Anna Sosnowska
Ohrid Summer School 1999 - position paper 1


The curriculum of first part of the summer school 'The Roots of the Common Balkan Identity' has been dedicated to the three elements: what was called the Balkan national mythology, the Balkan folklore and the Balkan Sprachbund. The three corresponding elements are surely the important ones in the formation of the modern nation and nation-states: common funding mythology - whether it's religion or secular political ideology distinguishing the place of the particular nation among the others, selecting the traces of the popular culture for the basis of the national one, and standardizing the language.

I guess the selection is self-justifying in the time we live. In the age when the national identity is the main one organizing life of societies of the world and the nation-state makes an international standard for organizing the political life, the national identity occupies most of the space of the collective identities in general. Seeking for the regional identity generators, this is then 'natural' to follow the national identity logic. The switch is understandable and justified on the level of organizing the school as well as educating the people. Suspicions might be produced nevertheless on the level of the actual collective identity. The question that this week left me with is therefore whether the three dimensions (common mythology, common folklore, and common linguistic morphology) could be helpful in the formation of the regional identity as they are in the case of the national ones.

All above have led me to the following thoughts:

1. Taking into account the European political traditions, there is no place for multiethnic states in Europe unless they are organized into federations.

2. In the given political international conditions, and especially the European political ideas, the regional identity building process must be proceeded by the national one. The former cannot start before the latter is reassured. The ruthless logic of the nationalism sets the nation state-oriented identity as the primary one. Only when the existence of the nation-state is unquestioned, safe and taken for granted, the bigger-territory-identities can be produced.

3. The root of identity is the difference. Whether it is a myth, a song, a legend or a language it must be exclusive to become a basis for the collective identity. A certain element must be commonly familiar for a group of people and strange for the rest of the world. The fact that the Balkan nations share the myths or the folk songs do not help to build the common identity in the time when differentiation and exclusiveness sells best, that is when the nation-building process is going on. The classical example of the phenomenon is the Bulgarian/Macedonian common folk heritage and both Bulgarian/Macedonian and Serbian/Croatian similarity of languages. Instead of being a source of cheerful enjoyment of common roots, it's rather the source of embarrassment, the competition for their origins and 'ownership rights' resulting in animosities. The common folk heritage and the similarity of the language turn out to be a burden for young nations seeking recognition. To select the differentiating elements is the main principle of the political culture in these circumstances.

4. In the Balkans, whose political development depend on the hegemonic (at least in Europe) ideology of the nation-states, the proportion between the common and separate elements of what's the basis for the national and regional culture is embarrassing exactly because it happens to be on the edge of the nation identity line. Like in Macedonian/Bulgarian case, there are enough common elements to provide the political elites with the arguments that these are respectively single nations but also enough differences to argue for that these are separate ones.

5. The similar element in the competing (for land, song or legend) nationalisms might be an antagonizing one, not the uniting one. The nature of the Balkan nation-building story-structure myths, like most of the other Eastern European ones, is based on the history of suffering (from neighbors or Great Powers) leading to salvation that should be (or have been) crowned by the creation of the nation-state. The consequence of such a myth for the present is the attitude of 'we've suffered enough' and the postulate 'it's the time for enjoying what we've got'. Self-victimization motif used in the political discourse is aimed at the mobilization of anti-oppressor resentment and that element shared by the neighboring countries obviously builds antagonism instead of solidarity. The myth of 'Great Country' has the same character.

The Interwinded Cultures part of the session left me with the question of what are the particularities of the Balkan folklore or what are the Balkan societies' particularities as expressed in the folk songs. The examples given during the lectures haven't provided me with the answer to the question. Agricultural cycle rituals, begging for the good weather and rich harvest are probably the most important ones in all traditional societies, and are not particular to the Balkans. The arranged marriages psychological consequences were expressed not only in the lamentation and the 'returning husband' but also in the love songs. The latter seem more particular to the Balkans than the former. My own amateurish survey proved the exceptional tragic destiny of the love relationships that could not be accepted by the family of the youngsters in the Balkans.

The absolutely new and therefore really interesting issue that I've learnt this week was the phenomenon of the Sprachbund and the area linguistic studies. Although an absolute ignorant in the field, I found the Sprachbund phenomenon an another example of the cultural diffusion with which sociology and anthropology is so much concerned.

It was also striking to me how much the political boundaries, that is those of the Ottoman Empire, may have an influence deep enough to change the morphology of the genetically different languages.


Wroc³aw, 10.07.2000