pdf Download PDF

Reviewed by
Andreas Lyberatos (Ανδρέας Λυμπεράτος), editor, Τα Βαλκάνια. Εκσυγχρονισμός, ταυ-τότητες, ιδέες. Συλλογή κειμένων προς τιμήν της καθηγήτριας Νάντιας Ντάνοβα. Heraklion: Panepistimiakes Ekdoseis Kritis. Institouto Mesogeiakon Spoudon—ITE. 2014. Pp. xxxvi + 884. Cloth €35.

Τα Βαλκάνια: Eκσυγχρονισμός, ταυτότητες, ιδέες (The Balkans: Modernization, Identities, Ideas), a collection of 36 contributions examining various aspects of modern and contemporary history of the Balkans, is published as a tribute to Professor Nadia Danova, the prominent Bulgarian scholar whose research career—for almost half a century—has focused on the modern Balkans, with particular interest in the intertwined Greek and Bulgarian history, society, and culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The book is a translation of a prior Bulgarian edition, which was edited by Yura Konstantinova et al. and published by the Institute for Balkan Studies and Center of Thracology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in 2011. A year earlier, at its inception, the volume was envisioned to be published in both Bulgaria and Greece, and the Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Crete undertook that task. The collection includes chapters by Bulgarian, Greek, and other European scholars, most of them with significant contributions to the field of Balkan studies. In the Greek edition, a new introduction and a few new chapters are added, and, according to the Greek editor Andreas Lyberatos, the volume can be considered as a “fraternal” but not totally identical book (xvi). The contributions are arranged in three broad sections: Modernization and Education; Mentalities and Identities; and History of Ideas.

As Lyberatos has noted, Professor Danova occupies a significant and crucial role in Balkan historiography and acted as a “vital conduit” (syndetikos krikos, xi) between the Bulgarian and Greek academic communities. Her research lies within a tradition of Bulgarian scholars who tried to write about Bulgarian-Greek relations in a balanced way. Keeping in mind that both the Greek and Bulgarian historiographies developed simultaneously with their respective nation-state building, history played (and unfortunately still does play) a major ideological role. Danova was one of the researchers who during the Cold War and afterwards engaged in challenging the mutual distrust and in deconstructing the negative stereotypes by presenting a “world of Bulgarian-Greek contacts that was more complex and more noble” than previously assumed (xv). It is the idea of academic dialogue that affirms the professional and rejects the ideological use of history that has motivated the editors and contributors of this collection.

The first part, “Modernization and Education,” encompasses 11 contributions. Four chapters deal with the socio-economic aspects of modernization ranging from the impact of the incorporation of the Central Balkans into the world economy on local trade and crafts (Svetla Ianeva) to the status of the Greek merchants as a demographic minority in eighteenth-century Rumelia, the Balkan part of the Ottoman Empire, also known as “Turkey-in-Europe” (Svetlana Ivanova). The other two chapters analyze the [End Page 196] transition from slavery (and its ambiguous semantics) to wage labor (Christos Hadziiosif) and the commercial correspondence of K.G. Foteinof, a nineteenth-century Bulgarian merchant who lived mostly in Smyrna (Evelina Razhdavichka-Kiessling). Other contributions examine the world of books, such as Dimitrios Darvaris’s private library as evidence of rationalist learning (Vaso Seirinidou); conceptualizations of public health in three nineteenth-century Greek medical manuals (Anna Matthaiou and Popi Polemi); and censorship of the Ottoman press (Krasimira Daskalova). A third group of texts is focused on educational institutions and fashioning student identity, such as at Robert College (Orlin Sabev) and the Paris School of Architecture (Aleksandar Kostov), as well as on asymmetrical negotiations expressed in the correspondence between young offenders and their mentors in postwar Thessaloniki (Efi Avdela). Lyberatos’s contribution explores the emergence and dissemination of mechanical clocks and modern perception of time as a form of cultural transfer and a marker of sociocultural transformations that occurred among both Muslims and non-Muslims (138).

