Balkan nationalism as a brake on the economy

 By Aleksandar Đokić
political scientist and scientific researcher

“History does not happen everywhere at the same time. For some macroregions, the process of forming nation states and even markets, was already completed in the 19th century. After a couple of centuries of great wars – from Napoleon to Hitler – those countries managed to learn certain lessons, which only the harsh and sobering processes such as history can teach them.

These countries are located in the West of Europe. With great suffering, but also with great success in many fields, they managed to finally live and expel the ideas of isolationist and conflict nationalism from their bloodstream. Minority national-populist political movements, which appear there, represent precisely the remnants of the previous era in which Western European states and nations were created. In the moments of their creation and the historical period of revolutions, wars and industrial development that followed, nationalism had its calculation.

When the Western European nation-states became so solidified and spread their network of influence over the whole planet, in the end, like the great monopolists who were out of reach of the cartel, they collided head-on in two world wars, these political constructions understood that they failed.

On the one hand, they were pushed towards integration by technological development and the changed structure of the economy, and on the other, by the great ideas of postmodernist natural science – all individual national histories are just carefully constructed stories and nothing more. What we think of as a natural-historical process was actually a story we told ourselves, in order to more easily make our way in the cannibalistic world of political nationalism where “eat or be eaten” is the only motto.

History served as a moral indulgence, allowing European nations to try to destroy each other in the name of a fictional grand destiny supposedly handed down to them by their ancestors from antiquity or the Middle Ages.

From the explained lessons of the great wars, the idea of a global economy was born, porous borders were created in favour of international free trade and the foundations of future macro-regional economic blocs were laid. The circulation of the economy had to be accelerated to the highest number of revolutions in one quarter. This was served by the idea of providing freedom of action to finance, which until then was limited by the speed of development of the real economy and the equivalent value in gold.

Finally, the structure of the economy changed in such a way that the service sector, which is a part of scientific progress and does not rest on hedonism, became more important than the production sector. Together with ideas and economy, Western societies are gradually changing and they are coming to know that their history was full of racism, colonialism, nationalism – to put it simply – full of conflicts based on differences.

Nationalism has been pushed out of the mainstream as, in a moral sense, evil, and, in an economic sense, a harmful occurrence. Only when a new challenger to the dominant order – China – appeared in the Far East, the West slowly begin to come to the conclusion that absolute openness, both in the political and economic sense, is potentially dangerous. Yes, there is development, but development is not only in West, but also global. Yes, global development is also good, because it stimulates Western development, but the world is a big place with different ideological systems. These systems do not look at the world through the rose-tinted glasses of globalism, they perceive it as a weakness of the West, on the basis of which one should first ensure their own growth, and then engage in a fight with globalism itself.

Yugoslav nationalism

While paradigms change, the Balkans remains imprisoned in the unfinished processes of the 19th century. The struggle of the Balkan peoples against the empires, the struggle initiated by liberating and timely nationalism, should have led to the rooting of the free Balkan nation-states and with them the nations.

At that time, every Balkan nation had its own grand nationalistic project in its plans. The Yugoslav one was certainly the most ambitious, it had the potential to gather most of the Balkans under one roof. Its parts, however, did not fit, no matter how many tried to assemble the mosaic. If the centre of Yugoslavia had been rooted in rationalism and perhaps by balancing, leveling, making concessions and providing benefits to all its parts, that project would have succeeded.

However, its centre was in Belgrade, which for centuries was under foreign imperial occupation and was not up to such a great task. Instead of reason, in Belgrade’s ruling and cultural circles, these lofty emotions and violent urges alternated in waves, both with unwanted results. Regardless of whether at a given moment Yugoslavia was romantically viewed as the promised land, it failed to be what it had to be in order to succeed – and that is to render a proper calculation of how much one gets for their invested part and how much responsibility does one have for their invested capital.

The difference between Western and Eastern nationalism

This is where the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern nationalism, our Balkan nationalism, lies. In the West, nationalism was exclusively an instrument, a way to gain wealth, power and influence. Of course, even the cold West is not immune to dreams that very easily turn into hell. German national romanticism gave birth to Hitler and almost destroyed Europe, including the West. On the other side of the continent, unaccustomed to thinking clearly and simply focusing on interest, where 2+2 did not amount to 4, historical processes could not proceed with the same dynamics as in the West.

In the Balkans, the story invented in the 19th century has become fused with the soul and because of the soul you kill, not live. History, as a story, has brought wealth and sobriety to the West, and endless tribal wars to the East over whose version of history is the most tangible. An overdose of politics and shying away from the economic way of thinking, falling in love with one’s own myths and an unskillfully painted picture of self-image, instead of thinking about what can be achieved through economy, capital accumulation, cooperation, trade…

Contemporary Balkan nationalism is nothing more than a panicked escape from responsibility. Independence is not to be put on the flag or incorporated into the national anthem or stamped on top of other people’s mass graves… Real independence is to build and run a political and economic system, accepting both profit and cost. Balkan nationalism is the transfer of economic responsibility to the West, while the main product of the Balkans is political conflicts.

When combined corruption and carelessness knock on the door, Brussels is to blame, and it should be avenged through its neighbours – Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo. Nationalism prevents the Balkans from seeing its benefit in the current global economic system and from taking it to the maximum.”

(Bloomberg Adria, 08.10.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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