War and Peace

Dracula and the Myth of the Savage Balkans

“The Balkans have impinged on Western imagination only at times of war. It is as though you have these decades of peacetime when no one wants to know and no one follows very much what’s going on. The moment the Balkans are in trouble, this ‘reflector’ light of interest turns towards the area. What happens is that this is the kind of source, if you want, of the two-fold myth about the Balkans. One is: the Balkans as children who need to be put to order; this is what I call the Ruritanian Myth. You know, the kind of childish, folkloric, uniforms, rituals etc. The other myth is the threatening myth, the myth of the vampire. Dracula is the representative of that myth. Both are Victorian creations. Both are really the products of the late nineteenth-century desire to construct an imaginary place.

Then in the twentieth century both were multiplied manifoldly by the power of their film versions. So that here in Britain for example, when you think about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire, children will often know about the vampires even before they can read aged four or five. So the first kind of idea of the [Balkan] Peninsula comes from this, if you want, Irish creation by a writer who never set foot in the area.

So you see the kind of two sides: the Balkan myth or the Balkans as a metaphor, are ‘protean’. There is this child-like side and then there is this threatening side, which if not stopped and controlled will take over and endanger the rest of the world. But in both cases the Balkans are the ‘other’, i.e. not us, not Europe.”



Vesna Goldsworthy ©  Anemon Productions
Vesna Goldsworthy
Vesna Goldsworthy is a writer and poet who teaches English Literature at the University of Kingston. Her first book, Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination (Yale, 1998) an award-winning study about Balkan and European identity in English literature, has been translated into Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian and Serbian.