Tag Archives: Serbia

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

A Serbian reader writes on an old Belgrade post: “I haven’t seen any other English-language writer pull these elements together into such a compelling portrait of the city.” — and Kami’s photos

4 Feb

My original post: Belgrade: Random notes from July 2014

Hi Niko,

Predictably enough, when I first discovered your blog (a happy accident — I was googling “Sveti Jovan Bigorski” and spent an unusual amount of time leafing through search results) one of the first things I did was look under the ‘Serbia’ tag. I’ve already seen all four of the posts you’ve referenced. All four are terrific, but I’m especially enamored of your take on Belgrade — you really understand the place and its people and its historical-geographical specifics. I haven’t seen any other English-language writer pull these elements together into such a compelling portrait of the city. It’s obvious that you care about the place, which means a lot.

Just out of curiosity, have you visited any other places in Serbia? I’m from Novi Sad and have the accent to prove it, but I really love the South (it’s where most of the history is, after all; and I like mountainous places). 
And would you recommend any other blogs? Doesn’t matter if they’re about culture, history, art, politics, travel, as long as they’re good ;)
I look forward to reading more of your posts!

M

[Edited and with my links and emphases]

Awesome Belgrade street art

And thanks to Kami at Kami & the Rest of the World for photos. See her site for some great catch-every-aspect photos of Belgrade. Money quote of her Belgrade description:

If you like beautiful cities with cute old towns and pastel houses, then Belgrade might not be for you.

But if you don’t mind more of an edgy place, with the funky vibe, great cafe scene and nightlife, some cool street art around and a peculiar mix of architecture (with some of the best examples of brutalism), then Belgrade is your place.

Her photo essay of Brutalist architecture in Belgrade and some other Balkan cities is really great and worth checking out.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Ottoman”: final assessment; plus: the Notarades, and a “what-if” on our Turkish centuries

3 Feb

I’ve had more than one old Constantinopolitan Greek say to me: You [metropolitan Greeks] call us Byzantines but we’re not any more “Byzantine” than you. “Because when the Conqueror entered the city,” Kyra Smaro says, “he slaughtered any Greeks that had remained.” And this is born out by legit historical sources. Greeks — and other ethnicities of the empire — started repopulating Constantinople, now the Ottoman capital, after Mehmet consolidated his rule; ironically often brought in large numbers by force by the Ottomans to repopulate the almost empty city.

In my comments on the first two episodes of Netflix‘: “Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology — I expressed my apprehensions about how the violence of the final fall would be portrayed:

Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City will make later episodes more disturbing, since The Religion of Peace gives an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resists and doesn’t capitulate on its own.

Instead of glorifying the violence, though, the production totally whitewashes it, and I don’t know what’s worse or what I find more annoying. None of the massacring or enslavement of the remaining inhabitants of the City is shown, and though we know for a fact that large mobs of Greeks had packed themselves into a barricaded Hagia Sophia, hoping to be saved there, and that when the Turks finally broke in, everyone in the church was put to the sword (try and remember the butchery in the cathedral in Andrey Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev, when the Tatars finally break in), Netflix gives us an infuriating segment of Mehmet tranquilly walking into an empty, sanitized, already de-imaged Hagia Sophia and beatifically walking about in wonder, amazed at the building and the fulfillment of his own miraculous destiny.

And then there’s the sidebar story of Loukas Notaras, megas doux, the Grand Duke, something like a Prime Minister or Grand Vizier, to Constantine XI:

I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

I think we do know that Notaras tried to cooperate with the new rulers and perhaps tried to buy Mehmet off in exchange for his and his family’s safety. But apparently, soon after the fall, Mehmet ordered that he be sent one of Notaras’ handsome sons, Jacob, a notably beautiful teenager, who had inevitably caught Mehmet’s eye, to do…well…whatever with. Notaras refused and Mehmet then had the boy and perhaps his other brothers decapitated in front of his father and then decapitated Notaras himself.

A daughter of the family, Anna, somehow ended up in Venice — whether she had escaped before the fall of the City or not is not clear — but became a sort of Queen Mother in exile and benefactress to the large Greek community there, (Notaras, being a “spins-gold-out-of-thin-air” Greek, had invested most of his wealth in real estate in the Venetian Republic) creating a Greek school and setting in motion the construction of the first Greek church in Venice, San Giorgio dei Greci (below) or St. George of the Greeks, a truly gorgeous church, with an adjacent icon museum that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Venice next; seriously, it’s one of the sites in the city critical for understanding its role and position in the larger Mediterranean.

And it might seem odd, given that so much of this blog is dedicated to making Greeks’ understand (or accept) their relationship to the East, that I’m now musing on our relationship to the West. But San Giorgio itself is — along with the glorious icons from Venetian Cretan School, along with other things that then come to mind…the unique urban beauty of the city of Corfu, or the couple dances, balos, of the Aegean islands, and the liltingly beautiful music that accompanies them, or reading Erotokritos, or El Greco — among the things that beg the question: “What if?” What if the Ottomans hadn’t prevailed? At least not for so long and over such a huge piece of territory? What would we “look” like now?

Anyway, the story of Mehmet and Notaras’ son, Jacob, is so lurid and full of orientalist tropes about sexually depraved Muslims that it’s hard to know if it’s apocryphal or not (that Mehmet was bisexual, or at least what we would call bisexual today, is not in doubt, however. But, again however, bisexuality was par for the course in the mediaeval Muslim world, as it was in the classical Greco-Roman world which had preceded it, so it was not a particularity or idiosyncrasy of Mehmet’s nor would it have been considered immoral at the time). And some historical sources claim that Jacob wasn’t beheaded but ended up in Mehmet’s harem or serving him at his new court, and later escaped to Venice to join his sister Anna and two other siblings of his. I can tell you one thing: the whole story of the Notarades is so fascinating and complicated that someone should give it a historical fiction chance, print or screen, at some point.

