The Balkans - a Door and/or a Corner
by Luchezar Boyadjiev
I. Seen in their geographical location/relation the Balkans appear to be both the Same and the Other of both Europe and Asia. This strange geosituation of a territory, "populated" by several incredibly same/different countries, could be explicated in the following manner:
II. The Balkans as the Other of both Europe and Asia.
Depending on the passive or aggressive "interpretative" ambitions/strategies of both out-of-the-Balkans reflecting subjects, the metaphorical status of the Balkans could be expressed figuratively through the metaphors of The Door or The Corner. Or if put in a diagrammatic form:
a) Door - passive strategies=regard for the Other.
Here the Balkans are the very epitome of transparency.
b) Corner - aggressive strategies=disregard for the Other.
Here the Balkans become an especially heavily inflamed point of friction where all notions of transparency are annihilated.
Both of the above described cases are defined geographically by the viewpoint of the out-of-the-Balkans reflecting subject. Without dependence on the character of his/hers ambitions/strategies as cultural, political, economic, etc. ones, this ambiguous metaphorical status of the Balkans has received concrete realization throughout history in an alternating rhythm - the Balkans have been thought of as either a door or a corner at any given historical period. Only the passive or aggressive exercise of those ambitions/strategies determines the switches in the metaphorical orientation of the European and/or Asian viewpoints towards the Balkans. It should be clear that historically the metaphorical orientations of the European and/or the Asian viewpoints towards the Balkans have not necessarily coincided. That is, Europe and Asia have not always perceived of the Balkans as either a door or a corner at one and the same time. There have not only been switches in the orientation towards the Balkans from one of the two viewpoints but there also have been times when one of the viewpoints thinks of the Balkans as a door while the other - as a corner (and vice versa). All of the ethnic, religious, moral, aesthetic, military, financial, etc. specifics of these ambitions/strategies are irrelevant. The only relevant point is the character of the metaphorical orientation and the switches this character suffers from at time to time.
As the Other of both Europe and Asia the Balkans are a function of out-of-the-Balkans agents, their strategies and orientations. Because of that the most difficult times for the Balkans themselves come at times when there appears a switch in the metaphorical orientation of any one of the two of its Others - Europe and/or Asia. This is so because such a switch causes severe confusion over the sense of Balkan identity for the Balkan people themselves.
At present time there is just such a switch taking place on the part of the European viewpoint. Up until recently Europe thought of the Balkans as a corner. In the European view the Balkans were at the same time a part, and not a part of Europe - a corner. Now the Balkans are slowly being turned into a door. The only problem is that they are not awarded the right of choice to or not to turn themselves into a door on their own terms. This could only be done on European terms. For instance - as is well known in a corner there appears an after effect, an echo, a reverberation of concepts belonging originally to the Center, but long ago disposed of by the same center. The corner starts acting in accordance with these concepts believing they are the right (central=good, etc.) concepts because they are the ones of the Center and thus the corner wants to fit in with the Center. But it turns out that the Center has long ago changed its concepts and the corner is way behind times. Take the case of the "one nation - one state" concept and the present crisis in the (Balkan) former country - Yugoslavia. Serbia, being the legitimate child (=corner) of Europe, appears to be acting upon this old European concept now. And Serbia is being disowned by Europe which refuses to acknowledge responsibility for its own child and its behavior - what was once thought of as a civilized action is now a monstrosity.
Strange, but by refusing to be turned into a door, a former corner is nevertheless becoming a center which terrorizes all the rest of the diagram. This former corner has taken a hostage - the very new concept of all-over Europeanness as it is being defined now.
III. The Balkans as the Same of both Europe and Asia
The Balkans are the coordinate system, a screen where Europe and Asia come together. The geographical reality of the geographical concept Eurasia is the Balkans. It could be claimed that at least one way to spell the cultural name of Eurasia is the B-A-L-K-A-N-S. It is the Balkan viewpoint itself that could metaphorically think of the Balkans as simultaneously a door and a corner.
The emblem of the Balkans could be:
It is only the Balkan viewpoint itself that could think of the Balkans as the Same of both Europe and Asia. An integral part of the organic Balkan intuition for the world is this sense of belonging simultaneously to two very different in themselves cultural, political, etc. real worlds. This intuition is internalized in many different ways and on many different levels. The cultural anthropology of the Balkans, if it reaches a stage of classical scientific conceptualization, may read as a matrix for the Eurasian history.
The Balkan viewpoint is necessarily and naturally a schizoid one - in order to perceive of its own wholeness it has to think in at least two different cultural/historical coordinate systems. Paradoxically the Balkans are the Same (as a thing in itself) only when they are the Other (as a thing for itself) and vice versa. Exactly who that concrete historical Other might be is simply a matter of circumstance. The relevant fact is the ever present Same-Other dichotomy in the Balkan sense of identity.
More - the schizoid sense of Balkan identity is "fortified" further by the time-space dichotomy implicit in the door-corner metaphors. In the metaphor of the door there is only the concept of time and not of space. In the metaphor of the corner there is only the concept of space and not of time. The Balkan coordinate system suffers an either space or time dichotomy which, combined with the either same or other dichotomy, produces a monstrous "quadrochotomy" of split identity which is natural to the Balkans but could be calamitous for other geographical parts of the civilized Eurasian world. It is only when these other parts of the Eurasian world project disciplinary/civilizing measures/wishes, etc. towards the Balkans that the innate Balkan terror is being let loose. This is the terror of the non-identity refusing acceptance of any (only) one given identity. In the state of health of the Balkans it is projected, as if on a screen, the state of health of Eurasia. If the Balkans are sick that only means that either Europe or Asia (or both?) are sick. This author, for one, thinks that Europe now is deeply sick of not being able to come to terms with the perfidy of its own desire (actually, non-desire) to be one total whole. For Europe now claims intent to become united and at the same time is unable to coup with the consequences of its own claims for unification. Europe, it turns out, is unable to endure and tolerate the results of the realization of its concepts. And this is not happening for the first time in recent memory.
IV. Bulgaria might very well be the ultimate Balkan country, the ultimate door-corner of Eurasia. It is not only the matter of the many duplicities active in its present day reality - religious, ethnic, political, economical, etc. ones. Some duplicities are just as active in some other micro door-corners of the Balkans. Take for instance Bosnia and Herzegovina_ But take it for real - look at what happened there as a consequence of all this messing around with the identity problem in the Balkans. As opposed to the situation there, Bulgaria is exemplary on at least two more counts. First, it is the (so far_) relatively tolerant interiorization and relatively peaceful co-existence in its present day culture-reality of all identities. Tolerance, to the point of chaos, ripen with possibilities and potential (but for what_?). And second - the past of this territory. Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina (which, to the best of my knowledge, has never in the past been an independent state = political subject), Bulgaria, for all of the complicated centuries of its past, has alternately been in and out of history as if it was a supermarket. This was so depending on whether Bulgaria was an autonomous political entity (and thus, even though BG has its own history for any such particular periods, the whole of the fragmented independent BG-ian "history" is of no importance for the general schemes of History and Historical development in Europe - so, when BG was independent it was in its own history but out of the European history; Bulgaria was at such times a corner of Europe_), or a part of some larger empire or other type of political state organization (and thus, even though BG did not have at such periods its own history it was, paradoxically, part of the European history - so, when BG was dependent on some bigger political force it was out of its own history but in the European history; Bulgaria was at such times a door for Europe). Of course, the above argument could be reversed, especially if one believes in the general progress of humanity. The point is that Bulgaria has and is surviving now precisely because it takes very seriously, although intuitively, the whole issue of how to preserve its own non-identity (on European and maybe Asian terms) as an identity (on Balkan terms). It is very possible that its present day cultural "originality" follows exactly from this preserved, typically Balkan, confusing for others, quadrochotomous intuition for the ways the Eurasian world moves along the path of its own Historical progress. I don't want to sound too patriotic and/or overly optimistic but maybe it is not a simple coincidence after all that Christo (Javashev), who so successfully rids the world of its utopian illusions, was born in this part of the Balkans. The point is that we have now as a fact the so far successful and peaceful (unlike in the former Yugoslav federation) Balkanization of this typically Balkan country in the situation of the present-day realities of Eurasia. And maybe that's quite an interesting thing to observe - the corner is turning itself (and is being turned by the Other) into a door, without forgetting that, in a way, it was a door (while still a corner), and imagining that even if it indeed becomes a door in the future, it will be, in a way, a corner (while being allegedly a door).
The emblem of Bulgaria could look like this:
Repeated ad infinitum in all directions.
V. The space-time, door-corner quadrochotomy in the Balkans (read - Bulgaria) produces the "logic" of the heavily corporeal (body) metaphors. Because people (reflecting subjects) here are not very clear about the meaning of their abstracts and concepts, they tend to literalize these to extremes. The literalized intuitions for the world have at least the advantage of being tangible here and now, unlike the imported, and thus abstracted further, concepts. By being imported to the Balkans, the concepts from out-of-the-Balkans become an abstract square. So, the schizoid Balkan intellect suffers from the inflammation of the doubt which desires verification. The strange thing is that even if some imported concept (take for instance the newly fashionable one for the utopia without illusions) has a tangible reality here, it still needs to be verified further by special procedures. The paradigm of survival in the Balkans has always been the thought that utopia has to be stripped of its illusions. And yet, this is often forgotten by the Balkans themselves. So, top artists, thinkers, etc. every now and then tend to undertake projects in reconfirming the preciousness of the above paradigm. In a way this has become the visible side of the Balkan cultural originality.
This text was originally published in full in:CATALOGUE,
3rd International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul-Turkey, 1992, p. 49