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Ilias Marmaras

The name Balkans sounds as a synonym of war and it is easily the subject of an analysis from that perspective, as it seems to represent the local history of nations and cultures as an omnipresent war game that defines the real and the imaginary in the lives of people.
So, the name Balkans is the name of a policy or to be more precise the name of several different and contradictory -between them- policies that were searching for a reasoning and a scope but instead of that, they resulted to find a logo. A logo that stands still.
These policies were applied regionally at first in the new states incorporating fresh forms of political empowerment, which initially attempted to encompass them in order to manage the local crises. The necessity of the creation of the Balkan ethno/political field and its sustainability owes its existence to a failure. If the Balkans were from a historical point of view the peak of the epic of the Ottoman Empire, then they were respectively the essence of European failure; a failure which can be seen as the result of a permanent and obvious incompetence of the plans of central Europe to impose and manipulate a mosaic of states over a pre-existed mosaic of nations. As the historian Herman Keyserling in the early 20th century puts it in a diplomatic way: Si les Balkans n’existaient pas, il faudrait les inventer...
The Balkans are a device deriving directly from the imaginary sphere. So, their image was invented and produced far from the basis of rational criteria of the era of the Enlightment, which central Europe treasures jealously for herself, in order to be able to self-criticize on one hand and create myths on the other that accompany the rumours and the reputations that emerge every time there is a top priority necessity to create ghosts. The kind of ghosts that are necessary to keep the curious away from where they shouldn’t be and the kind of those that conceal un-punished crimes, as they were illustrated through history and human simulations are designed through video game worlds, which are specialized products of rationalized, post-industrial societies based on the state of the high technology.
From the times of sovereignty, when the empires were fighting for territorial control, alternating their action moves (turn based action),underlining borders and creating nationalisms (while territorial morphology and distances were important factors in the process of the game) until the star wars of today, the Balkan nations seem like eager digital avatars, doomed to re-birth in an arena that sometimes reminds us of the arena of the popular video game Unreal tournament and other times those of Medieval War.
The possibilities of representation and symbolism in games -as in the Balkans- using as footage completely different cultures and religions, in other words unfamiliar manners of perception and administration, combined with battles fought to death, is the element that gives the dimension of a national epic to the various Balkan wars and the opportunity to the Personal Cinema group to investigate the relation between the game play and the warfare with the creation of the Balkan Mall video game.
So, what are we playing at?
At the first presentation of the project:The making of Balkan wars: The game in the media lab Madrid the director of the lab Karin Ohlenschläger writes:
Play, a verb that implies openness, curiosity and the wish to explore, to relate to things, to situations, and to others. Play is a means of constructing the subject and creating a space for freedom between the predetermined and the unpredictable. Play is a way of experiencing and positioning oneself within a constellation of possible worlds. As conceived of by twentieth century art, from Dada, through Surrealism, Fluxus or Situationism, play has also been a means of questioning and transcending order. A way of investigating and becoming aware of different patterns of thought and behaviour in order to deconstruct them, transform them and produce new relationships and behaviours.
We might say that the work of the Personal Cinema group transforms the field of technology into one of active dialogue of a potential expression of identities and stereotypes in exactly the same way as the canvas was once transformed into an arena for action rather than a space for the representation of a real or fictional object.
The media critic Popi Diamantakou uses a well known metaphor to describe it:
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the viewer is invited to enter the mirror and converse with ghosts, with representations of reality and the world around him. Waves of immigrants in the area of the Balkans (the result of fluctuating economic conditions), emotional wounds caused by the disintegration of former communities in the wake of war and divisive propaganda that made the most of the stereotypes of “difference”, are all facts in the context of which the citizen of the Balkans is confronted by the reality of orchestrated efforts to construct polarized identities of difference. Like Alice, he too is invited to enter the “mirror” and negotiate the conditions of his existence by means of that very same technology used to create their representation.
But what does it mean to put people together? As we have seen so far the original idea of naming the peninsula as The Balkan peninsula leaded to a new word and term , the Balkanisation. The meaning of this term does not refer just to the Balkans but it actually has a global use and significance. "Balkanisation" of a given community is today predominantly a slur word, suggesting a narcissistic fragmentation of large collectives into ever smaller splinter groups that assert themselves in bloodshed and cruel hatred, in cunning moralism of purity and in ritual evocation of ancient herds.
Fredric Jameson, at his book Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism writes that If Balkanization means a particular kind of fragmentation where the fragments are mutually hostile and in competition with each other, then it is by no means clear that fragmentation and globalization are really opposites.Globalization may in fact enable and promote Balkanization.
One Internet search engine offered nearly eight thousand results of the term usage. From the Balkanization of the world wide web, to the Chinese legal system, to the territories of Nigeria and Columbia, to the U.S. electricity grid,or the transit system in San Francisco. Everything and everywhere seems to be in danger of becoming "Balkanized," with only a tiny proportion of these cases taking place in the Balkans themselves.
But getting back to the origins of Balkanisation one would wonder what could its dialectic opposite be? In which way and under which term could it be defined the de-Balkanisation? If the Balkan people are frequently accused of being trapped in their own history, many of the outsiders dealing with the region have also shown an unwillingness to think beyond a symbolic, formulaic representation, to the point where as Vesna Goldsworthy says the Balkans have become nothing but a metaphor for conflict, incivility, and violence. Also, she mentions in one of her articles entittledescape from the Balkansthat in a speech (at a Balkan conference) , the Bulgarian president Petar Stoyanov reminded his audience that the Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is "not dividing Europe from the Balkans but Europe from Europe''.
Of course the definition of De-Balkanisation is a complex matter of political, social and moral order. But it is supposed that art and even the entertainment have today a role in inspiring the imagination. The practices of activists and artists can help to portray a future in which the inhabitants of Balkanised regions all over the globe, are something more than victims of power, victims of history interpreted by power, of diverse circumstances and of propaganda. A healthy culture that claims herself able to constitute the future of people belonging to its range, must take into consideration the memories and experiences of people who have faced first-hand the pain and brutality of war.
In any case, i would like to finish here with the same words and the same question with which Maria Todorova ends her book Imagining the Balkans: If Europe has produced not only racism but also antiracism, not only misogyny but also feminism, not only anti-Semitism, but also its repudiation, then what can be termed Balkanism has not yet been coupled with its complementing and ennobling antiparticle.
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Page last modified on September 01, 2006, at 09:56 AM