Tag Archives: Bosnia

“The Balkans in Rightwing Mythology” — Read the article (past the touching Srebrenica graphic); it’s not about the “Balkans” in Rightwing Mythology; it’s — AGAIN — only about SERBIA in rightwing mythology

4 Oct

You’d think that just to cammo their biased asses, these people might occasionally write about someone else, to then make it easier to go back to blaming Serbs again.  Here’s some suggestions:

* Croatia: Are there any people on the planet, not just Europe, who have gone more scot-free of being confronted and taken to task for their more-Nazi-than-the-Nazis, vicious, genocidal, more-of-their-population–slated-for-elimination-than-any-other-Nazi-collaborating state, Vatican-blessed murderous project than Croatians and the Ustaše?

* Has anybody written a biography whose title might be: “Subtle Brother: The Rise and Fall of Alija Izetbegović and his plan for a Muslim Bosnia.”?  Maybe Mr. Delalić could include a foreword or afterword there about Bosnian Muslim collaboration with the Ustaše.

or:

* “Kosovo: an Experiment in Mafia Statehood”

or

* “Operation Storm: The Story Behind NATO-armed Croatia and the Yugoslav Wars’ Single Greatest Episode of Ethnic Cleansing.”

or on a lighter note:

* “Buenos Aires: Here We Come!  How the Papacy Spirited Away the Leaders of Fascist Croatia to Latin America So They Could — and Did — All Avoid War Crimes Prosecution.”

You can squeeze stuff that inspires contemporary nut-cases out of the noxious right-wing ideology contained in each of those I think.  Just to distract people so that you can then return to your usual agenda — Serbia.  Particularly rich, of course, to have this all come from Germans, who don’t seem to realize that their hyper-earnest, Mea Culpa Show is getting really boring, but has also hypocritically and ironically made them the self-appointed, moralizing arbiters of the rest of humanity’s behavior: like, in some perverse way, ‘they should know’ — know it when they see it.

And almost all the murderous right-wing psychos, that think Karadžić is a hero and that they list in the article, are Germans or Teutons of some sort.  So maybe the fault, dear Germans, lies not in Greater Serbian Nationalism but in yourselves.

Ah, then one last idea: how about “Instant Independence: Slovenia, Croatia and How Germany led Europe into Mass Death and Destruction for the Third Time in One Century.” ?

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The Balkans in Rightwing Mythology
by Adnan Delalić and Patricia Zhubi for Die Wochenzeitung (Switzerland)
11 April 2019 (original post in German)

Racist memes, nationalist myths, and crude conspiracy theories: within the ideology of the New Right, southeastern Europe appears as a transitional space where the future of the West is being decided.

Investigations into the 15 March 2019 Christchurch attack took on an international dimension ten days later when federal security and intelligence agents searched Martin Sellner’s apartment in Austria under orders from the prosecutor’s office there. Sellner is a leading functionary of the Austrian Identitarian Movement (Identitäre Bewegung Österreich, or IBÖ). He came under the authorities’ scrutiny because of a €1,500 donation he had received from the Christchurch shooter in January 2018.

After the search, Sellner portrayed himself on YouTube as a victim of state repression. While politicians and commentators argue about the nature of the IBÖ, its members organize demonstrations and solidarity actions and drum up social media and financial support from around the world. A donation does not make Sellner an accomplice to a massacre—but there are ideological bridges that connect the Identitarian Movement (also known as Generation Identity) as well as other extreme rightwing groups to the Christchurch mass-murderer.

Undesirable Foreign Foods

Attempts to distinguish the IBÖ from “ordinary” rightwing radicalism are specious not only because Sellner, according to media reports, used to paste swastikas on synagogues in his youth; beyond that, he belonged to the social circle around Austrian Holocaust denier Gottfried Küssel, whose blog Alpen-Donau.info was removed from the internet by the Austrian interior ministry in 2011. This kind of increased legal and police pressure led to the founding of the IBÖ a year later, which attempts (in the tradition of Alain de Benoist, an early progenitor of the New Right) to replace völkisch-nationalist vocabulary with terms carrying less historical baggage—terms like “identity.”

In a YouTube vlog from early 2015, Sellner posed—with hipster glasses and a sharp part in his hair—in front of a food stand menu offering burgers, hotdogs, and Bosna sausages. His goal: to educate his viewers about Austrian cuisine and undesirable foreign foods. Austrians! Do not eat at McDonald’s—and certainly not at kebab stands, the epitome of “multicultural capitalist mania”! In this online broadcast, Sellner sells the message additionally with his choice of t-shirt (available at his online store…). Upon it are the words “Restore Europe, Remove Kebab, Restore Empire.” Precisely this reference, “Kebab Remover”—a racist internet meme endorsing the genocide of Bosnian Muslims—was on display both on the Christchurch terrorist’s weapon as well as in his manifesto. Sellner has also cracked wise on Twitter about being in “Remove Kebab Mode.”

