Academic journal article Ethnologies

Cultural Images of the Ethnic Groups and Ethnic Interrelations in the Balkans

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Cultural Images of the Ethnic Groups and Ethnic Interrelations in the Balkans

Article excerpt


The topic of the ethnic image is studied in a multitude of research disciplines. This is preconditioned, on the one hand, by the complex nature of the ethnic image as an object of analysis, and, on the other hand, by pragmatic considerations associated with the need to predict a definite type of human reactions in a certain type of social situations.

The enormous influence exerted by images of "our" community and "other" communities on the human mentality and conduct since ancient times is sufficiently well-known. In this case I shall be concerned with the images of "our" and "their" ethnic communities and with the ways in which human opinions, attitudes, and arguments for social activeness are shaped in accordance with the consciousness of someone's ethnic identity.

Ethnic prejudices are often mentioned in everyday speech and even in scientific discussions, but it is not always sufficiently clarified that such ethnic prejudices are the result of stereotypical images, arising among different ethnic communities in various historical periods. This article will provide examples documented over a period of 100 years in order to illustrate the striking constancy of the themes and processes giving rise to ethnic images among some of the ethnic groups living on the Balkan peninsula in the last century and today.

As regards modernity, the events occurring in recent years in the Balkans, and particularly those related to the war in the former Yugoslavia, trigger the production of ethnic images in a definite way and provide sufficient material to observe the power of their impact on people's opinions and evaluations of other people and events. The role of ethnic images as a factor motivating certain behavioral strategies in a situation of interethnic interaction or in the context of discussing such interaction is quite pronounced. This is why I shall also include examples commenting on the principal current events in the Balkan region.

Ethnic Images or Images of

What is meant here is an image or images of a certain ethnic group: images that refer one to the group's general characteristics perceived and interpreted by its members or by members of another ethnic group. In keeping with proper academic tradition I will begin by defining my terms. By ethnic images I mean mental constructions of ideas, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, values, etc., created by the members of a given ethnic group and helping them to describe, evaluate and present "our" or "the other" ethnic groups. Ethnic images are based on some knowledge about a certain ethnic group but this knowledge can be obtained in quite different ways -- ranging from serious written sources to gossiping over a cup of coffee. Hence, this knowledge is not necessarily connected with verified facts. Facts are rather selected to be consistent with this knowledge and to add new emphases to it. This knowledge is part of the specific social knowledge of the group (van Dijk 1993; Fiske and Taylor 1991; Wyer and Srull 1984, 1989) and it can be used by individuals in various social situations to satisfy a large number of social and cultural needs. Most frequently the people sharing this knowledge have no doubts about the truthfulness of the facts that constitute it. Therefore the generic form of ethnic group presentation is quite natural: "We, Bulgarians, are ...", "They, Turks, are ...".

Ethnic groups also share general opinions about themselves or about other groups. As in the case of knowledge, socially shared opinions may be organized by complex mental schemes, which can be denoted by the traditional term attitude (van Dijk 1993). As regards values (Rokeach 1979), I can say that each type of culture comes with a repertoire of dominant values that are used in the basic evaluations embodied in the cultural concepts, as well as in every text of that culture. Values are those characteristics of the groups that specifically contribute to the optimal conditions for the "success" of the group and its members (van Dijk 1993; 1984). …

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