NewsSearchAboutMapContactHelpProject RastkoEnglish index
Projekat RastkoHistory
TIA Janus

Bozkurt GUVENC


Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(Latin saying)

What is at hand is man's enigmatic attitude towards his own identity.
(Milan Kundera)

Main themes of this essay, geographically and historically, are that the mountainous character of the Balkan Peninsula, unlike the littorals or seagoing regions or Eurasian vast plains, extending all the way from Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, have:

1) Taxed or curbed the means of cultural exchanges (e.g. men, goods and ideas), relations and acculturative processes between, and contributed to the survival of ethnic communities in ecological or territorial niches;

2) Preserved and sustained such communities and their ethnic identities against one another;

3) Exposed them at the same time to endless invasions from the northern plains (bores, Scyths, Huns, Hungarians, Bulgars, Slavs,Turks, Habsburgs, Germans, Russians etc.);

4) The partition of Christianity in the 11th Century, into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) Churches with the introduction of Islam by the Ottomans after the Fifteenth Century have greatly aggravated local competitions, conflicts and enmities. Imperial powers which dominated or controlled the region, from Romans to Byzantines, Turks, Habsburgs, Germans and Russians have also helped the geographical factors and maintained ethno-cultural, historical controversies, by keeping territories and/or nourishing ethnic identities-divided against one another. (The "divide and rule" maxim often attributed to the British!). So much that Global and European interventions trying to bring peace to Balkans, like attempts for Balkan Pacts or Ententes, either failed or led to more persistent conflicts. Great powers playing ethnic groups) against each other often destroyed the homeostatic equilibrium seldom reached, but awakened or added to bitter memories of the past, by turning the Balkans to a stage of vengeance, if not vendetta, also known as the process of "Balkanization".

The "scientific" conferences organized by the Serbian Academy have already dealt with such topics, I may just add, however, that under the pretext of international law and order and the disguise of making peace, high ranking mediators with overtly anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic convictions were commissioned by the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hence the current issue facing mankind today is still non other than the dilemma or challenge: Peace or War-on Earth?

War, as one of the constants of history, has not diminished with civilization or progress. In the last 3500 years of recorded history, according to Wil and Ariel Durant ( 1968), merely 270 years have seen no war-under the Pax Romana. We acknowledge war at present as the ultimate form of competition and natural selection in the human species. "Polemos pacer panton", said Heracleitos, war or conflict is the father of all things, the potent source of ideas, inventions, institutions and even of states. Peace, on the other hand, is an unstable state of affairs which can be preserved only by a stalemate of equal powers. Latins used to say "Si vis pacem para bellum, meaning "If you want peace ready for war." We Turks still use Ottoman Ziya Pasha's verbatim translation of this maxim into Turkish. Preparation that (cads to war is thus legitimized. The trade mark "Parabellum" is probably derived from this old maxim.

Causes of war are the same as the causes of competition or conflict between individuals: acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride; the excess desire for food, land, materials, petroleum and mastery of control. States have our instincts without our human restraints, however. Individual submit to restraints laid upon them by mores laws and agree to replace combat with dialogue or negotiation, because the state guarantees them basic protections in life, property and Legal rights. The state itself accepts no restraints, either because it feels strong enough to defy any interference with its power or because there is no super state to offer it basic protection and no effective law or moral code wielding deterrent force in prevention of war.

In every country generals and the rulers with rare exceptions (like Master Ashoka, Emperor Augustus and President Ataturk, (UNESCO, 1980) have always smiled at philosophers' timid dislike of war. In the military interpretation of history, war is the final arbiter, and is accepted as natural and necessary by almost all but cowards and simpletons. Even a philosopher, if he reads history, may admit that a long peace fatally weaken the martial muscles of a nation. In the present inadequacy of international Law and order, a nation must be ready at any moment to defend itself, and when its national interests arc threatened it must be allowed to take all measures and use any means it considers necessary to, or for its survival. The Ten Commendments must be silent or silenced when self-preservation or self-defense is at stake. So, according to the military strategist, peace is only an interlude, or a break of rest, a period of preparation for the next war.

This has been the West-side story as told by Durants (1968). When we turn to the East-side, prospects are no better however From the Dar-ul Islam (the Muslim world), the Christian West appears like the Dar-ul Harp (the land of Chaos or the battle field). And eternal peace will be brought to earth when the whole world comes under one (presumably Islamic) State. Simply, by means of Jihad or holy Crusades. At the folk level, a proverb heard among Arabs (reported by Gellner 1981) tells the old story in a nut shell:

I a g a i n s t my brother,
I and my brother a g a i n s t our cousin,
I, my brother and our cousin a g a i n s t the rest of all. "

This is the pathetic story of war: We speak of peace but wage war. Human beings arc conditioned from early childhood that "war is inevitable" and hopes for, and talks of, a long lasting peace is merely an utopia, if not an illusion. So much that we deeply suspect Peace Corps or movements, their express motives and policies. They arc suspected of serving the enemies -whether consciously or innocently-by weakening or reducing our military preparedness or will to fight. Conscientious objections to war are not tolerated in most countries. When there arc no external threats, societies innovate inner conspiracies such as Jesuits, Mafons, Zionists, radicals, fundamentalists, compradores, communists, Turks etc. Yet Turks are no exceptions. In recent decades, members of a Turkish Peace Association, were put to jail for subversive motives, before being acquitted by a long Court trial, lasting several years. We have all kinds of wars: war of nations, states, classes, armies, religions, denominations, faiths, ideologies and ideas; war of species, men, sexes, lovers, couples, generals, leaders, generations, institutions, companies, markets, prices and values, etc. Ours may be called the "Culture of War". Recalling the validity of saying:

If war is seen a b l o d y diplomacy;
is not then diplomacy a b l o o d l e s s war?

