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BOOK REVIEW:

IMAGINING THE BALKANS

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

CONTENTS:
I.
Book review 3
II.
Brief info about the author. 10
III.
Comments about the book on www.. 11
IV.
The author about the book 13

I. BOOK REVIEW

(Why I chose this book)

It turned out that over the past 7 years Imagining the Balkans has become an
important and inseparable reference whenever the word goes about the Balkans.
The book has been recommended to us for several of the courses in the Cultural
Management and Cultural Policy on the Balkans programme. The months of
November and December 2003 I dedicated to its reading.
Written in English and translated into Serbian and French this in depth work has not
yet been published into the mother tongue of its author. I myself being a Bulgarian
read its English edition.
(Review)

Maria Todorova, IMAGINING THE BALKANS


Maria Todorova. Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Bibliographic: Paperback. The book has xi + 257 pp. Notes, bibliography, index.
(Contents of the book)

The book consists of 7 chapters, an introduction (entitled Balkanism and Orientailsm:


Are They Different Categories) and a conclusion. The chapters are:
1. The Balkans: Nomen
2. Balkans as self-designation
3. The discovery of the Balkans
4. Patterns of perception until1900
5. From Discovery to Invention, from Invention to Classification
6. Between classification and Politics:The Balkans and the Myth of Central Europe
7. The Balkans: Realia - Quest-ce quil y a de hors-texte ?

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

(Summary notes on the text)

(Introduction. Balkanism and Orientailsm: Are They Different Categories )


The Introduction, as it becomes clear form its subtitle, deals with the concepts of
balkanism and orientalism and explains why it is important to differentiate between
them. In this regard a considerable tribute is paid to the work of Edward Said.
Concepts of other authors on the same issue are being presented as well, and can be
summarised as follows:
Orient - the escapist dream of romantic conservatives, affluence, eastern cruelty,
metaphor for the forbidden,
theory of sexuality and sensuality in the disguise of a theory of ascetism
Balkans - lack of wealth and straightforward attitude, maleness is positive, all
description of Balkans ascribe to it
transitional status: bridge, crossroads. Bridge between stages of growth- semi
developed, semi colonial, semi civilised, semi oriental.
It is in this chapter that Maria Todorova introduces the concept of imagology the
genre dealing with literary images of the other.
Crucial for the further understanding of the book is the effect which Todorva
describes as Heisenberg effect
(physics). It is that in the course of measuring, the scientist interacts with the object
of observation and as a
result the observed object is revealed not as it is in itself but as a function of
measurement.
Further in the chapter impressions & opinions of different authors are presented.
Below I am citing those that impressed me most.
- Cohen, R. the notion of killing people because of something that may have
happened in 1495 is unthinkable in the western world. Not in the Balkans.
- Smith. Belgrade intrigue is in the air one breath. The crowds in Belgrade
cafes have the manner of conspiration
- W.E.B. du Bois In the Balkans are 60 000 000 persons in the free States of
Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. They form in the
mass an ignorant, poor, and sick people, over whom already Europe is
planning spheres of influence
- Miller, W.: Balkans land of contradictions. Everything is the exact opposite
of what it might reasonably be expected to be.
Further we read about the in betweenness of Balkans, their liminality, marginality;
about Balkans being the west of the east.
A proposition is made that persons and phenomena in transitional states are
dangerous, being in danger themselves and emanating danger to others.
(Chapter 1. The Balkans: Nomen)
This chapter explores the origin and use of the name/term Balkans. Works and
opinions of travellers, journalists and politicians from different countries and
different periods are presented.
Maria Todorova writes that John Morritt is referred to as the first one to mention
Balkan (mountain) in English Literature (1794).
However, records about this region are dating back to Strabon (63 BC AD 26) and
later enriched by Ami Boue (1830), Felix Kanitz (1879), Edward King, Christo Dako,
Jovan Cvijic( 1918), Teodor Geshkov, Victor Papcostea (1936)- just to mention a few.

