Tag Archives: Bulgaria

Catalans’ second thoughts: ‘…the last refuge of the wallet-minded’: nationalism in all its petit bourgeois glory

17 Oct

From the Times, by

14caparros-inyt-superJumboDemonstrators in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday protesting Catalonia’s push for independence. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

On Oct. 1, Mr. Puigdemont’s separatist cause seemed on the road to victory as images of the Spanish police beating grandmothers circled the globe and sympathy aligned with the Catalan cause.

Then came the counterattack. King Felipe VI led the charge. He stated that neither the government in Madrid nor the monarchy would negotiate with the pro-independence Catalan leaders.

But it was the joint offensive between the Spanish state and major Catalan corporations that really did the trick. On Oct. 4, the government issued a decree that would help businesses relocate from Catalonia to Spain. In the days after, the headquarters of the major Catalonian banks — Caixa and Sabadell — and the water and gas companies announced they would leave the region. Democracy also works this way: Millions of voters cast only one vote, while a few use their millions to weigh in as if they were millions…

The banks’ departure felt like a cold shower for independence supporters, willing to give it all for their motherland — except their savings accounts and their European lifestyles. For Mr. Puidgemont and his party, historically tied to those same banks, it was more like an ice-cold tsunami. [my emphasis].

It’s really tiring — and tiring, especially, is feeling the constant scathing condescension towards these idiots — to see what a playground for the puerile identity politics are.  Caparrós continues:

With the economy in danger among the waving flags and patriotic chants, it became increasingly evident that independence was more a desire than a project. For years, there has been talk about creating a new country but little discussion of its economic and social structure, which is why it was never clear how much actual social energy — how much struggle, how much sacrifice — was necessary to achieve it.

Creating a country is a complex, expensive process: To take such a step you need a huge amount of support. Usually, independence is achieved after a long war, or the fall of a colonial power. At the least, it requires the gathering of an overwhelming majority. In Catalonia, I’m glad to say, the first two options seem impossible. The third one is not in place. To start as a new but divided country would be a recipe for disaster.

Like the make-you-wanna-pull-your-hair-out Brexit: it seems — what? — nobody thought of these things?

One important thing that may have come out of, as I wrote, rethinking Yugoslavia, and the thing that Catalans and Basques, Croatians and Slovenians, and Lombards and Romagnolos, and self-righteous Brits and Germans bitching about Greek irresponsibility, should really rethink is how their supposedly parasitic South is also their major market.  See the dim shape Croatia seems to be unable to pull itself out of since independence, I’m happy to report with just a touch of schadenfreude; Croatia, which a New York Times editorial in 1992 gallingly called to be accepted “…into the West, in which it always belonged”, (see Bugarian historian Maria Todorova‘s enraged reaction in her Imagining the Balkans)…Croatia has now fallen behind the poorest countries in the EU, Romania and Bulgaria, on many indicators.

_98146567_puigdemontkingPuigdemont and Spanish King Felipe VI at recent press conferences.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bulgaria: Why countries resist immigration…what are they afraid of? Well then, whither away in depopulated stagnation…

6 Oct

Despite Shrinking Populations, Eastern Europe Resists Accepting Migrants — The New York Times

Bulgarian kid zonar

Petrunka Yankova helping her grandson, Stoyan Dodrikov, into traditional Bulgarian dress.  (Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times)

“In the most recent World Population Prospects from the United Nations, the 10 countries in the world expected to lose the most population between now and 2050, per capita, are all in Central and Eastern Europe, with Bulgaria in first place.

“In 1990, just after the fall of Communism, Bulgaria had about nine million citizens, making it slightly bigger than Sweden and Austria. Today, the official population is 7.2 million, much smaller than Sweden or Austria, and projections are that it will lose 12 percent of its population by 2030 and 28 percent by 2050.

“Romania is not far behind, expected to lose 22 percent of its population by 2050, followed by Ukraine (down 22 percent), Moldova (20 percent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (19 percent), Latvia (19 percent), Lithuania (17 percent), Serbia (17 percent), Croatia (16 percent) and Hungary (16 percent).”