There is this fascinating and kinda wacky book out there, The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, by Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, that describes a homoerotic and bisexual court culture that the authors argue existed in both East and West in the early modern Mediterranean, that starts off with the story of Mehmet and the Notaras boy, and that claims the whole incident was a cultural misunderstanding, and that Mehmet was honoring the Notaras family by seeking the intimacy of the handsome young Greek boy. I’m not doing the book justice; it’s complicated and parts are actually very beautiful. Check it out; it’s very interesting.

As for “Ottoman”, it ends up being an atypically Netflixian anodyne treatment of a fascinating historical moment.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“As an Orthodox Christian…” & us and the West and Romans and Otto, the Habsburgs and a Balkan Afghanistan

19 Jan
Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 2.26.28 PM

This is kind of a silly question, but if I think about it, parts of me belong to all of these, and part of Orthodoxy’s beauty comes from being able to be all of these at once.  “Roman/Byzantine” takes precedence by far; it’s pretty much one of the most important theses of this blog, and if people understood what I meant if I said “Roman” or didn’t just think I was crazy, I would call myself a Roman for sure, just as my ancestors did down to my grandparents, or the tiny remnant Greek minority of Istanbul still does.

“National Church?”  Clearly I’m more attached to the rites, imagery and music of the Greek Church through the sheer fact of being brought up in that space, even though Russians are far more professional in their production values than we are and that does affect my mood (just how much textual illiteracy, vocal feedback and mediocrity can one bear at key moments in an office?)  Otherwise, though I may feel some honorary precedence for the Patriarch of Constantinople — and yes, even the Pope — no one Church takes priority over another for me.  And I think it’s of utmost, urgent importance that the national Churches stay out of political life everywhere.  The first cool thing Tsipras did when he was sworn in as Prime Minister (when I was still super-hopeful about him and Syriza) was to have no clergy present at the ceremony.  The Church needs to know its place: in church.

Hands6047626-3x2-940x627

At one with the “Eschaton” (ἔσχατον) bre koumbare?! the Infinite, the Ultimate, that Beyond beyond which there is no Beyond?!  Aren’t you asking a bit much of us with that one?  :)  To keep things short and in keeping with Orthodoxy’s traditional apophatic theology, I have to say that I wouldn’t know if I were at one with the Eschaton, even if I were.

I may have written this before — can’t remember — but if I could have somehow been a conscient embryo who could choose what religious tradition to be born into, it would be Hinduism, because it functions on the most sophisticated dialectic spectrum between unity and plurality than any other religious tradition, though we can see these days in Modi’s India how questionable it is to romanticize polytheism — as I have in the past — as inherently tolerant and open-ended. You can have one God that’s an insufferable prick like that of the Abrahamic trio and a thousand gods that are just as much insufferable pricks, though there’s a tiny bit more wiggle-room with the latter.

So, if you ask me about my religious affiliation, I guess I’ll tell you I’m Greek Orthodox — which I guess I am.  If you ask me what I really “believe” — though I’m not sure what that word means precisely — I’ll have to tell you I’m a Jungian (I know, it’s the cop out of every Jungian: I don’t know what ‘believe’ means really).  And that’s as close to a religious identity and the Eschaton I think I’ll ever consciously get to.

Finally, “anti-Hellene.”  If I’m 99% Roman, I’m 150% anti-Hellene.  The term “Hellene” is…essentially…a lie, a resuscitated neologism, an oxymoron that gives away its own falseness, and the impulse behind its creation since the Greek Enlightenment is childish and embarrassing.  I understand: if you’re an impoverished Albanian statelet and you’re told you’re the heirs to Pericles and Alexander, with a 17-year-old scion of the looney Wittelsbach royal family of Bavaria as king, you’ll dress up as Alexander the Great at Apokries (Carnival) and take that myth as better than nothing.*  With “Hellene” today more than unquestionably established as an endonym — though all Greeks still know what they’re talking about when they say Roman or “Romioi” or “Ρωμιοί” — themselves — there’s not much one can do.  It’s the campaign now to abolish “Greek”, which has served the West as an exonym for us for more than two millenia, and make foreigners say “Hellas” and “Hellene” that makes me start to grind my teeth whenever I see it.  Like, starting at the airport…

Answer your questions Byz?

I’ve promised a “Why I’m a Roman” post for years now but haven’t gotten around to it because the issue is so convoluted, but I promise soon.

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* I never knew that Otto was so handsome.  Look up the Wittelsbach; they’re a fascinating cast of characters that would make The Sopranos or Breaking Bad seem like The Brady Bunch; the family that produced Elizabeth of Wittelsbach, consort to Kaiser-und-König Franz Josef, their son Crown Prince Rudolph Habsburg, who committed suicide with his lover at Mayerling, and that produced Ludwig II of Bavaria, the nephew of our Otto and the great patron of Wagner throughout his career, who were cousins with Elizabeth through the Wittlesbach line and most intimate best friends till his assassination; they adored each other. He probably gay; she on planet Wittelsbach, but with an intense fascination for Hungarians, who she romanticized as wild and sexy (chuckle to myself because that kinda sounds like me and Serbs), and as a foil against the stuffy court at Vienna.  The only Habsburg who ever bothered to learn Magyar, she made herself queen of Hungary and even the most anti-Habsburg Hungarians loved her back and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that she was a major factor in keeping German-Hungarian animosity from tearing the empire apart for as long as it did.

Sorry for the mangled and probably confusing historic summary there.

Plus, the Bavarians gave us an Athens that’s still beautiful despite all the destruction inflicted on it.

Prinz_Otto_von_Bayern_Koenig_von_Griechenland_1833I always had a genuine affection for Otto and his consort Amalia.  They were crazy German Romantic Philhellenes of their time in the purist sense so you can imagine how he felt upon being crowned King of Greece.  They adored their new kingdom and its people and didn’t treat it as their personal çiftlik, expending instead much effort in creating a new Euro-Greek social and political culture that would match their times.  But in what was essentially a Balkan Afghanistan, run by Albanian warlords, that proved too much of an obstruction.  They were ousted and shipped back to Bavaria in 1862.

