Archive for January, 2008

Salonica and Istambul: Cities of Ghosts

January 30, 2008


I arrive in Thessalonika on a sunny winter afternoon and take a stroll along the prom. Work seems to finish early, and the glittering youth are strutting their stuff and staring at passers by from the armchairs of the pavement cafes. It seems a pleasant Greek city as the sun sets over the Aegean. Busy but relaxed, well-dressed and fashionable. A Chinese rag trade seems to have opened up in the dock area since I was last here some eight years ago. A few Africans are selling fake Armani bags along the main thoroughfares. I hear Greek everywhere. I know that Salonika was an important Ottoman city, but this seems to have been almost completely obliterated. No mosques, muezzins or hamans. I see the Greek and Roman ruins but no mosque, no reminder that Salonika was the most important city in the European Ottoman Empire.

Well-known Turks were born here. Ataturk’s birthplace is now a museum and part of the Turkish consulate, possibly about the only Ottoman house open to visit. The poet Nazim Hikmet, grandson of the former governor of Salonika, Nazim Pahsa, moved from Salonika when he was eleven.

I borrow my title from Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslins and Jews 1430-1950 (Harper). In 1913 Greeks were a minority (40,000) of Salonika’s 157,000 inhabitants (Jews 61,000 and Muslims 46,000). Then, after the defeat of the Turks by the Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks in the First Balkan War in 1913 some 140,000 Muslims from Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, including 24,000 from Salonika, went to Istanbul and Izmir. Thousands of Greek refugees also arrived in Salonika from Thrace. But the largest exchange of numbers was at the end of the Greco-Turkish war in 1922, when Atatürk’s nationalist army defeated the occupying Greek army in Western Turkey. The population exchange was officially sanctioned by international law and had the support of both Atatürk and Venizelos, the Greek leader, who were both attempting to build nation states on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. A Turkish deputy put it like this: “The arrival of every individual is a source of richness for us; and the departure of every individual is a blessing for us!” (p.345). A million and a half ethnic Greeks, mostly from the Izmir region, many of whom who now spoke just Turkish, but who were orthodox Christians, made their way to Greece, many settling in Salonica. And 500,000 ethnic Turks made their way to what was now the Turkish Republic. A far larger population exchange would take place with the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

By 1928 the Greeks formed 75% of the population of 236,000 in Salonika. Minarets were destroyed. Mosques were put to other uses such as cinemas and warehouses. The visitor must now seek out the old ruins. No postcards or signposts. No minaret is left other than that of the Roman Rotunda, originally a church then a mosque from 1591, is now a museum but one where Orthodox services are held and where there is a very distinctive cross.

Most of the remaining non-Turks were Jews. Many ran businesses, both big and small. In April 1941 the Germans invaded Greece. Few escaped the 1943 deportations. Differently to Athens, where the smaller number of Jews were more assimilated, no senior Greek official made a vociferous protest when over 45,000 Jews were transported to the concentration camps of Birkenau and Auschwitz. I fınd no momument to the Holocaust in the old Jewish district. Greeks now made up nearly 100% of the population.

Istanbul received a number of Jews, and relations were generally amicable. Indeed, in Salonika Jews generally supported the rule of the Ottoman Empire. But now there are few Jews, most having emigrated to Isreal and the US. As there are few Greeks and Armenians. But, differently to Salonika, the buildings are still there.

On a chilly Sunday morning in Beyoğlu you can imagine for a few moments that you are back in European Pera some hundred years ago. My hotel window overlooks one of the Greek churches. This one is now being renovated. I see the Catholic church of Santo Antonio and hear the church bells, a sound, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, hated by the Sultans and forbidden as the bells were wrung to commemorate the Christian victories over the Turks.

The Istiklal Cadessi, or La Grande Rue de Pera, is fairly empty. I pass by the mansions of the old European embassies: The British Consulate, formerly the embassy before the capital moved to Ankara, was bombed in November 2003, when 27 died in a suicide attack linked to Al Queda. The French Consulate was under police guard in October 2006 when protesters demonstrated against the fact that denying the Armenian massacres was now against French law. The Russian, Italian Swedish and Dutch, and the former American, now moved to safer quarters.

The foreigners are coming to church on Sunday morning, as they have always done, to worship, to meet people, to socialise. No longer dressed in their Sunday best. And their nationalities have also changed. Many brown and black faces. I hear no French. And English has replaced French as the lingua franca.

I visited Santo Antonio a year ago, and the service was in Italian. Now we have fire and brimstone from an African priest, telling us how leaders should always take notice of those they are leading. From Zimbabwe, Kenya, I wonder. There are over a hundred in the church. Mostly African, and you hardly ever see Africans on the streets of Istanbul.

I discover another Catholic church, Italian and Spanish, Santa Maria Draperis, first erected in 1584 by Signora Clara Bertola Draperis, existing on the present site since 1769. A plaque commemorates the unfortunate death of “Adelaide-Sophie Joséphine Cornisset, épouse de Jouannin, premier interprète de SMTC près la porte ottomane on 27 October sur cette terre étrangère” at the tender age of 30, leaving five children.

At the Union Church, inside the Dutch Consulate most of the worshippers are American. “Hi Grant”. They welcome the quiet Malaysians and Koreans. I go down the hill to the Anglican Christ Church, where the service has just finished and a mixture of white and Brown faces are just leaving for brunch. It was erected as “a memorial of all who died in the service of HM Queen Victoria in the Crimean War […] consecrated under the name of Christ Church by the Lord Bishop of Gibraltar, 22 October 1868. A plaque was erected by the wife of Percy Ellen Algernon Frederick William Sydney Symthe, Eighth Viscount Strangford and third Baron Penshurst, 1825-1869, an oriental and in 1844 student attaché in Constantinople. Another plaque mentions the Curtis Memorial Fund, for “Relief of pain and sickness among British subjects at Constantinople”.

The several small Armenian churches remain closed, but the service has just finished at the large Greek church near Taksim, the old ladies, some of the few remaining Greek residents, makes their way out. But now there is a new warmth between Greece and Turkey. The Greek Prime Minister, Costa Karamanlia, is in Turkey to boost trade. The Turkish Daily News runs an article on young Greek executives, investment bankers and computer analysts working in Turkey. Greece doesn’t want a hostile Turkey and is in favour of Turkey joining the EU.

