As anyone who has tried to sudy it will know, the history of the Balkans is as complex as that of any region in the world. It is an area into wich are compressed a large number of ethnic groupings and national identities, characterised by shifting borders and alliances, and long-held grievances, rivalries and tensions.
A visit to the Western Balkans shows how deep
the scars of the bloodshed of the 1990s, after
the break-up of Yugoslavia, were and still are.
As TV images and newspaper reports made
clear on an almost daily basis, the scale of
violence exceeded our common understanding,
with human rights abuses, massacres, torture,
rapes and ethnic cleansing on all sides.
Despite this inextricably interlinked experience,
the "entangled history" of the Balkans has
rarely been studied from a "relational" or
To the contrary, the area's history has been
formulated almost exclusively along national
lines. Individual national identities have been
entrenched in the historiography, which in
turn has led to even deeper entrenchment of
those feelings of separate national identity
Aided by a European Research Council (ERC)
grant awarded in 2008, Professor Roumen
Daskalov from the New Bulgarian University
of Sofia, is aiming to bring a fresh new
perspective to this history.
"Modern Balkan history has traditionally been
studied in the national paradigm as separate
national histories taking place within bounded
state territories. (...) However, these national
historiographies show some transnational
aspects which have been forged throughout
time from various economic, political and
cultural influences from abroad," says
The complexities of the Balkans and their longstanding
relations both with the West and
with Russia have made this approach, based
on a transnational and cross-disciplinary
perspective, particularly relevant. It also
contributes to "global history", a new trend in
historical studies that revisits national histories
to place them in a more global perspective,
thus transcending established disciplinary
boundaries between history, sociology, political
science, international law and linguistics.
The relevance of this approach quickly
becomes clear when one considers, for
example, how interconnected and "entangled"
were the Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian and
Macedonian nationalisms over the years.
Despite their rivalries and hostilities, they
also copied and borrowed from each other
This pattern was repeated many times
throughout the Balkans, as minorities and
refugees interacted with the dominant
nationalities in the region.
Supported by an ERC grant of € 1.56 million
for five years, Professor Daskalov and his four
team members aim to present a new vision
of the modern history of the Balkans that will
challenge the entire historical landscape of
The "entangled history" approach does not
aim to harmonise the past and smooth out
past conflicts. The contacts, movements,
exchanges, transfers, etc. were more often
asymmetrical and violent than harmonious
and peaceful. Still there is some positive and
integrative value in showing how "entangled"
the histories of the present-day Balkan
nations and states were and still are, says
Achieving lasting peace and reconciliation in
this troubled part of the European continent is
an immense challenge. But Professor Daskalov
hopes to see his research results contributing
to that process of reconciliation, and to the
better integration of the Balkans region into
a wider Europe.
"I can imagine such research as promoting
good neighbour relations rather than fostering
divisiveness and separation," he says.