We’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed and local newspapers published about our reading, which will be held tomorrow afternoon. We hope it will be a full house, that everybody enjoys our talk and will donate a lot to Cycling out of Poverty!
De earste wike dy’t wy yn Dútslân trochbrochten, ferbleaunen wy in hoart yn ’e Frijsteat Saksen om by in âlde freon, mar ek by de Sorben, op besite te kinnen. De Sorben binne in Slavyske minderheid yn de súdeastlike hoeke fan Dútslân, buorjend oan Poalen en Tsjechië. Wy fytsten mei in bloedgong út de Tsjechyske heuvels wei nei Budyšin/Bautzen ta om dêr op ’e tiid te wêzen foar’t it ynformaasjesintrum om trije oere hinne op saterdei tichtgean soe. Wy kamen krekt op ’e tiid oan en ûntdieken dat de iepeningstiden oprutsen wienen fanwegen it Stadtfest. Sadwaande bedarren wy mei ús ôfladen fytsen tusken kloften minsken dy’t nei in koar, in akkordeonorkest en midsiuwske fluitist harken. Wy lieten gau de drokke stêd efter ús om nei in freon ta te fytsen dy’t by syn famylje yn it doarpke Radwor/Radibor wennet. Yn dat plak is it persintaazje Sorben tige heech. De measte Sorben wenje yn ’e doarpen fan de regio Łužica/Lausitz, dy’t him útstrekt oer de bûnssteaten Saksen en Brandenburg (en in part fan Poalen). De Sorben wenje net allinnich yn twa bûnssteaten, der is ek in ferdieling yn de Sorbyske taal mei nammentlik Heech- en Leechsorbysk. Yn Radwor wurdt Heechsorbysk sprutsen, mear yn it noarden fynt men it Leechsorbysk (de neamde plaknammen binne yn dit stik dan ek yn it Heechsorbysk).
Our first week in Germany we stayed in the Free State of Sachsen for quite a while to visit an old friend as well as the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in the south-eastern corner of Germany next to Poland and the Czech Republic. We cycled to Budyšin/Bautzen at a top speed from the Czech hills to make it on time before info centres would close around three on Saturday. We made it just in time, to find out that closing times were stretched due to the Stadtfest, the town festival. Therefore we found ourselves walking with our packed bikes through the gathered crowds listening to a choir, an accordion ensemble and a Medieval flutist. We left the busy town to set off towards a friend who stayed with his family in a smaller village, Radwor/Radibor, where the percentage of Sorbs is very high. Most Sorbs live in such villages of the Łužica/Lausitz region, which stretches over the States of Sachsen and Brandenburg (as well as part of Poland). Not only do the Sorbs live in two states, there is also a division in the Sorbian language with Upper and Lower Sorbian. In Radwor, the Upper Sorbian is spoken, whereas more up north the Lower Sorbian is spoken (the place names given in Sorbian therefore are also the Upper variant).
Yn Radwor waarden wy waarm wolkom hjitten mei in bierke en in treflik jûnsmiel yn ’e tún en kamen sa mear oer dizze Slavyske minderheid te witten. Hja binne in erkende ‘non-kinstate’ minderheid (dat is in minderheid dy’t net in lân earne oars hat, lykas bygelyks de Sloveenske minderheid yn Italië of de Serviërs yn Kroäsië, dêr’t wy earder oer skreaun hawwe) yn Dútslân en binne aardich sichtber yn ’e regio nei ús betinken. Sa hawwe hja twatalige buorden (noch wol altiten mei it Sorbysk yn in lytsere letter, mar op nije buorden is it lettertype like grut) foar doarpen en strjitten. Boppedat hawwe de Sorben de mooglikheid om nei in Sorbyske skoalle, sneins nei in Sorbyske tsjerketsjinst, nei Sorbysk teater te gean. Hja kinne de krante en tydskriften yn it Sorbysk lêze en kinne nei de Sorbyske radio (net fjouwerentweintich oeren deis lykas Omrop Fryslân) harkje. Us maat wurket foar it Sorbyske radiostasjon en hie in drokke dei foar de boech, mei’t dy sneins sawol Saksen as Brandenburg ferkiezings hienen.
There in Radwor we were welcomed warmly with a beer and a nice dinner in the garden, and got to know a bit more about this Slavic minority. They are a recognised non-kinstate minority in Germany and are quite visible in the region we would say. They have bilingual signs (now still with the Sorbian in smaller letter type, but the new signs will change to an equal size) for the villages and streets. What is more, the Sorbs have the possibility to attend Sorbian schools and church services, enjoy Sorbian theatre, read Sorbian newspapers and magazines or listen to Sorbian radio (though not 24/7 such as the Frisian radio). Our friend works for the Sorbian radio station and had a very busy day ahead, as this very Sunday both states of Sachsen and Brandenburg had their elections.
Lykas sein wenje Sorben yn dy beide bûnssteaten en dyselde sneins soe in ferhipte spannende dei wurde, mei’t it der op like dat de AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in soad sitten winne soe, as dy partij net al de mearderheid krije soe foar de nije regearen. Foar wa’t net bekend is mei dy politike partij, it is in ekstreemrjochtse partij dy’t benammen oanstiet op Dútsk nasjonalisme en om dy reden net sa botte posityf tsjin de Sorbyske minderheid (of hokker minderheid dan ek) oer stiet. De Sorbyske krante hie bygelyks in oersjoch fan alle listlûkers dy’t hja deselde fraach stelden: ‘Wat is de partij har stânpunt of program oangeande de Sorbyske minderheid?’ Alle kandidaten antwurden mei in folsleine alinea, mar de AfD hie net mear as in inkeld sintsje. Doe’t wy dêrnei fregen, die bliken dat hja net iens op ’e fraach andere hienen. De famylje eange wat der barre soe as de AfD yndied de mearderheid fan stimmen krije soe en wy kinne ús mar skraachoan foarstelle hoe grut oft de gefolgen binne foar de Sorbyske minderheid en it ferskaat yn de twa bûnssteaten.
Both states are home to the Sorbs as said, and this Sunday would be a hair-splitting day, as the AfD, the Alternative für Deutschland, were bound to gain many seats, if not the majority for the new governments. For those not familiar with this political party, it is an extreme right party that boasts German nationalism and therefore are not particularly favourable for the Sorbian minority (or any other). For example, the Sorbian newspaper had an overview of all leading candidates whom they asked the same question: “What is the party’s stance or programme for the Sorbian minority?” Every candidate had a paragraph, but the AfD only had a small sentence. We asked for the translation, and it apparently said that they didn’t answer. The family was very afraid of what would happen if the AfD would indeed win the popular vote, and we can only imagine how high the stakes are for the Sorbian minority and the diversity in the two states.
De sneins fan ’e ferkiezings wienen wy fan doel om werom te fytsen nei Budyšin om nei it Stadtfest ta en sa de Sorbyske aktiviteiten dy’t dêr wienen mei te meitsjen, mar troch in ûnfoege stoarm stelden wy ús besite oan it sintrum fan de Sorben út. De stêd mei dan in leech tal Sorbyske ynwenners hawwe, it wurdt nettsjinsteande dat sjoen as harren haadstêd. Dêr binne in soad Sorbyske organisaasjes en ynstituten te finen, lykas de Serbska Kulturna Informacija, it Sorbyske museum en it Sorbyske Nasjonale Ensemble. Itselde jildt foar Fryslân, mei’t de haadstêd fan de provinsje in leech persintaazje Friezen hat, mar de wichtichste Fryske ynstituten binne wol yn Ljouwert fêstige. Doe’t wy lang om let by it Stadtfest oankamen, koenen wy gjin inkeld Sorbysk barren fine, hoe’t wy ek yn alle hoeken en hernen fan de stêd sochten.
That Sunday of elections we were intending to cycle back to Budyšin, to visit the Stadtfest and the Sorbian activities planned for it, but a major thunder storm made us wait until afternoon before we could finally set off to the centre of the Sorbs. Though the town has a low percentage of Sorb inhabitants, it is seen as their capital. There you can find many Sorbian organisations and institutes such as the Serbska Kulturna Informacija, the Sorbian museum and the Sorbian National Ensemble. Fryslân has a similar construction where the capital Ljouwert has a low percentage of Frisian citizens, but holds many of the main Frisian institutes. When we arrived at the Stadtfest however, we could not find the Sorbian activities, no matter how often we circled the place where it should be.
Wylst wy hieltiten mear fernuvere (en frustrearre) rekken, kamen wy samar in âlde bekende tsjin. Hy werkende ús fuortendrekst en fertelde ús dat de lju alles ynpakt hienen fanwegen de stoarm (en it lyts tal besikers), dy’t wy sa geduldich ôfwachte hienen (hoe iroanysk wolst it hawwe?). Hy en syn freondinne woenen in hapke ite, dat wy gienen mei harren mei en belânen sa yn de ferneamde Bautzener Senfstube. Dêr hearden wy dat de Sorbyske minderheid der net sa mâl foar stiet, of yn alle gefallen der better foarstiet as de Fryske minderheid. De Sorben hawwe de earder neamde skoallen en de ynstituten binne gâns grutter (en faaks profesjoneler, alteast minder ôfhinklik fan frijwilligers) as uzes. Yn Leipzig wurdt de Sorbyske stúdzjerjochting stipe ek al is der mar in lyts tal studinten (Yn Nederlân is de stúdzje Fryske Taal en Kultuer omfoarme yn in mear bredere stúdzjerjochting mei de namme Minorities and Multilingualism, dêr’t it Fryske spoar út 60 ECTS bestiet, dus net in folslein stúdzjeprogramma). Boppedat is it sa dat de Sorbyske taal heger yn oansjen stiet en it om dy reden ek mear as funksje-eask jildt by mannich beroppen. Wie dat yn Fryslân mar it gefal.
