Opening up vistas beyond the violence

Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans

October 6, 2000

Balkan studies is a curious animal: hyperactive when it smells Balkan blood, usually during massacres and other gruesome activities, but quiet and rather subdued when the region enjoys its moments of tranquillity - in other words, obscurity. The eruption of the Yugoslav volcano, and the lava of printed words that followed, has highlighted once again not only the intimate connection between scholarship and contemporary realities, but also the unfortunate fact that the study of the Balkans is stimulated (and in many respects guided) by the misery and suffering of its inhabitants.

It is this new awareness of the Balkans that has led to the publication of the Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans . The brainchild of the Association for the Study of Southern Europe and the Balkans, a discussion forum established in the mid-1990s by a group of alert graduate students at the University of London, the journal is very much a product of its time, and reflects concerns and preoccupations brought to the fore by the Yugoslav wars. It notes that "southern Europe and the Balkans as a region" faces a period of "major political and social upheavals" that gives a "particular imme-diacy" to its study, and calls for, among other things, a discussion of "national claims" and of the region's political and economic predicament against the backdrop of European integration and globalisation.

The geographical breadth of the journal includes some strange bedfellows. It is questionable whether southern Europe and the Balkans can be treated as "a region", given that the problems and challenges facing the Balkan states, not to mention their historical experience, are (with the partial exception of Greece) to a significant degree different from those of Portugal or Italy. A certain geographical uncertainty is also indicated by the inclusion in the journal of an article dealing with Poland. This is not to imply that the Balkans, or southern Europe for that matter, should not be placed and studied in wider contexts: far from it. But it detracts somewhat from the journal's focus, as specialist readers will inevitably gravitate towards one or the other of the two cohabiting blocs. That said, the journal covers all countries of its chosen "region". Spain, Italy and (what was) Yugoslavia figure prominently, while Greece, Turkey and Cyprus also receive due attention. The only neglected case so far is Portugal.

Although it is too early for chronological or disciplinary patterns to emerge, the contents of the first three issues indicate that the tilt is in the direction of contemporary and current affairs, with a good balance between politics and economics. A number of articles have a historical dimension, but history clearly takes an ancillary position, mostly used with a view to assessing and evaluating current developments. A stronger commitment to including historical articles, however, will certainly reinforce the comprehensiveness of the journal's coverage. In broad terms, the main themes covered so far are nationalism(s) and economic modernisation, or the lack thereof. The latter is the theme of the third issue, devoted to the economies of the region and especially to industrialisation.

Nationalism receives a variety of approaches. In the first issue, Constantine Tsoukalas, a noted Greek historian, discusses the elusive issue of Greek national identity, in a perceptive but occasionally opaque essay, and Hugh Poulton contributes an informative account of Turkish nationalism, by examining the "struggle for hegemony" between its pan-Turkish, Islamic and Kemalist strands. The second issue is dominated by Yugoslavia. It includes a judicious and wide-ranging essay by Stevan Pavlowitch, who stresses that at the root of the Yugoslav tragedy lies the attempt to solve the current challenge of "how to manage the differences" with 19th-century ideas. Tolis Malakos boldly attempts to debunk some "post-historical myths" about Yugoslavia. He is thought-provoking, but his argument that western "neo-imperialist geopolitical projects" are responsible for the "re-ignition" of ethnic conflict in the Balkans is unconvincing. A critical review of Noel Malcolm's Kosovo by Thomas Emmert elicits a forceful and persuasive response by Malcolm in an interesting exchange of views on the theme of nation and narration in the Balkans.

On the whole, the journal offers a pluralism of viewpoints, and its contributors include both established and younger scholars. The diet it offers is varied, including research articles, essays, debates and book reviews. It is a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion about the future of southern Europe and the Balkans. This is a discussion, one can only hope, that will outlive the current obsession with violence.

Dimitris Livanios is a research fellow, Pembroke College, Cambridge.


Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans: 2 times a year -

Editor - Vassilis Fouskas
ISBN - ISSN 1461 3190
Publisher - Carfax
Price - £92.00 (instits); 32.00 (indivs)

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