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Review: Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013

Against all odds, a festival in Serbia has become one of the coolest in Europe

Bushman's Revenge, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Cassandra WIlson, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Vijay Iyer, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Giovanni Guidi, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Lars Danelsson, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Leszek Mozdzer, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Gianluca Petrella, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Shai Maestro Trio, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Ana Sofrenovic, Belgrade Jazz Festival 2013
Jam session at the 2013 Belgrade Jazz Festival: Leszek Możdżer, keys; Shai Maestro, keys; Petar Krstajić, bass; Pedja Milutinović, drums; Miloš Nikolić, trumpet

On October 11, 2013, an article by Viia Beaumanis appeared in the New York Times. The title was “On the Verge: Belgrade, Europe’s Latest Urban Success Story.” It claimed that this “war-torn city” has emerged from the “long slumber” imposed by the “struggle and strife” of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Beaumanis portrays Belgrade as a “burgeoning hub for design, culture and creativity,” with boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and a new art museum.

I just got back from there, and I don’t recognize the Belgrade Beaumanis describes. The Belgrade of my experience is a huge, teeming, gritty, austere city whose endless blocks of tattered gray buildings are covered in Cyrillic graffiti. That it is one of the poorest urban centers in Europe, with high unemployment and low wages, is obvious from the dress and demeanor of people on the streets. While it is true that a small new art museum, Macura, has opened on the outskirts of town, the National Museum on Trg Republike (Republic Square) has been “closed for renovation” for many years. The Museum of Contemporary Art, opened in 1965 and one of Europe’s first national modern art museums, also sits closed, in disrepair. And I never saw a single trendy restaurant. You can eat very well in Belgrade, but you do it in small old family restaurants like Savski Ekspres, that serve heaping platters of grilled meats cheap.

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Originally Published