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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

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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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III. Serbia: Between East and West

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The territory of today’s Serbia was the battlefield on which the Habsburg and the Ottoman forces fought repeatedly from the late seventeenth until the last decade of the eighteenth century. The encounters between the two empires had a strong political and cultural impact on the local Serbian population, which was torn between these two very different traditions and state systems, and its Orthodox Slavic identity.

Serbia’s request for integration into the Habsburg Monarchy at the beginning of the nineteenth century was rejected and thus, unlike the remaining countries/regions from the part of the Balkans discussed in this study, i.e., Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Croatia and Slovenia, Ottoman Serbia never became part of the “West.” Yet, although Serbia was excluded from the group of “privileged” Balkan countries, in all the above-mentioned Habsburg territories except Slovenia, there were Serbian Orthodox communities who lived there for different periods of time, some of them for centuries.

This specific geopolitical position resulted in multiple layers in Serbian cultural identity, which very often diverged from each another. These became evident and particularly problematic in the age of nation-building in Europe—for Serbia, as for so many one-time Ottoman and Habsburg dependencies, the middle of the nineteenth century—when the question whether Serbia belongs culturally to the West or to the East became an important political factor and has remained so ever since.

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