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Balkanalysis Events

The below event summaries  pertain to both conferences organized or co-organized by, and some outside events in which our correspondents have participated.

May 25-27, 2012: Romanian Association for Baltic and Nordic Studies and co-sponsor international conference in Târgoviste, Romania

From May 25-27, 2012 the annual conference of the Romanian Association for Baltic and Nordic Studies was held at Valahia University in Târgoviste, Romania. In cooperation with several European embassies, local authorities, academic and business sponsors, the Association and were able to bring together participants from 18 countries with common interests in Nordic Europe and the Balkans for an event entitled European Networks: the Balkans, Scandinavia and the Baltic World in a Time of Economic and Ideological Crisis.

The event was supported and attended by representatives from the embassies of Finland, Lithuania, Norway, Latvia and Estonia in Romania. The event, sponsored by Romania’s Niro Investment Group and supported by the Consiliul Naţional al Cercetării Ştiinţifice and Grigore Gafencu Research Center for the History of International Relations and Cultural Studies, as well as the Târgoviste Municipality, as well as media partners like the Cetatea de Scaun Printing House and Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

The conference was opened with comments from diplomatic representatives and event organizers. Among them, pictured here (from left to right) are: H.E. Ulla Väistö, Ambassador of Finland to Romania; Mr Ioan Donca, Honorary Consul of Latvia in Bucharest; Hilda Berit Eide, Deputy Head of Mission of the Norwegian Embassy in Romania; H.E. Anders Bengtcén, Ambassador of Sweden to Romania; and Director Chris Deliso.

With speeches and panels covering everything from the Balkans and Nordic Europe in Cold War historiography and socio-cultural studies to contemporary relationships in politics, minority and immigrant affairs, the wide-ranging event prompted plenty of stimulating discussion about the mutual interests of two European peripheries that are seldom mentioned in the same breath, despite their many common interests and points of overlap.

Along with academic and institutional participants from various European countries and Romania, the conference benefited from the presentations of four authors. Romanian correspondent Elena Dragomir (also, Secretary of the Association) provided a unique view into a little-known period of Cold War history with a presentation on Romanian-Finnish diplomatic relations in the early 1960s. A theoretical and practical overview of the evolution of Balkan organized crime over the past two decades, and its close relationship with Scandinavia, was provided by Italian correspondent Matteo Albertini. correspondent and Romanian Association for Baltic and Nordic Studies Secretary Elena Dragomir speaks during her presentation at the May 25-27 conference.

Meanwhile, Turkish contributor and professor at Izmir University of Economics, Efe Biresselioglu, gave a comprehensive presentation on the importance of the Balkans as an energy corridor during a time of EU energy diversification strategies, the possible pipeline projects, and the important role of Turkey in this.

Finally, Director Chris Deliso spoke on the topic of contemporary extremism as an intelligence problem, suggesting ways in which complex and often misunderstood issues of extremism, terrorism and politically-related violence might be approached through depth analysis of local realities.

The conference enjoyed coverage from local and international Romanian media, such as Radio Romania International (RRI), which aired a one-hour special on the event soon after, including an interview with Association president Professor Silviu Miloiu. Italian correspondent Matteo Albertini, delivering his presentation on the development of Balkan organized crime in Scandinavia.

The first part of an interview with Director Chris Deliso was aired on the RRI’s Report of the Day program, while a longer segment appeared later on the RRI show, “Partners in a Changing World.”

In addition, the Romanian National Radio broadcast interviews and data about the conference on June 5.

Additional media coverage was provided by the Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest,  the Finnish Embassy, and Romanian media like Damboviteanul and the Jurnal de Dambovita. thanks all its partners, sponsors, speakers and guests for helping to make this an exceptional event, and especially our hosts in Romania for ensuring that this long-planned event went smoothly.

March 17-19, 2012: Director Chris Deliso participates in DAGGRE Workshop, Fairfax, VA

From 17-19 March, 2012, Director Chris Deliso participated in the DAGGRE Decision Analysis and Training Workshop at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, speaking on a panel on event forecasting tactics together with GΜU Associate Professor of Economics Robin Hanson, David Pennock, Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo, and entrepreneur Kathy Spratt of Green Tiger.

