Debates on Europe VI-X

Sarajevo Debate on Europe

26.4. - 27.4.2017

Twentyfive years ago, in 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed: Twelve member states joined to form the European Union, an important step towards European integration. Also in 1992 the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina began, an event which marked the final disintegration of Yugoslavia. A short time ago the dissolving of the so-called Eastern Bloc had removed the cold war border that had cut through Germany and the whole subcontinent for so long. A new reality seemed to dawn. Excepting the inhabitants of the Balkan countries most people in East and West thought a Europe of peace, prosperity and democratic freedom immanent.

Today, in 2017, these earlier certainties and hopes seem highly questionable. Hardly a country is without its fierce debate about the desirability of membership within the European Union. The utopian hope for an open European community seems to have evaporated leaving behind a space apparently threatened from within and without; the very project of a common Europe is questioned. In many of these controversial discussions “identity” has become a key word. “Identity”, in ist populist version reduced to something held to be singular (historically, culturally, confessionly), feigns a safe special position to withdraw to. The democracies of Europe face these challenges under widely differing circumstances, but the challenge in every case wants to suvbvert the hopes once connected with the European project: hopes for a manifold unity.

The “Sarajevo Debate on Europe” offers a space to discuss questions about the difficulties and chances of the European project, in an open exchange of views. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, seems an especially apt place for this discussion about the coexistence of religious, cultural and national identities, about the handling of conflicts and the role of influences from abroad. Participating will be authors and scientists from several European countries.

The meeting is part of the continuing series “Debates on Europe” organized since 2012 by the S. Fischer Stiftung, the Allianz Kulturstiftung and the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in different cities across the continent: so far in Budapest, Bukarest, Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Narva, Minsk, Charkiv and St. Petersburg.

Dubravka Stojanovic
Serbia – The Avant-Garde of Populism

At last there is one thing that places the Balkans ahead of Europe! Populism. Ever since this word entered common parlance I had been preparing to tackle this subject and call primarily Serbia, and perhaps the entire Balkans, the avant-garde of populism. What a powerful feeling!

The beginning of populism in Serbia dates back to the early 1870s. Subsequently regimes of this sort were, with very short breaks, reproduced to this day.

What are the conclusions of our historical analysis? Ideology is irrelevant, it can be both right and left, but what is crucial is the collectivist sentiment that sops up every individual, obliterating all pluralism. A populist movement always speaks for the entire nation, and the possibility for someone to stay outside and think differently is excluded. This is a closed system that perceives everything outside itself as hostile, and that is why it is forced to build homogenization by inciting conflicts, which often leads to war. Fences are raised not so much against others, at least not at first, as for »us«, in order to push us closer together. From that point we no longer need institutions or laws, because they unnecessarily restrain the essential needs of our nation. This is why institutions break down or, if they survive, they do so with their substance completely transformed – abused, exploited and cheated.

I vividly remember the time when this happened in Serbia, after Milosevic took power in the late 1980s. I remember with dread, most of all, this general feeling that everyone was somehow relieved, like they all took off tight shoes. This is precisely what is most seductive and dangerous: this feeling that everything is possible. So how do you go against that? As in modern medicine – prevention. Prevent, at all costs, THIS from coming to power. And if it happens, then get ready to do it all over again. There’s no use crying over populism. It leaves nothing behind.