Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 7, 2010

Christmas conscripted in the Balkans

Belgrade graffiti on Kosovo's 2nd anniversary of independance: commemorating the Battle of Kosovo and rejecting the EU.

Today is Christmas in places like Russia and Serbia, even in certain homes in Romania. In fact anywhere there are members of the branches of the Orthodox church that subscribe to the Julian calendar.

This time last year, in Poland’s Zakopane, I was turned away from a restaurant because it was already full; a roomful Russians in traditional dress were enjoying a festive dinner. I was disappointed; it would have been a fascinating insight into a culture we know so little about in the UK. And probably a good booze-up to boot.

Perhaps it was naive of me to expect festive cheer when I  clicked onto the Balkan Insight news site today. While working over ‘our’ Christmas, in an anonymous Dortmund hotel room I had caught a glimpse of a news report about Serbia applying for EU-membership. It was another milestone along a road still being built; one which climbs painfully from the nadir of civil war there and UN/EU paralysis here, and presumably leads to the heights of European integration.

Despite the odd reference to ‘enlargement fatigue’, accession is sometimes presented as an eventual given for this region, even for such politically divided states as Bosnia. Serbia’s transition from enemy to potential ally in such a short time must baffle EU-aspirant Turks.

Yet today, Christmas for many in that part of the world, I found an all-too familiar mix of gloomy stories on Balkan Insight that paints a  different picture to the smiling politicians I saw on German TV. Serbia and Croatia were threatening reciprocal war crime suits, the province of Vojvodina (home of the popular Exit festival) was seeking greater autonomy from the former; while nearby even Greece was arguing with Macedonia over the latter’s name.

In Bosnia, it was hazarded that some of the war criminals who had actually been tried and convicted were serving out sentences in virtual apartments, located in prisons sympathetically staffed by friends, family and former colleagues. Switching to Radio Free Europe’s site only found me this article about Moldovans arguing over the Gregorian and Julian dates for Yule.

Back on Balkan Insight, Christmas itself had been hijacked for political purposes. Serbia’s president Boris Tadic had flown to a Kosovo monastery to spend Christmas in a territory that his country still claims as its own. More sensationalist headline writers have already suggested Vojvodina is the new Kosovo; the symbolism of Tadic’s visit was clear. He was all for Kosovo entering the EU, it was reported – as part of Serbia.

This winter in Bosnia, several people told me that the NATO bombing had not ended the war – it had merely frozen the front lines. This is a rather gloomy perspective though it echoes Winston Churchill’s comment that “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.”

Consumption of a different sort, through EU-facilitated prosperity, would at least help to keep a lid on. But even in the governments of Bosnia’s better off neighbours, the TV smiles mask grievances – recent and historical – that may take more than treaties and trade to address.


  1. […] View original post here: Christmas conscripted in the Balkans « Bookpacking's Blog […]

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