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The Balkans

January 22, 2008


The Balkans. Balkanisation. It has come to mean fragmentation, usually with a negative connotation, with each of the parts in conflict with one or more of the other parts. To be avoided in modern states where economies of scale need a certain quiescence from the various partners. Think of the EU, of the Schengen Agreement, which has eliminated borders between various members of the EU. But as the states of the old Yugoslavia have become independent, barriers have gone up.

Orthodox Serbs against Catholic Croats; Muslim Bosniaks and Croats against Serbs; Croats against Bosniaks; North Albanians against South Albanians (both nominally Muslims) in the civil war of 1997 following the collapse of the pyramid scheme when the southern half of the country fell under the control of the rebels; Serbian and Kosovo Serbs against Kosovo Albanians; Kosovo Albanians against Kosovo Serbs; There have been skirmishes between the minority Albanian Macedonians (Muslims) and the majority Albanian Slavs (Orthodox), a possible future flashpoint. In the First Balkan War (1912-13) Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs (all Orthodox Christians) against Turks (Muslims), whom they defeated; then the second Balkan War later in 1913 over the carve-up of the former Ottoman territory, when Bulgaria launched an attack on Serbia and was defeated by Serbia and Greece. And of course Greeks against Turks, in the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22. And the Greeks don’t talk to the Macedonians as they “stole” the name of Macedonia, which is also the name of the province in Northern Greece where I am at the moment.

Old rivalries die hard. Indeed, they see to grow with time. In Three Elegies for Kosovo (Harvill, 2000) Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare tells a fable of the Ottoman wars in 1389 when the combined forces of the Serbs, Rumanians, Bosnians and Albanians were defeated at the Plain of Kosovo. The story focuses on a group of refugee minstrels, who are desperately looking for shelter and food. They are finally taken in by a rich lady in a large castle and are asked to sing. But the only ballads they can sing are those which insult their former enemies, who have just been fighting on their side: “One after the other, in the heavy silence, they sang their songs, ancient and cold as stone, each in his own language: A great fog is covering the blackbird plains! Rise, O Serbs, the Albanians are seizing Kosovo! A black fog has descended – Albanians to arms, Kosovo is falling to the pernicious Serb! (p.67-68). Their mindset is so decided and automatised that they cannot even think of making up a new ballad about the battle with the Turks. And their prophecy continues until the present day: “For seven hundred years I shall burn your towers! You dogs! For seven hundred years I shall cut you down” (p.86).

On Orthodox Christmas Eve in Podgorica, capital of the recently independent Montenegro, population 685,000, flag waving nationalists celebrate only the second Christmas of the country which broke away from Serbia in June 2006.

In the Balkans we are worlds away from the great multicultural cities of London, Paris and New York, of Canadian, German, and nowadays Spanish, Italian and Irish cities. In Eastern Europe in the last century there has been an opposite trend towards monolingualism. I spent some time in Lodz, Poland. At the height of its fame as the Manchester of Poland from 1823 to the First World War, it was a tetralingual city: German, Yiddish, Russian and Polish. In Istanbul before the First World War, when half the population was Greek, Armenian and Jewish, it was a truly multilingual city: Greek, Armenian, Turkish, the Jews spoke Ladino, a mixture of Spanish and Yiddish as they had originally been Sephardic Jews escaping from persecution in Spain and Portugal, and French was the lingua franca. I write from Salonika, nowadays Thessalonika, which, in 1913, when the Greeks took control, had some 158,000 inhabitants: 40,000 Greeks, 46,000 Ottomans, and 61,500 Jews. The main languages were Greek, French, Turkish and Ladino. On the streets tiday I just heard Greek, and an occasional bit of English.

All three cities have become monolingual due to the creation of the monolingual nation state, the Jewish and Armenian genocides, and the creation of the state of Israel. This tendency towards the monolingual and monoethnic state has been clear in the countries I have visited. Slovenia avoided the imbroglio in the nineties as it was almost all ethnically Slovenian. In Croatia the percentage of Serbs is down from 12% in the early nineties to less than 1%. In Kosovo the Serb minority is now dwindling, and they live in ghettoes protected by the United Nations Kosovo Force. Albania is 95% Albanian. Greece and Turkey swapped populations in 1923: 500,000 Muslims, mostly Turks, went to Turkey, and 1,500,000 ethnic Greeks went to Greece. After Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 some 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots moved into their ethnic half of the island. In 1989 some 310,000 ethnic Turks from Bulgaria were forced to move into Turkey as the result of the government assimilation policy. Macedonia is still a salade macedonie, with 64% Slavs and 25% Albanian, indeed a possible future flashpoint.

But there is another ethnic minority, the Roma, or to be politically incorrect, the gypsies, who form up to 5% of the population in most of the Balkan countries. They are almost a sub-class: the scavengers, the menials, the lavatory attendants, the (less expensive) prostitutes. On a previous trip to Rumania I was immediately warned about the ciganes when I arrived at my hotel. On the packed bus from Skopje in Macedonia to Belgrade I am squeezed into the back corner seat. Three young blondes in the three middle back seats. On the other corner seat a Roma. In front of me a Roma couple and their baby. The blonde nearest the Roma turns away and holds her nose. The ticket collector senses their agony and finds them places at the front of the bus. The Roma say nothing. I later read of the unwritten bus apartheid: Serbs at the front, Albanians in the middle, and Roma at the back. However, the Roma are hardly welcome in Kosovo as they are seen as the collaborators with the Serbs.

Yet the Balkans are an easy place to travel around They are used to tourists. Everyone knows a bit of English. And if you are confused with all the different currencies flash a fistful of euros will get you anywhere and anything. Streets are confused and messy but relaxed and safe. Street crime is almost non-existent in the countries I’ve been through. Girls nonchalantly walk alone along the muddy unlit alleys in the late hours. Much of the scenery is rough, mountainous and spectacular. It’s a pity I travelled along the Dalmatian coastline in Croatia on such a wet day and visited the old walled city of Dubrovnik, formerly Ragusa, on the same wet Saturday. And for smokers it’s a paradise. restrictions only in public transport. Smoking is almost a staple of life. In Turkish you say “sigara icmek”, “to drink a cigarette”, as if smoking is a necessary physical act. And for those who like a quick tourist fix, with rapid changes of scenery, country, climate, religion, currency, language, cost of living, standard of life it is ideal.

