Dear Reader, welcome to the first issue of Contemporary Southeastern Europe! This peer-reviewed journal is published as an open-access academic journal, by the Centre for Southeast European Studies. We are firmly committed to the highest standards of academic publishing, including rigorous, double-blind, peer review and making research available, free of charge, to an interested audience. As subscription costs rise and many libraries have to save resources, we are committed to making high quality research available for researchers without cost.
Museums are institutions dedicated to the collection and preservation of artefacts, but they are also sites of national production that contribute to shaping the nation’s collective memory. Sometimes, history exhibited in museums becomes the centre of cultural wars that are not fought on battlefields, but on information panels and showcases: devices where the national past is contested, rewritten, and exhibited. With the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the institutional representation of Turkish national history was subject to significant changes. Conforming with the national ideology of the AKP, recently built museums focus more on Turkey’s Ottoman and Islamic heritage, and less on similarly important ones such as the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and the more recent Kemalist traditions.
The context of the elections held on 7. October 2018 can only be fully understood by adding the complexity of a power-sharing governmental arrangement in contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina that favours large coalitions of ethnically based political parties. While the system was envisaged originally to prevent the domination of one ethnic group over others, its practical application has been used by nationalist political elites to install themselves as overall rulers in their particular territories, which individuals and clans have been ruling as fiefdoms for over twenty years. The lack of capacity for political alternatives and their own fragmentation into a series of smaller political parties has created an overall atmosphere of disillusionment among voters who do not seem to hope for any possibility of positive change. Hence the low voter turnout of just over 53 percent.
The European Union’s (EU) role in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina can be assessed in two different periods. The first period can be described as ‘increased mediation activity’, where one highlight was the signing of the ‘Brussels Agreement’ in 2013 under the supervision of the EU High Representative (HR) Catherine Ashton. By not referring to Kosovo’s status and softening disputed parties’ attitudes towards each other, the HR and the newly-created European External Action Service (EEAS) managed to prove both internally and externally that the EU is a capable and effective mediator. The following period can be labelled as ‘decreased mediation activity’, representing the translation of the Brussels Agreement into reality. During this phase, the dialogue was challenged not only by disagreements between Belgrade and Pristina, but also by disagreements from within the EU.
When the future or, more specifically, a redirection of South-East European studies is discussed in a series of essays in this journal, one has to have in mind that this is not the first discussion of this kind – and for sure not the concluding one. In an increasingly globalizing world, area studies are under permanent critical observation. What can particular findings related to an area contribute to the understanding of the whole, the global, and how is the global represented in the particularities of an area? However, this kind of critical self-reflection that can sometimes result in self-deprecation was not always the case in the long history of the study of South-East Europe.
Two recent books on Kosovo offer some compelling insights and answers as to why international state-builders stumbled in Kosovo: Elton Skendaj’s, Creating Kosovo: International Oversight and the Making of Ethical Institutions and Andrea Lorenzo Capussela’s State-Building in Kosovo: Democracy, Corruption and the EU in the Balkans. Both books are welcome additions to the growing discourse on state-building and touch on some of the more important themes that have recently dominated the literature, including the principle of local ownership, the limitations of technocratic approaches to state-building, and the dilemmas of political corruption and state capture in postwar societies.