Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Balkans Part 1

 


Captain Bobby – Amateur Anthropologist

“Hi, I'm new in town. I'm gonna want a thick steak, a glass of mature red, a SIM card, and the nearest ATM. Oh.... and I'm gonna need to see all your castles, and anything else that might fall under the realm of archeology. I’ll begin my historical interrogation after the cocktails arrive. Take your time, I'll be here awhile"… I might be a douchebag – but I’m an efficient douchebag. 

In addition to the above shenanigans, I was determined to finally understand this war-torn region by unraveling the knots that persisted in my mind regarding their troubles. I took a nonstop series of trains from Berlin to Istanbul in 1991 and passed right through what was then Yugoslavia in its impending decline, but since I never left the train stations, I really had no clue what was happening. I think I’ve finally decoded the cipher. This dispatch is going to be heavy on history so I would advise you to look away now, and get back to the cat videos of Facebook.

Killing In The Name Of…

Here’s how to keep this confusing morass a little more orderly in your head. Remember that it is almost always religion that makes people kill each other and the participants (willing or otherwise) are the Croats = Catholic, Serbs = Eastern orthodox, Bosniaks & Kosovars = Muslim. Keep this is mind as you read on. It’ll help explain their unexplainable hatred. A note: Before you call me a reductionist, please remember this is a blog, not a dissertation and I’m tackling this in 1500 words. 

The bullet holes remain. This is Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina

The History in a Nutshell

After WW2 the 6 republics of the region were cobbled together to form Yugoslavia. They were: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina (2 names but one country. Just leave it at that or I’ll never get through this explanation). Yugoslavia was ruled by strongman communist Josip Broz Tito and considered mostly a success up until his death in 1980. Then the economic current shifted and political instability crept in. They struggled through the 80s with ethnic tensions on the rise and debts mounting. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia dissolved in Jan of 1990 and they relabeled themselves as regional “socialist” organizations. A new wind was stirring. Communism was collapsing, capitalism was on the rise and the ethnic separatist parties were gaining support. The issue that would move to the forefront is that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Muslims didn’t live neatly within the newly drawn lines of the soon to be seceding regions. Without Tito’s iron fist holding them together a break up was imminent and humans don’t play nice. 

The Chronology

1. June 25 1991 - Both Slovenia & Croatia declared independence. Slovenia got away clean with only a few shots fired. Croatia wasn’t so lucky. 

    a. The Yugoslavian army under the control of Slobodan Milosevic, was mostly comprised of Serbs. He went to war under the banner of protecting Serbs within Croatia. 

2. Sept 25 1991 – Macedonia declares independence. It was a completely peaceful divorce. 

3. April 6 1992 – Bosnia & Herzegovina receive international recognition following their declaration of independence and are attacked by Serbia the same day

    a. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted almost 4 years. The atrocities committed were horrendous. The Serbian leaders were convicted of crimes against humanity

4. The War in Kosovo – It’s really difficult to pick a starting date. Let’s call it March 1998. And who were they at war with? One guess… Did you guess Serbia?

    a. June 12 1999 – Serbia’s Milosevic accepts 30,000 UN peacekeeping soldiers into Kosovo after NATO forces bomb Serbia for months

        i. War crimes occurred on both sides. 

5. June 3 2006 – Montenegro splits from Serbia in a peaceful divorce


First Impressions of Bosnia & Herzegovina 

It's obviously poor. The roads are in worse shape and there's no lights in the tunnels. Unlit tunnels aren’t good. If you can’t afford to light them how much can I trust the engineering?

You’ve always referred to them as Bosnians but the correct term is actually Bosniaks, which is far weirder and better in every way.

I spotted 9 Mosques standing on this bridge
Mostar

The Ottoman Empire is gone but this city is a time capsule. Enjoy these photos










Quite literally "living in a van parked down by the river"


This sweetheart of a host showed us the property bunker left over from the war, was kind to his gypsy neighbors, and gave us a bottle of flavored syrup. We loved Mostar

Sarajevo

I’m fascinated by history. This city was the location of a single event that I believe impacted the world more than any other. (If you want to challenge that – get your notes in order and call me. I’d love to debate it.) Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Serb who assassinated Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia and launched WW1. The treaty of Versailles which ended WW1 guaranteed WW2. 

The morning of the assassinations

Histories worst example of a wrong turn and dumb deadly luck


It was very cold and we parked at the top of a mountain that overlooks the valley. I was a freshman in college when Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. My future looked bright, theirs was dimming. 






Ethnic Cleansing 

War is horrible, and killing civilians is unspeakable, but a thick red line is crossed when a combatant commits resources to building torture & death camps. The Serbs did just that. They industrialized murder. It is really easy to see who the bad guys were in the war. 

We went to 2 different war museums. It's all so tragically sad. After the first one, and a week later, my response was “I suppose we can visit another one today, but let’s go this afternoon so we keep the morning depression free and we can start ‘forget drinking’ right after.”

No photos posted here. You're welcome.

Montenegro 

The Bay of Kotor is an earthly delight. Geographically speaking it is a bay inside of a bay; even better than Costa Rico’s Golfito. We loved it so much we spent every night of our Montenegro trip in this one spot. There is obviously much more to see upon our next lap.





This ancient wall weaved it's way up and down the hill so as to protect them from behind and above


WW2 sub den for hiding submarines. This is one of 3.
They finished them just days before the war ended



Macedonia

Stop at nothing – book your trip to the city of Ohrid now. Prior to our arrival we camped across the lake, staring at it for 4 days and enjoying the town of Struga as a warm up. Castles, fortresses, amphitheaters, and cobblestone streets ringed with shorefront and tasty restaurants. Ohrid is Lovely. 

Macedonia has one of the coolest flags!



Dating back to the Pre-Roman times!


We picked up my old friend Terry Allen south of Skopje and he toured the Balkans with us up to Croatia. It was a 2 week period soaked in buttery foods and way too much wine. 

The world famous (infamous?) Terry Allen!

Kosovo

Our first night in Prizren was fantastic. We met a group of young politicos who were in town for a conference and the sharing of drinks commenced. 



We returned to the camper after midnight and as we were unlocking Encore these guys pulled up in their car to park in the same lot that we're in for the night. We made eye contact I said: “Hey guys a favor please.... when you come back later, please be quiet, because we live in here.” They readily agreed and 5 minutes later there's a knock on the door. I look out, it's the same two guys and they have ice cream treats for us. I asked them why and they said they're just so happy that we came to visit their country. That did it. I’m a fan for life. 



On our way out of town we stopped for breakfast and the owner of the restaurant asked where we were from. When he found out Terry and I were from the USA he gave us a bottle of wine and said, “Thank you, we love USA. Our country not exist without USA.” It’s nice to be thanked for a change. 



Kosovars are ethnic Albanians. Albania will be in Balkans: Part 2



Serbia

When the Serbs can’t speak English, they speak to us in German. I suppose they figure any language is more understandable than their own.... and of course, they are correct. We visited ancient fortresses and other remnants of the Romans up to the Ottomans. The foods of the Balkans did not disappoint and it was nice to see my old friend again who generously paid for everything. We over imbibed and laughed from the belly about our 30 year history. 




The shirtless Serbs of Belgrade playing dominoes

Next Up

Albania and the Balkan Conclusion. 

Your man on point,

Blacktop Bobby








1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome!!! Thank you x a million­čą│❤️