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If the facts in their deep essence were similar, then literary experts could be cultural historians as well, and historians — ethnographers, folklorists — could be linguists and archaeologists. Thus these academic disciplines in fact reaffirmed the national mapping and the official national identity and were even used to justify territorial claims. Beyond the politically and militarily determined borders of the Balkan nation states, the cultural heritage was an expression of the deep, trans-empirical unity of all dialects, of all attitudes or versions of material culture.

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Thus, it served as an imposed framework for both the focus and the limits of research. This form of cognitive politics proved to be a very stable one. It is still in force in most of the national cultural institutions in the Balkans. Analyzing the history of Romanian ethnology, Mihailesku wrote:. Thus, ethnology goes along with — and is part of — this political process the shifting of the ethnographic element from local daily life to national representative culture for more than a century, performing a kind of defense and illustration of the authenticity bridging past and value , unity and specificity of Romanian popular — and thus nationa l- culture.

In this process, such ideological ends were incorporated as scientific means of research. The second type is that of the Western scholar of the nineteenth century variants include the ethnographer, anthropologist, historian, German scholar in Volkskunde , and comparative philologist. As a foreigner, he or she seems free both from involvement in local, pre-modern cultures and from the ideological framework conditioning the academic knowledge and cultural institutions of the nation states. Of course, most of these people were not free enough.


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They were passionately bound to one or another of the powerful ideological doctrines of their times pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism, Philhellenism, Turkophilia, et cetera. Therefore, their scholarly scrutiny, too, was pre-conditioned by an ideological doctrine. The policy of selecting and interpreting facts was comparative and transnational, thus creating alternative imagined communities.

The latter interpreted the development of Slavic languages and literatures through its own Russian Slavophilia — that is, it envisioned all the small Slavic rivers ending in the great Russian cultural sea. Free from such Russian ideological teleology, Safarzik preferred a cognitive strategy that stressed the similarities between relatively distant Slavic nations Czechs and Bulgars, for instance in contrast to their non-Slavic neighbors.

Another example of this type of observer is the famous German Slavic scholar of the s and s, Gerhard Gesemann. In that book, Gesemann disregarded the nationalistic and Slavophilic ideological mappings of the anthropological cultures there. This freedom to see new similarities and differences, however, had its costs. They are all important within the framework of the Balkan problematic, but I will leave them outside my paper. The other group of problems, those of self-recognized and experienced identity, were addressed only in relation to the diversity of possible cognitive mappings.

Who is he or she? Do certain groups or individuals mutually recognize a shared list of predicates qualities, similarities? What relation does their supposed Balkan identity bear to their national, confessional, ethnic, or other belonging? How has their collective imagination been structured within the spatial frame of the peninsula?

What are the emotional nuances of Balkan identification? All these remain open questions. Although a single paper hardly suffices to answer them all, I will try to address very briefly some of the above questions. Bearing in mind that individual acts of identification and official identity patterns are bound in a constant dialectic of flux and fix, let us try to approach the situation we described. We are faced with a lot of overlapping cognitive maps and a multitude of possible or actual identities with competing cognitive strategies.

Two hypotheses which are, from a certain point of view, complementary are possible here. And yet, several factors seem to influence strongly the dynamics of such a cognitively mobile field.

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Like magnetic poles of attraction or repulsion, they structure the power profile of the space in which groups and individuals are forced to live, to experience their identities or fulfill their acts of identification. Besides the memory of pre-modern identities and its provisional everyday re-appropriation , there are at least two crucial factors that play essential roles in structuring this field of competing forces.


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Roughly speaking, they are the Western politics of Balkan representation one can call it the discourse of the Significant Other , and the Ego-discourse of self-representation the officially and institutionally imposed national identity. The Balkans-cliche — peculiarly enough — conditions this field in two different, if not opposite ways. It neglects and discards the relevance of all the differences and similarities mentioned above it can even imply disrespect, ignorance, scorn.

In short, this metonymy is a part of the discourse on Balkanism. In contemporary scholarship, Balkanism is interpreted as the dominant Western strategy for representing the East European periphery.

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In the last ten years it has been critically analyzed in several publications. As a rhetorical technique, the discourse on Balkanism is double-bottomed, meaning that it always uses two sets of predicates. The first describes details close to the undeniable facts, both historical and contemporary: bloody Balkan wars, political intrigues and irrationality, nationalist hysteria, senseless fragmentation into weak small states, governmental chaos, poverty, economic, and intellectual backwardness.

The second series of predicates disregards the facts and details engaged in the ancient asymmetric power play between Occidental and Oriental identities, bearing instead a chthonic aura. Thus, given that Balkanism is a stigmatizing discourse, one is forced to reformulate the questions above. Under what circumstances do they feel that they belong to the territorialized image of their own stigma? However, being small and peripheral, these nations were trapped in the contradictory play between the normative and the factual: between the modern imperative that the nation should be a heroic historical agency of its own emancipation and their irrelevance in the struggles among the Great Powers.

Internalizing both the emotional trauma of non-recognition public and historical invisibility and the moral one failure to fulfill the supposed historical duty , the ideologies and high cultures of the South European nations have always harbored an obsessive concern. They tried to compensate for their geopolitical and geo-cultural irrelevance with certain ideological self-representations. The nationalistic imperative produced alternative versions of nationalist movements, fueled the tensions and conflicts between them, and ultimately gave rise to centripetal movements among neighbors and former cultural cooperators.

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During the period between and , the nation states in the region developed — slowly but relentlessly — relatively isolated national economies underpinned by hostile cultural codification mutually antagonistic educational systems, linguistic standards, art canons, etc. During this period, after several military and cultural wars and a whole series of ideological rivalries, the Balkan nations chose to foster their mutual non-communication, to develop and even to transform into institutions their various political struggles and ideological hostilities, and aggressively to segregate from their neighbors.

The different national folklores suspiciously coincided territorially with national borders and imagined homelands a modern territorialization entirely alien to the local ancient oral tradition. During the same period, the characteristics of the new national high cultures — the structure of historical time and geopolitical space, national heroes, martyrs, leaders, teleological narratives, deeds, and sacrifices that structure the axis of historical time, values, and authorities — distanced themselves to the point of incompatibility.

These efforts at differentiation and at producing distinct national politics of representation institutional, political, and even military ones clashed with the stubbornness of Western Balkanism , which was unwilling to see any differences and perceived the region from a macro-colonial perspective. Despite the availability of good, expert, diplomatic, and journalistic knowledge about the differences, the Western mass media repeatedly reproduced the image of an obscure geopolitical and cultural whole, senselessly fragmented, where unrecognizably small tribes and aggressive micro-states staged long forgotten European dramas in miniature: mutual hatred, uncivilized wars under the banner of hysterical and idiosyncratic nationalisms, cultural oppression, ethnic cleansing.

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In such a situation, the national high cultures had no chance to create a positive image of the peninsula. As a trope, presupposing a common cultural, historical and political referent, it threatens to shake up not only the anthropological, but the national borders and differences as well. Thus, for the national ideologies of the Balkan countries, different as they were, the Balkans also had a hidden, dark, mythological aura.

Croatian emigration during this period has been estimated at , During the period alone, Romania exported more than , emigrants. The sad story of the unsuccessful emigration of thousands of Albanians to Italy, and their brutal expulsion, is well known. Unlike Yugoslavia, Bulgaria did not experience war or ethnic cleansing.

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Nevertheless, one is surprised by the proportionally consistent number of emigrants despite the quite different conditions among the Balkan countries. It is as though there are reasons beyond the collapse of communism and the wars, beyond the economic crises and ethnic conflicts. It is as though the wars and the political chaos, the embargo and the bankruptcy of Albanian, Romanian, and Bulgarian banks unlocked another catastrophe. The political and economic motives behind this mass emigration are probably also mixed with a spasm of disgust: the wish or rather the compulsion to leave definitely, at all costs, despite the unpredictability and misery emigration entails.

The escape in the opposite direction — into passionate nationalism and hyperbolic Serb, Bulgarian, Albanian, Rumanian pride — is well known and does not need a detailed description. What is difficult is to recognize, behind the face of traditional and official state patriotism, the hysterical attempt to compensate for the stigma. What is worth mentioning, however, is that these nationalist reactions were also — not surprisingly — anti-Balkan. The situation is still more complex.

Groups and individuals can choose among these dominant identity models, secretly charging the two extremes citizen of the [better] world versus national patriot; nomadic versus settled, et cetera with traumatic energies. But the Balkan patchwork and the above-mentioned cognitive dynamics also open a free space for them to react differently.

The field, which is structured through such a controversial pattern of behavior and discourse, often blocks the dominant identity patterns, opening completely unexpected opportunities for multiple a-ha experiences, alternative identifications, and counter-identifications.