The Balkans are an incredibly complicated area of the world. For this reason, they are, perhaps, the perfect place to study the roots of conflict and how it can be resolved, managed, or prevented. The region has been historically tumultuous, the epicenter of countless wars and struggles for power, reflected in its fortress walls and the intentionally preserved hollow buildings which serve as a reminder of past wars, destruction and atrocities. The powers that be tried to find an easy answer after the fall of Yugoslavia and grouped several new countries in the region into what were seen, generally, as ethnic nation-states. The world put into practice theories which oversimplified the Balkans to find a fast answer to a problem that is very complex. This is a region of multiple ethnicities, multiple cultures, multiple belief systems…things which borders and the modern “state” quite frankly can’t contain. It is also a region made up of people and the political systems they create through their interactions, systems which contain all the elements of human nature ranging from total greed to pure benevolence and everything in between. In short, the Balkans are a perfect microcosm of the complexity of human interaction in political society, an interaction which is almost always contingent on some form of identity which is used as leverage. The politics in the Balkans illustrate the issue of human nature and identity as a complicating factor in our understanding of politics, and more specifically conflict. This trip highlighted these complexities to me.
Click here to check out Nicholas’ paper, “Identity, Fear, and the Politics of Conflict in the Balkans.”
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