Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Studentski grad

After a week on the road, Gabriel and I find ourselves in one of the many lounge bars of Sofia. And, truth to be told, we are both rather exhausted. A late night out in Pristina left us with only three hours of sleep before we had to take the 05.30 bus down to Skopje in Macedonia and then onwards to the Bulgarian capital...

Our Balkan shuffle is drawing to its end. Tomorrow our flight will take us back to Vienna, our starting point. Nine countries in seven days; not one night have we slept in the same country. Some may rightfully find this hectic. But this is, by all means, a first reconnaissance, a broad sweep. And all the time, we find layers upon layers of languages, culture and contemporary history in the making.

I would say that, above all, one thing stands out from this journey and that is the momentum which these countries are gaining. People educate themselves, spend summers in England working the fields, and return home eager to build a better future. At the same time, old prejudices are never far away, as especially visible towards the sizeable minorities of Roma people who live in these countries and who still suffer tremendous hardship. But the general tone has to be a positive one. Strolling the streets of Sofia tonight we come across dozens of posh restaurants, not inhabited by ex-pats or tourists but by locals. To me, that is a clear indication that the centre of gravity in Europe is steadily moving east.


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