Tag Archives: Bosnia

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…”

fool's

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**

49614968

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.

49611950

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.

ioannina-epirus-greece-the-antiqe-market-hip

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.

ioannina165

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***

IMG_0213

IMG_0215

44471198

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.

Cevapi54

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.

Alexander

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.

spinach-burek

******************************************************************************************************************************************************************

*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.

***************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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.

**************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From the New York Times: “And Novak all fired up now goes, ‘Serbia! Serbia!’ ”

27 May
DjokParisCITY-CLAREY-superJumboDjokovic defeated Joao Sousa in straight sets Monday, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Credit Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters (click)

 

Djokovic’s Greatest Motivation Isn’t on Court By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY    MAY 26, 2014

PARIS — Novak Djokovic was safe and dry after his first-round victory at the French Open on Monday, and it was noted that he often seems to play his best when he is playing for a cause higher than tennis.

“You’re right; you’re right,” he said. “It’s an interesting observation. I did also feel this at times when I had the last couple of years certain kinds of situations in life, good and bad, that were a lesson in a way for me. I noticed that I found that extra motivation to perform well on the court and to go far.”

But can he go all the way here over the next two weeks and join an exclusive seven-member men’s club by winning the only Grand Slam singles title he is missing?
Playing for Serbia has been a powerful motor for Djokovic. An emotional run to the 2010 Davis Cup title, Serbia’s first, helped him make the leap from serial Grand Slam contender to serial Grand Slam winner in 2011.
Wojtek Fibak, the former Polish star who advised Djokovic at last year’s United States Open, said he used that for fuel again when Djokovic was upset after his semifinal with Stan Wawrinka was scheduled first during the day after he had played primarily night matches.

Fibak said Djokovic had “the worst warm-up” and was in “a horrible mood” so he tried his best to get him back to the essential. “I said, ‘Remember your parents, remember your father had to sell his car for you to play tennis,’ ” Fibak said. “I kept bringing it up, and Novak’s eyes were big, and I said: ‘Do you know why they did it? So you could play the U.S. Open, and now you are in the semis of the U.S. Open and you don’t want to fight and you’re not happy just because of the time? I said do it for your father, your mother, for Serbia.’ And Novak all fired up now goes, ‘Serbia! Serbia!’ ”

He went on to beat Wawrinka in five sets before losing to Nadal in the final.

Now, as he returns to the tournament he wants to win more than any other, Serbia is again at the forefront of his thoughts. He has been seriously involved in raising money and awareness for relief efforts after this month’s floods in southeastern Europe, primarily in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, that killed dozens and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Djokovic has donated his prize money — listed at 549,000 euros, or $750,000 — from winning the Masters 1000 event in Rome.

“I’ve seen the images and followed the news every single day, and it was something I’ve done because I felt like that was the right thing, and that’s it,” Djokovic said. “The second thing I thought about was that it was going to attract more of the donors from the international world to see that the situation is as serious as the prize money I donated. We’re talking about billions of dollars needed.”
Several players from the region took part with Djokovic in an on-court show of solidarity during an exhibition day at Roland Garros before the tournament. It was a small yet deeply symbolic gesture. Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia were all part of Yugoslavia before war broke the country apart in the 1990s. But Djokovic said that if there were any upside to this, it would be that former antagonists were now cooperating.

“To be honest there is something that I did not predict, did not expect,” Djokovic said. “And that is the solidarity of the people of the three countries that were in conflict only 15 years ago. That’s something that was incredibly moving and very encouraging for the relationship for the future of these people, because maybe we cannot be the same country again. Maybe people are thinking that’s not a good idea, but there is definitely a lot more room for improvement of the respect and solidarity between the people.”

When he is serious, Djokovic speaks in long paragraphs. He makes less eye contact than in his earlier days, but what remains remarkable is his ability to shift tone in a hurry. On Monday, marooned on a bench on a changeover during a second-set rain delay at Roland Garros, he invited the ball boy holding his umbrella to join him on the bench for a chat. He then finished off Joao Sousa, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
In a news conference, he doubled over with laughter and put his head on the desk when an Italian journalist asked Djokovic, who eats a gluten-free diet, if adopting the same regimen would help him improve his writing.  Moments later he was discussing the floods again and then, moments after that, answering a query about Boris Becker, the former champion who is coaching Djokovic this year along with his longtime coach Marian Vajda.

