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Vlatava: Jewel of the Valley
by Svetlana Valyusha
Translators Note: During the week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Vlatavan Embassy in Washington, D.C. Located in a small building at the intersection of Sixth Street and Indiana Avenue, the embassy is staffed by Ambassador Riina Trevlinka and her four employees.
In addition to her ongoing work to secure aid for the reconstruction of Vlatava, another of Ambassador Trevlinka's projects involves the preservation of Vlatava's literature and unique cultural history. Very few literary works survived the inferno that destroyed Vlatava in 1997, and preservation and translation of the surviving works was compounded by the lack of persons with knowledge of the Vlatavan language.
Upon learning I'm fluent in Vlatavan, Ambassador Trevlinka enlisted my aid in the translation effort. What follows is my translation of a portion of Svetlana Valyusha's "Jewel of the Valley: A Geography and History of Vlatava."
Tucked within the Balkan and Carpathian Mountain valley, the Duchy of Vlatava, as the country is officially known, borders Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria. According to a 1993 census conducted by the Provisional Government, Vlatava's 785 square miles are home to 414,000 persons. In terms of territory, Vlatava is larger than other small European countries such as Andorra and Liechtenstein, but is smaller than Rhode Island, the tiniest state in the United States of America.
The country's official language is Vlatavan, a Cyrillic language similar to Serbian and Russian. However, as Vlatavan is rarely spoken by non-natives, most Vlatavans are also fluent in a second or third language. Russian, German, and English, due to their usefulness in the international arena and business world, are the most common secondary languages.
In his poem "Plovdiv Moonlight," poet Josef Rostov dubbed Vlatava the "Jewel of the Valley," singing the praises of Vlatava's many natural resources and beautiful landscapes. The extreme northern tip of Vlatava marks the junction of the Carpathian and Balkan Mountain ranges. The Balkans sweep down to form Vlatava's western border with Yugoslavia, and following the Danube River, the Carpathians gently roll towards Bulgaria and form Vlatava's eastern border with Romania.
Vlatava's mountains are rich in coal, copper, and uranium, but due to the lack of infrastructure in the northern portions of the country, most of these resources have gone unexploited. During Soviet occupation, however, the snowy slopes of the northernmost mountains served as training facilities for the Soviets' Olympic downhill and alpine ski teams.
The unspoiled beauty of the northern mountain region is largely due to the Sotetedik Forest, whose name roughly translates as "In the Dark." The nearly impenetrable Sotetedik Forest, whose large expanse fills the area between the two mountain ranges, contains old-growth hardwood forests dating back to the 1500's. Legend has it that the thickness of the forest blots out sunlight on the brightest days, and for this reason, the mythical creatures of Vlatavan fables are said to dwell at the forest's center. The Sotetedik is home to the majority of Vlatava's indigenous wildlife, such as coyotes, wolves, deer, and various migratory bird species.
South of the Sotetedik lies the heart of Vlatava's agricultural sector. A large cache of fresh water from the mountains flows through natural underground aquifers, making for fertile soil and easy irrigation opportunities for farmers. Most human settlement in this region is spread out, and small rural centers and villages dot the landscape.
The underground aquifers exit the agricultural areas and empty into Lake Sofia, Vlatava's largest freshwater lake. Lake Sofia is home to numerous aquatic species, and trout fishing always proves to be a popular pastime with visiting tourists. Lake Sofia empties into the Plovdiv River, whose winding channels flow south into Vlatavograd and supply the capital city with much of its water supply. Scipio's Sentry, a small military barrack dating to Roman times, is located along the lake's southwestern shores.
West of Lake Sofia, in between the Balkans and the Lake, lies Bogodin Highway. Originally a trade route during the time of the Ottoman Empire, the highway connects Vlatavograd with Zajecar, Yugoslavia (to the northwest) and Sofia, Bulgaria (to the south), and it is now a paved, two lane highway. Trucks carrying goods manufactured in Vlatavograd make use of the natural pass in the Balkan Mountains near Zajecar to continue their journey into Western Europe.
At the highest point of the highway, located on the Vlatava-Yugoslavia border, sits the Chapel of St. Christopher. Originally a monastery established by Catholic monks, the chapel now serves as a resting point for wearied travelers, and in the waning days of World War II, Vlatavans fleeing the Soviet Occupation knew they had secured their freedom upon reaching the chapel.
St. Christopher's unofficial capacity as Vlatava's most revered saint has an ironic twist. Not only is he the patron saint of travelers, but St. Christopher is also the patron saint of holy death and sudden death. Nikolay Vasilev, a renowned Vlatavan satirist, made a fitting point of this janusarian nature is his book "The Butcher's Sleep." The many wars waged in the name of religion (and the vast amount of lives lost) have indeed made Vlatava "the meat grinder of Europe."
Vlatava's major cities, Vlatovograd, Edngorod, Gramada, and Stara Platina are all located in the southern parts of the country.
Vlatavograd, the capitol city, is home to roughly 40% of the country's population. Originally named Otthon Varos (which translates as "my home city") when it was founded in 1812, the city's named was changed by the Soviets in 1945.
Ninety percent of Vlatava's industries are located on the outskirts of the city, and in addition to processing raw materials grown in the agricultural regions, maritime trade of goods transported along the Plovdiv is also prevalent. The Varga Shipyards, founded by shipping magnate Nikolas Varga, is one of a few commercial enterprises which have found a successful niche in Vlatava's volatile marketplace.
Downtown Vlatavograd contains a wealth of culturally and historically important buildings. In addition to the international consulates and former Soviet embassy, downtown is home to the Vlatavan Royal Library and University of Vlatava, the only institute of higher education in the country. Kyustendil Park, named for Kyustendil Vertigo, is located north of the University, and in the city's plaza a sculpture of Felhos, Kyustendil's legendary horse, keeps watch on passersby.
East of the plaza is the Church of St. Stanislaw, the oldest church in Vlatava. The exquisite stained glass windows depicting Christ's baptism, created in the late 1800's, are the signature work of acclaimed artist Egri Penztari. The church is also home to the royal family's relics, and Kyustendil Vertigo himself is said to be buried in the church's crypt.
The Ducal Palace, whose architecture was also designed Egri Penztari, served as a second home for the royal family, whose primary residence of Kastle Vertigo is located outside city limits. After the royal family fled following World War II, the Ducal Palace was used to host visiting dignitaries and heads of state.
Edngorod, located east of Vlatavograd, marks the furthest point inland the Danube River is navigable. Originally named Vidin by Bulgarian immigrants, Edngorod's natural harbor quickly made it a focal point for trade and shipment of goods into neighboring Romania. Downtown Edngorod consists of one large marketplace, and vendors are proud of the saying that "If you can't find what you're looking for in Edngorod, it doesn't exist." A sizeable black market exists in Edngorod, and shipment of weapons and contraband has continued unabated despite numerous government attempts to stop it.
Gramada, the oldest Islamic settlement in Vlatava, is located in the southwest corner of the country. Home to 50% of Vlatava's Muslim population, most residents of Gramada travel to Vlatavograd for employment opportunities. General Aleksander Hafza, the country's second highest ranking military officer, was born in Gramada.
Stara Platina is a resort community and popular destination for vacationers. Located on a natural plateau, the landscape slowly slopes downward to the banks of the Plovdiv River. The sandy alluvial fan of Stara Platina contains the only naturally occurring beaches in the country.
From the 1400's to the early 1800's, Vlatava was part of the Ottoman Empire. Beginning with Serbia's uprising against the Ottomans in 1804, many other Balkan territories also rebelled, with the hope that the bloody path they were embarking upon would lead to autonomy.
In 1810, Vlatava's natives rebelled, led by a young, charismatic soldier named Kyustendil Vertigo. With the Ottomans simultaneously fighting to maintain control of Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, Vertigo had timed his actions perfectly. Winning small victories in his hometown of Stara Platina, the turning point for Vertigo and his forces came during the Battle of Otthon Varos in October of 1812.
Inspired by Kyustendil's famous words before the battle ("We are a mighty host, a fiery sword, a scythe sent to harvest blood! We shall cast the enemy out of Vlatava as St. Michael cast Satan out of Heaven!"), the Vlatavan forces routed the Ottomans. By early 1813, the war ended, and Vlatava had won her independence.
On April 8, 1813, the Duchy of Vlatava officially became an independent country, and Kyustendil Vertigo was proclaimed Duke of Vlatava. Kyustendil's family was thus established as Vlatava's royal family.
Kyustendil's son Wilheim ruled Vlatava following his father's death, but not as a Duke. Reasoning that no one could replace his father, Wilheim took the title of Count, and his actions established precedent for all other royals after him. Indeed, Vlatava's monarch has held the title of Count (or in one case, Countess) ever since.
In the early 1900's, entangling alliances between Vlatava, Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire plunged the Balkan states into war.
Although Vlatava sent troops, it was only minimally involved in the First Balkan War (1912) and the Second Balkan War (1913). That would change though, with the onset of World War I.
In October of 1915, Bulgaria simultaneously invaded Vlatava, Macedonia, and Serbia. World War I had begun, and many Vlatavans were lost before the war ended in November of 1919. With the signing of the Treaty of Neuilly Sur Seine, Vlatava received roughly 25 square miles of Bulgarian territory near what is present day Gramada.
Vlatava joined the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations, in the mid 1920's.
The preceding two decades of uneasy peace ended in April 1941 with Bulgaria's entrance into a passive alliance with the Axis powers. Vlatava, Yugoslavia, and portions of Greece were then invaded and occupied by Bulgarian troops. Vlatava subsequently declared war against Bulgaria, but Vlatavan forces were quickly routed and forced underground.
By the winter of 1943-1944, the Vlatavan resistance, aided by Allied activity in the area, began to turn the tide against the Bulgarians. In September of 1944, Soviet troops entered Vlatava and vanquished the Bulgarian forces.
Vlatava soon learned that it had traded one oppressor for another. The Soviets had no intentions to leave, and the remnants of the Vlatvan resistance fought in vain to expel them. The royal family fled to England, and Soviet forces, led by Ivan Illyich Gort (the "Butcher of Vlatava") murdered 20,000 Vlatavans in the ensuing riots.
Soviet occupation of Vlatava lasted until 1991, when the Vlatavan Nationalist Party launched a rebellion. Led by Colonel Heinrich Kapek, who was aided by Count Werner Vertigo (the grandson of the royals forced to flee after World War II), the rebellion hoped to free Vlatava from Soviet rule by bringing the U.S. and Soviet governments into conflict.
With the aid of the so called American "Suicide Squad," the Nationalists and Vertigo's forces ousted the Soviets. Vlatava had regained her independence.
After Werner Vertigo declined to rule Vlatava as its monarch, a provisional government was formed to deal with the birth pangs of democracy. The Provisional Government was led by Riina Trevlinka, a political scientist trained at the University of Vlatava, Lyuben Zhotev, a popular foreign minister who helped oust the Soviets, and now-General Heinrich Kapek, the leader of the Nationalist Party.
In 1993, with Vlatava's economy in shambles and unemployment dangerously high, Vertigo reconsidered and accepted the Provisional Government's offer to become head of state. Unfortunately, Vertigo's return could not stabilize Vlatava.
By 1994, the ethnic warfare which had engulfed other Balkan nations had spread to Vlatava. General Aleksander Hafza, the second highest ranking military officer, launched a coup against the provisional government in October of 1994.
Following Kapek's death at Hafza's hands and Trevlinka and Zhotev fleeing to the United States, the conflict erupted into a country-wide civil war spread along religious lines. Vlatava's Christians allied themselves with Count Vertigo and Vlatava's Muslims allied themselves with Hafza.
As of this writing, the war continues to rage, with both sides committing horrible atrocities. Given the number of lives lost, I am afraid that Vlatava has once again lived up to its reputation as "the meat grinder of Europe."
Translators Note: The last paragraph of Valyusha's article is dated April 8, 1997, Vlatava's independence day. A few months later, Vlatava was destroyed by a nuclear inferno that miraculously stopped at Vlatava's borders. Out of a population of 414,000, only two Vlatavans survived the accident. Valyusha is among those presumed killed.
Born in Edngorod in 1944, Svetlana Valyusha was Vlatava's premier cultural geographer. She was a professor at the University of Vlatava from 1976 until her death in 1997.
David R. Black, a third generation Vlatavan-American, is Fanzing's Magazine Editor. He is currently halfway through translating Josef Rostov's epic poem "The Duke of Stara Platina" into English.
All characters are © DC Comics
This piece is © 1997 and 2003 by Svetlana Valyusha
Translation is © 2003 by David R. Black
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