Nervous about being a black person traveling in Eastern Europe for the first time?
Not only do I travel through Eastern Europe and Slavic countries regularly, but I also happen to be a black female living in Eastern Europe (I live in the great country Serbia, and you can read about the 8 mostly amazing things to expect being black in the Balkans once you are done here).
Aside from an occasional inappropriate comment or awkward question, being a black person in Eastern Europe is pretty much a NON-ISSUE.
And for what it’s worth, the inappropriateness I receive is mostly from guys unsuccessfully flirting. Poor them. But the comments are never mean-spirited. I have a lot of miles racked up in these countries as an expat and a traveler, which has lead to, at most, some funny or awkward moments (and from all accounts and observations, experiences of Asian travelers in Eastern Europe will be quite similar).
I do understand however, that many black people interested in traveling in Eastern Europe or Slavic Europe aren’t quite sure what to expect. People worry if Eastern Europe is safe for black people. So I thought I would make a log of all the Eastern European and Slavic countries I have been to. But let me just say immediately, I have seen no racism in Eastern Europe towards myself or other black people I am friends with or simply know of–whether they’re light skinned, dark skinned, African expats or tourists, or black expats or tourists from Western countries.
Racism particularly is a learned behavior passed down from generations of families in western countries where there are generations of black citizens to practice racism, discrimination and segregation on. Eastern Europeans haven’t had centuries to develop these institutionalized and social habits. So while of course, yes, you may hear the odd story or two of one bad apple being racially inappropriate… Compared to the thousands and thousands of horrendous incidences, crimes, police brutalities, corruption and horror stories coming from USA and Britain–Eastern Europe is as harmless as a fly. Please remember that.
So as I was saying, I actually have consistent experiences in each country, such as a lot of curious staring and people requesting me to take a selfie with them. Nevertheless, I want to give a brief summary of what being black in each Eastern European country was like so that you can get an idea in general of what to anticipate and understand that Eastern Europe is not dangerous for black people.
Russia is not quite Eastern Europe, but it is Slavic Europe, and many Eastern European countries are linguistically, ethnically, and historically related to Russia. For that reason, I have included it.
I had heard an occasional story or two from friends living in Russia about black people, black men in particular, being profiled by police in major cities. I know that there is some sort of black expat community of students and immigrants, thus I had heard stories that made it seem like Russia (and allegedly Ukraine) had the most incidences of racism in Eastern and Slavic Europe.
Despite this appearance of Russia being the mascot of racism in Eastern Europe and Slavic countries, I had no such experience in the country and I enjoyed it so much in the brief time I was in Moscow. I do think being a girl and dressing the way I dress made me a non-threat to any potential profiling behavior.
Russian people do not smile so much in public, so you might think they are intimidating or cold. But the second you ask them for directions or help, they are so nice and will crack a bashful smile. Try to speak some words in Russian and you will for sure get surprised laughs and smiles.
In many Eastern European and Slavic countries, I get stared at A LOT. I should also say emphatically that staring shouldn’t make you question if Eastern Europe is safe for black people. Stares occur because they’re just surprised and probably happy to see you!
But anyway, I did not get as many stares in Russia. I think it’s because Russia has a slim African immigrant population, while most Eastern European and Slavic countries do not, so it was not as shocking for them to see a black person. I saw six or seven black people in the short time I was in Moscow. That’s more than I see in a month in most Slavic countries!
I got stared at a lot in Albania, as I do in all the Balkan countries. But I did not get approached as much or receive inquiries about why I am in Albania as much as I did in some other Eastern Europe countries. I also did not get too many selfie requests, which is a common occurrence for black and asian people in the Balkans. I did take a selfie with a group of guys at a club in Tirana though, which I typically try not to do. You can read more about why I avoid that in my post about how you will be treated as black person in the Balkans. Long story short, I got a lot of stares, but I was mostly left alone.
If you are traveling to Kosovo, I should let you know that I think Albanians in Kosovo are more intense towards foreigners than Albanians in Albania (Albanians are the ethnic majority in Kosovo, which historically was part of Serbia). I don’t mean that to be rude. And many Albanians in Albania said the same thing about Kosovar Albanians. I felt like they were throwing them under the bus a bit. You will understand why myself and Albanians from Albania think this once you reach my Kosovo anecdotes section below.
Macedonia is the only country where I have been pulled off the bus multiple times and interrogated by one border officer in particular. Despite that, I LOVE Macedonia! It’s probably one of my top five favorite countries in the world.
I think the reason I got pulled off the bus by this one guard in particular, on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, is because I think he just took a personal interest in “different-looking” females, if you know what I mean. The second time I got pulled off the bus, the officer told me it was because it was “strange” that I keep traveling to Macedonia and that I like the Balkans so much. That was the dumbest thing I had ever heard because it was only my second time in Macedonia in two years. I’m not going there every weekend.
There were other foreigners on the bus as well, including a male Japanese tourist. So why single me out, on two occasions as the strangest of all the strange strangers who care about Macedonia? Why? Because it was sexual profiling. Let’s call a spade a spade.
The reason I will go to the extreme of calling it that is because again, this happened twice. The second time, his colleague was just laughing the whole time the officer who pulled me off the bus was talking to me. It was all very unprofessional and too casual. I could see his colleague thought it was funny, pointless and silly, you know, kind of like when some guy is awkwardly trying to talk to you at a bar and his friends are laughing at how bad his chat is. That’s what it felt like to me because his colleague just kept laughing and taking nothing seriously. So I think it was moreso that this officer guy was bored at work and wanted to spice up his day by talking to the black girl on the bus with long hair and a mini dress. So I’m not so offended by it because I understand the psychology behind his behavior, however, it’s still annoying and unprofessional.
But again, I love Macedonia so much. I lost my Eastern Europe virginity to Macedonia. So I have a strong reverence for the country like no other and it is high on my list of black girl travel reviews. I have spent a cumulative 2.5 weeks in Macedonia if I combine all my travels there, and really, the border dude is the only negative experience. But it was not negative enough for me to question if Eastern Europe is safe for black people.
Like all the Balkan countries, I noticed that a lot of people were staring at me. As this was the first country I traveled to in Eastern Europe, it was a strange feeling at first. But after a few days, I got numb to it.
As much as I love love love Macedonia, it, as well as Kosovo and Croatia, are the places where I have experienced the strangest behaviors from randoms. One day I was walking through the city center in Skopje, and a man caught up to me as I was walking down the street to ask me if he could suck my toes. He said he loves feet and that he always wanted to suck a black girl’s toes. I honestly thought that was funny. I didn’t feel in danger. There were a lot of people around, but it was certainly strange. And the other creepy moment was something that’s just not even worth repeating!
Serbia, the country where I live. Yay. Obviously, I love Serbia to be a black expat here. I think Serbians have a reverence and appreciation for black people and black history unlike any other country I have ever been to. So many Serbians love hip hop culture, r n’ b and The Wire… because, that is what being a black person is all about in a nutshell to foreigners. Haha. But it’s really cute how eager many Serbs are to talk about anything “blackish” with you, which makes me proud to be a black person living in this Eastern European country.
Throughout my life, I have been made fun of for not being “black enough.” In Serbia, I always feel reminded that I am supposedly not “black enough” because these people really love their 90s black culture-isms, and a lot of them honestly know more than I do. I am not a fan of rap personally, but I have met so many Serbians who know so much about history of rap music and its origins and they care so much about black history.
In Serbia, many people, men and women, kindly approach me to ask me why I am in Serbia, so you can expect that a lot. I get asked a lot if I am a student as well because there is a black expatriate community here.
And as usual, I receive a lot of stares in every town I travel to. In the capital Belgrade, staring can sometimes feel less present compared to the smaller towns because it is a pretty urban city, and you will occasionally see black people that are students or travelers. But I would still say I get stared at quite a lot in Belgrade.
I was surprised to find that in the capital Bratislava, I did not incur a lot of staring compared to the Balkan countries. And maybe that’s just it. Slovakia is in close proximity to tourist targets like Prague and Vienna, so maybe more tourists pass through Slovakia than they do the southeastern Europe countries.
Perhaps for Slovakians, seeing a black person isn’t such an event. In a one hour window on the morning that I left, I saw a total of three black people. That usually doesn’t happen in my Eastern Europe travels. And no offense to Slovakia, but it isn’t exactly a hot tourist destination like Croatia or Czech Republic or Poland. So to see three black people in an hour was surprising.
So besides a few stares here and there, I mostly didn’t feel stared at too much. Although, I did go out one night and I felt like because I was wearing a more revealing outfit, I received more stares. Also, two guys tried to take a selfie with me. But during the day, the attention was very mild.
I have traveled to Hungary twice now, which of course is in the EU and has a really popular capital city. So on my first time out there, I assumed that I wouldn’t receive as many stares as I do in the Balkans/Southeast Europe. So I was quite surprised on that first trip when I went to restaurants or markets and found that people were in fact staring. But I should clarify that I spent all my time in smaller towns on my first trip.
I only made it to Budapest on my second trip, where I found that not so many people stare. And if they do stare, it is a not a long, drawn out, looks-like-they’ve-seen a ghost, okay stop staring now, stare. Also, naturally, I received more stares from men. But in the Balkans, I tend to receive stares from every damn body.
Now that I have been to more places in Croatia, I have new developments in my experiences in Croatia, and boy has my perspective changed.
When I first wrote about Croatia a few months ago, I wrote about the typical things I experience everywhere in the Balkans. Those typical things are getting stared at a lot, people honking their horn at you and an occasional selfie request. These experiences were based on my travels to Split, Makarska, Tućepi and Dubrovnik in the seaside Dalmatia (Dalmacija) region. But now I’ve been to more places like Zagreb, Ston, Omiš, Kobaš…
In the most touristy towns like Dubrovnik and Split, the stares I received weren’t as long and people did not look as shocked to see a black person because these cities see more Western tourists and black tourists than the others. Dubrovnik however did have the most horn honks.
In towns like Omiš or Ston, which are smaller towns with huge day-trip upside and excursion appeal, I received a lot more stares and a lot more random people trying to make conversation with me… still, no biggie. I’m totally used to that.
Makarska was the most chill town in my opinion. It is WAY more touristy than the day trip towns, but it is not as crowded as Dubrovnik or Split. Most of the tourists are Eastern European, drunken day-trippers who docked from the party boats, and the occasional traveler like myself who chooses destinations that aren’t quite on the radar of the average Western tourist.
In Makarska, I got the typical Balkan behavior–the stares, the horns… but it didn’t feel as overzealous as it did in other places. Also, I’m probably biased towards Makarska as I had a holiday romance here with a local who I’m still crazy about and spend a lot of time with to this day, so maybe I was just too blind to notice anything else worth noting.
Now for the crazy update.
Zagreb. That’s the update. I traveled to Zagreb in the spring and had a completely different experience there than in the seaside Dalmacija region. Particularly, I received a lot of uncomfortable attention from men, particularly strange old men. I was very shocked. On the coast, no one acted the way these men were acting in Zagreb.
Most of the attention was something I could laugh off, as women are conditioned to do unfortunately in this tricky world of gender dynamics. I was at a restaurant with a friend and an old man sent drinks to our table and then came over to playfully chat us up. Fine. Whatever.
But there were a few more annoying moments. When I was standing in the main square waiting for my friend, one older man stopped to stand next to me and was blatantly staring at me, which I am used to. I didn’t make anything of it. But I was still slightly annoyed so I moved down some steps and he followed me. He took out his phone and then was blatantly recording me. It was really weird.
Because I speak some Croatian, I immediately said “Šta radiš?” That means “What are you doing?” He immediately started putting his phone away and then said that he was filming the surroundings. Um, whatever dude. Utter bulls–. So then I said “Znam da snimiš me,” which means, I know you’re filming me. And then he started laughing and kept saying he was filming the surroundings.
Guys, for lack of a better word, it was F-ing weird.
The other uncomfortable moment came at this wine bar I went to every night. I made friends with the bartender there so I would sit there and speak with him as I drank wine. But his supervisor would always blatantly walk past me while looking me up-and-down and making lip-smacking noises. He would do it right in front of me, but act like I couldn’t see him… as if he was invisible or something… as if I was a puppy dog in a shop window that didn’t understand basic non-verbal human communication. It was just really gross.
Sometimes these are just the things you have to put up with when traveling the world as a woman, and particularly as an exotic woman depending on where you go. But I just can’t believe that of all places in the Balkans, I experienced this behavior in the capital of the EU-accepted, tourist powerhouse country that is Croatia. It was really disappointing. Despite that, I LOVED Zagreb.
And I have to reiterate that I had no such experiences of this sort in the seaside where I spent a lot more time. So I still stick by my opinion that the Dalmatians of Croatia fetishize black women less than men in Zagreb and some of the other countries in the Balkans.
Oh Kosovo… where do I begin with you? Kosovo is where I have had the craziest interactions with people. To be honest, it often felt a bit unruly at times. Like I said in the section about Albania, Kosovo Albanians are a little more intense and excitable towards foreigners than Albanians in Albania.
I should say here, I love Kosovo and can’t wait to go back. But it’s just my experience and observation that some Kosovar Albanians are a little whackier.
Of all the places I have traveled to, it was Kosovo where I felt like strangers were most aggressive in trying to meet me, talk to me, hit on me and even kiss me. I would walk down the street and be cat-called at least two or three times a day, which as a woman, I am used to, so I never felt extremely uncomfortable with it. But that behavior was a lot more prevalent in Kosovo than anywhere else I’ve been to in Eastern Europe. …Because, don’t get me started on Latin America!
Here are just two of the “crazy things that happened to me in Kosovo” stories:
- The night I arrived, I couldn’t find my accommodation and I didn’t have international calling on my phone. So I asked the first seemingly kind stranger I could find to borrow his phone so that I could call my accommodation for directions. He let me borrow his phone, but no one answered when I called. A few minutes later, his phone started ringing. It was my accommodation calling him back. I was so excited, but he didn’t hand me the phone. Instead, he held up the phone, pointed to the green arrow on the screen, and said, “You, give me kiss, I press this. You don’t give me kiss, I press this,” now pointing to the red arrow to reject the call. I was so shocked. He was very serious and when I insisted I wouldn’t kiss him, he pressed the red arrow and rejected the call.
- I went to a bar one night with a guy friend that I met in Prishtina. At the bar, there were these VIP rich guys behind us and they kept buying me and my guy friend drinks. I thought that was so nice and assumed it was because maybe they rarely see black people and that was their way of welcoming me. But later, my friend told me that one of the guys that kept buying us drinks told him that they would pay him 1000 euros if my friend would disappear so that they could have me for the night. Haha. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh at that.
So yeah, I had a higher frequency of things like that happen to me in Kosovo. Despite that, I still love the place. The point of these anecdotes is to say that moreso in other countries, black women are considered super exotic in Kosovo and you might have a higher frequency of meeting people who are immature or inappropriate in handling meeting you.
I received a lot of long stares and people surprised to see a black person, as I do in all the Balkan countries. But I don’t have any crazy stories as I did in Kosovo and Macedonia. I think Bosnians are pretty chill people. But I did get stared at a lot. I actually have a video about this as well. Check it out below (although not all of the video was filmed in Bosnia–some scenes were from Croatia, Kosovo and Albania) .
In all the Balkan countries, I receive a lot of stares. But not as much in Bulgaria. I still got lots of stares, but in the other countries, it can be quite a long stare. In Bulgaria, people look and they get back to their life. In other countries, sometimes, it looks like people have seen a ghost.
My theory on why this could be is because there is a higher population of the Roma minority integrated in Bulgarian society compared to the other Balkan countries. And maybe white Bulgarians are more used to seeing other people that aren’t white all the time. Thus, they’re slightly more accustomed to diversity, even if it is diversity with just one minority group. The Roma population in the other countries are not well integrated at all, which leads to people not often seeing people that do not look like them in bars, restaurants, etc. That’s just my theory to explain the subdued staring in Bulgaria. I could be reading way too much into things though.
There is also a small black expatriate community in Bulgaria due to students who come to study medicine in the country. And from what I’ve heard from other black people traveling in Europe, Bulgaria, particularly Sofia, is exceptionally normal for them compared to some of it’s neighboring countries.
I received a lot of long stares and people surprised to see a black person in Montenegro, as I did in all the countries in the Balkans. A few people stopped me to take a selfie with me as well, which I don’t love to do.
Montenegro is growing from strength to strength in tourism every year. But even at that, compared to Croatia, I felt like more Montenegrins working on the seaside tourist towns were eager to strike a conversation with me because their most popular towns are still not seeing as many black travelers as Croatia’s seaside towns. Also, many people working in Montenegro during holiday seasons are Serbians. Half the people I met in Montenegro that were excited to talk to a black girl were Serbians.
Hopefully, this was reassuring to you that Eastern Europe is safe for black people. Please share this to encourage others to travel to the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and please leave a comment if you have experiences of your own. If you have any questions or need help with anything, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram.