“Every state needs its own Balkan”

With this words philosopher Slavoj Žižek started his lecture on ideology and the fall of state borders. The lecture was given in Italian Gorizia which was until 2007 a border town with Slovenia and is a well known habitat of Italians and Slovenes. From this point of view, the place for discussing such a topic could not be better. Žižek, “the superstar” appeared in front of the fully packed theatre in his typical, a bit nervous manner and made us think about today’s presence of borders. Having in mind a Europe without boundaries, he pointed towards the difference between the physical and mental presence of borders. The latter is more difficult to remove and is usually transferred from one generation to another in a process known as mental mapping . ‘Balkan’ in the European mental perception presents ‘the other’. However, ‘Balkan’ is nowhere, if we approach it from the position that no one wants to belong to it. But at the same time every state needs its own ‘Balkan’ for dividing itself from the others.

The geographical category has been even more intensively labeled as a scapegoat after the last conflicts, often wrongly presented as perpetual, unforgettable clashes between different ethnic groups. The situation was in a false way presented in Kusturica’s Underground, where the former state is shown as a place of passions, alcohol and sexual desires. The place where memories rule and ancient hatreds exist. Žižek negates this with the idea that people that were involved in a conflict were also able to forget about past events and continue to trade and exchange goods regardless of the crimes committed. He claims that the reasons for the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia should be sought in a crisis of legitimacy of leading party nomenclature after the death of Tito and not in a hypocritical apolitical plot of the Underground and its picturesque simplifications of the carnival state. However, the time for the carnival arose latter, with the rule of Milošević which, under a totalitarian surface established a situation in which everything was allowed.

Slavoj Žižek

Žižek claims: “What we need today is not more understanding, but more distance.” Physical borders fell too fast and societies have not been culturally prepared for such a proximity which can result in clashes and reactions. In this sense, he negates a liberal idea of multiculturalism and he rather advocated his position with the image of “the house with many floors in which people live together but not necessarily interact”.

The lecture was concluded in a rather worrying tone. Under the illusion that the borders are disappearing, they are actually rapidly growing. State of emergencies keep appearing in political discourses (e.g. Italy in July 2008) and this should be taken into consideration very carefully. The globe is more dangerous than ever before. Not in a typical old way, but with the presence of biotechnology, ecological catastrophies and similar issues, more sensibility is needed if we don’t want to live in a total misery in the next 30 or 50 years.