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leaving the citadel

Most people in south-eastern Europe don’t like the term ‘the Balkans’ and don’t use it to refer to themselves. And there is no real agreement as to exactly what area the name refers to, even amongst people who do use it, so I’m going to try to avoid it.

If there is a single thing that is generally agreed on, most probably it is that borders and identities are vexed and complicated around here. Certain categories are vague, overlapping, ill-defined, loose – and they continue to pose a problematic challenge to our modern fiction of the linguistically and ethnically homogenous nation state. But more of that later. For now what is important, to me at least, is that when I cross the frontier between Slovenia and Croatia I leave the Schengen Area, if not the EU. Croatia joined the EU in 2013 but for some reason, that isn’t clear to me, is not yet eligible to join the Schengen Agreement.

If Croatia’s membership of the EU has brought major economic improvements with it they are certainly not immediately apparent in this part of the country. Suddenly, I feel less scruffy and out of place. If Australia and Western Europe, where I have spent more that the last year, represent the land of plenty, well, now I have returned to the desert to resume my wanderings in the wilderness. And somehow I feel much more at home here.

Bye bye, Fortress Europe.


I’m not one to romanticise poverty but I really do like countries where people still have livestock, grow at least some of their own food and know how to fix things when they break. That seems like a valuable set of resources and skills to me.


Storks are a common sight all through Southern Europe. (They don’t care about borders, though: Schengen, EU, Slovenia, France, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia – it’s all the same to them.)

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