[BalkanCities] is no more.
with this second newsletter of the year 2010 ... we would like to inform you about a few changes for the interim term ahead of Kakanien revisited. First, the monthly newsletter will become a quarterly newsletter ... As for the Weblogs, you find the usual announcements of Call for Papers, Conferences and other events in the Weblog Calls for Papers & Events and job opportunities in Jobs. All other Weblogs ... have merged into one large Weblog, CE/SEE, where the former Bloggers continue to discuss their relevant topics under identifiable headers ...
Reiterer on Skopje, architecture, nationalism, etc.
Gabriele Reiterer of DerStandard has recently written a piece on "Architektur und nationale Mythen" in SEE in the context of the current "Balkanology" exhibition in Vienna. The text, worth reading, is largely focused on recent events in Skopje: reconstructions, constructions, and debates about which. Read the full text (in German) here.
Macedonia burning II
Earlier this month the Macedonian Academy of Sciences has published its monumental, first "Macedonian Encyclopaedia", immediately sparking a furious response. The country's Albanian community is portrayed as the outcome of more recent (16th ct.) migrations (read an interview with that section's author here [in Macedonian]), which, according to a conventional Balkan rationale, means that their presence is less legitimate. The encyclopaedia moreover maintains that the UCK's offspring in Macedonia was trained and supported by British and American intelligence services -- a claim naturally upsetting the foreign diplomats. Furthermore, Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the coaltion party in the present government, is described as a "war crimes suspect". The Bulgarians were angry as well, finding it -- whichever sections in the texts they might refer to -- "unacceptable for a country aspirant for NATO and EU membership to resort to terminology typical for the ideology of the Cold War era"*. The consquent course of events: on September 23 members of the editorial board of the publication decided to "correct parts of the publication and start work on a second, revised edition"*. Four days later prime minister Gruevski "called for dialogue" on the encyclopaedia, recognizing that it offended the country's Albanians, incl. his own coalition partner,* with whom he agreed on September 29 "that the newly published Macedonian encyclopaedia should not affect interethnic relations. The coalition partners stressed that they will not allow anyone to profit from the situation or to harm multiethnic co-existence."* (Note: the party profiting from such tensions is Gruevski’s own VMRO-DPMNE.) The distribution of the encyclopaedia was stopped. Noting that the publication had "unintentionally become a source for new ethnic tensions", the academy "confirmed that they would correct inaccuracies, especially regarding Albanian minorities, but would keep the historical facts the same."* It has also promised to "make the corrections in cooperation with ethnic Albanian MANU members and scientists of non-majority communities in the FYRepublic of Macedonia."*
UPDATE 10-XI-2009: The editorial board responsible for the encyclopedia has been fired by the MANU: "The vote, after several hours of debate was 45-1, with two abstentions. MANU also decided that within a month, a new editorial board will be up and running, and will either correct controversial parts of the book or start fresh with a brand new encyclopaedia." Full article here.
Macedonia burning I
Last Wednesday a fire broke out in the St Jovan Bigorski monastery in W-Macedonia, not far from the border with Albania (cf. a short piece on BalkanInsight). This complex, visited by this blogger in June '09, holds what one of the region's "major works of art": a mid-19th ct. wooden iconostasis produced by one of the period's and region's most talented artist workshops, hailing from mountain villages in the immediate vicinity of the monastery. A sign of the times, they even including self-portraits (pic) among biblical scenes carved plastically into the wood. The iconostasis survived the fire unscathed; but the event reminds us of the temporality of art, especially that which is still in use according to its original function and thus not harboured (or "historically quarantined") in a museum. This brings to the fore once again the importance of the digitization of cultural heritage. The fact that in most Orthodox Churches in the Balkans you are not allowed to take pictures, for reasons not fully evident (in Ohrid I was once told I could not enter a church and/or take pictures because it hadn't been published about yet), certainly works against that.
