Belgrade residents tell rights court of bar noise ‘torture’

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s capital is vibrating with nightlife again after over a year of pandemic restrictions. Cafes, bars and fun-hungry customers are celebrating a summer boom in business and entertainment options, but the accompanying loud music and other noise are a bust for residents across Belgrade.

Since hot weather arrived and coronavirus rules eased, Nemanja Dragic, 36, said he can’t open his balcony door without a thunderous cacophony bursting into his apartment. He used his savings to install a thicker door and sturdier windows, desperate to muffle the sounds coming from over a dozen bars and clubs.

Dragic’s apartment overlooks a downtown Belgrade street that is one of the hot spots in a European capital with a reputation for partying after dark. He said all the carousing makes it impossible to keep his windows open during much of the summer, to rest or to spend undisturbed time in his home.

“The noise is such that some neighbors just leave the city or the street or everything,” said Dragic, an engineer.

Residents of the city’s commercial areas have complained for years about deafening noise from bars, discos and night clubs. Faced with inaction from authorities, some citizen’ associations have turned to the European Court of Human Rights, filing a case that argues they have been exposed to torture and had their rights to family life and privacy violated.

Lawyer Marina Mijatovic said she took the issue to the court in Strasbourg after Belgrade authorities didn’t respond to a local court ruling last month that said they hadn’t done enough to limit noise. The European court is yet to decide whether it will accept the case, she said.

“We expect the (European) court to confirm the violation of rights and instruct Serbia to take measures to reduce the noise to the levels acceptable for normal life,” she said.

City officials didn’t reply to interview requests from The Associated Press. Belgrade authorities, after promising repeatedly to address the complaints, and have prepared new noise protection rules that envisage wider authority for a community policing unit.

Misa Relic, who heads the Association of Night Bars and Clubs, said he is aware of tension with residents in some Belgrade neighborhoods, but he warned against rushed solutions that on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic could jeopardize what he described as Belgrade’s signature tourist experience — the clubbing.

“I am always for an agreement between two sides who understand each other’s position and are ready for a fair compromise,” Relic said.

Though not new, the noise problem became acutely visible in late June and early July as Belgrade’s night life exploded in full force with a series of concerts, rave parties and festivals. Partying crowds also triggered alarm over a potential virus resurgence as few events requested proof of vaccination or negative tests.

Ana Davico of the Belgrade Noise Abatement Society said local government should follow the examples of other major European cities with dynamic night scenes that have encouraged and provided financial support for sound-blocking equipment in night clubs.

Instead, noise limits aren’t enforced, and in the decade since her group was formed, the situation in Belgrade — and throughout Serbia — has only gotten worse, Davico insisted.

“We now have depots of noise all over Belgrade and a situation where the existing regulations that offer a decent framework to solve the problem are not being implemented,” she said.

Citizens’ groups have collected thousands of complaints filed with police, videos and noise level recordings to back their case in the European court, Davico said. The noise often is much higher than the legally permitted limits, and only rarely do cafes or nightclubs use soundproofing equipment even though it is generally envisaged in the current regulations, she added.

Dragic said the noise problem on his street has slashed real estate prices, making it hard for people to sell if they want to move out of the area. Although bars located in central residential zones only are supposed to stay open until midnight, the noise they produce before closing time is unbearable, he said.

“What other people take for granted, that they can rest or sleep whenever they want, for us depends on the bars and their guests,” Dragic said. “We never wanted to be the ones to determine how long they stay open or what kind of music they play, as long as it is not heard in my flat.”

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