Isabel_da_Áustria_1867See Elizabeth von Habsburg of Austria née Wittlesbach, for an account of Elizabeth’s tragic life and assassination.

Probably the most famous image we have of Elizabeth (below), a great beauty, most famous for her long wavy chestnut hair, though you can imagine that she rarely got to wear it this way at the Hofburg.

Rudolf_Crown_Prince_of_Austria_LOCRudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, the son of Franz Josef and Elizabeth, who committed suicide with his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera, below:

Mary Vetsera

De_20_jarige_Ludwig_II_in_kroningsmantel_door_Ferdinand_von_Piloty_1865Ludwig II of Bavaria, major patron of Wagner

Glamorous, elegant and crazy as a loon every one of them.  You can see in late 19c. Vienna, the slow growth of the Teutonic dementia that would eventually wreck Europe twice, though a united pan-German constitutional monarchy under the Habsburgs or Wittlesbachs and not the Prussian Hohenzollerns might have kept the forces of nationalism and militarism that led to later fascism at bay. But Vienna was just too psychologically tired to try for that too hard at that point. See Arthur Schnitzler’s haunting short novel, Traumnovelle, (Dream Novel) made into an unfortunate film by Stanley Kubrick in 1999, (Eyes Wide Shut), with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise of all actors — he overlooked Ben Stiller. Or read any of the poetry or the librettos Hugo von Hoffmanstahl wrote for Richard Strauss‘ operas — Elektra, Salomé, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos

Or remember von Hoffmanstahl’s perhaps most famous — and Piscean — quote: Reality lies in the greatest enchantment you have ever experienced.’ This was not a culture with the spirit or force to hold a disintegrating Europe together. A curious foil to the the Serbs.

Back to Greece. What’s really curious to me is the intensity of Greek anti-monarchical sentiment towards the Danish Glücksburgs, who were installed as kings by the European powers after the outing of Otto and the WittlesbachsThey seem, from my perspective, at least, like a bunch of innocuous nebeches — certainly without the nutty flair of the Habsburgs — more passive than anything else as kings of Greece, and making everything worse when they did take an active political role — or try to — in things.  I probably don’t know enough.

Achilleion_in_KerkyraElizabeth’s Corfu palace, the Achilleion, a getaway from court and her insufferably cruel mother-in-law Sophie

In the intro to the blog, I look back and see that I wrote, in: Jadde — Starting off — the Mission“: 

“What I hope this blog accomplishes, then, is to create even the tiniest amount of common consciousness among readers from the parts of the world in question.  A very tall order, I understand, maybe even grandiose.  Time will tell if it all ends up an unfocussed mess and I end up talking to myself; it’s very likely.”

I’ve gone in this one post from whether I’m Orthodox or not and Orthodox Church rankings to Rudolph II of the Habsburgs and the double suicides at Mayerling.  I hope I’ve succeeded in the kind of tall order I’ve set for myself in making connections for people that they didn’t know existed.  Maybe for others it’s just another weird NikoBako Piscean stream of consciousness türlü.  But maybe even for them there’s an unconscious level on which things hook up with one another on some other road through the universe.

But I bet you didn’t know that the connection between “Στου Όθωνα τα χρόνια” — “In the time of Otto” — by Stavros Xarhakos and Richard Wagner ran through Munich, did you?

An odd poem/document to the struggle to establish order and form a new Greek state.  I don’t know why the English translation given here says “cruel guards” when in Greek it’s “Bavarian guards”.

In the Time of Otto

One afternoon
around the Acropolis,
The heartless thieves
made toy hot rocks
their hangout.
At Monastiraki,
the cruel guards,
In front of the king
are dancing
sirtaki
(REF:)
To Crete and Mani,
We will send a decree,
In cities and in villages.
We will send a decree,
For the policemen to come,
To kick out the brutes.
(INTERLUDE)
Down at the port,
The policemen are dancing.
They came but
their hearts are still
in Mani.
On Tuesday the guys
came in from Psiloriti.
They drink tsikoudia,
But their hearts are still
in Crete.
To Crete and Mani,
We will send a decree,
In cities and in villages.
We will send a decree,
For the policemen to come,
To kick out the brutes.
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Στου Όθωνα τα χρόνια

Ένα μεσημέρι
στης Ακρόπολης τα μέρη
άπονοι ληστές
κάναν τις πέτρες τις ζεστές
λημέρι
Στο Μοναστηράκι
Βαυαροί χωροφυλάκοι
μες στην αντηλιά,
χορεύουν μπρος στον βασιλιά
συρτάκι
(REF:)
Στην Κρήτη και στη Μάνη
θα στείλουμε φιρμάνι
σε πολιτείες και χωριά
θα στείλουμε φιρμάνι
να `ρθούν οι πολιτσμάνοι
να κυνηγήσουν τα θεριά.
(INTERLUDE)
Κάτω στο λιμάνι
τραγουδούν οι πολιτσμάνοι
ήρθαν τα παιδιά
μα έχουν ακόμα την καρδιά
στην Μάνη
Ήρθανε την Τρίτη
τα παιδιά του Ψηλορείτη
πίνουν τσικουδιά,
μα έχουν ακόμα την καρδιά
στην Κρήτη
Στην Κρήτη και στη Μάνη
εστείλαμε φιρμάνι
σε πολιτείες και χωριά
εστείλαμε φιρμάνι
κι ήρθαν οι πολιτσμάνοι
και διώξαν όλα τα θεριά.

https://lyricstranslate.com

nikobakos@gmail.com

Serbia detox

28 Dec

KoloAnd it’s not from the alcohol, which certainly plays a part.  It’s just everything is BIG.  The men.  The women’s legs.  The volume of men’s voices.  The women’s raspy, sexy contralto.  People’s hearts and personalities and sense of humor and irony.  The portions of food.  Everything is HUGE!

It’s a ton of fun.  And they’re totally superlovable.  But an outsider sometimes needs a break.

