Nationalism and Policymaking in the Balkans

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2006


The recent death of Slobodan Milosevic has renewed interest in the Balkan nationalism of the 1990s. There is no better place to start a discussion of nationalism in the Balkans than with the architect of Yugoslavia's violent collapse. Were the tragedies of the Balkan conflict the malevolent work of evil politicians or a logical and continuous-perhaps even inevitable-product of culture? Policymakers and theorists rarely interact, yet they have used the same template in their attempts to understand Balkan nationalism. Some have argued that nationalism in the Balkans was ancient or even organic (the "perennialist" approach), while others have seen nationalism as an entirely modern, even artificial, product of manipulation by political elites. There are both policymakers and theorists in each camp, but most journalists and policymakers have put forth a tautological version of the perennialist position: they are violent and nationalistic because they have always been violent and nationalistic. Scholars rarely make this sort of claim.

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