Between Global and Regional. The Balkans, UNESCO, and History of Humanity

by Bogdan C. Iacob, at the Institute of Contemporary History, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, October 19, 2015.

During the postwar period, the Balkans were the underbelly of the Cold War order. Such ambivalence was owed to two factors. First, before 1962, the region was one of the most dangerous fault lines of bipolarism. Second, during détente, the translocal outlook underwent a radical reversal: Southeast Europe seemed to have become a symbolic geography alternative to the borderlines of the Iron Curtain. The new Balkans, as a space of ambiguous cultural and political entanglement where the East-West and North-South axes met, was the result of a complex negotiation by the area’s countries of regional and global agendas.

The international stage where the latter phenomenon was most obvious was UNESCO. The different political regimes employed cooperation in the realm of cultural diplomacy as proxy for political multilateralism, which proved to be a mirage in the Balkans. The flagship project from this point of view was the International Association of Southeast European Studies (AIESEE) sponsored by UNESCO. It was an organization that brought together specialists in the humanities from over 20 countries and convened international congresses which every four years gathered, in average, cca. 1000 participants from across the globe.

The presentation will focus on how AIESEE was a springboard for Southeast European historians to gain a high profile in setting an ever wider agenda: UNESCO’s ambition to write a History of Humanity. The latter project was initiated at the end of 1970s and early 1980s. It aimed to create a world history that reflected the radical transformations which had taken place since late 1950s and early 1960s: de-colonization, the increasing individuality of state socialisms, the rise of the Global South in the UN-system, the critique of Eurocentrism, and, most importantly, the ever-growing emphasis on the originality of national cultures.

In fact, “History of Humanity. Scientific and Cultural Development” (seven volume – was UNESCO’s second attempt at world history. The first was entitled History of Mankind and it had been published during late 1960s. Balkan scholars acquired prominent roles in the project History of Humanity. Three of them were co-editors: Romanian archeologist, Emil Condurachi for volume 3; Turkish historian Halil İnalcık for volume 5; Bulgarian historian Nikolai Todorov for volume 6. Others will be involved in writing various subchapters of the seven volumes.

My presentation will follow three analytical directions: 1) the road from regional cooperation to significant involvement into the negotiation of global history; 2) the impact of UNESCO’s vision of individual cultures and world’s civilizations upon Southeast Europe’s own definitions and position in Cold War Europe and the world; 3) the long term significance of the internationalization of Balkan identities, especially from the point of view of some of the region’s countries descent into ethnic conflict.

At the end of the day, Southeast European historians’ participation in UNESCO’s project was mired into a paradoxical situation. It happened in early 1980s, about the same time when these scholars’ medium to prominence, AIESEE, was quickly fading, a fate similar to renewed drives for political multilateralism in the area. The timeframe also comprises the beginning of communist regimes’ deep systemic crises and the resurgence of bipolar tensions during the so-called ‘Second Cold War.’ Last but not least, UNESCO itself was facing sharp criticism from West. My discussion of a regional example is an exercise in showing how an aspect of the globalization of humanities can be relevant for a wider web of causalities that explain the specificities of the late Cold War and therefore set the ground for understanding the post-1989 period.

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Între global și regional. Balcanii, UNESCO și „Istoria Umanității”

de Bogdan C. Iacob, la Institutul de Istorie Contemporană al Nova Universidad, 19 octombrie 2015, Lisabona.

În perioada postbelică, Balcanii au fost una dintre cele mai fluide zone ale Războiului Rece. Începând cu anii șaizeci, regiunea a căpătat statutul de geografie simbolică alternativă în raport cu frontierele impuse de Cortina de Fier. Noii Balcani erau un spațiu ambiguu de interacțiuni culturale și politice unde axele Est-Vest și Nord-Sud se intersectau. Europa de sud-est, în acest avatar post-1945, era rezultatul unei negocieri complexe între agende naționale, regionale și globale.

Instituția internațională care a facilitat o asemenea transformare a fost UNESCO. Regimurile diferite s-au folosit de cooperarea cultural/științifică ca înlocuitor al unui foarte dificil de realizat multilateralism politic. Proiectul cel mai important în acest sens a fost Asociația Internațională de Studii Sud-Est Europene (AIESEE), organizație aflată sub egida UNESCO. Ea aducea laolaltă specialiști în științele umaniste din peste 20 de țări. Congresele internaționale pe care le organiza la fiecare patru ani adunau în medie aproximativ 1000 de participanți din varii zone ale lumii.

Prelegerea va examina modul în care AIESEE a fost o rampă de lansare pentru istoricii sud-est europene pentru a obține un rol important într-un proiect global: inițiativa UNESCO de a redacta o „Istorie a umanității” (șapte volume – Acest proiect a fost inițiat la sfârșitul anilor șaptezeci și pe parcursul anilor optzeci. Oamenii de știință balcanici au deținut un rol semnificativ, de exemplu: arheologul român Emil Condurachi a co-editat volumul 3; istoricul turc Halil İnalcık volumul 5; istoricul Nikolai Todorov volumul 6. Alți cercetători din regiune au fost implicați în redactarea variilor subcapitole ale celor șapte volume.

Prezentarea va fi o analiză a unui exemplu regional, rolului și semnificației acestuia, în cadrul fenomenului larg de globalizare a științelor umaniste. Această discuție scoate în evidență complexitățile și specificitățile diplomației cultural în ultimul deceniu al Războiului Rece și impactul acestora asupra contextelor naționale din Europa de Sud-est.


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