Tag Archives: Serbs

Flamenco: sometimes “I can’t get enough” of something because it’s just so awful (even with a goddess like Estrella Morente); the limits of fusion; Andalucía to the Caribbean, ida y vuelta, or allez-retour; Spanish casticismo and crappy Greek reality TV

20 Sep

You know, you can’t just throw together anything you feel like…like, I dunno, the Pennsylvania polka with polyphonic southern Albanian orchestration or background singers, and call it music. There’s a great Greek expression for what would result: “May God call that [whatever] …” music, in this case; то есть, only God can give this thing the existential status it’s claiming for itself.

Fusion happens organically. Egyptian pop has a çifteteli rhythm Greeks like, and slowly Greek pop develops a whole genre that is heavily Egyptian sounding. Klezmer musicians, especially Romanian and Moldavian ones, heard Greek Balkan tunes in Bucharest and Constanța and Istanbul and incorporated them into their repertoire. Serbs are attracted to Greek music, to its tone and melodies and especially to its affective nature, so lots of the new starogradska music (which literally means “old city” music, meaning popular, but urban, not folk, like Greek λαϊκά) develops a deep Greek vibe. Greeks loved Bollywood in the 50s, so a whole genre (one railed against by many, including Tsitsanes, which is why I can’t forgive him), of some really beautiful music, developed out of some plain rip-offs, and some imaginative reworking, of the Indian material that Greeks liked in their movies.

I’ll soon bring you examples of all of the above. My point is simply that these intermeldings happen organically and if they’re forced, consciously and stupidly, the product kinna sucks.

I’m sure the intentions of the Khoury Projectfour Palestinian brothers from Jordan, with a last name that probably indicates Christian (“Khoury” means priest in Levantine Arabic) — are good…oh, Lord, please don’t let them be misunderstood. But the result is atrocious. It’s a little bit classical Um Kalsoum Arab suite, a little bit Balkan brass band or tamburaša, a little bit demek jazz improv’ — and it’s all made worse by the lust for speeeeeeeeeed our civilization suffers from, to cover up for lack of art, because form is sacrificed on the altar of cheap excitement, till form becomes illegible, rhythm becomes unfollowable, and melody disappears…and it all turns into a dog whistle that we can’t even hear.

Everything is like coked-up Bregović.

And what did that poor kanun do to this dude, that he’s banging away at it like it’s a heavy metal drum set, or like he’s hoping to snap a few of its strings?

Ok, there is one cool idea they’re working with, and that’s in the title: “RUMBA”. It’s not a ton of people who know that, but the musical and other cultural influences that Spain, especially Andalucía, sent to the Caribbean, were matched by the musical influences that the Caribbean, especially, of course, that heavenly font of music, Cuba, sent back to Spain. (You can probably trace the popular music of the whole twentieth-century world to either this one island of ten million people or the Mississippi Delta…or to the West Africa that both sprouted from.) Rumba, for example, is a flamenco genre, as is tango, though they don’t much look like their Latin American namesakes in their Andalusian gypsy forms (Morente gives us a moment of Cuban/Andalusian “rumba” dance moves at 6:56). But sevillanas and bulerías also have rhythmic structures and verbal phrasing and dance moves that have earlier Cuban antecedents.

The reason most people don’t know this is because there’s no more cliché-bound human than the modern tourist. And the academic tourist, who you think would have more outré interests to pursue when he travels, is often the worst of all. So as far as Spain goes, they’ll go to Barcelona, because it’s just such a “hip,” “cosmopolitan” Mediterranean (Christ, sometimes I hate that word) city, and skip the edgier, scruffy, by far more involving urban vibe of Madrid.* And if they’re under 35 they’ll go to Ibiza; over 35 will go to Mallorca. The MESA or other academic folk won’t go to either (if they want beach action they’ll come to one of our more remote Cyclades); rather, after Barcelona, they’ll do the Glories of Al-Andalus tour of Córdoba and Granada and then hightail it back home.

And you can’t get a full picture of flamenco in any of those places. Yes, there’s clearly a gypsy community in Granada that has created its own sound (including Estrella Morente and the whole Morente clan). But “gypsiness” and flamenco are to be truly appreciated in lower Andalusia, the flat river-delta of the Guadalquivir (the al-wādī l-kabīr in Arabic, the “great river”, like the kabir in this blogs’ name.) The great (or “kabir”) flamenco palos or genres, the great flamenco singers and guitarists, are almost all from the Gypsy barrios of Seville, Jerez, Cádiz, Sanlúcar, Puerto de Santa María, or the large village/towns of the region, like Osuna, Écija, Carmona, Utrera. This was not just the entry point for Spanish contact with its American colonies; it was the region that soon after the Reconquista came to be made up of large estates, latifundia, and a large rural proletariat that worked those estates and a large urban proletariat that lived in semi-employed poverty. Unfortunately, this was the pattern that Spain exported to not just its American colonies, but to southern Italy and Sicily during the centuries that it ruled those lands. What’s so fascinating about Naples and Palermo (like, of course, Seville) is that they were the first large, third-world cities of European modernity, overgrown, over-densely populated, surrounded by a countryside where land ownership was wildly unbalanced, cities of fabulous wealth and a dispossessed urban proletariat that still characterizes the modern and post-modern megalopolis — from Bombay to New York.

The Guadalquivir

Unfortunately or not, the pressure-cooker of urban poverty seems to be the petri dish of fantastic music: whether it’s Havana or Seville or Naples or New Orleans or New York and Chicago or Smyrna or Piraeus. We owe it to the creators of this music, and their suffering, to not mangle it the way the Khoury Project has done in this and in many other videos of theirs.

That’s why I’m bringing you more than just one of the original versions of the Cuban classics that Morente and the Khoury project butcher beyond recognition. Take the time to listen to both: the several original versions and the shameless interpretations the new fusion versions bring.

At 6:15, Morente sings the historic Cuban song “Songoro Cosongo”. This was a “son”, an Afro genre from eastern Cuba that, in the early twentieth century, became the more or less national dance (out of which the mambo and then salsa grew) replacing, even in polite society, the danzón. The lyrics are not original “Afro”; they’re Art-Afro, from the Black Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén — y de allí you get into all kinds of questions of authenticity that basically lead you nowhere. What’s important is that this first version was sung by the Septeto Nacional, which was the first group of Black musicians who were allowed to play in the Havana Tennis Club in the 1920s, marking the entry of Blacker music into the social mainstream of Cuban life (or maybe that was the Sexteto Habanero?). Here’s the original version. For Colombians, forget the baldosa please and watch the first part of the video and incorporate some movement into the dance; drop the screwdriver step.

And here’s Hector Lavoe’s 1970s big band sound, salsa version:

The other Cuban/PR classic that the Khoury Project and Morente make kokoretsi out of (at 7:10) is the piece known alternately as “Mandinga” or “Bilongo” or “La Negra Tomasa”.

Here’s a Cuban έντεχνο version from pianist Rubén González of the Buena Vista Social Club:

And here’s the truly breathtaking salsa version, again from the 70s, of Eddie Palmieri, with singer Ismael Quintana: “Kikidi-boom, Mandinga, Kikidi-boom Mandinga….”

Y aquí la tienen, la Negra Tomasa:

La Negra Tomasa, like Mamá Inés (“ay Mamá Inés, ay Mamá Inés, todo’ lo’ negro’ tomamo’ café.”) It’s amazing how powerfully Pan-American this archetype of the Black woman is: Mamá Inés, La Negra Tomasa, Aunt Jemima, the Black woman who, despite the misery and servitude of her existence, still feels and expresses genuine love for those she has to care for. Here’s the scene from Gone with the Wind where Hattie McDaniel gave the performance that garnered her the first Oscar to go to a Black woman:

Ok…

And back to Estrella Morente’s outta space performance. I don’t want to sound like one of the judges on #MyStyleRocksGR (though I’d like to have a drink with Stelio Koudounare — below)** but, Estrella, you’re a magnificent woman. But you’re also a modest Gypsy girl. Don’t wear a strapless dress that you’re constantly tugging up for fear it’ll fall off and reveal your ample bosom. It cramps your style, especially for a number as fast this “Rumba”.

