There’s something magical about the permanence of continents and no matter how many wars, coups or name changes a country undergoes it will always stay within the confines of the same continent. Although Turkey and Panama do have identity crises.
Europe has always been the place where Serbians have lived. Continental shifts have not effected Serbia’s location in recent times and leading geologists have confirmed that Serbia will in fact remain in Europe for the foreseeable future.
This gives Serbians great hope for the future. Being in Europe has many benefits including EU membership, inclusion in the Euro zone and an inbred fear of English football fans wrecking your town.
We chose the very European city of Balušnica located in the mountainous coastal region of East Serbia. Like the Germans, and many of us do, residents of Balušnica are roughly divided by ethnic Serbs and Austrian ex-pats. Austrians were drawn to Balušnica through tax incentives and the kind offer of the town’s mayor to harbor soldiers returning from the Second World War.
The main employer of Balušnica is Serbian Zippers (Incorporated). Serbian Zippers was first created for the German army by volunteers brought in from all over Europe. After the war, ownership of the company abruptly changed when the Russian Red Army executed the board of management. Today, happily, there has been a consistent management structure and recently Serbian Zippers signed a very lucrative deal with NASA for their new easy-fit spacesuits.
Walking around the factory, on one of their daily guided tours, you get a sense of European greatness and Serbian sovereignty. The architecture is typically Moorish, reflecting Serbia’s ancient past mixed with baroque wall paintings and Corinthian columns.
The corridors are carpeted in deep green and red which represents the Serbian struggles and nationhood. Each zip is handmade and each zip engineer is assigned a small cubicle. It’s fascinating to watch the engineers create their unique zips using just a set of highly-calibrated tools called a zipset.
During WWII, the factory workers, who were brought in by train from all over Europe, especially Poland, would eat and sleep in small cells under the plant. In fact, for some, this was home until they were forcibly retired. In those days, child labor was used because of the small nimble fingers.
Today Serbian employment laws insist workers must be over 12 but we were lucky enough to see nostalgic pictures of small children practicing Serbian zippery as German soldiers looked on laughing, possibly knowing their uniforms would be of the highest quality at reasonable prices.
Balušnica’s zip factory dominates the town. Other places of interest are the recently-uncovered mass graves, which have been nicely decorated with daffodils, roses and plum-leaf wreathes. Balušnica Town Council has plans to pave over these “pits of despair” and create a children’s park in an effort to change the area into a fun place for families, eradicating memories of the past. The same has been done to other places in the town, most notably an old synagogue which is now a brightly-painted pork delicatessen.
Finally, if you want to buy Balušnica’s famous Serbian zips online, click www.serbinazips.com