Becker won every Grand Slam tournament except the French Open and never won a professional clay-court title, which makes him an intriguing choice of mentor. What kind of advice might Becker be giving him for the French Open?

“He doesn’t tell me to serve and volley, that’s for sure,” Djokovic cracked. “But you know on a serious note, he is still one of the most successful players to play the game even though he hasn’t won Roland Garros.”  For Djokovic, Becker’s experience in big matches and big events is precious cargo even if he failed to win the Australian Open with him in his camp and has had most of his big victories this year with only Vajda in attendance. But the whole team was together in Rome.

“I feel that we understand each other much better already since Rome,” Djokovic said of Becker.

For now, Djokovic remains, with Becker, one of the best men’s players never to win the French Open, a list that includes John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras. But in light of Djokovic’s excellence on the surface, he may now be the best men’s clay-court player in the Open era never to win it.

Djokovic has won Rome three times and Monte Carlo and Madrid once. At Roland Garros, it took Roger Federer in full flight to stop Djokovic in the semifinals in 2011. It took Nadal in full fight to stop him in a rain-interrupted final in 2012 and then again in last year’s classic five-set semifinal.

Beating Nadal at Roland Garros remains the toughest task in tennis, and Djokovic said that the death of his grandfather inspired him in 2012, just as the death of his childhood coach Jelena Gencic in the midst of last year’s tournament inspired him before he fell just short, losing by 9-7 in the fifth.

“I cannot say that the images and memories of these people were not in my head while I was playing but I tried to channel this energy and information in the positive direction,” he said. “And I knew both of these people who were very supportive of my career would like me to play and win for them, so that’s
something I had in the back of my mind.” There is much more for the back of the mind this year. There are Serbia and
its neighbors. There is his coming marriage to Jelena Ristic and the birth of their first child later this year.

“It’s true; I have plenty of causes right now,” he said with the second round on the horizon.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Even if he’s a Serb…

23 May

…is the subtext of this article from AP and Canadian Press about Djokovic donating his full check from the Rome Masters to relief aid for Serbia and Bosnia  A nice guy, even though…

Nolegb148-512-2013-162604-high-jpg(AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia — click)

Novak Djokovic unites old enemies for flood relief effort

Serbian brings together former Balkan wartime foes

After winning the Masters tournament in Rome on May 18, tennis player Novak Djokovic donated all the prize money, about $500,000 US, to the flood victims in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Novak Djokovic has served many match-winning aces on the tennis court, but now he has fired a major one in the flood-hit Balkans.

The world’s No. 2 tennis player has achieved what no politician has managed since the bloody Balkan wars in the 1990s: to at least temporarily reunite former bitter wartime foes as they jointly struggle against the region’s worst flooding in more than a century.

Djokovic has sparked worldwide financial and media support for victims of the massive river water surge that has killed at least 45 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

The Serb has in the past triggered fury in the other former Yugoslav republics for what people considered nationalistic gestures, such as celebrating his victories with a three-finger victory sign that was used by Serb soldiers during their wartime campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia.

‘My heart is breaking when I see that so many people were evacuated and endangered in Bosnia. … Help will come from the world.’– Tweet from Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic

What has set Djokovic’s flood salvage campaign apart is that he didn’t just seek international support for Serbia. He also did it for Bosnia and Croatia which were at war with Serbia. All three states are still harbouring a deep mutual hatred and distrust, 20 years after the wars ended and the former Yugoslavia split up into seven different countries.

“My heart is breaking when I see that so many people were evacuated and endangered in Bosnia! More than 950,000!!! Hold on brothers … help will come from the world,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter. “I also see that the east of Croatia is hit by floods … I sincerely hope that it will not hit you like Serbia and Bosnia. Keep safe.”

“Long live the people of former Yugoslavia. Let God be with you,” he wrote, adding a map of the former Yugoslavia with the flags of now different countries.

