Svetoslav Stefanov, Sofia University
Nikola Robev, National Library, Sofia
"If the Balkans hadn’t existed, they would have been invented", wrote Count Herman Keyserling in his famous 1928 publication "Europe", thus setting a clear notion in the Western mind what was the destiny of the so-called "doomed peninsula" about. The constant turmoil and confrontation starting from the period of Enlightenment, continuing through the whole 19th century and stepping firmly into the 20th century prevailed over any other news coming from the Balkans and shaped a rather negative notion about the peninsula as political and social entity. Hence, terms as "balkanisation" appeared and dispersed in the European political and historical thought, surviving until nowadays.
The hatred that spread among the Balkan peoples, the political, ethnic and religious intolerance combined with wild backwardness became a "coat of arms" for the lands of Southeast Europe. This notion, however superficial, was deeply rooted into the stereotypic way of thinking the people used to have. It was also based on the Balkan stereotypes themselves. The perception of the image of the Other was a main way for understanding not only the "strangers" but the "relatives", too. Confronting and comparing different types of national stereotypes is a way the peninsula can be understood not only in historical but also in psychological perspective. Were Bulgarians really always hating the Greeks, disliking the Turks, fond of the Serbs and mocking the Romanians? Did the Greeks abhor the Turks, demonstrate superiority over the Bulgarians, compromise the Serbs and neglect the Albanians? Were Albanians all the time feuding with the Serbs and admiring the Turks? Did the Romanians always try to lie on the Others? Were the Serbs as wild as they were imagined?
These are only some of the questions the down-written report will try to outline and suppose answers to. One can raise many more. And the answers could be always different depending on the respondent. The image of the Other is usually lacking objectivity, however, it is reflecting the stereotypes certain ethnic and social groups are developing for the non-selves.
The period comprising the report covers about a century and a half and coincides with the deepest changes the Balkan peninsula had come through. For about 150 years, Bulgarians, Greeks, Turks, Serbs, Romanians and Albanians passed the periods of their national Revival and Enlightenment, maintained different - as far as aims and social groups as leaders are concerned - national liberation movements, organised their national states, survived several wars, including the two Balkan wars and the two World wars, defined themselves as different ethnic and national entities, and developed national intelligentsia based on national traditions and certain national stereotypes. Although the political changes were extremely fast and dynamic, the social ones could not follow them. Until the end of the 19th century the Balkan societies were still mainly rural and premodern. The national bourgeoisie, the standard bearer of modernity, did not possess the characteristics and ideology of its Western analogue. It was mostly sticking to the tradition inherited by the traditional rural society in the Balkans. The certain exceptions that could be found and pointed at were mostly confined in the big Balkan cities as Athens, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Sofia, Plovdiv, Russe, Belgrade and Bucuresti and their analysis can only prove right the suggestion written above.
Thus the Balkan societies continued almost until the mid 20th century to bear the stereotypes rooted in the past, in the traditional society where the Other was considered mostly different or stranger, sometimes menace and rarely enemy. The Balkan folklore written down on paper mostly during the 19th century provides abundant information for proving such a statement. There are proverbs originated as early as 17th - 18th century that are still in use among the Balkan peoples and they are reflecting the traditional stereotypical way one is dealing with the image of the Other. Provided the fact that understanding the Others is usually constructed on general and indirect phenomena it were namely the proverbs that used to illustrate in the best way how the stereotypes of the Others were born, dispersed and how they formed the basis of the Balkans stereotypes as a whole. They used to overlap social strata and were valid from the top to the bottom of the society.
Thus all the Balkan peoples have developed proverbs as "The neighbour’s hen is bigger than our duck", "Lock the door for not to make your neighbour thief" or "The bad neighbour is doing harm through seven quarters", reflecting a somewhat negative view of the Other. However, there were also proverbs bearing positive image of the Other: "The neighbour’s dog is not barking at neighbours", "The neighbour is closer than relative" or "Wedding and burial are not possible without neighbours". Given the fact that most of the Balkan peoples used to intermingle and contact with each other during the long Ottoman rule at the Balkans it is not bizarre that the neighbours were often not considered strangers. Although familiar they continued to be Others having their positive or negative features.
