Why Syldavia?

copyright Moulinsart S.A.

© Hergé/Moulinsart

My first encounter with the Balkans was as a small boy reading the adventures of Tintin. He traveled the world–to America, the Congo, Britain, the Middle East, China and to Syldavia. Of all the places he went, no place fascinated me as much as Syldavia, a country that cannot be found on any map. It belongs to this group of countries made up to symbolize the confusing geography of the Balkans for a Western reader (together with places such Ruritania from Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, as Herzoslovakia from Agatha Christie’s novels or Molvania, which are just a few of a long list of fictional European–mostly Eastern–countries).

Scholars such as Maria Todorova, Vesna Goldsworthy and K.E. Fleming have been writing about the stereotypes these writings convey, including Hergé’s Tintin. Tintin was in many ways more problematic than just representing a stereotypical view of the Balkans and the non-European world in general, including Syldavia. Tintin came of age in the run up to World War Two and some he is best known adventures were written by Hergé during World War Two when Belgium was German occupied. The stories contained anti-Semitic stereotypes and earlier books were both staunchly anti-Communist and anti-American. In his recent biography “Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin”, Pierre Assouline carefully traces the path of Georges Remi, aka Hergé. He was less of an ideologue of fascism, but a collaborator who pursued Tintin and was willing to cloak him in the prevailing political ideas of the time. He conservatism made him additionally more susceptible to collaboration.

So why name a blog after such a controversial and problematic authors adventures? Tintin and his trips to Syldavia deeply shaped me as a child. When Tintin stole bread from a Bordurian border post, I was eager to snack on any white bread I could find. I was amazed by the rocket Syldavia launched for the moon (for all the Orientalist stereotypes, it was Syldavia that would launch the first rocket to the moon in Tintin’s world).  When I discovered the Balkans in real life later, traveling, studying, for many years I made no connection to the fictional lands of Syldavia and Borduria. Tintin was far. The exhibit on Tintin at the Belgian cartoon museum rightly notes that Tintin can be anybody, his fascination arises from the fact that he has few distinguishing characteristics, his features are unremarkable, any boy can easily imagine to be him. I thus take the name of the blog after Syldavia as it is the first Balkan country I discovered, as it is a reminder of the stereotypes one can fall for and for all the unexpected (trip to the moon), this fictional world brings.

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