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Milica Delevic
Milica Delevic

My parents were both from Montenegro and theirs was a typical story of the time. My father was born in Cetinje and his father was a high school teacher. My mother was born in Podgorica where my grandfather was a clerk in the town hall and my grandmother was a seamstress.

My father went to a technical school in Zagreb and became a mechanical engineer. My mother worked as a paediatrician. Then, in the sixties, they met in Belgrade and stayed.

We lived in the old part of New Belgrade. Most of the people who lived where we did worked for the military or state organisations.

One thing I remember well from my childhood were the fountains and illuminations in front of the Federation Palace, the building from where Yugoslavia was run. They were beautiful and people would go to walk there to see them. Now though, symbolically perhaps, they are in poor shape.

We would often walk by them, going to the river or after we had been to the Hotel Jugoslavija for chocolate pancakes. We would also go to the Hotel Moskva or the Madera restaurant to eat. Life was easy. You didn't feel deprived of anything.

My father used to travel and then he would bring us back stationary, candies and records from western Europe. There was a feeling that there was another world out there, but not that there was such a huge difference between the way people lived there and the way we lived.

I went to a good, nearby school. I remember every year on Tito's birthday they would do a youth relay race around the country to celebrate it and one year the baton came to our school. Sometimes we were taken in a herd to see him go past.

After that I went to secondary school and studied economics. While I was there I started working as a radio journalist and then I had my first hand experience of something I had only ever heard about – that there were certain things you could not say.

At that point there was a feeling of some"opening soon" towards the West. In 1988 for example, the first McDonalds opened in Slavija Square. At the time I remember feeling quite careless. There was no fear of war and I was able to travel abroad, and we did so often.

In 1988 I started economics at the University of Belgrade. I also got my driving licence because my parents wanted me to come home safe. Then in 1989, Radio B92 was launched and which I worked for. I felt very important!

In 1987 Milošević came to power. I was critical but I was too young to understand what this meant really. My parents were among those who were not thrilled about him but also did not realise what sort of a threat he was. Besides, when Ante Marković was prime minister, in 1990, there were high hopes.

At that point I went skiing in Austria, my university scholarship provided for this, and people were buying big fridges and other imported things because the Dinar was convertible.

Still, at B92, we were aware that things were not going too well and as 1990 came to end there was a feeling that things were going wrong.

In 1991 though I went skiing in Italy. I heard there were some clashes in Croatia, in a place called Borovo Selo, but I was still young and there was optimism that it would get better. Then, my uncle died of cancer. He did so during the ten day war in Slovenia where he lived. Amazingly, in the middle of this, his wife managed to get his body back to Montenegro to bury him, but then, 30 days later, my father was killed in a car crash on his way back from visiting the grave.

I was 21 and so, my private life and what was happening to the country, suddenly became "interesting". Most of the people who lived in our block were army officers, and so I was frightened that they would now take our flat from us because of all those officers now coming from Slovenia and Croatia.

In 1992 there were student protests. I participated and remember it as a beautiful time. There was a real feeling of energy, that things might change and that we could affect the situation. I wanted to feel like I was doing something socially responsible. I signed a petition against Milošević and his policies.

But then came the payback. I was the best student in the year and they were going to take me on at the faculty. Then someone came and told me: "Now you won't get that job." It was obvious that this was because I was associated with the other side. It was very difficult and I took it very badly. Then there was the period of hyperinflation. These were a difficult couple of years.

Then I got the idea I should leave. In 1994 I applied to the Central European University for European Studies. The campus for this was in Prague. I also got married and so we went there for a year. After that I did not want to come back because I felt unwanted but my husband had a job in advertising and he did want to return.

When I got back Vojin Dimitrijević, the law professor, helped me a lot. I was hired as a teaching assistant for International Relations at Belgrade Law School. In 1996 I also began working for the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, so I began to feel I had a place I belonged to. Then there were protests in the winter of 1996-97 against the electoral fraud that had taken place during the local elections. I was happy and expecting my first baby. After that though, they passed a repressive university act and some of us from the law faculty who had signed a petition against it, including my professor Vojin Dimitrijević, were expelled from the university.

It was around this time that I knew it made no sense to do a PhD here, so I went to Canterbury where I stayed for about a year. Four days after I got there in 1999, the NATO bombing started and it was at the same time that I was actually informed that I had been expelled from the law school as well. It was very difficult. It was not like living in London. I was the only person from Serbia. I heard a child asking what ethnic cleansing was. For the first time I understood people from Sarajevo because people would talk about the situation but then they moved on to talk about something else.

Then I came back to Belgrade and I felt I was not needed again. I began work with an alternative education network. There was no pay, or very little.

In 2000 there was a feeling that the opposition was uniting, meaning that it was the end of Milošević and I was expecting my second child. On October 5, the day he fell, I did not go to the big protest because I was seven months pregnant. Now I was living in Senjak, where we had built a home. It is a nice, residential area.

Suddenly, after October 5, all of your friends, the people you knew from the opposition, were being called upon to join the government. I had new baby and a PhD to finish but I did take a job as deputy director of diplomatic academy.

In 2003 I got an offer to head up the EU integration office for Serbia and Montenegro which I did for a year but then I resigned. I realised there was no"Serbia and Montenegro". I lost faith in it as a viable state.

On 12 March 2003 I was in the building of the Ministry of Foreign affairs when Zoran Djindjić, the prime minister, was shot. I didn't hear anything, but the news spread quickly. I was appalled but, at the time, I just did not understand the magnitude of what had happened. I did not fully appreciate then the feeling of direction that he gave.

In 2006 I was teaching at the faculty. Belgrade is much more polarised now between rich and poor and for young people life is difficult especially because it is so hard for them to travel. That makes a hell of a difference!

In June 2007 I began work as assistant foreign minister in charge of European integration. It is seven years now since the transition began but I still have the feeling that important challenges lie ahead. Sometimes it feels like I have lived so many lives!

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Milica Delevic at the "Talking Balkans" Symposium in Vienna on 3-4 April 2008 © 2008 ERSTE Foundation/Igor Bararon. All rights reserved.

August 2007
Tim Judah

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