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Balkan Sociological Forum: from the Utopia of a Project to the Project of an Eutopia

Third BSF International Conference

The Balkans in the New Millennium: From Balkanization to EUtopia

 

June 20-22nd, 2014, Tetovo & Skopje - Macedonia

 

Balkan Sociological Forum:

from the Utopia of a Project to the Project of an Eutopia

 

Svetla Koleva

Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge,

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Sofia, Bulgaria

 

Though in 2011 the idea of creating a Balkan Sociological Forum (BSF) may have seemed Utopic, three years later we can well say that the initiative of our Albanian colleagues was a visionary idea made real. The Balkan Sociological Forum is in fact the first institutionalized project of building an Association of Balkan Sociologists. It is an idea first suggested in the early 1990s by the then president of the Bulgarian Sociological Association, professor Peter-Emil Mitev, but which long remained unfulfilled due to the war in former Yugoslavia. An idea that, twenty years later, became a reality thanks to the efforts of Albanian sociologists, especially of Leke Sokoli. Thus, having understood the lessons of history and become aware of the inevitable need to work together in order to overcome our shortcomings and enhance our separate advantages, we,Balkan sociologists, created our own organization committed to promoting mutual knowledge and joint action in regional and international sociological activities.

After the first, founding conference of the Balkan Sociological Forum (held on November 21, 2011 in Tirana), the Bulgarian Sociological Association assumed the task of hosting the Second Annual Conference of the Balkan Sociological Forum (BSF). Thanks to the financial support of ISA and the organizational and technical assistance of the Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), of Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, and of the French Institute in Bulgaria, the conference Close but Unknown Neighbours: Balkan Sociological Perspectives was held in Sofia, November 9-10, 2012.

The Second conference of Balkan sociologists had several notable features:

First, more than 100 sociologists from Balkan countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Rumania) but also from Western Europe and North America (Belgium, Canada, Finland, France,) took part in the conference in Sofia. Thus the dialogue was not limited to researchers living amidst Balkan reality and experiencing the contradictory trends of development of this region. Colleagues coming from countries that are more or less distant from the Balkans, sociologists in some sense remote from the Balkans, also took part. Thuswewereabletoshowthat growing between us is the kind of intellectual closeness that Max Weber designated as “elective affinities”.

Second, being divided into six thematic sessions and five thematic panels, the conference set the beginning of the annual scientific conferences of the Balkan Sociological Forum. The topic of discussion were Balkan societies in their full complexity, in their interrelated development as parts of Europe, reflected in the mirror of their shared present-day trends, but also seen through specific manifestations of these trends in each country. The generally shared conviction was that this approach is the only way we can contribute to achieving better knowledge of one another, to overcoming our common shortcomings and enhancing our mutual advantages.

Third, theconferencebecame an important forum for discussing the perspectives of national sociologies in the Balkans and of the place and role of Balkan sociologies in international cooperation: this scope of discussion was attained thanks to the presence of important representatives of international associations and of research projects: RobertoCipriani, PresidentoftheESACouncilofNationalSociologicalAssociations, Marc-HenrySoulet, Vice-presidentoftheInternationalAssociationofFrench-speakingSociologists, GillesRouet, FrenchInstituteinBulgaria.

Fourth, the Balkan Conference in Sofia confirmed a regularity well-known to sociology. Institutions can create the needed conditions for self-fulfillment of individuals and groups only if they are inhabited by people with a clear vision as to that institution’s vocation and mission. On the other hand, individuals can be a driving force of institutions only if the latter recognize the individual and group efforts made for a meaningful development of that institutional activity.

Today we have the pleasure of being together again for the Third Annual Conference of BSF, for which I want to thank most warmly all our Macedonian colleagues from the Organization Committee, and foremost AliPajaziti, vicepresident of BSF and president of the Organizing and Scientific Committee of the Conference. The topic of the conference, The Balkans in the New Millennium: from Balkanization to EUtopia, provides the excellent opportunity of engaging in dialogue between ourselves and about ourselves, the opportunity of interpreting the past and its legacies, of diagnosing the present, in order for us to have a future free of divisive stereotypes and prejudices. I am convinced that each one of us, participants in this conference, will contribute to shedding light on different parts of the Balkan puzzle and thereby increasing our chances for peaceful life together, in mutual respect, in the Balkans.

The question we face at this Third Annual Conference of BSF is the question of our future as a free, voluntary association of social scientists who live in the Balkans and study Balkan societies, and who are presented by national and regional associations, by scientific research institutes, universities and university departments (as indicated in art. 1.1 of the BSF Statutes). Holding annual thematic conferences is unquestionably important and necessary for getting to know one another and for exchanging ideas and research practices, but is it enough in view of our aims? How can we make the fruits of our work viable and effectively productive in the name of the goals formulated in the Statutes? How do we build an educational and research network among social scientists from the Balkans, a network that functions effectively and all year round? In other words, how do we transform BSF from an “imaginary” place (a Utopia) into an “ideal” place (an Eutopia)[1] for debate and cooperation?

