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Culturelink Joint Publications Series

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Redefining Cultural Identities: Southeastern Europe


This is the second collection of papers that follows lectures and discussions delivered during the second course on Redefining Cultural Identities. The course, held at the Inter-University Center of Postgraduate Studies in Dubrovnik, 14-19 May 2001, was devoted to the situation in Southeastern Europe. The previous course (held in 2000) dealt with the "Multicultural Contexts of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions". Both courses reflect the need to approach cultural identity issues in the light of recent transitional developments, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and an intense effort by all Southeast European societies invested in finding new ways of communication in the new international setting. Established academic and cultural circles found it difficult to react to the new challenges, and in many cases they were interested primarily in the past and history rather than in emerging new cultural values, in civil society and in the process of systemic transition that has been going on for more than ten years now. The initiative to open discussion on redefining cultural identities in the newly emerging setting was initially supported by the Royaumont Process of the European Union, and then by the Open Society Institute - Croatia in Zagreb and the Unesco Venice Office - UVO in Venice.

The theme of redefining cultural identities has a global reach. The focus on Southeastern Europe raised a lot of interest among students, professors and young professionals in the cultural and media field. Changes in the value systems instigated and supported by transitional processes have become obvious by now. Most Southeastern European societies perceive themselves as being part of a different and not very well known international context. They see the European Union and Europe in general as the main reference point for their cultural development. At the same time, they experience uneasiness generated by the changes or crises in cultural identity. Unfortunately, this uneasiness is first reflected as mistrust of the neighbors. Therefore interregional cultural co-operation and communication is not supported by a genuine interest in neighboring cultures and peoples and it remains an issue of political consideration and political correctness.

The papers included in this collection were submitted about four months after the course. While the perception of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe as a region dominated the discussions in the course, it may come as a surprise to see that a number of authors are now discussing issues of borders as dominating the self-perception of Southeastern European and Balkan cultures. Borderlines and border areas seem to have a major impact on the redefinition of identities in Southeastern Europe. If they exist, they need to be transgressed and changed; if they do not exist, they need to be erased (physically and psychologically), in order to help self-identification and cultural orientation in the newly designed regional space.

This feeling has been fully reflected in the question as to whether Southeastern Europe (or the Balkans) can be a region. Can this space be an imagined whole that helps define cultures, identities, aspirations, existence of peoples? It is very strongly felt that the definition of the region is imposed from the outside, in spite of the fact that many parts of this whole aspire to be linked with other neighboring parts of Europe rather than among themselves. This is the source of the feeling that others are closing this region out exactly by imposing on it the idea of an integrated region. The inner reaction to this process is not a tendency to better co-operate and level the differences, but, on the contrary, to insist on the differences. Sometimes the "handicap of heterogeneity" (Joseph Roucek) may be seen as a possible way out of a presumably imposed uniformity.

Thus regional positioning can at the moment offer only a fragile framework for identification. What is the meaning of identity, and what is cultural identity in the flux of change? An effort to elucidate some of the related points is seen in the texts that treat transitional issues. The new cultural values and relationships are not subject to systematization, but, on the contrary, they incite questioning of stereotypes which became an obstacle to understanding others living in the same region and often in similar conditions. There is the feeling that many in Southeastern Europe are looking for an initial and most basic element of self-identification. It becomes obvious that this element cannot any longer be a clan, a tribe or a nation, but probably an individual. A mixture of cultural influences and interactions, language, religion, and many other elements influence definition of a personal cultural identity. An analysis of such elements and the local situations may, hopefully, incite the young intellectuals from Southeastern Europe to approach cultural identity issues as relational and thus open a possible way to a better understanding of the integration of this region into a wider global and European context.

The Editor


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