Re “A Balkan Byzantium” by Denise Hamilton (“Trust Me on This,” Dec. 27):

Denise Hamilton wishes she’d spent more time in “Rebecca West’s land of the South Slavs.” The news is, such a country existed only in the imagination of an upper-class British woman who, bored with her “overly polite, industrialized” world, sought excitement in faraway lands.

The “languidly sensual” Bosnian Muslims whose women, incredibly enough, are fair-skinned but still hide behind traditional veils; the “raging polyglot intellectual curiosity” of Zagreb cafe crowds; the “terrible stony strength” of Macedonians who “reach old age on a diet of bread and paprika,” and “the warrior” Serbs whom the writer idolized as role models.

How picturesque! To these blatant stereotypes that reek of ignorance and racism, Ms. Hamilton adds her own, describing what she saw through the train window as “charming cities” inhabited by “generous South Slavs” (as a tribe, not as individual peoples with separate histories, languages and cultures).


Being a member of the tribe of “South Slavs,” I take personal offense at your promoting this view of the peoples living in the territories of former Yugoslavia. Can you imagine replacing the words “Yugoslavia” and “South Slavs” with, say, “Africa” and “Africans”? Somehow I don’t think anybody would be enthusiastic about it.