While getting more and more confused (and frustrated), we bumped into a Sorbian acquaintance, who instantly recognised us and told us they had packed everything up because of the storm we had patiently avoided (the irony). Luckily he and his friend were looking for a bite to eat and we could tag along, so we ended up in the famous Bautzener Senfstube. There, we learned the Sorbian minority is well off and supported, or at least better than the Frisian minority, as they have the aforementioned schools, and the institutes are rather bigger (and maybe more professional, at least less relying on volunteers) than ours. In Leipzig, the Sorbian study is supported even though there is a lower amount of students (in the Netherlands the study Frisian Language and Culture was merged into a more general studies of Minorities and Multilingualism, where Frisian is a track of 60 ECTS, not a full study programme). What is more, it seemed that compared to Fryslân, the knowledge of the Sorbian languages is higher deemed and is asked for in certain job positions (and therefor rewarded), which was very nice to hear.
It mei sa wêze dat de Sorbyske minderheid in befoarrjochte posysje hat, de Friezen hawwe it foardiel dat hja situearre binne yn ien politike regio. De Sorben binne ommers splist yn twa gebieten. Dat makket it belied foar de Sorbyske minderheid dreger. Fandatoangeande binne de beide resultaten fan de bûnssteateferkiezings krúsjaal foar de minderheid, dat dêrom ferfarske ús kunde hieltiten de webside foar de nijste útslaggen. Nei seis oere jûns kamen de earste sifers binnen. In heech persintaazje fan 61-67% (hast mear as 15% heger as de foarige ferkiezings) hie nei it stimburo west en AfD hie yn beide bûnssteaten in soad stimmen krigen, mar kaam út op it twadde plak yn de algemiene útkomst (Saksen: CDU 32%; AfD 27,5%. Brandenburg: SPD 26,2%; AfD 23,5%). Nettsjinsteande is AfD in grutte partij wurden yn beide steaten en de konsekwinsjes dêrfan foar de Sorbyske minderheid sil yn ’e takomst bliken dwaan moatte. Lykwols hawwe beide winnende partijen sein gjin koälysje mei de AfD foarmje te wollen.
Nonetheless the good position of the Sorbian minority, Frisians have the advantage of being situated in one political region, whereas the Sorbs are split into two. This makes the policy for the Sorbian minority more difficult. Therefore, both results of the state elections are crucial for the minority, and our acquaintance was therefore eagerly refreshing the webpage for updates. After six p.m., the first results came in. A high percentage of 61-67% (almost more than 15% higher than the previous elections) had voted and AfD had gained many votes in both states, but took a second place in the general outcomes (Sachsen: CDU 32%; AfD 27,5%. Brandenburg: SPD 26,2%; AfD 23,5%). Nonetheless, AfD has become a major party in both states and the consequences for the Sorbian minority will become clear in the near future, though both winning parties have said not to form a coalition with the AfD.
Lokkigernôch kin de polityk gjin sterke brûkmen feroarje dêr’t de Sorbyske minderheid in protte fan hat. Sa waarden wy op ’e earste jûn al nei in soarte fan boerefeest meinommen, eat dat typysk foar de regio is. Bier en sterkedrank floeiden yn oerfloed wylst minsken byinoar kamen foar in praatsje, in grapke en in dûns (der wie ditkear gjin live muzyk, sadat it bier guodkeaper ferkocht wurde koe, neffens ien fan ’e besikers). De oare moarns koe men yn Radwor nei de Sorbyske tsjerketsjinst (eat dat dêr hiel gewoan is, yn Fryslân hast út en troch ris in Fryske tsjinst). Religy spilet hoe dan ek in grutte rol by de Sorben, it measte noch by de ferneamde Peaskeprosesje. Mei Peaske ride de Sorbyske manlju op harren hynders yn in grutte optocht fan it iene doarp nei it oare, wylst hja dêrby gebedens sjonge. De froulju soargje foar wiet en drûch yn ’e doarpen. Yn Budyšin – sa’t ús ferteld waard – is it mear in sjo en wurdt it in tradysje neamd, mar yn de doarpen is it wol deeglik in echte prosesje. Fandêr dat der mei klam sein waard dat wy it net as tradysje oantsjutte mochten mar as in libbene, jierlikse staasje dy’t de Sorben nei oan it hert giet. Sa hienen wy alwer it idee dat de Sorbyske minderheid der net sa raar foarstiet. Dus net allinnich ynstitusjoneel sjoen, mar ek as in folk dat stiet foar harren eigen identiteit en de ‘bunte Vielfalt’ yn ’e regio. Sa’n sterke wil kin skoan opbokse tsjin in politike partij, ek al wurdt it in útdaging tsjin sok nasjonalisme.
Luckily, politics can’t change strong standing customs, and the Sorbian minority has many of them. We were taken to a so-called famers’ party on the first night for example, something marked as typical for the region. There, beer and schnapps flowed as people came together for a good chat, a joke or a dance (though here there was no live music so the beer could be sold cheaper, according to one of the visitors). And the morning after on Sunday, church in Radwor had service which was in Sorbian (something completely natural there, though in Fryslân the services are now and again in Frisian). Religion also plays a major role in Sorbian customs, of which maybe the most well-known is the Easter ride. Each Easter, the Sorbian men ride their horses in a procession to one village to the next, singing prayers while doing so, while the women organise food and drinks within the villages. In Budyšin – as we are told – it is more of a show and called a tradition, but around in the villages is the real procession, and therefore, we were explicitly told not to mark them as a tradition as such, but as a lively yearly procession which matters dearly to the Sorbs and their culture. In this sense, we again had the feeling the Sorbian minority was well off, not only institutionally, but also as a people who stand for an own identity and a positive “bunte Vielfalt” of the region. And such a strong will cannot be deterred or used by a political party, though it will be a challenge nonetheless to go against such nationalism.
We had the idea that in the Balkans we were on unknown territory, both geographically and culturally. We saw it as a never ending adventure, with new experiences with every kilometre we cycled. The moment we entered Hungary, something in this feeling changed. It was as the most adventurous part of our journey was done, and we now were back on more familiar surroundings where cycling, road quality, navigation and major cultural differences were becoming easier/less pronounced. We ourselves have had long (endless) discussions if this was the end of adventure, or what the notion of “adventure” is anyway.
Especially Geart has a strong feeling towards “adventure” where everything has to be unknown and unorganised (and unsafe, Ydwine would add). When we entered Hungary the country was still unknown (and with a undistinguishable language), but that was the only notion of adventure that was left. Hungary was the start of organised cycling terrain for us, where we could often follow signs while riding on smooth bicycle paths. A familiar setting, as we’re so used to the well-organised cycling Netherlands. We (ahum, Geart) did realise in Hungary that adventure is not synonym to danger though, as we had to cycle on busy roads as cycle paths could suddenly end and spit you out in traffic. Having a big chance of getting run over by a big lorry doesn’t give you the high of adventure, it just gives you a load of fear with every vehicle that appears in your rear mirror.
But as we went up north, dangerous roads became less of a problem. We crossed through Slovakia in a few days, following the Danube on well-maintained cycle paths, and entered the Czech Republic where we mostly took minor roads through the villages, but also the cycle paths that were at hand through beautiful hilly forests (a joy for Geart, a bummer for Ydwine). When we crossed the border into Germany, we certainly could no longer say we were on an adventure because the country feels so unorganised. No, here there are many good cycle paths and even more cycle routes you can easily pick up by following the signs. What is more, we’re cycling towards well known territory again ánd we can understand the language (very) well.
So now that we’re cycling in a known and organised country, does that mean we’ve reached the end of our adventure and are merely cycling back home for the sake of it? Not quite, since other elements come into play such as the colder conditions and on-route challenges.
It’s September, so days are getting shorter, colder, and wetter. Far gone are the days that we had to battle the heat and were sweating in the small patch of shade we could find. Then we began the schedule of an early start to cycle the biggest part in the cool mornings. If we were to set the alarm at five still, we wake up in the dark as the sun has not risen yet. Therefore, we can sleep an hour longer, and rise when the sun appears in the cold morning fog. We have a warm breakfast and start to cycle as quick as possible to warm ourselves up in the once beloved cool mornings. But these mornings sometimes turn into cold middays and even colder afternoons, which we had the other day when it rained non-stop since nine in the morning. For breaks, we had to find shelter (a difficult feat in the open terrain of the Elbe) and do jumping-jacks to warm up a little before setting off again. We were drenched at the end of the day and cold, so cold. What to do though? We had packed our wet tent and hadn’t had the chance to dry it during the day. Luckily, we bumped into a shelter/exhibition space where informational signs were hung up. It only had the door as an opening and therefore gave us a closed off space where we could easily pitch our tent (and three more if we wanted, or if other swamped cyclists would have come by). We decided to go with it, put up our tent and hung our coats to dry, but left our wet clothes on (in hopes our body temperature would dry them as much as possible). We were cold, but sitting dry and we could sleep in a dry and warm tent that night, which gave us the best start possible for the next day.
Despite all the water that came down, we had other challenges on route because of drought. The well-marked Elbe route wants to guide you over several ferries to the other side of the river where the cycle path continues, but four times we bumped into a ferry that wasn’t working due to a low water level (since half a year for some!). That meant we had to cycle further or do rather big detours. We hadn’t planned any detours (thinking it would be a piece of cake with the marked Elbe route), so we had to cycle quite a bit to keep on track with our schedule. And speaking of unplanned, Ydwine got her first flat tyre! Yes, never one in the “adventurous” countries, but in the well-organised, flat, paved Germany.
This made us discuss (yet again) the definition of “adventure” and Geart had to agree (haha!) that adventure is more the tackling of challenges you come across rather than a fixed set of circumstances that you are in. Therefore, the journey still has an adventurous side even if we are following the signs of cycle paths in a countries that feel familiar, known and organised.
Us folgjende doel wie, lykas earder neamd, Arad yn Roemenië. Op dy wize soenen wy mear yn it westen fan Roemenië bliuwe en sa soenen wy fuortdaliks mear op ’e rûte lizze rjochting Fryslân. Boppedat koenen wy sa in freon opsykje dy’t by de Dútske minderheid yn Roemenië heart. In strak plan dus.
As mentioned previously, our next goal was Arad, Romania. Going to this town meant that we would stay in the west in Romania and thus more on route back home, and we could also visit a friend who is part of the German minority in Romania. Win-win.
Wylst wy nei Arad fytsten seagen wy al de Dútsk- en meartaligens, mei’t wy hoholden hawwe yn Timisoara. Dy stêd hie yn fjouwer talen har namme op ’e buorden stean: Roemeensk, Dútsk, Hongaarsk en Servysk. Dat multykultureel erfskip komt fanwegen de lizzing fan de Banat-regio, dy’t oer trije lannen ferspraat leit, nammentlik Roemenië, Hongarije en Servië. Troch it Habsboarchske Ryk kamen der ek in soad Dútsers yn dat gebiet. Hjoed-de-dei is de Dútske oanwêzigens noch altiten sichtber en warber. Sa is der bygelyks in Dútske boekwinkel oan it Ienheidsplein mei de namme Buchhandlung am Dom, dêr’t Dútsktalige studinten fan ‘e universiteit fan Timisoara yn wurkje. Arad, de stêd dêr’t wy hinne gien binne leit mar foar in part yn de Banat-regio, mar dat hat de Dútske minsken net wjerholden om harren dêr ek nei wenjen te setten.
While we were cycling towards Arad we already spotted the German and multilingual presence, as we had a stop in Timisoara, which had its place name sign in four different languages: Romanian, German, Hungarian and Serbian. This multicultural heritage is not strange, as it is part of the Banat region, which is spread over the three countries of Romania, Hungary, and Serbia. Due to the Habsburg Monarchy, German settlers came to this region too. Nowadays this German presence is still visible and active. For example, situated on one of the corners of the Unification Square is a German bookstore, Buchhandlung am Dom, in which German speaking students of the university in Timisoara work. Arad, the town we were heading to only lies partly in the Banat region, but that didn’t withhold the German people to settle there too.
No ja, Arad. Wy moasten in lyts bytsje fierder fytse nei in doarpke mei de namme Vladimirescu, dat ek in Dútske namme hat; Glogowatz. Dêr troffen wy ús freondinne en har famylje oan, hja binne ien fan ’e hast tritich húshâldings dy’t noch yn it doarp wenje. Minsken dy’t harren by de Dútske minderheid thús fiele minderje yn tal, net allinnich yn dit gebiet mar yn hiel Roemenië. Benammen yn de Twadde Wrâldoarloch en nei it fallen fan it kommunistyske rezjym binne de tallen drastysk sakke. Nettsjinsteande dat feit is de Dútske neilittenskip noch goed te sjen yn it doarp, om’t in soad hûzen saneamde Dútske langhûzen binne. Dat binne lange hûzen (ja werklik) mei ferskillende keamers efterinoar, dy’t wer ferbûn binne mei in gong bûtenom – de measte minsken hawwe dy gong om praktyske redenen tichtmakke – en almeast mei in lyts skuorke oan ’e ein fan it hûs. Wy hawwe in pear dagen (of salang’t wy mar woenen) yn ien sa’n hûs taholden by ús freondinne en har famylje om ús del te jaan en mear te witten te kommen oer de Dútske minderheid yn dit gebiet.
Or Arad? We had to cycle a bit further to a smaller village called Vladimirescu, which also has a German name: Glogowatz. There we met with our friend and her family, who are one of the almost thirty German families that still live there in the village. People who identify as the German minority are declining in number, not only in this region, but in the whole of Romania, with major drops after the Second World War and the fall of the communist regime. Nonetheless the decline of the minority, the German heritage remains visible in this village as many houses are German longhouses, which are long houses (you don’t say) with several rooms in a row, connected by an outside corridor – which most of the habitants have closed up for practical reasons – and usually a small shed at the end of the house. We could stay in one of them with our friend and her family for a couple of days (or as long as we wanted) to relax and learn more about the German minority around this region.
Foar Dútsk ûnderwiis en aktiviteiten moasten wy it doarp ferlitte om werom te gean nei Arad. De minderheid wurdt dêr op ferskate wizen stipe. Sa is der in Dútske skoalle foar bern fan de beukerskoalle ôf oant harren eineksamen. De skoalle is ferdield yn trije dielen: in part foar jonge bern, in ambachtsskoalle en in lyseum. De lessen wurde yn it Dútsk jûn. Alteast bywannear’t de leararen de taal machtich binne. Dêr geane net allinnich bern fan Dútsk komôf hinne, Roemeenske bern geane dêr ek hinne, mei’t harren âlden graach wolle dat se meartalich wurde. Yn dy sin is it Dútsk in sterke minderheidstaal, om’t it in hege status hat en minsken bûten de minderheid om de taal ek graach leare wolle. Dat leit hiel oars foar de minderheidstalen as it Rumantsch, Sloveensk, Aroemeensk dêr’t wy earder oer skreaun hawwe. Om mar te swijen oer ús eigen Frysk.
For German education and activities, we had to leave the village and go back to Arad. There, the minority is visible and supported in several ways. For one, there is a German school for children to attend from kindergarten till graduation. The school is divided into three parts: for young children, a trade school and a lyceum. There, classes are taught in German, or at least, when the teachers are able to do so. Not only children of a German heritage attend these schools though, as Romanian children go there too, as their parents cherish the chance for them to become multilingual. German in that sense is of course a very strong minority language, as it enjoys a high status and people outside of the minority are keen to learn the language too. This is quite different with other minority languages we have written about before: Rumantsh, Slovene, Aromanian and our own Frisian.
Njonken de Dútske skoalle kin de jongerein harren witten oer de Dútske kultuer en tradysjes ferbreedzje en ferdjipje yn de Demokratisches Forum der Deutschen in Rumaniën, in Dútsk jeugdfoarum mei twa gebouwen yn Arad, al is ien dêrfan meast brûkt foar opslach. Yn it oare hûs kin de jongerein nei skoaltiid delkomme om om te hingjen, om boerdspultsjes te dwaan (mei regels dy’t aardich fan uzes ôfwike), om te tafeltennisjen… en om te dûnsjen! Jawier, ek hjir komt de jeugd byinoar foar Dútske folksdûnserij (lykas de Sloveenske minderheid yn Italië, wy Friezen kinne ús amper yntinke dat jongelju soks dogge). En by folksdûnsjen hearre tradisjonele kostúms, fansels.
Besides the in German school, youth can deepen their knowledge of German culture and traditions in the Demokratisches Forum der Deutschen in Rumaniën, a German youth forum with two buildings in Arad, though one is mostly used for storage. In the other house, youth can come in their free time after school to hang around, play board games (with rules that differ from the Netherlands, just saying), do a round of Ping-Pong… and dance! Yes, here youth gathers too for German folkdance (just like the Slovene minority in Italy, this is exceptional for us Frisians to see young people do this), and with folkdance comes traditional costumes.
Wy hawwe spitigernôch de kostúms net yn fol ornaat sjen kinnen, mei’t de dûnsploech alle simmers drok dwaande is om de klean te stiivjen. Te stiivjen? Ja, de rokken moatte der sa bol mooglik útsjen of sa’t in famke it gekjend sei: ‘Wy moatte der grou útsjen.’ Om der sa bol út te sjen, moatte de fjouwer (!) ûnderrokken stive wurde mei in mjoks fan setmoal en wetter. Dat is in hiel proses dat gâns tiid kostet: men moat earst de rokken waskje, dan in amer stisel klearmeitsje, de rokken deryn ûnderdompelje, de stisel der útwringe, de rokken ophingje te drûgjen om se úteinliken strike te kinnen. It prosedee wurdt noch yndrukwekkender, om’t der safolle fan dy rokken binne. Elk famke hat fjouwer rokken oan en de organisaasje hat sa’n 65 kostúms. Mei oare wurden moatte der alle simmers mear as 250 rokken sa behannele wurde. En dan hawwe wy it allinnich noch mar oer de kostúms foar froulju. De manlju hawwe huodden op dy’t fersierd binne mei blommen dy’t alle jierren ferfongen en op ’e nij skikt wurde moatte.
