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Old 11-23-2010, 10:00 PM   #1
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Default The Picturesque Region That Worries Europe...The Balkans (1903)

The Picturesque Region That Worries Europe...The Balkans

For many years the world has talked of the Balkan question, almost constantly. The annual recurrence of the rumor of trouble in the Balkans is so regular that it has become a subject for world-wide jest.

And yet to almost the whole world the Balkan question is little more than a muddle of obscure geography, tangled history and still more tangled intrigue. Few nave a clear idea of the interesting region it concerns.

That buffer of mountain -and plain, set between rival European Powers and peopled largely by semi-savage and half-civilizea tribes, is no small territory valuable merely on account of its strategic position. It is big enough to make a formidable empire, if ever another Boris or Czar Simeon could arise to subdue the tribes and hold them together.

The Balkan States—Servia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and other Turkish provinces on the peninsula—form a territory bigger than England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales put together; bigger than Italy or Norway; almost as large as Sweden, and three-quarters of the size of the German Empire.

The States of New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, if put together in one jumbled mass, would make a country of almost the exact size of the land of the Balkan question.

If jumbled together hard enough the States would make a land something like the Balkan peninsula, too, in conditions. Throw in the Maine winters and the rocks of Vermont; tumble the mixture down toward the sea; throw the Pennsylvania oil wells into the middle. Stir them up, throw the Adirondacks and the Alleghany Mountains indiscriminately into the pudding, and you would have a hint of the Balkans.

The Adirondacks and the Balkans have about the same average height. The forbidding aspects of some of the Allegheny Mountains' scenery is duplicated in the Balkans. Throw in, furthermore, vast tracts of land denuded of lumber and blackened; throw in a smiling sea ; throw in villages and towns ranging in appearance from the charm of thriving New England villages to the desolate ugliness of a Pennsylvania coal mining town ; mix in the grotesque architecture of the American seashore ; stir in sulphur wells, magnificent scenery, earthquakes and blood-red mud, and you have the Balkans.

There are many ways of entering the Balkan peninsula, but there are not so many of getting out. Too often one goes in by railroad ana comes out by ransom, a method too expensive for any except large purses. The most comfortable way of entering the land is by way of Hungary into Servia. The Servians have advanced beyond the old and simple life of throat slitting and revolution, and are building up a fine land, rich with agriculture and mines.

Austria-Hungary is pushing her feelers of railroad through it in all directions. Immense tunnels burrow under the mountains. All the Hungarian railroads lead toward the Balkans.

The constant stream of freight and passengers turns either into the Adriatic Sea across Bosnia or through Belgrade, both by land and by Danube ports, into Servia, Roumania and Bulgaria, and so finally reaches the Black Sea, the Agean Sea, and the ancient highways leading to the Far East.

One of the last places to be touched by crossing into the Servian boundary is the Austrian Gibralter—the mighty and ancient fortress of Peterwardein. Then the train steams into Belgrade, a city with one of the most romantic records of history. It is a magnificent city to approach, for its site on the Danube is so beautiful that travellers give it fourth rank in point of site among the capitals of Europe—Constantinople, Lisbon, Stockholm and Belgrade.

Almost everywhere in Belgrade are monuments and memorials. They are to martyrs of the Turkish wars, murdered statesmen and assassinated patriots. The last Turkish garrison did not move out of Belgrade until 1867, and until then the entire eastern portion of the town was populated by Turks. The Turk's hand is still to be seen everywhere—in minarets and other architecture, in costumes and in manners.

On Friday, when the weekly market is held in the city, the streets are full of red fezzes. The Servian peasant still wears the Turkish trousers gathered: at the ankles. Often he wears a high sheepskin cap. Every peasant wears a long, sharply pointed and keen ground knife on his right side in a wooded scabbard.

From Belgrade the train roars through a country, which only a few years ago was a land of brigands, whole villages being Tield as openly by them as if their occupation were the most commonplace. One particularly famous and strong home of the brigands was the village of Domuspotek (the Brook of Pigs).

If a man wishes to see all the tribes of the Balkans, he need merely continue on the train to the town of Nisch. Nisch will be the great object of manoeuvres if ever there is a Balkan war. Its strong fortress commands the key to the road into Bulgaria and Macedonia. Christian churches and Turkish mosques stand there almost side by side. The cry of the imaam from the minaret mingles with the bell that calls the Catholic worshipper. Armed like arsenals, with long pistols, long rifles, long knives, Macedonians, Albanians and Arnauts shuffle along with the walk of the mountaineer. Servian peasant women in gaudily striped frocks, Bulgarian women dressed in black and looking like priests, mountaineers from Montenegro in fustanellas with long-beaked yellow and red shoes and brilliant scarlet cloaks, grave Hodschas in silken caftans and green turbans, mingle on the streets with Spanish Jewesses with brilliant gold and silver headdresses and Montenegrin women in white skirts and sleeveless waists, and little red caps with a rising sun embroidered on their fronts in gold.

Near Nisch is a square tower. Tell its story and you tell the story of the Balkans.

The tower is known as the Tschelekula, meaning "Skull Tower." In 1809 the Turks advanced toward Nisch. The Servian Woiwode, Stefan Sindjelitsch, intrenched himself with s,000 Servians in the village of Kamenitza. They were overcome. When the Jannisaries rushed amongst them, Sindjelitsch fired the powder magazine and blew his own men and the Turks into pieces.

The Turkish army ravened like a band of wolves and killed all the Servians who were left alive by any means. After they had killed and burned till there was nothing left to kill and burn they chopped the heads off the dead Servian patriots. Then they began the erection of a great square tower.

After it had risen to some height they began to alternate the rows of stones with the rows of Servian heads. Altogether they set fifty-six rows of seventeen heads each in dhernate rows of stones.

This memorial of the Tamerlanes of the nineteenth century was left untouched, with the skulls grinning out upon the land; until 1878, when the Servians took them out reverently and buried them, with the exception of one that still looks out from the east side of the tower.

Farther on, near the Bulgarian boundary, is another strategic place that will be heard from in case of war. It is the fortress of Bela Palenka, and Moltke pronounced it one of the important points of the Balkans.

It was the old Roman city of Remesiana. It is guarded still by an ancient castle-fort built in 1600 by the Grand Vizier Mustapha Pasha. He built it by the pleasant expedient of tearing down Servian churches and using their stones for it. He also took the stones from ancient Roman ruins.

This town is close to Piost, which stands on the Bulgarian boundary and has a true Balkan history. It has been occupied at various times by Turks, Bulgarians, Servians, Russians and Austrains. Almost every time it was taken only after bloody fighting.

From Servia to Bulgaria is a leap into different manners, different costumes, different architecture.

The Bulgarian does not love the Servian unduly. Luckily for the peace between them, the Bulgarians are kept so busy plotting and counter plotting about Macedonia, inat their somewhat embarassing attentions are directed almost entirely southward just now.

As the Cuban Junta made its headquarters in the United States, so the Macedonian Junta makes its headquarters in Bulgaria. But unlike the Cuban revolutionists, the Macedonian committee has not merely enlisted Bulgarian sympathies and aid. It has risen to a great Bulgarian political power. It keeps the pitch hot all the time.

Dive out of Bulgaria and into the mountain districts of Macedonia and you dive into a land of Alexander the Great, of Roman Generals, and of czars who ruled long before Russia had any. Time has jumped over this land and touched it only in leapsages apart.

Go only a short distance from Salonica (very dirty now and inhabited by fleabitten Turkish soldiers who do not like life, appparently), and you will find a country marked with the tumult of the Macedonian kings.big stone piles just within sighting distance of each other, that served as the stations for the wireless telegraphy of those days.

You may find a fine old gentlemen, dressed in a long shirt that falls below the knees and with

Pretty weapons fastened to all available protuerances. He will talk to you if he trusts you and you are fortunately so poor that you are not worth capturing of his system of levying tribute as unconcernedly as if he lived in the day of Ulysses, earning his living with his good sword and shield.

Turkish soldiers gaze with respect at the very brigands whom they are, technically, sworn to kill. Those brigands swagger through the villages, beloved by all the women, envied and admired by all the men, afraid of nobody. Impossible though it seems, they wear even more arms than the other citizens. They strut by the Turks superciliously, mockingly.

Sometimes the Macedonian brigand sits on a rock just out of gunshot from a garrison of Turks and sings little songs carefully calculated to embitter even the most solid souls.


Everybody lives in the past. The Balkans were the portals into Europe of all the strange tribes of early time. The traces of the Dacians, the Matcomanni, the Quadi, the Goths, the Huns, all are to be found in survival in the Balkans. It is as if all those irrupting tribes and races had left their flotsam ana jetsam, there, to remain unchanged in those undelectable mountains.

Their songs are songs of the Czar Simeon and the Czar Boris and the Czar Dushan, who ruled more than a thousand years ago, when there was no such a thing as a Czar in Russia. Throughout the Balkans to-day the favorite dance is the Kolo, which is nothing more or less than the ancient Roman dance of Horo, without a change.

Bagpipers go around everywhere, and everywhere the inhabitanti are prone to drop their work suddenly and dance and sing as if every one of those queer villages were a stage village and all the peasants were members of the ballet.

The land has been described by one traveller as a land that still lives in the days of the troubadours. The Montenegrin, if he is truly patriotic, still wears his little red fez with a black band. It has been worn by Montenegrins for more than five centuries in memory of the killing by the Turks of the last of the great Serb Czars in 1389. The loyal Montenegrin declares that the cap shall be worn until a terrible revenge has been wreacked on the Turk.

The Bosnian is another old one Although the Hungarian railroads beat at his door with goods he still ploughs with a wooden plough. His oxcart is made of wood alone, without a bit of metal in it. The harness of his horses is of rope.

The little Bosnian horse is still the leading means of transport. Instead of a saddle, a wooden thing that looks like a table upside down is tied to the beast with ropes and the load is tied to the table legs with simple disregard of beauty or the finer feeling of the horse.— New York Sun.

The Summary, Mar. 21, 1903.

http://books.google.com/books?id=OgF...alkans&f=false
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Old 11-24-2010, 02:27 AM   #2
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I read only half of this, it's a great read.
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:49 PM   #3
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great article tm.
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Old 07-14-2011, 11:38 PM   #4
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This part is great.
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Turkish soldiers gaze with respect at the very brigands whom they are, technically, sworn to kill. Those brigands swagger through the villages, beloved by all the women, envied and admired by all the men, afraid of nobody. Impossible though it seems, they wear even more arms than the other citizens. They strut by the Turks superciliously, mockingly.

Sometimes the Macedonian brigand sits on a rock just out of gunshot from a garrison of Turks and sings little songs carefully calculated to embitter even the most solid souls.
The ancestors of today's Macedonians, even under occupation, weren't afraid to express themselves. These days our own leaders willingly sell away our sovereignty.
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