Follow Your Roots: Stories from Serbia
Goran Zivanovic and his wife Clare used their honeymoon to reconnect with Serbia
I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and left with my family when I was two years old; none of us had ever returned to the former Yugoslavia. It was only when Clare and I were looking at options for our honeymoon in Europe that it seemed fitting to reconnect with my place of birth. We wanted to see what it was really like, to meet long lost relatives and evaluate my heritage from a purely non-media and political viewpoint.
We entered Serbia by rail from Budapest and I really couldn’t distinguish between one countryside and another. I didn’t initially feel any connection to the country of my birth but that changed quickly.
After spending some time exploring Belgrade by ourselves, we contacted my relatives. My parent’s weren’t thrilled with this plan but we wanted to experience Belgrade without distractions. We travelled by bus to my parents’ old village called Umka, which was less than an hour away from the city. We stayed with my aunt (mother’s sister) who lives on a property where I spent the first two years of my life, close to other relatives, and the cemetery where many of our ancestors are buried.
We were fussed over by every family member we met. We were shown where my father worked before moving to Australia and his childhood home, we visited my grandmother’s grave and were able to light a candle for her. We met other family members in their homes and it really showed us how people with very little material wealth are extremely giving in hospitality. Meeting these people, and seeing things like houses destroyed by the NATO bombings, gave us great respect for these people and their way of life.
Connecting with my roots feels like a link on a broken chain has been replaced. I saw for myself that it is not until you visit a place that you can really know how things are. I feel a greater connection to the people, the land, and most importantly to myself since our visit.
The Serbian experience has changed our lives. We genuinely want to go back and spend an extended period visiting other Serbian cities and living with the locals. We actually speak about doing this almost every day. Our love for the country has inspired us to produce a documentary showcasing Serbia and how it has so much to offer, despite its tragic history. We’re currently working with our production company, Gothic Zen Studios, to make this happen. While we were in Serbia we filmed our journey. Once home, we edited and uploaded our footage to YouTube, expecting nothing. To our surprise, one of our videos got picked up by a newspaper in Serbia and the video got more than 20, 000 views overnight. To this day our videos still get lots of views and receive many comments. This is all thanks to our family history journey.
Will Hamish Blake track down his great-grandmother’s birthplace? Find out, and see more of our Follow Your Roots stories here.