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Borderlands, Cross-Cultural Exchange and Revenge in the Medieval and Early Modern Balkans: Roots of Present Regional Conflicts or Merely a Historical Case-Study?

Borderlands, Cross-Cultural Exchange and Revenge in the Medieval and Early Modern Balkans: Roots of Present Regional Conflicts or Merely a Historical Case-Study?


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Borderlands, Cross-Cultural Exchange and Revenge in the Medieval and Early Modern Balkans: Roots of Present Regional Conflicts or Merely a Historical Case-Study?

By Klemen Pust

Paper given at Revenge: A Persons Project, 3rd Global Conference, at Mansfield College, Oxford (2012)

Abstract: The Medieval and Early Modern Balkans was an area of passage, of transition, of multiple borders. We could claim that the entire region was one huge borderland, a war zone or, better put, a buffer zone between areas of interest of various empires, such as the Habsburg lands, Hungarian kingdom, Venetian Republic and, last but not least, the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, this territory was a meeting place of several opposing cultural, political and confessional entities. Therefore, it represents a privileged area for the research of border history and coexistence, intercultural exchange, religious dialogue and intertwining of different civilizational patterns, as well as of specific local contexts, that nevertheless exercise a global meaning. In such a context the research on revenge in the Medieval and Early Modern Balkans rises to a new and to a large extent fundamental importance, although the reasons, consequences and forms of revenge have thus far not yet received appropriate research attention. Namely, revenge was arguably one of the most important factors of social and cultural interactions within and across the Balkan borders, while its ‘legitimacy’ was undisputed. Both lay and Church authorities have manipulated with individual and collective forms of revenge to fit their own purposes, thus granting it official approval. Acts of revenge could be carried across generations, considering the local institution of blood feud (a form of ‘vendetta’), forcing the relatives of a slain individual to escape humiliation and shame by embarking on a never-ending journey of vengeance and retaliation. However, there were also episodes of mercy, forgiveness and pardon, as was the case with the specific inter-personal, cross-cultural, often even cross-religious social mechanism of blood-brotherhood. Could one argue that the same mentality has survived until the present and that atavistic urges have once again broke lose only recently, reaching new heights during the so-called ‘Yugoslav wars’? While it is true that certain similarities between concepts and actions, as well as cognitive images of the ‘Enemy’ in the area, have persisted throughout later historical periods (Habsburg-Ottoman wars, Balkan Wars, WW1, WW2), we should not however succumb to tendency of over-generalizing. The local context, nesting in what we could call the ‘culture of revenge’, undoubtedly contributed to tragic events occurring in the 1990s, but this was in its essence nevertheless a process with specific diachronic dimensions, where rather different circumstances and factors coincided in an inopportune manner to produce disastrous results.


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