Balkan predicaments


  • Maja Povrzanovic Frykman Malmö University


Ethnicity, violence and place

Belonging is conditioned by social and psychological concreteness: it is rooted in place, familiarity, sensual experience, human interaction and local knowledge. Inclusive identities resulting from a sharing of places are obvious in situations of crisis. However, they are always latently present, in war as in peace, in diasporic surroundings as well as among those who stayed behind, in different epochs and political systems. Research into war-related issues in Croatia and migration-related issues in Sweden may appear to be dealing with very different matters. Exploring the meanings of place in the contexts of military aggression and diasporic identifications, however, led me to handle ethnicity with great care. Both fields of interest helped me to understand the importance of taking the places in which people’s positioning and ethnicity-related practices are situated into careful consideration. In scholarly analyses, as well as in a number of political and media contexts, the notion of the Balkans has been predominantly connected to the notion of ethnicity. It could be that, focused on the Balkans, theoretical considerations of ethnicity, violence and place have relevance for those interested in Communication for Development, particularly those who either plan to do their research in the region, or relate it to the region. Even if not directly dealing with those parts of the Balkans entangled in the wars of the 1990s, they will probably feel the need to challenge the still dominant stereotypes of the Balkan Others, for which the unruly and often fiercely nationalist character of ethnic mobilisation is central. Regardless of which definition of the Balkans is accepted, sweeping generalisations about Balkan predicaments seldom facilitate an understanding of the differences and the complexities as perceived and experienced by those people whose lives are implied. My plea is for research that transforms the notion of the Balkans through experience-related contents that reach beyond the political and cultural constructions that evoke orientalising attitudes. As an ethnologist, I see both the strength of and the necessity for research based on ethnographic insights.