Zagreb as project
On H-Urban has recently appeared a review of the volume Project Zagreb: Transition as Condition, Strategy, Practice (Eds. Eve Blau and Ivan Rupnik; Barcelona [sic], 2007) by Brigitte Le Normand, who writes: "Recent writings on the built environment in socialist Eastern Europe tend to highlight one or both of the following themes: firstly, that socialist regimes tried to devise a specifically "socialist" urbanism and architecture, and secondly, that they encountered a great deal of practical difficulties in putting such ideas into practice. The resulting agglomerations and spaces are thus best understood as a product of both socialist ideology and socialist practice. [T]hey are consigned to the past, strange relics of a system that no longer exists and from which nothing can be learned. That is why it is so refreshing to read Eve Blau and Ivan Rupnik's Project Zagreb ... Taking as a starting point Zagreb's current status as a city in transition, they posit that Zagreb has, in fact, been in perpetual transition for the last 150 years, and that insights into how to cope with instability can be gleaned from the efforts of previous generations of architects and urban planners ... While the volume sheds a good deal of light on the practices of architects, it is less convincing in its dealings with symbolic and identity issues. Ivan Rogic presents the project of modernizing Zagreb undertaken in the late nineteenth century by the ruling elite in Zagreb exclusively as a Croatian nation-building project. This strikes me as a case of reading history backwards, looking for the seeds of a recently realized national project in the distant past." Read the full review here.
Prishtina after the "internationals"
Jeroen van Marle, the "co-publisher" of the In Your Pocket Guide to Prishtina has contributed a piece to BalkanInsight, contemplating the future of the city past its "international" present: "The presence of thousands of foreigners working for the military, governments and NGOs in Kosovo for many years has utterly changed the capital Pristina. Not only has the physical infrastructure of the city been adapted to the needs of the foreign institutions ... but also the local services industry has adapted to accommodate the needs of the wealthy temporary immigrants". Thereby, he holds, "Pristina has changed from a rather dour provincial town into a self-conscious place that knows how to party but still realizes that much work is to be done in the morning." But what happens now that "Kosovo has reached independence and the international community is slowly focusing its resources and manpower on more troubled regions elsewhere"?. Van Marle seems optimistic: "The demand for reliable information about Pristina and Kosovo has shown a steady upwards trend, indicating that Kosovo may already be more attractive than many living and working there may think." Read the full article here.
The Ottoman (re-)urbanization of SEE and the role of the March Lords
Cornucopia No. 41 features a summary of Heath Lowry's 2008 book (see posting below) by Caroline Finkel, stressing the importance of March Lord families in not only the conquest but the urbanization of the post-Byzantine Balkans:
"The hero of Lowry’s story is the ucbey (march lord) Haci Gazi Evrenos Bey, who died in 1417 and was associated with almost every conquest between the Meric River in the east and the Adriatic in the west. Although Evrenos’s name has not been erased from history, the part played by him and his family in establishing Ottoman rule in western Thrace and Macedonia, and maintaining it down the centuries, was egregiously downplayed by later chroniclers ... Evrenos was the most prominent of the march lords in the Balkans in the second half of the 14th century, and the now mostly ruined buildings marking their westerly progress provide the evidence that he and his family, the Evrenosogullari, were responsible for pushing back the Ottoman frontier. They settled first in Gumulcine (modern Komotini), then in Siroz (Serres) and finally in Yenice Vardar (Giannitsa). Evrenos endowed these cities, and other sites along his route, with mosques and the infrastructure of urban and commercial life ... Lowry’s findings lead him to the view that the Osmanogullari – the Ottomans – were no more than first among equals at this time. He also rejects the view that their westward push was merely a series of raids for slaves and booty, arguing that they had planned a campaign of conquest from the outset, as the permanence of the monuments they built eloquently testifies."
Lowry, Ousterhout, and the earliest Ottoman fortress in Europe
The Princeton-based Ottomanist Heath Lowry has recently released two books significantly increasing our understanding of the early Ottoman expansion into Greece in the 14th century (1, 2). Not entirely unnoticed should go a review he wrote for Cornucopia: the magazine for connoisseurs of Turkey (No. 39), in which he discusses the recent book The Byzantine Monuments of the Evros/Meric River Valley by Robert Ousterhout and Charalambos Bakirtzis. The text is available online here. While he finds the book a useful addition, he disagrees with them when it comes to the 14th-ct. fortress of Pythion near Didymoteicho in Greek Thrace. One part of which has been dendrochronologically dated to c1331, hence making it a Byzantine building. Lowry, however, suggests to attribute the second stage of the fortresses construction to the Ottoman "Lord of the Marches" Haci Ilbegi. If this dating is correct, it would make the Pythion fortress "the earliest known Ottoman fortification, predating Anadolu Hisarı on the Asian side of the Bosphorus by close to half a century." Curiously, Bulgarian National Television has just used the fortress for the filming of its documentary titled The Ottoman Invasion (*).