Which leads to the inevitable question: why do we men keep fighting'? The French anthropologists Marcel Mauss (1954) and Levi-Strauss (1963) had proposed two structural principles which together underlay most human relations: "reciprocity" and the "dialectical opposition", respectively. Although reciprocity seems to be valid in peaceful exchanges like gift giving; antagonistic attitudes and aggressions are observed to be the modal behavior in human encounters. The most universal or fundamental structure across cultures were found to be:

"Ego versus autre."- I or we against others.

According to Levi-Strauss (in Rapport and Wright 1968), law-like mores like exogantic marriage and incest taboo arc nearly universal because they supposedly convert competing aliens into cooperating/associating kins. And we become civilized by establishing peaceful relations between families and beyond tribal boundaries. Yet, deep-rooted hostilities remain between families bound together either by descent and or marital alliances newly established. Though wars are often ended by exchanges of brides, peace between warring or wedding parties does not seem to be of a long-lasting nature. In his late works Freud had returned back to theory of conflict and hypothesized that the life and death drives, which are at war, determine human behavior. (See Fromm 1964: 22-25). If drive to kill is instinctual that we have not been able - so far- to get rid ourselves, there isn't but much to do, other than deglorifying the war heroes. We just do the opposite, however. Martyres are universal heroes demanding respect from all- friend and foe alike.

In this prodigious film titled Monsieur Verdoux, depicting the infamous criminal Landru, Master Charlie Chaplin ironically called on his trial judges that by the number of his victims he was but a little hero, he should not therefore be honored too highly - i.e. above his spoils.

If however war is a, cultural or environmental behavior that we learn and submit, the question may be raised "is a culture of peace possible too?" Peace or war alternatives have always been a problem of philosophical ethic and enquiry: that is, what to do? or how to treat the other". Simply because, according to the reciprocity principle, the peace is not a stable or dependable state of affairs. If we want peace, why don't we prepare for peace? For, if we do, others may perhaps reciprocate and follow the suit. The most universal principle of all major religions was found to be the dictum:

"Do onto others what you would others do onto you. "

Is sounds like a logical and ethical formula for peace, but it does not last. First, human beings continue seeing others as others without realizing that doing so they become others. We neither understand nor take seriously Poet Terence who observed Nihil humanum a mihi alienum puto ("Nothing human is strange to me" and wisely sighed "I'm the other!" If we see everybody as the other, how can we avoid becoming the other? Secondly, as socio-cultural beings, we are geo-centrics, homo-centrics and ethno-centrics and what we may seldom confess, in fairness, self centrics if not ex-centrics? As we put ourselves at the center and a little above, view the world from that subjective point, we become not only what or whosoever we are; but as self-conscious beings, we turn against all others.

Hence we perceive our cognitive beings through or by help of others against all others. In life-long process, if the conspiring others did not perchance exist (according to Neumann 1963) we would simply create them anew. As a social democrat, for example, one may be against the liberal or the Christian democrats, against fascists, royalists, socialists and the communists, etc. As men we are against women, as teachers against students, as employees against employers, as youngs against the old, as faithfuls against those whom we consider infidels, etc. Even when we entertain the idea that we are like or unlike others around us, don't we identify ourselves against all those who happen to be unlike or even like us?

Is the "so-called" human nature responsible for what we are or do? Is there no hope for salvation? Slight as it may seem, there is hope. Since all contrary examples arc of human conditioning in early childhood. Like birds, -humans - "sing in the air what they heard and learned in the nest". Could humans alter what they teach and learn in the nest i.e. the universal process of enculturation? If, we do learn from parents how can we modify, as it were, parental behaviors? This is the vicious circle of cultural dilemma. Mothers, fathers, teachers and preachers all over the world tell their pupils "Love thy neighbor" but do they in fact, practice their own preaching? Major religions for example, stand for "Peace, above everything else" but sponsor and wage "War onto the infidels." This is the current state of the art in building a lasting peace.

It is not a stable or sustainable peace. For, if the other does not reciprocate in peace, mutual relations may readily convert, as they often do, back to war or conflict. Therefore making and maintaining peace would seem to be possible only with a major educational or revolutionary breakthrough yet to be undertaken by mankind, by changing the basic attitude of human beings:

From: An "Ego versus others" disposition,
To: An "Ego and others" orientation,

Replacing the"versus (or against)" simply, with and "and" would seem to be the greatest challenge facing mankind today. Arc we-as free and responsible members of our species-capable of undertaking such a viable challenge? If we are, what could we do?

Let's recall the late Ivo Andric, who, as a writer-historian-Could us the fabulous story of acculturation at the Drina Bridge in Serbia. Although the Mortar bridge destroyed by the recent ethnic war may soon be reerected; what could ever be done to repair the damages caused to the peoples' collective memory, ethos? Let's also recall Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic who pioneered the universal peace process by saying "Peace at home peace abroad! Building of peace must begin at home with couples, parents and children before it can be shared with neighbors next door and diffused to communities near and far away. Every year we honor but a single human being with Nobel Peace Prize. If we mean business and want build peace, why don't we extend such prizes to all of our fellow men?

Fellow anthropologist Wells (1971) had concludes his "Man in his World" on the following low key:

There is no magic charm of incantation. to make real the dream of future peace on Earth but anthropology beyond all studies is the most likely to teach the brotherhood of races and the love of man for men.

Love isn't easy even for anthropologists. If we can do something useful, however, we may begin learning to love. Mayorsky, another poet of our times, wisely observed that killing or dying is easy; it is life and living which is challenging. There is yet hope simply because more often than not, men take on and tackle the challenges rather than go for the easy ride.