Marija Krivokapić & Armela Panajoti. Journal of Balkan & Near Eastern Studies. Volume 20, Issue 2, April 2018.
The aim of this paper is to instigate the development of theoretical discourse on contemporary travel writing about the Balkans, especially the works created since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The problematization of this discourse is timely, even more so when the unique heritage of the Balkans has to harmonize with that of the rest of Europe. Travel writing vibrantly mirrors this process, but the critical tools through which it is currently read come primarily from postcolonial theory and necessitate revisiting. Although postcolonialism has facilitated the popularity of the genre in academia, it does not adequately satisfy the discussion of an increasingly more complex cultural phenomenon that is that of the Balkans, which cannot be simplistically framed in terms of the ‘Other’. While the Balkans can still be viewed as the ‘Other’ in connection to Europe, as a political and economic union, they cannot be dismissed as such from a wider cultural, geographical and historical perspective. To prove our point, we will list examples of incongruences and suggest possible shifts in perspective. Apart from this, as a polygeneric form, the travelogue demands a multidisciplinary, contextual and comparative approach, while our immediate support will be contemporary travel writing criticism about the Balkans.
Opening his Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing, Tim Youngs argues that ‘[t]ravel writing […] is the most socially important of all literary genres’ and concludes that its ‘ethical importance […] is stronger than ever’, because ‘[i]t throws light on how we define ourselves and how we identify others’. This ‘we’ becomes the most interesting subject when it travels with an intentional mind and later recollects and narrates the experience with a purpose. Yet, to our aim, it receives additional importance when it finds itself on contemporary Balkan roads, when it reveals a pronounced discomfort with the prevailing metonymy ‘the Balkans’, and especially when it fights, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, within the narrative frames and strategies determined by postcolonial criticism.
Recently produced postcolonial reading of travel writing about the Balkans forces serious limitations on both travellers and critics who speak from a world in which the exoticity of localities—once supportive of the quest for the ‘other’—has disintegrated. Although their arguments are still challenging, by verbalizing the ‘subaltern’, as we find an urgent call for in G. C. Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak (1988), and locating the ‘absent’ culture, as H. Bhabha argued in his 1994 Location of Culture, they remain within a theory grounded on the concept of ‘the Other’, whose acceptance would simplistically define the Balkan cultures as such. While the Balkans can still be seen as the ‘Other’ in connection to Europe, as a political–economic union, which ‘excludes’ them summarily on grounds of economic, social and political instabilities, they cannot be dismissed as such from a wider cultural, geographical and historical perspective. Apart from that, the communist/non-communist binary, somehow resonating with the Western/non-Western binary, which kept up the travellers’ fascination with the Balkans even a decade or so after the fall of communism, is no longer viable. What is more, the fall of communism in the Balkans produced new social and political realities quite often modelled after those commonly found in Western European countries, as it can be illustrated by the numerous genres that spread in Balkan music, cinema and literature, as well as by the development of a free-trade market and the multi-party political system. Last but not least, the more recent effects of globalization, owing mainly to technological advances, especially in communication, which have rapidly commodified life in the Balkans among other things, certainly do not make this discussion any easier.
To explain this interpretative inadequacy, we draw, among others, on the groundbreaking works in this field: Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans (1997), who argues in favour of ‘Balkanist’ discourse, although still a variation of ‘Orientalist’ discourse, and Vesna Goldsworthy’s Inventing Ruritania: Imperialism of Imagination (1998), whose self-explanatory title points to the Western uncertainty about the reality of the place.
Todorova’s thesis is that the very concept of postcolonial—built upon the realities of the places whose self-identification was largely jeopardized by the centuries-long imposing presence of European civilization—cannot address the specificities of the Balkans. Better still, according to Todorova, the Balkans cannot even be subject to orientalist studies, because, although traceable, the Ottoman presence was not the determining cultural factor in the whole of the region. Even where it has been so, as in Sandžak, it is perceived as an internal cultural trait and not as the colonizer’s legacy. Postcolonial studies are further inapplicable because of the Balkan geographic, economic, political and cultural discrepancy.
