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Match-making across enemy lines

By Blog Admin, on 20 May 2014

Serbian-Albania couple

Photo credit: Armanda Hysa

Armanda Hysa discusses her research on mixed marriages between Serbian husbands and Albanian wives in the rural Sandžak region of Southern Serbia with Tena Prelec, where she researched 13 of an estimated 350 such couples.

 In 2006, Vera was a key component in a wide smuggling network in the Southern Balkans. During the 1990s, they dealt with oil, iron and cigarette contraband across Northern Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Occasionally, one of the members of the network complained to Vera that he couldn’t find a woman who would accept to marry him and go live with him in his remote village in Serbia. ‘Serbian women are disobedient, selfish, and only want to live in the city’ – was the usual grumble.

Vera was then reminded of her divorced niece living in Northern Albania, who was unable to find another husband in her home country. She put the two of them in touch, and the first of a string of match-made loves between a Serbian groom and an Albanian bride blossomed (this one, however, did not last very long: soon enough, Vera’s niece fled from southern Serbia to marry a Macedonian). It was immediately clear to Vera that this was a looming business opportunity, and she was determined not to leave it untapped. (more…)

Borders and what they do: lessons from a lost Habsburg province

By Blog Admin, on 3 May 2013

Contested Frontiers in the Balkans-p17oi0ls081o7l132i1l2ld101al9Why write about a province that has long ceased to be and is currently divided between three states?  Irina Marin explains why she wrote about the historic Habsburg province of the Banat of Temesvár

Well-hidden behind the title Contested Frontiers in the Balkans: Ottoman and Habsburg Rivalries in Eastern Europe is a monograph of the Banat of Temesvár or, by its Romanian name, Banatul Timișoarei. Why write a book about a historical province that has long ceased to be one and is currently peacefully divided between Romania, Serbia and Hungary? Outside the region and a narrow circle of historians, the Banat is a classic Ruritania, a non-existent land for all the reality it has for outsiders.

Everybody will have heard of Transylvania, Bosnia or Kosovo, but I doubt the Banat of Temesvár is at all known in the English-speaking world. Even when events take place there which are worthy of public attention, people usually refer to the present-day countries rather than the historical province, even if the name ‘Banat’ is still in local usage. So why write a history of this seemingly obscure province?

First of all, because no such history is available in English. The region deserves putting on the map of Anglo-Saxon historical scholarship. This, however, is not a strong enough reason and does not forestall the Ruritanian accusation. We instead should perhaps turn the question around and ask what makes a province worthy of interest. Sadly, more often than not the answer is blood and violence: whether blood sucked by vampires (as in Transylvania) or massacres and ethnic cleansing (as in Bosnia, Kosovo). Extremes of violence should, of course, never be ignored or left unexplored and unexplained.

The problem arises when one concentrates exclusively on such places visited by unprecedented violence. It creates the impression that nothing but ethnic violence comes out of Eastern Europe and fuels myths of  ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ as characteristic of the region.

I have therefore stopped at the Banat of Temesvár as a relatively peaceful province, with just as many ethnicities and religious denominations as these, but if anything dogged by myths of harmonious ethnic cohabitation rather than the perennial ancient-hatred myth. My new book is not intended to solve bibliographical disputes, count populations or work out who was there first. It is instead a historical meditation on the destructive and creative effect of ebbing and flowing borders on an ethnically variegated population, who lived and died under several waves of imperial rule, under nation-states and under communist and post-communist regimes. (more…)

Serbia-Kosovo agreement: political breakthrough or jobs for the boys?

By Blog Admin, on 25 April 2013

Kosovo Police

Photo:Valdete Hasani CC BY-SA 3.0

The widely hailed agreement reached betweeen Serbia and Kosovo entrenches the power of clentelistic elites and is no real cause for celebration argues Eric Gordy .

 The agreement signed last Friday between Serbia and Kosovo has been widely interpreted as a major breakthrough. In some respects it is, as it paves the way for resolution of a dispute over the status of the northern municipalities in Kosovo and for both countries to forge their paths to eventual membership in the European Union. In other ways it does not, as it comes too late and does too little to fundamentally alter the situation.

The agreement responds to a gesture made by outgoing prime minister Vojislav Koštunica when Kosovo declared independence in 2008, when he established parallel institutions of government and law enforcement in four municipalities along Kosovo’s northern border where about 40% of the ethnic Serb population is concentrated.

The move had two purposes: 1) to create an electoral base for his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), which was otherwise marginal and Belgrade-centred, and 2) to place a long-term obstacle in the way of any eventual agreements about Kosovo’s status.

The government that followed him, nominally opponents of Koštunica, left his parallel structures untouched in the vain hope of expanding its own base to encompass parts of the scattered “patriotic bloc”. It was only with the return of right-wing parties to power in 2012, paradoxically, that some movement occurred: they saw in an eventual agreement with Kosovo a chance both to satisfy powerful international political actors and to marginalise their potential competitors in the Church and on the far right.

So after fourteen years of waiting and five years of negotiation, what does the agreement involve? According to the unofficial text (no official one has been released, so everyone has been using the version published by the Kosovo paper Gazeta Express, it is mostly an agreement about the establishment of lobbies and the employment of personnel. (more…)