The Christchurch shooter referred to the Balkans in other ways as well. On the way to committing his act of terror, he listened to a song honoring the Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadžić, who would only a few days later be sentenced to life in prison at the Hague. In addition, the shooter is alleged to have traveled to several countries in the Balkan region in order to visit the sites of historic battles. The engravings on his weapons with the names of figures from Serbian, Montenegrin, Polish, and Spanish history also point to a deep fascination with struggles against the Ottoman empire. Southeastern Europe, in the imagination of the New Right, is a kind of transitional space where Christianity and Islam clash.

This motif is not new, and has many variants, alternately glorifying the Spanish Reconquista, the defense of Vienna, or the Russian-Ottoman wars. Karadžić referred to the genocide at Srebrenica as “just and holy”—in his view, his troops had prevented the establishment of an Islamist caliphate. The Norwegian rightwing terrorist Anders Breivik, in turn, called Karadžić an “honourable Crusader and a European war hero.” Occasionally, the motif appears in reference to a supposed transnational Muslim conspiracy against the Christian West, in which Serbia is presented as the bulwark against a neo-Ottoman invasion of Europe. The Christchurch shooter referred to Kosovar Albanians as “Islamic occupiers.”

An Appealing Trope

There are other points of contact. The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto was titled “The Great Replacement”—clearly named after the racist conspiracy theory popularized by Renaud Camus, an ideological godfather of the New Right in France. In his imagination, Europe’s white, Christian population is being systematically replaced by predominantly Muslim “invaders” from Africa and the Middle East. There are many variations on this demographic panic. It is the glue that holds the Fascist International together.

It can be observed as a central motif in the Greater Serbia ideology of Radovan Karadžić, which purports that Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims are secretly pursuing a “demographic jihad.” In the SANU [Serbian Academy of Science and Arts] Memorandum of 1986, a milestone of Serbian nationalism, it is claimed that the high birthrate of (predominantly Muslim) Kosovar Albanians is a central component of their drive for an ethnically pure Kosovo. The former Bosnian-Serb general Ratko Mladić justified war crimes against Bosnian Muslims with the claim that the Islamic world possesses, if not an atomic bomb, then a “demographic bomb.” Breivik, for his part, refers to this as an “indirect genocide.”

The obsession with birthrates and these paranoid theories of intentional displacement and replacement do not necessarily lead to violence—but they do mentally prepare their proponents for it.

The Islamophobia inherent to the ideology of Greater Serbia, in which traditional and contemporary motifs are bound together, is emerging in the globalized context as an appealing trope for the Fascist International. The specter of multiculturalism can only be overcome with a fundamental reordering of space along ethnic dividing lines that faded out of relevance long ago. The aim of this “racism without races” is the establishment of ethnically homogeneous societies, side by side but separate.

In September 2018, Sellner took part in a torchlight march “in honor of the heroes and saints of 1683.” In this case, Vienna symbolized the bulwark against past and future Islamic invasions. “I don’t get how there can be people from the Balkans who spit in the faces of their forefathers and their defensive struggle against the Ottomans,” tweeted Sellner in June 2017. So Islam must be fought and defended against—but without violence, apparently: “Rightwing terrorism is, like all other kinds of terrorism, to be morally rejected,” announced the leading identitarian figure immediately after the Christchurch attack. How this is supposed to work, when—judging from slogans like “Stop the Great Replacement!”—the Ottoman army is already pounding at the gates, is unclear. War symbolism and fear-mongering only fit into the self-conception of the “moderate migration critic” when rhetorical fear-mongering can be cleanly separated from real terrorism.

No matter how much Renaud Camus and Martin Sellner try to distance themselves from the terror attack in Christchurch, the insistence of the IBÖ that it is not a radical rightwing movement is simply untenable. The fight against this ostensible “replacement” and the IBÖ’s concomitant declaration of war on multicultural society are not “moderate” positions. The claim that coexistence is impossible is not meant merely as a description of conditions but rather as a goal. For Karadžić it was not only about the fight against Islam. Tolerance and the multicultural character of Bosnia were also to be erased and made impossible for generations to come.

Ideological Cocktail

The ideas that became socially acceptable with the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 1980s soon found their concrete political implementation. What emerged was an ideological cocktail of racism, demographic panic, conspiratorial paranoia, and revanchism that ultimately proposed an urgent need for action against an allegedly existential threat. The destruction of the Other became necessary to ensure Our survival. Karadžić still argues to this day that he was acting defensively against a “toxic, all-destructive Islamic octopus.”

It is not particularly surprising that paranoia about demographic “invaders” also takes an antisemitic shape. The Serbian nationalist cult director Emir Kusturica, for example, is among those who pin the blame for the “refugee crisis” on the Jewish American billionaire George Soros. According to social theorist Moishe Postone, modern antisemitism is not merely a form of racism, but at the same time a way of explaining the world which promises mistaken paths out of one’s misfortune. We can understand conspiracy theories like “the great replacement,” which declare as enemies both the weakest among us as well as global elites, in a similar manner. Islam and Judaism overlap as bogeymen, as both sublate the particularity of individual nationalisms. Unity is imperative in fighting the great enemy.

Karadžić’s ideology is neither unique to the Balkans nor the result of “centuries-old blood feuds.” It also is not a genuinely Serbian phenomenon. Rightwing radicalism does not have a country of origin; it derives inspiration from everywhere. The ideological store of the Fascist International feeds on various traditions and regions. What has evolved is a globally available repertoire of nationalist myths, symbols, and tactics to choose from. Events in Bosnia and Kosovo show what kinds of consequences such ideas can bring—and not just there.

Berlin historian Patricia Zhubi studies the past and present of antisemitism and the transnational structures of the radical right. Bosnian-German sociologist Adnan Delalić does research on Islamophobia and genocide, among other things.

Translated by Antidote and printed with the kind permission and help of the authors.

Featured image: artwork by Bosnian-American Samir Biscevic displayed at a ten-year commemoration of Srebrenica at UN headquarters in New York in 2005.

Bosnian Woods: Edelman and the 90s in Bosnia

3 Oct

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What happened in Bosnia in the 90s was “a posthumous triumph” for the vicious fascism of the Croatian Ustaše, and Bosnians’ gleeful collaboration with them on both occasions.

Honestly…if anybody can explain to me because I find it baffling.  What was in it for Bosnians to collaborate with Croats during both WWII and the wars of the 90s?  What could possibly have been of more benefit for them to work together with the Ustaše instead of joining Serbian partisan resistance or just sitting out the conflict?  Wasn’t the virulent Catholicism of the Ustaše enough to put them off?  Did they just figure that Serbs were the previously and potentially again most hegemonic people in the state so they sought help from another little brother?  Did they really think that after accomplishing their stated aims of cleansing the NDH of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, that Croat fascists wouldn’t come after Bosnian Muslims next?  Like Martin Niemöller’s poem: “Then they came for me.”  And Bosnian’s chumming up with them in the 90s: how’s that worked out for you, guys?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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Yugo p.s. “So, this was Bosnia before the war?” Er…no.

3 Nov

That “self-determination” is just nationalism — and often a fiery, violent kind — writ small and wanting to be bigger, may be one of the most important issues we need to face in the 21st century.

Maybe the most frustrating, teeth-gritting moment of news coverage — in terms of the selective blessing of nationalisms and self-determinations — I’ve ever experienced was a BBC report, which unfortunately I haven’t been able to find and post, that aired on the July anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre the summer of 2016.

At the end of it the BBC reporter was interviewing a Bosnian man, in his forties maybe, selected for his Bosnian-ness — tall and handsome — whose father had been killed by a Serbian sniper in Sarajevo in the 90s.  In their interview on a bridge over the lovely, gurgling Miljacka, he talked about how he was happier that he was the child of that sniper victim and didn’t have to live with the conscience of being the child of that sniper instead.

He then pulled out a photo of his high school class:

“See…

“This guy was Serbian.  This guy was Croatian.  This guy was Croatian.  This guy was Bosnian.  This guy was Serbian…  That’s how it was then.”

“So,” says the dull-tool BBC reporter:

“This was Bosnia before the war?”

“Yes,”

says the Bosnian, shaking his head sadly with the weary, self-righteous pride of the victim,

“This was Bosnia before the war.”

No, buddy.  That wasn’t BOSNIA before the war.  That was YUGOSLAVIA before the war.  AND YOU DIDN’T WANT TO PART OF IT ANYMORE…

So, to paraphrase the identity-politics, American new “left” cliché: “Check your victimhood!”

Yugo ethnic breakdown

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

More indication that Catalonia is bringing YUGOSLAVIA up again as an object of moral reflection

3 Nov

Just one line in Guardian article Catalonia isn’t just Spain’s nightmare – it is Europe’s:

Old feuds are rekindled and jealousies revived. Hypocritical Britain cannot talk. It long opposed Irish separatism and denied devolution to Scotland and Wales, while it sent soldiers to aid the break-up of Yugoslavia. [my emphasis]

My hope is that there will be new de-villainizing discussions of certain past, led by a new review of Serbian actions in a dissolving Yugoslavia, or even early twentieth-century Ottomans/Turkey (might want to see my “Screamers:” Genocide: what is it and why do we need the term?“)

While we’re adjusting our moral compasses about whose self-determination is “cool” and whose isn’t, we might want to look at the role the public relations industry plays in so manipulating the image of political conflicts throughout the world.  And I don’t mean that as a metaphor: both Croatia and then Bosnia hired American public relations firms to push their cause during the Yugoslav War; this is covered extensively by Diana Johnstone in her Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions.  Unfortunately, since Johnstone’s thesis is that NATO aided and abetted the break-up of Yugoslavia as part of its plan to weaken a Serb-hegemonied Yugoslavia, which wouldn’t play along with NATO, the European Union or the post-communist, Neo-Liberal, New World Order; that is, that these forces wouldn’t tolerate, just like Stalin couldn’t, Yugoslavia’s fairly benign and most successful of communist states’ strength, and the power a post-communist, unified Yugoslavia would still hold — she’s dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or a crackpot.  Her argument, however, is perfectly documented and argued.

