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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Wednesday 1 May 2019

Wild Europe

Wild Europe by Bozidar Jezernik is a study of the Balkans in the gaze of western travellers from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

To the modern reader, the views of many of these travellers appear bizarre. They mostly cover the period when the Balkans were occupied by the Ottomans. In the early period travellers reflected the power of the Ottoman Empire, but that soon changed to less admiration as the empire declined.

In some cases there was outright racism, in others, it reflected a disdain for Islam. More often just shock at a different way of life that to western eyes of the period appeared backward. This results in an inability to credit the Ottomans for anything positive. This is well illustrated by the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia. Western 'experts' claimed it was a Roman construction despite the clearest evidence that it was built by the Ottomans. One author even corrected his wife's notes to this effect.

Most of these western observers also failed to recognise their own hypocrisy. They were shocked at the taking of heads in battle, but not the mass slaughter in trenches, the lynching of black men in the USA et al. Not to mention the similarity between the Ottoman divide and rule policy with similar approaches in the British empire.

One chapter describes the 'evidence' collected by several writers that Albanian men had tails. A clear example of how groups perceive others, sometimes for political reasons. Illustrated by the views of the Serbian Prime Minister, Vladan Dordevic (1897-1900) who was also a distinguished author and academic. He described Albanians as 'bloodthirsty, stunted, animal-like individuals, so invincibly ignorant that they could not tell sugar from snow'. Conveniently this meant they could not possibly rule themselves!

The original passages are interesting in themselves, but the author goes further in analysing how these western observers constructed their images of the Balkans. A really interesting book that has been extensively researched with many period illustrations.

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