From Vice to Sickness: Temperance in the Balkans, 18901930

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:50 PM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Nikolay Kamenov, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies
Stereotypes of the Balkans as a region have given rise to tropes of a place prone to heavy drinking, on the one hand, and to a mythology of Muslim communities epitomized by extreme abstinence, on the other hand. These narratives together obscure, however, histories of strong anti-alcoholism notable through time within the region. American missionaries were among the first to introduce modern temperance campaigns to Balkan societies. As early as the 1870s, they were the first to develop local temperance groups. Starting in 1893, Protestants in the area even organized the publication of a monthly periodical dedicated to the subject. American Christian temperance traditions heavily influenced the movement and kept it in line with developments overseas through missionaries' personal correspondence and the exchange of printed materials. Arguably, this brand of temperance was the hegemonic—if not the sole—form of anti-alcohol activism before 1920. By the 1920s, Bulgaria witnessed a rapid departure from the moral and religious roots of temperance activism; its transformation progressed through what authors, such as Harry Levine and Mariana Valverde, have characterized as 'medicalization', with corresponding shifts in the discourse deployed against alcohol. As observable in other places around the globe at other points in time, the alcohol question and associated debate shifted focus from 'drunkenness' to 'alcoholism'.