Photojournalist Massimo Gorreri visited Belgrade and documented its transformations. He shares his personal account, raising questions about post-Soviet culture and weighing the impacts of modern globalization. His series brings to light elements of Serbia’s capital that are at odds with each other, both nostalgic and futuristic, highlighting its past and imagining what lies ahead for the ‘Dubai of the Balkans.’   

Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photo by Massimo Gorreri. The Belgrade Waterfront complex during Serbia's national holiday in February 2022.

TAKE ME TO THE MOON.

by Massimo Gorreri

After passing the 20th anniversary of the 1999 NATO bombing, Belgrade is striving to be reborn, showing a new face as a tourism capital – made up of nightlife, clubs and emerging artists. 

Embraced by the two rivers Danube and Sava and skyscrapers popping up, one could say it is transforming into the Dubai of the Balkans. If in the common perception an antithetical place to the opulence of Dubai exists, it is the Balkan peninsula. In fact, it is precisely in Belgrade that the local government and the company of the United Arab Emirates ‘Eagle Hills’ are working with ‘Belgrade Waterfront’: an urban redevelopment project that involves the construction of hotels, apartments, luxury shops, and one of the largest shopping centers ever built, overlooked by one of the highest towers in Europe.

The ambition is to become a metropolis with a global dimension, to overcome decades of communist dictatorship, nationalism, war and bombs; but above all to open up to the world. The President of the Serbian Republic, Aleksandar Vucic, made a personal commitment: the city must “modernize” to resemble a large metropolis. On the contrary however, the political opposition argues that incompetence, kitsch and corruption are destroying the soul of Belgrade, while support for the government remains strong, as seen in the more than 100,000 people who took to the streets in April of 2019 rallying for Vucic. 

Above all, the control exercised by the government over the media is attempting to infiltrate the domestic political scene through the rhetoric that the opposition is the origin of Serbia’s problems. But for the international community, things seem different: in the latest report about the progress made by Serbia to enter into the European Community, criticisms hit the judicial system, along with a strong concern for the deterioration of media freedom.

Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. In April 2019, a large demonstration with over 100,000 people invades the city of Belgrade, marching in favor of current president Alexandar Vucic. A muscular response to the protest demonstration against the President, which took place the days before, with a few thousand people.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Belgrade 2019 - The model of the Belgrade Waterfront urban redevelopment project, which involves the construction of eight hotels, one of the largest shopping centers ever built, apartments, luxury shops and one of the tallest glass and steel towers in Europe.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. 2017 Construction and drainage of the Sava River begins for the "Belgrade Waterfront" urban redevelopment project • April, 2017 - Construction and drainage of the Sava River begins for the "Belgrade Waterfront" urban redevelopment project

More recently, Serbia is stigmatizing the invasion of Ukraine but not the sanctions against Russia, due to the alliance between Presidents Vucic and Putin. Always a metaphor of contrasts and contradictions, this region that looks both to the West and has financial support from the Emirs, had to face yet another historical passage between 2016 and 2017: the flow of migrants along the Balkan Route with one of Europe’s most crowded former refugee camps right in the way of the ‘Belgrade Waterfront.’

Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. 2017 - Migrants from the Balkan route lined up for a hot meal in the refugee camp of the old Belgrade railway station, behind them you can see the first buildings of the Belgrade Waterfront.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography Massimo Gorreri. Year 2017 16-year-old Pakistani boy, plants flowers in the refugee camp on the Balkan route, when asked why he did it he replied: I really like flowers and then they serve to color my life a little, which until now was rather gray ..... Behind it the construction of the first luxury hotels and apartments of the Belgrade Waterfront urban redevelopment project.

The colossal ‘Belgrade Waterfront’ project also raises questions, perplexity and identity confusion: is the social and urban transformation comparable to a form of accelerated and fierce gentrification, or is it the natural development of a western metropolis? 

Is gentrification itself the new lifeblood of tourism (foreign, luxury and with valuable currency), a necessary step to re-evaluate and enhance real estate assets? Or a process that only depersonalizes places and identities, embodying the negative aspects of globalization? 

They are questions that need time. In a society that often makes consumerism and material well-being its engines, many find themselves either nostalgic or resentful of Serbia’s Soviet history and Tito’s Yugoslavia. In the end, one question certainly remains for the new Belgrade which challenges who truly benefits from the evolution of urbanity, and what that means for those who are left behind. 

Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Two little girls play on top of two bombs at the Military Museum of Belgrade, in the park of the Kalemegdan Fortress which was the historical center of Belgrade.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. The monument in memory of Nazism in Serbia (SAJMIŠTE concentration camp -1941), in this exact place, next to the KC Grad (Cultural Center of Belgrade), thousands of Jews were locked up in trucks and killed with exhaust gases.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Palaces in Novi Beograd, part of the city of Belgrade known for its brutalist architecture from the communist era/
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Belgrade's Design District in the city center, artists and small business owners keep the neighborhood alive by selling their creations. In the past it was the first shopping center in the city, today a small neighborhood full of designers, stylists and art galleries.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. View of the new GALERIJA shopping center on the Belgrade Waterfront, where visitors and tourists can take a ride with the electric cars made available to the shopping center.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Belgrade's design district in the city center, artists and small business owners keep the neighborhood alive by selling their creations.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Belgrade, the oldest in the city, from where the largest protests started, dating back to 1966 against the war in Vietnam, up to the 2019 protest against the current government.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. Ada Ciganlija is a small peninsula on the Sava River that rises within the city of Belgrade, today it is the most popular escape from the chaos and pollution of the city in the summer by Belgraders and tourists.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. View of the waterfront promenade from the Branko bridge, on the left what remains of the old Savamala district, on the right, the new Belgrade tower, 168 meters high, is intended for a residential hotel and apartments, a restaurant and a Belvedere.
Documenting Belgrade – the Dubai of the Balkans. By Massimo Gorreri. 
Photography by Massimo Gorreri. A Beach Volleyball court on the Belgrade Waterfront, surrounded by the skyscrapers of the new architectural complex.

All photos by Massimo Gorreri.