The second section, “Mentalities and Identities,” comprises 14 chapters, many of which deal with issues of alterity from a variety of perspectives: from theoretical tensions between Orientalism, Occidentalism, Balkanism, and nationalism (Nikolay Aretov) to “sexialization” of Islam in three Bulgarian texts (Olga Todorova), to the Greek “surprise” (366) at the incipient Bulgarian nationalist activities (Alexis Politis), to contemporary Greek perceptions of Bulgarians (as expressed by Sotiris Walden), to ethnic and nationalist stereotypes in lexicographic texts (Hagen Fleischer). A second group of chapters fleshes out various layers of nationalism, including Raymond Detrez’s analysis of groups in-between—the Gudilas—in Plovdiv/Philippoupolis; Rumen Avramov’s discussion of the Bulgarian state’s anti-Semitic policy during World War II; Ekaterina Nikova’s comparison of postwar violence in Greece and Bulgaria; and Rumiana Preshlenova’s study on nationalist expressions among the Bulgarian minority students in Vienna in the 1890s. A third set of contributions deals with literary works and their perceptions and representations, with Katerina Krousheva analyzing Goethe’s literary output and Bart Soethaert exploring the works of Michel Fais. Still others interpret other forms of cultural production, such as sixteenth-century Italian geographical texts (Penka Danova), the myth of Greek destruction of Bulgarian books (Keta Mircheva), and the clergy’s financial contributions to education (Maria Litina).

The third and last part, “History of Ideas,” contains 11 contributions. The theme of nationalism is pivotal again and entails a range of issues—from a typology of revolutionary acts in the longue durée (Olga Katsiardi-Hering) to interpreting Ion Dragoumis’s nationalist ideals, within the context of an anti-Enlightenment tradition as a form of alternative modernity versus his political actions (Vasilis Maragkos), to political propaganda during the Balkan Wars (Yura Konstantinova), to expressions of patriotism and nationalism in recent Greek discourses (Yanis Yanoulopoulos), to conceptualization of the Greek nation and its borders by I.P. Kokonis in the late 1820s (Spyros Karavas). Other chapters analyze issues of religion, such as the cathedral in Sofia (Rossitsa Gradeva) or anticlericalism in fiction (Efstratia Oktapoda). Still other texts explore the ideological use of historical facts about the medieval Bulgarian ruler Khan Tervel in chronicles, plays, poems, and newspapers (Raia Zaimova), Bulgarian discourses about medieval history (Albena Khranova), biography as a genre and its role in the construction of the Bulgarian national narrative (Irina Dobreva), and Russian [End Page 197] perceptions of Constantinople (Tsarigrad, as it was known in Russia) and its crucial position within the nineteenth-century Russian political agenda (Tina Georgieva).

Although the chapters are varied in both approach and theme, certain emphases recur. For example, most chapters destabilize or challenge entrenched clichés and nationalist stereotypes in both Bulgarian and Greek historiographies. To some extent, the volume’s content mirrors Nadia Danova’s own contributions to the fields of intellectual and political history, even though recently she expanded her research to include socioeconomic themes (which issues some of the chapters do likewise explore). And yet within this versatility and high productivity, Danova is one of the scholars who have researched Greek-Bulgarian relations beyond antagonisms, exploring cultural transfers and daily social practices. She also heralded studies on the image/perception of the Other, or so-called imagology, in Bulgarian historiography, another topic that figures prominently in this collection. Many chapters in this volume likewise escape the narrow nationalist framework and interpret historical past within broader Ottoman and European contexts.

This collection is an informative and valuable contribution to the study of cultural and national identities, modernization, and sociopolitical and economic transformations of the Ottoman Balkans, the post-Ottoman nation-states, and the post-Cold War conditions. By promoting academic dialogue, many authors not only address issues considered until recently inconvenient by their respective national historiographies but also offer critical interpretations to some sanitized renditions of the recent past. The book has a wider significance for the entangled history of Southeast Europe, Ottoman studies, and nationalism and thus would be of interest to students and researchers in those interdisciplinary fields.

Evguenia Davidova
Portland State University
Evguenia Davidova

Evguenia Davidova is Associate Professor in the Department of International and Global Studies at Portland State University. Her research interests focus on the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman Balkans: commerce, nationalism, travel, and medical practices. Davidova is the author of Balkan Transitions to Modernity and Nation-States. Through the Eyes of Three Generations of Merchants (1780s–1890s) (Brill, 2013) and the editor of Wealth in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Balkans: A Socio-Economic History (I.B. Tauris, 2016).


Konstantinova, Yura, Alexander Kostov, Ekaterina Nikova, Raja Zaimova, and Rositsa Gradeva, eds. 2011. Balkanite, modernizatsia, identichnosti, idei. Sbornik v chest na Prof. Nadia Danova. Sofia: Institut za Balkanistika s Tsentar po Trakologia.