Overview: Let's Meet the Balkans

Eastern Europe and the Baltics -- The Balkans (and Vasilica!)

This week we land firmly and enthusiastically in the Balkans, a tremendous yet turbulent region in Southeastern Europe.   The Balkan Peninsula is named after the Balkan Mountains that run from the border between Serbia and Bulgaria to the Black Sea. The list of "Balkan" countries  shifts depending on whether you focus on geography or politics, but most functionally the Balkan nations are considered to be Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo (though not all nations recognize Kosovo as independent), Macedonia (becoming known, due to a longstanding dispute with with Greece, as "North Macedonia"), Montenegro, Romania, Slovenia and Serbia. The region is, and always has been, multi-ethnic, home to a mix of European and Asian cultures and peoples who would spend centuries living intermingled, literally as neighbors, until some kind of shift -- externally imposed or of their own doing -- would tear them apart.   

For many decades the Balkan nations tried their darndest to work together, forging their disparate cultures into one unified state. Yugoslavia began as a grand idea. In the mid 1800s a group of Croat intellectuals began to publicly ponder the possibility of uniting all the Slavs who lived in the Balkans into one unified whole, not only to celebrate their shared history and culture but also to consolidate Slavic power to challenge their Austria-Hungarian rulers. In the 1900s this pan-Slavic idea actually became a reality; three times in the 20th century a state called "Yugoslavia" existed. But what of their vision of a peaceful, united Southern Slavic nation...? Each time the nation of Yugoslavia broke into violent, discouraging pieces, , most recently in the 1990s.   

This week in class:

-- We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Bosnian: "Dobri dan!"

-- “Darida” is a song from Ingushetia, a Russian Republic in the Caucasus Mountains, about someone who is so in love that he'll follow the the person he loves anywhere. (More.

-- “Sto Mi E Milo” is an iconic Balkan folk song about the many benefits of owning a shop in the Macedonian town of Struga. (More.

-- “Tancuj Tancuj” is a Czech/Slovakian polka that implores us to spin, fly and jump around the room. (More.)  

-- “Kad Ja Podjoh” is a beautiful old Bosnian song about a boy who goes into town ostensibly to collect water, but really to see the girl he loves. (More.


One of my favorite songs from this season, which I sang this week in class, is “Kad Ja Podjoh," a “sevdalinka” from Bosnia-Herzogovina. The song tells the tale of a young man who, carrying a small white lamb, travels to the section of Sarajevo known as Bentbaša to seek the girl he loves. Sevdalinkas, also known as “sevdahs,” are slow, rich, harmonious Bosnian songs that often tell melancholic songs of love. Traditionally, sevdalinkas were performed by women, and most often a capella.  

Like many sevdahs, “Kad Ja Podjoh” is ancient and of unclear origin, though, also like many sevdahs in this historically multi-ethnic part of the world, it shares a melody with a song by Sephardic Jews. Check out this gorgeous version of “Kad Ja Podjoh” and compare it to the Sephardic song, “El Dio Alto.”

Complete and Continue