We didn’t see the costumes in full glory, as the dance group members are busy every summer to stiffen the clothes. Stiffen? Yes, skirts have to look as puffed up as possible, or as one girl jokingly said: “We have to look fat.” To create that full look, the four (!) underskirts have to be stiffened in a mixture of starch and water. This is a whole process that takes time: first wash the skirts, then boil a batch of starch paste, dip in the skirts, wring out the paste, hang the skirts to dry, and finally iron the skirts. To make this process even more baffling is the amount of skirts: every girl wears four skirts, and the organisation has around 65 costumes, which makes that every summer, more than 250 skirts have to be handled. And that’s only talking about the female costumes, as the men wear hats with flowers that need to be rearranged or renewed every year.
Wannear’t de kostúms stiif en ree binne, kin de ploech dûnsers wer op kulturele barrens, Dútske eveneminten en sels op brulloften dûnsje. Hja dogge dat foar de lol en der is in ûnbeskreaune regel: ‘Wy ferwachtsje dat wy let en set wurde op de jûn sels.’ Dat klinkt bêst genôch. Wy hawwe in priuwke meikrije kinnen fan de folksdûnsen, om’t op in jûn it Foarum besocht waard troch in Sineeske útwikselstudint en hy woe graach de groep dûnsjen sjen, dat de leden koenen harren mar reemeitsje yn ’e hjitte. In laptop fol mei tradisjonele muzyk waard oansetten en fjouwer spantsjes stapten de dûnsflier op. Nei twa lieten streamde it swit rûnom yn it benaude keammerke, mar de studint woe noch ien sjen, dat in tredde liet waard oanklikt en it wie kleardernôch it favoryt fan de dûnsgroep, mei’t hja suchten mar tagelyk ek nocht hienen om te dûnsjen op it flugge liet. It entûsjaste klappen wie net mear as fertsjinne mei’t de airco de keamer ûnder it dûnsjen mar krekt ûnder de tritich graden hâlde koe.
When the costumes are stiffened and ready again, the group of dancers is ready to perform at cultural activities, German events and even weddings. They do this for fun, and there is a non-written rule: “We expect to drink and eat at the event.” Sounds fair enough. We could get a glimpse of the folkdances, as one night the Forum was visited by a Chinese exchange student and he wished to see the group perform, so members rallied up despite the heat. A laptop full of traditional music was turned on and four couples took the dancefloor. After two songs, sweat was pouring in the stuffy room, but after the student wished for more, a third song started to play and it was clearly a favourite of the dance group, as they sighed but were eager to dance on this up-beat song. A round of applause was certainly in place as the air-conditioning got the room just below the thirty degrees during the dances.
It wie nijsgjirrich dat der in Sineeske studint wie. Foar ús as Friezen is it makliker om de situaasje fan in oare minderheid te begripen, mei’t wy it mei ússels ferlykje kinne (en om’t wy ús mei minderheden en besibbe ûnderwerpen dwaande hâlde). It wie foar him lykwols ynearsten al in kultuersjok om yn Roemenië te wêzen, of sels yn Europa. Dêr kaam nochris it Dútske Foarum boppe-op, it wie dúdlik dat hy der muoite mei hie om te begripen wat it doel (oars as minsken op befel dûnsje litte) fan sa’n minderheidsynstitút. Mar it belang fan sa’n Foarum kin net beskreaun wurde. It is in plak dêr’t Dútske (en Roemeenske) jongerein byinoar komme kin en sa yn in tige ûntspannende en iepen sfear mei de Dútske taal, tradysjes en dûnsen yn kontakt komme. It mei sa wêze dat de Dútske taal ûnder druk stiet, mei’t der ek lju komme dy’t net by de Dútske minderheid hearre en der sadwaande gau op it Roemeensk oergien wurdt (dat sjogge wy ek by Friezen dy’t switsje nei it Nederlânsk), is it likegoed in foarrjocht dat der sa’n plak is dêr’t lykstimde minsken komme. Foaral om’t it foar jeugd is, is sa’n foarum in kamke yn it gruttere kamrêd om de Dútske minderheid geande te hâlden en dêrmei ek de multykulturele identiteit dy’t yn dy regio te finen is. Is it fierders ek net gewoan cool om in simmer lang tafeltennis of boerdspultsjes te dwaan en tuskentroch rokken te stiivjen om letter yn it jier wer mei dyn freoneploech der op ’en út te gean en op ferskate eveneminten yn Roemenië en oanbuorjende lannen te dûnsjen, iten en drinken te krijen wylst dyn Dútske kultuer stipest en der oer learst. Wy fine fan wol.
It was interesting though that there was a Chinese student visiting the Forum. For us as Frisians, it is easier to understand the situation of another minority, as we can relate it to ourselves (and spent much time on minorities and minority topics too). However, for him it was a culture shock already to just arrive in Romania, or even Europe. And on top of that was this German Forum, which was clearly difficult for him to understand the purpose of such a minority institute (other than people performing on request). But the importance of such a Forum cannot be expressed. It is a place where German (and Romanian) youth can get together and get in touch in a very relaxed and open way with the German language, traditions, and dance. Though the German language was a bit under pressure as members are not always from the German minority and people easily switch to Romanian (something we see too with Frisians who switch to Dutch), it is still of an advantage that there is a place where like-minded people come. Especially as it is for youth, such a forum is a cog in the bigger system to uphold the German minority in Romania and with it, the multicultural identity that can be found in this region. And then again, isn’t it cool to spend a summer playing Ping-Pong or board games and stiffening skirts in between so you can later go on the road with your group of friends and dance at different events throughout Romania and neighbouring countries, getting food and drinks while you’re supporting and learning all about (your) German culture? We would say so.
After our serene stay in the monastery in Macedonia we cycled up the mountain to the reach the (very quiet) border crossing to Bulgaria. That road took us downhill to Blagoëvgrad and from there we took the northern direction, as we are on our way home.
In a previous blog post we wrote about the fact that it’s strange not to have a set goal – and therefore route – anymore. After Tirana we knew which countries we would cycle through to reach Fryslân again, but we didn’t know exactly how to go through these countries. We can now say that we do have a first goal again, which is Arad in Romania. There, Ydwine knows some of her minority friends (the German minority) which we shall visit. After that we have to find a new goal and route through Hungary and then Slovakia.
To cycle back after we have reached our goal of Albania, which we looked forward so much, it is not only strange, it also feels like we cannot handle the negative things as well as before. Therefore, maybe ‘Murphy’s Macedonia’(a previous blogpost) was bound to happen to us, and Bulgaria didn’t bring the change we had hoped for either. On top of this, there weren’t (m)any Warmshower people in these countries, so we missed the opportunity to meet with local cyclists who could give us some much needed interaction and good advice.
We would have liked to say we had chosen a nice route through Bulgaria, but after Blagoëvgrad the tarmac grew worse and worse, and so did the traffic. In general, the drivers we have met (of course there were some exceptions, thank goodness) are not very considerate, to use an understatement. It’s hard to steer around a pothole and not to bang through a second one, when you also have to deal with the traffic whizzing past you at full speed with a minimum distance. We did search for minor roads, but most of the time there just wasn’t an alternative. Above that, the roads were surprisingly long and straight, which makes it appealing for drivers to go even faster. And if the condition of the roads wasn’t enough to deal with, we had quite a few showers, with buckets full of water pouring down without much warning ahead.
What didn’t make the cycling easier was that for us, there was an evident difference between the people in Bulgaria and the other Balkan countries. Where before we were constantly greeting and waving, Bulgarians gave us a cold shower on top of all the rain. Many people just stared, and only few of them greeted back when we said hello. Luckily again there were exceptions, but nevertheless we missed the openheartedness which we had grown so used to.
However, just like Macedonia, we ended on a high note and we picked up our spirits in the final two days. Maybe the behaviour we have seen before was mostly due to a snub “capital attitude” we can see in many countries, as we were indeed cycling in the direction of Sofia. With Sofia far behind us, we finally sensed a difference. The first major turning point was when we cycled through two Roma villages, when suddenly music blasted over the streets on Sunday morning and people in the streets shouted ciao, waved and laughed at us silly cyclists. We were also very happy to see that we had reached a part of Bulgaria where people finally weren’t speeding, as many people were riding horse and carriage – and the cars had to slowly drive behind them. It was striking to see however that the main (and only) road to the city of Vidin was open for any traffic – including slow cyclists like us – but not for horse and carriage. A very specific measurement to say the least, and again not the friendliest side of Bulgaria we have seen.
The Roma villages were the onset of what the region was next on our way. Suddenly, we passed village after village with people who didn’t just stare, but smiled and waved or greeted us when we passed by. The last town we were just before crossing the Serbian border, Bregovo, was bustling with life on the main square and streets around. While we enjoyed some ice cream which we had bought with our last Lev, people came by to chat or just greet. This last day full of these encounters made up for so many of the staring people, non-greeters and dangerous car drivers which had set the Bulgarian image for us so far.
We were cycling to Serbia simply because we could. We were nearby, had no fixed plan to cycle and therefore we chose to grab the opportunity to visit yet another country, albeit for a short time. And what a wonderful unexpected time it was. We spent the night at a small campsite next to the Danube, St. Mokanjac where we happened to be the only guests for the night. The owner heartily welcomed us with homemade schnapps. It was very tasty, but strong liquor after a long day on the saddle can have quite the impact, so we were a bit tipsy when we pitched our tent. But we weren’t tipsy enough to sleep through the dogs on the campsite, barking and running around our tent throughout the night. We were wondering what had set the dogs off, but the next morning during an offered cup of coffee for the broken night the owner told us that there had been a jackal lurking nearby (and we thought that we had been smart not to wild camp as to avoid animals around our tent).
