National Museums in Southeast Europe: (En)countering Balkanism?
The collapse of sclerotic and dysfunctional one-party regimes in central and eastern Europe, associated with the end of the USSR, and in parts of the Balkans, with the death of President Tito of Yugoslavia in 1980, was followed by violence and war, which brought the region to the world’s attention. These events, and inevitably the historical causes, were and still are interpreted to an international audience, largely through a global media, over which Balkan countries have limited influence. Todorova (Slavic Review 53(2):453–452, 1994, 2009, 1997) identified a trend or convention in these interpretations which was largely negative, which she called ‘Balkanism’, and which was at least partly constructed ‘from the outside’ (1994, p. 445). She argued that our knowledge of the Balkans is mediated through a distorting lens: we see it as a dark ‘other’. By contrast, national museums funded by national governments would seem to offer a channel through which the states in the region might be able to tell their own stories, in their own way. This survey of national museums attempts to map these stories against specific aspects of Balkanism. Are they complicit in its construction, or do they run counter to or align with it? It is argued that the key elements of these displays counter some aspects of Balkanism but align with it or reinforce it in other ways.
KeywordsMuseums Balkans Balkanism Nationalism Othering
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