BELGRADE WATERFRONT

If there is a place in the popular imagination, as far away as possible from the glitz of Dubai, it is the Balkan Peninsula.
Photos by Massimo Gorreri
Words by Luigi Barbarese

belgrade

Yet it’s precisely in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, that the local government and the UAE’s Eagle Hills real-eastates company are working on the the Belgrade Waterfront, a colossal project of urban regeneration which includes the construction of eight hotels, luxury apartments and one of the biggest malls ever created, and the whole thing under the shadow of a tower of steel and glass that, at the completion of works, will be one of the tallest in Europe. An architectural oxymoron, but more generally an ethical and social contradiction if you consider that these two square kilometres of sparkle and technology will take shape in the Savamala neighbourhood, on the banks of the river Sava.

After the devaluation of the dinar, in the early 2000s there was a dramatic rise in inflation that crushed the already puny local economy making it an arduous road to recovery for a capital city of one million two hundred thousand inhabitants. A capital city with the ambition of maturing into a European metropolis and the desire to overcome decades of communist dictatorship, war,bombs nationalisms so that it could open itself to the world.

The price being paid is high, beginning with the “de-personalisation” of the Savamala neighbourhood, a breeding ground for artists and creatives in the city, that runs the risk of being eaten up by the bulldozers and by the building sites even if the designers are adamant that the colourful and bohemian soul of the neighbourhood will not be altered.
One consistency in this very Balkan inconsistency is that, in a capital where on average people live on less than five hundred Euros a month, an oasis of excessive luxury is being constructed with absolutely no regard to cost. Belgrade is , whether we like it or not, the restless standard bearer of Serbia and the Balkans. It is a metaphor of differences and contradictions that have persisted throughout history : It has pulled together cultures, ideas, ethnic groups, religions and different beings, if not total opposites. It is a not a harmonious coexistence, at least not in the way the Lebanon was (or at least as it was portrayed) after the war. It is instead an edgy and bitter mixing, that nevertheless has a certain charm and strength.

So, after the Celts, the Romans, the Slavs, the Turks, the Magyars, and the Hapsburgs, this region, with one eye looking West at the Emir’s dollar, now finds itself struggling to cope with a new historical era of migration through the Balkan route. After a border wall built by Orban’s Hungary was replicated in Croatia, the Serbian Republic – and particularly its capital city – has become a point of arrival for those fleeing starvation and fundamentalisms.. Accordinging to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Afghans and Pakistanis alone to have reached the Serbian Capital after an exhausting journey through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia, is one million two hundred thousand.
Out of one of the most crowded refugee camps in the old continent, with no hot water or medical facilities will rise the new Waterfront. Extreme poverty will be replaced by outrageously superfluous luxury. A consistent inconsistency, exactly.

 

About the author:
Massimo Gorreri was born in 1967. He lives and works in Parma, Italy, as a professional freelance photographer. He cooperates with Italian photo agencies, including Parallelozero in Milan.
His work has been published in national newspapers, weeklies and magazine such as: Corriere della Sera, Famiglia Cristiana, Bell’Italia, Gente, L’Expresse (France), Witness Journal.
He has been finalist of the National Geographic Italia photographic contest in 2011. In 2017 he founded the photographic collective CONTRAILS.

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