That treating the Balkans with postcolonialist tools would be socially and linguistically reductive, as well as intellectually frustrating, is shown (to indicate but one example among several others) by the historical ‘re/mapping’ of Greece. This country, situated on the southern tip of the peninsula, is considered to be the cradle of Western civilization and used to be the ‘centre’ of the Hellenistic world. However, maybe for its strategic positioning between Europe, Asia and Africa, at the beginning of the last century, this region came to be regarded as a bridge between Europe and the Orient, and therefore not belonging to Europe. However, it happens that Greece has recently been moved to the ‘west’ of European symbolic geography and excluded from Through Another Europe: An Anthology of Travel Writing on the Balkans, 2009. In his article ‘Balkanism in Political Context: From the Ottoman Empire to the EU’, A. Hammond also excludes Greece and the European part of Turkey from the Balkans: ‘The Balkans—Romania, Albania, Bulgaria and the countries of the former Yugoslavia—have long exemplified the non- or quasi-European in the Western geographical imagination.’
In the preface to the Serbian edition of her book Imagining Ruritania, Vesna Goldsworthy says that the book was devised at the beginning of 1990 when she first visited Bucharest after the collapse of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime. Although she grew up in Belgrade, only a couple of hundred kilometres away from the Romanian capital, she realized that she knew less about this neighbouring state than about any other smallest corner in Western Europe and that she had cherished her countrymen’s general lack of interest in other Balkan countries (excluding Greece), which, actually, expressed their silent choice of Europe over the Balkans. To understand this symbolic burden that Europe and the Balkans have been designed to carry, Goldsworthy started reading those authors whose works created the myth of this ‘Wild East’ of Europe. Most of them were British writers who knew little about the peninsula, but who, in the process she calls ‘imperialism of imagination’, inscribed the counters of the terrain of their own dreams and fears on the Balkan map not knowing, or not heeding, that this fictive zone would one day appear more ‘real’ from that whose coulisses they were borrowing for their creative works.
Croatian scholar Dean Duda also discusses the power of representation. He relies on P. Francastel, who claimed that those are the people who make places they write about, on P. Shurmer-Smith, who argues that places react to images they provoke and thus acquire their specific personalities, and on E. W. Soja, who debated on the neglected status of space in social critical theory and the possibilities of its reconceptualization corrective of the disbalance in its relation with time/history. Duda asks if the ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities means their most important intellectual investment nowadays. He sees this turn as an attempt capable of instigating a change that would challenge the ingrained state of affairs and allow a far-reaching critical analysis of the capitalist production of space. What in his book Production of Space (La production de l’espace, 1974) Henri Lefebvre calls perceived space (espace perçu)—by which he means close interrelation between everyday routine reality and the urban reality of traffic and networks that connect working space, private life and free time—is equally applicable to these Balkan capitals as it is to any European capital. Street cars, traffic jams, metal and glass constructions of proliferating businesses, ATMs, designer products, international food and entertainment providers such as McDonald’s and Hard Rock Cafe, online shopping, aggressive marketing and yachting resorts, have nothing to them to automatically put them in line with the definition of ‘Balkan’ or ‘balkanize’ that English dictionaries have recently introduced. Whether historians of mentality and traditionalists prefer them or not, these instances are integrative of everyday subjective stories, national continuing histories and globalizing tendencies, and, while they may be confusing to some elders, they are not contradictory to the younger generations’ conception of reality.
Therefore, this argument is not a political attempt to negate Western concepts, as a kind of ‘fighting back’, to objectify Western subjects, and achieve rhetorical sovereignty—which would be a vain attempt in our hybridized world, and risky of new essentialisms and factionalisms. Instead, our point is that approaching the Balkans as the Other in travel writing, as well as in travel writing criticism and generally, even more so in the writing produced during these past two decades, would be not only too reductive but also too dismissive of the complexity of past and present social, cultural, political projections and realities of the multifaceted phenomenon of the Balkans. Furthermore, it would eliminate theoretical self-determination in the region and discourage developments in critical theory in general. Our aim, therefore, is to assist the construction of more lively grounds for knowledge production, as well as for a self-reflective knowledge production. The examples provided here come mainly from Anglo-American travellers and writers, which further questions the adequacy of postcolonialism for the reading of their writings since the relationships between the Balkans and the English-speaking West have not been marked by imperial end—despite the reverence and subservience political leaders in the Balkans have often manifested in return for approval of their political acts.
