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Do the Balkans Begin in Vienna? The Geopolitical and Imaginary Borders between the Balkans and Europe

The Geopolitical and imaginary borders between the balkans and Europe


Ana Foteva

Do the Balkans Begin in Vienna? takes up one of the most fraught areas of Europe, the Balkans. Variously part of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Byzantine empires, this region has always been considered Europe’s border between the Orient and the Occident. Aiming to clarify the politics of drawing cultural borders in this region, the book examines the relations between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Balkans as an intermediate space between West and East. It demonstrates that the dichotomy Orient versus Occident is insufficient to explain the complexity of the region. Therefore, cultural multi-belonging, historical disruption, and recurrence of identities and conflicts are proposed to be «the essence» of the Balkans.
Do the Balkans Begin in Vienna? depicts the fictional imagination of the Balkans as a «utopian dystopia». This oxymoron encompasses the utopian projections of the Austrian/ Habsburg writers onto the Balkans as a place of intact nature and archaic communities; the dystopian presentations of the Balkans by local authors as an abnormal no-place (ou-topia) onto which the historical tensions of empires have been projected; and, finally, the depictions of the Balkans in the Western media as an eternal or recurring dystopia.
There is at present no other study that distinguishes these particular geographical reference points. Thus, this book contributes to the research on Europe’s historical memory and to scholarship on postcolonial and/or post-imperial identities in European states. The volume is recommended for courses on Austrian, German, Balkan, and European studies, as well as comparative literature, theater, media, Slavic literatures, history, and political science.
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II. Travelogues of War and Peace


In this section I analyze three travelogues on the Balkans written by foreign visitors. Robert Kaplan’s (b. 1952) Balkan Ghosts (1993) addresses the political tensions and conflicts in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941) and in the former Yugoslavia (1943–1990), respectively. Milo Dor’s (1923–2005) Mitteleuropa, Mythos oder Wirklichkeit: auf der Suche nach der größeren Heimat (Central Europe, Myth or Reality: In Search of a Larger Homeland [1996]) and Peter Handke’s (b. 1942) Noch einmal für Thukydides (Once again for Thucydides [1995]) are travelogues on Central Europe and the Balkans which focus on the numerous layers of history, not from the perspective of cultural and national conflicts and wars, but from that of the flow of history as an endless continuum (Dor), and an eternal present (Handke). Comparing these travelogues will allow me to show, on the one hand, the difference between perceptions of the region based on geographical concepts established at external centers of power (Rogoff 20) and on a sequential historical narrative (Soja 1), as exemplified in Kaplan’s travelogue, and, on the other, narratives that incorporate combination of time and space, history and geography, and sequence and simultaneity (Soja 1), thus subtly reflecting the processes in which the complex cultural web of the region was created (Dor and Handke).

Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts: The Balkans as Europe’s Twin “Br/Other”

In the preface to his Balkan Ghosts Kaplan lays down the principles of writing travel literature: “In other words, at...

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