That day we chose to do a scenic route on smaller paths/roads above a straight forward one, and again we were happy to do so. We had a break in a small village, sat at a bench in the shade. Immediately a man came out of his house and tried to make a small talk, though we cannot say much in our best Serbian. He gave us a bottle of cool water and when he saw us eating a tomato, he went back to his house and gave us two tomatoes from his own garden. We ‘hvala’ed’ him very much before we continued our route on unpaved roads (chosen to avoid traffic). People waved and smiled, and they were probably wondering why we had ventured off the main road and through their villages. The roads were bad, but the scenery was really nice, as we have experienced so often before. The short break to Serbia did wonders to us, and we enjoyed our choice to cycle this way.
But it’s not only ourselves planning our route with our navigation app, as coincidence has been part of our trip too. Right after the border crossing to Romania, we decided to have a break and because of this we met many cyclists, as it was rush hour there for cyclists biking along the Danube. Among them was a group of five (three from French and a Romanian/German couple), who had teamed up as they were going the same direction. We exchanged some experiences and since they came from the way we were heading to, they provided us with some advice about our route. The next city was Orsova, and after that we thought of heading north straight to Arad, but they strongly discouraged us to do that. ‘Follow the Danube a bit further, it’s longer, but there is less traffic and it’s very scenic.’ This chat of five minutes changed our route for the coming days. And they were absolutely right that the route was terrific. Above that, the fourteen kilometres from the border crossing to Orsova was the most dangerous piece of road we have cycled on this trip and seeing that the road to Arad would be more or less the same, we are very thankful to them that they suggested not to do that.
All in all, our lack of a specific goal and route has given us some disadvantages right after Albania, as it was more difficult for us to persevere when things got rough or when weather and people got colder. Luckily, it has also given us the opportunity to venture out and promptly change plans, which has lead us to visit Serbia and follow the Danube for a week, which have both been two great decisions. Above that, we are slowly picking up goals again, such as our visit to Arad, and the map with Warmshower cyclists is becoming more crowded again. Therefore, we now really hope we have shaken off the negativity of not having a set route and goal, as we are taking it bit by bit.
Us doel wie om nei en troch de Balkan te fytsen. Wylst wy dit stik skriuwe, sjogge wy al it Balkan-geberchte foar ús lizzen dêr’t wy meikoarten oerhinne moatte om dêrnei it skiereilân benefter ús te litten. Yn dy brûzjende lannen binne in soad minderheden en net allinnich fanwegen de turbulinte skiednis fan ferskowende grinzen en it foarmjen fan naasjesteaten. De Vlach, of Aroemenen of Armãn, binne ien fan harren as in ferspraat (dy’t dus net yn ien spesifike regio wenje) ‘non-kinstate’ minderheid (dat is in minderheid dy’t net in lân earne oars hat, lykas bygelyks de Sloveenske minderheid yn Italië of de Serviërs yn Kroäsië, dêr’t wy earder oer skreaun hawwe). Dy Aroemeenske minderheid fynt men oeral op it skiereilân, en sa’t dat giet yn ’e Balkan binne der mannich opfettings oer wa’t hja binne: ‘Hja komme út Grikelân.’ ‘Nee, se binne in Roemeenske minderheid.’ No, ien ding is wis en dat is dat hja lju út ’e Balkan binne. Yn Tirana hawwe wy freonen moete dy’t Vlach út Albanië binne om mear oer harren te witten te kommen.
To cycle to and through the Balkans was our ultimate goal for this trip. While writing this, we are already overlooking the Balkan mountains which we will pass through soon enough, leaving the peninsula behind. Here, in these vibrant countries are many minorities, and not only because of the turbulent history of shifting borders and shaping nation states. The Vlachs, or Aromanians or Armãn, are one of them as a dispersed (not living in one specific region) non-kinstate minorities (that is, a minority that does not have a nation somewhere else unlike for example the Slovene minority in Italy or the Serbs in Croatia which we previously wrote about). This minority can be found throughout the peninsula, and true Balkan style there are many different claims of who they are: “They are from Greece.” “No, they are a Romanian minority.” Well, one thing is for sure: they are a people from the Balkan. In Tirana, we met with friends who are Vlach from Albania to learn more.
De Vlachen hawwe – netstsjinsteande it feit dat hja oer de hiele Balkan te finen binne – ien ding mien, nammentlik it Aroemeensk, in Romaanske taal. De Vlach binne yn 2017 in erkende nasjonale minderheid yn Albanië wurden en dat hat de doarren iepen foar guon aktiviteiten. Sa wurdt bygelyks it deistige nijs hjoed-de-dei ek yn de Aroemeenske taal útstjoerd, ek al is it yn in gearfette foarm fan fiif minuten. De erkenning en sa’n útstjoering stipet net allinnich de Vlach-minderheid, mar it is ek in motivaasje foar mear ûnderwiis.
Though the Vlachs are spread throughout the Balkans, they all have one thing in common, namely Aromanian, a Romance language. The Vlach became a recognised national minority in Albania in 2017, which makes several activities possible. For example, the daily news is now broadcasted in the Aromanian language too, albeit in a compressed form of five minutes. The recognition and such a broadcasting is not only a support for the Vlach minority, it is also a motivation to more education.
It mei sa wêze dat de taal it wichtichste skaaimerk is fan ’e minderheid, dat betsjut noch net dat elke Vlach yn Albanië it ek praat. Lykas mei alle taalminderheden jout net elke âlder de taal troch oan harren neiteam en ûnderwiis kin gjin sprekken lije. Us freonen binne dêr in sprekkend foarbyld fan, mei’t ien fan harren de taal aktyf fan hûs út leard hat, wylst de oare it ferstiet, mar it net floeiend praat. It oerbringen fan ’e taal luts yn it bysûnder in swiere sile ûnder it kommunistyske rezjym fan Albanië (1946-1992), doe’t allinnich mar Albaneesk praten wurde mocht. Njonken it oerbringen fan de taal fan de famylje ûntbrekt it ek oan ûnderwiis, om’t der gjin strukturele skoalprogramma’s foar Vlach-bern binne yn it basis- en fuortset ûnderwiis. Der binne lokkigernôch guon inisjativen en dit jier waard de earste universiteitskursus yn Albanië jûn. Minsken koenen de lessen foar in lytse bydrage folgje en de earste diploma’s foar dyjingen dy’t it eksamen helle hawwe wurde fan ’t simmer oerlange.
Though the language is a main feature of the minority, not every Vlach in Albania can speak it. Like many minority languages, not every parent passes the language on to their children and education is lacking. Our friends are a good example, as one of them grew up speaking the language while the other understands, but cannot speak it fluently. The passing on of the language was particularly under threat during the communist regime of Albania (1946-1992), when Albanian only should be spoken. Besides the passing on of the family language, education is lacking as there are no structural educational programs for Vlach children in primary or secondary school. There are some initiatives however, and only this year the first ever university course was given in Albania. People could attend the classes for a small fee and the first certificates for those who passed their exam will be handed out this summer.
Nettsjinsteande it feit dat de minderheid wiidferspraat is, binne der wol doarpen en stêden dy’t as Vlach-bolwurken sjoen wurde kinne. Us freonen namen ús mei (yn ’e auto, net mei de fyts) nei twa fan dy plakken: Moscopole en Korçë. De earste, Moscopole (Voskopojë yn it Albaneensk), wie yn earder tiden in grutte Aroemeenske stêd (ien fan de grutsten yn ’e hiele Balkan), woltierich mei syn eigen Akademy en de earste printerij yn Albanië. Hjoed-de-dei is der lykwols net folle mear oer as in foech doarp mei’t de stêd oant trije (!) kear ta ferwoastige is. Dat jout net wei dat it in geweldich plak is om oer de strjitten mei balstiennen te rinnen en ferskate tsjerken en kleaster te besjen. Der binne oeral ynformaasjebuorden, mar as gewoane toerist soest neat oer de Vlach-skiednis lêze. Alle ferneamde minsken, allegearre Vlach, binne beskreaun as Albanezen. Lokkigernôch seach ús freondinne gauwernôch harren Vlach-nammen en koe sy ús fan ynformaasje foarsjen, sadat wy it folslein multykulturele plaatsje fan de stêd krigen. De buorden wienen ferhipte typysk, mei’t wy soks faker sjoen hawwe by (non-kinstate) minderheden: wannear’tst grutte dingen dochst, is de naasjesteat der rap by om dy as ien fan harren op te easkjen. Wannear’tst lykwols wat ferkeard dochst… mar dat is in ferhaal op himsels.
Though the minority is spread throughout, there are towns that are Vlach strongholds. Our friends took us (by car, not by bike) to two of these places: Moscopole and Korçë. The first, Moscopole (Voskopojë in Albanian) once was a major Aromanian city (one of the largest in the whole of the Balkans), bustling with life with its own Academia and the first printing house in Albania. Nowadays however, only a small town remains after the city was destroyed three (!) times. Nevertheless the smaller size, this place is truly wonderful to walk through with cobblestone streets and several churches and monasteries. There are informational signs everywhere, though as a common tourist, you will miss the Vlach history: all famous people, all Vlach, are described as Albanian nationals. Luckily our friend easily spotted their Vlach names and could provide us with this information, giving us the complete and multicultural picture of the town. The signs were striking though, as this is common practise we see throughout as a (non-kinstate) minority: if you do great things, the nation state is quick to claim you as one of their nationals. If you do something bad however… but that’s a whole other story.
