Rumeli

Apparently that is the original name of what we know today as the Balkans- it was Rumeli that the Ottomans ruled 200+ years ago, the “Roman” lands they’d conquered from Constantinople ( introduction: the Balkans, by Mark Mazower). The Balkans, Mazower goes on to tell us, is a name associated with all the stereotypes of the “Moslem Orient”: dirty, barbarous, violent, despotic- and ofcourse, exotic and alluring at the same time. Here is what Leon Trotsky, traveling as a young Russian journalist from Budapest to Belgrade on the eve of the First World War is reputed to have said looking out of his carriage window: “The East! The East! — what a mixture of faces, costumes, ethnic types and cultural levels”! (Qtd in Mazower, xxxv)The warnings I’m receiving about the need to be extra vigilant, to watch my belongings, to be aware/prepared for ethnic nastiness ( given the irony that as an Asian Muslim –though I hardly wear that identity on my sleeve–still, I might be a target of hostility at border crossings in the ethnically cleansed Christian parts of the Balkans my friend and I will be travelers in…)– all of these indicate the persistence of tired old orientalist cliches folks can’t seem to shake off. Sadly, the Balkan wars at the end of the 20th C confirmed some of the worst stereotypes of the region despite the fact that during the Cold War era Serbs and Croats who were mostly Christian had lived pretty much in harmony with Bosnian Muslims.Ah… the days of Tito…..

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