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The Balkans: Byzantine Nostalgia

Similar to Yugo-nostalgia, the nostalgia for the common Byzantine past can sometimes transcend some of the barriers erected through modern nationalism and racism in the Balkans.

Mizar, a cult rock band that uses Macedonian traditional music and Orthodox Christian chant in much of their work, recently released a new single, “Konstantinopol,” featuring Harmosini Choir. YouTube user vizantijamk [= Byzantium Macedonia] created an unofficial video clip using a number of depictions of the siege and fall of Constantinople in 1453, including a modern romanticist, kitschy image of the last Greek-speaking emperor riding a horse on the battlements (minute 0:16).

The above-mentioned image from an unattributed source is interesting in two aspects:

Some Facebook users promoted the clip through the pages based on the Macedonian Orthodox Christian identity, such as Speak Macedonian [MKD] and Macedonia Above All [MKD], adding comments of praise for Mizar, who were the first band in former Yugoslavia to produce a rock album entirely in Macedonian language.

Janis used the Orthodox Christian formula “may God rest their souls” to express sympathy for the defenders through a comment [MKD] on the blog Kichevo, which reprinted a 2007 post [MKD] about the fall of Byzantium. Even though the author praised modern Turkish Istanbul as a cosmopolitan tourist hot-spot, this extensive article described the event mainly from the viewpoint of the besieged Christians. The story downplayed the damage inflicted by the Crusaders, even though the siege of 1204 seems far more destructive, as shown by

…With a barbarity that would have made even the wickedest sultan blush, the Crusaders looted, burned, raped and murdered their way through Constantinople, stealing both saleable riches and priceless works of art, destroying age-old monasteries, and generally going against everything that their “Christian” ideals stood for. In its severity, the Latin conquest of Constantinople was ten times worse than the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Of those Ancient Greek texts which are no longer extant, several were in circulation right up until 1204. Yet none of today’s “lost texts” were to survive that year. Although the terrible loss of human life is today barely an echo in our historical consciousness, we are still suffering from the cultural destruction caused by the Western sack of Constantinople. It is all but forgotten, however. While everyone recalls the rapacity of the Turks (presumable, because they were Muslim), no one remembers the violence unleashed by one Christian state on another, in a period when religion constituted the grounds for diplomatic relations.

Amidon, recalled another old post – from 2006 – which advocated the view that Byzantium, its culture and institutions were not destroyed, but absorbed into the then-multicultural Ottoman Empire, which defined Islam as the primary state religion almost a century and a half later.

In the post Our Misery and Constantinople [MKD], Surface Surtuk writes that he feels “appalled by this mystification of the submissive (not of the subdued!), this glorification of a battle lost 557 years ago.”

Noting that at the time, the Ottoman value system of meritocratic feudalism was far more appealing to the Christian peoples of the Balkans than the Byzantine system of personal connections and nepotism, he explained:

…Our [ancestors] played an important role in the conquest of the city, in several ways. The Janissaries, who first stormed the walls, were our boys. Serbian prince Lazar (or his son) took part with a squadron of brave, armored Christian knights, alongside other vassals, like the nobles from Wallachia (southern Romania). The expert Saxon miners from my native area of Osogovo undermined the city walls with explosives and dug a tunnel underneath them. Fortunately, the Byzantines also hired a Saxon from Germany who started digging from the other side, and met them half way – killing them like rats underground. A key weapon for the siege was an enormous cannon, built by a Hungarian Christian who sold it to Mehmed the Conquerer after the Byzantines declined to provide a sufficient honorarium. The city was betrayed by the Christian Venice – which refused to aid it with its fleet, because Mehmed guaranteed larger privileges – and the Genoan colony of Pera, which remained neutral and refused to oppose the Ottoman fleet. The French king preferred to expand his territories and confiscate property of slain heretics rather than to launch a new crusade to aid his fellow co-religionists.

Our [Macedonian] contribution would have been greater, but fortunately the old Turkish vassals King Marko and Constantine Dragash had already given their lives for the Ottoman cause. Only two territories in the area resisted the Ottomans at the time: Neuberg or Novo Brdo [New Hill] fell two years after Constantinople, and in retribution the Turks killed all the leading citizens. The lands held by George Kastriot fell after his natural death in 1468, and their population was forcibly converted to Islam in retribution.

Those who submitted and bowed to the Ottomans were not cut by the saber, nor were they assimilated into Muslim Turks, nor were they driven from their homes. They remained as they were, professing their faith and speaking their own language.

The Saxons cleared their conscience by rising against the Ottomans during the Karposh Uprising [of 1689], resulting in their destruction as an ethnic group in Macedonia.

This disjointed discussion continues, even though the participants do not link to each other, and maybe are not aware of the overall context.

Libellus Antonii posted a song lamenting the end of the “Roman” empire in the Pontic Greek language, providing translation in Macedonian:

  • who were the first band in former Yugoslavia to produce a rock album entirely in Macedonian language.

    A little correction – the album cannot possibly be entirely in the macedonian language or even partially. The macedonian language was absorbed by the Koine dialect\language form. The album is entirely in bulgarian.

  • Makedon

    That’s what they teach you in Athens, the capital of the FOPY (former Ottoman Province of Yunanistan)? Get your head out of your behind and smell the reality: the Macedonian language, the ethnic Macedonians, the Macedonian culture and the Macedonian spirit exist, and they have nothing to do with you FOPYans, the Tatars, the Gedzolanders or the Sqiptars. I came to realize that the language of insult is the only one you people understand and that is why I had to go down to your level. Sad but true…

  • Pingback: Mizar & Harmosini hor – Konstantinopol (2010) « Byzantine Blog()

  • What?

    It just goes to show, in the quoted paragraph our Macedonian contribution King Marko and Constantine Dragash. Well they were Serbian not Macedonian they were from modern macedonia at a time when Macedonians knew they were Bulgarian or Serb you cannot just go and borrow or attempt to inheret history it is not yours. After those comments I am starting to understand the Greeks sorry you overstepped the mark.

  • this is the official video of the song:

    i see nothing wrong with explaining to your own people and the world as well, macedonian raped history. Through the years every one saw Macedonia as a goal for their conquest. Macedonians have three things that everybody wants: the history, the culture and tradition, and the NAME!

    Byzantium its a great part of tha Macedonian history!!

  • Makedon in my opinion has a strange, strange view on history. Either that, or he confuses history with sci-fi.

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