Net fier fan Moscopole ôf leit Korçë, dat in skildereftige stêd is mei alwer strjitten mei balstiennen, it hat syn eigen bier en in heech persintaazje Vlachen. De demografyske feroarings yn beide plakken falle fuortdaliks op en dêrmei wat resultaat soks hat op de minderheid. Yn Moscopole is de trochsneed âldens frijwat heech. Doe’t ús freondinne mei ynwenners prate, seinen se dat se it in aardichheid fûnen om wer ris sa’n jonge Vlach te treffen. Yn Korçë seagen wy in soad ferlitten hûzen as sichtbere oerbliuwsels fan lju dy’t dêr ea wenne hawwe. Dy lege hûzen binne in gefolch fan de massale migraasje nei’t it kommunistyske rezjym fallen wie. Doe namen lju de kâns waar om wolfeart earne bûten Albanië te finen. Tsjintwurdich spilet de ekonomyske driuwfear noch altiten in grutte rol yn dy plakken, mei’t in protte jonge minsken nei Tirana of nei it bûtenlân geane om te studearjen en te wurkjen. It resultaat is in dûbeld fersprate minderheid, mei’t dy net allinnich oeral yn ’e Balkan te finen is, mar ek oeral yn dy lannen sels mei as gefolch dat de âldelju efterbliuwe yn de Vlach-bolwurken.
Not far from Moscopole lies Korçë, which is a picturesque cobblestone city with its own beer brand, and with a high percentage of Vlachs. Both places had visible signs of the changes in demography and the impact it has on the minority. In Moscopole, the average age is quite high. When our friend spoke to locals, they said it was nice to see such a young Vlach again. In Korçë, we saw many deserted houses as remnants of inhabitants who once lived there. These empty houses are the result of a mass migration after the communist regime fell, when people took the chance to find prosperity outside Albania. Nowadays, still the economic draw plays a factor on these towns, as many young people leave to study and work either in the capital of Tirana or abroad. The result is a twice dispersed minority, not only already spread throughout the Balkans, but also venturing out of Vlach strongholds, leaving them to the elderly.
Mar de bân tusken dy bolwurken en it nije libben yn Tirana en yn it bûtenlân is noch altiten sterk, om’t doazen fol mei Vlach-iten nei it appartemint yn Tirana tôge waarden. Dat wie de reden dat foar’t wy nei Korçë gienen al wat fan ’e tradisjonele koken priuwe koenen. Bygelyks Tãrkãnã, dat swier winteriten is (dat ek o sa lekker is yn ’e simmer kamen wy efter) en op brij liket. Moatst it siede yn molke en optsjinje mei wite tsiis en bôle yn in kom. Yn Moscopole hawwe wy ek besocht om Vlach-iten te krijen, mar wy meie dêr hjir gjin oardiel oer jaan, mei’t it neffens ús freondinne behoarlik ûnder de mjitte wie (it restaurant hie nije eigeners krigen en dêrmei wie it tradisjonele ferlern gien). Yn Korçë koenen wy lykwols wer oan op hoe’t de famylje itensea, dat doe koenen wy de echte peturi probearje. Peturi kin letterlik oersetting wurde as ‘blêden’, in pasta-eftich gerjocht dat servearre wurdt mei tsiis en walnuten. De lêste deis krigen wy op âlderwetske wize makke pita, dat bakt wurdt op ûnbidich grutte, rûne platen dy’t op gloeiende koallen pleatst wurde mei in lid derop dat besiedde is mei jiske. En wannear’tst pita hân hast, dan fregest dy ôf wêrom’t hja net de populêrste minderheid fan ’e Balkan binne. Of faaks is dat de reden wêrom’t elk lân de Vlach harren ta-eigenje wol.
But the connection between these strongholds and the new life in Tirana and abroad is still strong, as we saw boxes full of Vlach food sent to the Tirana apartment. Therefore, before we went to Korçë, we could taste the cuisine already. Tãrkãnã for example, a hearty winter food (also tasty in summer we found out) of porridge-like structure, cooked in milk and served with cheese and bread within the bowl. In Moscopole, we tried to get Vlach food, but we cannot review them here, as according to our friend, they weren’t up to standard (the restaurant had shifted owners and with them, the traditional touch). In Korçë however, we could rely on the family cooking again so we could test proper peturi, literally translated as ‘sheets’, a pasta-like dish served with cheese and walnuts. The final day we ended with traditional made pita, which is baked in huge tins on glowing embers and ash. And when you have tried the Vlach pita, oh boy, you wonder why it’s not the most popular minority of the Balkans. Or maybe, you realise why everyone wants to claim the Vlach to be their nationals.
Dat is ien fan ’e tûkelteammen om de Vlach as in ûnderskiedende minderheid erkend te krijen. Albanië hat de minderheid twa jier lyn offisjeel erkend, sadat de Vlach mear mooglikheden hawwe om harren identiteit en taal te behâlden en fuort te sterkjen, mar der komt ek stipe út it bûtenlân wei. De reden dêrfoar is dat de Vlach net sjoen wurde as in ferspraat folk út ’e Balkan, mar as lju dy’t yn it bûtenlân wenje. Sa sjocht Roemenië de Aroemenen as Roemenen dy’t yn it bûtenlân wenje en promoatsje en stypje dêrom (A)Roemeenske aktiviteiten yn Albanië. Wy hawwe it resultaat fan sok Roemeenske stipe sjoen yn ’e foarm fan twa Aroemeenske kulturele sintra yn Korçë dy’t stipe wurde as Roemeenske kulturele sintra. Dat makket de saken allinnich noch mar yngewikkelder. Hokfoar ynfloed hat sa’n foarm fan stipe op in minderheid? Hoe kinne hja harren sa ûnderskiede? Hoe kinne hja harren sichtber en kenber meitsje as Vlach en aktiviteiten organisearje?
That is one of the struggles in Vlach recognition as a distinguished minority. Albania has recognised the minority two years ago, giving the minority more opportunities to develop and maintain their identity and language, but a form of support comes from abroad too. This is because the Vlach aren’t seen as a dispersed Balkan people, but as nationals living abroad. For example, Romania sees the Aromanian as Romanians living abroad, therefore they promote and support (A)Romanian activities in Albania. We could see the result of this Romanian support, as we saw two Aromanian cultural houses in Korçë supported as Romanian cultural houses. That makes things complicated to say the very least. What impact does this form of support have on a minority, to be able to distinguish themselves, make themselves visible as Vlach, and organise activities?
Yngewikkeld of net, de Vlach binne yn Albanië alteast einliks erkend as Vlach en hja fine no út wat de mooglikheden binne om harren eigen wiidfersprate folk te stypjen. Wy kinne oars net as hoopje dat de takomst mear duorsume stipe jaan sil wat sichtberens, ûnderwiis, talige en kulturele aktiviteiten oanbelanget en fansels in trochgeande oanfier fan dat hearlike Vlach-iten.
Difficult or not, the Vlach in Albania are finally recognised as Vlach, and are exploring possibilities to support their own dispersed people. We can only hope the future will see a development of more sustainable support in visibility, education, language and cultural activities, and of course a sustainable flow of that delicious Vlach food.
The capital of Albania was our goal when we set off from Harns/Harlingen in Fryslân in May. Approximately two months later, we’re past Albania and it’s weird not to have a specific destination to go to anymore. We did and still have a rough route though, doing a loop through Europe. But the route and the lack of a specific one is a blog post for another time. This blog post is about our way through the terrific country of Macedonia and the bad luck we encountered.
People ask us now and again what the worst thing is that can happen when you cycle through half of Europe. We actually have a top three. Number one is an accident, number two is when things get stolen, number three is when things get (seriously) damaged. However, now that Ydwine had the lovely experience of being very ill, we might reconsider number three. Being ill on the road, especially while wild camping is certainly not recommended.
That particular day went fine actually, we cycled above 60 kilometres and had a fairly reasonable climb, so we were quite happy about everything. Later in the afternoon, grey clouds came in, so we quickly searched for and found a nice camp spot. Just before the rain and thunder started, we had our tent pitched and could crawl in for shelter. So far, so good. After the thunder had passed, we had a coffee to celebrate. But that didn’t go well, to say the least. It was the start of Ydwine feeling nauseous, and things went from bad to worse. Her state deteriorated very quickly and we soon found ourselves stuck on a little patch of grass in the middle of Macedonia. A little luck was that there was a small stream, so we didn’t run out of water. Things could have been worse though, as luckily Geart was still in good shape and able to help.
After a difficult night, things went slightly better. As we were close to the city of Kicevo, we packed our stuff and cycled there to find a hotel to have a full day’s rest. Ydwine slept almost all day and felt a bit better again the next morning. We were determined to be on the road again, but all the strength and condition Ydwine had gained in these two months were wiped away in just one bout of sickness. Therefore, we made two short days of around 30 kilometres.
It sounds quite short, but the second day, the day we reached the city of Kruševo, we had the steepest climb thus far. Above that, a part of that was a gravel path in poor condition. Imagine Ydwine going up, not completely recovered, with the sun burning down on us. Geart had to help her push the bike whenever he could as a true gentleman. The tough conditions with no way out made us realise how much we have to rely on each other, how much a human body can endure, and how far you can push yourself to go on. We reached Kruševo that day, but we cannot deny that it was one of the toughest days of our trip so far.