New Belgrade: no man's land -> alternative capital -> housing without urbanity (Blagojevic)
An interesting piece on New Belgrade by Ljilijana Blagojevic, author of Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture, 1919-1941 (2003, reviews: 1,2,3; excerpt), can be found at the site of the Croatian e-mag art-e-fact: strategies of resistance (here). It is, in fact, the English original of an article published in German in 2004 here. She argues the following: New Belgrade was a modern city built after WWII on former no-man’s land - a “cordon sanitaire” and “no-connection-zone” - between the (once Ottoman) Belgrade and the (once Habsburg) Zemun. Construction for what was then perceived as having the potential as the new capital city of Socialist Yugoslavia, or rather the capital of central state power belonging to no city, started in 1948. (Belgrade, after all, had a prehistory as the capital of a South Slav state.) New Belgrade was planned as architecturally self-referential and predominantly administration-focused. Its centre, in the first project, was the railway station around which were grouped governmental buildings and foreign embassies. Housing became only a part of the project for New Belgrade when, following Tito’s break with Stalin in 1948, the first concept was questioned and rethought. Construction resuming in the 1960s, New Belgrade became largely a site of housing, not of centralist governance. State policy now was “de-centralization”, in which climate such concentration was not found agreeable anymore. With housing as a “right” subsidized by the government, New Belgrade failed to emancipate itself from the state and long harboured no internal economic dynamics. "Today, in the conditions of contemporary change of socio-political paradigms,” Blagojevic concludes, “the unfinished open plan of New Belgrade is being rapidly filled by what is simplistically understood to have been lacking in the socialist epoch, namely, commercial and business development on the one side and orthodox churches on the other.”
City, art, and architecture in Tito's Yugoslavia
The artistic and architectural output of Tito’s Yugoslavia seems to gradually claim some space in international academic media. In a recent special issue of the Journal of Architecture (Vol. 14, No. 1, TOC here) titled “Behind the Iron Curtain: architecture in the former communist bloc, between isolation and fascination” we also find the article “‘East? West? Or Both?’ Foreign perceptions of architecture in Socialist Yugoslavia” by Vladimir Kulic (Florida) on pp. 129-47. Those interested will find below the gist of his argument, most heavily truncated (largely from pp. 129-33):
"Architecture and art were important tools in constructing Yugoslavia’s distinction from other communist countries … By defying the stereotypical image of architecture in a socialist country, Yugoslav modernism provided a clear visual statement of cultural affinity and, by extension, political alliance with the West. But once the hostilities with the communist bloc subsided in the late 1950s, which coincided with the final demise of Socialist Realism, the prevalence of socialist typologies allowed Yugoslav architecture to be seen positively in the East as well. [T]wo opposed but complementary interpretations thus emerged, which rendered not only Yugoslavia’s politics, but also its architecture ambiguous … Taking advantage of the fact that in architecture Socialist Realism was never clearly defined, [Yugoslav architects] paid lip-service to it and at the same time subverted its rhetoric to argue against monumental historicism …Yugoslav architecture [switched] from a politically imposed orientation towards the communist East to a gradual integration into Western modernism. Perhaps most symbolic of this integration was the last, tenth meeting of CIAM (Congre´ s Internationaux de l’Architecture Moderne), which Yugoslav architects hosted in Dubrovnik in 1956, even though their own presence in it was barely visible. [Since] the cultural production of the communist bloc had a limited presence in the West … Yugoslavia was not only a curiosity for its modernism, but also for being accessible at all.”
Moving buildings in Bosnia
Skopje Main Square Pt. ?
Biljali: We are going backward instead of forward, especially with the so-called "antiquisation" -- that is, the process of renaming the airport and main highway after Alexander the Great, and the plan to place a grandiose monument on the public square. It is a bad practice, as history has shown multiple times. [...]
SETimes: The announcement that the church in the middle of Skopje will be rebuilt after it was destroyed in the 1962 earthquake has prompted calls to also rebuild the Burmali Mosque. How will this affect our multiethnic society?
Biljali: It is certain this situation will not have a positive influence, but rather will polarize things further, as has already been seen in some ways. See, in a multiethnic society you have to be very careful when you announce renovations, especially of religious buildings, because you can't favour only one ethnic group. In this case there are two different opinions. The first -- representing, I believe, the majority of Albanians and other non-Orthodox citizens, as well as many among the Orthodox as well -- is that there is no need for any religious building in the centre of Skopje. The second comes from supporters of the Burmali Mosque, who follow the logic of "let them build the church, because then we'll build the mosque". Building only one of the aforementioned sites could have a big impact.