Alex Massie

Plucky Little Balkans

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Many thanks to Christopher Snowden for alerting me to this little piece by Euan Ferguson in the Observer today. It begins with this photograph:

Photo: Nikola Solic/Reuters

As Euan says, only one small detail gives this photo any glamour at all:

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.

How so? Well, it seems the Croats are made of better stuff than we are:

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 The ban has now been revoked.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.

So there is. But will this catch on in Britain? Don't be silly. Will the Tories demonstrate their commitment to localism and the "post-bureaucratic age" by repealing the awful smoking bill (in England)? Don't hold your breath, even though doing so would be a pretty simple, cost-free demonstration that they do take these matters seriously. A non-trivial, trivial indicator if you like. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietycroatiasmokingtories