This Is the Balkans, This Is No Fun and Games

Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


Most Greeks know the verses in this epigraph. Yet probably few know that the surrealist poet Nikos Engonopoulos wrote the original. Greeks are more likely to have heard the Dylanesque singer-composer, Dionyssis Savvopoulos, sing these words in his song “Μπάλλος” (Balos) from 1971. Here, Savvopoulos reverses the lines, intoning, “this is the Balkans, this is no fun and games.” Nowadays, the younger generation, although oblivious to these lyrical intertexts, deploys this idiomatic phrase while it fully realizing its self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing nature. These lines emphasize how matters are handled in Greece (by dint of its place in the Balkans): roughly, unceremoniously, unsystematically, without due process, perhaps even rudely or violently, and above all in a disorderly fashion. The verse clearly implies that elsewhere, beyond Greece, there exists a prosperous, sunny citizenry with a well-founded expectation of due process, in a blessed place governed by a reasonable rule of law. It further indicates that such an assured polity is not to be found here (εδώ) , for here we are in the Balkans, and here things just don’t work that way. Indeed, the original Greek notes that things are, literally, “not for play or for laughing”—“not fun and games.” Here, in the Balkans, there is hardship and misery. In fact, Engonopoulos goes further than Savvopoulos in his rendition of the Greek plural for “the Balkans,” employing not the bilabial fricative of the conventional word used in Greek for “Balkans,” Βαλκάνια, but the harsher and foreign-sounding bilabial plosive, Μπαλκάνια, found in the other Balkan languages (as well as in the English word) for “Balkans.”


European Union Debt Crisis Balkan Peninsula North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Eastern Bloc 
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© Vangelis Calotychos 2013

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