(There’s something that’s so interesting about the semiotics of Gypsy and flamenco sexuality, a really interesting interaction between the revealing and openly erotic and the puritanical and covered up — that’s maybe a real remnant Indian cultural trait. We had a long-time Gypsy tenant, Mandy, who rented a commercial space in a building we owned in Manhattan for her Tarot-reading business; how they made the rent for a midtown Manhattan space offa Tarot readings is anyone’s guess. And whenever I dropped by at that time of the month, she was always dressed kind of like Lola Flores in this video below of commercial, movie, kitschy but beautiful copla-flamenco [look up “copla”; it’s a critical bridge between flamenco and other Spanish popular music]:

A tight top, but with straps — please — and an ankle-length skirt, tight around the hips and flaring out from the knees, like Gypsy women all over the world wear. The use of the skirt in flamenco dance, the flipping and turning around, the gathering up of its ample folds and ruffles and waving them back and forth or stuffing them between the legs, almost up into the crotch…all of those moves become especially powerful because revealing of the lower body seems so taboo. Not to mention the similarities between the prop manipulation of the long skirt in flamenco and that of the cape in the corrida, or bullfight.)

всё…

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* There’s a wonderful expression in Spanish: “De Madrid no se ve el mar.” — “From Madrid you can’t see the sea” which condenses the whole personality of the city. Madrid is really nowhere. It doesn’t occupy a strategic position, like the older cities of old Castille. It’s not on an important navigable river. The weather sucks: the famous “nine months of winter and three months of hell” (“nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno”), though I love the cold, sunny weather of a Castillian winter (“colder than a Lutheran” says one character in the film version of Alatriste), and the food is perfect for the climate. It was simply built by royal fiat as a court and imperial capital in the early 16th century because there was an old, Moorish town there in the geographic center of Iberia, on the high, arid and underpopulated central plateau, or meseta, of Spain.

And yet this isolated city — from where “you can’t see the sea” — in the middle of nowhere became the sophisticated, highly cultured and rich capital of a massive empire. The contradiction is that it couldn’t ever really evade or deny its roots. Madrid remained and remains a deeply castizo city. “Casticismo” is a complicated term that means “pure”, “[Spanishly] authentic”, “native”, “conservative” and even a solid melding of all of those together won’t give you the precise sense of the word. Casticismo is what makes Spain Spain. I’m tempted to find Greek analogies and thought that it might be Romiosyne as in versus Hellenismos. But no…

When you’re in a bar somewhere in the center of Madrid in July, and there’s a cold, sweaty caña, or half-pint, of beer and an equally sweaty few slices of ham in front of you, when there’re dirty paper napkins or toothpicks (or there used to be; this custom has sort of fallen out of style) or peanut shells on the floor (the more garbage there was piled up on the floor, the more it signalled to potential customers that, “oh, this is a fun bar that people like…let’s drop in here”) and you’re packed in with super-friendly, inquisitive Spaniards speaking at a totally unnecessary decibel level…and it’s only 11:00 am — well, that’s the right time to get a feel for casticismo, even if it’s just a sensory feel that you can’t express discursively.

And that’s kind of the essence of Madrid, a liberal, tolerant, mad creative, open place that’s still closed and stubbornly archaic and even anarchic: even cañí (tacky) or hortero (red-necky, rough, kitschy, or vulgar). As opposed to the dizque sophisticated-acting, cosmopolitan but actually staid bourgeois air of Barcelona, Madrid is more a microcosm of Spain: one of the West’s and Europe’s most progressive, advanced in every way, societies, that’s simultaneously not part of the West or Europe at all, but a wild, limit-pushing land that is something totally itself, where the grappling between the “raw” and the “cooked” is as interesting and powerful as anywhere.

The go-to book on casticismo is by my saint-hero-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno who wrote it in the early 20th century, when the question of identity — especially after the disastrous Spanish-American War of 1898 when Spain lost its last colonies to the United States — and how Spain needed to generate some kind of new dialectic between its “deep” identity and the modernity it had to face was a red hot, controversial issue. As a Basque, he had a particular insider-and-outsider take on Spain and if you read Spanish or can find an English translation — which I’m not sure there is — it should be on your reading list before your next visit there.

En torno al casticismo (“Regarding casticismo”)

Miguel de Unamuno 1929

** Yes, don’t ask, I’ve totally regressed:

Stelios Koudounares, Greek fashion designer and guest judge on #MyStyleRocksGR

I’ve never been even remotely interested in fashion. I mean, I like to know that what I’m wearing looks ok, but in terms of high-end, concept fashion that nobody really wears…nothing’s ever bored me more. So don’t ask why I’ve gotten hooked, and on a daily basis, to #MyStyleRocksGR. Yeah, I like Stelio, but it’s basically because the judges and contestants on the show are all having so much fun…and when it’s mean it’s because there’s some serious Greek shade being thrown around that, ultimately, no one takes seriously. Any way, I’m addicted.

