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Balkanium

History, Culture, Politics, and Travel in the Balkans, Turkey, and Cyprus

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Greece

The Global Migrant Crisis and the Impact of Syria

The number of migrants worldwide is at a high point: 244 million in 2015, over 40% more migrants than in 2000. While some of the migrants move by choice, a substantial number are not so lucky. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calculated that 65.3 million were forcibly displaced “as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations,” the highest number since the end of World War II. And this number is on the rise: 12.4 million people were newly displaced in 2015. Of the 65.3 million, 21.3 million were considered refugees. Continue reading “The Global Migrant Crisis and the Impact of Syria”

Macedonia: What’s in a Name?

Macedonia established a new government a few weeks ago after several months of political deadlock. Zoran Zaev, the new prime minister, is seen as a potential hero that can save Macedonia from its recent bouts of political turmoil. But not only is Macedonia excited; Greece has been quick to open talks with its northern neighbor. Talks between the Macedonian foreign minister and his Greek counterpart in Athens are supposed to be the start to solving the poisonous issue in Macedonian-Greek relations: Macedonia’s name. Macedonia may be willing to change its name, after more than 20 years of disputes with Greece, said Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia’s foreign minister. Continue reading “Macedonia: What’s in a Name?”

The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium

Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς, πάλι δικά μας θα ‘ναι!

“Once more, as years and time go by, once more they shall be ours.”

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Ever since the Ottoman Turks had conquered Constantinople in 1453, Greeks had yearned for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. When that independence came in 1832, it was only a fraction of ethnic Greeks that became free. Only southern Greece was part of the newly independent Kingdom of Greece, while the vast majority still lived under Ottoman rule. The mission to rescue them would consume Greece for the next century. Continue reading “The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium”

Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling

Female rulers were an anomaly in medieval history. Many of the most notable thrones of the Middle Ages were never graced by a female monarch. While there were queens and empresses who had power through their husbands, few ruled in their own right. The Kingdom of France never had a female ruler in its entire history. The Holy Roman Empire was similarly situated (the only exception, Maria Theresa of Austria in the 18th century, was barred from being Holy Roman Emperor due to her gender).

The Byzantine Empire lasted for over a millennium (330-1453), and had three independent empresses. England is only coming up on the millennium mark in the 21st century, and even they have only had five queens (including the long-lived Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II). Although their reigns were relatively brief, the fact that Irene (r. 797-802), Zoe (r. 1042), and Theodora (r. 1042, 1055-1056) could rule at such a time shows the different mores Byzantium held in comparison to most of its medieval counterparts. The longest reigning of these, Irene, shocked the world and illustrated the greater access to power by Byzantine women than their neighbors by becoming the first female “Roman Emperor” in history. Continue reading “Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling”

Greek Independence Day: A Complex History for Just 24 Hours

On March 25th, Greeks across the globe celebrated Greek Independence Day. It has been nearly two centuries since Metropolitan Germanos of Patros raised the flag of revolt at the Monastery of Agia Lavra, the traditional start of the Greek War of Independence. Much like other national memories of independence, fact and myth have become blurred over time. What were the Greeks fighting for then and was it really achieved? Continue reading “Greek Independence Day: A Complex History for Just 24 Hours”

Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans

Yesterday, Americans celebrated Groundhog’s Day, an odd, but perhaps also endearing tradition to welcome the coming of spring. Although Punxsutawney Phil may be unique, traditions that say good-bye to winter and welcome spring are not. From Poland’s drowning of the Marzanna (a straw doll) to throwing colored powder at each other in India’s Holi, the celebration of spring after a long winter is important in cultures across the globe.

The Balkans has its fair share of spring traditions as well. Many of them share characteristics of their neighbors, no doubt from centuries of cross-cultural contact. From giant vats to scrambled eggs to red and white woven bracelets tied to trees, the coming of spring is a time for celebration across the Balkans.

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A Large Pot of Cimbur (scrambled eggs) | Travel Channel

Continue reading “Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans”

Happy New Year: The Vasilopita in Greece and Beyond

The cutting of the Vasilopita is an annual New Year’s tradition for Greeks. Vasilopita is literally “Basil pie,” and celebrates St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappdocia (modern Turkey), whose feast day is on January 1 in Eastern Orthodoxy. The Vasilopita is a bread or cake and inside the cake is baked a coin. Whoever gets the slice of Vasilopita with the coin inside has good luck for the whole year!

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Vasilopita | Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, Austin, TX

Continue reading “Happy New Year: The Vasilopita in Greece and Beyond”

Caught in the Middle: The Historical Conundrum of Macedonia

In the age of nationalism, many groups across Europe started to fight for their right to national self-determination. Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, to name but a few, rose up against the empires that ruled them to try and carve a place for themselves on the world stage. But this was far from a simple matter: different peoples settled on the same land, both at the same time and at prior moments in history. And one of the worst disputes over land was what is now the tiny Republic of Macedonia.

Continue reading “Caught in the Middle: The Historical Conundrum of Macedonia”

Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire had dominated the Balkans for centuries, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 all the way into the 20th century. But while the Ottoman sultan may have still controlled a significant amount of land in the Balkans through the end of the First Balkan War (1912-1913), his hold on the region was severely weakened during the 19th century.

The unique cultures of the Serbs, Greeks, Romanians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, and Albanians had not been submerged over time, and memories of their former medieval states still remained, along with a rising sense of nationalism. Rebellions in the Balkans against the Ottomans had happened before, such as the Banat Uprising by Serbians in 1594 and the Orlov Revolt in Greece in 1770, but none were successful until the 19th century. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the peoples of the Balkans took advantage of Ottoman decline and the interest of the Great Powers to gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire.   Continue reading “Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire”

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