Serbiaand the World at the Dawn of 2017

Report of a OPUS Listening Post® held in Belgrade on 8thJanuary 2017



In this part, the Listening Post participants were invited to identify, contribute, and explore their experiences in their various social roles, be they: in work, unemployed or retired; as members of religious, political, neighbourhood, voluntary or leisure organisations; or as members of families and communities. This part was largely concerned with what might be called, ‘the stuff of people’s everyday lives’: the ‘socio’ or ‘external’ world of participants.

This year’s LP was again organised by the Psycho-Social Section of Group Analytic Society Belgrade, where it is accepted as a regular workshop since 2004. There were more than 30 participants, citizens from various professional, social and personal roles. Most of them were from Belgrade, but also from other cities in Serbia, like Niš, small towns, Batočina, as well as other countries in the region –two of them came from Bosnia.


In Part 2, the aim collectively was to identify the major themes emerging from Part 1.

After brief introduction of the workshop as a part of a worldwide project, associating ensued: a mother shared a story from a waiting room in the health centre. She, and other mothers with sick feverish children were made to wait for the doctor for hours, because medical staff was understaffed due to the changes in NHS. Before, she said, medical services were much more accessible, and now they are pushing us to go to private Healthcare Service where it is much more expensive. Not everything new is necessarily better.

A young woman shared a sentiment of experiencing  the external push by the system to cross boundaries from old ways to the new ones followed by feelings of great fear. She shared a dream about Death handing out red cards, and when she was given one, she thought – isn’t it funny, there s Death among all this life around me.

Association went to the participant, a physicist  who remembered a book by Jose Saramago „Death and its Whims „, where Death decides to take a year off, her grim chores, and the reader wonders whether it is a good thing. In the end, she said, it turns out not to be such a good thing. Somebody told a story of her encounter with a neighbour, an old lady, who is very unpopular in the neighbourhood due to her bad temper, but is doing the work of in-house manager. Two  women succeeded to negotiate how to organise repairing the roof of the building. It was a surprisingly good experience.

Somebody shared a story of being turned away by the dentist from a state owned dental clinic, because he was not eligible for free service, and he felt angry, because he pays a significant percentage for NHS insurance every month. There was a sudden feeling of desperation followed by a question – are we ever going to be able to step in other persons shoes in this region of the world? Then came the association to the dream about the Death handing out red cards – it was the fear of life, not death in the dream. Is it possible to walk on in our shoes?

A story was shared about two long time friends, one of whom is a guest from the neighbouring country Croatia (with which there is a long war conflict history). The guest from Croatia deeply offended and hurt her friend  – she suddenly desired to ring the bell in the local orthodox church ( the local people gave their consent ) something that would not be allowed in her country. After articulating the conflict and exchanging difficult feelings,  the two friends deepened their friendship.  This prompted participants to  explore the ways  in which it would be possible to conduct a dialogue without immediately fearing and expecting  to re-enter past conflicts. The desire to walk in the other  person’s shoes, to experience the role, roles of the other. Is it easy to except what we perceive as our opposites – is it possible to walk in their shoes and feel like they feel?

Is it possible to have this kind of  difficult but truthful and constructive exchange with somebody from our own country? A citizen wondered.

Somebody expressed admiration towards the people who came from a neighbouring country Bosnia, to share thoughts with us. Living conditions there are more difficult than ours, but they managed to travel and look beautiful and elegant. Another participant voiced desire to enter the role of the other, to have role-play with the other.

A participant said that it is easy to compliment a Serbian woman from Bosnia on her looks, and persistence, but how about diversity and heavy feelings she brings with her? Do we dare look at those feelings too? A young man asked is it possible to be in a dialog and not hear war drums at the first sight of danger or hurt?

It is exhausting to constantly feel hit below the belt somebody shared.

There is disappointment in western civilisation and loss of system of values a schoolteacher said, and continued associating to the incident with the church bell: How easy it is for the guests to slip into insensitivity towards the other, and  breech the boundaries of identity, of tradition, of culture when they get the permission from “ the outside „? What to do when abuse of overextended hospitality happens? It seems that the system of values is overflowing with different concepts, and consequently the boundaries of our own  and Western and Eastern values are blurred in such a way that they are unrecognisable. How to be a good teacher to the next generation, when we are losing  contact with our tradition?

