IBNA Op-Ed/Unfortunately, although knowledge and information are easier to access thanks to the century of technology, European mentality toward Balkan has not changed a great deal. For Eurocentrics, Balkan continues to remain a “Wild East” and a “Wild Europe”
By Fitim Salihu
If bothered by the arrogant and paternalist behavior of Europe toward Balkan, Albanians in particular, one can read the “Wild Europe” book by Bozhidar Jezernik.
Unfortunately, although knowledge and information are easier to access thanks to the century of technology, European mentality toward Balkan has not changed a great deal. For Eurocentrics, Balkan continues to remain a “Wild East” and a “Wild Europe”. For them, the Balkan is a shadow over a garden, in the back of a noble western European villa, like a German author used to say.
On the other hand, Thomas Arnold considered the eastern coast of Adriatic as “an unfortunate part of land, which, although it has been in direct contact with civilization, it has remained partially barbarian”.
Thus, in spite of its geographical proximity, in a cultural point of view it’s treated as if it’s too far. To Hobhouse, there was so little knowledge on Balkan as there was for the inside of Africa or Tartar. At the beginning of the 19th century, Europe needed Balkan, because Europeans saw on the Balkan people “what they had been and which were no longer allowed to be”.
Europe needs Balkan to see every once in a while the clash between “civilization” and the “primitive”, to compare them and to nourish their superiority. Julia Kristeva said that to Europeans, Balkan was “their other being and the worrying foreign”.
As to how far Eurocentric prejudices go, we have a report of a French consul in Bosnia, who in the 19th century, blamed for the “cruelties” of the local residents, the food that they ate, thus accusing for the behavior of these people the “šlijovovica” raki, pickled cabbages, radish or lamb meat full of calories.
“Exotic” fantasy of European travelers knew no boundaries, especially during the 17th and 18th century.
They wrote about cannibal people, women with breasts dropping up to the navel, and went as far as to consider them as people with tails.
Unfortunately, a great contribution was made toward these absurd untruths by pseudo-intellectuals and chauvinists of the Balkan people, such as the former Serb prime minister, Vladan Georgevic, who wrote books where he characterized his Albanian neighbors as “people with tails, wild like animals and very ignorant”.
This was only a small part of the material consisting the heap of anti-Balkan propaganda of the people of Europe who thought of themselves as nobles or academics, such as consul von Hahn, Austrian editor Paul Sievertz or Russian consul Ivan Jastrebov.
In general, these travelers didn’t know the local language of the Balkan people and few of them knew the official Ottoman language of that time. They also claimed that they had studied the “barbarians”. Prince Nikola of Montenegro had said that Europeans saw Balkan from a picturesque point of view and the people of Balkan as wild animals in the cages (mountains) of a zoo (Balkan Peninsula) which was worthwhile to be visited every once and a while, when they wanted to relax their muscles or calm their nerves down, by entertaining with this zoo.
The English are a good example as to how far western Europeans went with their prejudices toward the people of this peninsula. Many English people thought of Albanians as albinos with white hair and pink eyes (!), Montenegrins as black highlanders, while Dalmatians as white people with black freckles (!). Their ignorance and indifference went as far as to believe that the (freckled) Dalmatian was a product of the marriage of an Albanian (white) with a Montenegrin (black).
The approach toward Balkan and East in general has changed especially after the opening of “Orient Express” in 1883, or like the Europeans called it, “the magic carpet of East”. European researchers only needed three days to embark on their journey to the East, the opposite journey that development of civilization had embarked on centuries ago, from East to West.
But today, although more knowledge can be obtained, paternalist Eurocentrism continues to treat Balkan as blind extension of Europe, as a border between western “civilization” and eastern “barbarism”. /ibna/
*The author’s opinions do not necessarily represent the editorial line of NOA-IBNA Balkan News