Thirty years ago Slovenia split from Yugoslavia, large parts of which are still a gaping hole in the EU. Central European members are keen on closing it, were it not for Bulgaria first wanting to settle accounts with North Macedonia. (See also my blog ‘Balkan Ghosts’.) She insists on this wannabe candidate acknowledging that its people are kind of Bulgarians speaking a kind of Bulgarian. It all goes back to the Ottoman Empire – of which Eugen Rogan (2014) reminds us that she tolerated minorities until, infected by the same nationalism which had incited the rebellions against – it engaged in ethnic cleansing before, during and after World War One. Mind you, it had first been the European powers that had encouraged nationalist movements wanting to secede. Responding by creating the very notion – none such existed before, a fellow academic once explained to me in Istanbul – of a Turkish nation, the so-called Young Turks simply repaid them in kind with, not as the only ones, the Armenians suffering the consequences.
With my Austrian socialisation, I have an acute sense of this particular history. But what if Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip had missed his targets in Sarajevo in 1914, asks Hannes Stein (2014)? He paints a scenario of a diverse and tolerant Austrian-Hungarian Empire – according to Dutch journalist Caroline Gruyter (2021) a model for the EU – going from strength to strength. Too good to be true, so Stein lets the comet in the title of his book blow up the globe.
An all-too-brief visit to Albania (see ‘Europe Day in Tirana’ on this blog) has given me the idea that the Western Balkans are going to once more become a fulcrum of world history. Serbia’s old ally Russia joins the fray, much as modern Turkey does – her President has held a rally of ethnic Turks from all over Europe in Bosnia – and that new boy on the block, China is throwing its weight around. Punching above its own weight, Austria teams up with the new member states, some of whom, like Slovenia (holding the EU Presidency as from July 2021) seem only too keen to see more new EU members of their nationalistic persuasion. Apparently, many Central Europeans have joined, not to be subsumed in a Europe without borders but to strengthen their independence and from this vantage point to fulfil their respective historic missions.
But first it seems the conundrum of a multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina has to be sorted out. See my blog ‘A Non-Paper’. It refers to a proposal – nobody owns up to it, hence the name. Apparently, it came from the upcoming Slovenian Presidency and concerned a clean-up of Bosnia-Herzegovina on more ethnic lines. In ‘Government and governance on the Western Balkans‘ (Faludi 2020) I propose the opposite, i.e. non-territorial governance in the form of cultural and linguistic autonomy. According to Michael Keating (2019) this is not at all the same as creating spatial monopolies of authority, identity, or capacity. Not a bad idea for the Western Balkans. In fact, the same goes for the ‘old’ EU!
Faludi, A. (2020) ‘Government and governance on the Western Balkans’, Journal of Western Balkan Network on Territorial Governance, II, 19-23.
Gruyter, C. (2021) Beter wordt het niet: Een reis door de Europese Unie en hat Habsburgse Rijk, De Geus, Amsterdam.
Keating, M. (2019) ‘Brexit and the nation’, The Political Science Quarterly, 40(52), 167-176.
Rogan, E. (2014) The Fall of the Ottomans, Penguin, London.
Stein, H. (2014) Der Komet, Galiani, Berlin.