If you have already traveled to the Balkan, if you plan to travel or, well, even if you don’t, here is a piece of literature that will explain the Balkans. It gives insight into the story of the Balkan peoples and the struggles they went through, narrated with the wisdom of a perceptive person and Nobel winning writer. His insights today, a century after it was written, still feel relevant and contemporary. A way to get behind the skin of the hilly Balkan territory.
The Balkan story
The story spans about four centuries and covers the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian occupations of the region, with a particular emphasis on the lives, destinies of local people as well as relations between inhabitants, especially Serbs and Bosnian Muslims.
The novel is extremely resonant even today in many ways. Firstly, it speaks of dynamics and everyday lives of small Balkan peoples nested between big political, economic and ideological interests of two nearby powerhouses: Europe and Ottoman Empire.
Secondly, it speaks of the gap between the interests of the ruling class and its peoples – something that is present every day for the people you will see in the Balkans. It helps explain the local affinity for politics and trading instead of hard work and visionary development of enterprises, careers or nations.
Thirdly, it just shows us how, at the end of the day, we are all only human and same spiritual and moral values apply everywhere, even if the packaging changes color.
Born in Travnik in Bosnia in 1892 novelist, poet and short story writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. His writings dealt mainly with life in his native Bosnia under the Ottoman rule.
Behind the covers
Here are a few quotes to give you a feel for the vibe of the novel:
- ‘Misfortune of unhappy people lies is in the fact that for them, things that are otherwise impossible and forbidden become, for a moment, reachable and easy. Or at least they appear to be. Once these things are implanted in their desires, they become what they are: impossible and forbidden, with all the consequences that follow the person that tries to reach them.’
- ‘…on this land, there cannot be good without hatred, nor greatness without jealousy, just as there doesn’t exist even the smallest object without the shadow.‘
- ‘If we think about how much, and through how many centuries, been taken from us, these buildings are mere crumb on the table. ‘
- ‘As soon as one government feels the need to promise to its citizens, in form of posters, peace, and well-being, one should be cautious and expect completely the opposite. ‘
- ‘In this big and bizarre fighting that took place in this Bosnia for centuries between the two religions, in form of faith towards the land, aimed at taking the power and imposing an understanding and design of life, the opponents have been taking away from each other not just women, horses and weapons, but also poems.’
- ‘A blend of Turks, Christians and Jews. Power of vigor and the burden of common unfortunate have put together these people and bridged, at least for tonight, the gap that divides one religion from the other.’
- ‘Of all man’s weaknesses, the one that is most tragic and one that brings the biggest misery is undoubtedly, his complete incapacity to predict, which is in complete opposition to its other talents, skills, and abilities.’
- ‘If you go to hell, it is better to go there slowly. You are a fool if you think that the Austrian has spent money and bought this machine (train) here only so that you can travel faster and do you work more efficiently. You only see yourself driving, and don’t even wonder what that machine brings and takes away except you and the likes of you. But this doesn’t fit your perception. Go ahead, drive around where ever you want, but I fear that this driving around will hit you back. There will be a time when the Austrian will drive you where you don’t want to go and where you never thought that you will end up.’
You can buy the English translation here.