Biagio Carrano, Balkanism, the European image of the Balkans, Serbian Monitor, 13/08/2019
An analysis of the Balkanist mentality, which, in a way, we all take with us when we think about the Balkans.
A premise that is almost a spoiler: if you want to read something lighter, go immediately to the related article dedicated to Balkanology. And if you really want to read this one too, then I must immediately abuse your patience by proposing the distinction between Balkan and Balkanology. (in order to make the article somewhat lighter, some explanatory notes are given at the end and indicated with a circle °)
Balkanism as a dispositif of power
The Balkans is inspired by Edward W. Said’s classic book “Orientalism”. In it the Arab-American scholar has shown how the political and academic “discourse” on a territory and its inhabitants is always inscribed in an asymmetrical power relationship between those who write, study, describe, represent and the subjects represented by these activities. So we had the construction of Western stereotypes about the East (especially, in Said’s book, about the Near East) that justified the colonialism and then the neocolonialism of the Western powers. In the wake of Said’s studies, the reference text about the Balkans is Maria Todorova’s “Imagining the Balkans“, in which the Bulgarian scholar reconstructs the Balkanism of the major European countries towards this part of the continent, that is, the representation of the Balkans as a primordial environment from the physical and ancestral point of view to the social one, economically backward, with people as victims and heritage of the Ottoman rule and therefore with cultures that tend to be different from those forged by Catholic Latinity and Central European Enlightenment.
As in the case of orientalism, Balkanism starts from the observation of the local economic backwardness to the point of attributing it even to a delay in the anthropological evolution of the inhabitants (Said, pg. 204).