The three-day event, which brought together practitioners, academic researchers and students of intelligence studies, was part of the general DAGGRE project (click for more info), supported by GMU and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Identity in the Era of Globalization and Europeanization, SS Cyril & Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia (November 4, 2011)

On November 3-4, 2011, an international academic conference on the subject of identity (chiefly illustrated by examples having to do with the Balkans) took place at the SS Cyril & Methodius University in Skopje. The event featured speakers from numerous Balkan and several other European countries, representing a rich variety of backgrounds including sociologists, anthropologists, political science and diplomatic affairs experts, historians, law professors and practitioners in the cultural and political realms.

The conference, organized by the Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research at Macedonia’s state university, was opened with speeches from university Rector Velimir Stojkovski and Jorde Jakimovski, director of the Institute. correspondent Maria-Antoaneta Neag discussed Romania's image - and realities - at the Skopje conference.

On the second day of the event, correspondent in Brussels Maria-Antoaneta Neag delivered a succinct yet thought-provoking presentation regarding the case of Romania, and perceptions of it by other Europeans. While chronic negative perceptions of this relatively new EU state linger, and awareness seems to be limited in outsiders’ popular imagination to images of Dracula, Communism and gymnastics, it was argued that outside observers and potential visitors and investors would benefit from a more nuanced and complete understanding of Romania today, and what it offers.

In her speech, Maria emphasized the largely forgotten cultural connections that were in place between Romania and outside countries such as France and Germany, and the numerous achievements made by Romania in the arts and sciences- achievements which, however, continue to be neglected.

At the same time, while some Romanians have sought to depict Romania as a country set apart from the Balkans, Maria also pointed to the numerous similarities between Romania and other Balkan countries in terms of culture, food and drink, religion and more in pointing out that Romania does share a common home in the Balkans and the European Union.

The Balkans After: Inaugural Lectures, University of Bologna, Italy (October 5, 2011)

On October 5, 2011 Director Chris Deliso and Northern Italy Correspondent Matteo Albertini gave public presentations during the inaugural lecture series of The Balkans After, a cycle of events being held by the University of Bologna over the coming months.

The October 5th event included several other speakers from the worlds of academia, media and the non-governmental sector in Italy. As with similar lectures in the series to come, it was organized with the university’s specialist TRAME Center (Center for Research on Memory and Cultural Traumas), and held in the historic buildings of the Superior School of Humanities of the University of Bologna. Focusing on the political, economic and socio-cultural transformation in the region, The Balkans After series aims to take a look back over the past 20 years of conflict and transition since the collapse of the Yugoslav Federation and end of Communism in Eastern Europe.

For the inaugural event of October 5th the main theme of discussion was the past and present role of Islam in the Balkans, with consideration to its development and consequences for the future, concerning in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

First, the conference was opened and speakers were introduced by Professor Patrizia Violi, President of TRAME Research Center. Pointing out the long tradition of the University of Bologna in the study of the Adriatic and Balkan area, Professor Viole noted the many different areas of research that it has conducted, from political and economical analysis to closer anthropological, sociological and semiotic studies.

Acknowledging this scope of activity and its relevance to the present subject, the next speaker, Dr Francesco Mazzucchelli of the TRAME Center, took the floor stressing the importance of inter-disciplinary dialogue between social sciences in analyzing such complex phenomena. Referring to his major publication (the book Urbicidio il senso dei luoghi tra distruzioni e ricostruzioni nella ex Jugoslavia, Bononia University Press, 2010), Dr Mazzucchelli underlined that public memory, and therefore culture and identity, are shaped by the traces that past history, events and people left in the frame in which individuals live; traces that can be tracked by the research in both physical objects and narratives.

In his lecture, Dr Mazzucchelli isolated the urban as representative of a meaningful frame to concentrate on, because marks, scars and ruins left by war on urban areas show a symbolic valency for people living near them, and are susceptible to acquiring different meanings in different groups. Thus the following reconstruction became a moment of re-writing the landscape and the very memory of the town itself- a memory that can be manipulated to serve specific political purposes and can influence the identity claimed by people in everyday life.

Following this presentation, Dr Matteo Albertini, Correspondent in Northern Italy, discussed the role that these semiotic considerations could play in strategic and geopolitical studies, identifying at least three levels. The first, the linguistic one, refers to the fact that any transformation, evolution or manipulation developed into a society brings with itself a parallel transformation in the way this events are described and narrated by those who live in that society. A key reference made here by Dr Albertini was to the sociological observations of the Balkans made by contributor Lidija Jularic, about the popular use of the Bosnian word “papak” by residents of Sarajevo.