And yet people are against immigration.  What can I say.  You hear this less in Greece, but still.  It’s beyond my comprehension what people are afraid of.  “Losing their country” says the Prophet (formerly the Messenger).  Your country already belongs to Europe, America and, actually, international financial institutions.  Losing your culture?  Your culture is already long gone, a victim of modernity, globalization, vapid consumerism and the indifference of several generations of your own people, including your own, sacrificed on the altar of your own insecurity and internalized snobbery.  It’s a museum piece, like you sense in the picture above (click) without there being any real telling signals — except the suspicion that the a real Bulgarian pallikari, like the guys in the picture below, would never have traditionally put on such an ugly, cheap satin sash for anything in the world (just compare the obvious difference in material quality between the two, that comes through even the black and white of the bottom photo); he’s obviously dressing for some folklore ensemble performance or to receive a minister come visitting to their town.  Your Bulgarianness, your Polishness, your friggin’ fascist Hungarianness — were it still a dynamic living organism — would not be threatened by your country becoming 5 or 10 or 20% or even majority Syrian or Muslim.  It would survive as a thriving, blossoming minority — if it still had any life left in it.  But it doesn’t.

At no point in history did in-migration represent anything but a more dynamic, hard-working, creative population moving into a different region where there was an already pre-existing energy and dynamism gap — and no, not just in America Mr. Prophet: but Mexicans moving into the depressed American South and Southwest, where the native population, Black and White, has been dumbed to the point of idiocy and uselessness by its own government…or just the inevitable historical trajectory of things…is a great example  And you can stop that if you want by a sudden burst of spiritual fortitude (forgive me, for example, for my obvious affective bias, but I refuse to believe that Serbs will just shrink away into moronized proles), but not by building walls or hating.  That’ll only make you smaller.

And it’s only in Greece where I’ve heard from the most surprising quarters — not intellectuals, of course — but housewives and cab-drivers, that: “What the hell?  Let some of them stay.  It might do us good.”  Maybe they’re remembering what the infusion of Albanian blood into the country did in the 90s — nothing except what it’s always done through the centuries, but imbue us with greater energy and working and fighting spirit.  Or maybe they’re just smarter than their intellectuals and politicians.

Bulgarians

(click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Maps

24 Jan

Balkans-ethnic_(1861)

Ethnic_map_of_Balkans_-_russian_1867(click)

Yes, of course, the maps I posted here, in “The Invasion of America” and have reposted above, unleashed a torrent of nationalist, hysterical emails and comments from Greeks — and only Greeks — that I have to address.

Yes, the maps are clearly inaccurate in certain respects, particularly with the territory indicated as inhabited primarily by Albanians.  That an Albanian majority lived, or that Albanian was spoken in such a solid block, as far south as the Ambrakikos Gulf (down to Preveza) in the first map, and clear down to the Gulf of Corinth on the second map, is ridiculous and is probably the result of dumb speculation on the map-makers’ part and not motivated by some nationalist agenda.  And yet, let’s not forget those periods in history when Greek Epiros was much more Albanian than it is today.  Until the early nineteenth century, the region of Souli, right behind these mountains (below) seen from my mother’s village Pesta in south-central Epiros and just north of the border with the prefecture (I guess?) of Preveza, was inhabited largely by Albanian-speaking Christians, when they were expelled and dispersed by Ali Paşa.  Just north, lowland parts along the coast of what’s now Thesprotia around the coastal city of Igoumenitsa (see map below) were primarily inhabited by Albanian Muslims (known as Çamedes and the region as Çamëria) until they were massacred and expelled by Greek Nationalist resistance forces during WWII.  And, to jump back in time, one of the splinter states that emerged from the complicated history of the Despotate of Epiros, was ruled by Albanian clans with their capital in Arta and did extend as far south as Naupaktos and the Gulf of Corinth.  Oddly enough, the second map, which ridiculously shows all of Aetolo-Acharnania as Albanian, fails to indicate the large Albanian-speaking regions of the Peloponnese. 

pestaaithanase(click)

Map EpirosEpiros

But the second of the two maps at top is also ridiculous in that the Aegean coast of Anatolia was never so solidly Greek so deeply inland.  Greeks were not a majority anywhere in the region (as Metaxas pointed out in his warning to the egomaniacal Venizelos just before he embarked on his insane campaign), and if the region had been so Greek, there wouldn’t have been any Turkish villages for the Greek army to commit its atrocities against soon after landing in Smyrna in 1919.

Of course, no Greek readers complained about that.

I found the fact that Dobruja, the Danube delta region of what’s now northeastern Bulgaria, was so solidly Muslim to be interesting — again, if the map is accurate.