All the Balkan peoples have developed great numbers of proverbs dealing with concrete in ethnicity Others well known in their vicinity. As a rule most of them are negative in understanding: "Uninvited visitor is worse than Turk", " If the wolves are in the forest, the Turks are in the village", "Greek lies more than nine Gypsies", "Where Greek steps the grass stops growing", "Greek being a donkey can not be ridden", "Vallachian was given a cucumber, but he refused it being misshapen (twisted)", "One can neither make bowl from pumpkin, nor friend from Vallachian", "There is no cheese in Gypsy’s house", "Drunk as Gypsy", "Black as Gypsy", "Bulgarian can not be soldier", "Eat the food of the Jew but do not sleep in his home", etc. The proverbs usually expressed a moral and assessing attitude towards the Others, stressing their negative features and thus persuading not only their otherness but somehow the idea that it is bad as a rule. The delimitation thus attained is a needed level in self-evaluation and self-affirmation in a traditional society what was the Balkan one until the beginning of the 20th century. This, however, was not an obstacle for all the peoples in the peninsula to live together for centuries and it were not stereotypes but the rise of nationalism that changed the situation.
Certain periods and certain levels in the formation of the national stereotypes in the Balkans can be outlined and discussed. In general, they used to follow the political developments in the peninsula; in particular, they depend on the social strata. It is difficult to generalise that the stereotypical image of the Other that people developed was one and the same for the whole society, for every single social stratum in it. Although the image was from the period of Enlightenment, formed mainly by the national intelligentsia and propaganda, it was never united and one-sided, moreover, it changed and differed through periods.
Until the very end of the 18th century when the period of the Balkan national Revival and Enlightenment began it can be observed that Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks and Romanians used to keep a more or less positive image for each others and a very negative one of the Turks. This is confirmed by the writings of almost all the Balkan intellectuals from the period where the Orthodox are treated as "us" while non-Orthodox are considered "others".
This trend quickly changed with the rise of the Balkan nationalism and the stereotypical image of the Other started to diffuse and enter into particularities. The patriarch of the Bulgarian nationalism Paisii Hilendarski was the first to describe Greeks in strong negative light. He opposed the positive features of the Bulgarian peasants and shepherds with the negative ones of the Greek merchants and blamed the Greeks for the Bulgarian backwardness as far as education and culture was concerned. However, in the same time certain strata in the Bulgarian society used to admire Greek culture, to follow Greek cultural patterns, to study in Greek schools, etc. Until the 40-s of the 19th century the image of the Greek in Bulgarian mind was at least double-sided. Just after the ecclesiastical struggle that peaked mainly in these years the Greeks started to be considered more in the negative light.
Almost the same was the path of the Greek image of the Bulgarians. Until the 20-30s of the 19th century they were described positively, usually as useful allies in the struggle against the Ottoman empire. The writings of Eugenios Vulgaris, Rigas Velestinlis and other Greek intellectuals endorse an image of the Bulgarians as simple, pure people, who deserve respect for their sincerity and diligence. The image started to change with the emergence of the so-called Megali Idea and finally it was transformed in the 30-s when the Greek national state was established and the national propaganda began assuming the neighbours from the North as potential rivals for territory and weapon of the pan-Slavism and Russia in particular.
Until the mid-19th century the image of the Serbs in the Bulgarian mind was rather positive. They were considered Orthodox and Slav "brothers" with similar fate and similar perspectives for development, with common enemies and common allies. Such an image can be observed in the writing of Bulgarian intellectuals from the period, and on the everyday level, too. There the fellow Serb is usually assumed as merry, fond of drinking and eating, and wild in temper. First serious cracks in that image started to appear with the course of the both Bulgarian and Serbian national revivals and the revolutionary activity against the Ottoman empire where it seemed that the Serbs were simply using Bulgarians for their own purposes instead of waging joint struggle.
A song considered to be folk developed such an attitude in a clear vision.
I am poor Bulgaria,
Turkish slave for a long time,
I have ruled over the Greeks,
And to my sister Serbia
I keep no hope
The distrust in Serbs rose after the 1877-8 Russian-Turkish war and the following treaties when the Bulgarian regions of Nish and Pirot were given to Serbia. The final blow to the positive attitude towards the Serbs in Bulgaria was the war from 1885 that followed the unification of the Kingdom of Bulgaria with Eastern Rumelia. From then on until the World War II on political and national level of the stereotypes the Serbs were considered enemies, and it was the problem with Macedonia that always used to stay between the two peoples all that time. However, on the everyday level it was not that bad. Serbs were still considered if not brothers at least fellow Orthodox and Slav ethnos, and neither the wars, nor the politics were in position to change it generally.
The Serbian image of Bulgarians was slightly different. The Serbian nationalism established its claims over huge pieces of lands not inhabited by Serbs, and thus Bulgarians were considered at least rivals. The best evidence for such an attitude is Ivan Garashanin’s "Nachertanije" compiled in the mid-19th century and followed as program by the Serbian politicians on. The negative image of the Bulgarians was steadily kept by the Serbian propaganda all the period and it even got to a distorted crescendo during the Second Balkan War, World War I and World War II. Similarly to the Bulgarian case there were certain differences between the stereotypical propaganda image and the everyday image. Although not always assumed "brothers" there was certain sympathy to Bulgarians among the Serbs. However, it was combined with an arrogance of a people that used to exploit more rights during the long Ottoman rule while in the same time the Bulgarians were simple "raya". Sometimes Bulgarians were considered as friendly and that is most often in songs thought to be folk one. Most of them were devoted to the Serb-Bulgarian war in 1885 and mainly to the Slivnitza battle.
Oh, Slivnitza, let God damn you,
Oh, Slivnitza, you heroes’ sepulchre,
You left many mothers in tears,
Where two brother peoples
fought and killed themselves.
The song was very popular around the turn of the century, several variations of it were available and it was sung even in the Western Bulgarian lands.
As a rule the image of the Turks in the mind of the Balkan peoples was negative. Turks being different in faith were Others without any doubt. Moreover, they were conquerors who ruled for centuries the land of Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs, Romanians. The constant clash on everyday level with local Ottoman authorities just confirmed such an image used by the revivalist propaganda for the revolutionary struggle against the empire. However, on personal level the things often went in another direction. Living together for centuries the peoples used to know each other’s habits and traditions, and thus the image of the Other became somehow different. Bulgarian proverb is stating that "When Turk becomes your friend it is to death" reflecting the everyday experience got from the everyday life in the peninsula. The revolutionary conflict during the 19th century more or less destroyed this perception, although it was to a certain extent preserved in the regions were Bulgarians and Turks, Serbs and Turks, Greeks and Turks continued to live together. The Macedonian uprisings in the beginning of the 20th century, the Balkan wars and the following massacres in Macedonia, Thrace, Asia Minor and other regions worsened the stereotypical image of the Turks branded as "barbarians", "villains", "bloodsuckers", etc.
How was the image of the Other in its stereotypical form created in modern times? There were two mighty instruments widely used until the emergence and dispersal of the electronic media - newspapers and textbooks. Pointed mainly at the literate strata of the society they were one of the main weapons in the national propaganda during periods of clashes and crises.
The school textbooks, mostly history ones, step by step formed the image of the Balkan neighbours in all the Balkan countries during the Revival period and until World War II. It is important to stress that as a rule they were following the contemporary politics and social moods. The textbooks until the end of the Revival period were reflecting the needs of the revolutionary struggle and thus neighbours appeared as friends or enemies rarely in neutral light. For Bulgarians Turks and Greeks were enemies, Serbs were assumed friends, and Romanians and Albanians appeared only in episodes. For Greeks Turks were enemies, while Serbs and Bulgarians were no more than secondary rivals with claims bigger than possibilities. For Serbs enemies were Turks and Austrians, Bulgarians were friends although underestimated, while Greeks were worth envying. With the rise of the Balkan tensions at the end of the 19th century and especially after the Balkan wars the situation changed and hatred rose widely. In the Balkan textbooks from the period between the World wars almost all the neighbours were considered enemies and it was hatred that prevailed over the image of the Other.
The newspapers followed in similar manner. They used to reflect the political needs of the society so they used to present the Others according to the concrete necessities of the period. Thus once a neighbour was an angel and in the next period the same one could be considered a devil. The newspapers used to present the Others in pictures or caricatures as well and thus constructed the visual stereotypical image of what otherwise one have to imagine. They used the ideas that already floated in the mind of society and just put them on paper setting the stereotypes into more or less strict borders. This way of dealing with the Others was presented in the best way during the wars in the first half of the century, when the Balkan states were almost in constant conflict with each other. This was the period when the national stereotypes transferred from coexistence into clash and the Balkans were finally and irretrievably considered "doomed".
The national stereotypes in the Balkans formed during the 18th-20th centuries when the Balkan peoples accomplished their transition to modernity. They used to bear traditional features emerged during centuries of coexistence altogether with the inevitable changes caused by the modern times. The nationalistic clashes, wars and uprisings forming the political face of the period set its long shadow over the stereotypes that stepped mostly into negativism towards the neighbours. Thus the traditional view of the Other as simply different transformed into a negative one of the Other as rival or enemy and the stereotypes started not only to meet but to confront, too. The confrontation of the national stereotypes was the main reason for the negative image of the Balkans as a whole. However, it was not an exception from the mainstream European development, it simply was little too late in time. That helped Europe in pointing the Balkans as bad example, while the Balkans themselves plunged into deeper clashes and confrontation, and the spiral continued that way until nowadays.
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