A Long Journey but a Heartwarming Stay: Personal Reflections of the 62nd International Book Fair in Serbia

After a three days long journey to the southeast of Europe, we arrived at the Serbian border. We handed our passports to a border officer, greeting him with the phrase we had learned in advance, “Dobar dan!” He doesn't even look at our documents, stamps them, and here we are in Serbia at last. On our way to Belgrade we see endless fields and farms… almost like back at home in Belarus. One can easily see that the people here are hard-working and diligent.

Belgrade welcomed us with sunny weather and… traffic jams: we “dobrodošli” (entered) the city precisely at peak hour. Busy traffic, crowded buses, crowded bus stops — what else could you expect from the capital and the largest Serbian city?

Our destination was the 62nd International Book Fair in Belgrade. We’ll mount our equipment and arrange our shelf tomorrow, and now we have some time to look around.

It’s the first time I get to know Belgrade so close. This city is situated in the central region of the Republic of Serbia, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Belgrade is not only one of the most ancient European cities and the largest city in Serbia (which I have already mentioned) but also the largest city of the former Yugoslavia.

Some people may be repelled at the sight of old dilapidated buildings, painted with graffiti, in the centre of the city. However, you can look at it from a different angle: Belgrade, our old friend from the Balkans, does not keep a skeleton in her closet. She is so open and sincere that she does not hide anything from you. She is also very hospitable and magnanimous. Ten minutes after you’ve started a conversation with a Serb, you will get to know all his relatives and be treated to plenty of national specialty foods, and they may even invite you on a sightseeing tour around the city.

You cannot judge Belgrade by its demolished houses and dumpsites. It must be noted that it is a very picturesque city with monumental bridges, complex roundabouts, bakeries, florist and newsagent shops at every corner. There is a neighbourhood of detached houses and villas, as well as residential areas consisting of tenement buildings like Novi Beograd. There is also a breathtakingly beautiful historical centre with one of the oldest parks in Europe, Belgrade Fortress, and one of the biggest Orthodox churches in the world, St Sava Cathedral — and these were the only places that we managed to visit during our stay in the city. We spent most of our time from 9am to 9pm in the Belgrade Fair complex.

Belgrade International Book Fair is a really outstanding event in the life of the city. Publishing houses from Serbia and other countries, e.g., Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, India, Japan, etc., present their publications at the Fair. Meetings and presentations featuring famous authors and new contemporary authors alike are organised during the Book Fair.

The Serbs are avid readers! I saw with my own eyes how many books in Serbian and in English they buy, and I was astonished. It’s only natural that Belgrade has been nominated for the cultural capital of Europe in 2020.

The Serbs are very easygoing and sincere. They don’t think it’s enough to just buy something; they will always share their impressions from what they see by exclaiming “Yayyy!” — a Balkan equivalent of “Wow” — and ask you where you are from and what you think of Serbia and Belgrade.

I made a pleasant discovery: Serbs are a remarkable nation that knows how to be really happy and curious like children. You should have seen how interested and enthusiastic they were when they attended workshop sessions on calligraphy and powdered stone icons, organised by the sisters of our Convent.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye. The Fair was over. Anyway, I hope that we will meet again. There are no accidental meetings; this meeting with our Serbian friends wasn’t accidental, either. They are amazing people who honour their history, their traditions, and their Orthodox faith. They respect and revere their parents, grandparents, their families. They are so loving and warm. Serbian land has had a lot to endure but its Orthodox soul did not become insensitive, its people did not become angry — no, they meet their guests with a smile and good words again and again, and they never let the guests go without gifts and a promise of return.

St. Elisabeth Convent
November 21, 2017