Dr Slavenko TERZIC
ABOUT ENCOUNTER OR CONFLICT OF CIVILIZATIONS ON THE BALKANS
Major historical changes, specially so radical as these at the turn of the 20th century, always give incentive to the rethinking of historical processes, to the establishment of a philosophy of history and the scientific synthesis of historical processes. We live in times of grand "historical turning points", extremely condensed events, a new historical epoch has emerged.
From St. Augustine to Samuel Huntington (speaking only of the Christian epoch of world history), the effort continues for a universal rethinking of historical events.
The intention of this Conference is not to concern itself with numerous methodological, theoretical and philosophical issues which the subject of civilization, or civilizations, always implies. This is understood. As is known, the civilization conception, in the modern sense of the word, appears in the 18th century, a century that had a vision of a "civil and optimistic society", the century of enlightenment, when it was believed that increasingly "wars and conquests will disappear, slavery and destitution as well" (Condorcet). What the "civilization" conception expressed in the French milieu, was "culture" in the German environment, but the "civilization" conception in the German thought signified technological progress, while "culture" designated spiritual development. The terms "civilization" and "culture" were, since the mid l9th century, transferred into plural which meant renouncing from a single civilization which would pose as an ideal.
Subjects like these always result from attempts to understand and rethink a historical process, to discover the inner meaning of historical life, "the inner soul of history" (Berdyaev). This precisely was the basic goal of Nikolai Danilevsky's noted works "Europe and Russia", Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West" and Arnold Toynbee's "A Study of History" dedicated to the problems of civilizations. Although some of their theoretical concepts resulted from reflections outside the historical science, they undoubtedly contributed, if merely by challenging, to the development of scientific theory and methodology of the historical science. Danilewsky, Spengler and Toynbee see civilization as a basic historical unit, but in Danilewsky it is a "cultural - historical type", in Spengler "culture", while Toynbee gives religion a central place in his historical -philosophical concept, pointing out that it is not a sufficient criterion of demarcation between civilizations. Prominent French historian Fernand Breudel, in his magnificent study "History of Civilizations: the Past Explains the Present", implies under civilization "a set of cultural characteristics, phenomena", which include the entirety of life. But this set, beside the traditional concept of history, includes specific histories - the history of language, literature, history of science, arts, history of law, customs, technology, beliefs, religion, everyday life, "not to mention the history - so rarely studied, it is true- of tastes and culinary recipes".
The history of the Balkans, or better put, of Southeast Europe is an integral part of the European history. This region has its characteristic traits, resulting from the meeting of several world religions and cultures in a relatively small geographical region. However, this is not the reason to view Southeast Europe as a "twilight zone", as a part of the world which has yet to be let through the gates of the European civilization.
Although it is known that the Orthodox (or Eastern Christian) and the West -Christian civilization are "grafted" upon the Hellenic civilization, that they are its direct descendants, heirs and successors (Toynbee), in our time an aspiration is present to reduce the conception of Europe to only one of its parts, or just to one cultural circle.
It seems that the title of the paper "For a Europe of Cultures", from the program of this Conference by the German colleague Manfred Buhr, expresses in the best way what the European ad Balkan future should be-Europe which will equally acknowledge different cultural values and traditions. Europe cannot define itself by excluding or rejecting those who are, according to geography and culture, its constitutive part. For centuries, the Balkans have lived as a multicultural and multiethnic society. The "credit" that the conceptions "Balkanism" and "Balkanization" have entered the vocabulary of the international diplomacy, as synonyms for inter-tribal hostility, goes primarily to the great powers and the centuries old arranging of relationships in the Balkans according to their needs and interests.
Unfortunately, regarding the Balkan world, lately, especially with relationship to the Orthodox cultural tradition (primarily referring to the Serbs), some old prejudices and cliches have been revived. Civilizational arguments are being politically instrumentalized. Often, the "Byzantians" and the place of the Byzantine civilization within the European civilization are pejoratively spoken of forgetting, as Philip Gerard has noticed, that the Byzantine epoch has been "one of the most fascinating and the most influential eras in the history of mankind", that it was the bridge between the classical culture and the humanism and renaissance which are at the foundations of modern Europe.
One Slovenian historian, professor at the University in Padua, claims that the disintegration of Yugoslavia was caused by the inability to establish a dialogue between the Serbs and the Slovenians, i.e., between the Levant and Central Europe. Samuel Huntington states that the "Bosnian war" is yet another "bloody episode in the continuous conflict between civilizations", a conflict where the "main forces of Orthodoxy, Islam and the West" (he does not say Western Christianity or Roman Catholicism S. T.) were "deeply involved".
The planetary political messianism, together with the pronounced pragmatism of the contemporary civilization, has a tendency to inadmissibly simplify complex historical processes, to bring major decisions without sufficicm knowledge or understanding of matters, to subordinate the complex historical tissue to one idea. Unfortunately, cultural differences in the Balkans are often instrumentalized, and political projects are created on their basis, which contribute to further divisions in the Balkans. This is allegedly done in the name of higher civilizational interests. It has long since been observed that there is no correlation between technological progress and the advancement of civilizations, that it is the duty of men "not to allow the civilization to destroy culture, or technology to destroy man", that the scientific - technological progress must be viewed within the context of a spiritual and ethical development of man, because a danger exists that otherwise it will render man "spiritually weak" and "morally devastated", easily susceptible to various manipulations.
The choice of discussion's subject, "Encounter or Conflict Between Civilizations in the Balkans", resulted from the intention to make a contribution to a more profound clarification of the complex Balkan crossroad, and to stress the civilizational openness of this crossroad. Thus formulated topic offers the possibility to overcome or to expand the limits of traditional history. We wish this debate to be a contribution to the efforts toward better understanding of the Balkans (better communication as well as a region of ancient cultures and civilizations - a contribution to the history of the cultural development of the Balkans and, in general, to the spiritual development of the Balkan world. Many have forgotten that history is one of the modes to get acquainted with space and time, and that the Balkans cannot be understood isolated from the influence of heritage, independently from historical circumstances, and without understanding the organic ties between different elements constituting the natural and social environment.
The scientific, and in general, the intellectual thought of the Balkans is faced with the urgent need of a more accelerated and wider dialogue between the Balkan cultural and scientific circles. This could represent the beginning of a new era in the intellectual life of this region which should bring about changes in the general intellectual and cultural climate. The integration of the Balkan scientific and cultural elite, regarding historical research in this case, could, with necessary intellectual tolerance, be rewarded with a project of a history of the cultural development of the Balkans, in the writing of which would participate all Balkan scientific communities.
We are completely aware of the fact that the issue here is a major, very complex and unusually stratified historical problem. The historical science, in the modern sense, which holds important the opening of new roads, by its broadness and universality, has the most favorable preconditions to bring together other scientific disciplines, because each one of them has a historical kernel. Beside gathering and establishing historical facts, there is no reason for the historical science to avoid broader theoretical discussions, as is sometimes thought, because it has the ability to theoretically master the problems it is examining as well.