Next: between occasional blogging and working on my translation of Polites’ Stou Hadjifrangou, I’ve also gotten addicted to reality show #BigBrotherGR. (Owning up: I was addicted to Jersey Shore too.) The other night I sat transfixed through three-and-a-half hours of the special live Friday night broadcast they do, because I was afraid that my favorite room-mate, Demetres Kehagias (Δημήτρης Κεχαγιάς) below, was going to get booted off the show.

I don’t like Kehagia just ’cause he’s good-looking. I like him ’cause he’s echt-Greek/Rhomios. He’s always grouchy and irritated about something and someone and getting into fights with everyone around him, talks a mile a minute in thick Athenian attitude and intonation… And then suddenly becomes all loving and caring and sweet in a way that makes everyone around melt. Luckily he survived.

Here he is in rare form against his nemesis room-mate, the woman with the fried peroxide hair, Anna Maria from Chania (that’s just what they were missing on this show, a Cretan woman of a certain age with fried, peroxide hair…) Check them out in this video below; the fun starts at around 2:17. Yes, the two guys in the black t-shirts are identical twin brothers (makes for all kindsa nuttiness), Zac (Ζαχαρίας) in the Marine t-shirt says and does absolutely nothing in any episode except look pretty, and the zaftig chick in the fuchsia top with the fan, splendidly named Aphrodite!!! is the loving Big Mama that me and apparently all Big Brother addicts in Greece — so say the polls — adore, and she spends lots of her time trying to de-escalate arguments like these. Enjoy. This is a perfect Greek kavga, the Turkish word we use for pointless, steam-letting, “let’s-have-some-fun” arguing. I’m not going to translate or tell you what it’s about….because it doesn’t matter!!! It’s not about anything! They’re just arguing!

I started watching ΣΚΑΪ (SKY) because it’s the of right-of-center channel that still maintains (despite these trashy shows I’m into) some sense of cultural and social standards out of all Greek TV stations. And also because a right-of-center good friend of mine got voted in as MP in Greek Parliament this year and he appears as the go-to expert on Greece’s international relations — especially at a tight time in Greek-Turkish relations like now — on ΣΚΑΪ‘s news broadcasts. But then I get back to work and leave the television on with no sound. Explains how I got hooked on these shows.

Addendum: they’ve also been broadcasting American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace these past two weeks. It’s fascinating. Because it’s not about Versace almost at all. It’s about his tragically psychotic murderer, Andrew Cunanan. And it leaves you with the very disturbing sense that he wasn’t so distantly psychotic from the rest of us, that he just wanted what we all want; things just came together in a way that pushed him over the edge. It’s on Netflix; check it out.

Darren Kriss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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“Forgotten Bonds: Albanian armed guards protected medieval Serbian churches & monasteries in Kosovo…” (and a short Ayesha Saddiqi addendum)

17 Sep

@Purpura57912934 tweeted:

Forgotten Bonds: Albanian armed guards protected medieval Serbian churches & monasteries in Kosovo during the last centuries of Ottoman rule. The commanders were hereditary Vojvodas, the guards permanently lived on the church grounds & were most likely Laramans (Crypto-Orthodox).

Purpura begins his tweet with the words: “Forgotten Bonds”. I think it’s safe to assume that his intentions are to show how, in some indeterminate past, Albanian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs lived in harmony together in Kosovo and in such multicultural peace that it was Albanians who guarded the extensive and dazzling ecclesiastic art heritage of Kosovo Serbian Orthodoxy (instead of vandalizing it like they do now). But he concludes by saying that most of these guards were secretly Christian. And that of course belies the whole myth of “bonds” and tolerance and happiness and how “there is no compulsion in religion.”

