Sunday 29 November 2009

What have the Balkans ever done for us?

Blimey, how did this slip past The Observer's editor?*

A whirl of tutus in a Zagreb cafe-bar during a break in ballet rehearsals: poise, and skin, and fabulous discs of swan-white tuile, and yet what are our eyes drawn towards? Exactly. A little paper tube, being happily smoked.

The smell will be of black Balkan tobacco, yes; but it is also the smell of rebellion and the first successful example of people-power since the idea of smoking bans began sweeping the developed world. It's only 18 years or so since the notion first captured the imaginations of thoughtful caring responsible/interfering self-righteous killjoy (insert own prejudice here) authorities. California went first: 37 US states have now followed. In Europe, smokers sneered: at the surf-dude health-fascists over there and at the more, shall we say, organised continental countries – Norway, Austria (of course) so swift to follow – and laughed that it would never happen here. [nb. Austria wasn't swift to follow at all. Even today it only has a partial smoking ban - Chris]

The surprise was not that it did happen in Britain – the idea of another ban, particularly on anything fun, was obviously very catnip to this government – but that it was accepted so meekly. In Ulster, the free spirits, all those broths of boys so full of the rebel songs, lined up to smoke in the soft, soft rain. The thrawn, torn-faced Scots embraced the ban with hacking Calvinist fervour. England and Wales made angry noises, then succumbed: smokers through all these isles, for all our fine words, gave in like meek, coughing lambs.

What have the Balkans ever done for us? Until I saw this picture, I would have said pretty bloody little. Anger, wars, vampires, evil food, poisoned rivers, dictators, distrust, revenge and fear and it still features the only part of the world – mad northern Albania – where I've been offered a handgun for protection in a hotel because they'd lost the bedroom key. But Croatia rebelled against its bar/cafe smoking ban and simply kept on smoking. The ban has now been revoked. Plucky little Balkans. There is hope.

* I'm being a little unfair. Although The Observer's editorial stance is firmly pro-ban, it is also the journalistic home of Barbara "banning smoking in pubs was a really terrible idea" Ellen and Victoria "I'd have shoved her off the platform myself" Coren. 

The piece above was written by Euan Ferguson who also has form for criticising smoking bans.


Mark Wadsworth said...

That is a beautiful photo', worthy of Degas.

Maybe the poor lass has to smoke out of medicinal necessity to keep her weight down?

Anonymous said...


Statewide smoking bans, indoors and outdoors, in all 'public' places, in outdoor cafes, on sidewalks, in parks, along the wide-open beaches, in camp grounds, tobacco retailing banned, tobacco retailing licenses required and restricted, tobacco 'possession' banned:

"California went first: 37 US states have now followed."

Compared to this:

Bankruptcy of major proportions at the state level and among some of most highly smoke-banned 'progressive' cities such as San Francisco:

"California went first .... "