CEOL
Five flavours of brain -- Balkan intellectuals

By Židas Daskalovski

February 10, 2000


Intellectuals in the Balkans, an infamous region that has produced such great thinkers as Mircea Eliade, Julia Kristeva, and Slavoj Žižek, have had difficult times coping with the democratization process. Ten years after the changes of the political regime five categories of intellectuals are now discernible in the Balkans: émigrés, businessman, politicians, technocrats, and influentials.

The number of Balkan intellectuals who have emigrated to universities, think tanks, and research institutions throughout the world and especially in the West, is huge. Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova, the author of the acclaimed book Imagining the Balkans is at the University of Florida, the well- known Serbian writer Vladimir Arsenijević is in Mexico, while the prominent Macedonian playwright Goran Stefanovski teaches in the UK. Romanians Vladimir Tismaneanu and Sorin Antohi, Albanian Ismail Kadare and Croatian Dubravka Ugresić, also fall in this category.

This group of intellectuals has by means of new published books, interviews, and essays, essentially remained in contact with its home land. Many of these exiles, stay committed to the intellectual ideal of critical thinking about society and life in general and the Balkans in particular, much unlike the second group of intellectuals who have made money their primary goal.

Intellectual businessmen abound in the Balkans- but with the changes in the system they now utilize their knowledge for profit. After all, why not capitalize on the one thing they have in disposal- their intelligence. Through establishing new enterprises or working for international corporations these intellectuals have pretty much isolated themselves. In struggling economies such as the Balkan ones, where choice is limited, this is not to be dreaded.

The third group of Balkan intellectuals has entered politics. Serbia gives some examples of this endeavor: the writers Dobrica Cosić,and Vuk Drašković, the lawyers Vojislav Koštunica and Kosta Cavoski and the economist Dragoslav Avramović, have all entered high level Yugoslav politics. Sadly enough, the ideology of the nationalist wing within the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, best exemplified by Cosić, has been one of the major vehicles behind Slobodan Milošević's break up of Federal Yugoslavia and the subsequent genocidal policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The influentials

Other countries have witnessed the same process too- nowadays Macedonia is led by a writer, long time Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova is a Sorbonne graduate, while the Bulgarian president is a lawyer by profession. In contrast to the intelligentsia engaged in politics, the Balkan intellectuals from the fourth group have remained focused on their own professions, hence the label technocrats. Given the growing difficulty of reaching wider audiences, these intellectuals have been orientated to their professional positions and careers. Those however, who manage to influence the public are the influentials, a tiny group of intellectuals who have the means and the wits to speak open up their thoughts to the ordinary citizens.

The political commentators of the influential Serbian weekly Vreme, the editors of the Macedonian bi-monthly Forum, the political scientists of Center for Liberal and Strategic Studies from Sofia, the journalists of the Kosova daily Koha Ditore as well as some of the leaders of the various human rights organizations in the Balkans, like Nataša Kandić in Serbia or Krasimir K'ncev in Bulgaria, belong to this group. These are the lucky bunch of Balkan intellectuals, for not only they are able to exercise their intellectual potentials, but, moreover they are able to do so effectively.

These intellectuals have not only established links with Western institutions but have also largely profited from their support. The network of George Soros' Open Society Foundations has also assisted the intellectuals from this group, primarily financially. It is difficult to tell which intellectuals fare best, although one might argue that only the last group represents the true intellectuals. Given the circumstances in which the region found itself in the 1990s this is a difficult conclusion to support.




Original article