This article investigates the British tradition of balkanism, paying particular attention to the forms of power that representation of South-East Europe has supported. Using travel writing as a source material, I shall exemplify the tradition through the study of two periods in which balkanist discourse – with its motifs of discord, savagery, backwardness and obfuscation – has been especially powerful. During the nineteenth century, firstly, such discourse legitimised British assistance for the Ottoman Empire against the threat of Russian expansion. In contemporary times, secondly, the denigration of the entire Central and Eastern European region has worked to endorse the systematic interference of the European Union. For the Balkans, this has entailed wide-ranging EU control of economic structures and political frameworks, repeating the nineteenth-century concept of the peninsula as a borderland available for Western intervention and control.