“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”
CS Lewis’ words about belonging can be applied to No Name Kitchen volunteers, I’m NNK for life now, and I try to keep up with the rapidly changing situation in all our bases. (see? I said ‘our’). Šid is sounding pretty difficult right now. Volunteers are being hassled by locals and authorities, plus the situation for people-on-the-move (PotM) both in and out of camps, is increasingly problematic. Here’s a bit more about what’s going on there right now.
A fascist youth group called “Omladina Shida” (Youth of Sid), has recently called for the removal of NNK volunteers from Šid as well the removal of migrants from the municipality.
As reported in Serbia publication Danas – the youth group organised a protest which took place on Sunday 1st November 2020 where they called for the military to be returned to the area. When I was there in June and July, the military were stationed outside of each of the camps supposedly to help with Coronavirus measures, although in reality it had more do with the imminent election. The youth group referred to this, saying:
"The President of the Republic sent the army only as a pre-election marketing trick to collect our votes and to guard those reception centers because the police do not have the capacity to do that,".
They also demand that people not be allowed to return after being deported from Croatia or Hungary – citing fears over the increased Coronavirus numbers in both of those countries as the reason for this.
PotM who once went into town regularly to purchase food and other essential items, now report being scared to do so. In the summer, it was possible to meet friends from the Family Camp in cafes in town. Even while I was there, this became more difficult and recently it was reported that it was impossible to get a haircut from anyone in the town. The situation with both local people and the police has worsened further, one young man living in the jungle said, “if we go into town, they will beat us.”
"That foreign non-governmental organization of former, current and future drug addicts and losers."
NNK organised an event on Sunday 8th November 2020 as a response to the youth group’s protest and in order to build links with local people. They wanted to explain their work and open up dialogue to discuss the issues felt on both sides. They were subject to insults from onlookers and were told to leave by police. The delightful Mayor of Šid has been driving by the volunteer house in his car, causing stress to those living there. Just like he did to me and Stef on our last day in the town. We were standing outside Family Camp, at an appropriate distance, saying goodbye to our friends. The Mayor drove right up to us, flashed his lights, honked his horn and filmed us from inside the car. He also refused to talk to us about why he was doing this and eventually we left so as not to cause stress to those in the camp.
My own experiences with Serbian people overall was very positive. Almost everyone said 'hello' (well, acutually Zdravo or Dobra dan) on the street and helped with directions when I looked lost. Several incidents of particular kindness come to mind, when my poor little car had a few problems: once being fixed for nothing, another time some passing workmen changing the wheel when I had a flat tyre. Free fruit was a common theme, not to mention the tireless efforts of the team at social justice NGO KlikAktiv who seem to work night and day to help PotM and volunteers, whatever their questions or problems. I sincerely hope that things improve in Šid for the sake of everyone. My good wishes and strong thoughts go to the volunteers and the PotM there now. Keep strong!
Have you got any questions about the situation in Serbia? Or about my time there? Let me know, comment below.