ANSWERS TO CORESPONDENTS; Great Divide: The Destruction of the Ancient Bridge at Mostar (above), in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Balkans Conflict of the Early Nineties Became a Symbol of the Region's Ethnic Divisions. It Has since Been Rebuilt (Left)

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES LEGGE

Baulk at the Balkans

QUESTION

What defines the geographical area referred to as the Balkans? How are itsborders determined?

IN MODERN definitions, the Balkans region consists of Albania, Bosnia andHerzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, the Republic of Macedonia,Serbia and the European half of Turkey.

Romania and Slovenia are sometimes included, though not officially part of theBalkans.

The word 'Balkan' was first used in 1490 by Italian humanist, writer anddiplomat Buonaccorsi Callimarco to describe a mountain range in northernBulgaria. The word is of Turkish origin and means 'woody mountain'.

Travel writer John Morritt introduced the term into English literature at theend of the 18th century and it was taken up by various authors to describe thewider area of the mountain range between the Adriatic and Black Sea.

Then, in 1808, German geographer August Zeune used the name 'Balkan peninsula'for the entire area. Though an obvious mistake, the term caught on among travelwriters and geographers.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the term took on a politicaldimension, describing an area of divided and hostile countries formed after thecollapse of the Ottoman Empire and Habsburg monarchy.

During the 20th century, the term gained cultural and sociologicalconnotations.

Many geographers have tried to correct Zeune's mistake, but terms such asSouth-eastern Europe or Near East, proposed as neutral, non-political andnon-ideological concepts, failed to catch on.

Recent wars and ethnic tensions in the area have once again encouraged theconcept of a geographical conglomeration of unstable states.

As Maria Todorova wrote in her book Imagining The Balkans: 'Many authors in thepast have used very different criteria in defining the Balkans. Some usedphysical definitions, but most approaches were political and culturally based.

So, geographically speaking, it would be wise to think before we use "theBalkans" when describing the concrete geographical area.'

Klara Ament, London SW5.

QUESTION

How long a line could a new ballpoint pen draw before it needed a refill?

ACCORDING to Bic publicity, most of its ballpoint pens contain more than 1.2miles of writing ink.

There are pens on the market such as the Fisher Millennium Space Pen or BulletPen that can draw a line 30 miles long.

Credit, however, should be given to the humble pencil. It is estimated that astandard 7in pencil can draw a line 35 miles long or write 45,000 words.

Francine Grey, Harrogate, N. Yorks.

QUESTION

As a lad in the late Forties, I recall reading a fictional story about a King'sMessenger, who had considerable authority. He could take over a plane or shipto assist him in his duties. Did/does this office actually exist?

THE office does exist and has done for a long time. The Corps of Queen'sMessengers (the 'silver greyhounds') are couriers employed by the ForeignOffice who carry important documents by hand to British embassies andconsulates around the world.

Messengers generally travel in plain clothes in business class on scheduledairlines, carrying an official case from which they must never be separatedit may even be chained to their wrist.

The safe passage of diplomatic baggage is guaranteed by the Vienna Conventionon Diplomatic Relations, and for reasons of state secrecy, the diplomatic bagdoes not go through the normal airport baggage checks and must not be opened,x-rayed, weighed or otherwise investigated by customs or airline security staff(or anyone else).

The bag is closed with a tamperproof seal and has its own diplomatic passport.These days they are made by prison inmates from sturdy white canvas.

Sovereigns' messengers may date back as far as 1199, yet the first known onewas John Norman, who in 1485 earned 4d (1. …