The Ghost of the Balkans: Defining and Deconstructing “Balkanism”




Zec, Milan

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Whenever the Balkans becomes a topic of conversation or of serious political and intellectual discussion, the narrative always moves towards the apocalyptic and genocidal collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Out of the bloody fighting, and through incessant reporting on the destruction and civilian tragedy, emerged a particular image which came to pervade all understandings of the region. This is the image of the Balkans as a land of irrational violent passions, through which romantic nationalism and “ancient ethnic hatreds” trumps all other modes of explanation, and within which no true semblance of Western civilization or modern democratic structures can flourish. In 1997 Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans identified this understanding as the concept of Balkanism, but the phenomenon reaches far before the 1990s and persists to this day. What this thesis attempts to do is undertake a proper analysis of the ways in which Balkanism permeates how the Balkan region is thought about and studied. It will also seek to reinscribe agency to Balkan scholars who across the 20th century have dealt with the depictions and study of the Balkans, and who might provide an answer to the quagmire of Balkanism. The ultimate goal of this thesis is to situate the malignant and colonial role of the West in constructing and reinforcing stereotypical and essentialist understandings of the Balkans. By establishing and calling to attention the role of the West in this way, it becomes possible to dismantle and shatter Balkanism as a pernicious force. Furthermore it becomes possible to exorcize the Balkans of the ghosts which, through popular narratives and works like Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts, have come to embody and haunt the Balkan region as a whole.



Balkans, Balkanism, Yugoslavia, postmodernism, post-colonialism, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia