If Divna Nikolic, the housekeeper at the Embassy of Finland in Belgrade, had retired next year, she would have been celebrating her personal anniversary – 50 years of work in the Embassy – together with Finland celebrating its 100 years of independence.
She started working at the Embassy back in 1967, when the Ambassador was Taneli Kekkonen, the son of former President of Finland Urho Kekkonen. In the last 49 years, fourteen ambassadors have served in Belgrade, which, during that period, has been the capital of five countries: three Yugoslavias, the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and finally the Republic of Serbia.
Divna commenced work as a replacement, waiting to get a job as a dressmaker in Kluz, one of the biggest textile factories in the former Yugoslavia. She never went to Kluz, not even when they called her, as she felt sorry to leave the Embassy. She says that she has not regretted her decision.
A period that she particularly likes to remember was during the mandate of Ambassador Heikki Talvitie (1984-1988). “I have the most beautiful memories of that time. Those were some different times, when people used to spend more time together and talk, instead of looking at computers and cell phones. I also remember fondly how Ambassador Eeva-Kristiina Forsman used to organize a gathering for the employees’ children every Christmas, and our famous poets and actors were invited to the residence”, Divna says.
“Before the breakup of Yugoslavia, we had thirteen Finns here. Now there are only three diplomats, while in the nineties we were even twice without an ambassador. Before, we used to have Finns here as caretakers and they were always a special link between us, the local staff and diplomats. I often reminisce about our caretaker Jari Rosenlindt, who loved to invite us all in his home. I recall that Jari had a dog that used to take his shoes off after he had settled down in armchair”, she says.
During her working life, Divna received two Presidential Medals. She considers this a great honor, since the Medals are granted upon an ambassador’s proposal, and not only based on years of work.
“Whenever Finland is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is my youth. I remember when my colleague Obrad Prohaska, an economic counsellor with whom I worked for 39 years, told me that it was a pity that we had not written a novel, as we had gone through so many things together. I believe it is probably better this way, because had we written the book at the time, it would not have been possible to add any new stories to it”.
Now, in her retirement, Divna will have enough time to devote herself to her grandson Dusan, who is turning two soon. She says being a grandmother is her favorite role in life.