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Last Update: 2012-06-25   Source: Star Projects
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ENTANGLED BALKANS – Revisiting Balkans history to achieve a more unified future

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 "transnational" perspective. 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 and division.

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 Professor Daskalov. 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 extensively.

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 region.

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 Professor Daskalov.

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.


Project details

  • Participants: Bulgaria (Beneficiary)
  • FP7 Project N° 230177
  • Total costs: € 1 560 000
  • EU contribution: € 1 560 000
  • Duration: January 2009 - December 2013

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Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
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