Serbfest celebrates century of Serbian culture in St. Louis, USA

Serbfest celebrates Serbian traditions and Eastern Orthodox beliefs. But the priest at Holy Trinity Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church, which was established a century ago, also made a point Saturday to express his love of the United States. "The more you know about America, the more you love it," the Rev. Radomir Chkautovich, who fled socialist Yugoslavia in 1963, said with an accent.

Chkautovich, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander and chaplain, regularly leads tours of his church during Serbfest to explain its history and Serbian traditions. The festival continues from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the church at 1910 Serbian Drive in Soulard.

According to a 2007 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 73,000 of more than 300 million Americans identified themselves as Serbian. Dancers from Serbian Folklore Ensemble Kolo from Hamilton, Ontario, took the stage several times Saturday, each time with a different costume and dance.

"That's what my uncle used to wear," Marina Markovic-Eddlemon said while the men performed in the rural garb of black vests, white shirts and white pants. Markovic-Eddlemon, 49, came to St. Louis in 1995 after three years in a refugee camp in Montenegro. She had been a Serb living in a Croatian area of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War.

"I was the wrong nationality in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helped place Markovic-Eddlemon and her mother, then-husband and two children in St. Louis.

Once here, members of Holy Trinity stocked her apartment, and one member even taught her American measurements - all she knew was the metric system - and the names of tools so she could better find a job.

Now, she's in management at Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co. here. Markovic-Eddlemon has definite opinions in the debate over illegal immigration in the U.S., based, she said, on what happened in Yugoslavia.

"I don't like two official languages for one country," she said.

Chkautovich also disapproves of illegal immigration.

"Everything according to the law of the United States I agree with," he said.

Along with the church tour and dancing, Serbfest serves traditional Serbian cuisine - lamb shanks; cevap, which is skinless sausage made of beef, pork and veal barbecued and served with onions and bread; and sarma, which contains meat and rice in rolled, cooked cabbage.

Serbfest also offers about 80 different desserts for sale. Known for its pastries, Serbian culture embraces cinnamon, chocolate and nuts in their strudels, cookies and baklava.

Something Serbian women have learned is not to measure out the ingredients. "It's by feel," said Barbara Zogorean.

Zogorean's daughter-in-law, Gina Zogorean, of Italian heritage, has also learned that Serbian fare is not something to take lightly.

"We plan our life around when we're going to make Serbian cookies," Gina Zogorean said.

Anna Crosslin, president and chief operating officer of the International Institute of St. Louis, said cultural festivals such as Serbfest are tributes to how valuable different outlooks are to the larger community.

"All of us come from somewhere," she said.