Fare Well, Illyria

Fare Well, Illyria

David Binder
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 218
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  • Book Info
    Fare Well, Illyria
    Book Description:

    As a reporter for the prestigious New York Times the author interviewed many of the leading political figures of the Balkans (Illyria). He also sought out the area's intellectuals, many of them critical of their leaders, and everyday people who provide a sense of daily life. He devotes a chapter to each ethnic group from Vlachs to Serbs, talks about their differences and similarities, and does so without giving offense. He also provides a short historical account of the various places he visits, which deepens our understanding of the local cultures.

    eISBN: 978-615-5225-75-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword: Fare Well
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    In the Serbian language the common expression for “goodbye” issrećan put, literally, “have a good road.” The parallel in Croatian isSretan put; in Slovenian,srecno pot; in Bulgarian,na dobar pat; in Romanian,drum bun; in Albanian,rrugem bar.

    The English equivalent is the originalfare well.

    For anyone traveling in the Balkan hinterlands, a send-off wish of “fare well” or a “good road” makes very good sense. Until recently even the thoroughfares were mostly back roads in the sense of having been constructed far back in time. You might travel far to find deeper ruts, more boulders...

  4. Chapter 1 Serbia
    (pp. 1-18)

    In May 1963, I journeyed to Belgrade, capital of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. In the 1990s, I took the same route but now crossing the state frontiers of Slovenia and Croatia, which had never existed as durable states, to Serbia, once an ancient kingdom. The car was a Steyr Fiat, sort of an imperial automobile—at least for the Balkans. It was manufactured in Austria which had ruled Slovenia, Croatia, and parts of Serbia—under license from Italy, which once ruled much of Dalmatia. Made probably in part by Yugoslav workers,Gastarbeiter...

  5. Chapter 2 Kosovo and Metohija
    (pp. 19-32)

    In my early Balkan years, contact with Albanians was severely limited. (Albania itself was, for Westerners, as inaccessible outer space.) Yugoslavia’s province of Kosovo and Metohija (abbreviated as Kosmet in those days) was even then largely Albanian-inhabited and off-limits for us foreign correspondents. Journeys there had to be registered and approved by the Foreign Ministry.

    I discovered incidentally that none of my Serbian acquaintances spoke a word of Albanian. If they ever bothered to speak of Kosovo at all they invariably referred to Albanians there using the wordshiptara corruption ofshqiptar(“Albanian” in the Albanian language), which in...

  6. Chapter 3 Bosnia-Herzegovina
    (pp. 33-46)

    My first exposure to Bosnia and Herzegovina came early in my Balkan days when who knows why or how—but one day in the summer of 1963, the government of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina got the idea of organizing a raft trip to display the beauties of the storied Drina River to outsiders.

    First the Republički Komitet za Informacije solicited members of the foreign press corps in Belgrade, which probably numbered a score or more. I was the sole one to accept. They turned to the diplomatic corps, which was considerably larger. Only the Venezuelan embassy accepted. A mere...

  7. Chapter 4 Macedonia
    (pp. 47-54)

    The Convair 340 was packed with Macedonians anxious about their families and homes. In the cockpit, the JAT pilot dipped the nose down over the city and rolled the plane slightly to the starboard to give me an opportunity to snap pictures from the cockpit with my clumsy but reliable Rolleiflex: A first glimpse of devastated Skopje following the earthquake of July 26, 1963.

    It was noontime, some seven hours after the great tremor struck.

    “From the air Skopje looked as if it had been struck by a heavy bombing raid,” I wrote in my first dispatch. “Gaping holes where...

  8. Chapter 5 Vlachs
    (pp. 55-62)

    Soon after I arrived in the Balkans, Mirijana Komarečki, my stalwart secretary-translator-office manager read in a newspaper that the rites of the Vlach people, including women falling into trances and talking to the dead, would be marked June 5—at the time of Pentecost—in the eastern Serbian town ofDuboka(“deep” in Serbian).

    The only trance woman I had previously heard about was Al Capp’s memorable “Mammy Yokum.” So this struck me as worth exploring. I had never heard of Vlachs. Mirijana found me an interpreter who was an instructor at Belgrade University, a tall slender man who became...

  9. Chapter 6 Slovenia
    (pp. 63-68)

    My initial impression of Slovenia came in the village of Brdo at a stately mansion, built in the sixteenth century by a nobleman, that became the royal summer residence of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia in 1935. It was confiscated by the (half-Slovenian) Communist Josip Broz Tito after his victorious Partizans seized power in Yugoslavia in 1945. He spent the hottest summer months there or at another formerly royal villa at the nearby Lake Bled. In fact Tito had thirty-two official residences around the country—including the White Palace of the Karadjordje kings in Belgrade and the Adriatic summer palace he...

  10. Chapter 7 Croatia
    (pp. 69-74)

    Historically, at least, Croatia seems to have spent much of its existence with a chip on its shoulder.

    The Croatians came into—recorded—existence in the seventh century, about the same time as their linguistic relatives, the Serbs (some linguistic evidence suggests both tribes originated in Persia). But Croats were always smaller in number than the Serbs, by about a half, and their medieval principality lasted just two hundred and fifty years. For their part, Serbian rulers maintained sovereignty from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries until finally eliminated by Ottoman Turks and Hungary. Moreover the Serbs were among the...

