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Cooperation in Balkans: can diversity support it? (SELEC example).

Balkan Diversity

Balkan Peninsula is one of the most diversified regions in European geography in many aspects: It is ethnically diversified, religiously diversified and culturally diversified. It is a bridge between cultural lands, from Orient to West, from North to South, from inland to Mediterranean. From one point to another, the geography is ornamented with numberless monuments from several civilizations; towns, traditional houses, very old churches and monasteries, mosques, bridges, walls, towers and so on. It is a meeting point among major identity groups whose references go back to the classical civilizations of European and Mediterranean environment.

Diversity in Balkans is not something eclectic. On the contrary, it is a product of hundreds of years which has formed its own synthesis in this diversity. Syntheses are best indications of being genuine, authentic and original. We cannot bring them together deliberatively. We can neither form them up in academies. It is a product of the authenticity kept by people themselves in their life manners. This means that all elements in Balkan cultural examples which belong to different traditions are authentic and original, belonging to its people and belonging to the soil. Despite the fact that they all belong to different backgrounds, there is nothing artificial or imposed in cultural manifestations in Balkans.

Diversity in Balkan culture refer to a larger geography as can be seen in the architecture and the life style of several Balkan towns: For example, Mostar is a town which delivers intensive impressions from Bosnia, Dalmatia, inner Anatolia, medieval Europe and Mediterranean; and the house architecture in Bosnian town Travnik reflects an interesting amalgam between distant cultural traditions with its German style high roofs and Anatolian style facades. Macedonian towns such as Skopje, Krushevo, Ohrid and Bitola also accommodate some most authentic examples of Balkan architecture in this sense. (Of course there are many others, but I have to limit myself to whatever I have seen.) To my humble experience, there is no other place in Europe which brings such distant elements believed to belong to different extends: what is believed to be "the other" in western imagination are complementary and constructive elements to each other in Balkan cultural manifestations.

This is not something left in history, is still how the life is. Diversity is the style itself in Balkans. While driving in Balkan roads, it is a question of an hour to change from one settlement to another one. It is possible to see altogether in one picture Eastern churches with brick-stone walls, Western churches with high bell towers, rural mosques with tiled roofs, sometimes in one market area (charshija) that brought all shop owners together in their struggle to earn their life, sometimes in a mixed settlement with its people passing by each others' locations with temples and coffee shops, as part of daily life. Of course, one can say that this pluralism is something that has been successfully achieved by our contemporary democratic civilization in many parts of the world, but I think in Balkans this is such a rooted fact which needed no modern conditioning to exist, which suddenly comes back in one moment and helps the problems. People, using the same conceptions and metaphors, having the same priorities, even values and common memories, have fewer limitations to develop one common language which would later help bringing them together on one communication platform.

Balkan's diversity makes the Peninsula unique in its comparison to the relatively homogeneous historical image of the continent that it belongs to, Europe.

Diversity's Role in Bringing People Together

Diversity, from one point of view, can sound to have a disincentive meaning against unity. If you are working in diversity, one the first questions that you will be asked is how this brings such different elements (entity, individual or country) in one direction, on one common platform, as I have been several times asked by my guests coming from outside the region.

We can excuse those who think that being different would require exclusion and animosity. Maybe they were right in most of the cases. On one side, let us remember that Balkan individuals have traditionally had no racism, self-reservation, arrogance and disdain as a cultural behavioral category, and on the other side, let us note the impressions by observers, writers, academicians, travelers and journalists interested in region's politics and history alongside a process in which the word "Balkanization" was created. What did they mostly speak about?

--Nationalism, nationalist particularism and distinction tendencies,

--Fundamental identity discussions,

--Sense of belonging among major identity groups on ethnic and religious base,

--Relatively low interest to each other and high interest to western world,

--Separate identification tendencies from what is Balkan,

--Stress for differences from one another,

--Claiming self-ownership of common cultural elements,

--Stress for differences in languages and other shared elements,

--Unconcluded historical discussions and everybody's equal feeling of being a loser.

--Domination of past, being the most referred time dimension, which leaves little space for the word "future". People do not want to turn to the future before solving the problems of the past unlike in the development of a united Europe, which seems more resigned and patient.

When compared between Europe and Balkans, it is interesting to see that the nations of the past who have most frequently fought with each other are today's most interoperating nations. War in the past has been transformed into the present as trade, diplomacy and collaboration as if it had been a form of relation of its kind between nations at that time, meaning that the more war you had in the past the more business you have today. European Union is one of the best examples in that sense, bringing so many nations of Europe today on the ground of a common European identity and interdependent interests.

However, from another point of view, diversity makes a ground for people to approach and understand each other. In spite of the differences in belonging to fundamental identity groups based on ethnicity, language and religion, daily life has always been jointly experienced. Contrary to how the things are reflected and perceived on political surface, Balkan people have been masters of living together in their humble life. Contrary to what discourses are prevailing at the level of popular culture, a traditional matureness has prevailed at unspoken level.

Was this appreciated well? It is hard to say it was. I think it was in Maria Todorova's book Imagining Balkans, I remember that I read something about how westerners perceived the fact "diversity and pluralism" in Balkans through the end of 19 th century. Was people's mastership at living together a virtue? To my memory, it was not. It was a diversity of pre-modern kind. It had not been rationally produced, was not an educated one, and did not belong to the Enlightenment which caused sophisticated theories about harmony, diversity, freedom and democracy. It was a tradition, just a tradition kept among uneducated people in their life between home, farm and market.

19 th century was not a good time to promote rootedness, and it was not the time of appreciating a pluralism which was mostly on religious ground, medieval sympathy and neighborhood affinity which belong to an ignorant-believed people.

Why they were ignorant, simply because they were uneducated; uneducated, then less-reserve, open and sincere. It was more than ten years ago, in a field mission in Macedonia; we were visiting a border station as a UN monitor team. With not so many problems around, and in a colloquial reception, the station commander asked how many kids I had. I said two. He said he had the same. After the visit, when we got into our patrol car, my colleague asked "How comfortably did he ask how many kids you have?" Well, I thought that this was something that I could be accused of also.

Mr. Gurbuz BAHADIR, General Director SELEC.
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Author:Bahadir, Gurbuz
Publication:Crossroads Foreign Policy Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:4E0EE
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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