Read about the Laramans on Wiki . It’s a fascinating page because it puts together a whole package of phenomena that all, to some extent, grew out of Ottoman defeat in the Great Austro-Turkish War at the end of the 17th century: the retaliatory violence against the still-Christian Albanian and Serbian population that lived in the western Balkans on the corridor where much of the fighting of the prolonged conflict had occurred; the flight of Serbs to the north; the Islamization of Albanian Catholic Ghegs who then settled in a depopulated Kosovo and the parts of southern Serbia that the Serbs had fled from*; the spread of Bektashism throughout the Albanian Balkans and how that form of Sufism may have grown out of the crypto-Christianity of much of the population and even from Janissaries (with whom the Bektashi order was widely associated) of Albanian extraction; and the spread of violent Islamization campaigns to the Orthodox, mixed Albanian-Greek population, of southern Albania later in the 18th and early 19th century.

A testament to this last phenomenon — the Islamization of southern Albania — is the obstinate Christianity of the region my father was from, the valley of Dropoli (shown above). There are several songs in the region’s folk repertoire that deal with the conversion pressures of the past, but one song that is heard at every festival or wedding and could be called the “national anthem” of the region, is “Deropolitissa” — “Woman of Dropoli.” Below are two versions; the first a capella in the weird, haunting polyphonic singing of the Albanian south (see here and here and here and especially here)**; and another with full musical accompaniment, so readers who are interested can get a sense of the region’s dance tradition as well (though in the second video the dress is not that of Dropoli for some reason). If you’re interested in Epirotiko music, listen for the “γύριζμα” or “the turn” — the improv’ elaborate clarinet playing — toward the end of the second video, 4:02; the clarinet is a Shiva-lingam, sacred fetish object of mad reverence in Epiros and southern Albania.

The lyrics are [“The singers are urging their fellow Christian, a girl from Dropull, not to imitate their example but keep her faith and pray for them in church.”]:

σύ (ντ)α πας στην εκκλησιά,
με λαμπάδες με κεριά,
και με μοσκοθυμιατά,
για προσκύνα για τ’ εμάς,
τι μας πλάκωσε η Τουρκιά,
κι όλη η Αρβανιτιά,
και μας σέρνουν στα Τζαμιά,
και μας σφάζουν σαν τ’ αρνιά,
σαν τ’ αρνιά την Πασχαλιά.
σαν κατσίκια τ’ Αγιωργιού.

…and go to church
with lamps and candles
and with sweet-smelling incense
pray for us too
because Turkey has seized us,
so has all of Arvanitia (Albania),
to take us to the mosques,
and slaughter us like lambs,
like lambs at Easter, like goats on Saint George’s day.

Until the first part of nineteenth century women in Dropoli used to wear a tattooed cross on their forehead, the way many Egyptian Copts, both men and women, still wear on their wrists; there are photographs of Dropolitiko women with the tattoo but I haven’t been able to find them. Here’s a beautiful photo, though — looks like some time pre-WWII — of Dropolitisses in regional dress.

Of course, as per my yaar, Ayesha Siddiqi, “I don’t think I can ever really be that close to people…” whose ancestors didn’t experience and stand up to religious persecution of the kind mine did.

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* Good to know something about the traumas of Serbian history before we rail against them and villainize them in a knee-jerk fashion. I think my best summary came from this post last year, Prečani-Serbs:

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.

** I’m pissed and disappointed at my χωριανοί, “landsmen”, who have totally abandoned this beautiful and UNESCO-protected form of singing. When I first went to Albania to see my father’s village for the first time in 1992, after the fall of its heinous Stalinist regime, and to meet relatives we only knew through the spotty correspondence that made it through the Albanian Communist καθίκια‘s censorship, a group of aunts and uncles of mine recorded two hours of traditional singing for me to take back to my father (my father put off visitting until much later, when he was very sick because I imagine he was afraid that it would be traumatic; of course, going back when he did in 2002, knowing it would be his one and last time was just as painful.)

(If you want to know more about my family’s history, see: Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather.)

My grandmother and my father a baby

Now, thirty years later, no one except a few very old men still sing; they’ve totally left the playing field of the region’s song to neighboring Albanian villages; just like only a few young girls still wear traditional dress as brides, just like they’ve built horrible concrete polykatoikies without even a nominal nod to the traditional architectural idiom… Dance and dance music they’ve maintained, though they’ve sped up the tempo a little (compared to the second video above for instance) and that would have irritated my dad, since the aesthetic ideal of dance in the region is slow, almost motion-less, restraint — reminds you of Japanese Nōh drama. I carry the torch for him and get “grouchy”, as my friend E. says, when things get a little too uppity-happy on the dance floor.

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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.

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

* 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.
***************************************************************************************

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

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

* 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

 

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