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Nis: War Capital, 1915

Copyright © by Alan Grant Copyright © by Alan Grant
Bali-Beg Mosque, Nis Fortress

In January 1916, following the defeat of the Serbian Army, Bulgaria's King Ferdinand entertained the German Kaiser, Willhem ll, in occupied Nis. After the beginning of the war though, until October 1915, the Serbian government, and administration along with embassies from Belgrade had taken refuge in the city. At that time, it was visited by the American reporter John Reed who subsequently became famous for his account of the Russian revolution. According to Reed the city, which before the war had a population of 20,000, had now swelled to some 120,000. One of the first things he noticed were the Austrian prisoners of war.

Austrian prisoners in uniform wandered freely everywhere, without a guard. Some drove wagons, others dug ditches, and hundreds loitered up and down in idleness. We learned that by paying fifty denars to the government, you could have one for a servant. All the legations and consulates were manned with them. And the prisoners were glad to be servants, for there was no place for them to live, and scant food. Now and then an Austrian officer passed along, in full uniform with his sword.

"Escape?" said one government official we interrogated. "No, they do not try. The roads are metres deep in mud, the villages are depopulated and full of disease, there is no food… .It is difficult enough to travel by train in Serbia – on foot it would be impossible. And there are guards all along the frontier… "

Along the sidewalks elbowed a multitude of strangely assorted people: gypsies, poverty-stricken peasants, gendarmes with great swords, in red and blue uniforms, tax collectors dressed like generals, also with swords, smarty army officers hung with medals, soldiers in filthy tatters, their feet bound with rags – soldiers limping, staggering on crutches, without arms, without legs, discharged from the overcrowded hospitals still blue and shaking from typhus – and everywhere the Austrian prisoners. Government officials hurried by with portfolios under their arms… Women government clerks, wives and mistresses of officers, society ladies… peasant women in their humped up gay skirts and high-coloured socks.

War in Eastern Europe: Travels Through the Balkans in 1915. John Reed. 1994.
[pp. 13-15 / Phoenix]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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  1. Istanbul: Pamuk's City
  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
  7. Tornado of Dust - 1944
  8. Awake Romania - 1989
  9. Novi Sad: Nest of the Serbian nation
  10. Nis: War Capital, 1915
  11. Belgrade and the Selenites
  12. 1996: Serbia Calling
  13. Belgrade Train Station - 1964
  14. Srebrenica: Vengeance
  15. Srebrenica: Blood
  16. Srebrenica: July 1995
  17. Mealtime - Interwar years in Travnik
  18. Dayton: The Napkin Shuttle
  19. London Buses in Sarajevo
  20. The Museum and Bosnian Identity
  21. Foča: The Bosniak
  22. Kosovo: The Swiss Front
  23. Mitrovica: 1908
  24. Pristina: Kosovo like Namibia?
  25. City without traffic - Pristina 1966
  26. Durham in Pristina - 1908
  27. Tirana: 1962
  28. Zog's Tirana
  29. The Kotor - Constantinople Express
  30. Kotor and the Montenegrins
  31. The Rabbi of Stolac
  32. Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
  33. Cetinje: Nikola Under the Elm
  34. Cetinje: 1858
  35. Dalmatia: Ships & Grapes
  36. Prophet of Yugoslavism
  37. The head of the world
  38. 1919: Mushrooms and Lies
  39. Sofia: Bulgaria's Jews during WWII
  40. Zamfirovo: Rural livelihoods in the mid-1990s
  41. Kosovo
  42. Romania: 1914
  43. Istanbul: Food and the frugal Turks
  44. Micklagard: Surprising, cosmopolitan Constantinople
  45. Sukhumi: The history of the region became ashes
  46. Black Sea: The coming of steam and rail
  47. Mestrovic: Motherhood and the Victor
  48. Rizvanovici, Bosnia: Gnashing
  49. Down the Danube with Magris: Ruse
  50. From Pristina to Tskhinvali
  51. Serbia, Historians and Hitler's War
  52. Balkan Strongmen: Bulgaria's Zhivkov
  53. Sarajevo: The Siege Within
  54. Turkey: Osman's Dream
  55. Durres 1961: Beijing on Sea
  56. Cetinje: Eggs for the Ladies
  57. Bosnia: Land of Immigrants
  58. Ottoman Croatia
  59. Harem: All the Sultan's Women
  60. Sibiu: Regime Change, European Style
  61. 1929: The Balkans and the Great Crash
  62. Rumeli and how the Balkans became the Balkans
  63. 1948: Stalin, Kosovo and Swallowing Albania
  64. Transforming Turkey: the 1950s
  65. McMafia and the Balkans
  66. 1916: Serbia in Corfu
  67. Princes Amongst Men
  68. Limp Shevardnadze
  69. Knin: War and Suburbia
  70. In the Mountains of Poetry
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