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Media Representations of Homosexuality
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The Pragmatics of Legitimation

Tanja Petrović
A long way home
Representations of the Western Balkans in Political and Media Discourses

eBook (1,01 MB, pdf)

"The so-called unification of Europe appears to be carried out with little thought," wrote Jelica Šumič Riha and Tomaž Mastnak in 1993 in an introduction to the special issue of the Filozofski vestnik journal of philosophy entitled Questioning Europe. Later in the text they draw attention to the fact that "it is not for the first time that Europe is uniting, yet this has never been marked by such a poverty of ideas and lack of reflection" (Mastnak and Šumič-Riha 1993, 7). At that time, their critical attitude towards Europe was primarily determined by the bloody events in former Yugoslavia, which Europe had failed to prevent, among other things by not supporting efforts to democratize Yugoslavia. As one western diplomat who dedicated part of his career to the Balkans stated, "The Europe in Maastricht did not hear calls for help from the Europe in Sarajevo" (Gentilini 2007, 51). During the years that followed, it was primarily academics who took a critical attitude towards certain practices of EU institutions and EU-related discourses created on the national and supra-national levels (cf., e.g. Burgess 1997, Mastnak 1998, Zielonka (ed.) 2002, Velikonja 2005, Armstrong and Anderson (eds.) 2007 etc.). By contrast, the two most "vociferous" EU-related discourses – these are political and media discourses – continue to demonstrate a serious lack of reflection.

In the introductory text mentioned above Mastnak and Šumič-Riha go on to explain Slovenia's position in relation to Europe: "Up until three years ago, we were 'outside' because we lived in a communist country. In Slovenia, as in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic States, asserting that we were Europeans meant criticizing communism and the imperial structures imposed on us. We accepted the European identity game only to realise that, in the end, we could only lose. When communism collapsed, we continued to be excluded from the Europe in which we live culturally, politically, economically, historically. Europe had needed communism more than we did; and when we freed ourselves from it Europe kept us in the position of the Other, only the reasons for that have changed: ideological and political considerations are being succeeded by racial ones" (Mastnak and Šumič-Riha 1993, 7–8).

Slightly more than a decade after this text was published, on May 1, 2004, Slovenia became the first (and for the time being the only) former Yugoslav republic to join the EU. By joining the large European family, it finally escaped the Balkan curse, as a journalist for the Spanish daily El Pais wrote (quoted in Velikonja 2005, 8), and, according to dominant explanations by Slovenian and foreign politicians, returned home, to the company of western European nations, to where it has always belonged, by virtue of culture, history and civilization.

Yet the fact is that neither its break with the Balkan and Yugoslav past nor its return home were final or unequivocal, in much the same way that the end of communism and accession to the EU of East European, Balkan and former socialist countries did not completely eradicate the dominant patterns of exclusion. What their accession did enable, though, was the reconfiguration of power relations and roles, and with it the creation of a new basis for exclusion. Today, when, ideologically, Europe as a notion or idea has been almost completely equated with the EU, membership in the EU is the main instrument of legitimization in the processes mentioned above: those that are already within the EU can include or exclude, while those that still strive for membership, who are on their way to Europe, or those who do not have the option of membership at all (the EU's neighbors), are excluded. Mitja Velikonja called this discursive practice in which the notions of Europe and European are equated with the EU "the 'original sin' of the new Eurocentrism (...) Under the pretence of simplification, abbreviation or eloquence (euloquence?), the two terms are simply equated – the political and economic unit appropriates the geographical and historical name of the entire continent" (Velikonja 2005, 17). In this, "the very process of accession to the EU actually shows how non-European countries may be transformed into European ones. 'Eusurpation' of the terms Europe and Europeanism, particularly during the period of entry, or the period of accession (depending on the position of the speaker, i.e. whether he/she comes from a future or existing member state), divides the European countries that geographically belong to Europe into those that are European in the political and economic sense (i.e. members of the EU) and those that are not European" (Ibid., 17-18). For the Balkan countries, the process of accession to the EU involves radical and manifold changes within various areas of social and political life and the economy: "The preparation for simultaneous entry into the single market and the Schengen system has necessitated in Central and Eastern Europe sweeping changes to monetary policy, fiscal arrangements, capital flows, immigration controls and political and institutional frameworks, including the fulfillment of a number of pre-accession criteria that even the current members are not expected to meet" (Hammond 2006, 13–14; cf. Zielonka 2002, 8). On the other hand, the clear-cut division into EU members and non-members created a situation in which striving for EU membership is a prerequisite for the economic development of aspiring countries and their climb up the European hierarchy.

What is the nature of discourses emerging in this context, and what significance does this context have for both those who shape such discourses and those who are their subject? What can these discourses tell us about the character of contemporary Europe? These are some of the questions I raise in this study.

In trying to answer these questions, I will rely on Foucault's understanding of discourse and his conceptualization of discourse analysis as "the understanding of rules and regularities in the creation/dispersal of objects, subjects, styles, concepts and strategic fields" (Melegh 2006, 21; Foucault 1972). Like Velikonja (2005, 15), I want to draw readers' attention to the fact that "a discursive structure is not only a 'cognitive' or 'contemplative' entity but an articulation practice that establishes and organizes social relations" (Laclau and Mouffe 1987, 81). Accordingly, it will sometimes be necessary to look at certain social practices that bear obvious analogies with discourses analyzed in this study, for example, economic relations, immigration control, the treatment of migrant workers from the Western Balkan countries etc.

Foucault teaches us that no discourse is completely unrelated to other discourses already articulated and shaped through history. Only in relation to these past discourses is it possible to understand the meaning of a particular discourse, or discursive formation. Accordingly, I will try to relate the discourse analyzed here to discourses with which it "communicates," both diachronously and synchronously.

For Foucault, the main subject of discursive analysis is not the same as that of linguistic analysis, i.e. the rules in accordance with which a particular statement has been made and rules in accordance with which other similar statements could be made; instead, he is concerned with "how is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?" (Foucault 1972, 27). In this study, I explore the circumstances that made possible certain kinds of statements, which are illustrated with the four examples below.

  1. Serbia has to choose between its nationalist past and a European future (Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Enlargement, Delo, February 10, 2006).

    1. When presenting priorities during Portugal's presidency of the EU, Álvaro Mendonça e Moura, Portugal's Permanent Representative to the European Union, stated that because of its colonial past, Portugal's focus in foreign policy will be cooperation with Africa, and human rights will be in the foreground. 'We cannot simply chase away from the table the countries that violate human rights with which we sit at the same table' he said. (24ur.com, June 11, 2007).
    2. The Financial Times quoted Slovenian pm Janez Janša saying that in the region [the Western Balkans] Slovenia has interests that are similar to Portugal's interests in Africa (Mladina, August 4, 2007).
  2. Austria's attitude to Slovenia is similar to Slovenia's attitude to Southeastern Europe (the Slovenian politician and MEP, Jelko Kacin, Mladina, March 14, 2004).
The first statement exemplifies discourse that establishes an explicit contrast between "non-Europe" and Europe based on the attitude to nationalism. In this discourse, Europe appears as an area liberated from nationalism and other residues from the past. The accession to the EU of the Western Balkan countries is in this context presented as a choice between the past and the future. In problematizing this type of discourse, I will deconstruct the perception of nationalism as a non-European phenomenon that is in some way inherent to the Balkan countries, and analyze the dynamics of the relationship between the national and the European, or the supra-national, within the discourse through which identity on the level of the EU is being articulated.

Statements 2a and 2b point to a revival of former (colonial) discursive patterns within the EU context, and the new situation arising from EU membership in which even countries whose history is not marked by colonial expansion can articulate (post)colonial discourses. Accordingly, the relationship between contemporary discourses and historical legacies will be one of the main subjects of my analysis. The statement under 3. also takes over certain patterns rooted in history, except that in this case it is a regional context where several countries share the same historical legacies and use these to negotiate their national interests within the EU.

I will seek answers to these questions primarily within political discourse communicated through the Slovenian mass media. Since I am interested in content produced by leading politicians from the EU and its member states and communicated to citizens through the media, my analysis does not include the official documents of the EU or its political bodies. Occasionally, I will look into the media in neighboring Austria and the countries of the Western Balkans. My perception of discourse about the Other, which in this case is the Western Balkan countries, fully corresponds to the perception of Otherness within contemporary humanities and social studies, where it is understood as a way of defining the self and shaping the image about the self by contrasting it with the Other. Accordingly, this book should be understood as (yet another) book about Europe and its present identity quandary, rather than a book about what has come to be called the Western Balkans in the political discourse of today. Most of the material for this analysis comes from various Slovenian sources, because it seems to me that Slovenian public discourse is a "mirror" that well reflects the contemporary processes and identity strategies within a united Europe. It is possible to say that Slovenia is a point of intersection for the majority of factors that play an important role in Europe's shaping of its (self-)image vis-a-vis the Western Balkans. Slovenia is one of the former republics of Yugoslavia, and so far the only one that has became an EU member. It is a former socialist country, as are all the countries of the Western Balkans; it has direct geographical contact with the Western Balkans, and it was the first country among the "new members" (and the first among the former socialist countries) to hold the EU presidency. Slovenia is also a Mediterranean country, which is another important aspect which plays a part in the ideological construction of European neighborhood and its role of the Other in relation to European identity. Accordingly, it is possible to expect that political statements in Slovenia encompass a whole spectrum of ideological mechanisms that are characteristic of discourses of today's Europe, reflecting its search for identity based on lines of demarcation with respect to the Other. An interesting feature of this process is that Slovenia is simultaneously a protagonist and a subject of demarcation – it is a protagonist by virtue of its membership in the EU, and a subject by virtue of its socialist past and its having been part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and Yugoslavia.

Most of the material used in this analysis was collected between November 2005 and July 2008 (after the conclusion of Slovenia's EU presidency); the statements dating from the period after July 2008 are included primarily to show unequivocal continuity in dominant discourses regardless of political changes. The majority of statements quoted here are taken from the print and digital media, with the name of the speaker and the date of publication also provided. Since in most cases I cite statements by leading politicians, the sources provided should be taken as an illustration only, because the same statements were widely quoted in other print and digital media in Slovenia, EU member states, or the countries of the Western Balkans.