EUROPE…IN THE ECLECTIC EAST

(2016: This is an apology for the scattered quality of these final pieces from Eastern and Southern Europe. Since these posts are going into a 2011 Time and Place book, I’m trying to fill in some neglected areas so a fairly thorough record of my travels is available.) 

I am in love with Eastern Europe. Starting in Sarajevo today…2011 is long ago and faraway so I’m not going to try to recreate the stories I would have shared back then as the notes have vanished. Here are photos and some web notes however: Sarajevo was  an intense experience having just read books about both the assassination and about the recent war and siege of Sarajevo. So while there are a very few personal notes in the previous post, here’s some real history from History.com:

In an event that is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on this day in 1914.The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, the man most responsible for the unification of Germany in 1871, was quoted as saying at the end of his life that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” It went as he predicted.The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation. The date scheduled for his visit, June 28, coincided with the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which medieval Serbia was defeated by the Turks. Despite the fact that Serbia did not truly lose its independence until the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, June 28 was a day of great significance to Serbian nationalists, and one on which they could be expected to take exception to a demonstration of Austrian imperial strength in Bosnia and so they did. 

sarajevo-and-to-podgorica-027

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

sarajevo-and-to-podgorica-029

2016. I spent most of my two or three days roaming around and being so absolutely pissed off mostly at the Serbs for feeling compelled to try to destroy one of the few places where Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Christians were getting along. The siege, in which residents of the city were pinned down by fire from the hills for months, was hideous: vicious and uncalled for–like most wars since the beginning of time. Boys with their toys that go bang bang and feed their egos…here are a few more photos from charming, beautiful, warm Sarajevo.

ON TO ALBANIA AND KOSOVO.

I had to beg officials at the border to stamp my passport for Kosovo, usually they do not bother since they’re not fully recognized as a country by many in the UN.

The battle was fought on June 28, 1389 (“St. Vitus’s Day”in Serbia) at a place called the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo.  June 28 has strangely been a significant date in Serbian history since then as well:  it was the date of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serb nationalist in 1914, and the day in 1876 when Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire.  It was also the day in 1989 where over a million Serbs gathered in Kosovo to commemorate the battle and listen to a nationalist oration by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. (https://qcurtius.com/2016/09/02/the-field-of-blackbirds/) More about this in following paragraphs

RANDOM PHOTOS OF ALBANIA AND KOSOVO COUNTRYSIDE

Under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha 1983 a total of 173,371 concrete bunkers were scattered throughout Albania. The bunkers were intended to serve as lookout and firing posts and shelters for thousands and thousands of families in Albania during a projected invasion. This is mentioned in the next paragraphs as well.

HERE’S WHAT I WROTE BACK in 2011.

I left you in Sarajevo; I return to you from Pristina in the Republic of Kosovo. I can report several things. The cheap hotel situation is perfectly wonderful. How gorgeous is this funky little 35 euro room? We are not talking clean here; we’re talking retro funky with lime green sheets and an old fashioned bathtub. Kosovo’s my new favorite place…well not really.

I am sorry to say that the pizza I ordered out for in a weak moment is just as bad as typical stateside pizza. I was hoping for something a little more Italian because of the Albanian-Italian connection. But you learn these things through extensive travel—do not order the pizza in Pristina.

 The Pres looking good

Bill Clinton is much loved here because of sending the bombs into Belgrade to stop Serbia’s genocidal attacks on Kosovo. More about that in the history lesson that follows. Sorry I just cannot resist as this is one of five or so sites I really wanted to and did visit on this trip.

 History, it’s good for you

Just returned from a drive out to the site of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo where the Turks defeated the Serbs leading to a few centuries of bloodshed and turmoil. Rebecca West’s classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) describes Kossovo Polye, the Field of Blackbirds, like this:

Kossovo, more than any other historical site I know, arouses that desolation. It spreads peacefully into its vast, gentle distances, slow winds polishing it like a cloth passing over a mirror, turning the heads of the standing grain to the light. It has a look of innocence which is the extreme of guilt. For it is crowded with the dead, who died in more than their flesh, whose civilization was cast with them into their graves. It is more tragic even than its own legend, which with the dishonesty and obstinancy of a work of art, commemorates one out of several battles of Kossovo That battle which was fought under the leadership of Tsar Lazar in 1389, and placed the Serbs under the yoke of the Turks… “

Kosovo was a part of Yugoslavia before its breakup and Serbia is intent on maintaining that control even though over 80% of the population is Albanian Muslim.

The infamous Serb leader, Slobodan Milošević, came to this very site in 1987 to make a rabble-rousing speech that is believed to have had a major role in inciting the Balkan wars of the 1990’s that involved both America and Europe and ultimately led to Bill Clinton’s statue happily smiling and waving on a downtown street corner.

I became interested in all this when I read West’s book a few years ago and was quite excited to see both the monument to Tsar Lazar and the stretch of battlefield. West’s description still rings true I think though the giant hydroelectric plant literally pouring smoke over the famed field certainly casts a real and historical pall on the surroundings.

 Where was I? When last we spoke.

  • Early morning bus from Sarajevo, long day to Podgorica, Montenegro. Spectacular wild mountain scenery. Odd smoky hotel but turned out perfectly ok because the open window and smoke from a nearby forest fire overwhelmed the smell of cigarette smoke. (17th)
  • Left Podgorica early for Shkoder on the Albanian side of the border. Hassle because you have to take cabs since the roads are so bad on both sides only a few big tour buses brave it. But driver on Albanian side great. Stayed in a luxury (by my standards—almost $100) hotel last night and hated it. Fake glitter.  (18th)
  •  I booked the trip today from Shkoder to Prizren with same cab driver—again no regular buses. Albania once had a very crazy dictator named Enver Hoxha who built thousands of little concrete bunkers all over his country…the idea was that Albanians could barricade themselves inside and shoot the enemy—whoever they were. Saw several of the bunkers today. Good history day actually. Then I took the bus on in to Pristina. Happy tonight in Hotel Lyon. (19th)

Enough. To bed. Wish I were still reading Balkan history but I’ve pretty much given into my base instincts and am engrossed in Scandinavian murders. One’s true nature always comes through doesn’t it?

ON THIS ENTIRE TRIP I HAVE HEARD AMERICAN-SPEAK EXACTLY ONCE! At the Hotel Moscow in Belgrade. Strange I think but I love it.

OH OH!…Back to the Present, 2016, and I just found a few photos from Belgrade, Serbia. This seems like a good place to put them since Serbia is pretty much the cause of all bad things that have happened in the previously mentioned countries. Bad Boys Go Last although from these photos it seems like a most jolly place: 

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