Keeping in line with the name of this blog, tomorrow I’ll be stepping out of town—and in fact out of the country—for the next ten or so days, so you’ll hear nary a whimper from me. Where to? Well, a place I’m plenty familiar with, Serbia—or Serbia and Montenegro, or “Yugoslavia” (as some still call it).
I’ll actually be in the northern half, an area called Vojvodina, visiting with my girlfriend’s family. Like a lot of regions over here, it has a complex history that everyone seems to remember, but always in slightly different ways. Thus, arguments follow. One version I heard the other night was this:
Vojvodina used to be an Austro-Hungarian region just north of Serbia. The Ottoman Empire started pushing into Europe and got through Serbia to the Vojvodina border, where the Habsburg troops stopped them. Vienna and Budapest, in their wisdom, gave Serbs who crossed the border, escaping the Turks, the right to populate that region, on the condition that they defend it. Thus, some strain was let off of the Austro-Hungarian troops, and they gained a particularly adamant defence force on their southern border—because who else would be more enthusiastic about killing Turkish invaders than a group of people who’d lost their country to them?
So now that it’s under Serbian control, there’s quite a mix of Hungarians and Serbs there. It would be nice if that meant a large degree of multi-ethnic harmony, but it doesn’t. Hungarians note any instance of an ethnic Hungarian being abused by Serbs there, and Serbs note the same things whenever they happen to Serbs in southern Hungary.
History is so ingrained in this region, something I find both inspiring and incredibly annoying. Americans forget history as soon as it’s happened, but over here people remember everything with such intensity that, for instance, some people become more irate over travesties that happened sixty years ago during World War Two than they do about travesties that occurred during their own lifetimes in the Yugoslav Wars. (That’s partly about the pervasiveness of history, partly about whether or not someone wants to face up to their own lives, to things they might have helped or hindered—about regret.)
Serbs living in Budapest grew up in Yugoslavia hearing family stories about grandparents rounded up by fascist-leaning Hungarians or Croatians and taken off to concentration camps. And it’s hard for them to shake these stories, no matter how hard they try.
Anyway, the point of this is just to say I’m heading down to the Balkans, where history is everywhere. So are lots of hospitable Serbs, good laughs, roast meats, too many cigarettes, and Serbia’s particular kind of brandy, rakija. I always enjoy these trips.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)