Another citizen said: I feel great anger of  being robbed of  the idea of togetherness,  that was promoted  for many decades in my country that does not exist anymore.

One participant noted that the Croat woman that rang a bell because she suddenly felt like it, strikes him as capricious and she probably behaves like that in any given context, in her personal life as well as in the group.

The group was asked to break into 5 smaller groups and use writing or drawing to express and identify main themes that had emerged in the first part. After that, a spokesman of every group shared his or her group findings, and we clustered these into subsequent main themes:

  1. The wheel of life – what makes us move and what obstructs movement
  2. Us and them – Relations and frictions with the neighbour and with the world.
  3. Boundaries – How to protect ourselves and yet keep our identity
  4. Values – How to recognize what is good in the new world and keep our tradition?
  5. Fear to look into heavy feelings that were never acknowledged, never given life


In Part 3, the participants were working with the information resulting from Parts 1 & 2, with a view to collectively identifying the underlying dynamics both conscious and unconscious that may be predominant at the time; and developing hypotheses as to why they might be occurring at that moment. Here, participants were working more with what might be called their ‘psycho’ or ‘internal’ world: their collective ideas and ways of thinking that both determine how they perceive the external realities and shape their actions towards them.

Analysis 1:

When death delivers us the red card, fear of life takes over and thus Death disguises fear of life. The wheel of history – periods of war and peace. The picture of funerals blocking the streets where the living need to walk. Accepting the possibility of death as well as  admitting denial of loss liberates us and makes movement possible. Absence that frames the presence. Fear to look into hard feelings that were never  acknowledged.. Matrix is struggling to capture rythms of life and choose right shoes to venture into the unknown. Metaphore of the world as the picture of the boat populated by madmen, but if you come closer, you can see ordinary people doing the best they can to deal with life. And, as we wonder for whome the bell tolls, it comes to us that no man is an island. The ownership of the role of citizen of the world in reflection brought some relief, but there was also awareness of helplessness.

Hypothesis 1:The wheel of life – what makes us move and what obstructs it: the group was wondering whether helplessness was defence against overflowing aggression that cannot be looked at? Owning the role of the citizen of the world in reflection creates movement.

Analysis 2:

Participants explored examples of turning the blind eye towards the other – in the families, close neighbours, as well as those in the region, neighbours in the West near and far, as well as the East; and hypothesized that this kind of blindness breeds extremes, disables empathy, renders negotiations impossible and devaluates relationships. Then the participants set of to explore what it would be like be in other persons shoes, not only to see, but to be able to feel the other. It brought about thinking about the ways to deepen the dialogue where it is possible to be in position of equality and not vulnerability. But, will “ the people gild terrible sacrifices we made ?“ as the famous Serbian poet, Laza Lazarevic asked in his famous novel about WWI hero who lost his leg and was forced to beg on the street.

Hypothesis 2: Us and Them – As ever present propensity towards divisions among human groups: Where there is a sign of equality, there is also imaginary signifier for less and more worthy.

Analysis 3:

There was a lot of discussion as to how to protect oneself and at hte same time be able to keep one’s identity. Where does the need to step into other people’s shoes take us and why? Relations beween the West and the East and our own identity. Searching for good boundaries might mean trying to find a balanced measure of words in relationships. Overstepping the boundaries of hospitality is also explored, as well as overextending the hospitality. Death as the final boundary that needs to be acknowledged in order to move on. Somebody voiced the desire to be reflective and create listening posts with coming generations – for example parents and children of all generations. Transfering the personal  directly onto social context can be fertile ground for various generalisations, also, it was mentioned that borders of our country are not clear and it is a source of great anger. When the boundaries are obscured, one can see only penumbra of things. As the workshop was coming to an end, there was a sense that things are easier to deal with then before, but also awareness of heavy feelings present.

Hypothesis 3: Boundaries : Good borders make good neighbours. Good relationship can survive only if boundaries are clear and mutually respected.

Conveners: Marina Mojović, Nevenka Lalić, Saša Ivanović

Report drafted by: Sanja Jokić