But even a good friend of mine who’s incredibly smart about and immersed in things Yugo said to me: “Really, Nick?  I dunno…  Diana John-stone…”

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Yeah.  Diana John-stone.  Read it.

And next time you go back to your fun and Euro-spring-break memories of unbearably hip Barcelona, thing of how advertising and public relations got you to spend your tourist dollars there — and how that indirectly funded, both in terms of real and symbolic capital, the current crisis in Spain.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Damir Imamović explains what traditional Bosnian music ‘Sevdah’ is

16 Sep

Thanks to Adnan Delalić for tweeting this video.

A Colombian friend says to me: “That you can all [my blog’s world, Bosnians to Bengalis] listen to what to me sounds like exactly the same music and not get each other on everything else…I don’t understand.”

Me neither.

Börek II — or Burek and the end of Yugoslavia

26 Aug

Börek Nein Danke

(click)

This is a piece of graffiti that appeared in the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana in 1992, at the beginning of the worst period in the Yugoslav wars and after Slovenia had become independent. “Burek [‘börek’ in Turkish, pronounced exactly like an umlauted German ‘ö’]? Nein Danke.” Burek? Nein Danke. “Burek? No Thank You.” What a silly slogan, ja? How innocuous. What could it possibly mean? Who cares? And how can NikoBako maintain the bizarre proposition that a piece of graffiti in a rather pretentious black-and-white photograph is an important piece, in its ugly, dangerous racism, of the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Back up then. There are certain — usually material — aspects or elements of Ottoman life in the Balkans, which, even for Christians in the region, despite the centuries of unfortunate hate and reciprocal bloodletting (and no, I don’t think pretending that wasn’t true or that “it wasn’t that bad” is the key to improving relations between us all now; I think the truth is the key), remain objects of a strange nostalgia and affection. They linger on — even if unconsciously, or even as they’re simultaneously an object of self-deprecating humour or considered homely backwardness – as evidence that Ottoman life had a certain refinement and elegance that these societies have now lost. You sense this often intangible and not explicitly acknowledged feeling in many ways. Folks from my father’s village, Derviçani, for example, now go to Prizren in Kosovo to order certain articles of the village’s bridal costume because they can no longer find the craftsmen to make them in Jiannena or Argyrocastro, and they’re conscious of going to a traditional center of Ottoman luxury goods manufacture. You feel it in what’s now the self-conscious or almost apologetic serving of traditional candied fruits or lokum to guests. Or still calling it Turkish coffee. Or in Jiannena when I was a kid, when people still had low divans along the walls of the kitchen where they were much more comfortable than in their “a la franca” sitting rooms. 1* Perhaps the sharpest comparison is the way the word “Mughlai” in India still carries implications of the most sophisticated achievements of classical North Indian…Muslim…culture, even to the most rabid BJP nationalist. 2**

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There are some places where this tendency is stronger than in others. Sarajevo and Bosnia are obvious; they still have large Muslim populations though and, after the 90s, Muslim majorities. But Jiannena – which I’ll call Yanya in Turkish for the purposes of this post, the capital city of Epiros and one often compared to Sarajevo: “a tiny Alpine Istanbul” – is also one such place. Readers will have heard me call it the Greek city most “in touch with its Ottoman side…” on several occasions. You can see why when you visit or if you know a bit of the other’s past: or maybe have some of that empathy for the other that’s more important than knowledge.

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About half Greek-speaking Turks before the Population Exchange, Yanya was a city the Ottomans loved dearly and whose loss grieved them more than that of most places in the Balkans. It’s misty and melancholy and romantic. It has giant plane trees and had running waters and abundant springs in all its neighbourhoods, along with a blue-green lake surrounded by mountains snow-capped for a good five or so months of the year. It experienced a period of great prosperity in the eighteenth and especially nineteenth century, when it was not only a rich Ottoman commercial city but also a center of Greek education: “Yanya, first in arms, gold and letters…” – and, especially under the despotic yet in certain ways weirdly progressive Ali Paşa, was the site of a court independent enough to conduct foreign policy practically free of the Porte and fabulous enough to attract the likes of Pouqueville and Byron, the latter who never tired of commenting on the beauty of the boys and girls Ali had gathered among his courtiers, as Ali himself commented profusely on Byron’s own. All the tradition of luxury goods associated with the time and the city: jewelry, silver and brassware, brocade and gold-thread-embroidered velvet, sweets and pastries – and börek – still survive, but are mostly crap today, even the börek for which the city used to be particularly famous, and your best luck with the other stuff is in the city’s numberless antique shops.

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identical to yiayia's belt

It also, unusually, and which I like to ascribe to Yanyalıs’ good taste and gentlenesss, has preserved four of its mosques, the two most beautiful in good condition even, and on the most prominent point of the city’s skyline.  It would be nice if they were opened to prayer for what must be a sizable contingent of Muslim Albanian immigrants now living there — who are practically invisible because they usually hide behind assumed Christian names — but that’s not going to happen in a hundred years, not even in Yanya.  Maybe after that…we’ll have all grown up a little.

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janina

And, alone perhaps among Greek cities, only in Yanya can one open a super-luxury hotel that looks like this, with an interior décor that I’d describe as Dolmabahçe-Lite, call it the Gran Serail, and get away with it. 3***

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Digression Bakos. What’s the point? What does this have to do with Yugoslavia? I’m not digressing. I’m giving a prelude. “People don’t have the patience for this kind of length on internet posts.” I don’t post. I write, however scatterbrainedly. And not for scanners of posts. For readers. However few have the patience.

So. Croatians don’t eat börek. The prelude should have been enough for me not to have to write anything else and for the reader to be able to intuit the rest. But for those who can’t…

The graffiti on the wall in the photo at top is dated 1992, but I think it had appeared as a slogan as early as the late 80s when Slovenes and Croats started airing their completely imaginary grievances against Serbian domination of Yugoslavia and making secessionary noises. What it meant is that we, Hapsburg South Slavs, were never part of the Ottoman Empire and therefore never were subject to the barbaric and development-stunting influences of said Empire that Serbs and whoever those others that live south of them were, and therefore have the right to be free of the intolerable yoke of Serbdom. We don’t eat burek. Not only do we not eat burek, but you offer it to us and we’ll refuse in German – “Nein Danke” – just to prove how much a part of the civilized Teutonic world of Mitteleuropa we are. 4*** (I think it was Kundera who wrote about the geographical ballooning of “Central Europe” after the fall of communism, till “Eastern Europe” finally came to mean only Russia itself. ‘Cause as we now see, even Ukraine is part of Central Europe.)

Why this yummy pastry dish was singled out as a sign of Ottoman backwardness and not, say, ćevapi or sarma, I can’t say.

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Ćevapi — köfte, essentially — (above) and sarma (stuffed cabbage) below.

sarma raspakovana

And when I talk about Hapsburg South Slavs I’m obviously talking about Croats, because, let’s face it, who cares about Slovenes? And there may be very few, if any, compelling historical or cultural reasons of interest to care about Croatians either, except, that as most readers must know by now, I consider them the people most singularly responsible for the Yugoslav tragedy. And this post is my chance to come clear about why I feel that way. There may be lots of interpretations of what the “Illyrianist” intellectuals of Vienna and Novi Sad and Zagreb had in mind when they started spouting theories of South Slav unity in the nineteenth century; countless theories about how Yugoslavia or the original Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed; many analyses of what happened in Paris in 1919 and what kind of negotiations led to the Corfu Declaration; and reams of revisionist stuff written about exactly what Croatia wanted out of this union. But, for me, one basic fact is clear: that Croatians were always part of Yugoslavia in bad faith; that they wanted something out of the Serb efforts and Serbian blood that was decisive in defeating Austria in WWI, but that that something was independence, or greater autonomy within an Austria that they probably never expected to be dismembered the way it was – anything but what they felt was being subjected to Belgrade. And that became immediately clear upon the formation of the state when they – being, as Dame Rebecca calls them, good “lawyers” – began sabotaging the normal functioning of the Yugoslav government in any way they could, no matter how more democratic the Serbs tried to make an admittedly not perfect democracy, no matter how many concessions of autonomy Belgrade made to them. If there were any doubt as to the above, even when Radić and his Croatian People’s Peasant Party had turned the Skupština into a dysfunctional mirror image of today’s American Congress, even when a Macedonian IMRO activist working in tandem with Croatian fascists assassinated Serb King Aleksandr in Marseille in 1934, it was subsequently made brutally clear by the vicious death-spree Croatian, Nazi-collaborating fascism unleashed on Serbs during WWII, a true attempt at ethnic cleansing that dwarfs anything the Serbs may have done during the 90s — which is dwarfed again by what Croatians themselves did in the 90s again: the most heinous Nazi regime, “more royalist than the king,” as the French say — more Nazi than the Nazis — to appear in Eastern Europe during WWII.  And they have not been even remotely, adequately,  held to account by the world for any for any of the above; all this ignored, even as the West maintains a long list of mea-culpas it expects Serbs to keep reciting forever.

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King Aleksandr of Yugoslavia (click)

And so, when they got their chance in the 90s, with the backing of a newly united, muscle-flexing Germany, Croatians abruptly and unilaterally and illegally declared their long-wished for (but never fought-for) independence. And so did Slovenia; but again, who cares about Slovenia? It was a prosperous northern republic that may have held the same Northern-League- or-Catalan-type resentments against a parasitic south that was draining its wealth, but it was ethnically homogeneous and its departure left no resentful, or rightfully fearful, minorities behind. But Croatia knew, when it declared its independence – as did, I’m sure, their German buddies – that they were pulling a string out of a much more complex tapestry. And did it anyway. And we all saw the results. 5*****

So when a Croat says “Nein Danke” to an offer of burek, without even the slightest concern about his past reputation and avoiding any German associations, it is for me a chillingly racist and concise summation of Saidian Orientalism, a slogan that sums up not only the whole ugliness of the tragic, and tragically unnecessary, break-up of Yugoslavia, but the mind-set of all peoples afflicted with a sense of their being inadequately Western, and the venom that sense of inadequacy spreads to everything and everyone it comes in contact with. I’ve written in a previous post about Catalan nationalism:

All of us on the periphery, and yes you can include Spain, struggle to define ourselves and maintain an identity against the enormous centripetal power of the center.  So when one of us — Catalans, Croatians, Neo-Greeks — latches onto something — usually some totally imaginary construct — that they think puts them a notch above their neighbors on the periphery and will get them a privileged relationship to the center, I find it pandering and irritating and in many cases, “racist pure and simple.”  It’s a kind of Uncle-Tom-ism that damages the rest of us: damages our chances to define ourselves independent of the center, and damages a healthy, balanced understanding of ourselves, culturally and historically and ideologically and spiritually.  I find it sickening.

(see also: “Catalonia: ‘Nationalism effaces the individual…'” )

We’re signifying animals. And our tiniest decisions — perhaps our tiniest most of all – the symbolic value we attribute to the smallest detail of our lives, often bear the greatest meaning: of love; of the sacred; of a sense of the transcendent in the physical; of our self-worth as humans and what worth and value we ascribe to others; of hate and loathing and vicious revulsion. Nothing is an innocently ironic piece of graffiti – irony especially is never innocent, precisely because it pretends to be so.

And so I find anti-börekism offensive. Because a piece of my Theia Vantho or my Theia Arete’s börek is like a Proustian madeleine for me. Because I’m not embarrassed by it because it may be of Turkish origin. Because I think such embarrassment is dangerous – often murderously so, even. And because I think of eating börek — as I do of eating rice baked with my side of lamb and good yoghurt as opposed to the abysmally soggy, over-lemoned potatoes Old Greeks eat – as an act of culinary patriotism. 6****** And a recognition that my Ottoman habits, culinary and otherwise, are as much a part of my cultural make-up as my Byzantine or even Classical heritage are. Because just like Yugoslavia, you can’t snip out one segment of the woop and warf and expect the whole weave to hold together.

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*1  One thing judo taught me — or rather what I learned from how long it took me, when I started, to learn to sit on my knees and flat feet — is how orthopedically horrible for our bodies upright, Western chairs and tables and couches are.  (By couch here I don’t mean the sink-in American TV couch, which you sink into until you’re too fat to get out of — that’s another kind of damage.)  Knee and lower back problems at earlier ages are far more prevalent in the Western world precisely because of these contraptions that artificially support and distort our body weight in destructive ways.  I remember older aunts in Epiros, in both Jiannena and the village, being able to sit on a low divan on the floor and pull their legs up under their hips with complete ease — women in their eighties and nineties and often portly at that — because their bodies had learned to sit on the floor or low cushions all their long and very mobile lives; they looked like they didn’t know what to do with themselves when you put them in a chair.  I’m reminded of them when I see Indian women their age at mandirs, sitting cross-legged, or with legs tucked under as described, through hours-long rituals, rising to prostrate themselves and then going down again, and then finally just getting up at the end with no pain and no numbness and no oyyy-ings.

**2  The two masterpieces of this point: the celebration of the sophistication and sensuality of the Ottoman sensibility and a trashing of Neo-Greek aesthetics — and by extension, philisitinism, racism and Western delusions — are Elias Petropoulos’ two books: Ο Τουρκικός Καφές εν Ελλάδι“Turkish Coffee in Greece,” and Tο Άγιο Χασισάκι “My Holy Hash.”  Part tongue-in-cheek, part deadly serious, both books are both hilarious and devastating.

***3  Unfortunately, to build this palace of Neo-Ottoman kitsch that would make Davutoğlu proud, one of Greece’s classic old Xenia hotels, masterpieces of post-war Greek Modernism and most designed by architect Aris Konstantinidis, was torn down, and most of these hotels have suffered similar fates throughout the country, as the nationally run State Tourist Organization was forced to sell off its assets by the privatization forced on Greece then and to this day.

Xenia Jiannena

The Jiannena Xenia, above, built in the old wooded grove of Guraba, just above the center of town, and, below, perhaps Konstantinidis’ masterpiece, the Xenia at Paliouri in Chalkidike. (click)

Eot-paliouri-1962-2

Fortunately, Jiannena preserves one of Konstantinidis’ other masterpieces, its archaeological museum, below. (click)

100_6975_-_Kons.Ioan1

****4  Ironically, the strudel that Croats and Slovenes imagine themselves eating in their Viennese wet dreams is probably a descendant of börek; and take it a step further: let’s not forget that croissants and all danish-type puff pastry items are known generically as viennoiserie in French.  So the ancestor of some of the highest creations of Parisian/French/European baking arts is something that a Slovene says “nein danke” to in order to prove how European he is.  Talk about the farcicalness of “nesting orientalisms.”

croissant

*****5  Of course, in every case, this assumption-cum-accusation, about the parasitic South draining the North of its resources, is patent bullshit.  Southern Italy, the southern Republics of Yugoslavia, Castille, Galicia, Andalusia, and the southern tier of the European Union today, may get disproportionately more in the allotment of certain bureaucratic funds compared to the tangible wealth they produce.  But they also provide the North, in every single one of these cases, with resources, labor and markets on which that North gets rich to a far more disproportionate degree and stunts the South’s growth in the process.  So haydi kai…

It’s become a common-place — and not inaccurate — observation that the catastrophic economic pressure Germany is today exercising on the nations of Southern Europe for the sake of making some sick moral point is the fourth time it’s wrecked Europe in less than a centurythe third time being when it decided, immediately upon reunification, to show the continent it was a political player again by practically single-handedly instigating the destruction of Yugoslavia.

******6

patattes

Over-oreganoed and over-lemoned — like much of Greek food — and overdone, over-salted and over-oiled, perhaps the only thing more repulsive than the soggy potatoes Old Greeks bake with lamb or chicken (though one horrible restaurant — which New Yorkers are for some reason crazy about: I mean like “take-the-N-train-out-to-Astoria-and-wait-for-a-table-for-an-hour” crazy — criminally serves them with grilled fish) is the serving of stewed meat with french fries.  You’ve hit the rock bottom of Neo-Greek cuisine when you’ve had a dry, stringy “reddened” veal or lamb dish accompanied by what would otherwise be good, often hand-cut french fries, sitting limply on the side and sadly drowning in the red oil.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The Classical Liberals: “On the Balkans, the Former Yugoslavia, and the Unity of Spaces”

4 Jan

dropoliThe Valley of Dropoli, the pass up to the Pogoni plateau near Libochovo, and in the distance, the snowcapped peaks of Nemerčka, from the Monastery of the Taxiarches in my father’s village of Derviçani, Easter 2014 (click)

I’m honored by the fact that this really intelligent blog quotes extensively from the Jadde’s mission statement in a recent post: Jadde — Starting off — the Mission.

Check them out: The Classical Liberals: At least, most of the time  Smart, perceptive, interesting stuff.

The author of the post below and the person I suspect is largely behind the editing of the blog is one Eoin Power, not just a fellow Balkan-freak along the lines of me or Rebecca West, but also a fellow Epirote.  He demurs a bit — though not very convincingly — at being called an Epirote, because his lineage is multiple and complicated and the connection to Epiros is fairly distant historically.  But he’s from one of the most archetypically and ancient Epirotiko villages — where they still own their patriko — in one of the most archetypically Epirotiko regions of Epiros and he carries himself with the requisite Epirotiko dignity and soft-spokeness and if I, NikoBakos, have conferred the title on you, it’s ’cause you deserve it.

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On the Balkans, the Former Yugoslavia, and the Unity of Spaces

The other day, as she is wont to do, my mother sent me a link to something on the Internet; this time it was to Nicholas Bakos’ blog, which you can find here. If you’re reading this blog, we’re probably friends in real life (thanks for reading!), and so it’s probably obvious why something like that would be of interest to the both of us. I have admittedly only skimmed sections of his posting so far, but in his introductory one, it was especially gratifying to read this:

This blog is about “our parts.”  It’s about that zone, from Bosnia to Bengal that, whatever its cultural complexity and variety, constitutes an undeniable unit for me.  Now, I understand how the reader in Bihać, other than the resident Muslim fundamentalists, would be perplexed by someone asserting his connection to Bengal.  I can also hear the offended screeching of the Neo-Greek in Athens, who, despite the experiences of the past few years, or the past two centuries, not only still feels he’s unproblematically a part of Europe, but still doesn’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see that he’s the gurgling fount of origin and center of Europe.

But set aside for one moment Freud’s “narcissism of petty differences,” if we have the generosity and strength to, and take this step by step.  Granted there’s a dividing line running through the Balkans between the meze-and-rakia culture and the beer-and-sausage culture (hats off to S.B. for that one), but I think there’s no controversy in treating them as a unit for most purposes; outsiders certainly have and almost without exception negatively.  And the Balkans, like it or not, include Greece.  And Greece, even more inextricably, means Turkey, the two being, as they are, ‘veined with one another,’ to paraphrase the beautiful words of Patricia Storace.  Heading south into the Levant and Egypt, we move into the Arab heartland that shares with us the same Greek, Roman-Byzantine, Ottoman experiences, and was always a part of the same cultural and commercial networks as the rest of us.  East out of Anatolia or up out of Mesopotamia I challenge anyone to tell me where the exact dividing line between the Turkic and Iranian worlds are, from the Caucasus, clear across the Iranian Plateau into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Bakos suggests that for people of “those parts” displaced to another environment (e.g. grad school in the West), this kind of geographical unity came, at least in a social context, fairly naturally, so perhaps I shouldn’t be all that surprised and delighted at seeing it reconstituted in blog form. But in fact I think the basic unity of the geographical zone outlined here often gets lost in the way these places are understood by outsiders and, ironically enough, in no small part due to the vehement insistence from each of the zone’s component peoples that they could not possibly be compared with those uncultured idiots with whom they share a border.*