No joke.

Kolo

Kolo

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Prečani Serbs: I thought this passage from a previous post should also be posted separately

14 Nov

Prečani-Serbs: It’s doubtful that any Balkan peoples suffered more from the see-saw wars between the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs than the Serbs did.  It’s easy to see why; Serbian lands are pretty much the highway for getting from the south Balkans to Vienna.detailed-political-map-of-the-former-yugoslavia-1983It’s the easiest proof there is that war always had “collateral damage” and civilian casualties.  The Ottomans launched rapid campaigns up through to Vienna in 1529 and 1683.  Both times they failed to take the city and retreated.  Thank the gods, because the idea of Turkish armies at the walls of Vienna is even more terrifying than the idea of Arab armies in the Loire valley at Tours just 70 kilometers from Paris in 732. But in 1683 they not only failed to conquer Vienna, the Hapsburgs chased the retreating Ottomans across the Danube and as far south as Kosovo.  That could have meant Serbian liberation from the Ottomans 200 years before it actually happened.

But then the Austrians made the fateful decision to retreat.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps they felt overextended or thought they were getting too deep into imperial overreach.  And of course this meant horrific retaliatory violence on the part of Turks and local Muslims against the southern Serbs who had welcomed the Austrians as liberators.  And an epic exodus of the Serbs northwards, in what are called the Great Migrations of the Serbs, began.  This resulted in a massive shift to the north of the Serbian nation’s center of gravity and, perhaps most fatefully, marks the beginning of the de-Serbianization of Kosovo, which was the spiritual heartland of the Serbs.  And an influx of increasingly aggressive highland Albanians, now Islamicized and emboldened in their impunity as such, only accelerated the departure of Kosovo Serbs to the north.

Conditions in northern but still Ottoman Serbia were better than in the south.  But for many Serbs this was not enough.  A great many crossed the Danube and settled in what is now the autonomous region of Vojvodina and the parts of Croatia called Slavonia and Krajina.  Ironically, just as the Ottomans made Serbia prime recruiting country for their system of enslaving young boys to turn them into the most powerful unit in the Ottoman army, the Janissaries, the Austrians themselves also recognized that Serbs were, as always, good soldier material, and they invited Serbian fighters and their families into Austria’s border regions to protect the boundaries of the Hapsburg empire from possible Ottoman aggression.

So Prečani-Serbs, refers, very broadly, to those Serbs who went and settled in the borderlands of the Austrian empire; the term comes from “preko” or “over there” or “the other side”, across the Danube, Sava and Drina rivers, in other words, that were the borders between the Ottomans and Hapsburgs for centuries.

I don’t know whether Krajina Serbs from around Knin — shown in green in map below — are considered prečani or not, those from that part of Croatia that was largely Serbian until 1995, when it’s Serbian inhabitants were expelled with American help in what was the largest single act of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars, with some 200,000 Serbs expelled from their homes.  Serbs are soldiers and poets, as I’ve quoted Rebecca West saying so many times; Croatians are lawyers; but with the detestable Milošević having abandoned Krajina Serbs (Venizelos-style), and with Americans arming, training them and watching their backs, Croats proved themselves to be formidable warriors indeed.

war_map

So, if one can put one’s biases aside, the poignant tragedy of this whole set of some 600-years of pain and trauma becomes clear.  Bullied out of Kosovo over the centuries, Serbs move north, even so far north as to settle in Austria itself.  Then, with no one’s help, they gather Serbs from Kosovo to the trans-Danube-Sava lands where they had settled over the centuries into one state.  And less than 100 years later, they lose and are almost entirely expelled from both the Kosovo they had fled from and from the Krajina and Prečani lands they had fled to.

Good to know the whole stories sometimes.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Yugoslavia, King Aleksandar and the Карађорђевићи/Karađorđevići, addendum — and a digression about Serbian slava celebrations

14 Nov

In responding to the post of the philatelic enthusiast who found the vintage Yugoslavian stamp from 1939: Yugoslavia: Yeah, you found a very cool stamp. Do you have any clue what it means?“, there was no meaningful answer or comment I could give without bringing up King Aleksandar I Karađorđević.  But there was one important point I couldn’t fit into that post about the founder of that Serbian royal house. They (along with its rival Obrenović family — we’ll get into that below) are the only post-Ottoman royal families in the Balkans to be of indigenous stock.

karadjordje-bozo-buzejic

The founder of the family, the legendary Карађорђе (Karageorge) was a pig-herder from the Šumadija who led the first general Serbian uprising against the Ottomans in 1804.  It’s believed that his near ancestors moved to that central Serbian region from Montenegro, but claiming Montenegrin descent has always been a way to establish your butch/macho credentials in Serbia, plus it’s a good claim to use as part of an insanity plea if you’re the defendant in a legal case.  Other genealogists claimed that they had discovered links between Karageorge’s Petrović clan and the glorious rulers of mediaeval Serbia, the Nemanjići, which include Car Stefan DušanBut sometimes it seems that all of Montenegro, most of Herzegovina and half of Raška claim to be descended from the Nemanjići, so let’s feel free to not take that claim too seriously.

Actually, Montenegrins see it the other way around; they don’t think they’re descended from the Nemanjići, they think the Nemanjići were descended from them.  And there’s that great joke: someone in 1913 asked a Montenegrin notable what their relationship with Russia would be, now that the Turks had been chucked out of the Balkans.  And the Montenegrin replied: “We will NEVER abandon the Russians!”

And…in all fairness, until modern times Serbs were a very clan-tribe-lineage oriented culture where families kept extensive and detailed memories of genealogical maps in their heads going back for centuries, so much of their claims may actually be true and not concocted historical fictions.  A really powerful proof of that is that the Serbs are the only Orthodox Christians to not observe personal namedays.