The second level of inquiry, the ideological one, underlines how ideologies are structured into society by the use of languages, which make them appear to be the only reliable interpretation of the society. In this way, some rules and traditions can appear “natural” or “historical” even when they are consequence of a construction – be it conscious or not.

The third level specified by Dr Albertini refers to the construction of a collective identity, that is to say, on the relations between these ideologies and everyday life. One of the typical dynamics of these processes is, for instance, the building of “places of memory,” such as cemeteries, public buildings, memorials, that binds itself with the personal biographies of new citizens.

Taken together, these three levels indicate that semiotics can help researchers investigating the role Islam plays in the contemporary Balkans, adopting its theoretical and methodological tools to de-construct truths, stereotypes and fig-leaf myths (as they are called by Branimir Anzulovic, 2008) which surround these area. In fact, to realize and re-elaborate the contents of these semiotic objects – memories, spaces, identities – represent the task of contemporary social sciences.

Dr Albertini’s lecture served as an introduction to that of the first keynote speaker, Director Chris Deliso, who gave a more practical assessment of the general features of Balkan Muslim groups and societies in the present and recent past.

Citing examples of various internal rivalries and fluid alliances old and new within specific local Muslim societies, Mr Deliso emphasized the need to avoid over-generalizations regarding Islamic groups in the region. He affirmed that from his practical experience in the field, the previous speakers’ arguments about the usefulness of semiotics in analyzing Islamic trends seemed accurate, specifying several examples of linguistic usage by and about the Muslims themselves that reaffirm the complexity of the issue and the need for careful analysis of complex local realities within their specific context. Mr Deliso concluded with considerations for the future and questions outstanding, including the role and orientation of the Balkan Muslim diaspora, the security needs of the US, EU and other states, and the role of influential outside actors like Turkey.

The following and final keynote speaker was Dr Mauro Cereghini, the former director of the most important Italian website covering the Balkans, the Osservatorio sui Balcani. Dr Cereghini is also president of the non-governmental association “Tavolo Trentino con il Kosovo.” In his lecture, Dr Cereghini presented his thoughts on the subject at hand developed from working for five years as a cooperation manager in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to him, the entire Islamic phenomenon in the Balkans must be viewed within the more general context of the strengthening of traditional and religious identities in every former Yugoslav state: in fact, the remarks about the growth and the expansion of Islam are in some measure valid also for Catholicism and Orthodoxy (not to mention sects and lesser churches).

For Dr Cereghini, the development of Balkan Islam can be understood in terms of both cause and effect of the reinforcement-hardening of these collective identities- a legacy of the wars, and of the aggressive nationalisms that led to them. He underlined that the growth of Islam in the Balkan must be interpreted taking into account the essential absence of a moral authority and a public common structure- an environment which characterizes the post-communist and post-war period in Bosnia and Kosovo. Contemporary local powers based on a mixture of identity and force, which can be otherwise defined as “general consent” and “disposal of weapons,” and intertwine in legitimizing the existing structures of power.

Dr Cereghini’s conclusions focused on a possible outcome, recognizing that in most cases identities play an outward role in the Balkans, and do not interfere with the underground mafia and criminal system that regulates local economies and is a de facto influence on official political systems. Thus tracking the way in which these identities can be constructed to serve an ideology or a political purpose shows once more the opportunity of a multidisciplinary approach to this subject.

Following the presentations by the panel, a lengthy open discussion ensued with guests and participants, moderated by Professor Federico Montanari, author of Linguaggi della Guerra (Meltemi, 2004). This discussion drew some general conclusions and offered some perspectives about the future, referring to the current unfolding context of events including the so-called Arab Spring, the rise of Turkey, and the intriguing re-emergence of nationalism and ethnicization processes similar to what Yugoslavia experienced 20 years ago, in other European countries. Great political and social power has been acquired by secessionist and nationalist parties like the Northern League in Italy, the Scottish National Party in the UK, and parties in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Holland, etc.

Social scientists and field researchers are thus obligated to focus on the meaning of this movement (one partially sparked by popular perceptions of Islam) and its possible consequences.  The discussion, and event, closed with the reminder that war in Yugoslavia appeared an unlikely scenario in the 1980s, and that one of the only people to have noted this possibility in advance was a social scientist studying divergences in cultural practices and affiliations in the federation.

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