Via Laputan Logic, an informative 1993 essay by E. A. Hammel on “Demography and the Origins of the Yugoslav Civil War,” which discusses the ethnographic, linguistic, and religious history of the Balkans and finishes with some interesting speculations about empire and nationalism:

In this microcosm I see lessons for us in the interpretation of anthropological history. The first lesson is that imperial adventures make a difference. The process of ethnic cleansing begins when cultural and especially religious homogeneity is required to ensure political obedience. This first lesson is certainly obvious after the historical formation of the state, but may have been important before it, as well. The second lesson is that all of this was less of a problem before Johann Gottfried Herder and especially in the Balkans before Woodrow Wilson, in his pursuit of a particular imperialist adventure, namely the incapacitation of the German Reich, legitimized the ethnic nation-state and confused its creation with democracy. Democracy, free markets, ethnic self-determination, and general well being continue to be confused. What is missing in the historical picture since about 1800 is the idea of citizenship by right of residence rather than by right of blood or the adoption of the symbols of blood kinship. What we see now as the cultural results of the migrational streams that are themselves started by imperialist adventures are the twin pressures of expulsion and conformity, the choice for populations to convert or flee. It is hard to think of an anthropological subject during the last 6,000 years that was isolated from imperialist machinations, beginning with the emergence of city states in the Near East. The difference today is only in the level of the armament. The underlying processes are the same.


  1. I met a Bosnian girl last year; she said that since independence the Bosnian government has been trying to make the language more distinguishable from Serbian and Croatian and Slovenian by making canonical a lot of Turkish-derived words instead of the Slavic synonyms that had previously been just as good. She depicted it as a pretty stupid idea.

Speak Your Mind