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

Several theories about the origin of the word Balkan are offered in the chapter as
well.
It is here that the author explains which countries for her are Balkan: Albania,
Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, former Yugoslav states (apart from Slovenia) and
partially Turkey.
The terms balkanization1 and balkanize2 are being explored.
Attention is being paid to Paul Mowrer view on balkanization as creation in a region
of hopelessly mixed races, of a medley of small states with more or less backward
populations, economically and financially weak, covetous, intriguing, afraid, a
continual prey to the machinations of the great powers, and to the violent promptings
of their own passions.
(Chapter 2. Balkans as self-designation)
This chapter deals with the topic of how do the ones defined as belonging
geographically or historically to the Balkans deal with the name; if they consider
themselves as Balkan and what is meant by this?
Below are concepts of several authors on that:
- Aleko Konstantinov (a Bulgarian writer) for example writes that we are
Europeans, but not quite
- Great attention is paid to the young Romanian artists association: Emil Choran,
Constantin Noica, Eugene Ionesco, Mircha Eliade. One of the famous Ionesco
lines about Balkans is that here Passion can exist but no love a nameless
nostalgia can exist but without a pace not individualised
- There is also the famous Bulgarian Geshkov who speaks about the proverbial
Balkan mentality- the inability to give and take
The other important issue in this chapter is that in all Balkan cases we are dealing
not only with different ways to cope with stigma but also with self stigmatization.
I was impressed by the comment of Dubravka Ugreic, who sitting in an Amsterdam
caf shared:
and at once it seems that I clearly see this Eastern Europe. It sits on my table and
we look at each other as if in a mirror. I see twisted old shoes, neglected skin, cheap
makeup, an expression of servility and impudence on this face. It wipes its mouth
with its hand, it speaks loud, it gestures as it speaks, and it talks with its eyes. I see a
glow of despair and cunning in them a the same time; I see the desperate desire to
be ..My sister, my sad Eastern Europe.
Here Maria Todorova mentions also Robert Kaplans theory related to the Balkan
origins of Nazism.
Further she goes on with the concept that the unsystematic, improvised, provincial
Europeanization of the Balkan countries makes qualities like generosity, tolerance,
goodwill respect for the individual alien to the Balkan.
She argues that the problem of identifying with Balkans is a subspecies of the larger
identity problem of small peripheral nations.
Attention is being paid to East as a relational category, depending on point of
observation: Russians-eastern to Poles, but Bosnians would be an easterner to the
Serb etc..
1

unjustified fragmentation with accompanying political instability

to break up into small, mutually hostile political units as the Balkans after World War I

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

One of the last concepts expressed in this chapter relates to the central pathos of
Balkan discourses: they are not only indubitably European, but have sacrificed
themselves to save Europe from the incursions of Asia-a sacrifice that has left them
superficially tainted but has not contaminated their essence.
(Chapter 3.The discovery of the Balkans)
This chapter is dedicated to the discovery of Balkans as a distinct geographic,
social, and cultural entity by European travellers from 18 th century onwards. To
mention just a few authors:
- Eva Hoffman for example is stroke by the acceptance of ambiguity typical of
Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary
- Vrancic writes about BG women they were no less content in their poverty
than our women were in their wealth
- An interesting publication from 1887 is mentioned as well. It appeared after
the abdication of Ferdinand in Leipzig would you care for a Bulgarian crown.
To all those who would say yes dedicated as a warning.
- Karl Mais work In the Balkan mountain gorges is also mentioned.
(Chapter 4. Patterns of perception until 1900)
This chapter deals with the arising of travel literature as a fashionable genre,
especially in Britain. It is viewed as the widest and most welcome market to travel
literature as a strong opportunity to disseminate particular attitudes to a large
audience.
Works of several authors are paid tribute: e.g.
- Henry Blount Voyage to the Levent in which he says that knowledge could be
reached only through experience and generalisation could be based only on
observation.
- Chateaubriand never see a Greek, monsieur, except in Homer. It is the best
way
- A Turkish statesman about Britain: I have noticed that your ruling class can
always make the people think what it wants them to think
- Smith (husband of Emily Strangford) attach-believed that the future of Southeastern Europe belonged to the Bulgarians the most numerous and promising
body of Christians in Turkey
- St. Clair- first study Turkey and then judge it
-

The activities of American missionaries are tackled and the conclusion is that
they resulted largely in disinformation. Americans- effort to evangelise the
world
- Innocent abroad M. Twain Greece and Turkey
Two interesting issues are further presented in this chapter:
The role Robert College played in Bulgarian education - it was established in 1863 as
connected to American Board, but still as an independent institution. Very popular
seemed to be the statement that Robert College made Bulgaria.
The second issue relates corruption and the tradition of giving presents in the East.
It is a tradition of thousands of years with an elaborate symbolic ceremonial side,
but was seen by Americans as mere corruption.
Maria Todorova doesnt miss G.B.Shaws play Pleasant and Unpleasant. Here are
two interesting quotes

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

Q. Who is to be the hero? Shaw: Everybody is a hero in Bulgaria


Englishmen washing every morning. All this washing cannot be good
for health. It comes from their climate. Makes them so dirty hay have to
be perpetually washing themselves. Look at my father- he never washed
in his life and he lived to be 98 the healthiest man in Bulgaria
Further an exploration is made on the type of observations that travellers from
different countries make when
they come to the Balkans e.g.:
Germans- describe what they have eaten and drunk
French-crave their names on silver coins and distributed among the young ladies as
souvenirs
English-price of goods, delight with the beauties of Balkan nature
This chapter concludes with the fact that there was no common western stereotype
of the Balkans. to declare this is not to
say that there were no common Stereotypes but that there was no common west
(Chapter 5. From discovery to invention; from invention to classification)
The essence of this chapter is conveyed through the quotation of Maurice Ponly:
Perceiving is not a matter of passively allowing an organ to receive a readymade
impression from without, like a pallet receiving a
spot of paintIt is generally agreed that all our impressions are schematically
determined from the start. We organise the info we
receive the info patterns for which we, the perceivers, are largely responsible
Views of several authors are expressed here:
- Mery Durham-Serbsthey know only how to love or hate
- Balkans too complex to see as one whole
- Marcus Ehrenpreis If you would win something of the soul of the east do not
approach it as you would a strange country but as if you were returning hometo yourself
-

in a spiritual sense these creatures are homeless; they are no longer


Orientals nor yet Europeans. They have not acquired any virtues of the west
pays balkaniques, payes volcaniques
Brailsford centuries in Balkans dont follow one another. They coexist. A
marvellous training school for political scientists and diplomats.
Keyserling If the Balkans did not exist, they had to be invented
Lawrenece Durrell Belgradethis center of barbarism comparable only to
the darkest of the dark ages, 1950

(Chapter 6. Between classification and politics: the Balkans and the myth of Central
Europe)_
This chapter deals with Balkans in relation to the concept of Central Europe. Thus
the works of several important authors are mentioned: Jeno Szues(Hungarian),
Czeslaw Milosz(Polish) and Milan Kundera(Czech).
Szues giving a historical perspective, Milosz offering a more poetical one and
Kundera - providing us with an interpretation, based on the concept that it is not
politics, but culture which must be seen as a decisive force by which nations
constitute their identity, express that identity and give it its own distinctive mould

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

Further on other important authors like Peter Hanak, Czaba Kiss, Mihaly Vajda,
Predrag Matejevic, Jacques Rupnik, Ferene Feher are mentioned.
Important I think is the explanation related to the impact of media: One may have
legitimate doubts about the influence of journalistic writing on policy making, but
when journalists themselves concede that lacking any clear strategic vision of their
own, governments appear to be at the mercy of the latest press reports, and that
the president of the United States backed away from military action after reading a
book called Balkan Ghosts, there is ample reason for concern.
Maria Todorova concludes the chapter, that juxtaposing the notion of Central Europe
as an idea with its short-term cultural/political potential to the concept of the Balkans
with its powerful historical and geographical basis, but with an equally limited
although much longer historical span, one can argue that the two concepts are
methodologically incompatible and therefore incompatible constructs.
(Chapter 7.The Balkans, realia: - quest-ce quil y a de hors-texte ?)
And yet, if the Balkans were no more than horror, why is it, when we leave them
and make for this part of the world, why is it we feel a kind of fall- an admirable one,
it is true into the abyss Emil Cioran.
The chapter deals with the legacy of the Ottoman Empire within the framework of
two interpretations:
1. Ottoman Empire as a religiously, socially, institutionally and even racially alien
imposition on autochthonous Christian medieval societies. The central element
of this interpretation is based on the belief in the incompatibility between
Christianity and Islam, between the essentially nomadic civilization of the
newcomers and the old urban and settled agrarian civilizations of the Balkans
and the Near East.
2. Ottoman legacy as the complex symbiosis of Turkish, Islamic, and
Byzantine/Balkan traditions.
The other important point in the chapter is the resolving of minority problems. As two
main ways of resolving the issues are mentioned emigration and assimilation.
Examples from different countries about both are given.
Further on the roots of Balkan nationalism are traced and it is stated that nationalism
in the Balkans in 19th c. was constructed primarily around linguistic and religious
identities.
In fact it is further argued that religion came last in the struggle to forge new
national identities and in some cases did not become functional element in national
definition until the nation-states had nationalized their churches.
The Ottoman legacy at the level of everyday life is also dealt with. (architecture and
urban structure, food, music, the institution of the coffeehouse etc). The process of
de-Ottomanization is also researched in details.
Maria Todorva states that what cannot be denied is that Ottoman Empire played a
crucial role as mediator in the course of several centuries, which permitted broad
contacts, mutual influences, and cultural exchange in a large area of the Eastern
Mediterranean.
She also argues that the Ottoman legacy is firmly built in the discourse of Balkan
nationalism as one of its most important pillars. At the same time, the Ottoman
legacy as continuity has been in a process of decline for the past century and also
that the countries defined as Balkan have been moving steadily away from their
Ottoman legacy, and with this also form their balkaness.

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

(Conclusion)
Maria Todorova concludes that the Balkans are usually reported to the outside world
only in time of terror and trouble, the rest of the time they are scornfully ignored.
She further argues that the frozen image of the Balkans, set in its general parameters
around World War I, has been reproduced almost without variation over the next
decades and operates as a discourse.
And also that it is absolutely not valid for Balkan politicians and intellectuals to use
the Ottoman Empire and Turkey as the convenient scapegoat for all misfortunes.
By being geographically inextricable from Europe, yet culturally constructed as the
other within, the Balkans have been able to absorb conveniently a number of
externalized political, ideological, and cultural frustrations stemming from tensions
and contradictions inherent to the regions and societies outside the Balkans.

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

II. BRIEF INFO ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Maria Todorova was born and brought up in Bulgaria, received a Ph.D. from Sofia
University, lived in Greece, studied extensively in Moscow, Leningrad, Paris, and
Oxford, speaks fluent German, and presently lives in the United States, where she
works in English. In her book she cites sources in English, German, French,
Bulgarian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, and Russian.

Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

III. COMMENTS AND REVIEWS OF THE BOOK AVAILABLE AT WWW


(1) unknown A challenging book, but well worth the effort for its insight, this
collection of essays examines in scholarly and critical detail the roots of our
stereotypes and misconceptions about the Balkans.
(2) unknown Based on a rich selection of travelogues, diplomatic accounts,
academic surveys, journalism, and belles-lettres in many languages, this work
explores the contested idea of the Balkans, uncovering the ways in which an
intellectual tradition was constructed, became mythologized, and is being
transmitted as discourse.
(3)Robert A Saunders from Sea Girt, NJ USA, As a longtime student of Ms
Todorova's (I was under her tutelage for about four years and still correspond with
her today), I found this book to be an excellent synopsis of her personal and
professional opinions and anecdotes concerning the Balkans. It was like taking my
class notes and one-on-one discussions, sifting out the dates, places and events and
putting a binding on them. All of her cultural theory regarding this singular region of
the world is evident in the pages of Imagining the Balkans. I would suggest a
thorough knowledge of Edward Said's Orientalism and at least a cursory reading of
Foucault's works before jumping into this work. Maria shows little mercy for the
uninitiated and this tendency become all too evident in her most recent work. For
students of Balkan history, ethnocentrism, culture clashes and human nature, this
work is both compelling and fascinating. This book should not be your introduction to
the politics of the Balkans because it teaches us more about how those of us in the
West (especially historians, political scientists and travelers) view ourselves using the
mirror of the "Other."
(4)Gary Smallwood from Texas, I thought this book was translated form a foreign
language several times before it got to English. I spent so much time and effort trying
to decipher references and credits I found it very difficult to read. It seemed like
every sentence started out like this "According to Inyuc Geronovitch on page three of
his book ......." I think it may have been a good book but it was so distracting to read.
I did not finish it. I did not even get through the first chapter I left it on an airplane.
There is no way you can imagine the Balkans with this book it is an absolute chore to
read. I would like to tell the author to put up your thesaurus (we know you can use
big words) use foot notes do not start every sentence with some credit to someone.
Try to be less of a far out creative writer. AND JUST TELL THE STORY.
(7)Dragana Starcevic from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Maria Todorova wrote an
excellent book, which is a thorough review of the political history of the Balkan
Peninsula. She explains the various political interests that have always been at play
in that region.The author also qoutes different foreign travellers, diplomats, and
writers showing their attitudes to the countries and the nations of the Balkans. The
first part of the book (the first three chapters) will be specially interesting for larger
audience while the rest of the book is more theoretical. Given the current events
concerning the Balkans, and especially the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, this
book will be of great help to students of history, political history, their teachers and
intellectuals in general.
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Violeta Nenova
University of Arts, Belgrade

IV. THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE BOOK


"In a way, this is a reaction to how the Balkans are presented in the West," Todorova
said. "It was ironic and somewhat frightening to learn from the press that President
Clinton got most of his information from Balkan Ghosts,' by Robert Kaplan, which
argues that the area is unmanageable, that people in this region have always killed
each other.
"By being part of Europe, yet perceived as the other, the Balkans have served as a
repository of negative characteristics against which a positive and self-congratulatory
image of the West has been constructed," Todorova said.
"I was interested in how the notion of the Balkans evolved," Todorova said. "Only in
the aftermath of World War I did there emerge a generalized, crystallized discourse
about the region. During the inter-war period, prejudices crystallized and came to be
transmitted later without change. Many of the perceptions of the Balkans today are
lifted from this post-World War I discourse.
"While everyone may know about the Balkans as a divisive force," she said, "few
know about the real area of the Balkans."

Info taken from:


http://www.napa.ufl.edu/oldnews/balkans.htm
http://www.longitudebooks.com/find/p/2713/mcms.html
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryWorld/European/EasternEurop
e/?ci=0195087518&view=usa
http://www.napa.ufl.edu/oldnews/balkans.htm

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