Explaining the rationale for delineating “his parts” the way he does, Bakos writes:

But to step into Buddhist Burma is somehow truly a leap for me, which maybe I would take if I knew more. And in the other direction, I stop in Bosnia only because for the moment I’d like to leave Croatia to Europe – mit schlag – if only out of respect for the, er, vehemence with which it has always insisted that it belongs there.  Yes, I guess this is Hodgson’s “Islamicate” world, since one unifying element is the experience of Islam in one form or another, but I think it’s most essential connections pre-date the advent of Islam.  I’ll also probably be accused, among other things, of Huntingtonian border drawing, but I think those borders were always meant to be heuristic in function and not as hard-drawn as his critics used to accuse him of, and that’s the case here as well.

Ultimately what unites us more singularly than anything else, and more than any other one part of the world, is that the Western idea of the ethnic nation-state took a hold of our imaginations – or crushed them – when we all still lived in complex, multi-ethnic states.  What binds us most tightly is the bloody stupidity of chilling words like Population Exchange, Partition, Ethnic Cleansing – the idea that political units cannot function till all their peoples are given a rigid identity first (a crucial reification process without which the operation can’t continue), then separated into little boxes like forks after Easter when you’ve had to use both sets – and the horrendous violence and destruction that idea caused, causes and may still do in “our parts” in the future.

Having not, at least north of the equator, yet made it further east than Istanbul, I am in no position to question Bakos’ perception of the fundamental apartness of Buddhist Burma. But the loose border he posits to the north and west is one I’ve crossed many times, and it’s one that is both deeply present and functionally invisible.**

At the very least it is present in people’s minds; I can vouch for the vehemence (to use Bakos’ word again) with which Slovenes and Croats will insist that their countries are European, and not Balkan. It’s also pretty visually observable – you could mistake Zagreb or Ljubljana for a city in Austria or Germany in a way you simply can’t for, say, Sarajevo or Belgrade. And on one frantic trip from Dubrovnik back to Ljubljana (the ferry which I’d intended to take from Dubrovnik to Ancona decided not to arrive from Split, leaving me nothing to do but beat a hasty retreat back north) you could, if you were looking for it, see an actual tangible difference in the way things were done in the world – bus tickets in Mostar and train tickets in Sarajevo had to be paid in cash and a conductor on the train north from Sarajevo let me pay in a mix of Croatian kuna, Bosnian marks,  and euros. In Zagreb I could pay with a credit card, the train station had working and appealing amenities, and you couldn’t smoke in the train. This is a terribly squishy thing to write, but it did feel more “European-y”.

On the other hand, if the relatively old Huntingtonian dividing line between formerly Orthodox and Ottoman lands to the south, and formerly Catholic Hapsburg lands to the north is visually (and, at least in terms of credit card viability in 2009, functionally) discernible, the comparatively recent unifying experience of Yugoslavia is also unavoidable. Here, too, the first signs are in architecture and appearance; Soviet-style architecture and the legacy of 1950s industrialization has left the same physical scars on cities from Nova Gorica to Skopje. But they run deeper than that – the protestations of linguistic nationalists notwithstanding, Slovene, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Macedonian (hell, even Bulgarian a bit) all exist along a spectrum of of mutual intelligibility; state apparatuses, all having those of the former Yugoslavia as their common predecessors, share similar characteristics. Indeed, to me as a foreigner, the similarities often seem more salient than the differences.

Just on the basis of whether or not there “is” a usefully differentiating border to be drawn where Croatia meets Bosnia, it seems you can argue fairly fruitfully either way, depending on whether your sympathies lie with a sort of longue duree emphasis on deep civilizational splits or a faith in the primacy of modern political experiences. But by Bakos’ own ultimate criteria, it seems a bit odd to leave the northernmost bits of the former Yugoslavia out of things (though there is a nice alliterative symmetry to covering “from Bosnia to Bengal”) . If you’re going on the basis of, “the bloody stupidity of chilling words like Population Exchange, Partition, Ethnic Cleansing,” surely things like Jasenovac or the Istrian exodus argue for the inclusion of all of the former Yugoslavia?

Of course, any exercise in boundary-izing is a bit arbitrary, and in this case there are good reasons to put one in between Croatia and Bosnia and not, say, in between Slovenia and Austria (two countries for which there also exist plenty of historical reasons to consider them as part of a unified space). So if all of this does anything, it is perhaps to show how much more liminal are most places than we or their inhabitants often care to admit; whether or not you see a border somewhere often depends as much on your level of zoom as anything else.

*Or at least their nationalist politicians – many average people (whatever that means) in Bosnia and Serbia, for example, will quickly stress to you the fundamental similarities between the two countries and their inhabitants
**People sometimes marvel at my overstuffed passport but really something like 40% of the stamps come from the Dobova and Dobrljin border posts.

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Again, check these guys out; you won’t regret it: The Classical Liberals

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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