Exploring the Hidden Europe in 2004 and 2008-2011

In 2004, I visited all 25 countries in Eastern Europe. You'll find the blog entries from that trip here. In 2008-2011, I returned to see what had changed since that time. With these two visits, five years apart, I accumulated enough material for my 750-page book, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us.

This blog now has many excerpts from The Hidden Europe. But who the hell reads anymore? Just look at the best photos from Eastern Europe!

This map reflects how I define Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans love to deny that they're in Eastern Europe. I tackle how and why I define Eastern Europe the way I do in the Introduction of The Hidden Europe.

Eastern Europe map from Francis Tapon's book, 'The Hidden Europe'

Where to go in Macedonia

Places I saw and recommend in Macedonia: Skopje and Lake Ohrid.

Defining Macedonia

If you’re like most people on this planet, you know almost nothing about Macedonia. Incredibly, for over 20 years, Greece and Macedonia have been passionately and fanatically fighting each other over Macedonia’s name. It sounds absurd (and it is), but it’s true. Welcome to the Balkans.

Monastery in the Plačkovica Mountains. Photo by Peter Fenďa on Flickr.

Places I saw and recommend in Kosovo: Prizren and the mountains near the Albanian border.

How Serbia is similar to Oklahoma

Republic of Serbia map in 1974 Yugoslavia. Shows Kosovo and Vojvodinja.In 1974, Serbia became like Oklahoma. Most Yugoslavs were not happy with the centralized economy and they thought decentralization would fix things. To avoid a revolt, Tito agreed to increase everyone's autonomy. Among the five republics, Serbia was the only one to have two autonomous provinces carved out of it: Vojvodina in the north and Kosovo in the south. Albanians were begging Tito for republic status, but Tito picked the compromise solution: autonomy. As a result, Serbia turned into Oklahoma.

Oklahoma, along with several other western US states, has large Native American reservations within it. Although the US has 50 states, there are about 310 autonomous Indian reservations within them.

In the map below highights the autonomous Indian reservations. Oklahoma is the state in the middle with blue colored reservations representing the Cherokee Nation. Mouse over the image to zoom in. Or view the high resolution version.

Autonomous tribal lands in the USA according to the US census

Places I saw and recommend in Albania: Drin River, Albanian Alps, Butrint, and the southern beaches.

What Albania and Finland have in common

Albanian couple selling a sweet bread in Tirana, the capital of Albania

There is a world of difference between Finland and Albania, but they both call their country something that doesn’t sound like what the rest of the world calls them. As we saw in the chapter on Finland, Finns call their country Suomi (while nearly all other countries call it something that sounds like “Finland”).

Albania has the same deal: the Italian, Indonesian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish languages call the Albanian country Albania. Other languages have a similar phonetic sound: Albanie (French); албания “Albaniya” (Russian, Bulgarian); Albània (Catalan); “Aherbainieya” (Chinese); Albanija (Balkanian, Lithuanian, Slovenian); Albánie (Czech); Albanien (Danish, Swedish, German); Albanië (Dutch); Albānija (Latvian); Albánsko (Slovak); αλβανία (Greek); Albanya (Filipino); and 알바니아 “Albania” (Korean).

So what do Albanians call their country? Shqipëria.

Yeah, I didn’t expect that either. They call their language Shqip.

Why did all that happen? Nobody knows. First, the origin of the Albanian term is an enigma. There are few clues: in the second century BC, Polybius mentioned the Arbon tribe. About 400 years later, Ptolemy marked the city of Albanopolis near modern-day Durrës in Albania. There are other ideas, but nothing conclusive.

Second, scholars can’t agree on where Shqipëria comes from either. One theory is that it comes from the verb shqipoj, implying one who understands.

The other theory is that Shqipëria comes from shqipojnë (eagle). Albanians have been using the double-headed eagle symbol for at least 600 years. The Albanian flag, one of the coolest ones in the world, has a red background and a black two-headed eagle on it.

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