Although Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić easily won the Serbian presidential election on Sunday with 56.1% of the vote, one of his opponents also stole headlines. Luka Maksimović, a 25-year old university student, ran in the election as Ljubiša “Beli” Preletačević, a satirical figure whose name means “the guy in white who switches his beliefs for political gain.”
The modern Serbian monarchy was unique among Balkan royalty. Not only was it ethnically Serbian, it was also fiercely contested, with the crown switching back and forth between the rival Karađorđević and Obrenović dynasties. Even in a land of unstable thrones, the Serbian crown was particularly insecure: out of ten monarchs, only one reigned continuously and died of natural causes. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that he only reigned 26 days.
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.
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.
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”
Born Constantine and Michael, the two brothers are more commonly known today by the names they took as monks, Cyril and Methodius. Their missionary activities among the Slavic peoples of Europe earned them a lasting place in history and an important role in Orthodox Christianity. Continue reading “The Power of an Alphabet: The Enduring Legacy of Cyril and Methodius”