BootsnAll Travel Network

Simon Winchester

    The Fracture Zone…My Return To The Balkans

Published in 1999.I have always wondered why the Balkans, generally including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo (and Turkey it turns out), are rife with discord.  Winchester wondered too, what was it that marked the Balkans as a byword for hostility and hate.

I learned about the history…beginning with the crushing and occupation of much of the area by the Ottomans.  The occupation by Hapsburg Austria. The killing of Archduke Ferdinand that started WWI.

So during the recent war there which NATO ended by the bombing of Serbia, he takes a road trip with a translator from Vienna Austria where he looks for the severed head of a long-dead Turk all the way to Albania.

Winchester travels through the peninsula’s vast and mountainous area in which historical tectonic events left “a ghastly mosaic of geology that is more complicated than almost anywhere else in the world.” Two chains of mountains (the Balkans) heading westward into another (the Dinaric Alps) that curved south and eastward, smashed into one another to “create a geological fracture zone that became a template for the fractured behavior of those who would later live on it.”  “It is scarcely surprising,” he says, “to find that, once the people had vanished into their isolated Balkan valleys and hidden harbors and climatically unrelated culs-de sac, they became-one from another and all from those outside-a very different people indeed.”

On the way he observes-and listens to anyone who would talk to him: vendors, hitchhikers, restaurant waiters, soldiers, church prelates–all.

He discovers that one of the abiding complex absurdities of the Balkans was that almost all the people who have been so horribly at odds with one another are all, in essential ethnic terms, (except for the Albanians) the self same people-Slovs but who were Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Muslims who did not worship in the same churches as their compatriots and brother and sister Slavs in Serbia–and there, sad to say, is the rub.”

Arguments have tried to simplify the discord in ethnic and/or religious terms.  Winchester does not make that mistake.

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