And migration trends are changing. Here in Thessalonika my hotel is near a very new Chinatown, the centre of the rag trade. Africans sell false Gucci bags on the streets. There are some 300,000 Albanian workers in Greece. Like Ireland and Italy, Greek has changed from being an exporter to an importer of people. Few migrants have yet been attracted to the former Yugoslavia states, but that may change.

Kosovo or Kosova?

January 19, 2008

It does make a difference. It is known internationally as Kosovo, but this is also the term Serbia uses. And it is Kosova in Albanian, how the ethnically Albanian 90% plus of the population would like the country to be known. It is a bit like Northern Ireland: Derry for Catholics and Londonderry for Protestants. Of course, we can make a comparison between Kosovo and Northern Ireland. The division between the ethnically Albanian Muslim Kosovars and the Slav Orthodox Serbs. Between the economically dominant Protestants and the subaltern Catholics. But the violence in the Northern Ireland troubles was a very different kettle of fish. In Kosovo there were 10,000 dead and 860,000 were driven from their homes by the Serb forces in 1999. In Northern Ireland 3,523 people were killed between 1969 and 2001. Now the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are working together on the Northern Ireland Executive. It is still impossible to imagine anything similar happening in Kosovo.

After the Dayton Agreement in 1995, which, in Bosnia, established separate areas for Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, on one hand, and the Serbs, on the other, and which I commented on in an earlier blog, Slobodan Milosevic stepped up pressure on Kosovo, the poorest province in the old Yugoslavia, and which had voted to become independent in 1990. Differently to Slovenia and Croatia, there was no organized Kosovar armed force to back up the vote for separatism. And the Serbs, a minority of some 10%, controlled the police and had most of the government jobs. Many Kosovars had emigrated, mostly to Switzerland and Germany, where they sent regular remittances back home, and which ssupported many faamilies.

Though only a minority of the population in Kosovo was Serbian, it had a special place in Serb history, a kind of spiritual home, as it was at the Battle of Kosovo on the Field of Blackbirds in 1389 that, although the Serb army lost to the Ottomans, who eventually reached and took Belgrade, a sense of Serb nationhood was forged. As Milosevic said on the 600th anniversary of the battle: “The Kosovo heroism has been inspiring our creativity for six centuries, and has fed our pride. It does not allow us to forget that at one time we were a great, brave and proud army, one of the few that remained undefeated when it was losing” (in Kosova Express, James Pettifer. London: Hurst, 2005, p.21). It is also the home of important Serbian Orthodox churches. In Belgrade Cathedral I purchased a calendar of Orthodox churches in Serbia “Kosovo – The Heart of Serbia”. States the Introduction: “A country where it is most difficult to defend Christianity in Europe. This area is not only a part of Serbia, but it is also its stone sacrament built in the the foundation and without which it is impossible to survive the horrors of this world. Kosovo is the basis of Serbian soul, country, ethics, religion, culture. If you do not understand this, you do not understand a thing about Serbia”. In fact its Patriarchate is in Peje or Pec, in Kosovo. So, following this logic, what are the Albanian Kosovars, with their different habits and customs, their Islam, doing there, in this purely Serb place? Surely it would be better for the ethnic Albanians to go back to Albania and for Kosovo to become 100% Serb? This would be the basis of what would become known as “ethnic cleansing”.

But after the Serb defeat in 1389, Kosovo was abandoned to the Albanians, descendants of the Illyrians, who were the original inhabitants of the area. Serbia regained control after the Ottomans were defeated in 1913, and Serbs were brought in to develop the land. It was occupied by Italy in World War II, and then liberated by Albanian partisans and incorporated into Tito’s Yugoslavia. An autonomous province within Yugoslavia was created in 1974, but after Tito’s death in 1980 Kosovo demanded more autonomy. Unrest and strikes and riots in 1981 produced reprisals, and 300 Kosovars were killed. In 1989 the troubles reignited, and in 1990 Kosovo’s autonomy was cancelled, and broadcasting in Albanian stopped. In the mid-1990s the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, mainly supported by money from expats in Switzlerland and Germany, and began to attack Serb police and army. In March 1999 Serbia rejected a US plan to return Kosovo’s autonomy, and Serb attacks on the KLA increased, as the Serbian military attempted to rid Kosovo of its non-Serb population by violent methods. Nearly 850,000 Kosovars fled to Albania or Macedonia. On 24 March NATO began to bomb key Serb positions, both in Serbia and Kosovo, including a cruise missile fired from the Adriatic that destroyed the Serb nerve centre, the police station, in Prishtina, capital of Kosovo. On 2 June Milosevic finally agreed to a setttlement. Kosovo then became the first country to be run by the United Nations. It had no infrastructure, no money, no industry, no security force, as all the police had been Serbs.

Just one account will give an idea of the horrors of the war. It comes from The Hemmingway Book Club of Kosovo (Tarcher/Penguin 2004), written by an American teacher of English, Paula Huntley, who was in Kosovo from August 2000 to June 2001. A student tells her the stories of her friends: In the morning of that terrible day when the Serbs came to their village […] the mother, the son, and the daughters knelt in a circle to pray that God would stop the terrible things that were happening. The father had left for the mountains to join the fighters. They were still on the ground in the circle when the soldiers crashed in. The soldiers grabbed the son and took him outside. The family continued to pray until they heard a shot. They were shocked and remained still […] The soldiers came back into the house, grabbed the mother and, in front of he daughters, raped her. Each soldier raped the mother as the daughters cried and screamed. When they were finished, the soldiers told them all to leave their house, to leave the country. […] They walked for days without talking, finally joining other people who had just lived through their own hells and were moving toward the border camps (pp.178-179).

And then the situation was reversed, as Kosovars, now protected by the UN force, undertook to settle old scores and rid Kosovo of the remaining Serbs, committing “reverse ethnic cleansing” hounding the remaining Serbs from their homes, in some cases killing them. By March 2001 there were only some 700 Serbs living in Pristina out of the 20,000 that had been living there in June 1999. Indeed, the KFOR force now is more concerned with protecting these remaining Serbs and the Roma gypsies, ofteen seen by the Kosovo Albanians as being collaborators of the Serbs.

And the UN still controls all the Kosovo infrastructure. Much reconstruction, financed by the UN members and expatriate Kosovars, has been carried out. The Kosovo police force has now been trained and is out on the beat. The UN brings money, and its employees spend their fat wages, and shops, cafes, bars and restaurants have sprung up. Real estate agents carpetbagging cheap land and property. Smart primary schools and hospitals, and the brand new hotel, or motel, I stay at, spring up in a middle of a scruffy Communist-period housing estate. The KFOR (UN Kosovo Force) are admired. A street mural expresses this gratitude. And like nowhere else in the world, except Albania, as I mentioned, is the US held in such awe, reverence and love. While Europe dilly-dallied and supported a strong Serbia under Milosevic until 1999, the US took a firmer pro-Kosovo stance. The Albanian flag is entwined with the Stars and Stripes, calendars portraying Bill and Hillary are popular, and roads in Prishtina have been renamed Route 66, Robert Doll (Dole) and Bill Clinton (formerly Bil Klinton). After 9/11 thousands of Kosovars tried to donate blood for the victims.

But on the map Kosovo is still part of Serbia. But any day now a declaration of independence is expected from the the Kosovo government, to which administration is slowly being returned. Any kind of reuniting with Serbia is totally unthinkable. Joining Albania would be a wish for many, but an independent Kosovo still with UN administration is on the cards any time now.

The first impression of Prishtina was one of mud. The snows of late December had half melted, and the rest was a grey slush. The few pavements were covered in mud, then the pavement would become mud, and you have to cross muddy pools to get to the other side of the road. And even mud along Bill Clinton St., which looks somewhat Turkish, with its kebab and burek pastry shops, hamburger joints, patisseries, and street vendors, a number selling US and Albanian flags, or pictures of Bill and Hillary embracing. It seems most things, legally or illegally, are getting to Kosovo now. The UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) is omnipresent, still administering most aspects of public life: justice, taxation, forestry, environment.

But there is an air of normality to life. Air Kosovo is operating; urban buses are working; schoolchildren crowd out of school at 5 p.m.. But litter is strewn everywhere, just like Albania, and on both the nights I spent in Prishtina there was a 2-3 hour power cut.

I take a bus to Peje (Albanian) or Pec (Serbian). Along the road I see the shells of the gutted houses once occupied by the Kosovo Albanian villagers and destroyed by the Serbs. Often at their side there are bright new houses. Many have returned. In Peje I wander into an Ottoman mosque. The young men, students by the look of it, ask me if I want to pray. Just look. What do you think of Muslims, they ask, laughing. They tell me a little about the troubles. No family remained unaffected. “The Serbs killed us, but we want kill them”. His friend corrects him: We won’t kill the Serbs”.

I walk a couple of kilometres past the Catholic Church to the UN border patrol, which is manned by Itaalians, and get a pass to visit the Peje Patriarchiate, which is just inside No Man’s Land, andwhich, as mentioned, is one of the holiest places in “Serbia”. An orthodox service is taking place. In the chill dark interior there are about a dozen worshippers, most of whom would have been bussed in from the few remaining Serb areas in Kosovo. One by one they kiss the icon of Christ then kiss the priest’s hand and light a candle.

Border Crossings

January 16, 2008

I write on the bus from Pristina, Kosovo, to Belgrade, former capital of Yugoslavia, now capital just of Serbia. Despite assurances from the bus company I´m more than a little worried about crossing into Serbia. My Lonely Planet tells me it´s not possible to cross from Kosovo into Serbia, as Serbia does not recognise an independent Kosovo, and an Englishman I met on the bus to Macedonia told me I shouldn´t pass at the UN checkpoints. I made sure I did not get a Kosovo stamp on my passport. Apparently I should have returned to Macedonia, and thence to Serbia, a longer but a surer trip.

Many border crossings on this trip: from Hungary to Croatia a two hour wait while the police checked the packed train. In Croatia several police checkpoints. From Croatia into Bosnia & Herzogovina and then back to Croatia. On to Montenegro, which only separated from Serbia to become the newest country in the world in June 2006. From Podgorica, the capital, a taxi to the Albanian border, no trouble crossing, then another taxi on to Shkodra. From Tirana a bus to Macedonia, and another into Kosovo. The police get on or you get off, Normally no problem if you have an EU passport. As the borders have come down in the EU thay have gone up in the old Yugoslavia. Hassle at the border. I tried once to get into Serbia and couldn´t. From Poland I travelled to Roumania and got a visa at the border. From Roumania to Bulgaria likewise. But Serbia sent me back together with the Bulgarian babushkas trying to sell their wares inside Serbia. And we were bussed back to arrive in Sofia at 3 a.m..

One of my first border crossings was Spain in summer 1975. We got off the train which had crossed the French border in Girona and queued up to have our bags thoroughly searched by the Guardia Civil with their flatbacked hats. A couple of years later travelling from Spain to Portugal the Portuguese police were just as thorough.

Sent to the Interrogation Room for questioning only once. Surprisingly when I first went to Montreal with a scholarship in February 1991. The Faculty Enrichment Scheme cut no ice with the immigration official, particularly as I left my papers in my dispatched luggage. I eventually got in.

Border hopping or commuting. Work in Geneva, but live in France as it´s cheaper. Commute from Belgium to France, Holland Luxembourg or Germany. Skip over the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay at Foz de Iguacu. Take advantage of Ryanair to live in Barcelona and work in London. Many do.

Difficult borders. Turkey to Greece. it took me two days to cross in 2000. I turned up at the Edirne border on Sunday morning to find it was Monday to Friday 9-5 opening hours. I returned on Monday morning: “Greek computer broke. No cross!” I was told. It took me all day, catching minibuses and intercity buses to reach the main crossing point at Kesan, but as no one was permitted to cross for fear of planting a packet of coke or worse on the bridge between the countries I had to catch a taxi across and into Greece.

Turkish Cyprus, only recognised by Turkey, to Greek Cyprus, recognised as “Cyprus” by the rest of the world. Now the border can be crossed with relative ease but on either side you pass propaganda posters of the atrocities carried out by the former enemy.

Driving over the border from Eire to Northern Ireland in 1995. A time of relative peace during the “Troubles”, but be careful what you say as it may be picked up within a range of some 100 metres of the border control.

And for some passports still don´t matter. before me in the queue crossing from Bolivia to Peru were a group of Highland Indian women, who were lectured on tha advantages of getting a passport by the immigration official, but they crossed with no problem.

Ex borders: Checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin, now a museum. No passport was needed to go to Scotland from England, but many couples crossed the border to be married by the blacksmith in Gretna Green, just in Scotland as the legal age of consent was 16, in contrast to 21 in the rest of the UK. The law was only changed in 1977.

Change of country, language and currency. Forints and Hungarian in Hungary to krona and Croatian (similar to Serbian but written in the Roman script, now since division a separate language) in Croatia to marks (but much can be paid in euros) and Bosniak (but similar to Croatian) in Bosnia and Herzogovina. Montenegro has adopted the euro and speaks Serbo-Croatian or both Serbian and Croatian. In Albania leke and Albanian, from a completely different language group. In Macedonia Macedonian, a Slav laguage, written in Cyrillic, and Macedonian dinar. In Kosovo all the signs are in Albanian, tha language of the majority, Serbo-Croat, with Roman script, and English, and the use the euro. And in Serbia, dinar and Serbo-Croat in the Cyrillic script.

Safely over the Kosovo border. This is not a UN crossing so I might be OK to get into Serbia.

But I wasn´t. It didn´t work. The Serbian policeman told me that this is not a Serbian border crossing. They don´t recognise the Kosovo border as Serbia still considers it a part of Serbia and I had no entry stamp into Serbia, so I had to get off the bus, walk back through No Man´s Land to the Kosovo border and catch a taxi back to Pristina, stay the night there and then in the early morning catch a bus to Skopje, Macedonia, and from there another to Belgrade, Serbia. And this timne there was no problem!

From Albania

January 10, 2008

Albania doesn’t get a very good press these days: people smuggling, money laundering, pyramid selling projects, international prostitution rings, mafia rackets, etc. And this is the image that has taken over from that of the mysterious Balkan country, which was totally closed to contact with the outside world from the post-war period right up until the end of the eighties.

After resisting the Ottomans for many years under the leadership of Skanderbeg, they finally succumbed in 1479. Many Albanians converted to Islam to improve their upwards mobility and to avoid their sons being press ganged into the Janissaries. And the Ottomans ruled for more than 400 years. In1878, the Albanian League began a struggle for autonomy which was put down by the Turks, In 1912, fighting together with Greek, Serbian and Montenegrin armies, the now disintegrating Ottoman Empire was defeated, and Albania declared its independence on 28th November 1912. But in the division of the former Ottoman territories Kosovo, formerly an integral part of Albania, was ceded to the Serbs. In the First World War Albania was occupied by the armies of Greece, Serbia, Italy, France and Austria-Hungary. The great powers favoured a separate Albania after the war, and a republican government brought some stability after the war, but it was overthrown in 1924 by the Northern warlord Ahmed Bey Zogu, who installed himself as president then as King Zog I in 1928 and was attracted to Italian fascism. However, Mussolini ordered an invasion of Albania in 1939, and King Zog fled to London, taking the country’s gold with him.

After the war, the partisans under Enver Hohxa, the Secretary general of the Communist Party, took control. He broke off contact with Yugoslavia, which wanted to incorporate it into the Yugoslav federation, and collaborated closely with the USSR until 1960, when Khrushchev demanded that a Soviet nuclear base be set up off the Albanian coast. Albania then closed ranks with China and built some 700,000 concrete bunkers in fear of an invasion from East, or West. They are still there. Hohxa died in 1985, but after the huge funeral ceremonies, the Communist system began to collapse, as it did elsewhere; people were not bothering to work on the collective farms, and there were considerable food shortages. As the Communists governments fell like a pack of cards from 1989, Albania embarked on a free-for-all capitalist system. Stolen Mercedes were smuggled into the country, indeed Albania has the highest proportion of Merc ownership in the world, marijuana was grown on ex-collective farms, and Albania became a central point on the drug and people smuggling routes. An enormous number of people lost their life savings in the 1996-7 pyramid scam. Since then a certain stability has been achieved, and Albania has had to cope with another major problem: nearly half a million ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo who arrived in 1999.

Albania has become a big fan of the US, and, when touring Europe in June 2007, it was the only country where there were no protests against the US, Indeed, quoting from the BBC site: “On a quick trip outside the capital, Mr Bush was given a welcome worthy of a rock star by thronging Albanian fans, who shook his hands and kissed his cheeks as he walked through the crowd waving and blowing kisses.” This was in lower Kruje, Kruje Fushe, where the main cafe has now been renamed the “George W. Bush Cafe”.

Compared to the staider ex-Yugoslavian states of Croatia and Slovenia Albania has a whiff of the Wild West. The power supply is so irregular many businesses have their own generator. Traffic clogs the main avenues; roads and pavements (where they exist) are full of potholes; a smog covers Tirana on this mild and sunny January morning; rubbish remains uncollected. Plenty of people of all ages are begging for money. Even the steps on the once prestigious communist built House of Culture in the main square are cracked and broken. But worst of all for the tourist, there are absolutely no street name plates. But this becomes a good excuse to meet the locals… And just before I left I noticed that  nice clear blue signs had been set  up in my street, “Mine Yaza”.

Yet, after the snow of Budapest and Sarajevo, and the rain of Dubrovnik and Podgorica, it is pleasant be in a mild Mediterranean winter climate and to stroll around the Sheshi Skenderbej main square, now without its statue of Hohxa, leaving only that of Skanderbeg, to visit the central Et’hem Bey Mosque, one of the few not destroyed by the communists as Albania became the first ever official atheist state in the world, and down the tree-lined main avenue, the Bulevardi Seshmoeret e Kombit, lined by its Italian fascist style ministries, to the university, and a statue of Mother Teresa (born in Macedonia, but an ethnic Albanian) and to the city park, where, after paying my respects to the monument to the 19th century Albanian patriots, I see, together with the normal park fauna of joggers and football teams training, a couple of cows and flock of sheep grazing. They seem to have been brought by an elderly couple, who lovingly lead the cows to ever fresher grass.

Thence to the district of Blloku, formerly inhabited by the top party officials, and now the area which concentrates international hotels, chic cafes, mobile phone boutiques, designer clothing stores, new Mercs and four-wheel drives. It seems there is plenty of money around. Not very well distributed, though. Does it all comes from drugs, prostitution, scams and people smugglin? Are those two guys with their shaved heads, designer stubble and sunglasses getting out of their Merc intently doing business, it seems, for my knowledge of Albanian is pretty limited, involved in some scam? Of course, many Albanians work abroad and send money home: half a million in Italy and some three hundred thousand in Greece. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much industry in Albania. I haven’t seen a single factory. Those opened up by the communists have all closed down. Indeed, the nearest to any kind of industry I see are innumerable car breakers yards.

But people are pleasant and easy-going. Despite the great gap in wealth street crime is almost non-existent. There seems to be little resentment of those who have made it.

The public squares I pass on my way to Kruje on a Wednesday morning are full of men chatting and smoking. Outside the mosque in Tirana I am approached by Edmond, 30, who has already worked in Greece and Italy, but he couldn’t get a visa extension. he now has to pay some 300 euros to get another visa. He asks me to get him a job in the UK.

Every country needs a hero, and Albania now has Skanderbeg (1405-1468). The main museum in Tirana still hasn’t rid itself of all its communist labels, and Skanderbeg, whose name is not Scandinavian but rather a corruption of Alexander Bey (Lord), and who united the clans of Albania to defeat the Turks on a number of occasions in the 15th century before, after his death, they were finally defeated, is seen as a leader of the people against the Imperialistic aggression of the Ottomans. His home town is Kruje, just 25km from Tirana, and I visit the fortress he successfully defended, and the neighbouring museum in honour of Skanderbeg, designed by Hohxa’s daughter and son-in-law in a retro castellated style. Skanderbeg in terracotta, bronze, oils, plaster. Skanderbeg’s helmet and sword (only replicas as the originals are in Vienna). Skanderbeg painted by artists from all over. Statues of Skanderbeg in Michigan, Rome, Brussels, Spezzano and Gdansk. The inscription on the Geneva statue is most revealing: “Skanderbeg, Défenseur de l’Europe”.

 

In Bosnia and Herzogovina

January 7, 2008

I showed my teacher of Turkish, Hadi, the pictures of the picturesque coppersmith shop in the centre of Sarajevo. “Oh, that’s Sariyer, just up the Bosphorous Strait from Istanbul. I used to take my old girlfriends there on Sunday afternoons…”. The many mosques, for midday prayers overflowing, so prayer carpets are placed outside; the medresse, the religious school, inside a courtyard, now converted into shops; the bedestan arcade shops, which also helped to support the mosque, and now these are tourist shops; a library; a Turkish bath, the haman; the tekke, the lodge of the Dervish order; fountains; and the hans, the inns, with their courtyards. On the sunny Monday lunchtime last September, when I was first there, the cafés were full of the Sarajevo youth drinking their Turkish coffee, with the coffee powder left in, and Turkish coffee seems much more popular here than in Turkey, where the popular beverage is tea.Names are the most peculiar mixture of Bosnian use of patronymics and Turkish. The President of Bosnia from 1989-1993 was Alija Izetbegovic (Son of Izet Bey). And Bosnians killed in the 1991-5 war: Sulejman Mahmutovic, Hajrudin Catavic, Sakim Stanbolic. And even the name Sarajevo comes from Saray, the governor’s palace.

Twelve years after the end of the civil war Sarajevo seems to be thriving. The cafés are full, the shops look prosperous. Construction projects are everywhere. There are plenty of backpackers looking for a relatively safe adventurous holiday. out of the old Turkish centre I visit the Catholic churches and cathedral, the Orthodox churches, and the Jewish synagogue, now a museum. Sephardic Jews went to Bosnia when expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. But there are very few Jews left. In World War II Sarajevo was occupied by the Nazis, who sent nearly all the 9,500 Jews to concentration camps.

The Ottoman Empire extended through three continents and included all of what is now Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, the whole of the Balkans. In 1529 the Ottoman army reached the walls of Vienna. The Ottoman rulers were generally benign, collecting taxes from the conquered peoples, and landholders had to provide and pay for soldiers. They also exerted the devirishirme, ordering that a certain number of boys from each area should be sent to train as Janissary officers, and it was with these Christian “slaves”, who owed their lives to the Emperor and who converted to Islam, that the Ottoman army reached its most powerful. Many Balkan girls were also sent to the harem of the Sultan. Indeed, by the 1660s, when it almost ceased, some 200,000 children had been sent to Istambul, and “Slavonic” was the main language of the Janissaries. Although the seizing of children seems brutal, this was one of the few forms of upward mobility for the children, as a boy might make his way up in the army or the civil service, even returning to his home land, and a girl might even produce a future Sultan, and many parents hoped their children would be taken!

But it was only in Bosnia that a large proportion of the population converted to Islam. The ancient kingdom of Bosnia was quickly taken by the Ottomans in 1463. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches were weak: members of one church frequently switched to the other; many then switched to Islam. Besides, many folk religion practices had a long history in Islam: the use of prayer beads; amulets such as animals’ claws; belief in the protective powers of tablets or bits of paper with religious inscriptions. Saints’ days such as St. George’s Day, Jurjevo for Christians and Alidjun for Muslims were celebrated by both groups: “Up to midday Ilija; after midday Ali”.

Muslims entered Christian churches to pray. The cult of the Virgin Mary was particularly popular; and there are records of Christians inviting Dervishes to read the Koran in cases of dangerous illnesses. Paul Rycaut writes of the Potur sect in The Present State of the Ottoman Empire in 1559

“But those of this Sect who strangely mix Christianity and Mahometanism together, are many of the Souldiers who live on the confines of Hungary and Bosnia; reading the gospel in the Sclavonian tongue…; besides which, they are curious to learn the mysteries of the Alchoran, and the Law of Arabick tongue; and not to be accounted rude and illiterate they affect the Courtly Persian. They drink wine in the month of the Fast calles Ramazan… They have a Charity and Affection for Christians, and are ready to protect them from Injuries and violences of the Turks. They believe that Mahomet was the Holy Ghost promised by Christ… The Potures of Bosna are of this Sect, but pay taxes as Christians do; they abhor Images and the sign of the Cross; they circumcise, bringing the Authority of Christ’s example for it.” (In Bosnia – A Short History, Noel Malcolm (p.61-62)).

There were other reasons. Becoming a Muslim may have been a form of upwards social mobility; and court cases could not be brought against Muslims.

So just over half of the population of Bosnia remained Muslim, with thirty percent orthodox Serbs, and nearly twenty Catholic Croats. And the situation remained like this.The Christians were finally allowed to build their churches inside Sarajevo in the 1850s. In 1878 the Austro-Hungarian Empire invaded Bosnia and the weak Ottoman Empire was unable to do anything. A period of industrial and educational development followed. But the power of neighbouring Serbia was increasing, and the demands for a pan-Slavic state.

On 28 June 1914 , the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo and therefore the most sacred say in the calendar of Serb nationalism, Archduke Franz Ferdinand came to Sarajevo to inspect the Austro-Hungarian manoeuvres. his entourage drove past a group of nationalist assassins armed with bombs and pistols. Five failed to act, but one threw a bomb which bounced off the back of the Archduke’s car and bounced into the one behind, wounding a number of its occupants. Later in the day Gavrilo Princip shot the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, as the car went past on its way to visit the injured in hospital. Both died slowly from their wounds. One month later Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and this would be the beginning of the First World War.

With the defeat and collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, the federation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, under the nominal rule of King Alexander was formed. This later became Yugoslavia. Then in April 1941 Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi forces, capitulating ten days afterwards. After the fall of the Nazis Tito’s partisans defeated the nationalist Cetniks, and Tito, initially subservient to Stalin in Moscow, took the reins of power. In this officially athiest state the powers of all churches were curtailed. In Bosnia, the courts of Islamic sacred law were closed in 1946; women were forbidden to wear the veil in 1950; the mektebs, schools where child gained their first knowledge of the Koran, were closed in the same year; and in 1952 all the tekkes were shut and the Dervish orders banned. Bosnia languished as the poorest state in Yugoslavia, with income per capita as low as 70% of that of Serbia. The 1984 Winter Olympics brought the attention of the world to Sarajevo. Then the war did.

Tito died in May 1980, and Slobadan Milosevic took over in Serbia. On 25 June 1991 Croatia and Slovenia declared independence. Milosevic threatened invasion of Slovenia but backed off. The population there was almost 100% Slovenian. On 29 February Bosnia formally declared independence after an overwhelming vote in favour, but Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic were arming paramilitary groups of Serbs and Bosnian Serbs, warning the Serbian populations in Croatia and Bosnia of Ustasa (Croatian right-wing fascists), and Islamic fundamentalists in Bosnia. The state run television and radio reinforced these fears. Areas where there was a majority of Serbians in Croatia and Bosnia were occupied by the Serbian nationalists or the Serbian-run federal army.

Initially the Serb forces attacked the non-Serb population in Eastern Bosnia. Once the towns and villages were securely in their hands, the Serb forces – the military, police, the paramilitaries and, sometimes, even Serb villagers – applied the same pattern: Bosniak houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burnt down, Bosniak civilians were rounded up or captured, and sometimes beaten or killed in the process. Men and women were separated, with many of the men detained in the camps. The women were kept in various detention centres where they had to live in unhygienic conditions, and many were raped. Much of what happened is now coming to light.

“Ethnic Cleansing” became a current term as areas were “cleansed” of Serbs, Croats or Muslims. Executions of innocents by all sides took place: in the Muslim village of Zakoplaca on 16 May 1992 83 villagers, nearly all the menfolk in the town, were sumamrily executed by Serbian paramilitaries. On 11 July in Srebnica, blue-helmeted Dutch UN soldiers looked on while Serbs separated all the male inhabitants of the town, took them away, to be killed. Mass graves holding up to 4,000 bodies were later found. To a great extent the presence of the UN peacekeepers, originally sent in September 1991, proved ineffective.

To complicate the situation, fighting broke out in central Bosnia and Hercegovina between Croat and Muslim forces in 1993. The Croats were now thinking of their own enclave within Bosnia-Herzegovina. In early 1994 the picture began to brighten a little. NATO declared an exclusion zone round Sarajevo and warned the Serb forces that if they did not comply they would be attacked from the air. The fighting only stopped when, after a Serb mortar attack on a Bosnia market, killing 37 and wounding 88 on 28 August 1995, NATO began heavy aerial attacks on Serb military installations, communications centres and weapon dumps. In addition, Croat and Bosnian forces, with improved morale, now worked together began to retake some of the lost territory.

The result of the Dayton agreement was to divide Bosnia into two semi-autonomous regions: the rump of Bosnia, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzogovina, and the semi-autonomous Serb region of Srpska, or for those unable to say it, the RS, Republika Srpska. After more than ten pretty peaceful years, there are signs that the two area may reunite again, particularly in order to try to gain admission to the European Community.

Map of Bosnia

The slightly garish orange and yellow Holiday Inn was the communication centre of foreign media during the conflicts in Bosnia from 1990 to 1995, when, during the siege of Sarajevo, from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 Serb forces surrounded the city and shelled it. I take a look inside: apparently no reminders of the war here, except maybe the pock marks on the concrete porch, maybe the results of shells or mortars, which can be found all over Sarajevo. Many are filled in with red cement.

There is so much rebuilding you have to look hard to find reminders of the war. The atmosphere is upbeat; in eleven years many of the scars have begun to heal. I wander in to a beautiful Moorish building that is being renovated. I see a plaque: it is the National Library, which was burnt down by the Serbs on 25-26 August 1992, with the loss of more than two million books. And in a a bookshop I discover the Fama Survival Guide to Sarajevo, written between April 1992 and April 1993:

“In spring, summer and fall. all leaves it is possible to find were used as ingredients – from parks, gardens, fields and hills which were not dangerous to visit. Combined with rice, and well-seasoned, everything becomes edible. Each person in Sarajevo is very close to an ideal macrobiotician, a real role-model for the health-conscious, diet-troubled West” (p.19)

During the siege a kilometre-long tunnel was built under the airport, through which supplies and weapons could enter the city from the safe Bosnian Muslim suburbs. I visit the tunnel, the end of which is part of a private garden, and which is now a tourist attraction. In the nearby cemetery I see the plaques to those who lost their lives.

Mostar Bridge has become something of a symbol of the war and subsequent reconstruction. The symbol of Mostar, in Herzogovina, the elegant bridge crossing the Neretva, originally built in 1566 by the Ottomans, the link between the Croatian and Bosniak communities. In Mostar Croats and Bosniaks were united against the Serbs, who attacked from the hills surrounding Mostar. But strife between the Croats and the Bosniaks led to attacks from the Croats on the Bosniaks, culminating in the destruction of the bridge on 9 November 1993.

