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Maja Vukas
Maja Vukas

My father is a Montenegrin from Kosovo and my mother was from Croatia. When I was born we lived where we live now, in New Belgrade. However where this block is now was then just sand and swamp. We had picnics here with my mother. Then we lived in Block 1. It was the first to be built. Then we moved here in 1978. It was a bigger flat.

It was nice place to grow up. There was lots of space to play and lots of green places, more than now and much safer. Now I have got two daughters, aged 10 and 7 but I would not let them go and play outside by themselves. There are lots of dogs now. I never saw dogs then. Now there are lots of stray dogs and violent people, young people. You can see them outside, smoking grass and drinking a lot. It was not like that before.

When I was young we spent lots of time outside. We played basketball and football and went bicycling and walking, along the Danube.

In 1992 our flat was burgled. It was probably someone from our neighbourhood. Since the late 1980s it has not really been really safe around here anymore.

I studied teaching to be a nursery school teacher. My brother was born in 1962, so he was bit older than me and so, when things got bad, many of his generation left. He went to the US in 1990. He said it would be like Romania here with Milosevic. Because my generation were a bit younger not so many left.

During the wars it was difficult. People changed and also we did not see people so much. People had their own problems. They lost their jobs, they were sent to the army. My husband, (then he was my boyfriend,) was constantly hiding with friends to avoid being sent to the army. At that point he worked as an electrician and was doing well. I was a nanny for a foreign family so I had a good salary.

At the time of hyperinflation, in 1994, a pension was worth 2DM a month. You could also not get medicine. My mother was sick and then she died in Bar, while she was recuperating.

After that I got a job at a nursery school and got married. Since then life has been up and down. It was bad in 1999. Milan, my husband, lost his job but he went to work in Cyprus. Life was expensive. In Block 30 you could see a lot of old people just wandering about telling each other things like "milk is cheaper over there. " People became grumpier and less friendly.

During the bombings in 1999, I took my daughter to the village outside Belgrade where my father-in-law lives, but they bombed near there. So we came back and one evening we were at my uncle's and they bombed Serbian television nearby. So, we came home and then they bombed the Chinese embassy, which was near here! I was so scared. I lost 10 kilos.

Now things are better, although for some of my friends they are worse. Recently they have lost jobs. One friend worked in the National Bank of Yugoslavia and lost her job. Another worked for 18 years in another bank and lost hers and can't get another.

I work in a private, international nursery now. I am quite well paid and Milan has a good job as a manager for a company making furniture and fittings for offices. Last year we went on holiday in Greece. It was great. Before that we always went to Montenegro but actually, from 2002 until last year, we could not afford to go anywhere.

Block 30 is old now and they are not refurbishing it. But still it is a good place to live. Transport is good. If we could move though, I would, to somewhere near the river like Zemun.

The crime situation is better but they do steal small cars for spare parts and bigger ones for ransom. Still, there are a lot of newer cars around here now and we have just got one.

Three years ago someone had a jeep in the garage. I don't know what he does. But there was a bomb under it and seven cars were destroyed. For a week we had no phone line, the building next door had no electricity and the one next to that had no water. A month ago we had no phone because people are stealing the cables because they are made of copper.

Nearby where there is the new sports centre, the Arena. There were lots of empty plots too but now there is building everywhere. There is also lots of pollution. I preferred it the way it was, although now this area is becoming very expensive.

January 2007
Tim Judah

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