Imagining the Balkans

Imagining the Balkans

Imagining the Balkans

Imagining the Balkans

Synopsis

"If the Balkans hadn't existed, they would have been invented" was the verdict of Count Hermann Keyserling in his famous 1928 publication, Europe. This book traces the relationship between the reality and the invention. Based on a rich selection of travelogues, diplomatic accounts, academic surveys, journalism, and belles-lettres in many languages, Imagining the Balkans explores the ontology of the Balkans from the eighteenth century to the present day, uncovering the ways in which an insidious intellectual tradition was constructed, became mythologized, and is still being transmitted as discourse. The author, who was raised in the Balkans, is in a unique position to bring both scholarship and sympathy to her subject. A region geographically inextricable from Europe, yet culturally constructed as "the other," the Balkans have often served as a repository of negative characteristics upon which a positive and self-congratulatory image of the "European" has been built. With this work, Todorova offers a timely, accessible study of how an innocent geographic appellation was transformed into one of the most powerful and widespread pejorative designations in modern history.

Excerpt

A specter is haunting Western culture -- the specter of the Balkans. All the powers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter: politicians and journalists, conservative academics and radical intellectuals, moralists of all kind, gender, and fashion. Where is the adversarial group that has not been decried as "Balkan" and "balkanizing" by its opponents? Where the accused have not hurled back the branding reproach of "balkanism"?

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Europe had added to its repertoire of Schimpfwörter, or disparagements, a new one that, although recently coined, turned out to be more persistent over time than others with centuries-old tradition. "Balkanization" not only had come to denote the parcelization of large and viable political units but also had become a synonym for a reversion to the tribal, the backward, the primitive, the barbarian. In its latest hypostasis, particularly in American academe, it has been completely decontextualized and paradigmatically related to a variety of problems. That the Balkans have been described as the "other" of Europe does not need special proof. What has been emphasized about the Balkans is that its inhabitants do not care to conform to the standards of behavior devised as normative by and for the civilized world. As with any generalization, this one is based on reductionism, but the reductionism and stereotyping of the Balkans has been of such degree and intensity that the discourse merits and requires special analysis.

The "civilized world" (the term is introduced not ironically but as a self-proclaimed label) was first seriously upset with the Balkans at the time of the Balkan wars (1912-1913). News of the barbarities committed in this distant European Mediterranean peninsula came flooding in and challenged the peace movements that not only were gaining strength in Europe but were beginning to be institutionalized. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, founded in 1910, established an international commission "to inquire into the causes and conduct of the Balkan wars." The report of the commission, which consisted of well-known public figures from France, the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, was published in 1914. This is a magnum opus that looked into the historical roots of . . .

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