Serbian-Slava-Festivityὁ σῖτος, ὁ οἶνος καὶ τὸ ἔλεον τοῦ δούλου σουthe wheat, wine and oil of Thy servant

Instead they observe the saint’s day on which their clan’s ancestors first converted to Christianity in a beautiful celebration called a slava, (the “glory”) and hereworth reading — which is essentially an offering and feast of remembrance, a ritual of ancestor-worship that proves that Serbs probably have more of one foot still in the pagan past than any other group of Slavs.  I don’t know how seriously modern Serbs still take the observation of this custom, but I’m going to be in Belgrade December 19th this year, St. Nicholas Day, which is the most widespread slava in Serbia, so maybe I can finnaegle my way to an invitation from someone.

Slava 1

Many of their funerary customs are similar to ours — like the artos or artoklasia above and koljivo below — meaning they developed together spontaneously or they represent the influence of known Slavic sub-strata in the language, genes and culture of modern Greeks — and now that I said that I’ll have to go into a witness protection program.

Koljivo_from_wheat

Koljivo or Koliva just like Greeks make.  Commemorating the dead with the seeds of life.

Whhhooooo…  long digression, even for NikoBako.

Anyway.  Karageorge wasn’t particularly wealthy or an Ottoman archon of any type, like the Greek Phanariotes who ruled Roumania as Ottoman vassals were.  He raised pigs and herded them across the Danube to the Prečani-Serb* inhabited regions of Austria and further in.  But he led a revolt that led to — if not complete independence — significant autonomy for Serbia.  He was assassinated fairly soon after but his descendants came back as kings of the independent country later on, in an often vicious see-saw dynamic with the rival Obrenovići which has always been too complicated for me to remember accurately, and then established themselves as the sole ruling house of Serbia in 1903, after the last Obrenonović monarch, also ironically named Aleksandar I, and his wife Draga, were chopped into pieces by a military coup who then threw their bodyparts off the balcony of the royal palace in Belgrade.

This, of course, did not exactly do wonders for Serbia’s image abroad, and is one of those events where Serbia might have needed to find a good public relations firm to work for them.

Why all this?  I dunno.  I just think it’s one of the very cool things about Serbs that they refused to be Frank-ridden after centuries of being Turk-ridden, and would not accept some lame, impotent, manic-depressed, inbred, rickety little 17-year-old nerd, tenth-in-line German or Danish princeling who spoke no Serbian as their king, the way all of the rest of the new Balkan states did.  They chose their own.  And he was a pig-herder.  And that rocks.

No joke.

Below — Karagiorge Servias Street in downtown Athens

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 1.11.20 AM

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* Prečani-Serbs: It’s doubtful that any Balkan peoples suffered more from the see-saw wars between the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs than the Serbs did.  It’s easy to see why; Serbian lands are pretty much the highway for getting from the south Balkans to Vienna.detailed-political-map-of-the-former-yugoslavia-1983It’s the easiest proof there is that war always had “collateral damage” and civilian casualties.  The Ottomans launched rapid campaigns up through to Vienna in 1529 and 1683.  Both times they failed to take the city and retreated.  Thank the gods, because the idea of Turkish armies at the walls of Vienna is even more terrifying than the idea of Arab armies in the Loire valley at Tours just 70 kilometers from Paris in 732. But in 1683 they not only failed to conquer Vienna, the Hapsburgs chased the retreating Ottomans across the Danube and as far south as Kosovo.  That could have meant Serbian liberation from the Ottomans 200 years before it actually happened.

But then the Austrians made the fateful decision to retreat.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps they felt overextended or thought they were getting too deep into imperial overreach.  And of course this meant horrific retaliatory violence on the part of Turks and local Muslims against the southern Serbs who had welcomed the Austrians as liberators.  And an epic exodus of the Serbs northwards, in what are called the Great Migrations of the Serbs, began.  This resulted in a massive shift to the north of the Serbian nation’s center of gravity and, perhaps most fatefully, marks the beginning of the de-Serbianization of Kosovo, which was the spiritual heartland of the Serbs.  An influx of increasingly aggressive highland Albanians, now Islamicized and emboldened in their impunity as such, only accelerated the departure of Kosovo Serbs to the north.

Conditions in northern but still Ottoman Serbia were better than in the south.  But for many Serbs this was not enough.  A great many crossed the Danube and settled in what is now the autonomous region of Vojvodina and the parts of Croatia called Slavonia and Krajina.  Ironically, just as the Ottomans made Serbia prime recruiting country for their system of enslaving young boys to turn them into the most powerful unit in the Ottoman army, the Janissaries, the Austrians themselves also recognized that Serbs were, as always, good soldier material, and they invited Serbian fighters and their families into Austria’s border regions to protect the boundaries of the Hapsburg empire from possible Ottoman aggression.

So Prečani-Serbs, refers, very broadly, to those Serbs who went and settled in the borderlands of the Austrian empire; the term comes from “preko” or “over there” or “the other side”, across the Danube, Sava and Drina rivers, in other words, that were the borders between the Ottomans and Hapsburgs for centuries.

I don’t know whether Krajina Serbs from around Knin — shown in green in map below — are considered prečani or not, those from that part of Croatia that was largely Serbian until 1995, when its Serbian inhabitants were expelled with American help in what was the largest single act of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars, with some 200,000 Serbs expelled from their homes.  Serbs are soldiers and poets, as I’ve quoted Rebecca West saying so many times; Croatians are lawyers; but with the detestable Milošević having abandoned Krajina Serbs (Venizelos-style), and with Americans arming, training them and watching their backs, Croats proved themselves to be formidable warriors indeed.

war_map

So, if one can put one’s biases aside, the poignant tragedy of this whole set of over 600-years of pain and trauma becomes clear.  Bullied out of Kosovo over the centuries, Serbs move north, even so far north as to settle in Austria itself.  Then, with no one’s help, they gather Serbs from Kosovo to the trans-Danube-Sava lands where they had settled over the centuries into one state.  And less than 100 years later, they lose and are almost entirely expelled from both the Kosovo they had fled from and from the Krajina and Prečani lands they had fled to.