With the unsuspected night in a hotel we realised one more thing. Namely the contrast in noise between a night for which you have paid and one you haven’t, i.e. a wild camp spot. We have made a rule that we try to have a camp site on the first day of a new country we visit. Just to ease in, get to know the country, and not to have the hassle of getting water and finding a camp spot right away. When we crossed the Albanian-Macedonian border, we arrived at lake Ohrid, so finding a campsite was easy. We found the best one you could think of as a cyclist: small, with benches, Wi-Fi and sockets, and of course with access to the lake. But the night was very noisy, with loud music, a snoring neighbour, dogs barking, cars driving by nearby, and what not. In the hotel in Kičevo our room was right next to the speakers of the Saudi-Arabian mosque, which of course very loudly called people for prayers. The city itself was quite vibrant too, so again we could hear music, traffic, dogs, and so on. To top that, the hotel was booked for a wedding party, and our neighbours had the after party in their room.
This in such a stark contrast with wild camping. When you find a nice spot to wild camp, you mostly don’t have those sounds. It sounds a bit cliché and almost romantic, but usually there are only sounds of birds, buzzing insects, and the wind through the trees. Sometimes you’re relatively close to a village, so in the distance you hear a dog barking, and the occasional car can usually be heard, but that’s it. No music, no parties, no traffic. Just peace and quiet.
Well, peace and quiet until you’re a bit too close to wildlife. When we crossed the last mountain to Štip, we decided to stay on the mountain (or at least half way) and not to go into the valley yet. The previous night was warm and humid, so we thought it would be a bit cooler higher up. That wasn’t the case at all, unfortunately. Apart from that, at around half past one in the night Ydwine woke up by a growling sound. Both of us lay dead still in the tent listening to what we think was a wild boar. At the same time we thought of what would be best to do ourselves. Lay dead still as we already did, or get out of the tent and make a lot of noise to scare the critter away. We did the first option, it scrawled around a bit longer and then continued onwards. It left us with a beating heart in our chest and a broken night. But we survived and the tent wasn’t ripped to pieces either, so we ventured on the next day after we boiled an extra strong cup of coffee. That’s a clear advantage of a hotel or a campsite: no dangerous animals lurking around.
Probably we have to extend our top three to a top five of worst things to happen on the road, with the additions of sickness and dangerous situations while camping. Because of the sickness and the poor condition of both Ydwine and some of the Macedonian paths, we felt like we had a bad bout of Murphy’s law. We had other (minor) issues too which added to that feeling. For example, we had a great miscommunication with a potential host, Geart’s cool red sunglasses broke, Ydwine’s collapsible bike stand fell off and got driven over not once, but three times before she could retrieve it from the road, and to top that, we have a small hole in the tent. But in hindsight, such small issues don’t have much impact in the long run. Even sickness can be overcome, as Ydwine can cycle normal distances again through the stunningly beautiful desolate landscapes of Macedonia. It may sound a bit cheesy, but with all the bad luck in Murphy’s Macedonia the moments when everything goes as ‘planned’ are worth even more. To make another cheesy note, bad luck runs out as well. Our last night we slept in a monastery. We asked to camp at the grounds, but soon afterwards the men we’ve asked came back with keys and opened up a room for us where we could spend the night. Another key came out of their pockets and soon the kitchen was open for us too. As the man went home again, he turned to us and shouted while smiling: “Macedonia!”. As if he were to say: thís is how Macedonia really is. Later in the evening, a thunderstorm came over us while we and our bikes were warm and dry inside. ‘Murphy’s Macedonia’? Maybe ‘Marvellous Macedonia’ would be a better title after all.
After we left the busy touristic coastline of Montenegro and crossed the Albanian border, we had the idea of cycling through the heart of the Balkan. For us it was a completely different world. We could see a variety of people along the road, most of them (including cyclists like us) would have been shooed off by the police if we were in the Netherlands: children cycling next to the highway, people transporting hay with their donkey, farmers and shepherds walking their cow or sheep to greener pastures, or people cycling slowly uphill on bikes without gears as old Mercedes cars are overtaking, leaving a trail of black smoke from their exhaust pipes. Next to the busy traffic, we were constantly busy with greeting and waving good-day, as the people were so friendly and heartily. Most of the time, it felt like we cycled with one hand only, as we had to wave to so many people and children. What is more, we were offered so many kind things: we couldn’t leave a village where we camped until we had a coffee, or at a fruit stall Ydwine wasn’t allowed to pay.
All the things we saw and experienced we could have never experienced in the Netherlands. That, and the beauty of the country itself made the ride incredible for us. It also made us realise again how lucky we are: we have the possibility, and can take the time and money for such a trip. We always say that anyone can do this, you just need a bike, a will to travel like this, and time. Though this style of travelling is more accessible than other forms that need expensive transportation and/or accommodation, it still is a privilege for us to do this. What is more, we have been made aware of some things that are normal for us, but aren’t for others; well-maintained facilities, defined working hours, minimum living wages with a society that reflects that, and a superfluous choice.
Oh, how to feel like true pampered Western Europeans. For one, we could no longer drink the tap water. In some towns it is safe to drink (though it may differ per month due to maintenance work), but our stomachs cannot cope with the lower quality anyhow. There is an easy trick to that: boil and/or filter, which we did, but the extra steps made us aware of how easy our life is to just open any tap and drink no matter where you are in the Netherlands. Another facility that is so normal for us, but was not available in Albania is the railway system. Almost every train connection has been shut down, which made that we cycled passed many abandoned rail-tracks (which may be made into beautiful cycle paths, we thought while looking down upon these straight tracks while climbing in busy traffic ourselves). Thus, there was no way for us to ‘cheat’ even if we were faced with tough cycling conditions. But we cannot complain as we can still do everything at our own pace, deciding when to have a break or call it a day.
However, we saw people who didn’t have the luxury of a break or take half the day off. Actually, we were astonished by the long working hours in Albania. In the Netherlands most people have a ‘normal’ workday from 9 till 5. Here, we saw people work from 7 in the morning till 11 in the evening. Fruit stalls, kiosks, car washes, small and big shops, they seem to never close at all, not even on a Sunday. One evening, we were in awe that we had bought freshly baked bread around half pas ten. You can imagine our surprise to see many of these family shops running all day, with some workers sneaking in a much needed nap in between, as in the Netherlands, opening and working times are heavily regulated. However, these people have to work long hours a day to make ends meet: “the job sucks, but I need the money” a waiter outside a restaurant told us. Geart then is lucky, as he can work on the road when possible, without having to work hours and hours for a dime.
When you do have that dime though, it goes a long way in Albania as most things are very cheap. With our friends, we could drink many coffees on terraces and buy beer whenever we wanted (also again because there is always something open, somewhere). Our money goes a long way as we aren’t spending big money a day, but also our money is worth more: where we would spend one euro in the Netherlands to buy a few bananas, here we have a whole bag of fruit and vegetables. What Geart earns in an hour, we can live off for many days. If we were to work here in a fruit stall, what we would earn in an hour, probably would also just cover that hour. Going out and cycle around Europe wouldn’t cross your mind as quickly in such a situation we imagine.
Now, the whole population of Albania isn’t poor and we do not want to portray the country as such. There is just a stark difference in those who do have a proper income and those who clearly haven’t. And for us, this visible difference is simply something we aren’t used to seeing. In the Netherlands there are people who live in tough economic conditions, but there is social security to support everyone to have a certain level of living. Therefore, you do not see children collecting plastic bottles from the garbage for some money, people chopping wood to cook on, or someone on a street corner trying to sell the few items they can offer.
The few items for sale was not only something we encountered with the street salesmen though. In the shops, even though the size of some would indicate otherwise, we found the selection of products to be smaller than in the Netherlands. We sometimes complained at home that the stores have too much on the shelves, and waste even more because of it. In the Netherlands, basically you can just walk in any supermarket (most are held by mega-companies) and buy whatever you want to eat that day. Here we encountered stores that had lined up their few products very spaciously just to cover the shelves. In short, we were faced with the ridiculously superfluous offer of products in the Netherlands.
Cycling through such a different but beautiful country did give us an advantage: you place yourself in a more vulnerable place than if you were to drive through in a car or even camper. You take a break in the fields and wave to yet another shepherd, and you talk to the two cycling kids that stop for a chat in their best English. You wave and speak to so many people and are helped by even more (not one, but six people warning you at the same time when we went the wrong direction). In a way, cycling through Albania didn’t just make us aware of our privileges, it also gave us a privilege: we were and had to be in more contact with the people than the regular ways of travel.
Rijeka wie ús earste doel yn Kroäsië, mei’t in freon ús útnûge hie del te kommen. Hy is sels ek in fytser, al hat er syn fyts al twa jier by syn âlden te stean, om’t Rijeka ‘fierstente folle heuvels’ hat. Neat is minder wier! It meastepart fan ’e stêd leit op in steile heuvel, dat wannear’t men alle kearen by dy hufter opfytse moat, hat men dêr gau tabak fan. Bûtendat hat er no ek net de moaiste fytsbelibbing hân, om’t er in grouwe boete krigen hie foar it ‘feroarsaakjen fan in ferkearsûngemak’ doe’t er in kear fan ’e fyts fallen wie. Hmmm, pracht fan in lân om troch te fytsen, soest sizze. Mar dat wie wol it gefal! Dêr kinst mear oer lêze yn ús foarige bloch.
