Italian Belgrader

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by Marija Pajkovic

BELGRADE, The first time Angela Cappellino saw Belgrade, it was a drizzly, chilly autumn Sunday. She stepped off an old, rickety train, thinking back to the scary stories she heard about Serbia while she was growing up in Valledolmo, Italy. She did not know what to expect, and the last thing on her mind was falling in love with the city. She had come to visit her boyfriend, and that was it, she thought. Yet, two years later, she proudly calls Belgrade her home.

Angela’s wanderlust and broad smile earned her friends wherever she went: France, the UK, Poland, Austria, and finally, Serbia. She is petite, but her untamed chestnut hair makes her stand out. She dresses like a Parisienne, black stockings and flowery dresses, yet her 1990’s Madonna jacket shows her rebellious side. She is 26, and has so far completed her bachelor and masters in several cities in Europe. When she applied for a second masters in Belgrade, she was still searching for a place that fits her spirit.

Angela’s friends and family wondered what she could possibly achieve by moving to Belgrade, and strongly advised her against it. Nonetheless, when her acceptance letter arrived, she was more than thrilled to explore the “savage land,” as her sister called it, which she had only seen briefly on her trip to her boyfriend.

Angela moved against the tide of young people leaving Serbia, with numbers exceeding 32.000 each year, according to official statistics. Serbia’s brain drain is only surpassed by that of Guinea-Bissau. The majority of young, highly educated Serbs leave for Germany and Austria or elsewhere in the Western Europe and US, and yet when opportunity arose for Angela to leave Belgrade for either of those countries, she decided to stay.

“She is crazy. I can’t wait to leave,” said a Belgrader Milica Andzic, Angela’s friend. Milica’s opinion is matched by most of her peers – in search of a better life, they are over-eager to leave their homeland. Their main concerns are job prospects, low salaries and little room for advancement. All the same, Angela’s wish is to stay here after her studies. Like many who turn to entrepreneurship, she holds herself accountable for her own future. “I will fight for Belgrade,” she said passionately.

For Angela, it is not about Belgrade’s famed cheap living, or nightlife, it is about the people and the atmosphere. The love that originally led her there was soon substituted by her love of the city. Belgrade captured her wandering spirit, and she now considers it her headquarters. Open and adventurous, Angela would walk down every street and peek into every shop. She likes having her cappuccinos in the afternoon in one of trendy Vracar’s many cafes, even if she would have been thought of as crazy by her Italian friends. She likes getting to know the city, learning the language, chatting with the locals. “My life is here. I feel like I belong,” she tells them, but it is hard to convince Belgraders, who all hope to move to the EU or US.

“My life is very unpredictable and full of questions, but the one thing I’m sure of is Belgrade,” Angela concluded.

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