It’s good to know the whole story, people, and not just buy the villain myths wholesale.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Yugoslavia: Yeah, you found a very cool stamp. Do you have any clue what it means?

12 Nov

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It shows the extreme lengths that the Yugoslav government went to throughout the 1920s and 1930s to hold the country together, under Crown Prince and then King Aleksandar — also known as Aleksandar the Unifier.  At some point during his reign, I think after it became clear that Croatian separatism was determined to obstruct the functioning of the Skupština and the Yugoslav government in any way possible, Aleksandar redrew the constituent regions of Yugoslavia which corresponded to various ethnic groups, and introduced new administrative banovine which were given the ethnically neutral names of the main rivers that ran through each region.

And yet even despite those reforms Serbs still tried to placate Croatian separatists by allowing them — and only them — to retain an ethnic name for its historical region: what’s shown as the “Hrvatska Banovina” on your stamp.

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There is, I think, in much of Serbian pride, or even in Serbian arrogance, a certain sense of what in Greek we call φιλότιμο, “love of honor” crudely put; perhaps a better term would be “noblesse oblige”.  Since Serbs and Serbian blood pretty much created Yugoslavia singlehandedly, by fighting off the Austrians and defeating the Ottomans (along with guaranteeing us possession of Salonica ’cause they kept the Bulgarians busy while Greek Crown Prince Constantine strolled into the city like the conquering hero), you might have expected that they would work to keep a Serbian kingdom ,under the Карађорђевић (Karađorđević) dynasty, where all other ethnic groups — who did nothing to fight for south Slav independence, except tangentially the Macedonians — would simply be subject peoples to the Serbian crown.  Instead, they made a sincere and honest attempt to make the noble experiment of south Slav unity actually work, democratically and harmoniously.  There was even an ideological current running through Serbian intellectual circles of a plan for unification with Bulgaria and even Greece into one greater Balkan state, which would have made it harder for the West to push us around and fuck us up like they did and do; maybe even made us more valuable to the West than Turkey, the tail which wags the Western/US/NATO dog.

And I think King Aleksandar, for all his theoretical faults, was a genuine personification of that sense of Serbian noblesse oblige and ἀρχοντι.

And for his efforts he was assassinated in Marseille in 1934 by a Macedonian separatist in cahoots with the nasty-piece-of-work, Vatican-supported, Croatian Über-Nazi Ustaše.

And that’s what your cool stamp is all about, Charlie Brown.

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King Aleksandar I

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

X. doesn’t like my post on “The insufferable entitledness of bikers” — or lots of other things I’ve written

12 Nov

…or, how does one react to the tiring self-righteousness of certain left-dudes.

bikes

X. (I want to respect anonymity) is a journalist who I generally like personally, whose work I respect, and whose opinions and judgements about the Middle East I value and find extremely useful; he’s my go-to guy, especially about Lebanon, a country I find particularly fascinating.  But he’s called me a few times too many on what are supposedly my biases, which generally consist — sorry to be crude — of my not being “brown enough”, in a way I find not just a little offensive.

I call it “not-brown-enough” because though his criticisms seem to indicate that he believes I’m on the right side where the oppressed are concerned, he also seems to think that I’m not on the side of those he considers the really and truly oppressed.

For one, he’s patently impatient and irritated by my concern for Middle Eastern Christians — though that’s par for the course when dealing with post-Christian Western intellectuals who, at best, have only traumatic memories of growing up Catholic or Lutheran and see any defense of Christianity as a racist and irrelevant leftover piece of creepy reaction. So for X., someone worrying about the survival of Eastern Christianity seems to be tantamount to being Pat Robertson.  For my part, I don’t think that, being Greek Orthodox, I should have to apologize for caring about the losing battle that eastern Mediterranean Christians are fighting.  (I would take a guess and assume X.’s unspoken attitude basically consists of: “Oh, so many millions are truly suffering and displaced and dying and you’re worried about 60 old Greek ladies in Istanbul”; well, yeah, somebody has to worry about those old Greek ladies in Istanbul too, ok?  No apology).  Nor do I think that I should have to apologize for believing that that battle for survival is real — or apologize for believing that it’s an ancient battle that dates back to the glorious entry of Arabs and Islam into the Greco-Roman-Christian and Sasanian worlds — or apologize for believing that that “entry” was anything but an unalloyed good — or apologize for believing that sectarianism in the region has a long and bloody history way before any blood-letting was caused or provoked by Western colonial powers.  I should probably send him a copy of one of Walter Dalrymple’s early and brilliant books: From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East.

Holy Mountain

But in an exchange about this issue, he had the gall to refer once to what he calls “elite minority supremacism”.  Remember that phrase; it’ll come back to haunt us all.  This means that it’s racist, on some level, and politically incorrect of me, to care about the rights of minorities — Orthodox Christians, Maronites, Jews, Copts, Armenians, the Alawites of Syria, the Shiites of southern Lebanon and the Bekka — when it’s really the Sunni majority of the Levant and Iraq that are the true victims.

Sorry.  The Sunni Muslim majority of the region were the politically, socially and economically privileged majority group until the late nineteenth century and specifically 1918 — that tragic year when Turkey capitulated and the Ummah and Caliphate were humiliated by the boot of the kaffir West.  That tragic humiliation is what left us with the likes of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden and Mohamed Atta, all so enraged and humiliated and boiling over with rancid testosterone.