Coping with the Balkans in Travel Writing and Travel Writing Criticism
The metaphor ‘the doorstep of Europe’, which Tony Blair used to describe the Balkans, reveals the ambiguity of the concept. Regardless of how contradictory, the responses to its political, historical, social, cultural and natural realities still oscillate between the established binaries—very often to meet the publishing demands—or develop benevolent arguments predominantly informed by postcolonialism and other liberalisms. None of the authors travelling in the Balkan area can escape the prevailing political Balkanist discourse, even when they pronounce this readjustment of judgement to be their leading motive. While recent atrocities made Paul Theroux claim that everything is wrong in the Balkans—’Nothing was right in Durrës […] In a filthy and deranged way it all fit together—the toasted trees, the cracked buildings, the nasty earth’—and Robert D. Kaplan develops a theory that this was the birthplace of Nazism, Dervla Murphy, although strongly opposing Western monopolizing tendencies and the hypocrisy of its humanitarian performances here, still cannot avoid assuming a higher hierarchical relational position. Murphy often comments on the local people’s surprise to see an elderly English-speaking female bicycling and their disapproval of her minimalist luggage. When one of her Bosnian landladies gave her a present of what the Bosnian meant was a bag of decent clothes for a woman, ‘a carrier-bag containing a pink-and-yellow striped cardigan, a voluminous, flowery summer skirt, two blouses to match and a pair of plastic sandals. My gratitude was genuine’, Murphy says, ‘she would never know that her gift was passed on within three minutes to a Gypsy family squatting in a ruin.’ Finally, Murphy gives her book a paradoxical title—she is travelling ‘through the embers‘, but through the embers ‘of chaos‘, as contrasted with the orderliness of home.
At their most poignant, the travellers feel discomfort under the dominance of the essentializing discourse because they do venture through a globalized world in which cultures are indeed difficult to locate and at a time when the values of the ‘centre’ (which once supported the imperialist discourse of othering) have dissolved. British traveller Tony White devotes his travelogue Another Fool in the Balkans: In the Footsteps of Rebecca West (2006) to the idea that the Balkans can no longer be considered exotic and the Other. White understands that Balkan reality cannot be measured by Western ‘autoimagology’ which has expressed itself through a necessary knightly endeavour to be performed in the region which cannot be ruled internally. This autoimagology is developed in the synergy of novels, travelogues, tourist, economic, political propaganda, etc., that created an impression of Ruritania about which Goldsworthy writes in her 1998 study.
However, relegating Balkan exoticism to the past would be too naive an approach and dangerous for the self-determination of the people who are consciously struggling to get under the umbrella of the European Union, whose everyday life is largely determined by general digitalization of communication, and whose free time, as suggested above, is modelled on the forms and practices preferred in the West. White accepts that his own attitudes are formatted by postcolonialism, but also that the place is so ‘ridiculously overburdened’ with different narratives that not one of them can claim dominance. He knows that he travels in the footsteps of many, primarily of Rebecca West—whose one thousand odd pages long Black Lambs and Grey Falcon (1941) is still considered the most comprehensive travelogue about the Balkans—so that to overcome the burden of the stories of others, White constantly compares and contrasts them with the surface realities of everyday Balkan prose. White is, thus, aware of his personal investment in the cultural (and political) re/production of the place and understands that his perception of the Balkans presents the strongest challenge to his own understanding of himself, his culture and his contemporary world. This world, as he inexplicitly proposes, still has to determine where it is in relation to the Balkans, that is, whether ‘the doorstep’ is a part of the house or not.
