CULTURE

Quarterly looks at the Balkans

Hellenic Quarterly has devoted its most recent, 10th issue (autumn 2001) to Greece’s own troubled (but nowadays somewhat neglected) backyard, the Balkan region. This is quite an ambitious publication, which in its relatively brief existence can claim some accomplishments, regularly assembling many writers giving different angles to a common topic, and providing both wide and substantive coverage. This issue also contains attractive color plates focusing on the region’s architecture, offering a visual treat as well as another kind of lesson in comparative cultures, and lending welcome contrast to the sometimes heavy emphasis on text. The main section, The Greek and the Balkans, includes 20 brief (3-4 page) articles on numerous aspects of Balkan society, dealing not just with mainstream political and economic issues but also with contemporary problems such as organized crime and immigration, new developments like the satellite project Hellas-SAT, and a couple on literature and cinema. Other sections have their own mini-thematic treatments, including Theodoros Angelopoulos in cinema and Andreas Embeirikos in poetry. Poetic selections from the latter appear frequently, lending a nice artistic touch to the sometimes prosaic issues being dealt with. Under the usual pressures facing any publication, however, something usually has to give, and here it is sometimes the language itself. As it relies heavily on translations (no doubt under tight deadline), minimizing the Greekisms remains a challenge and a necessity when dealing with difficult subject matter. In some respects, this is a matter of fine-tuning or providing overall direction; for example, some titles are unwieldy (The Significance of the Role of Regional Self-Administration Amid the Evolving International Cooperation in the Balkans is a mouthful in any language), and greater consistency in the spelling of names would be welcome (e.g. Theodoros Angelopoulos has both his first and last names spelled in at least two ways, sometimes side by side). Particularly in places where there is a strong message rendered, as in the opening essay, a native speaker could do wonders in cleaning up the text for the final copy. Do Not Forget the Balkans, the first topical essay, stands as a timely reminder that, as journalists chase their latest story in Afghanistan, policymakers shift to fighting the global war on terrorism, and academics retool to focus on the next regional powder keg, the Balkans represent long-term structural problems and dilemmas, but also opportunities for Greece itself. Lest complacency settle in, it does well to remember that less than three years ago NATO was bombing the former Yugoslavia to stop ethnic cleansing and rid the region of a dictatorship that had been associated with Sarajevo, Srebrenica and assorted other temporary hellholes. The terrible human suffering that both spawned and accompanied the breakup of that country, and the daunting redevelopment challenges following them, fairly demand the international community’s long-term involvement. The message in this edition may not be rendered as cleanly or clearly as it could be, and the English still needs attention, but the editors have put a great deal of work into covering important issues and deserve much credit for the effort. Hence the interest of the novel: It’s a toss-up whether Martin will end up redeemed or ruined, for his fate lies (mostly) in his own hands. Nor is any satire by Dickens so uncomfortably contemporary in its depiction of the yellow press and America in the early 19th century, not to mention the eighth deadly sin of egotism.