Granted, not much sympathy from me there.  And the fact that the non-Sunni or non-Muslim minorities of the region might have found that “humiliation” to have been a liberation of sorts, after centuries of discrimination by said Sunnis, seems perfectly natural to me.  There’s a reason Maronites and Syrian Christians turned to France in the mid-nineteenth century and especially after 1860.  There’s a reason Syrian Alawites became the French Mandate’s mercenary force.  There’s a reason Serbs looked — somewhat ambiguously, with their typical wariness and sense that they don’t really need or think they should trust anybody else’s help — to Austria, and that Bulgarians and Armenians looked to an Orthodox Russia for most of the last two centuries of Ottoman rule in the Balkans and Anatolia.  They took a route that they believed, rightly or not, would give them protection from the ethnic and religious groups that had systematically marginalized and persecuted them.  So the result is that the 20th century and modernity come around and Syrian Alawites become the dominant military and therefore political force in that country.  The 20th century and modernity come around and most Maronites and other Christians in Lebanon are generally better educated, more connected to the outside world and better-off economically than most Lebanese Muslims.  And there’s a whole set of reasons that the 20th century came around and Ottoman Greeks, Armenians and Jews were also generally better educated, more connected to the outside world and better-off economically than most Ottoman Muslims except for a small elite.  Is the colonizing West entirely to blame for that too?

What fantasy world do intellectuals and journalists like X. live in, where everyone in the Near East loved each other and lived in harmony until the evil West and its divide-and-conquer policies showed up?  I would love to believe that but it’s just not supported by the historical record.  It’s a common academic trope of intellectuals from the region because it jibes with leftist anti-colonial discourse and it absolves regional players of any responsibility.  (See Ussama Makdisi‘s Aeon article Cosmopolitan Ottomans: European colonisation put an abrupt end to political experiments towards a more equal, diverse and ecumenical Arab worldor Ottoman Cosmopolitanism and the Myth of the Sectarian Middle East, or any of his other work for classic examples of this fictional genre; it’s his forte; he’s made a career of the argument.)

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 7.35.58 AM“European colonisation put an abrupt end to political experiments towards a more equal, diverse and ecumenical Arab world”

And wait a minute; let’s backtrack: you discriminate against a minority group; you bar it from conventional access to power and wealth; you confine it to the interstices and margins of your society, and in those interstitial niches they develop the skills and the talent that enable them to survive, and not only to survive, but to come out on top once they’re emancipated — and then that only makes you hate them even more — I’m sorry, but is that not the fucking textbook definition of anti-semitism??!!  Call it “elite minority supremacism” if you like.  It’s the same thing.  And just as nasty, racist and toxic.

Then there was a persnickety exchange about minorities — again — in Turkey this time.  X. disagreed with an eccentric but actually quite informed and smart Byzantinist Brit on Twitter, because he tweeted that “the state of minorities in Turkey is not a good advertisement for dhimmitude”.  “Dhimmi” in Arabic, or “Zimmi” in Turkish and Farsi pronunciation, is a term that specifically — and very specifically — means the non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state.  X. thought that it was “epistemologically sloppy” of him to refer to the now practically vanished Christian and Jewish minorities of Turkey and ignore the intra-Muslim (for lack of a better word) minorities, like Kurds, Alevis, Zaza-speakers, or the Arabs of the south-east and Antakya (X. calls it Hatay, but I refuse to use the place-names of Turkish science-fiction nationalism).  Again, the Byzantinist Brit was supposedly being biased because he lamented the fate of Turkey’s non-Muslims and ignored its persecuted and more deserving of pity Muslim “minorities”.  But that’s his right to do and feel — and mine.  And, in fact, there was absolutely nothing “epistemologically sloppy” about his analysis.  By simple virtue of the fact that he used the word “dhimmi”, he made it unequivocally clear that he’s talking about Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities; he’s not using a “dog-whistle to mean Christians,” as X accused him of in one tweet.  He’s stating it very loud and clear that that’s what he’s concerned with.  But for X. that makes him biased and probably an Islamophobe, while all that he — and I — were doing was simply pointing out the fact that there was/is a qualitative and taxonomical difference between the status of non-Muslims in Turkey and sub-groups within the Muslim majority in Turkey.  And proof of that qualitative difference is born out precisely by the fact that the Christian and Jewish groups have practically vanished; “elite minority supremacism” apparently didn’t save them.  Tell me what X.’s objection was, because I can’t make heads or tails of it — talking about “epistemologically sloppy”.

Then we go to New York.  I post this piece: The insufferable entitledness of bikers :

