Text and Illustration by Daniel Ceeline Ramonal
Images by the Association of Filipinos in Serbia
To address the elephant in the room, the answer is a big fat YES! There are Filipinos in Serbia, a beautifully-varied landlocked country in Southeastern Europe bordered by its more famous neighbors like Hungary, Romania, and Croatia among others.
I know this because when I first visited the country in 2018, I shouted “Kabayan!” at a woman preoccupied with her baby’s stroller, and her head snapped so fast to look towards the direction where the call came. I knew right then that I was not alone.
“Are there Filipinos in Serbia?” is quite a common question asked when I mention where I am based, next to “Where is Serbia?”
There are not as many Filipinos in Serbia as in the more publicized European countries, but it is a growing community. At the moment, there are 135 registered members in the Association of Filipinos in Serbia (ASF), a voluntary organization established to empower kababayans and promote the Filipino culture. ASF’s President, Bianca Rei Rodi mentions that the number is increasing and does not include those who have yet to register.
ASF was recognized in 2021 but it was spawned during the lockdown when consular needs left many vulnerable because of the difficulty in getting assistance from the Philippine Embassy in Hungary. Being true to the Bayanihan spirit, kababayans in Serbia banded despite being spread out in different locations to find ways to address consular issues and to have a more united voice that formal institutions will acknowledge. “Because if we are speaking as an organization, our voices will be louder,” Rodi emphasizes.
Since then, ASF has acted as a centralized information hub and a liaison between the Filipinos in Serbia and the Philippine Embassy. In addition, knowing there is a mix of narratives and needs, the organization aims to go beyond assistance with document-related issues by planning self-enhancement opportunities in the future. Currently, it is working on possible collaborations with agencies like POLO Milan for concerns related to workers’ rights and responsibilities and Autonomni Ženski Centar in Belgrade to help those who are in or have experienced abusive situations.
The majority of the Filipinos are living in Belgrade but there are many residing in other areas too. From the uppermost district of North Bačka all the way to the south in Pirot, Filipinos are thriving in both professional settings and in their homes.
There are stories of struggle however there are stories of triumph and courage as well. You will meet kababayans practicing different professions and working in various sectors.
There are nurses, educators, writers, corporate employees, home companions, chefs, construction staff, and hospitality associates, just to name a few. You will encounter those who have set up their businesses with little capital but were able to transform their hard work into profit. You will also bump into Filipino students on exchange or scholarship programs alongside OFWs who sacrificed being away from their families in the Philippines with the hope of improving their chances.
When asked what life is like in Serbia, you will hear different responses coupled with laughter, always with laughter, because this is every Filipino's ammunition for everything - be it for battles that confront them or for simple get-togethers that remind them that life is good.
Like any Filipino living abroad, there are the usual woes attached to these answers like homesickness, qualms with the foreign language, and winding employment searches. However, since when did Filipinos let these woes get in the way? Never, especially when you have an established support system with occasional Filipino goodies stashed somewhere and are constantly organizing celebrations to remind everyone that home is not that far.
Generally, most are content with the kind of pace that life in Serbia offers and have now considered it a second home. Sure, the ocean is nowhere in sight and winters can be harsh, but Filipinos are survivors and have always been quick to adapt, preferring to look at the brighter side of circumstances.
Yes. Yes. Yes. There are many Filipinos in Serbia.