Let us boldly think about this. I believe there are two general conditions of real Balkan cooperation in the field of sociology and the social sciences. The first condition is related to overcoming both the stereotypes of Balkanization and the delusions of Europeanization in our own research work. In order for us to be worthy participants in the international sociological dialogue, to be part of the international community of sociologists, we must study the specificities of Balkan society, the national and regional particularities, by following one of the most important lessons of the classics of sociology, that every study is a complex and contradictory interaction between “capturing the problem” (which always appears as a local problem) and placing it in the proper theoretical perspective. Here I will take the liberty of citing a Bulgarian writer, literary critic and historian of literature, Tsvetan Stoyanov. In 1970, when he was thinking about “the ideal of a world culture” (a notion introduced by Goethe), Stoyanov pointed out three menaces to its construction, to its achievement as an intense dialogue and intense interaction between the different national literatures. I quote: “It seems to me that the ideal of a world literature, as we would like to see it, is apparently menaced from three directions. First of all is the bacchanalia of divisive forces, the eruptions of nationalism, racial hatred and conflicts across the planet, the opposition between spiteful nations and continents. This might lead to cultural isolationism not only between East and West but, in additional variations, to the atomization of the world, to the formation of mutually impenetrable monads that recognize cultural unity only within themselves. The second danger is the striving for cosmopolitan uniformity in literature, the complete rejection of the national in the name of the “universal”which leads to Alexandrian lifelessness and emptiness. The third menace is the transformation of “world literature” into a market, with market centres which dictate their own tastes and impose their own face on it. This might lead to loss of a great human dialogue and to the search of the exotic, of that which is attractive to the “tourist client”; a literature like a zoological garden, where curious species of animals are on display. This is particularly clearly felt by the small national literatures” (Culture as Communion).

I took the liberty of giving this long quote because the development of sociology as a dialogue between and of national sociologies is likewise threatened by the extreme variants of nationalism, universalism, and liberalism. Balkan cooperation can serve to protect us from these, if in our research efforts we display our own specificities in terms of local problematization (local assimilation) of the global processes, if we work towards decreasing the historically formed stereotypes, if we oppose the politically convenient national mythologies.

The second condition of the kind of cooperation that will be productive and useful for all is to develop BSF as an efficient organizational structure promoting real educational and research cooperation through schools for students, including PhD students, exchange of teachers and students, and joint research projects. But how can this be achieved, when BSF does not have a budget of its own, accumulated through membership fees and sponsorship, and does not have its own administrative resources (so far the location of the BSF secretariat has been the offices of the Albanian Institute of Sociology in Tirana; and the function of secretary has been fulfilled on a voluntary basis by Jonida Lamaj). There are several possibilities for surmounting these financial and administrative shortcomings with which BSF came into existence (and which were already part of its characteristics when it was established).

  • First, in the period between any two annual conferences of BSF, the president and vice president could be the initiators and coordinators of communication between collective members of the organization. This would involve more intense dialogue between the leadership of BSF and the leaderships of the national sociological associations. In this way information about events, research projects and educational initiatives in the separate countries would be disseminated across the whole academic community; and this is one of the major conditions for establishing contacts.
  • Second, until now the possibilities of international organizations - of the ISA, of the International Association of Francophone Sociologists, of the European Sociological Association – haven’t been used enough in order to assert BSF on the international stage and to intensify contacts between ourselves. Here all of us who take an active part in the managing structures of these associations and of the separate research committees owe it to BSF to serve as intermediaries between the Balkan sociologists and the international sociological community, and to work for the greater mutual informedness between these two communities.
  • Third, we have not sufficiently taken advantage of the possibilities supplied by EU educational programmes (Erasmus) and the international networks of PhD schools in order to expand the possibilities for training undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Balkan countries.
  • Fourth, in the age of Internet, the question of creating a BSF site is high on our agenda.

 

These, and certainly many other issues, are waiting to be debated in the three days of the Third BSF Conference. Again, I extend my thanks to the organizers for the opportunity they have provided for meeting and holding discussions. If it is true what Victor Hugo said, that “Utopia is the truth of the future”, and what Napoleon said, also about Utopia, that it “serves to create meaning”, then I am convinced that through our scholarly studies conducted with high professional standards, we will attain the meaning of living together and doing sociology together. Thus the idea of Balkan cooperation in the social sciences, though it may seem utopian in view of the region’s historical heritage and the present-day clichés, can become a motor for what Edouard Herriot called “a potential reality” (“une réalité en puissance”), providing we believe in the initial idea and work to build the futuretoday.

The best of success to the Third Conference of the Balkan Sociological Forum!

Let us wish ourselves fruitful work!

 



[1]The neologism “utopia” coming from the Greek où (not) and topos (place) is coined by Thomas More and used by him for the first time in his treatise Utopia, published in 1516. In the Basel’s edition of the treatise in 1518 More uses the word Eutopia where the Greek prefixeu means „good”, “well”. This explains the double meaning of the word “utopia”.

Academic Excellence and Social Relevance: Israeli Sociology in Universities and Beyond

Paper presented at the General assembly meeting of the Bulgarian sociological association on 7 December 2005.

Available for download in Bulgarian and English. (PDF format)

Писмо до медиите относно “Параметри на изследванията, препоръчителни за оповестяване при публикуване на социологически данни”

Документът е приет на заседание на УС на БСА на 22 май 2001 г.

Текстът на писмото е достъпен в PDF формат.

Писмо до социологическите агенции относно “Параметри на изследванията, препоръчителни за оповестяване при публикуване на социологически данни”

Документът е приет на заседание на УС на БСА на 22 май 2001 г.

Текстът на писмото е достъпен в PDF формат.