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  • The Scale of the Nation in a Shrinking World
  • Joan Ramon Resina (bio)

The 1990s saw the rise of political issues that, although by no means new, generated a great deal of discourse based on a semantic rupture with the past. The need to inscribe political analysis with a feeling of historical acceleration was nowhere as patent as in George W. Bush's New World Order. Although the "New World Order" quickly gave way to the euphemism "globalization," it soon became obvious that political agendas would change considerably as would the terms of engagement with realities that had once seemed straightforward and now appeared riddled with theoretical problems.

Nationalism was salient among those realities. Although it had driven decolonization in the fifties and sixties and throughout the Vietnam era, it seemed to flare up roughly at the time when Bush pronounced the bipolar order dead. As the political map was being redrawn after the breakdown of the Soviet empire, other foci of political struggle caught the world's attention. National struggles in other regions were interpreted as collateral of that breakdown rather than long-standing symptoms of similar tensions at different scales. Once more, the European continent was caught in the incongruity of its historical processes. While Western Europe was cautiously advancing toward economic and political integration, Eastern Europe found itself returning from a "posthistorical" experiment in supranationalism to the "historical" horizon of polities being reconfigured according to such social tangibles as a common language and religion, a traditional relation to place, and shared identifying memories.

Until the 1990s the West smugly believed that it had consolidated state borders around seemingly homogeneous societies. Cultural integration was flaky in spots (Northern Ireland, the Basque Country, Corsica); those resistances, however, were looked on mostly as archaic irrelevances bound to disappear. But as nationalism began to haunt the cozy dream of a posthistorical balance of power, nonchalance gave way to a glut of intellectual exorcisms meant to conjure the evil that had caught at Europe's edges. In this new context, the Balkans represented for Europe, in Žižek's words, "the peculiar status of a ghost that haunts it." If the Balkans "are always somewhere else, a little bit more toward the southeast" [3], in the 1990s the danger of Balkanization seemed ubiquitous. At the time, a true Balkan hysteria rang out in the most self-satisfied European nations. In France and Spain, long-standing conflicts between center and periphery were recast in terms of the horror seen on CNN. Europe spatialized its fears, turning geographic distance into a metaphor for the racism directed against its internal others.

Europe's internal others did not consist only of immigrants from non-EU countries, for whom liberals always had a soft spot, but also of those peoples and territorial units capable and culpable of tearing admirable nations apart. It was in those territorial units, which had been incorporated but not assimilated in the course of nation-state building, that nationalism was "raising its ugly head." It was here that "'reflexive' Politically Correct racism" (Žižek) applied the Balkans metaphor, projecting every conceivable horror into the intentions of unsuspecting citizens. As Žižek observed at the time, "[t]he [End Page 46] Balkans constitute a place of exception with regard to which the tolerant multiculturalist is allowed to act out his/her repressed racism" [6]. This perverse acting out was all the more acceptable, inasmuch as the peoples subjected to the logic of displaced racism were after all white and developed, and thus free game for the tolerant multiculturalist, who could always bring forward less-developed regions as potential victims of the centrifugal region's egotism. When the Balkans war broke out in May of 1991, the first Western European reactions were predominantly pro-Serbian. Never mind that Slovenia and Croatia were pro-Western and democratic. Western intelligentsias accused them of pettiness and lack of solidarity and began to restrain their large-state bias only when Serbian annexationists directed their all-out war against Bosnian Muslims, who, although white and no less developed than their attackers, were, by virtue of their religion, a patent instance of otherness. Overnight politically correct racism swung from tolerance for...