Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Friday, April 23, 1999 Published at 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK

Inat: Serbia's secret weapon

A few days ago several thousand men, women and children turned out - despite lashing rain and 24 days of Nato bombing raids - to compete in the annual Belgrade fun run.

Tenacity and refusal to be humbled and beaten would be one interptetation of the decision not to cancel the 5km run through the bomb-ravaged capital.

However, another explanation could be an ingrained cultural attitude for which the Serbs have a word - inat.

Pronounced "eenat", the word has no direct translation in English. Morlon-Benson's bilingual Serbo-Croat - English dictionary says that as a noun it means malice, spite or grudge.

[ image: Three-fingered Serbian salute]
Three-fingered Serbian salute
But even this is a limited, restricted interpretation, says Dragan Milovic, of London's Institute of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies.

It is, he says, more of an attitude of proud defiance, stubborness and self-preservation - sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.

"There's no English translation for this word," he says, "It is very commonly used, something that a mother would chastise her child for, but probably feel a little bit proud of him as well for.

"Throughout the history of the region, its people have learned to fight to defend their land, their beliefs, their culture." This, he says, is the sharp edge of inat - an attitude which allows self-preservation.

"Under Ottoman rule, Serbians were told to change their religion or die. Many chose to die.

[ image: Inat: Wishing death on your neighbour's cow]
Inat: Wishing death on your neighbour's cow
"But there is of course a contemporary cultural residue, an every-day attitude of being awkward, I guess.

"All Serbs have inat, and do things in inat. It is doing things because someone has told you you can't, not necessarily because you actually want to."

So the runners in Belgrade were not necessarily there despite the conditions, but perhaps because of them.

Mr Milovic says that five centuries of conflict in the Balkans have nurtured this special mentality. It did not lead to hatred of one race, he added.

'Rather eat grass than surrender'

He said: "There is a saying in Serbian, which is 'I hope the neighbour's cow dies'. The neighbour is probably a fellow Serbian - it's just that 10 years ago, 100 years ago, he or his family wronged you. That wrong may just have been to do better than you. That is inat."

Nato's bombing of Serbia is bringing inat even closer to the surface of its people's raison d'etre. They get up, go to work, and carry on with life as normally as possible, not through any notion of presenting a stiff upper lip - but because Nato doesn't want them to.

Jovan Ratkovic, of the Serbian Information Centre, agrees that inat can mean cutting off one's nose to spite one's face - but argues that it has positive aspects.

[ image: Thousands turned out to run]
Thousands turned out to run
He said: "Inat is holding the country together now. There are daily displays of it. Every day there is a concert in the centre of Republic Square in Belgrade, and that is attended by many thousands every day.

"There is also the fact that hundreds of ordinary Serbian people are placing themselves on bridges to stop them being bombed - although they realise that they might be bombed anyway.

"The Serbs are not a people to give in easily. They would rather eat grass than surrender.

[ image: Anti-aircraft fire over Belgrade]
Anti-aircraft fire over Belgrade
"My mother is on the board of directors of Nin, an oppositional political magazine that Milosevic has tried to close down. Still, she goes to work, even though it means crossing bridges and travelling far from where she lives."

Mr Ratkovic says that even though schools and universities have been closed since Easter, activities are organised for children in shelters, and their parents, wherever possible, try to get to work.

The football team Partisan Belgrade recently played against the Greek side Aek - and the country's top basketball teams continued to play a cup final game through air raid warnings.

E-cyclopedia can be contacted at

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

Internet Links

Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Codes of Slavic Culture

Basic Serbian Phrases

Belgrade Online

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Iron: The man in the mask

Czars: In your eyes

Trademarks: Can you own a colour?

Txt msging: Th shp of thngs 2 cm?

Txt msging Part 2: The vocab list

Junkitecture: Goodbye to all that?

Miracles: Virgin on the unbelievable?

Serial skiving: What's your excuse?

Underage sex: The letter of the law

Cybersquatting: Get off my URL

New moral purpose: Dangerous ground?

Art attacks: Don't handle with care