Tag Archives: Montenegrins

Montenegrins are such fair-weather Serbs it's ridiculous

7 Feb

When it’s convenient they are; when it’s not, they’re not.

From DTT-NET English:

Podgorica, 07 February 2020, dtt-net.com – An EU official today called Montenegrin government and country’s Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) to enter talks for implementation of the religion law which the second protests fearing the state will retake ownership of many properties and sites the church manages, as Podgorica is undergoing a process of separating its church from the Serbia and Russia backed church.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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

4 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

And much respect for the Big Croat…

6 Sep

…who — I think it’s accurate to say — satisfyingly creamed the pretentiously heir-presumptuous Federer in straight sets.  (I love that his trainer has no last name.  He’s just “Goran” — another big bearded Croat.)

I would’ve given ANYTHING for a Djoković — Čilić Final, but I can make do with this.

Marin CilicMarin Čilić — “Well might he roar.” Photograph: Darron Cummings/AP

Guardian‘s live blog of both matches – whole day: US Open 2014: Marin Cilic beats Roger Federer – as it happened

Tennis Aegon Championships(click)

And some interesting side things you learn from the most unexpected places, like American TV tennis coverage: Čilić, it turns out, is from Medjugorje in Herzegovina, the Croatian Lourdes, capital of a Catholic-Virgin-apparition national cult, in the most virulently nationalist part of Croatian-held BH.*  (Not a reflection on Marin, of course, who’s actually best buds with Nole; one reason I wanted to see them go at it in the final would’ve been the pleasure of watching how quick “best buds” flies out the window when two Alphas are forced to go for the jugular.)  Always interesting how these cults always have an unerring way of appearing in just those regions, and just when you need them.  And a sad indication, also, of how we’ve written off Bosnia-Herzegovina as a viable entity: CBS’ US Open blurb-profile of Čilić listed his birthplace as “Medjugorje, Croatia.”

Medjugorje is famous as the site of some of the most vicious Ustaše massacres of Serbs during WWII and of subsequent vicious massacres of Franciscan monks and priests by Serbian partisans.  Of course, the Virgin only decided to appear at Medjugorje in 1981 — just one uncanny year after Tito‘s death — when Croatian nationalist sentiments and separatist grumblings had already gathered unstoppable speed and volume, and Yugoslavia was immediately — almost upon cue with Tito’s departure — starting to show signs of coming apart at the seams.

See whole Wiki page: Medjugorje

marin‑cilic-2012-01(click)

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Bosna_regija_update

*Desperately poor traditionally, rocky, marginal Herzegovina, the barren plateau just a short steep inland climb from the idyllic, Italianate Dalmatian coast, is one part of the Balkans for which the Serbo-Croatian word vukojebina was coined — “wolf-fuck” — and is not just famous for producing rabid Croatian nationalists, but rabid Serbian and rabid Bosnian and — I think a tiny section that considers itself Montenegrin — rabid Montenegrin nationalists too.  These are not the Croats that Rebecca West could throw her hateful lawyer epithet at.  And don’t let the stunning beauty (below) of any part of ex-Yugoland fool you.

Hajdučka_Vrata“Hajdučka vrata” (the “Bandit’s Den” or “Κλέφτικο Λημέρι”) on Mt. Čvrsnica in Herzegovina (click)

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Where’s Charlemagne When We Need Him?

1 Jul

Huh?

Not the most brilliant thing I’ve read lately but one important, though really flawed, point:

“BY 1900, only two genuine multinational empires remained. One was the Ottoman, which was by then in the process of abandoning its traditional religious toleration for Turkish nationalism and even racism. [A completely, unfair, simplistic and un-historical assessment]  The other was Austria-Hungary, home to 11 major national groups: a paradise in comparison with what it was to become. Its army had 11 official languages, and officers were obliged to address the men in up to four of them.

It wasn’t terribly efficient, but it secured an astonishing degree of loyalty. It also brought rapid economic and cultural progress to an area extending from the Swiss border to what is today western Ukraine. During World War I, Austria-Hungary fielded eight million soldiers commanded by, among others, some 25,000 Jewish reserve officers. Thirty years later, the nation-states that succeeded the empire sent most of the surviving Jewish officers to the gas chambers.”

Unfortunately, the poison of the ethnic-based nation-state ideal had gotten too far by then.  Even the portrait of Austria-Hungary he gives us is completely idealized and existed in the form he describes for less than a century.

(Click above)

How sweet though, to have lived in a world that interesting instead of the stupefying monotony of the modern nation-state.  But that idea is so powerful — no, not because it’s natural and inborn, but because the modern, bureaucratic state was the first with the technical apparatus to impose it on its population(s) — that it deletes all historical files dealing with plurality.  Not a single European tourist who comes to New York fails to make the same comment: “Amazing…all these peoples living together…” and I want to explain that that’s how humanity lived for most of its civilized existence — or just pull my hair out — but I usually don’t bother.

But that reminds me: I do live in a world that “sweet” and “interesting:”

Mr. Deak (Hungarian?) is also wrong on an even more crucial point.  The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were not the world’s last multi-ethnic states.  There’s still China.  Most of southeast Asia.  And Russia.  And most ex-Soviet republics.  And certain Latin American countries.  And almost all of Africa.  And Syria and Lebanon and Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the world’s great wonder, India.  Even Turkey.  (And wherever ethnic nationalism is a problem in those countries it’s based on the Western intellectual model.)  In fact, most of the world still lives in “plural” situations.  Only Europe (and even in Europe there’s Spain and the U.K.), has an issue with this concept, but it seems to be fading even there.  Its last bastion will probably be the growing number of viciously homogenized, ugly little states of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.  Which brings us back to Michael Ignatieff:

“The misery of the Balkans stems in part from a pathetic longing to be good Europeans — that is, to import the West’s murderous ideological fashions.  These fashions proved fatal in the Balkans because national unification could be realized only by ripping apart the plural fabric of Balkan village life in the name of the violent dream of ethnic purity.”

From Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Michael Ignatieff

 

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