Skip to comments.Chinese immigrants, Iraqi, Afghani refugees building homes in Serbia
Posted on 06/15/2007 5:22:26 PM PDT by joan
June 02, 2007 7:31 PM
BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro, May 31, 2007 (IPS/GIN) -- Thousands of Chinese immigrants, as well as refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, are building a home in Serbia.
The region may be viewed by some as intolerant and somewhat nationalistic due to its role in the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia, but many immigrants say they are finding a hospitable home here.
"Belgrade is my second home, for more than eight years now," said Liu Feng Dun, owner of a popular "New Hong Kong" restaurant. "I do go to China at least once a year, but this is where I have built my real life," he said, adding that his youngest son, born in Belgrade three years ago, was given a typical Serbian name, Marko. His elder son Hu goes to Serbian school.
"We have dozens of Chinese pupils here," a teacher from the Marko Oreskovic elementary school in the New Belgrade suburb of Block 70 said. She gave her name as Jelena only, and indicated two 7-year-old Chinese girls in the crowded schoolyard.
"This one is Jelena, like me, while the other one is Ana," she said. "These boys are Milos, Dragan and Nikola, typical Serbian names," she added laughing, pointing at a trio of Chinese boys playing football with their blonde Serbian friends.
Several thousand Chinese people live, work and send their children to local schools in Block 70.
New Belgrade is part of the country's capital, built on the banks of the Sava River during the communist era when a skyline of high-rises was considered a beautiful sign of progress.
Block 70 used to house a large shopping mall, which was built almost 20 years ago, before the wars that tore former Yugoslavia apart. But the mall never flourished because strict international sanctions -- which were imposed against Belgrade due to its role in the 1990s wars -- brought the country's economy to a standstill.
Thousands of Chinese immigrants began arriving a decade ago and have since turned the gloomy place into a colorful neighborhood. Cheap imported Chinese goods helped impoverished Serbs afford decent clothes and household items, while the new Asian neighbors found the environment receptive to their businesses and ambitions. Most of the inhabitants of Block 70 are Chinese now. Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood are becoming a favorite spot for many long-time Belgradians, as well.
"Officially, there are at least 4,000 Chinese [people] living here in the Block," Jing Dong Rong, head of the Association of Chinese Importers, told the Belgrade media recently. He was addressing the Serbian public after an incident in March, when a mentally disturbed Chinese man stabbed several young men with a knife in central Belgrade. The victims survived and the perpetrator was sent to a mental health institution.
"Nothing bad has ever happened to the Chinese in Belgrade; Serbia is the country where our community has least problems," he said.
The Chinese community was recently granted authorization to build and operate a Baptist Christian Church in another neighborhood of Belgrade, Ledine. Serbs are, by tradition, Orthodox Christians in a country where other Christian denominations are almost nonexistent.
The Chinese community's Baptist Church was viewed as a curiosity and oddity in Ledine, but no one objected to its services. It is a simple two-storey building, with a large banner in Chinese characters.
"We are viewed with skepticism in China itself," said a 30-year-old Chinese man who gave his name as Nikola. "It's unusual to leave the teaching of Confucius and turn to Christianity in China. However, the new religion has helped us turn away from running after money. We have discovered love and psalms," he added.
In another part of New Belgrade, a group of Iraqi Kurdish families resides in barracks rented by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Having arrived in Serbia three years ago, they are awaiting transfer to a third country. Until recently, the barracks housed Afghani families fleeing the war in their country, as well.
Three children from one of the Kurdish families go to the local Laza Kostic elementary school. An 8-year-old girl named Zeinap, 11-year-old Muhammad and 9-year-old Hussein are among the school's best students. They speak perfect Serbian, play with other children and go to birthday parties and other family gatherings traditional among Serbs.
"I like three things here in Serbia: one is the rain, as it rarely ever rains where I come from. Second is that I can walk the streets in the middle of the night without any fear. The third is when a policeman addresses me, he starts with 'sorry, but.' Where I come from, policemen do not use the word 'sorry,'" their father said.
Serbia does not have a law on asylum, so it transfers all refugees and asylum seekers to third countries, with the help of the U.N. refugee office.
"We have at least 50 new cases a year. It takes years to process them and find settlement in third countries," said Vesna Petkovic, a spokesperson for the U.N.'s refugee office in Belgrade. "As a rule, these people face no problems in their temporary environment, in Serbia. Some of them work in construction or other similar areas and are welcome by locals. Ordinary people here understand the hardships of others and are sympathetic with them."
Most all the hatred in the Balkans stems from the ethnic groups being used against each other by foreign empires/powers - Ottomans, Austrian/German, British, U.S./NATO - and that creating a legacy of bad blood, greed, hate and murder. Divide and conquer.
“Serbs are, by tradition, Orthodox Christians in a country where other Christian denominations are almost nonexistent.”
I cant agree with this stetement, in Serbia there is substantial number of Catholics, and Baptists are also represented, so Chineese baptists are nothing specialy different.
In my hometown, we have Catholics, Romanian Orthodox, Baptists, Adventists, Pentacostals, Evangelists etc.
And Slovak Lutherans in Vojvodina.
Except when Klinton bombs its embassy!
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