Ten Rules for a Happy Life in the Balkans


Some (not entirely serious) advice for a happy life in a fictitious Balkan country named Absurdistan, by Mariela Zamfirova, a native of this country.

To say “I am born in the Balkans” is the exact equivalent of ten seconds of happiness for the one who makes this statement and ten seconds of puzzled silence from the listener.

The first question that arises is, why ten seconds?

Well, all of us remember our parents’ advice from our childhood that we have to count up to ten before we react in a stressful situation, especially when we are аngry or nervous.

It also takes at least ten seconds on the part of the speaker to realize the aftermath of the statement.

The situation also presents some challenges for the listener. The first reaction is usually raised eyebrows, an uneasy smile and the question “Why? What’s wrong with the Balkans?” The answer – unfortunately – is: “Almost everything.”

When I say that I am born in the Balkans, I feel almost like saying that I am born in a gun powder factury or on a very special Planet where the normal rules of society simply don’t apply. In Absurdistan people live after a totally different set of ten rules, I am almost tempted to say, The Ten (Different) Commandments:

  1. One: There is always somebody else to blame for a situation. If there is nobody else around, blame your best friend.
  2. Two: This is the rule of survival in our Balkan jungle. It is strictly individualistic and you have to find and apply your own and unique creative approach. In the absence of rules you have to find your own.
  3. Three: Take the absurdities of the landscape as a given and don’t think about it.
  4. Four: Breaking the rules is a rule. Do it whenever you can, especially when the cops are watching.
  5. Five: You are responsible for your own individual wellbeing. ‘Society’ is something positive but it is only a mental construction you see on TV.
  6. Six: If the main door is closed, there is always a side door. Find it, sneak through it. Don’t bother about the sign that says “TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT”
  7. Seven: Antagonism is part of existence. If there is no enemy, find one.
  8. Eight: If everything seems to be all right at home, look at the neighbors to find inspiration for creating a problem.
  9. Nine: Law is good as a concept but reality is something different.
  10. Ten: The others can never understand the Balkans people, don’t even try to explain.

Complying with these rules, we are convinced that the devil will have a good time with us in hell. We will take care of pulling each other in the boiling cauldron while the Evil One will have a field day. Tired of politicians, institutions, bureaucracy, corruption, we have grown cynical and have come to accept the fact that absurdities are part of our “normal” life. However, we have preserved our self-irony and sense of bitter humor that has helped us survive with a smile so far.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 22 July 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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