  11. Chapter 8 Dalmatia
    (pp. 75-84)

    The question was, where—in these recollections—to place Dalmatia, with the peaks of the Dinaric Range looming above its spectacular Adriatic coast?

    Dalmatia has both Croatian and Serbian roots. Vlach roots, too.

    Dalmatae, the name of an Illyrian tribe (possibly related to a word for “sheep”), gave the region its name. It was settled by Croats in the seventh century. However it became officially part of Croatia only in 1939. Ethnic Croats also constituted the great majority (80 percent) of the population for centuries. But Dalmatia also had a population of Serbs (and Vlachs) who made distinct marks on...

  12. Chapter 9 Bulgaria
    (pp. 85-100)

    Suspicion of western visitors in Bulgaria was pervasive in the middle of the Cold War. As a visitor it seemed almost tangible, even in hotels. For me, finding Bulgarians to be generous and open hosts came decades later.

    A penumbra of mistrust surrounded a 1963 government advisory warning artists and writers to avoid western fashions and forms. Todor Zhivkov, a dictator with the title of First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, devoted part of a speech on cultural affairs to a denunciation of a performance on a Bulgarian stage of “that worldwide-rage, the Twist” which could “poison our youth!”...

  13. Chapter 11 Roads Leading to Romania
    (pp. 101-120)

    There was Romania, home of the Dacians and the Getae in ancient times, stretching from the Danube in the west to the Black Sea in the east with the ridges of the Carpathians, where, across the middle part, brown bears and wolves still roam. Its veins of precious metals, rich fields, and valleys invited invasions by Persians, Romans, Goths, Huns, and later Slavs, Magyars, and Turks. Roman invaders under Trajan introduced colonists who brought a vulgar Latin to the Romanian lands and created a proto-Romanian language, albeit flavored with a sprinkling of Slavic words injected by neighboring Serbs, Bulgars, and...

  14. Chapter 11 Approaching Albania
    (pp. 121-136)

    To enter almost hermetically sealed Albania was all but unthinkable in 1963 when I began seeking a visa. Perhaps there could be some consolation in the fact that it was nothing personal.

    Isolation gave substance to the broadening siege mentality of its despot, Enver Hoxha (1908–1985). He had begun with trenchant hostility toward “imperialist” Britain and America in 1945, then expanded that to “revisionist” Yugoslavia in 1948, beyond to “revisionist” Russia after 1959, and ultimately to “revisionist” China after 1976. (“Revisionist” was any teaching interpreted by Hoxha as straying from the path of Stalinist orthodoxy.) Each of these countries...

  15. Chapter 12 Magyar
    (pp. 137-144)

    Then came Hungary, a land largely flat as apalacsinta(“pancake”–palačinka–crêpe), except for a few puddles and streams. After having grown up on a prairie, the landscape seemed familiar.

    Otherwise the country remained a conundrum: with people calling themselves Magyar but forever known elsewhere as “Hungarians”—a double misnomer because it conflated them with the Huns:AnotherAsiatic people who arrived in Europe in the fifth century and devastated large swatches of central Europe before being absorbed. Then “Huns” becoming a nasty soubriquet for the Germans pitted against France and Britain in World War I. (This usage for...

  16. Chapter 13 Crna Gora
    (pp. 145-156)

    A cartoon published inBorba*on July 19, 1964, was my introduction to Montenegro. The legend above it read: “Titograd—Hotel Crna Gora**—Coffee 120 Dinars.” The drawing, signed D. Savić, was of four adult males with handlebar mustaches—three with suits and neckties—and the fourth gesturing to a waiter, also mustachioed, who stands with a towel over his left shoulder and a pencil perched on his ear. The caption below has the legend: “—Waiter, one coffee and four cups!”

    To readers familiar with the subject, it illustrated a basic Montenegrin character or at least a caricature thereof:...

  17. Chapter 14 Greece
    (pp. 157-170)

    Acquaintance with things Greek began in autumn 1940 when Benito Mussolini notified Athens that Italy required certain “strategic locations” in Greece—and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas replied, “that means war!” (This was interpreted immediately as Όχι [i.e., “No!”pronounced ‘ohi’]). Italy invaded that same day—and October 28 became Όχι Day for Greeks around the world. Il Duce’s troops were soon driven back by a Greek army fiercely defending its homeland. My father, Carroll Binder, the foreign editor ofThe Chicago Daily News, had excited my interest in Europe as World War II approached, so I knew something of what was...

  18. Chapter 15 Coda
    (pp. 171-190)

    “Illyria” may seem odd as a collective designation for the Southeastern European countries in these memoirs. But it is at least as appropriate as the geographic term “Balkan” (which, as noted at the outset, is ill-founded). It emerges from a study begun in 2009 by a genetics researcher of the iGENEA company in Zurich that Illyrian DNA is more prevalent in Balkan populations than many other genetic markers. Thus fully 40 percent of the indigenous peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina have Illyrian DNA, but only 15 percent have Slav DNA, while the people of Serbia and Montenegro have 30 percent Slav DNA...

  19. INDEX
    (pp. 191-202)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)