The floods have triggered unprecedented regional solidarity in the Balkans, with the former Yugoslav countries sending rescue teams and humanitarian aid to each other over their borders.

$500,000 US donation

After beating top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the final of the Masters tournament in Rome on Sunday, Djokovic donated all the prize money — about $500,000 — to the flood victims. His charity foundation collected another $600,000.

“There have not been floods like this in the existence of our people,” Djokovic said. “It is a total catastrophe of biblical proportions. I don’t really know how to describe it.”

Djokovic’s gestures triggered mostly positive public support in both Croatia and Bosnia.

“I’m not Djokovic’s supporter or like tennis,” said Davor Buric, a university student in Zagreb, Croatian capital. “It is nice that he mentioned not only Serbia, but also Croatia and Bosnia. Djokovic has nothing to do with the war, and I have never heard him saying anything against other nationalities.”

In Bosnia, national football team coach Safet Susic said Djokovic had won “the support of the whole of Bosnia” with his campaign, and promised to support him in the upcoming Grand Slam tournaments — the French Open and Wimbledon. Djokovic replied by saying he will support Bosnia at the World Cup in Brazil.

Such sentiments in Bosnia and Croatia have prompted some commentators to nickname him “Marshal Djokovic” after Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the post World War II Yugoslav communist leader who managed to keep Yugoslavia united with iron fist. With his death in 1980, the country started unraveling along ethnic lines.

“This water … has destroyed what we have been building for the past 20 years,” wrote prominent Croatian columnist and writer Vedrana Rudan in an ironic commentary on her web page.

“Djokovic has sketched the map of Yugoslavia, he greets both our and his people … the slaughter has separated us, the drowning has reunited us.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

This is the three-finger gesture they’re talking about, along with a temporary tattoo Djokovic got at some point of the Serbian national crest (with “Born in Serbia and ‘something’ in Monaco” added), and generally looking a little bit like a Belgrade club bouncer:

djokovic-tattoo-novak-djokovic-15906276-500-735

But it’s not a nationalist victory gesture “used by Serb soldiers during their wartime campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia.”  Those are the three fingers Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross with and, according to my sources (granted, all Serbian), did not become a Serbian symbol or gesture of any kind until WWII, when members of the Nazi-collaborationist Ustaša regime of Croatia and those Bosnian Muslims who worked with them (for reasons I’ve never understood) made a habit of cutting those fingers off both corpses and the living.  It then became a symbol of resistance.  The Ustaša’s plan for the Serbs that fell under their control during the war was the “thirds” plan: kill one third, expel one third, convert the last third to Catholicism (good luck with that last one…)  See my post on genocide from last November.  Also yesterday’s After the Flood, Unity and Compasion…yeah.

You wanna casually throw some history around in lazy, half-informed North American style, at least look back a little further than twenty years.

Marin Čilić is never ‘the tennis player from the country that created one of the ugliest, most homicidal Fascist regimes of twentieth-century Europe,’ is he?  Or ‘from the country that committed as many if not more atrocities in Bosnia during the wars of the nineties, and ethnically cleansed larger parts of the areas under its control of both Muslims and Serbs, and more thoroughly as well’ is he?  Or that ‘still holds on to a huge part of occupied Bosnia where Muslims suffer worse than they do in the Serb-held parts,’ is he?  Or, ‘that blew up the famous Ottoman bridge of Mostar?’ is he?   Nor should he be…considered anything other than an exceptional tennis player and a great athlete.

Marin-Cilic-celeb_2788159

Marin Čilić (click)

Yet Nole is constantly having to prove he’s not the “ugly Serb.”  Why can’t this just be the story of a deeply Christian kid, which is essentially what Novak is — and very genuinely so — who wants to help his neighbors?  Why is he held responsible for “fixing” damage he didn’t do?  And his people still responsible for a war they didn’t start?

He’s certainly far more  above all of it than I am, and God bless him.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

2-jpg

 The Bridge of Mostar, now rebuilt (click)mostar

mostar5a(click)

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
%d bloggers like this: