Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 11
6 September 1999

Sam Vaknin A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
Homo balkanus

Dr Sam Vaknin

How does one respond to a torrent of belligerent correspondence from people in the Balkans, arguing against the belligerence of people in the Balkans asserted by one in one's writings? This is the dilemma I face in surveying the reactions I receive to articles in both CER and other publications.

Were it not sad, it surely would have been farcical. Only recently (17 August 1999 - five months after the Kosovo conflict began), Macedonian papers argued fiercely, vehemently and threateningly against an apparently innocuous remark by Albania's Prime Minister, Pandeli Majko. He said that all Albanians, wherever they are, should share the same curriculum of studies. A preparatory step on the way to a Greater Albania perhaps? In this region of opaque mirrors and magla (fog) it is possible. And what is possible, surely actually is.

I do not believe in the future of this part of the world, only because I know its history too well. Every psychologist will tell you that past violent behaviour is the best predictor of future recidivism. Homo balkanus is lifted straight off the rustling pages of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) version IV (1994) - the bible of the psychiatric profession:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (eg, exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, ie, unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, ie, takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes

Narcissism is a result of stunted growth and of childhood abuse. It is a reactive pattern, the indelible traces of an effort to survive against all odds, against bestial repression and all-pervasive decay (see this author's extensive website on this subject). Brutally suppressed by the Turks for hundreds of years and then by Communism in some countries and by cruel, capricious banana republic regimes in others Homo balkanus has grown to be a full fledged narcissist.

The nation state structure and ideology enthusiastically adopted by Homo balkanus in the wake of the collapse of the rotten Ottoman edifice has proven to be a costly mistake. Tribal village societies are not fit for the consumption of abstract models of political organization. This is as true in Africa as it is in the Balkans. The first allegiance of Homo balkanus is to his family, his clan, his village. Local patriotism was never really supplanted by patriotism. Homo balkanus shares an Ottoman unconscious with his co-regionists.

The "authorities" were and are always perceived to be a brutal, menacing and unpredictable presence - a natural power to be resisted by the equal employment of cunning and corruption. Turkish habits die hard. The natives find it difficult not to bribe their way through their own officialdom, to pay taxes, not to litter, to volunteer - in short: to be citizens rather than occupants or inhabitants. Their passive-aggressive instincts are intact and on auto-pilot. The Balkan experiment with nation states has visited only misery and carnage upon the heads of its perpetrators. Borders tracked convulsively the movements of semi-nomadic populations. This instability of boundaries led to ethnic cleansing, to numerous international congresses and to fitful wars (See, for example, The Bad Blood of Kosovo).

In an effort to justify a distinct existence and identity, thousands of "scholars" embarked on herculean efforts of inventing histories for their newly emergent nations. Inevitably, these histories conflicted and led to yet more bloodshed. A land fertilized by blood produces harvests of bloated corpses.

In the Balkans, people fight for their very own identity. They aspire to purity, albeit a racial one, and to boundaries, albeit of the abstract kind. It is, perhaps, the kernel of this Greek tragedy: that real people are sacrificing real people on the altar of the abstract. It is a battle of tastes, a clash of preferences, an Armageddon of opinions, judgements and lessons. Armies are still moved by ancient events, by symbols, by fiery speeches and by abstract, diffuse notions. It is a land devoid of its present, where the past and future reign supreme. No syllogism, no logic, no theory can referee that which cannot be decided but by the compelling thrust of the sword.

"We versus They" - they, the aliens. Threatened by the otherness of others, Homo balkanus succumbs to the protection of the collective. A dual track: an individualist against the authorities - a mindless robot against all others, the foreigners, the strangers, the occupiers. The violent acting out of this schizophrenia is often referred to as "the history of the Balkans".

This spastic nature was further exacerbated by the egregious behaviour of the superpowers. Unfortunately possessed of strategic import, the Balkans were ravaged by geopolitics. Turks and Bulgarians and Hungarians and Austrians and Russians and Britons and Germans and Communists and the warplanes of NATO - the apocalyptic horsemen in the mountains and rivers and valleys and sunsets of this otherworldly, tortured piece of land. Raped by its protectors, impregnated by the demon seeds of global interests and their ruthless pursuit - the Balkan was transformed into a horror chamber of amputated, zombie nations - a veritable hellish scene. Many a Pomeranian grenadier bequeathed their bones to the Balkans but Pomeranian grenadiers came and went while the people of the Balkan languished.

Thus, it was not difficult to foster a "We" against every "They" (or an imagined "They"). A crossroads of faultlines, a confluence of tectonic clashes - the Balkan always obliged.

Religion came handy in this trade of hate: Orthodox Serbs fought Muslim Serbs in Bosnia (the latter were forced to convert by the Turks hundreds of years ago); Catholic Croats fought Orthodox Serbs; and Bulgarians (a Turkic tribe) expelled the Turks in 1989, having compelled them to change their Muslim names to Bulgarian sounding ones in 1984.

Race was useful in the agitated effort to prevail. Albanians are of Illyrian origin. The Greeks regard the Macedonians as upstart Slavs. The Bulgarians regard the Macedonians as rebel Bulgarians. The Macedonian regard the Bulgarians as Tartars (that is, Barbarian and Turkish). The Slovenes and the Croats and, yes, the Hungarians claim not to belong in this cauldron of seething, venomous emotions.

And culture was used abundantly in the Balkan conflicts. Where was the Cyrillic alphabet invented (Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria?) and by whom (Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians?). Are some nations mere inventions? (The Bulgarians say this about the Macedonians). Are some languages one and the same? Minorities are either cleansed or denied out of existence. The Greeks still claim that there are no minorities in Greece, only Greeks with different religions. The Bulgars in Greece used to be "Bulgarophone Greeks". The Balkan is the eternal hunting grounds of oxymorons, tautologies and logical fallacies.

It is here that intellectuals usually step in (see last week's article: "The Poets and the Eclipse"). But the Balkan has no intelligentsia in the Russian or even American sense. It has no one to buck the trend, to play the non-conforming, to rattle, to provoke, to call upon one's conscience. It does not have this channel to (other) ideas and view called "intellectuals". It is this last point which makes me the most pessimistic. The Balkan is a body without a brain.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 24 August 1999

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He has recently been appointed Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Dr Vaknin's website is here.




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