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An attempted assassination of Montenegrin Prime Minister by Russian nationalists. Continued conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. Croatia’s largest retailer on the verge of collapse. ― Welcome to the Balkans.

I have been with BIRN, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, for a little over two weeks now!

BIRN is an NGO that has identified key issues in the Balkans to include lack of freedom of expression, loss of media independence, lack of good governance, and an absence of anti-corruption efforts ( To combat this, BIRN has a range of news outlets and other media presences that provide clear-eyed political analysis and reporting across Balkan countries.

Since starting my internship, I’ve helped moderate the Balkan Insight Facebook page, and run the twitter account for Belgrade Insight, a smaller newspaper under the umbrella of Balkan Insight, the larger news entity. (Belgrade Insight is the only English paper in Belgrade!)

It’s been interesting seeing the reactions to news articles that BIRN publishes on its website, and how (much like in the US), some citizens still buy into nationalistic ideas and consequently spout that rhetoric. That’s only a fraction of the Facebook comments though, and most are citizens simply express opinions, hopes, and worries about political turmoil and corruption, the EU accession process, and other current events.

I have learned a lot about the past and current political situation in the Balkans, and thought it would be helpful to highlight a few important things to know for those of you who might not be very familiar with Balkan history or its current political climate.

Some things to know about the Balkans:

First, a map ~


The Balkans refers to countries on the Balkan peninsula, which include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.


Yugoslavia was first the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, established in 1918 following WWI. Its name officially changed to Yugoslavia in 1929, and included in this former state were the present-day countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Yugoslavia slowly dissolved in 1990-1992.

Josip Broz Tito ruled as Yugoslavia’s president from 1953 until his death in 1980.


Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) (taken from InSerbia,


Last weekend, our group visited the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is largely focused on Tito’s reign and legacy. We learned about some interesting traditions that emerged during his leadership, like The Relay of Youth.

In the relay, batons containing birthday pledges to Tito, wishing him good health and happy birthday, were carried across the entire country before being presented to Tito at the Yugoslav People’s Army stadium in Belgrade.

The relay began in 1945, and by 1950, more than 1 million people were involved. Today, more than 22,000 of the original batons are kept at the Museum of Yugoslavia. We got to hold some of the batons (pictures below), and the general consensus among our group was that these batons would have been pretty difficult to run with.


Girl participating in Youth Relay

Tito being presented a baton

Photos above taken from Go UNESCO,


Photos of the DukeEngage group from the museum visit, taken by Harrison Schulz


A couple things I’ve learned since being here:


Just in: New Serbian Prime Minister – first female and gay PM!

Ana Brnabić was chosen by current president Aleksandar Vučić to be the new PM, making history. Read more here.

Photo from The Guardian,


It’s Southeastern Europe, not Eastern Europe –

The distinction is important, because Eastern Europe refers to countries in the Eastern bloc of the former Soviet Union, which the Balkan countries never were a part of. Serbian people have made this distinction to me on several occasions.


The Serbian Language

We have language classes twice a week and have learned the Cyrillic alphabet (shown above) and some basic Serbian phrases. In this picture, we were learning to say our addresses – a good phrase to know if we get lost!

Photo taken by Kate Rodgers, Cyrillic alphabet from Novorossia Today,


And finally,

Follow our summer on Instagram @dukeengageserbia2017!