Travel writing criticism suffers from similar intimidation. Tim Youngs gives examples of how scholarship does not only reflect its own context, but ‘institutional expectations, too’, and thus appears itself a ‘part of the legacy of imperialism’. To be published, authors of research papers know that they must abide by the academic writing rules and, therefore, rely on clever quotations from reputable works and authors, among other things. When it comes to the Balkans, theses are always developed around postcolonial, orientalist, that is, balkanist and anti-balkanist discourse, as was recently noticed in some of the papers presented at the conference ‘The Balkans in Contemporary Travel Writing’, which we organized in June 2014 at the University of Montenegro. In particular, this was reflected in Antonia Young’s paper entitled ‘Distortion and Reality in Travel Writing in the Balkans’. Likewise, the largest part of T. Panova-Ignjatović’s presentation underlies an uninformed understanding of Macedonian women as inferior, while our colleagues from Novi Pazar claimed that the region of Sandžak, although geographically situated almost in its very heart, appears as ‘Other’ even in the Balkans and has repeatedly provoked negative identifications.
Scholars in the Balkans particularly suffer from the hegemonic paradigm, not only because they appear to be urged to oscillate between sympathizing with the travellers’ compassions about the misfortunes in the Balkans or criticizing the travellers’ reproach to Balkan primitiveness, but also because orientalism, or self-othering, positioned itself internally. It is generally, and generationally, believed that the further east one reaches, the more exotic the setting one sees. Similarly, the further west one goes, the more advanced programmes (social, study and other) one meets. Apart from this self-stigmatization, one more ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ tortures the Balkans, which at the same time insists on the stereotypes for the purpose of recognition. While the myth supplies the pattern of moral values and also serves as a medium for ‘callous manipulation and divisiveness’, the Ottoman legacy, as Todorova explains, supports different nationalisms. Although in the introduction to the book she edited, Mythistory and Narratives of the Nation in the Balkans (2007), T. Aleksić tries to overcome the idea of the doom present in the Balkan myth as superimposed, she still cannot help defending the Balkans.
I wanted to publish a collection that offers new perspectives on Balkan nationalism without falling into either self-denouncing or self-vindicating discourse; without the need to explain that the Balkans and their peoples are a bit different from the rest of Europe, but that this particular difference does not render them incompatible with ‘civilized’ norms of behavior.
At the same time, the theoretical urgency of the West pokes at the impossibility of their travellers to revert their ‘imperial eyes’, dividing them into those who openly support hierarchical global relations and the ‘cosmopolitan’ visitors who actually forget ‘the privileged conception of global mobility embedded in the genre’, thus ‘smuggl[ing] in equally judgmental accounts of otherness under the guise of equality, tolerance and respect for difference’. Recent travelogues about the Balkans are usually placed in the second group.
From ‘Responsible Tourism’ to ‘Salvage Travel Writing’
The popularity of the region as a preferred destination grew with the so-called ‘opening’ of Eastern Europe, when, as P. Hulme and T. Youngs argue, travelling was inspired by a necessity of social and political activity. Although Yugoslavia, in particular, was ‘open’ before the erasure of the Berlin Wall, it became especially popular with the break of the Yugoslavian wars in the early 1990s. Almost simultaneously, as G. Huggan explains, globalization effected drastic change in the nature of locality and threatened travel writing that had always relied on the localities’ exotic anomalies that allowed tourists and natives to ‘perform their identities to each other’. This situation has given rise to ‘responsible tourism, of which one particular kind is the “tourism of suffering”, in which the modern cultures of confession and victimage are brought together in part-therapeutic, part-voyeuristic reminiscences of the traumatic experiences of disaster casualties’. The established pilgrimage in the Balkans in the 1990s encompassed almost exclusively the sites of atrocities, while the natural beauties provoked only sporadic impressionist intervals. The most criticized for creating such a caricature of the region are Paul Theroux and Robert D. Kaplan.
When the wars ended, and as ‘the lines of demarcation between Europe and the other [became] disturbingly blurred’, many travellers grew anxious that there might no longer be an alternative anywhere to save travel writing. Suddenly, the ‘wild beauty’ of the Balkans became convenient again, enabling, what H. Carr calls, ‘salvage travel writing’. One often hears travellers inviting readers to ‘go visit Montenegro while it’s still relatively undiscovered‘ (emphasis added), or expressing disappointment at the improvements on the roads and the existence of warm water in the shower, as we find in Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There (2001).
When Katz and I had crossed Yugoslavia […] [t]he roads through the mountains were perilous beyond words, much too narrow for a bus, full of impossible bends and sheer falls from unimaginable heights. […] I remember pressing my face to the window many times and being able to see no road beneath us—just a straight drop and the sort of views you get from an aeroplane. […] It had been a nearly perfect day and I itched to repeat it now. In a strange way, I was looking forward to the dangers of the mountain road—it was such an exhilarating combination of terror and excitement, like having a heart attack and enjoying it.
One cannot help viewing Dervla Murphy’s delight in the colourfulness of the Albanian town Shkodra but as a delight of a traveller awarded with difference, be it even described as a primitive chaos. She observes women sellers of warm milk, ‘wearing long multi-coloured skirts and brilliantly embroidered bodices’. Next to them, street vendors sell kids and lambs that cry most piteously while being tied by the feet and hung upside down on the handlebars of bicycles or made to curl up in cardboard on carriers. One woman strode off with a lamb over her shoulder in a white cotton bag and its twin under her arm. An elderly bald man pedalled confidently between gaping potholes, through the mix of horse-carts and Mercedeses, with a bleating kid draped around his neck and three squawking, flapping hens tied to his carrier.
It is easy to ironize these efforts through theory. A thirst for something exotic, unspoiled by civilization or tourism, or native, can be understood as an urge of adventure, or be seen under the umbrella of nostalgia for a past or a lost value, or it can be read as a need for an inner journey of self-discovery, but it cannot be equalized with a traveller’s feeling of superiority and, thus, read through postcolonial theory.
Most vulnerable in this sense are those authoritative accounts of travellers who have been frequently seen under the influence of alcohol in the famously abandoned Balkans. Thus, once at home, Tony White longs for the Macedonian wine T’ga za Jug (meaning ‘longing for the south’, but actually expressing another potent Yugo-nostalgic mythopoeia), Bill Bryson devotes two-thirds of his narrative about Split to his drunken experience, almost forgetting the prominent Diocletian’s Palace, while Dervla Murphy often goes back to her hotel ‘perilously drunk, verging on footlessness’. The questionable reliability of their memories further supports our argument. In addition, despite the profound research that usually precedes and importantly informs travels, travel writing, as a recollection, is also half-fiction, and therefore, if fiction is a conscious distortion of reality, travelogues must at least be half-conscious distortions. It is not unreasonable that authors will tend to embellish their pages to secure their readers’ attention, as Antonia Young suggests, but how much we let ourselves actually believe in what we find printed on pages is a critical issue, especially when convictions affect judgements. Thus it happens that a traveller, informed by an article published in The Observer in 2007, claims, in 2014, that the small Montenegrin coastal town Petrovac is ‘all about sun, sand and James Bond’. Besides, although these travellers do often forget that they travel because, unlike most of their Balkan hosts, they can afford it, their perspective cannot be simply labelled as superior, least so ‘colonial’ or ‘imperial’, if for nothing else than because, as we argued above, the anglophone world, from which these particular examples come, has never had such a status in the region (except within the field of theory).
It would be useful to compare these examples of recent travel writing or travelling practices with the Balkan travellers’ writing, especially with the reports of their return home from the West. A case in point is the Croatian author Josip Novakovich, who moved to the United States (US) long before the 1990s, received a university degree there, but who still experiences specific existential reductionism when considering his own Croatian origin. In his essay ‘Two Croatias’, Novakovich explains how in the US in the early 1990s Croatia was observed as a country overwhelmed with ethnic hatred inherited from the Second World War, when, as was often simplified, Croatia sided with Germany. However, 10 years later, while Croatia went through its great return to the world tourist scene, Novakovich, who happened to be in Russia, was asked why would anyone leave a country so similar to Italy yet still unspoilt by commercialism.
Another helpful support in locating the theoretical concepts currently used that actually do not always correspond to contemporary literary production could be the 2008 Under Eastern Eyes: A Comparative Introduction to East European Travel Writing on Europe, a collection of essays edited by W. Bracewell and A. Drace-Francis. In the ‘Preface’ to the book, the editors claim that the volume does not intend
to fillet travel texts as sources for an ‘automatic sociology’ of east European idées fixes, but to explore the way different writing modes, contexts and not least publishing strategies contributed to east European travellers’ representations of Europe and of their relations to it.
However, the editors still concentrate on Europe as a measuring principle,
because Europe has been more than just a travel destination. Perhaps more than anything else, it has become a sign which, regardless of the specific definition of Europe being advanced, has served as a means of exclusion and drawing boundaries. The very concept of Europe emerged in a long process of repudiation and ‘mirroring’, directed not only against the Orient, America, and overseas colonies, but also against nearer or internal others.
Parallel to this, a new critical wave in the former colonies seems to ‘view the space of encounter […] as involving exchange and contestation rather than compliance, submission, and imposition’ and to point to the same inadequacy of approaching their authors’ travelogues through the lenses of postcolonialism. An approach to this body of criticism through a comparative and critical differentiation of contextual realities will help. Although the ‘post’ terms are less and less liked, the post-postcolonial deconstruction of historical contradictions and post-oriental attempts (although severely attacked at the academy as impossible) would come in handy in probing this topic, while post-structuralist decentralizing and post-positivist relativizing methods will help avoid essentializing and romanticizing the ‘native’. The term ‘post-balkanism’, connected with a lecture Fredric Jameson delivered, may be a trigger in reconsidering this discourse. A similar and a very effective concept of ‘postindian’ can be found in Native American critical studies and it refers to an emancipated mindset of the peoples native to a particular West. Yet, this term still comes from the postcolonial set of tools and risks an acceptance of the temporal perspective we discussed above, while locking the American ‘Indian’ into a chronological past.
Approaching the concept of the Balkans from the perspective of the region’s positioning itself in a post-Balkan world may be risky of other subjectifications and mythopoieses. Namely, concluding his article ‘Balkanism in Political Context: From the Ottoman Empire to the EU’, A. Hammond points out that the events in Eastern Europe in the last century are thoroughly reflective of the forces shaping the Europe of today. Although some ‘positive advances’ have been obvious in the Balkans, the funds made available to underdeveloped regions have had contradictory effects. One cannot help but wish, Hammond adds, ‘that progress could have been achieved without the peremptory demands of an EU’, whose ‘aggressive, market-led capitalism has hardly helped the transition from centralised economies’. Besides, Hammond continues,
[t]he so-called ‘return to Europe’ of the CEECs is clearly an inauthentic process when the right to award or deny European citizenship is monopolised by Western nations who are simultaneously obstructing the exchange of ideas and influences that might occur across a more egalitarian continent.
Along a similar line, while introducing W. E. B. du Bois’ notion of the Balkans’ semicolonial or quasi-colonial status, Todorova claims that the term ‘semicolonial’ is meaningless, because ‘as a heuristic notion, it is indicative both of the perception and the self-perception of the Balkans insofar as it emphasizes their transitionary character’. Furthermore, as Jolan Bogdan argues writing about Balkan cinema, the Balkans cannot really claim its postcolonial status. While it might have emancipated itself from the communist control, it still half-voluntarily accepts Western economic and political confines. This subservient position is also obvious in the cultural realms, because ‘Eastern Europeans are forced to define themselves for a western audience (forced because Eastern Europe sits on the receiving end of normalized cultural and political exports coming from the West).’ If the Balkans are understood to belong to a neocolonialist zone, this perception becomes of crucial importance for its most frequented tourist destinations and political and economic capitals that are gradually losing their authenticity by mimicking the West. Thus, if we can talk about the Balkans being subject to neo-colonialism, the state of postcolonialism only waits for it in the future.
Balkan Trickster Story, or Conclusion
Slavoj Žižek’s discussion titled ‘The Foreign Gaze Which Sees Too Much’—which Bogdan uses as an illustration for her discussion of Srđan Dragojević’s movie Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996), set in a disturbing Bosnian war environment—is a challenging talk that reasons the paradoxical position of the ‘other’, which becomes part of the dominant culture by violating its rules and self-distancing itself from it. Namely, Žižek argues that, by appropriating Western concepts, such as Hollywood’s Pulp Fiction, Balkan film production actually creates a more authentic image of the West than is the original Western image it mimics. While with its authenticity it highly surpasses Hollywood’s wild fantasies, Balkan cinema actually becomes an expression of rejection. However, by fighting back after this model, clowning the stereotype to dismantle it, the Balkans may appear to behave in a trickster fashion.
Indigenous creation stories know the trickster figure as a liminal, animal and divine, and an amoral being. Usually selfish, having strong appetites (for food and sex), cunning and footloose, sometimes callous, trickster is, at the same time, lovable and irrepressibly sympathetic. Trickster is also a cultural hero, because as a shape-shifter, a creature living on the margins of cultures, it plays with boundaries and always denies them. Multivocality of its discourse, and its carnivalesque and parodic nature, become a communal survival strategy, which inspires laughter to the stereotypes. Thus, we are witnessing indigenous nations all around the world appropriating the dominant discourse only to cheat the publishing industry and reclaim their cultural integrity and rhetorical sovereignty.
We may respect the venerable role of the trickster, but can the Balkans agree to accept this function? When it comes to travelling, our tourist industry would certainly enjoy indulging in this fashion, as the abrupt increase of the number of visitors to the ‘The Game of Thrones’ setting of Dubrovnik’s old town clearly shows. Perhaps the new wave of travelling and travel writing may breed on this rejuvenated Ruritania romance genre, only now in the post-communist setting of Casino Royale, The November Man or After Zenda. While supporting the fictive character of the region and its hypothetical conditions, this trend will spur its economy at the same time. The world of travellers still think of Shakespeare’s Verona, Dickens’ London or Wallander’s Ystad, which are equally fictive and true as is the Albanian town Tropojë of the Taken Trilogy. Yet, the average traveller rarely remembers that Shakespeare’s Italy is a land of a corrupted papacy, dangerous Jewish merchants and innumerable court intrigues as seen from Elizabethan Protestant England. Only a century later, when the Grand Tourist adopted the European routes, Italy became a poor southern region, yet still a place of Roman legacy, which more comfortable British travellers took for granted to be their own to inherit. To the Romantics, it was a reminder of human transience and, therefore, a place of escape, a catharsis of the sun, wine and charming women. In the late 19th century, Italy was mostly the cradle of the Renaissance, the spirit of which many Anglo-American travellers (Robert Browning, Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, for example) sought to evoke in their works, while witnessing the crash of the value system at their own homes. A whole century ago, D. H. Lawrence complained that there was nowhere left to go in Italy because it was all written and rewritten by travellers. Today, Italy belongs to the advanced Western hemisphere and it would take an immense imaginative effort to picture anyone with a ‘superior’ traveller’s eye on the streets of Florence or Rome. There are as many Italies as there are Balkans and there would most probably be a lot more as the travellers’ cognitive maps and theoretical readings of them keep changing.
Although noble in its attempt to uncover the authenticities dominated by colonial thought, and although once decisive for the development of travel writing critical theory, the prevailing postcolonialist thought system cannot be adequately applied to the contemporary reality of travel writing on the Balkans without ‘colonizing’ emerging critical zones in an increasingly transnational world. Thus, the examples provided here ultimately suggest that there is a human element in us all, which is neither colonial nor postcolonial, not only theorized and not only ‘the Other’, but which connects us across the globe. In this regard, travel writing is the most suitable genre for representing and foregrounding this human factor, and, likewise, travel writing criticism is a suitable mode for mirroring this process. Therefore, we believe that the historical agency of this research is opportune and that this discussion will inspire further studies in the field. Our purpose this time was to problematize the insistence on reading travel writing as a narrative of superiority and to point to other possible narrative structures and networks.