Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Imposing Particular Identities: The Balkans as a Meeting Place of Ethnicities and Religions

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Imposing Particular Identities: The Balkans as a Meeting Place of Ethnicities and Religions

Article excerpt

Balkans: Representations and Possibilities (1)

This paper will argue that monotheistic religions, which have coexisted for many centuries and, in fact, mark the most important axis of the human conception of history and individual self, are not the source of the exclusivism and particularism in the Balkans which so often led to war. Rather, the conflicts are the products of political processes that originated outside of the Balkans and which are anti-religious in essence. This becomes obvious when we consider that the Balkans, throughout their history, have experienced both periods of war and long periods of peace, characterized by cross-regional solidarity among the local peoples. Multiple religions have been present in the Balkans during all its modern history; therefore, something else must have disturbed the cross-regional solidarities and caused those conflicts. Thus, religious coexistence should be considered as a natural state of being, and viewed as such by all who are looking for solutions to the Balkan issues, with the peaceful and continuous complementary existence of the people in the Balkans as the final teleology. Since the opposite position has been well advertised and emphasized among the general public through various hegemonic mechanisms for the production of representations, for us to argue otherwise is a tall order, but we have to consider the alternative to the current perspective of conflict and antagonism among different religions and ethnicities in the Balkans and elsewhere. (2) This paper is just a step in the different direction, as we keep in mind that the geopolitical production of representations of regions and peoples are long-term processes (3) and, as such, should be important considerations for international relations inquiry. (4) Our optimistic approach to the problem at stake is not unique. Another similarly aspiring approach to inquiry was suggested by Lijphart when he noted regarding democracy that, "if politicians and political scientists are convinced that democracy cannot work in the plural societies, they will not even try to introduce it or make it work." (5) So the optimism in the quest for the 'conflict solution in the Balkans will not only be an underlying part of the logic of this paper, but should also be a part of the method of proceeding in the quest of achieving lasting harmony in the region. (6)

In our quest, we have to observe two issues: first, the geo-cultural context of the Balkans and the normative determination of the term 'Balkanization; and second, the negative perception of religion in reference to the peace process, and with it the implications of such a view vis-a-vis ethnicity in the Balkans. (7) This paper will employ a historical approach and will first address the intra-European regional representations and then the Balkans' religious and ethnic elements and their history of amity and enmity. In conclusion, this paper will offer an alternative position which argues for a serious and unbiased examination of the various political processes based on the different Northern European ideas of particularism as a source of 'vision and division,' and a consideration and emphasis of religious universalism as a way forward in the Balkans.

The Balkans as a Close Territory with Distant Peoples

The Balkans is a well-known region of the world and most of the political constructions associated with it carry particularly heavyweight for the countries located there. The region was the subject of a Carnegie Endowment report originally published in 1914 and reprinted in 1996, which castigated the region, stating that, the "Balkan civilization was inferior and backward. Compared to the civilized world, its people had not yet obtained the stability of character found in older civilizations' nor the 'synthesis of moral and social forces embodied in laws and institutions giving stability of character, forming public sentiment, and making for security. …

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