Finally, what both maps do make abundantly clear, and should be abundantly true to anyone with any kind of historical integrity, is that the majority ethnic group in what’s now Greek Macedonia were once Bulgaro-Macedonians.  (I’ve been told to go fuck myself by numerous Greeks whenever I say this. And in those exact words.  And in the middle of perfectly civil conversations.  That’s the degree of infantile, paranoid anger Neo-Greeks feel about the issue.  And it’s totally obvious that that comes from semi-consciously knowing that Macedonia’s Greekness is problematic and much more historically complicated and heterogeneous than they would like it to be.)  Obviously that’s not the case today, due to their expulsion throughout the decade of the 1910s and the Balkan and Second World Wars, a population exchange with post-war Bulgaria, the massive influx of Greeks from Turkey in the ’20s, and that the fact that those Macedonian-speakers who remained and still form a most cohesive ethnic block in the northwest corner provinces of Kostur and Lerin, (see map below) are still too terrorized to speak their identity out loud, or, even more tragically, have been so brainwashed that if you even suggest that they speak some form of Bulgaro-Macedonian, they become enraged.  More Royalist than the King.  More on Macedonia in future posts.  But let’s just say that the one thing the maps show definitively is that, of all the countries to come out of the collapse of Ottoman power in the Balkans — and given the real demographics on the ground — it’s safe to say that Bulgaria came out the most short-changed and screwed.

 Two maps below: one showing the regions of Kostur (Kastoria) and Lerin (Florina) in the northwest corner of Greek Macedonia. And beneath, a map of the same regions where you can see the fake new names given to many towns and villages in the region to replace the old Slavic ones.  This did not just happen in Macedonia, but throughout Greece.  But since Macedonia was the least Greek region of twentieth-century Greece, it was imperative that this Hellenization process and obscene distortion of history be applied there most widely.  The thing is that the names of these villages are so patently fake-sounding and made up — Cold Spring, Two Rivers, Deer Hill, etc. — that they sound like American suburban developments.  Most were just completely fabricated…a village next to my mother’s called by the not particularly lyrical — yet not particularly or dangerously Slavic-sounding — name of Moulies was changed to Perdika Partridge.  No reason.  Or, they were excavated classical names based on ancient Macedonian personages, like Amyntaio, previously Sorović, or Ptolemaida, formerly Kaylar, and inhabited exclusively by Greek-speaking Turks and Yörük-type nomads settled there from Anatolia, who had preserved their nomadic lifestyle and pure Turko-Asiatic physical characteristics until the twentieth century. Then there’s the stunningly pretentious Argos Orestikon,* whose historic name was Hrupišta.  (All these can be found on the bottom map.) Or the renaming took its cue from the slightest possibility that in Classical times a settlement by that name may have existed within a hundred-kilometer radius of the present-day town — i.e. Vodena changed “back,” supposedly, to Edessa.  On top of it all, most of the real Slavic names were so much more beautiful and appropriate: Vodena or Voden (Edessa) is a pleasant little city full of babbling brooks and waterfalls and comes, precisely, from the Slavic word for water, “voda,” while the new name for the beautiful village of Neveska, shown in the second map, is simply a translation from the Slavic — Nymphaio — and means the same thing: “bridal.”  Don’t know why the village would’ve been called that.

Finally, these paranoid, nationalist name changes happened throughout the Balkans and Turkey, so you can’t just criticize the Greek state for it.

map-of-macedonia

florina-map

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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*  Don’t ask me what this ugly little town near Kastoria has to do with Argos in the Peloponesse, or with Orestes, the mythological scion of the cursed Atreid family, who, almost Christ-like, took his family’s curse upon him and eventually was absolved of it.  If any one has any clue, please let me know.

Today’s my nameday

6 Dec

Saint_Nicholas_1550Russian icon of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker (click)

Today’s the feast of St. Nicholas (on the Gregorian calendar — December 19th on the Julian Calendar, depending on what kind of Orthodox you are ethnically), the saint generally known in the East (and beautiful Bari, one of my favorite Italian cities) as the “Miracle-worker.”  But for me the coolest thing about St. Nick, and that’s the cause of his nauseating transformation into Santa Claus in the West, is that his miracles are deeply human and mundane and material, and actually just more good deeds than miracles: his most metaphysical, I guess, was his power to calm threatening seas; probably more to the point he prevents the execution of an accused criminal, following Christ’s example in opposing capital punishment or — my favorite — he quietly leaves three bags of gold, εν τω μέσω της νυχτώς, in the bedroom of three poor sisters who needed dowries to get married.  He didn’t preach or rail against the dowry system, like the moralist who thinks his ideological crusade is more important then the real needs of real people, who gets a hard-on from his preaching while others are truly suffering: for example, the schmucks who leave a hard-working waiter a card that says: “We don’t believe in tips; they’re exploitative, join our group at www…etc…” or like the assholes you hear in New York on the subway when a panhandler comes by and certain types go off on their “oh-I’ve-heard-that-story-before-get-a-job-you-probably-make-more-money-than-me” tirades, without thinking that if a man is reduced to begging, for whatever reason, he’s already been through hell enough and deserves your compassion.  A priest at my old parish in Whitestone, I remember years ago on this day, said in his sermon: “St. Nicholas is not one of our great theologian-intellectual saints, like the Cappadocians [though he apparently slapped someone at the First Oecumenical Council at Nicaea for saying something dumb about the Trinity…I think], or one of our warrior, defender-of-the-faith saints, like Demetrios or Mercourios or the Archangels.  More, he was a saint who always made sure that everyone under his pastorship had food to eat and a roof to sleep under.”  He was particularly venerated in the sea-faring islands of Greece, for obvious reasons (“Hagie Nikola, I implore you” sings the island girl with her sailor-man away, “carpet the seas with flowers…”) and is the patron saint of Russia.  In communist times the name still had some lingering Imperial/Romanov stigma attached to it and when I was there in the eighties, it seemed anachronistically charming to many Russians.  Now it seems there are significantly more young “Kolyas” and “Nikolays” everywhere.

Despite an almost erotic devotion to and obsession I’ve developed for St. Demetrios over the years — hard to resist a young Roman aristocrat in uniform with a pretty deep, homoerotic friendship as part of his martyrdom backstory — Nicholas is still my patron saint.  And he’s more than just important to me as saint himself, but because I love the Orthodox nameday tradition, which again varies from country to country.  Serbs have always observed a single clan nameday, the Slava, celebrating the saint on whose feast-day the family’s first ancestor supposedly converted to Christianity, a very ritualized and beautiful celebration and one of the many traditions that Serbs adhere to that makes them the Slavs that, more than any others, still have one foot in their pagan past; telling, also, to how important he is in the Orthodox world: the single largest group of Serbian clans celebrate St. Nicholas as their Slava patron.  Communism forced Russians to take their birthdays more seriously, and discouraged the celebration of the obviously religious nameday, but nineteenth-century Russian literature is full of nameday celebrations (Chekhov’s “Nameday Party,” and Tatyana’s nameday dance in Pushkin’s Onegin*), and as a semi-conscience remembrance of what the new Western-style celebration of birthdays replaced, the birthday-boy is to this day still called the “imeninets,” the “name-bearer.”

What I most love is that, among Greeks, your nameday is a day critical to your honor and reputation: it’s when you take friends out and treat them; it’s when people in small towns especially, but even some in Athens still, sit home in a house full of food and sweets and wait for everybody who has the right to — meaning every one they know essentially — and most likely will, drop by and wait for the the privilege of feeding them; most young Athenians today wait for an official invitation but massive group drop-ins are still common enough among the old-fashioned.  In smaller, provincial towns, when there was a death in the family, you used to have to put an ad in the paper saying: “Due to mourning, we won’t be accepting callers this St. Nicholas Day.”  In villages everybody just knew.  It’s a day when you make an artoklasia,  a “bread-breaking” offering and share sweetened and blessed loaves with your whole parish.  It’s a day when it’s your obligation to give and serve and prove your noblesse and not, as Western birthdays have become, a day when you sit around waiting for others to do for you or give you gifts.  Western, American, birthdays are only slightly less gross to me than the totally American ugliness of wedding and baby showers: “I’m getting married and/or I’m pregnant; so I’m having a party where you have to bring me things.”  And don’t even start me on bridal registries, where you tell people, not just that they have to bring you something, but what they have to bring you.

So: χρόνια μου πολλά…  And Многая Лета to other Nicholases everywhere.  Keep the tradition alive.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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* Tatyana was not a popular name in Russia until Pushkin’s Onegin became the Bible and literary gold standard of modern Russian, and Russians took the deeply loved heroine into their hearts.  Only then did it become a widespread name and eventually, through her epic act of heroically soul-baring letter-writing probably, her nameday, January 12th or 25th — depending again on calendar — become the patron saint day of young students and scholars.

My Circassians

25 May

AdygeaReaders might remember I’ve had a long-term interest in Circassians since high school.  Of all the peoples collectively known in Turkey as muhacir, the Ottoman Muslims who took refuge in the Anatolian heartland of the Empire as it shrank, probably none had a more torturously, circuitous odyssey to ultimate safety in Turkey than the Circassians.  Here’s a selection about them from a post I wrote in February about why I was boycotting the Sochi Olympics; it wasn’t just for Putin and his filthy, murderous personage, but because the games were being held on land an admirable and honorable people had fought long and hard to keep and had been brutally thrown out of by Imperial Russia:

“And then there are the Circassians.  I became obsessed with Circassians in high school because I had to know who these people were, so physically beautiful apparently, that they held the entire Near East in thrall for centuries.  Circassians were the first reason I ever went into the New York Public Library, because the library at Stuyvesant didn’t have anything on them.  This is also around the time, as a nerdy sixteen-year-old, that I started developing the totally adolescent, romantic fascination I still suffer from, for honor-obsessed, heavily-armed highlanders — Montenegrins, northern Albanians, Pashtuns — who don’t easily let themselves get pushed around by outsiders.   It fed a lonely teenager’s fantasies of empowerment then.  Now, I couldn’t tell you.  Probably still.