The bridge has now been rebuilt, and much cash has been injected into Mostar. Rich Western Europe, felling guilty it did so little to stop the war, pours money in: the Danes sponsor the refurbishment of bombed out apartment blocks; the Germans a nursery school, the Spaniards a school for children with special needs; the Italians a secondary school; Japan has sent buses; and Turkey has opened up banks on the Muslim side, and the mosques have been rebuilt. The historical centre, or centar, as they say here, is now one of Unesco’s protected sites. Tourists are coming. The boys once again jump from the bridge in midsummer. The shops selling tourist tack, and even Tito souvenirs, have returned, together with boutique hotels. But move on a little, and you very clearly see the ravages of war: along the Croat-Bosniak front line, the Moorish style Hapsburg Grammar School still full of shell pock marks and the bombed out apartment blocks . My Lonely Planet waxes lyrical: “their empty windows gaping like skeletal eye sockets”. Their owners have gone to Austria, Germany, the US, Australia. Over the bridge on the Muslim side it is the same picture. On Marshal Tito Street most of the old Hapsburg buildings are no more than bomb sites. In the cemetery of the nearby Karadzozbegova mosque I look at the gravestones: Moric Meta Mehmed 1955-1993; Islamovic Enes 1970-1993; Drazic Jusuf 1930-1993; Idrizovic Admir 1981-1993; Muratovic Osmas 1946-1993. It’s a dull wet January Friday night in Mostar, but the discotheques, clubs and bars are filling up, and in my hotel there is a wedding party.

The Mostar Bridge

Bombed out building

With the Ottomans in the Balkans – Hungary

January 2, 2008

I shall spend the next month in Central Europe and the Balkans. At the cusp of the Catholic/ Orthodox divide. In countries which, during the 16th and 17th centuries were part of the Ottoman Empire. Where remnants of the Ottoman Empire survive: buildings; food; religion, though relatively few converted to Islam; and, most importantly of all, in the psyche of the people.

I start in chilly Budapest. Occupied by the Ottomans in 1541, the south-eastern part of what is now Hungary remained part of the Ottoman Empire till 1686. This about as far as the Ottomans got: they arrived at the Gates of Vienna in but failed to enter, and, with their forces outstretched, withdrew in 1529.

Ottoman rule was far from tyrannical. Local lords were enlisted to collect the local poll tax and to enforce the devishirme, through which young boys and girls were sent as slaves to Istanbul. But slaves is hardly the right word. Pretty young girls were sent to the Sultan’s harem, and strong bright young boys were sent to train as soldiers in the Janissary guard, most of whom came from the Balkans. And indeed, for an impoverished peasant family, though the lives of their son and daughter might now depend on the Sultan’s capricious whim, the daughter might bear the next Sultan, or at least become the wife of a Pasha, and the son could become a commander of the most ferocious and feared army in the world.

There is little sign of Islam in Budapest. Indeed, one of the most imposing buildings is the Synagogue, the second largest in the world, newly restored, partially by the Tony Curtis Foundation. In the Central Market the suckling pigs, ready for the New Year feasts, chuckle in defiance. The stuffed peppers and spices remind one a little of Istanbul, but that is all.

Then I enter the National Gallery. Paintings of heroic Hungarians falling at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, which has become a founding moment of Hungarian nationalism, where the Christian Magyars were defeated by the Turk.

Growing up in the UK in the 1960s I was never aware of the threat of the Turk to Christian Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. History was 1066 and all that, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake (please do not call him a pirate!) finishing his game of bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada, the Sun Never Set On Our Empire, and the Battle of Britain. Off the coast of Europe, we would have been the last to be had by the Turks, even if their supply lines had been able to extend that far. We were never taught that the most powerful army ever assembled, which had taken the holy city of Constantinople, the “Rome of the East”, in 1453, still considered a tragedy by many, was a very clear threat and constant worry to those living in what is now central Europe. Indeed, the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where the Venetian navy defeated the Turks, and which is now best known through Shakespeare’s Othello, was a cause for rejoicing throughout Europe.

Thus the large number of pictures of Hungarian leaders together with leaders of the Church, or praying, in paintings from the the post-Ottoman period, from 1686, when they were kicked out by the Hapsburgs. Hungary is part of the Christian West. We fear you, Turks! Europe is Christian, says Valery Giscard d’Estaing and many others. Indeed, in a survey made among the members of the European Union before the accession of the East European states, it was Austria which was most reluctant to admit Turkey. The memories of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna do not fade.

In the beautiful town of Pecs, pronounced Piets, where the formal Hapsburg style mixes with the French and the Italian rococo, and where one of the main squares is dominated by a huge synagogue, I visit the Mosque Church, yes, the Mosque Church, originally built as a church then destroyed by the Turks, who built Ghasi Khasim Pasha Nosque with its stones. After 1686 the mosque became a church again, and now, above the mithrab niche, which of course points to Mecca, there is wooden Christ on the crucifix, and in the other corner niches, statues of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles. The mosque, or rather, church, was extended in 1939, with a semi-circular chapel with a mural which shows, on one side, St. Stephen, the patron saint of Hungary, offering his country to God and Christianity and, on the other, the defeat of the Turks at Belgrade by Janos Hungadi and St Janos Kapistranos in 1456, which temporarily held up the Ottomans’ progress, and they were only to capture Belgrade in 1521. After the successful defence of Belgrade, Pope Calixtus III ordered that the church bells throughout Christendom be rung every day at midday to commemorate this victory over the Turks. Many still are.

The rancour is still there for all to see. In St Mateusz Cathedral in Buda the end of the year tourists troop past the chapel containing the tomb of Bela III, king of Hungary from 1172 to 1196, “the only king of the Arpaid dynasty whose tomb was not ravaged by the Ottoman Turks”.

I commemorate the end of 2007 in Pecs. The snow is falling; the temperature is minus 13C. The lead guitarist in the rock band in the main square is wearing his overcoat. Chimes 12 midnight. Cheers. then, before the fireworks, the Hungarian national anthem. All sing. In the background the Mosque Church, the church that was a mosque that was a church.

My thanks to Krisztina Zamanyi