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  • The Balkan Prospect: Identity, Culture, and Politics in Greece after 1989 by Vangelis Calotychos
  • Dušan I. Bjelić
Vangelis Calotychos . The Balkan Prospect: Identity, Culture, and Politics in Greece after 1989. New York : Palgrave Macmillan . 2013 . Pp. ix + 271 . Hardcover $95.00 .

The new book by Columbia University Professor Vangelis Calotychos, The Balkan Prospect: Identity, Culture, and Politics in Greece after 1989, marks a significant shift from Hellenic critical orthodoxy. Calotychos analyzes a transient moment in contemporary Greek society, when Greece went from being an exceptional nation in the southeastern part of Europe to discovering its repressed Balkan-ness. The general premise of the book is that since the end of the Cold War, the role of Greece in the global community has radically changed from being the “cradle of democracy” to becoming the political and economic appendix of the European Union. Greece’s geopolitical significance as the West’s extension into the Eastern bloc could be maintained only by virtue of the “crypto colonial” status of its classical heritage amid totalitarian regimes and with the price of repressing its Balkan “barbarity.” Ethnic conflict following the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 has led Western media and diplomacy to demonize the Balkans as “barbaric” and “dangerous” and has forced Greece paradoxically to return to the Balkans as the repressed site of its national trauma. The unique perspective taken by Calotychos in this book shows how, in a sort of autopoietic process, Greek literature and film reflect and alter reality at the same time. Rummaging into the so-called “cultural metabolism” of the changing Greek body, Calotychos locates the language of the repetitive deployment of the common metaphor (“the bridge”) used in Greek-Balkan folklore, contemporary literature, and films. This language points to the traumatic origin and to the return to the place of repression, namely Ottoman legacy, forced migration, ethnic wars, etc. In and through such politics of signification, Greece’s “discourse-geography” dissolves the very status of exceptional nation in the process, and, by returning to the Balkans, it discovers its forlorn self in the mirror of the Balkans’ ethnic Other.

To argue this innovative point, Calotychos embarks upon the complex and difficult task of opening up new vantage points for critical studies not only of Hellenism but also of Balkanism. His implicit critique of Hellenism is focused on its “repressed material”: the trauma of a nation causing its troubling modernity, something common to all Balkan nations. But Calotychos also casts his line of explicit criticism with regard to Balkan studies as formulated by historian Maria Todorova in Imagining the Balkans (1997), where she criticizes the postcolonial and cultural approach to the Balkans. Todorova objects to the latter on the ground that the Balkans were never colonized and were thus an inappropriate subject for postcolonial studies. Calotychos meets her objections with a well thought-out counter argument. Although Greece and the Balkans were never a colony, they were nonetheless instrumental, on the one hand, in [End Page 196] legitimizing the colonial ethics of racial superiority based on a Panhellenic ideology; on the other hand, in order for the Greeks to maintain the link to the West as its “cradle,” they had to subject themselves to self-orientalization, that is to identifying and repressing the “pathological” East (“Ottoman legacy”), which amounts to internalizing the external logic of colonialism into their national being. In this respect, colonialism becomes a colonialism without colony, a real expression of the internal split as Franz Fanon has shown us. Therefore, a postcolonial critique of Hellenism reveals at the same time the limitations of Todorova’s historicism which fails to account for the Greek experience. Furthermore, because Todorova regards Balkanism as a concrete historic legacy, in contrast to Orientalism—a construct based on fantasy—there is no place for the imagination to symbolically produce reality. Calotychos emphasizes precisely the importance of fantasy in the autopoietics of a national and transnational life and successfully demonstrates, through the analysis of maps, literature, film, immigration, borders, and architecture, the existing link between history and symbolic production. Only in this way can one explain the phenomenon of the “proper name” as semiotic and political fact. The Cartesian version of...


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pp. 196-199
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