Travel | November 19, 2020 1:06 pm

Why Are So Many New Yorkers Now Comparing Serbia to Brooklyn?

The city's latest "it" neighborhood is in a landlocked Balkan country thousands of miles away

waterfront serbia
Some New Yorkers have taken advantage of Serbia's lax COVID travel regulations.
Milica Spasojevic/Unsplash

According to a recent profile by the New York Post, a number of New Yorkers — the majority of them Brooklynites — are currently taking trips to Serbia, the once war-torn Balkan country surrounded by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

If that sounds strange, that’s because it is. The area isn’t particularly known for tourism; only in the last five years or so have the beaches of Croatia hit the mainstream. Decades of bitter conflict, punitive sanctions from the U.N., and corruption in government, all brought on from a post-Cold War power vacuum, have kept Serbia firmly off travel bucket lists. But that’s now changing, particularly for New Yorkers who are desperate to see Europe (any part of Europe) in 2020. Serbia has no quarantine requirement for Americans, and in a year where most travel corridors were operating at a minuscule fraction of their flight capacity, Air Serbia actually added flights from JFK to Belgrade, the capital.

belgrade, serbia
Alex Blokstra/Unsplash

Some New Yorkers have even permanently relocated to Belgrade, citing its rock-bottom rates on apartments, hip food and nightlife scene, and proud way of life. The two punchiest quotes from the Post‘s piece belong to 27-year-old Davis Richardson, who moved to Serbia a couple months ago. First, Richardson likened Belgrade to New York’s most famous gentrification experiment: “It reminds me of Williamsburg circa 2010.” Then, commenting on the local approach to COVID-19, he reported: “The Serbian mindset is very proud. They don’t see a virus as getting in the way of their success and happiness.”

Even with a post-pandemic landscape where WFH will likely remain the status quo for many industries — where all employees will need to get work done is a laptop and wifi — it feels somewhat ridiculous to anoint a city 4,510 miles away and six hours ahead as New York City’s latest “it” neighborhood. Some of Belgrade’s glowing reviews smack of angsty expats trying to convince themselves they’ve made the right decision; Serbia may indeed be an up-and-coming travel destination, but it’s also one of the most polluted countries in the world, and currently involved in a two-year-plus protest over the authoritarian tendencies of leader Aleksandar Vučić, who has spent years curtailing the freedom of the press.

Not to mention, if the current appeal of relocating to Serbia is “Come live here, they won’t burden you with concerns about that annoying coronavirus,” well, that plan is already backfiring. Earlier this week, the Serbian government ordered “all services, including bars, restaurants, cafés, stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, theaters, and cinemas” to be closed by 9 p.m. through December 1st. The nation is setting new records for cases every day and a more serious lockdown is now imminent, at which point its new American residents will not be able to fly back to New York.