“The Circassians lived in a huge swath of plain, foothill and high mountain country in the northern Caucasus.  Most of the sites of the this month’s games are being held on formerly Circassian territory.  This is a map of their general distribution in the eighteenth century, right before Russian expansion southwards began:

Circassia_in_1750

(click)

“For more than a century they fought a brutal tooth-and-nail war against the Russians and their Cossacks.  When they finally capitulated in 1864 it was in Sochi.  The majority, which would not agree to an oath of loyalty to Russia were deported, in what was probably the first campaign of ethnic cleansing of such dimensions in modern history.  For months, the beach at Sochi was a Dunkerque-like humanitarian disaster zone, with tens of thousands of shelterless, starving and diseased Circassians waiting for Ottoman ships to take them to safety in Anatolia or the still-Turkish Balkans or dying on the spot.

Expulsion_map_of_the_Circassians_in_19th_century“It certainly represented the largest civilian death toll of any war up to its time and today, ninety percent of people of Circassian descent live outside their original homeland, mostly Turkey, but also Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.”

(To read the whole post: Ignoring Sochi.“)

And as with Native Americans in North America, as their government was massacring and expelling them, Russian poets and writers like Lermontov, Pushkin and Tolstoy were romanticizing them, sympathizing with them and entering in a love affair with all the peoples of the Caucasus that literary Russia still has not recovered from.  Someone, everywhere, at all times, has a heart and a soul — for whatever good it does.

I had assumed muhacir is constructed from the Arabic “mu = doer of something” plus the roots ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘j’ (?) which almost sounds more like “pilgrim” –  as in “Hajj.”  But “mu” turns out to be a passive participle marker of someone who is made to do something, in this case not as in “Hajj, pilgrimage, but  ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘r’ as in “Hejira?” which would mean “fleer,” as in those who fled with Muhammad to Medina from Mecca in 622.  That would make more sense than traveller, which would be the “mu-sa-fir” recognizable to any Greeks as an old-fashioned word for “guest,” except to those Neo-Greeks that are so Post-Ottoman that they’re Post-Culture-of-Any-Kind and most certainly Post-Hospitality.  The Muslims that left India after Partition in 1947 to go to the land of Islamic Purity are also known as muhajir in South Asia.  I say that the Circassians’ route was particularly circuitous because many of them were first settled by the Ottoman government in the Balkans — especially Bulgaria and Kosovo (where there’s still a tiny community), where they were used to demographically offset the Christian population and because their warrior reputation would come in handy against Christian rebellions and Russian invasions.  (Though there is one wild episode of the Greco-Turkish War where a band of Circassian çeteler [çetes] in western Anatolia actually aided the invading Greek army.  Go figure.  Any-thing is possible in our part of the world.)  Needless to say with the coming of independence for the nations of the Balkans, they were uprooted again to Anatolia and other parts of the still Ottoman Arab world.

This year is the 150-year anniversary of the final, catastrophic expulsion from their Caucasian homeland and local Circassians (“Çerkes” in Turkish) have been holding demonstrations in front of the Russian Consulate down here on the Jadde (I wouldn’t even lower myself to asking for Putin’s ear) and then closer here to my place in front of Galatasarary.  (Click)

IMG_0777IMG_0775But I was kind of disappointed because I couldn’t get any really good pictures except some like these above.  Then I get on the ferry from Beşiktaş to go to Kadiköy with my cousin, Vangeli, to feed him at the spectacular Çiya restaurant there and visit Beylerbeyi, my favorite Ottoman palace, and by blogger-photographer’s luck right across from me is sitting this handsome Circassian kid from central casting (click):

IMG_0780 He was surprised I knew that his t-shirt said “Адыгэ” – “Adyghe,” which is what Circasians call themselves, written in the Cyrillic script they now use.  I asked him if he spoke the language and he said no, but some other Circassians I found the next day in Pera said that due to a concerted effort on the Turkey-wide community’s part — language classes, theater workshops, radio programs — more Circassians in Turkey of this kid’s age speak more of at least a little bit of the language than their parents do and that interest is increasing.  Insha’allah.  Cool.  So if you don’t respect these people for their legendary beauty, their ferocious warrior rep, the fact that they managed to stave off the forces of Imperial Russia for two centuries, that as the Mamluk military elite they effectively ran Egypt for five-hundred years till Mehmet Ali the Albanian massacred them in a totally, shitty, un-Albanian, pabesiko (“pa” = no + BESA), dishonorable, ambush — see  (“BESA: A Code of Honour,“) — then just admire them for sticking together as a cohesive and living identity after being scattered across the world for a century and a half now.

The suffering of Circassians and all the other Muslim peoples of the Caucasus are laid out in a bit of an uneven but heartfelt and informative book by Oliver Bullough called Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus — here’s his website too (check out some interesting pics): Oliver Bullough: Let Our Fame Be Great.

lofbg-usa-cover-300wUnfortunately, I don’t know if there’s a Turkish translation (or Arabic: Jordan, where Circassians still make up the King’s Royal Guard, Syria and, some extent Israel, is where most Circassians outside of Turkey now live) for young Circassians today to read.

Another book that I do know there’s a Turkish translation of, and is probably the only monograph to deal with the step by step expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims through the nineteenth and and early twentieth centuries, but tracing roots of the process back to even the century before is Justin McCarthy’s Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922Not polemic, not propagandistic, just the facts and figures that speak for themselves.  It should be required reading for every Christian in the former Ottoman sphere.  It’s not exclusively about the Circassian tragedy but there is, as you can imagine, a great deal of material on their experiences.

51qnwpuNCVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Turkish-speaking Circassians should definitely check this book out that’s available everywhere in İstanbul; they’ll learn a lot.  I really hope they get a chance to.  Share this post with friends if you found it interesting.  Feel free to write me with any comments.  And keep the memory alive!.  NB

55696-olum-ve-surgun-death-and-exile-justin-mccarthy

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bulgaria’s own “Golden Dawn” gathers momentum

16 Dec

From Saturday’s Times: Far Right in Eastern Europe Makes Gains as Syrians Arrive”

“SVILENGRAD, Bulgaria — After spreading turmoil and desperate refugees across the Middle East, Syria’s brutal civil war has now leaked misery into Europe’s eastern fringe — and put a spring in the step of Angel Bozhinov, a nationalist activist in this Bulgarian border town next to Turkey.

“The local leader of Ataka, a pugnacious, far-right party, Mr. Bozhinov lost his seat in the town council at the last municipal elections in 2011 but now sees his fortunes rising thanks to public alarm over an influx of Syrian refugees across the nearby frontier.

“Membership of the local branch of Ataka, he said, had surged in recent weeks as “people come up to me in the street and tell me that our party was right.” Ataka, which means attack, champions “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and has denounced Syrian refugees as terrorists whom Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest nation, must expel. An Ataka member of Parliament has reviled them as “terrible, despicable primates.”

The ability of these groups to focus in on the most wretched-of-the-earth group of the moment is astounding.

BULGARIA-articleLargeNikolay Doychinov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Members of Bulgarian nationalist groups patrolled Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, last month, an example of “civil patrols” by nationalists in immigrant regions.

And perhaps the article also potentially exaggerates the extent to which the Greek government has cracked down on Golden Dawn:

“The party was more comparable to the neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement in Greece, he said, but conceded, “Ataka’s strategy works.” Yet while Greece’s government has cracked down on Golden Dawn, in Bulgaria, Ataka is in effect a government ally.”

Several Golden Dawn MPs in Greece had their immunity withdrawn due to violent crimes committed, but though not Ataka may be “a government ally” in Bulgaria, Golden Dawn is still a sitting part of Greece’s parliament, the party has certainly been proven to be an ally of the Greek police (even to the extent of sharing training camps with them) and no one has cracked down on that connection or those on the police side involved in it at all.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The name of this blog

6 Apr

The name of this blog is the old Ottoman name for the main street of the new, ‘European’ side of Istanbul, the part of the City that grew and developed on the northern side of the Golden Horn beginning more or less in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, the neighborhood known as Pera or Beyoglu, the Greek Pera reappearing in more and more contexts lately as nostalgia about the city has become a minor industry and cultural phenomenon (Robinson Crusoe, easily one of the coolest bookstores in the world, now refers to itself as a “bookstore in Pera”).  Originally, I was going to confine this blog to Greek and Turkish issues and though that’s changed, I’ve kept the name because it’s the main drag of what – as far as I’m concerned – is still the zone’s keystone city.  I had thought of the street as an appropriately symbolic piece of territory where Greek and Turkish interaction was for a time at its most intense, most claustrophobic, even risky.  But even more, I thought of it as a space that best represents our mutual delusions, lies and hypocrisies.

Greeks think of the Jadde as the Main Street of Greek Istanbul, but neither the neighborhood nor Istanbul itself was ever as demographically Greek as the fantasy has it.  Further, the obvious wealth to which the street’s architecture bears witness always smelled a bit too much to me of nineteenth-century minority pretensions, by which I mean those six or seven post-Tanzimat* decades during which we enjoyed unprecedented access to the Empire’s wealth and financial resources without paying any of the obligations of being part of it; it’s apparently where Greek crowds had become so brazen that they gathered to yell: “Zwa! Zwa!”…”Animals!” at Turkish troops during the Balkan War as they left for the front and the mind-boggling casualties they were to experience there.  It’s also when, as soon as traditional restrictions on church construction were lifted, our new confidence raised up the three ugliest Greek churches ever built in the entire history of Constantinople – quite a feat.  And the palatial embassies of the Great Powers that breathed down the neck of the Ottomans for two hundred years and made those idyllic conditions possible for us still line the street.

Turks in the past couple of decades have spent considerable resources ‘restoring’ the area: the street was pedestrianized at some point in the late eighties I think; they set up a cute retro trolley car that runs down the middle and seems to serve no purpose but to annoy the crowds that have to constantly get out of its way; they’ve put some money into remodeling some buildings.  All of this has come hand in hand with a subtle psychological process running in many urbanized Turks’ minds that has gradually made of the neighborhood a symbol of Istanbul’s historically multi-cultural essence, which in many and moving ways it is.

It’s also where hundreds of  Armenians were murdered in a shockingly urban episode of the Hamidian massacres of 1896**, right there in the middle of all the Belle Epoque elegance and the cafes and the hotels, an event so brilliantly handled in the ‘duck with bamya’ (bamiyeh, bhindi, okra) chapter of Loksandra, and where, in one night of September 1955, every single Greek business on the street (marked beforehand in a perverse, inverted Passover), from Taksim to Tunel, down the Yuksek Kaldirim to Karakoy, along with almost every Greek church and cemetery in the rest of the city, were vandalized or completely destroyed in what turned out, after much bogus blaming and bullshitting, to have been nothing less than a government organized pogrom — pure and simple.  The event was later cynically used as one of the lesser charges brought against Adnan Menderes, the first ever democratically elected Prime Minister of Turkey, who had been in power at the time (‘55), by the military junta that removed him in 1960 and then hanged him and several other members of his government in 1961.  That doesn’t mean he wasn’t guilty of his part in organizing the riots — this, thefirst ever democratically elected Prime Minister of Turkey – he was; that’s just not why the Turkish military hanged him.  He was later exonerated, in fact, and has been semi-canonized since.  The Greek community got bubkes in compensation.  The riots were the beginning of the end, a shocking wake-up call to the complacent sense of security the City’s Greeks had started to feel in Turkey again after the fear and discrimination of the WWII years had passed, and they produced a massive exodus, exacerbated by other measures taken against them in the early sixties, as tensions over Cyprus and the usual tit-for-tat stupidities between the two countries grew.  (One will often hear Greek Polites*** bitterly blame Greek Cypriots for the progressive dissolution of their world, in the sad tones of one irrationally seeking a reason for an unassimilable loss.)  By the late seventies, their numbers had dropped below that point of critical mass that makes the sustaining of a meaningful community life possible: old people waiting to die, young people waiting to move to Greece.  I’m sure Thracian Turks in Greece can identify.

All this unpleasantness is usually excised from the contemporary Turkish nostalgia phenom’.  I remember on my first trips to Turkey as a teenager in the eighties even, often finding myself in the confusing position of being told: “Oh, lots of Greeks used to live around here,” in a smiling and totally sincere attempt at bonding and with a totally blissful indifference or maybe ignorance as to why they didn’t anymore, leaving me feeling both touched and irritated.  Granted, people have become markedly more sophisticated since then.

Anyway…  I could have called this blog the Istiklal Caddesi, which has been the street’s name since the nineteen-twenties and which I’m usually forced to use as well so people know where I’m talking about or don’t think I’m some freaky history nerd, but that would’ve been — no offense — too Republican.  I could have called it He Megale Hodos, but nobody ever really called it that except in the most official contexts (Greeks just called it the Straight Street, ‘Ho Isios Dromos’).  The a la Franca pretensions of la Grande Rue are just as self-evident.  So the old Perso-Ottoman “Great Way,” Jadde-ye Kabir, most fit my gousta and purposes.  Jadde means “street” in Farsi (and in modern Turkish and Arabic too; they’re originally Arabic — both words) but I like “way” because I liked the sort of ironic counterpoint between the great ceremonial routes of the old Imperial city on the other side with this thoroughly bourgeois little avenue.  The “path” too, says my Farsi dictionary, which also had a nice Zen ring.