Rijeka was our first goal in Croatia as a friend contacted us to come by. He himself is a cyclist too, though he has parked his bike at his parents’ place for two years now, as Rijeka has “too many hills.” And that is true. Most of the town lies on a steep hill, and if you have to cycle up that thing every single time, yeah, you may be fed up with it. Also, he hasn’t had the best cycling experience, as he was fined heavily for “causing a traffic accident” when he once fell of his bike. Hmmm, lovely country for cycling you could say, but it was! You can read about it in our previous blog.
Njonken de geweldige lânskippen wienen wy ek fan doel om mear oer de Servyske minderheid yn Kroäsië witte te kommen. Dy reden makket it fuort al dreech om der oer te skriuwen, om’t dy minderheid behoarlik gefoelich leit yn ’e skiednis fan de Republyk fan Kroäsië.
Besides the beautiful landscapes, we also had the intention to learn more about the Serb minority in Croatia. Well, that also makes it tough to write about, as this minority lies very sensitive in the history of the Republic of Croatia.
Benammen yn ’e 16e iuw strutsen Serviërs del yn de Kroätyske grinsgebieten yn ruil foar militêre tsjinsten dy’t hja ferliend hienen om de Habsboarchske Monarchy te beskermjen, mei’t hja bekend stienen as in sterk folk. As wy mei in grutte stap nei de 20ste iuw geane, is Kroäsië part fan (de ferskate konstruksjes fan) Joegoslavië mei de Serviërs as oerhearskjende mearderheid. Yn 1991 spjaltet Kroäsië him fan Joegoslavië ôf om harren eigen steat te foarmjen. As in reaksje dêrop rôp de Servyske minderheid yn Kroäsië har eigen steat út, nammentlik de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina. De Krajina (front) bestriek de Kroätyske regio’s dêr’t de Serviërs harren ienris ta wenjen setten hienen om de Habsboarchske Monarchy te beskermjen. Dy skuor late ta de Kroätyske Oarloch (1991-1995) dy’t útfochten waard troch Serviërs en Kroäten mei UN-troepen der tuskenyn. Oan wjerskanten waarden oarlochsmisdieden begien, boargers waarden ferbannen en fermoarde. Yn 1995 wûnen de Kroäten de oarloch nei ‘Operaasje Stoarm’ (Operacija Oluja), dêr’t hja Knin, de haadstêd fan de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina, by oermasteren.
Mostly in the 16th century, Serbs settled the Croatian borderlands in exchange for military services guarding the Habsburg Monarchy as they were known as a strong people. Fast forward to the 20th century, Croatia is part of (the several constructions of) Yugoslavia where Serbs are the ruling majority. In 1991, Croatia breaks away from Yugoslavia to form their own nation state. As a reaction to this, the Serb minority in Croatia declared their own state, the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The Krajina (frontier) covered the Croatian lands where the Serbs had once settled to protect the Habsburg Monarchy. This fracture led to the Croatian War (1991-1995), which was fought between Serbs and Croats, with UN troops in between. War crimes were committed and on both sides, civilians were ousted and killed. In 1995, the war ended with a Croatian victory after ‘Operation Storm’ (Operacija Oluja), which took hold over Knin, the capital of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.
Wy hawwe in deimannich troch dy âlde Servyske delsettings en it gebiet fan de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina hinnefytst en koenen ús allinnich mar ôffreegje wat dêr plakfûn hie, mei’t der in ferhipt lyts bytsje ynformaasje te finen is. Wy seagen in tal monuminten dy’t de oerwinning fan de Kroätyske Heitelânoarloch fierde of monuminten foar de fallen Kroäten en it belang om harren offer foar it heitelân te betinken. Foar ús wienen dy monuminten ek in soarte fan kultuersjok. Sa wie der yn Knin in hiel plein omboud ta in oerwinningsmonumint, mei tillefyzjeskerms mei bylden fan ’e oarloch en alles om sa yn folle gloarje de Kroätyske oerwinning op ’e stêd te toanen. Ek doe’t wy op it heechste plak fan it âlde fort stienen, wie dêr in stânbyld fan presidint Tuđma dy’t oer de stêd útseach, om’t er dêr mei de troepen nei Operaasje Stoarm wie. Yn in bygebou wie in grutte eksposysje oer dy operaasje te besjen.
We cycled for a few days through these old Serb settlements and Republic of Serbian Krajina territory, and could only wonder what happened in this area as little information can be found. We came across several monuments that celebrate the victory of the Croatian Homeland War, or monuments for the fallen Croats and the importance to remember them and their sacrifice to the homeland. For us these monuments were also a bit of culture shock. In Knin for example, the entire main square is remodelled as a victory monument, including TV-screens showing images of the war, celebrating the Croatian victory of the city. Overlooking the city too, on the highest place in the ancient fortress is also president Tuđman as he was there with the troops after Operation Storm. On the grounds, an exhibition on the operation can be found.
Ien ding wie glêshelder. It trauma fan ’e oarloch is farsk, dus de skriuwstyl is patriottysk. Wannear’t wy al eat oer de Serviërs lêze koenen, wie it yn bewurdings as ‘de Servyske oanfallers’. Wy hawwe gjin ynformaasje fûn oer hoe’t it wie foar de oare kant, dus neat oer it Servyske ferhaal, om sa te sizzen. Mar fan wat wy der út opmeitsje koenen, moat it net maklik west hawwe om yn de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina te wenjen. Guon Serviërs moatte op de iene of oare wize yn ’e fûke sitten hawwe, fanwegen harren etnisiteit: do sitst oan dizze kant, om’t dat dyn komôf is.
One thing became very clear to us. The trauma of the war is fresh and the style of speech therefore is patriotic. When we did read about Serbs, it was in sentences such as “the Serb aggressors.” We haven’t found information on how it was on the other side, the Serb story so to say. Because from what we gathered, living in the Republic of Serbian Krajina mustn’t have been easy. Certain Serbian Croats must have felt trapped in a way by their ethnicity – you are on this side because of what your heritage is.
Jonge Servyske Kroäten moatte hjoed-de-dei ek it gefoel hawwe yn in fûke te sitten. Us freon sei dat hy – lykas in soad jonge Servyske Kroäten – syn twaslachtige identiteit betiizjend fynt en it tiid ferget om dêr mei omgean te kinnen. It moat dreech wêze om part fan in minderheid te wêzen dêr’t fanwegen syn histoarje op delsjoen wurdt. It moat ek net maklik wêze om altiten fan dat soarte fan patriottyske berjochten te lêzen – do bist in Kroäat, mar tagelyk is dyn Servyske orizjine folslein keppele oan de oarlochsmisdieden tsjin de Kroäten. Benammen foar jonge Servyske Kroäten hat de skiednis foar har berte al in stimpel op harren drukt.
Young Serb Croats nowadays must feel trapped too. Our friend said that he – like many young Serbian Croats – finds his dual identity confusing, and it takes time to find solace in that. It must be very hard to be part of a minority that is frowned upon by its history. It must also be very difficult to always read these type of patriotic messages – you are Croatian, but at the same time your Serb ancestry is solely linked to war crimes against Croats. Especially for young Serbian Croats, history put a label on them before birth.
Foar ús as Friezen binne taalrjochten en ûnderwiis nei alle gedachten de wichtichste faktoaren fan ús minderheid. Lykwols foar de Servyske minderheid is taal mar in triviale kwestje (Kroätysk en Servysk binne tige besibbe oaninoar), it binne de skiednis fan de minderheid en hoe dêrmei om te gean op in iepen en ferienjende wize de saken dêr’t it om giet. Der binne organisaasjes dy’t dy útdaging oangeane, want wy hawwe heard dat de minderheidsorganisaasjes fan de Servyske Kroäten en de Kroätyske Serviërs yn juny in freonskiplike fuotbalwedstryd yn Servië holden hawwe. Dy wedstryd hie it doel om dy minderheden mei in mienskiplike en problematyske skiednis byinoar te bringen en sa te wurkjen oan in freedsume takomst. Fuotbal hat ek fertuten dien as in ferienjend elemint ferline jier, mei’t Kroäsië it tige goed die by de wrâldkampioenskip. Dat lit faaks ek sjen dat ballen nedich binne om stappen te ûndernimmen in lân byinoar te bringen, sa’t ús freon it him mei in glim yn it sin brocht: ‘It wie de earste kear dat elkenien bliid en gelyk wie yn it oanmoedigjen fan Kroäsië.’ Faaks dat op dy wize Kroäsië foar elkenien in heitelân wurdt.
For us as Frisians, dealing with language rights and education are maybe the most important factors of our minority. For the Serb minority however, language is just a minor issue (Croatian and Serbian are also very similar), as the history of the minority and how to deal with this in an open and uniting way are the key issues. There are organisations trying to just that, as we heard that the minority organisations from the Serbian-Croats and the Croatian-Serbs had a friendly football match in Serbia in June. This match was to bring together the minorities that share a difficult history, but want to work towards a peaceful future. Football also proved to be the uniting factor only last year, as Croatia was doing very well in the FIFA World Cup. It maybe also shows that balls are needed to take steps towards uniting a country, as our friend fondly remembers: “it was the first time everyone was happy and equal, supporting Croatia.” Maybe this way Croatia can become a homeland for everyone.