Reflections from the future in the Balkans
1- To move from South East Asia to South East Europe was to change tofu for falafel and hummus, and it meant passing from people staring at me or trying to sell me stuff in the streets, to being stopped and asked things in strange languages (it seems that I look Turkish or Slavic).
2- Isntabul is amazing, as I expected, a crazy mix of cultures right there in the union between Asia and Europe, in one of the oldest populated regions in the world. A lot of short-tempered people, football and good vibes. They love us, thanks to Lugano and Muslera, Uruguayan players that are worshiped in the local football. The former Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire that occupied the Balkans, north Africa and Middle East. A very important region for the Greeks, there they were Troy, Ephesus, Milletus, Izmir, 2 of the 7 Wonders of the World and the genius of Heraclitus stating that is not possible to swim two times in the same river. With 15 million people, the biggest city in Europe is soaked in male-chauvinism and Islam, even if they pretend to be seculars.
3- Here it was my first contact with the Syrian refugees; in Turkey there are almost 2 millions of them, but it’s the less the Turkish can do after sticking their nose in a civil war that is not theirs.
4- Bulgaria is very beautiful. I recommend to take the free guided tours in the main cities, including the Sophia’s Balkan Bites Tour, the only food tour that’s free in the world. The food in the Balkans is a mix of Turkish, Arab, Mediterranean, Greek and Italian influences. Banitsa, Burek, Feta cheese, Rakia… Everything’s is cheap and goes directly to your gluteus 🙂
5- To put one foot in Bulgaria was to realize that Hitler was blind if he thought that the Slavic was an inferior race. 11 out of 10 Slavic girls are gorgeous, I’ve never seen something like this before, I’m walking and I have to stop every now and then to hit my head against the wall. Some girls (straight ones) walk holding hands, it’s something cultural that you don’t see in other places. To arrive here was also to enter a quite poor and corrupted region, still in transition between communism and capitalism (with several nostalgics of the good socialist era, and lots of consumerist-capitalists too), but even when these countries are poorer than Uruguay, they are much less unequal, maybe because of the consequences of the previous systems. You can see also a lot of Gipsies and certain tensions between the neighboring countries, for various reasons, mainly territorial and ethnic-religious matters (it’s a great mixture of ethnic groups, there’s thirst for power and 3 big religions: Orthodoxs, Muslims and Catholics)
6- Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro are small countries with stunning landscapes, mountains, lakes and beaches. Something to remember from Macedonia is the lesson that a buddy gave me: “to see if a girl is cool, look at her shoes, if she is wearing Converse or similar, she’s nice, if not, she is just posh”. Skopje is impressing, a city divided in one Muslim half and one Orthodox half, and Ohrid with its lake and its old city. It’s impressive that the black/grey market occupies between one third and the half of the economy in Albania and Macedonia.
7- The future is uncertain, or more than uncertain, confusing, if some Albanians move their heads up and down to say “no” and from side to side to say “yes”. Or if in many countries there are some cars with the steering wheel on the left side and others with the wheel on the right. Or if to say that they have 100 leks, Albaninans say they have 1000, always adding a “0” at the end, maybe to pretend they have more money, in a region that after socialism became quite materialistic and superficial. Is confusing also to see that a lot of people doesn’t speak English but speak German, Italian or Spanish, because of the migrations and the TV… Here they also have to suffer the Latin American “telenovelas”, because it was something cheap that the local channels could buy in the 90s. There’s a lot of people playing cards and backgammon in the squares, and many places for football bets, all around the Balkans.
8- Male chauvinism in Albania is impressive; a guy, younger than me, told me that women must clean and do the chores :O And the corruption and drug trafficking is huge. A former anti-drugs police officer was pointing at some very expensive houses in a small village, saying to me: “how do you think they can afford these houses if they only own 3 cows?” and “I quit my job because, because when I arrested a dealer, the corrupt judges would let him out two days later”. The communism here was quite hard and repressed religions severely, to the point that Albania was declared “the first atheist country in the world”. But today the Muslims are the majority, the same that in Kosovo and Bosnia, the only places where the Ottomans succeeded at converting the locals to Islam, during their almost 5 centuries of domination.
9- Montenegro is great with those mountains everywhere, beautiful country. And those mountains helped them to fight against the Ottomans and the Venetians. As a local guy told me, “here when 1000 Ottomans came, 50 Montenegrins could kill them all shooting from the top of the hills”.
10- And tonight I’ll watch the 2nd match between Albania and Serbia, in some Croats place in Zagreb, and Uruguay-Bolivia after that. During the first match, some Serbian supporters invaded the pitch and beat the shit out of the Albanian footballers, because a fan used a drone to display an Albanian flag and things went out of control, and also because of Serbians were losing 0 to 3. Since Kosovo War, both countries hate each other.
24- Special thanks to Cynthia, who likes number 24, and that hosted me in the capital of Bulgaria. Coso was awesome too, giving me some lessons about local history and culture, like the fact that around here, Christmas is on January 7th :P, and drinking “mate” after two months was priceless. I’ll come back to visit you someday Chechi legendddd.
I wrote quite a lot, the matter is that the countries accumulated, as I’m moving around so much. In some days I’ll post the reflections from the north Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia). Go Albania and Uruguay tonight!
Originally written on October 8th, 2015, in Zagreb, Croatia.