Istanbul has twice septupled in size since the middle of the last century and Greek life there has faded away into nothing: the City has turned into a gigantic, intractable monstropolis like so many others.  Almost no one in Istanbul is from Istanbul anymore.  Yet this relatively small stretch of one small street still attracts massive daily and nightly crowds.  After a couple of depressed decades caused by the minority exodus, some criminally abusive urban planning projects and the criminal neglect of its architectural heritage, the street and the whole neighborhood have come back into their own again, and then some, in a way that frankly makes me so giddily proud and happy whenever I’m in C-town that any of the past’s bitterness just vanishes — it’s ok it’s not “ours” anymore; it’s still mine.  It’s perhaps the most instant snapshot one can get of Turkey’s current cultural dynamism, sophistication, prosperity, and growing freedom – in however tricky a state that freedom still may be.  Despite the clubs and malls of the northern or Asian suburbs, and despite the even more endless suburbs beyond them, inhabited by Anatolian migrants who may have never even seen it, the Jadde still gives the impression of being the default destination of any Istanbullu who’s meeting friends, looking to consume an urban pleasure of some kind, or just has nowhere else to go or anything else to do.  It’s a delicious, overwhelming mix of commercial crassness, elegance, sexiness, good music, cool bookstores, garbage and great food: an Eastern flaneur’s paradise.  In fact, aside from the Nevsky in Petersburg, I can think of no one street in which one can read so much of a great metropolis’ experience of modern urbanity as the Jadde.  It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

— For C., Istanbul, 2010

*Tanzimat: the “reforms” I think…or the “new order” maybe.  I don’t know if it refers to the actual beginning or the whole long nineteenth-century process; the response to the barrage of external and internal problems faced by the Ottoman Empire starting in the late eighteenth century: the interference of Western power interests and extortion; the loss of Balkan and Black Sea territories and the non-stop influx of refugees from those areas; the rise of local warlords (like Ali Pasha of Jiannena) who controlled large fiefdoms that were practically independent of Constantinople; an attempt to modernize the army in an attempt to recentralize things; the attempt to enfranchise the non-Muslim minorities (who didn’t, however, give up their nationalist aspirations in return) without totally freaking out the Muslim clerical establishment; a new constitution at some point, which was then suspended by Abdul Hamid, etc., etc.  Here, read about it yourselves: Tanzimat  The politics of the period are so torturously complex that no matter how much I read, I still can’t grasp the entire process.  I can’t remember which Sultan was pro-reform and which anti and which tried to take a middle path, except for A.H., who was eventually proven to be fairly undemocratic and a bit of a paranoid nut but was responsible for some impressive modernization projects anyway.  I don’t know when or how the Young Ottomans morphed into the Young Turks or who belonged to which group.

I know that it was all a titanic, often heroic, struggle to turn the Empire into a modern state.  I know there was a half-sincere, but belated and pathetic attempt to create a sense of “Ottomaness” among all its subjects/citizens; I won’t be the first one to make the comparison to Hapsburg Austria.  I know that when the constitution was restored in 1908, a year before Abdul Hamid was finally deposed,  there are stories — way too many, frankly, to be believable – of men of all ethnicities and imams and priests embracing in the streets of cities throughout the Empire in the spirit of their new found Ottoman brotherhood.  Then just five years later, in 1912, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia joined forces and effectively ended what was left of the Ottoman presence in the Balkans and the Turks decided: “Well, fuck this…” and started concentrating on building a modern Turkish nation-state for Turks just like everyone else was doing for themselves.  And the rest, as they say…

It’s an important period for Greeks to know about because it puts into perspective the fact that our influence and wealth in nineteenth-century Turkey was not just due to our diligence and ingenuity and brilliance — to daimonio tes fyles — but also because we were operating in a host body weakened by daunting, almost insurmountable challenges, both internal and external.

** In August of 1896, a group of Dashnaks, an Armenian independence group, took hostages at the Ottoman Bank in Karakoy – I can’t remember what their demands were — and I think set off some grenades or something.  The Pera murders were a response to this, though violence against Armenians and inter-communal violence between Armenians and Muslims, especially in the southeast, had been growing exponentially in the months and years beforehand, all during the reign of Abdul Hamid (“Ho adikiorismenos,” as Loksandra would call him), hence “Hamidian.”

*** Greeks will often refer to Constantinople as “The City” “He Pole” – since it goes without saying which city one means.  “Polites” then are Greeks from The City.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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