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

Tasting the Sarma: Serbian Presidential Candidate Beli Not Just a Joke

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.” 

Student and 2017 presidential candidate Luka Maksimovic, 25, poses for a picture as his alter ego 'Ljubisa "Beli" Preletacevic' in Belgrade
Beli, played by Luka Maksimovic, in his signature white suit. | Marko Djurica, Reuters

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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”

President Erdoğan vs. the World: The Turkish Referendum and Flaring European Tensions

Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan Gobierno de Chile
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan | Gobierno de Chile

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president of Turkey, has been at the forefront of Turkish politics for over the past decade. The divisive leader has built up a powerful, technically democratic regime, with strong currents of authoritarianism. The past 14 years have been a series of steps that have brought Erdoğan greater and greater power. Last July’s attempted coup brought Erdoğan to his greatest height yet. In its wake, Erdoğan purged the military, fired thousands of educators, and arrested dozens of journalists.

But now Erdoğan has gone a step further: with the same powerful rhetoric that helped bring him to power all those years ago in Turkey, he has violently lashed out against Germany and the Netherlands. Continue reading “President Erdoğan vs. the World: The Turkish Referendum and Flaring European Tensions”

Sofia: Cornerstone of History, Center of Culture

Although Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts are perhaps the best-known tourist attraction in the country, the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, also has a wealth of experiences to offer. Sofia is one of the least expensive European capitals to visit (plus the Bulgarian lev is almost two to the dollar), but besides being a well priced get away, it also offers history, culture, and excitement to its guests.

Downtown Sofia | Boby Dimitrov, Wikimedia

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Steady Danger with a Chance of Coups: The Modern Serbian Monarchy

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.

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Beyond the Balkans: Nationalism’s Effect on Immigration

Immigration has at times been an issue for many countries. When a nation gains a large body of immigrants, it almost inevitably raises the question, for better of for worse, of what is that nation’s identity. But when does this self-examination of the nation turn from an understanding of oneself into a rejection of the other in society?

Greeks Emigrating from Patras to the United States, 1910 | Library of Congress

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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.

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

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Skanderbeg: Fountain of Albanian National Memory

National myths are an important part of any country’s nationalism, but they have been particularly potent in Balkan countries. Legends of klepths and Kosovo Polje, among many others, have permeated the national histories of Balkan peoples. In Albania, there is one man who rises above all the rest: Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg.

Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg (1405-1468) | 16th Century Painting, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

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Cyprus: From Crusader Kingdom to Venetian Colony

After being part of the Roman and Byzantine world for over a millennium, Cyprus’ existence in the later part of the Middle Ages was much more global. From a mere Byzantine province, Cyprus became an island on the crossroads of the world. Under the House of Lusignan and then the Venetians, Cyprus became involved in larger enterprises such as the Crusades and Venice’s mercantile empire. Three agreements by outside powers created these situations for Cyprus, its future determined not by its native islanders, but by three agreements by foreigners.

Coat of Arms of the Lusignan Dynasty, in the 14th century Bellapais Monastery | Picture by Wolfang Sauber

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