“The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that helmets be required for all bicyclists in the U.S., but some advocacy groups say putting the recommendation into law can have unintended consequences.”
[Me]: How ’bout we let them crack their heads open, and then maybe they’ll think about how biking — in a city like New York at least, not Copenhagen — is a deeply ANTI-URBAN, elitist, yuppy phenomenon that makes our cities’ centers more and more inaccessible to borough dwellers who can’t afford to live there, to street vendors, to truckers, to commercial traffic, to theater-goers and to everything that makes New York New York and not Bruges, all dressed up in the pedantic Uber-Green self-righteousness of a bunch of rich vegan kids from Michigan?
Walt Whitman would be turning in his grave.
Blows me away that more people don’t see that.
I immediately get a response from X., because he’s one of those people who always has a pre-printed ravasaki in his breastpocket with an analysis and a supporting, supposedly proof/text for almost any political issue.  You’re concerned with Christians in Syria?  X. is right there on the barricades to call you an elite minority supremacist.  You suggest there seems to have been a shortage in the Arab world of leaders able to successfully create a solid civil society and functioning democracy, X. immediately has a long list of names for you, even if that list includes more than a few murderous dictators.  You wonder what suddenly caused Syrian Sunnis to stand up to the despicable Assad regime, X. tells you part of the issue is agriculture and water supply.  You accept the fact that environmental conditions might have been what literally and figuratively sparked the civil war, and then X. tells you water and drought have nothing to do with it.  You articulate an opinion on the mating habits of homosexual penguins in Antarctica and…well, you get the point.
Hey, maybe that’s what makes a good journalist, but it also leads to dizzying instant analyses and superficial opinions, without a single “well…” or “maybe…” or “Shit…I never thought of that” or any even remotely multi-facetted take on things.  Sorry to be channeling Sarah Palin — never thought it would come to this — but so many exchanges with X. immediately degenerate into “gotcha” discourse.
So, he responds, with lightning speed:
Actually most bicyclists are low-income immigrants. Which is why upscale white people love to shit on them.
Not everyone can afford first-world privileges like taking taxis. Even riding public transportation is too expensive for a lot of folks.
With an informative link attached:
Except, I don’t know any upscale white people who shit on bikers.  As far as New York is concerned, I don’t have statistics, but my visual gut observation is not that there are multitudes of immigrants riding bikes around, but almost exclusively young white guys — the “upscale white people” who supposedly shit on bikers.  ?
And here I think it’s important to point out that it’s a bit disingenuous of X. — if not just a total misrepresentation of facts — or maybe even a teeny-weeny bit of what we used to call lying — to send this particular article because it refers almost exclusively to Houston and totally exclusively to Sun-belt cities and southern California: all cities that are of radically lower density than New York, which is the city the discussion was about, and that, incidentally, have kinder weather.  Bikes there may not cause a problem or may be mostly for lower-income city-dwellers.  But in New York they’re a nuisance.  And I see and know very few poor people using them.
I wrote back:
“Very possibly low-income immigrants, ok, but do we have and how exactly do we get statistics about that?  [As it turns out we don’t; we only have statistics from Houston]  But even if that’s true, they don’t demand that a modern, industrial city, built and designed to be a modern, industrial city, change itself and cater to a mode of transportation that such a high-density city [like New York and unlike Houston] is not designed to accommodate.
“And as for taking taxis, or even the subway, I am and have always been a borough-boy, who couldn’t and can’t afford to take a taxi to get into Manhattan, nor could I tolerate a commute to and from a two-fare zone, which is what we used to call neighborhoods where you had to ride the subway line to the end and then pay a second fare to take a bus, like Whitestone, where I spent my teens and twenties.  I used to drive into Manhattan (20 minutes instead of 2 hours on public transport) and parking was easy to find even on a Saturday night in the East Village.  And while we’re on the subject of poor immigrants, have you asked a Sikh cab-driver how he feels about the pedestrianization of Times or Herald or Madison or Union Squares?  Or — while we’re weeping for the working class — have you asked a truck driver who has to negotiate backing his truck up into Macy’s loading platform with Herald Square blocked off and 35th street narrowed by a biking lane how he feels about that?
A superfluous number of pedestrianized zones, biking lanes, Citibank bike stops, farmers’ markets, happy piazzas for office workers to eat their $15 prosciutto sandwiches from Eataly, Bloomberg’s unsuccessful plan to put tolls on East River bridges — a flagrant fucking attempt to keep the non-rich out of Manhattan — because his constituency wanted less traffic and less noise in their neighborhoods, have all contributed to making Manhattan less accessible for me, because I, like your immigrants, can’t afford to live there.
“And even if there are more Mexicans delivering Chinese food on their bikes than there are entitled pricks from Indiana using bicycles, the Mexicans don’t give me attitude about how I’m not respecting their hobby.  They’re too busy working.  Plus it’s hard for me to imagine that taking care, storing, maintaining and protecting your bike from theft or vandalism in New York is cheaper than taking the train.
“You know that long passage between the E train at 42nd Street that connects to the 7 train?  Would you, at rush hour, let a toddler free there?  Obviously not.  Because you wouldn’t let a being of radically different size and speed go free in a space where he’s more likely than not to get trampled.
“Nor could you possibly ask NYers rushing to work to watch out for that toddler.”
Again, I’m progressive but not quite progressive enough for X.  Poor, brown immigrants should be entitled to ride their bikes anywhere at any time, though that’s a sociological type that barely exists in New York.  But a white, working-class, ethnic-American kid from outer Queens like me can go fuck himself (the implication that I was ever rich enough to take a cab into the city on a regular basis is infuriating) and I can be denied access to the pleasures and resources of Manhattan, even as Manhattan becomes a sterile playground for the rich on one end and and hip enough to let hipsters and X.’s poor immigrants ride their bikes supposedly on the other end.  No room for me, who falls in the middle of that spectrum.
Density, up-close, claustrophobic even; maddening; density is the essence of a city like New York.  If you’re from there you know that; if you’re not, it might make you a little nuts and you might long for parks and greenery and bike-lanes.  And it’s almost always non-New-Yorkers who are clamoring for these pleasantries that will remind them of Madison, WI.  Density; it means cars and street traffic too — and noise — things that give access to the maximum amount of people, cities you can get to easily and that let you in.  Not obnoxious, exclusive enclaves like Georgetown or Cambridge, MA, where you need to prove you’re a resident to even park on one of its streets.  Look at what pedestrianization has done to Istanbul, where Erdoğan has transformed Taksim, Tâlimhane and the upper Cumhurriyet into a concrete wasteland with all the charm of a Soviet plaza in a city like, let’s say, Perm’. 
A city needs to breathe, even in its crowded chaos.  That’s why I posted the Whitman poem in my response to X.:

City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!

City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede,
whirling in and out, with eddies and foam!

City of wharves and stores! city of tall façades of mar-
ble and iron!

Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extrava-
gant city!

“Mettlesome, mad, extravagant…” 

More later — maybe.  This gets exhausting.

4a08193u.jpgMulberry street, c. 1900 — “Density, up-close, claustrophobic even; maddening; density is the essence of a city like New York.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

My buddy M. from Novi Sad writes: “You clueless Frangoi with your Pierre-Loti infatuation with Istanbul…”

12 Nov

“I would love to see these people try and live somewhere like Pendik or Küçükçekmece, and commute to work for 4 hours total/per day in crowded public transport for 3,000 TL/month… like most of Istanbul… and then see what they have to say.

“At least these people aren’t as terrible as the (appallingly numerous) Westerners who think Dubai is a lovely holiday destination.”

Dubai?  Who needs Dubai when Erdoğan builds hideous and hubristically six-minaretted mosque monstrosities like this:

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For 2,676 years, the Megaran Greeks who founded the city, the Romans, meaning the  the Italian ones and us, and the Ottomans only built things that added to the beauty of Istanbul.  Only Erdoğan had the arrogance to build something so hideous on a site so conspicuous that it mars the entire sea-landscape, horizon and view of the City.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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