The Double Headed Eagle, the symbol of the Late Byzantine Empire,
speaks eloquently to the worldview of the Byzantines, whose Empire
looked both to the East and to the West, but never was-or is-really
part of either. At its apogee, the Byzantine Empire was the highest
civilization in Europe-the Center. This Double Headed Eagle is
cherished by the Balkan Orthodox successors to Byzantium, and
versions of it grace the national flags of Serbia, Montenegro, and
even Albania. Encroached upon by both the Muslim East and the
Catholic West, the Byzantine Eagle succumbed, only to emerge, in a
state of arrested development, after several hundred years of
Turkish or Western Catholic rule. This stunted progression emerges
time and again in the civic culture, architecture, economics, and
politics of the region, and has direct relevance on political and
economic issues today, including Greece's present financial
malaise, and the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Traveling
through this Ex-Byzantine zone, Billinis offers history,
architecture, personal experiences, and numerous anecdotes to
expound on key central themes. First, that the Balkan Orthodox
nations form a common culture and virtual commonwealth, while still
maintaining ethnic, geographical, and linguistic diversity. Without
understanding this common Byzantine base, it is impossible to
appreciate and to understand the region. Second, the common
experience of Turkish rule, while preserving Byzantine culture and
insulating the Orthodox religion from Catholic encroachment, did so
by cutting off Byzantine Europe from economic, political, cultural,
and civic development in progress in Western Europe. The states
that emerged from this condition were-and are-ill prepared to
contribute and to compete in modern Europe, and in a globalized
world. Finally, throughout, there is a sense that history, rather
than linear, runs in a circular form, and that history once again
encroaches on the lands of the Double Headed Eagle.
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