlavia" ... I somehow found that I had a big chocolate in my mouth," he told the packed hall on Wednesday night. Then, he was asked a third time: "Sorry, where did you say?" "Yugoslavia!" he finally declared, with a confident roar. There was laughter and recognition in the hall - recognition of the possibility that Serbs may finally get past their shame, and regain the identity which Slobodan Milosevic has made it so difficult for a self- respecting Serb to declare.

In one of the few explicitly political songs, Balasevic sang of the "bad guys, pessimists, lunatics and psychopaths who destroyed everything". But he emphasised, too, that this has not been a war which the Serbs can simply push to one side. "The generals and moustachioed majors - they are not guilty," he sang. "They just said: `Fire', and pulled the triggers. We are guilty, because we were silent." The hall erupted in applause.

For many at the concert, it was the changes in people's heads which gave most reason for optimism - not the concessions that the authorities appeared to make this week in recognising opposition election victories. Jelena Brkljacic, a 26-year-old biologist, was more optimistic than she had ever been about the prospects for a different Serbia. "Just a few months ago, I was desperate. I said to my husband: `Nothing will ever get me on the streets again'. It was too depressing. Nothing ever changed." The atmosphere of Wednesday's concert was "completely different", she said, from concerts in previous years. Her husband, Bojan, added: "Suddenly, we've got hope. Much has happened. But much more will happen, that's what counts. That makes us feel good."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

Recruitment Genius: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Buddy & Team Leader / Buddy

£11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...

Recruitment Genius: Configuration and Logistics Team Member

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence