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Searching for Answers to the Macedonian Question: Identity Politics in the Balkans

Author(s): Craft, Graham

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Abstract: The Balkans have often been described as the "powder keg of Europe," an explosive mix of ethnic rivalries and ancient hatreds. For many twentieth century observers it was the Macedonian question, and not the issue of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which seemed most likely to provide the spark which would ignite the entire region. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, a UN Preventive Deployment Force was dispatched to Macedonia, not to contain a conflict, but to prevent one from occurring. The newly independent Macedonia suffered from internal instability and troubled relations with its neighbors, especially Greece. Western observers have tended to portray the Macedonian question, like the terrible Bosnian war, as a product of immature states and blood feuds between tribal ethnic groups. This perspective contrasts the perennially troubled Balkans with a peaceful and civilized Europe. Adopting a different view, this essay examines the process of identity politics in the region and finds a classic example of contending claims to national self- determination and absolute state sovereignty. Given Western Europe's bloody experience with national rivalry, suppressed only by the exigencies of the Cold War, the Balkans do not appear to be either abnormally violent nor dysfunctional. It is suggested that peace in Europe has been accompanied by a move away from state sovereignty and the adoption of a new sense of European community. Western observers require a sort of selective amnesia in order to sustain the idea of a peaceful Europe and a warlike Balkan region. This muddled thinking only serves to obscure the possibilities for lasting peace in the region; a goal that may only be obtained as the Balkan peoples discover a means to transcend the logic of national identity based on territorial sovereignty.
Publication Date: 1996
Electronic Publication Date: 1996
Pages: 79 - 102
Type of Material: Journal Article
Series/Report no.: Volume 7;
Journal/Proceeding Title: Journal of Public and International Affairs
Version: Final published version. Article is made available in OAR by the publisher's permission or policy.

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