The proposal I attached to my Olsen Scholars application was entitled, “An Exploration of the Relationship Between Balkan Historical and Cultural Identity and Women,” but retrospectively I’m not sure what exactly that means for where I’m going with my research. My topic is very broad as it stands, but that is intentional, I don’t quite know the thematic area on which I want to focus specifically. What I do know is that I want to investigate the Balkan history, culture, and the “isms” that are ingrained within identities for Balkan people, particularly women.
I have special interest in this topic because it is culturally relevant to me–I am the daughter of two immigrants from former Yugoslavia. Reaching some conclusions about the questions I and many others have is key in dismantling the lack of transparency in Balkan storytelling. I’ve felt the firsthand presence of conflicting narratives among Balkan states, along with the the general, detached impositions of opinion and perception on the Balkan by oftentimes unknowing outsiders. It is my desire to look further into these divisions between Balkan states during the 90s to examine where exactly they stem from–which identities are people most attached to–religious, national, ethnic, gender, political, a combination of these–and how these internal commitments translate into political realities (past and present) in the region. How have these factors manifested themselves? How have they driven conflict? How do they a play a role in current peacemaking operations? I find this topic to be vastly important in understanding Europe as it stands. While Europe is often seen as a liberal, egalitarian utopia, Balkan issues have been continuously undermined and dismissed. Is Europe, then, really a pillar of progressivism if within it are states far behind in the quest for true equality? Is a celebration truly in order, if a relatively large chunk of Southeastern Europe contains such a contemporary and such a harsh history of injustice, particularly for women and children?
I want to initiate research that paints an all-encompassing, relevant, picture of Balkan history. I want to accomplish this by asking the following questions: How can southeastern European nations–Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia–sustain structures of deep gender inequality in the middle of liberal Europe? How has the intimate relationship between masculinity and nationalism perpetuated the continual conflict among Balkan nations and the internal political instability of each state? How have strong religious identities or structures strengthened gender norms or nationalism and led to violence against women and ethnic groups? What identities hold the most weight–ethnic, religious, gender, or political? What about for women? How did the exclusion of women in visible spaces increase or induce conflict? Has that changed post-war? Were women better off pre or post-Yugoslav dissolution? How did the suppression of international disagreements under communism enhance the conflict later on? How did outside dismissal of Balkan conflict further the issues there? How did lessened economic circumstances induce conflict? How did media contribute to unveiling the conflict to the rest of the world? How did media internally within each nation propagandize what was going on? Where do Balkan nations go from here?
I realize that these preceding questions don’t necessarily relate to one another directly, but in putting them forward, and keeping them all in mind as preliminary and broad markers before I really define my project, I aim to highlight the many aspects that have gone into shaping all the complexities of the region’s contemporary history, and to keep the space open for whatever thematic and political realm for which they might have the greatest implications.