Local patriotism and extended youth: “Where you are that’s where you’re safe”

It doesn’t make sense, but many young Belgraders would more easily decide to move to another continent than to another part of their own city. One of the key reasons why some younger residents of the capital who have jobs and, by their own account, good salaries by Serbian standards, still live with their parents is the belief that civilization ends outside their neighborhood. Some individuals believe that it is easier for their peers from small towns in Serbia to become independent because if they want to study, they have no choice but to leave home. And once you leave, it’s much harder to return.

Extended youth is becoming a global phenomenon. More and more young Chinese, who are not so young anymore, are entering into “business arrangements” with their parents to take care of them in exchange for a salary. In other words, instead of seeking employment elsewhere, they “employ” themselves at home. Reluctance to leave the family nest is increasingly common even in Anglo-Saxon culture, which was once synonymous with early independence. Research over the years has shown that it is no longer uncommon for Americans and Britons to continue living with their parents even after graduating from college, or to return home after a temporary departure. Scandinavians still lead in Europe in terms of achieving independence, typically around the age of 23.

Analysts point to the key reason for delayed maturity worldwide like significant existential uncertainty and worsening economic conditions for young people. Cultural patterns also influence when someone becomes independent; data shows that leaving home is not always directly related to per capita income. One of the most striking examples is the Italians, who don’t mind staying with their parents well into their forties.

In “these parts”,  which is a synonym for the former Yugoslavia, children often turn thirty and more before moving out, with the average in Serbia being around 32 years old. The main reason cited is lack of employment, poor job conditions, insufficient income, and the increasing cost of living, including unattainable mortgage rates for housing. This is particularly challenging when one doesn’t even know if they’ll have that poor job tomorrow.

But, what is the reason that young people who have jobs and, by their own accounts, good earnings for Serbian standards still stay under the same roof with their parents? Research conducted by the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade among younger and better-off residents of the capital city shows that there are several reasons for delaying relocation, but the overwhelmingly prevailing reason is the local patriotism. This is how respondents explain their attachment to the neighborhood where they grew up and why they are not ready to move to another part of the city.

A thirty-year-old man living in Voždovac with his parents says: “I don’t like anything across the bridge. Novi Beograd is for going there once a year, like going to the sea. It’s the same with places like Krnjača, Kotež, or that Medak – no good. But again, I was in Kotež yesterday for business, and it is organized, there is a large school, and I’m sure everything is good for the people living there. But I think 90% of people would prefer to stay where they are because people don’t like change. Where you are – that’s where you’re safe.”

“An older respondent from Dušanovac mentions similar reasons for not leaving his parents’ home, seeing himself staying in his neighborhood even as he grows older. “I would like my child to go to the same school I attended, to be here in the neighborhood. Because, brother, when you grow old, your childhood friends will still be here. Our children play together as well. Somehow you feel safe, you leave your child here knowing there’s always someone around the neighborhood. What would I do in Novi Beograd? I don’t know anyone, I don’t know anything, I don’t know where my child went, I don’t know where to look for him. Here, brother, if he gets lost somewhere – you know where he could be lost. But in those Novi Beograd blocks, even I would get lost trying to find him!'”

Some, like the twenty-nine-year-old living in the Šumice settlement, see the advantages of their area in its location, traffic infrastructure, and the possibility of finding a parking spot. “If I were to choose a place to move to now, it would be important for me not to have to cross a bridge. To be in this part of the city where I am now. I was just talking about this with some old colleagues yesterday. I said, ‘I don’t take goods at Altina, you know brother, it’s too far,’ and I see that those two guys weren’t too happy about it. Because one lives in Vranić, which is somewhere, like Lipovica, something like that, and the other one is from Altina. Then I realized why it bothered them, and one of them said to me, ‘What brother, I’ll get from Altina to Savska Street in 15 minutes.’ But I don’t believe it’s like that. I wouldn’t live anywhere but Šumice, Konjarnik, and places like that. I wouldn’t even want to go to Vračar, it’s too crowded.”

Autokomanda is the border of civilization, for real

A thirty-year-old from Vračar claims the opposite, he wouldn’t trade his neighborhood for anything in the world. “Everything is urban here, not built for socialism. For me, life is what happens within the borders of my neighborhood. Up to Đeram, but mostly Autokomanda. I always say that Autokomanda is the border of worlds, the highway somehow divides this city – known, normal, civilized, and so on, from wild, endless, unknown. Now, I’m intentionally pointing out such opposites, I’m being completely honest.”

Autokomanda is the beginning and the end for his peer who lives in Senjak. “Novi Beograd is an incredibly popular location and many people love living there, and people from the blocks adore their neighborhood, but it’s a completely foreign territory to me with absolutely no emotional connection. When you’re in a neighborhood, you somehow even feel patriotically about your neighborhood. Literally local patriotism, but in the sense of the neighborhood itself, not the municipality, not the city, but the neighborhood itself. You have your store that you’ve been going to for years, you have your health food store, you have your gym, you have those points to which you are so connected with so much. And somehow, unless you had bad experiences, you always strive to continue living in the neighborhood you grew up in because it is all, conditionally speaking, familiar to you.”

While the parents still strong enough to help out

Novi Beograd would, on the other hand, be the only option for relocation for a twenty-eight-year-old living in Banovo Brdo, but only as a last resort, because “Brdo rules.” Besides his attachment to his neighborhood, he mentions another reason: “What would happen to my folks if I left? Dad could manage somehow, but mom would lose it. They wouldn’t be able to financially handle me leaving with my salary. And what about tomorrow, when they’re even older and sicker?”

Attachment to parents, but in a slightly different sense, is also cited as a reason by a slightly older respondent living in Vrčin, with three generations under the same roof and extended family nearby. “I wouldn’t trade places with those in the city center. Here we have a house, each has their own space, yet we’re together. We’re all family; if we fight, we make up. Buying an apartment somewhere in the congested city, where nobody knows anyone and a neighbor might throw a brick through my window – no way. Secondly, given the pace of life we young people live in now, always rushing and always in some hurry, we could always count on my father and mother to watch the child. So, in case there’s a fuss at work, they’ll make lunch, and we’ll eat together. While they’re still strong enough to help out.”

Many of those surveyed believe that the “blame” for still living with their parents lies with Belgrade itself, as it’s much harder to make that decision when you’re born in the capital compared to coming here from another part of Serbia. A twenty-eight-year-old woman describes it like this: “Maybe it’s best when you leave home at 19 and come to Belgrade to study. That’s the right time, yet you’re not alone because you live in a dorm. Secondly, in the dorm, you don’t have to clean by yourself, others do it, then there’s the canteen, you don’t have to manage everything with your own money. So, that’s an ideal balance to separate from parents. Now, there’s this mantra that young people who come from the provinces are better than us from Belgrade because they’re not protected. Maybe, but I’m not a fan of that generalization.”

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