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The Balkans vs. The Middle East

Updated on April 4, 2016

From Romans to Romanians

Late 19th century battle against Ottoman Turks.
Late 19th century battle against Ottoman Turks. | Source


The Middle East today might seem like the Balkans a hundred or so years ago. They were and are both explosive regions divided into nations, then subdivided, boxed inside self-governing regions. The rule of law and order is questionable. Their maps are just as questionable, apt to change without notice. Annexations can go unnoticed. Historically, the Balkans were dominated by the Ottoman Empire. By 1914, it was on the brink of its ultimate fall, at loggerheads with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and multiple lesser powers under its domain. The Middle East is more independent, if hotly contested. Still, to zero in on any given section, one discovers it is also pinned down by imperial political organs of dominance, quasi-religious in nature, to which appeals for justice and fairness are useless. But the main factor is that the Balkans were closely allied with stronger nations, basically European, who wanted to fight, whereas the Middle East is not. In fact, the world is hard at work trying to cool off the Middle East, not boost its level of hostilities. Middle Eastern nations still get help and sympathy, though their needs and victimizations might or might not be absolutely valid. Simultaneously, propagandists are skilled at fueling hatred and motivating irrational actions, resulting in the staggering loss of life, limb, and property. Political correctness, on our side, insures that substantive discussions in the United States about the Middle East can never happen. They are not the same, the Balkans of the early 1900s, and the Middle East of the early 2000s, yet the latter seems almost inspired by what Gavrilo Princip, a lone Serbian nationalist, was able to bring off.

It is hard for the amateur historian to determine just how much people around the globe cared for Albania, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, or Montenegro. Greece and Italy also figure into the picture. The movies milked their atmospheric mistiness of intrigue and sabotage, but a sizable refugee problem never arose in comparison to today. People, though vulnerable and under constant threat, could not get away. Serbia, a predominantly Christian nation, sought autonomy, but found only indifference and severe oppression. A much happier Iran appears to have been the winner of two consecutive eight year American regimes. It got a foreign military to conquer Iraq, an underhanded feature that typifies war, Middle Eastern style, then achieved an undeserved legitimacy, by means of prestigious talks, despite close ties to Hezbollah, an instrumental role in hijackings, and a reputation for sponsoring terrorism. Netanyahu is not exaggerating. Iran will have to be carefully monitored. Dollar for dollar, or in whatever currency, it is likely as wealthy as Saudi Arabia. All the same, not to break the hearts of evangelicals, there is no Armageddon in sight, unless it comes about in a rather scaled down shape and form. Europe does not want war. Russia does not want war. America does not want war. Asia does not war. Africa does not war. South America? Probably not. It has its own oil reserves, historical treasures, archeological sites, and holy shrines.

Old Map of Balkan Belligerents



Today we bandy about trite, overdetermined catchphrases and word combos like blood and oil, blood diamonds, enriched uranium, or atomic grade plutonium, and gun smuggling, to get our blood to boil. We regularly complain about an incessant drug trade that funnels money into topgrade military equipment. Not much more than a hundred years ago land itself was an entirely acceptable Casus Belli. But there were and remain large exceptions to the rule. Israel is powerful, yet small. China is both large and powerful, but that was not always the case. Before its fortification, it was at the mercy of Japan, much smaller. The latter's fortunes, too, have changed. Once the chief model for corporate business, it has since suffered setbacks from which it has never recovered. We have always assumed that America would remain the world's leader in almost every category. But now a candidate is gaining momentum making use of the exact opposite line of reasoning -- that many countries, including Mexico, are putting it to shame. For the most part, people everywhere get by however they can in ways that are both ethical and legal.

Herein, the Balkans and the Middle East share in common a negative. Their populations are by no means thoroughly criminal, yet criminality all too often affords irresistable opportunities. One could win favor and get ahead in the Balkans by means of robbery, kidnapping, and, if it pleased the sultan, murder. Ali Pasha, a famous Albanian Muslim, is an example. In the Middle East -- well, we already know: compensations to families of suicide bombers and stolen access to oil commerce, as well as other kinds of shady enterprise too disgusting to name. Why mention it? Only because those involved are always thinking; we should be, too. What about the ISIS-al-Qaeda alliance, now a subject of speculation? Shia and Sunni nations are more cooperative, owing to common foes. It has not gone unnoticed. Once again, Iran is the favored intercessor. What about Americans finally turning their backs on the Middle East, exasperated, unable to decide between Israelis and Palestinians, or Turks and Kurds? It is understandable should one tire of the bickering. What about those who live there lawfully while others deliberately flaunt the law? Does it matter to populations thousands of miles away?

The Mass Suicide of the Souliot Women

During the Greek Revolution of 1821, women chose death to Ottoman rule.
During the Greek Revolution of 1821, women chose death to Ottoman rule. | Source

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Will the Middle East Ever Return to Normal?

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The Balkans Resurface

Some things never change. NATO, during the Clinton Administration, without UN approval, bombed Kosovo. The idea was to bring Serbian-led violence to a halt. Collateral damage, however, was extensive. Slobodan Milosevic, President of Serbia, died while being prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They allegedly took place in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia in 1999. Accusations included murder and deportations in former Yugoslavia. They go much further. But with an early death, Milosevic cheated the gallows. Still, there are many who did not view anything he did as wrong. After all, the Balkans are inured to atrocities. Since then, the Balkans appear to have either quieted down or allowed the Middle East to steal the headlines. Naturally, what infuriates the modern, whether in the Balkans or the Middle East, is the resurgence of ethnic cleansing. Sometimes vast numbers were exchanged in order to insure a temporary truce. This kind of thing has no place in the 21st century, yet no international mechanism is able to eliminate it. Unfortunately, for tolerance to prevail, religions, and religious leaders, will have to forfeit the right, as they see the right, to execute, maim, stone, hack, burn, disfigure, imprison, and in various other ways humiliate people. Such a nice thought, I know, but it would be nice nonetheless.

Richard the Lionheart in Battle

Failure in the late 12th century.
Failure in the late 12th century. | Source

The Last Crusade

Jihadists not only intend to rid the Middle East of Israel, but the presence of Christians, too. Is this not plain enough? Or did I unconsciously make it up? In my opinion, at some point in the near future, there will be a reckoning. The meditative atmosphere of the present American administration cannot last forever. Looking toward America for an answer also has a time limit. The world's only superpower cannot shrug its shoulders indefinitely. Also, it really does not matter what Islam is, peaceful or not, when its guns are pointed at us. Christians, as always, will have to decide if Christianity is compatible with brute force. Its scholars, just like Muslim scholars, have to come to grips with the meaningfulness of Jerusalem, or al-Quds, and the like. These are serious enough questions, though Islam, one step ahead, has already made both Jews and Christians into infidels. As to the Middle East, its future will be determined by those fully committed to it, not someone, like myself, simply trying to pen an article. The messiness of the whole situation causes the Middle East to resemble the Balkans, which rarely enjoyed peaceful coexistence.

Still, neither the Balkans nor the Middle East will ever have the leverage they once did to move distant hearts and minds. We will not hear another shot fired round the world, moving the German military immediately to the French border, despite the latter's neutrality, and the nerve-racking anticipation of whose side Great Britain would favor. Western Europe is done with it. By the same token, what could happen in the Middle East that would raise an eyebrow? The Balkans will have to work things out themselves, just as citizens of the Middle East must. All the same, other peoples and nations cannot always resist the temptation to join the fray. To me, these are two barroom brawls that will go on forever and ever. The world itself is multi-directional. It has in the past gone without an urgently needed accord between warring nations for centuries. Does it still have the ability to ignore problems and shun solutions? The Russians propped up Bashar Assad; we removed Saddam Hussein from power. The two actions regarding dictatorship are irreconcilable. Are dictators necessary evils? Support them and people suffer. Knock them down, and ISIS, or another terrorist organization, sweeps into the vacuum. I agree with Ecclesiastes, nothing new under the sun, but today's struggles require original thought. The Middle East will not take care of itself without intervention, actions, sanctions, and agreements. The Balkans? I refer to them mainly for the sake of comparison. But also as a warning.


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    • Rchrdsnc profile imageAUTHOR

      Carl Richardson 

      2 years ago from Midwest USA

      I had to study up on the Balkans in order to make my comparison. Back in the day, they were just obscure countries behind the Iron Curtain. I like the focus on the future. The forthcoming generations will make the more longer-lasting decisions.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Excellent parallel between the 2 regions. It will take many years, maybe 50 + in order for the Middle East to become stable. With oil $$ so low, stability will be even more uncertain. But the younger generations will be less religious and hopefully their children will be even more secular. That's the region's only hope. Shared.


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