Taking a look at the border picture

Borders - An Ethnic History of Europe since 1945 - A History of the Balkans
March 2, 2001

At first sight these would appear to be three quite disparate books. Not only are they the fruit of different disciplines (anthropology and history) but they also cover three different historical periods: 1804-1945, 1945 to the present, and the past ten years. There is, however, a common thread and all three books would fit well within the framework of any European studies curriculum, demonstrating the wide variety of disciplines that are employed by this interdisciplinary subject. Indeed, Hastings Donnan and Thomas Wilson, in their introduction to Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State , draw attention to the treatment of cultural aspects of international borders by political scientists, historians, geographers and sociologists, before situating the study of borders and boundaries as treated by anthropologists, and then devoting attention to a wide variety of disciplinary approaches to borders, nations and states. This is followed by a review of a wide range of ethnographic cases in chapters that reflect research on borders in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.

Clearly the transformations that have taken place in the post-1989 world have brought about an increase in the number, type and intensity of border disputes, with references, inter alia , to strained relations between Greece and Turkey and between Israel and Lebanon, along with struggles for self-determination and nationhood, such as those of the Chechens, Kurds and Basques. There are sections on cross-border sex, prostitution and rape, cross-border trade, smuggling and shopping borders, and refugees and displaced persons.

The book helps to further our understanding of the nation and state, migrant labour, ethnic and national identity, the gendering of borders and border conflicts, with the nation state affected by the threats of regionalism and ethno-nationalism on the one hand and supranationalism on the other.

In An Ethnic History of Europe since 1945: Nations, States and Minorities , Panikos Panayi sets out to present a history of minorities in the postwar years. Panayi uses a thematic approach, with examples to illustrate the areas covered by the three core sections of the book, "Minorities within European society and economy"; "Ethnicity and nation states"; and "Majorities and minorities".

Although not aiming to be exclusive, Panayi focuses on countries with the largest populations, especially the Soviet Union and its successor states, the UK, France and Germany, as well as those recognised as having serious ethnic problems, such as Romania, "former" Yugoslavia and Cyprus. The central theme is the relationship between nation states and minorities, and key themes pop up, such as ethnicity, the nation state, nationalism and minority. Of particular interest are chapters on "The basis of difference" and "The politicisation of difference". Here, the author brings out the importance of dress, food, religion and language to the formation of "difference", and follows with two sub-sections on culture, political activism and nationalist political parties.

Panayi is clearly hooked on Johann Gottfried Herder and the relationship of language to ethnic identity and he is not alone here. Clearly, in the process and application of language politics, what counts is not linguistic theory but political interpretation and persuasion, hence the belief that state equals people equals language. Eric Hobsbawm and Arnold Krupat have both emphasised that language is not only a major determinant of identity, but that it also serves as a model for culture. If, for example, we apply this to the Balkans, it can be taken that apart from the usual explanations of cultural, economic, historical and religious tensions, perceived linguistic differences and the deliberate manipulation of linguistic varieties for political advantage have played an important role in the "Yugoslav" crises and conflicts, since language is a major aspect of the legitimisation of culture, politics and identity. This is a very readable and accessible book, which would make an excellent undergraduate text for modules on nationalism and national identity.

With reference to Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, the "South Slav" lands and Greece, Stevan Pavlowitch takes up the debate on the use of language by national awakeners in A History of the Balkans: 1804-1945 . He comments that: "In the Habsburg dominions, the Herderian view of a nation defined by its language and customs was the prime factor in getting South Slavs and Romanians to see themselves as ethnic entities." Later, rather reflecting Ernest Gellner, he adds: "As spoken languages were fluid, scholars, educationalists and politicians altered and codified the literary and official languages. Schools and armies then taught teachers and officers, who in turn taught pupils and conscripts, to speak and write in a uniform manner. Nations were defined in opposition to others near at hand, or in imitation of others far away. Grand narratives were constructed of a country once free, culturally elevated and usually egalitarian, until the greed of its decadent elite had delivered it to the greed of foreign conquerors."

A History of the Balkans is a very useful and timely textbook, providing a general overview of an important period in Balkan history, which will prove invaluable to undergraduates of south-east European history.

Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.

Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State. First edition

Author - Hastings Donnan and Thomas M. Wilson
ISBN - 1 85973 241 0 and 246 1
Publisher - Berg
Price - £39.99 and £14.99
Pages - 178

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