Serbia’s capital is vibrating with nightlife again after more than a year of COVID-19 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 pandemic rules eased, Nemanja Dragic, 36, said that he cannot 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 more than a dozen bars and clubs.
Dragic’s apartment overlooks a downtown street that is one of the hot spots in a European capital with a reputation for partying after dark.
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, he said.
“There is so much noise 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 nightclubs. Faced with inaction from authorities, some citizens’ associations have turned to the European Court of Human Rights, filing a case arguing that they have been exposed to torture, and had their rights to family life and privacy violated.
Lawyer Marina Mijatovic said that she took the issue to the court in Strasbourg, France, after the Belgrade authorities did not respond to a local court ruling last month that said they had not done enough to limit noise.
The European court has 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 did not reply to interview requests.
Belgrade authorities, after promising repeatedly to address the complaints, have prepared new noise protection rules that envisage wider authority for a community policing unit.
Association of Night Bars and Clubs head Misa Relic said that he is aware of the tension between residents and entertainment venues in some Belgrade neighborhoods.
However, Relic warned against rushed solutions, saying that the wrong approach on the heels of pandemic restrictions could jeopardize what he described as Belgrade’s signature tourist experience: the clubbing.
Although not new, the noise problem became acutely visible late last month and early this month as Belgrade’s nightlife exploded in full force with a series of concerts, rave parties and festivals.
Ana Davico of the Belgrade Noise Abatement Society said that the local government should follow the example of other major European cities with dynamic night scenes that have encouraged and provided financial support for soundproofing equipment in nightclubs.
Instead, noise limits are not enforced, and in the decade since her group was formed, the situation in Belgrade has only gotten worse, Davico added.
“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, as well as 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 regulations, she added.
The noise problem on his street has slashed real-estate prices, making it difficult for people to sell if they want to move out of the area, Dragic said.
Although bars located in central residential zones are only supposed to stay open until midnight, the noise that 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 late they stay open or what kind of music they play, as long as it is not heard in my apartment.”
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