The Birth of Yugoslavia, Volume 1

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On a mild February afternoon I was waiting for the train at a wayside station in north-western Banat. So unimportant was that station that it was connected neither by telegraph nor telephone with any other station, and thus there was no means of knowing how long I would have to wait. The movements of the train in those parts could never, so I gathered, be foretold, and on that afternoon it was uncertain whether a strike had prevented it from leaving New-Arad, the starting-point. Occasionally the rather elegant stationmaster, and occasionally the porter with the round, disarming face, raised their voices in prophecy, but they were increasingly unable—so far, at least, as I was concerned—to modify the feelings of dullness that were caused by the circumstances and by the dreary nature of the surroundings: a plain with several uninteresting little lakes upon it. There was time enough for meditation—I was wondering if I would ever understand the people of the Balkans. One hour and then another slipped away, and the lakes began to be illuminated by the setting sun. A handful of prospective travellers and their friends were also waiting, and as one of them produced a violin we all began to dance the Serbian Kolo, which is performed by an indefinite number of people who have to be hand-in-hand, irrespective of sex, forming in this way a straight line or a circle or a serpent-like series of curves. They go through certain simple evolutions, into which more or less energy and sprightliness are introduced. The stationmaster looked on approvingly and then decided to join us, and after a little time he was followed by the porter. Our violinist was in excellent form, so that we continued dancing until some of us were as crimson as the sun, and presently, while I was resting, what with the beauty of the scene and the exhilaration of the dance, I found myself thinking that, after all, I might within a reasonable time understand these people. Then a new arrival, a middle-aged, benevolent-looking woman with a basket on her arm, came past me.

"Dobro veče," said I. ["Good-evening."]

"Živio," said she. ["May you live long."]

Nevertheless, I hope in this book to give a description of how the Yugoslavs, brothers and neighbours and tragically separated from one another for so many centuries, made various efforts to unite, at least in some degree. But for about fifteen centuries the greater number of Yugoslavs were unable to liberate themselves from their alien rulers; not until the end of the Great War were these dominations overthrown, and the kindred peoples, the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, put at last before the realization of their dreams—the dreams, that is to say, of some of their poets and statesmen and bishops and philologists, as well as of certain foreigners. But listen to this, by the censorious literateur who contributes the "Musings without Method" to Maga: "We do not envy the ingenious gentlemen," says he, "who invented the two new States Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia....