Storytelling, Memories and Identity Constructions

Annual Humanities Conference

Puebla - Mexico City: 4 - 9 November 2011

Cultural History  

Cultural Studies  

Queer Studies  



Digital wars over heritage in the Balkans

Ivaylo Ditchev
Department of History and Theory of Culture

Sofia University



Balkan national cultures have been known quarreling over the regional heritage, trying to present it as their exclusive national possession. Alexander the Great, the Cyrillic alphabet, names of cities and even the “authorship” of legends and popular songs have been among the causes of conflict between Greeks and Macedonians, Macedonians and Bulgarians, Bulgarians and Turks, etc. The digital turn has made it possible for activists of nationalist or religious groups, but also for common citizens to engage in the wars over heritage and symbols. The general process of de-institutionalization that characterizes globalization is more pronounced in this part of the world, thus the users seem to have much more freedom in the production of identity narratives. 


This new identitarian folklore presents itself as based upon science, quotes sources, develops arguments, even if the passionate character of argumentation contradicts such pretention. It is the decentered character of the digital world that produces the patchwork effect, where a racist theory of the 19th century coexists with a moral principle taken from Orthodox Christianity, a local poem is quoted as evidence side by side with some an US genetic test. 
The paper will be based on a field study of the new subpolitical (U. Beck) mobilizations on the web, carried out during the last two years on Balkan youths. Digital wars over heritage and identity seem to break out suddenly and mobilize thousands of users. The occasion could be a film, the idea to build a monument by some minority group, a provocative contemporary artist, a bold statement of an expert (Are the Turks in the Rhodops Islamized Bulgarians? Or are the ancient Bulgarians in fact a Turkic tribe?...). 


The leading emotion is hatred which makes the amateur historians look like a subculture group. Passions spread over the web from platform to platform, narratives and counter narratives are told and contested travelling from facebook to you-tube, from you-tube to Wikipedia, emerging in the traditional media, then dispersing into blogs and sites. As to the form, digital wars use a large range of multimedia resources in the attempt to convince including clips, music, caricature, collage; it is often the acquisition of a new computer program (say, a morphing tool) that constitutes a new argument in the heritage debate. As to the content, the clashes between different ethnic, national, religious and political groups are most often sexualized, expressing such notions as prestige or ancienty in terms of sexual domination. Finally, the narrative ends as unexpectedly as it had been launched to be replaced by another “identity match”.


The paper will not be so much interested in the political uses and abuses of the digital identity narratives, it will rather reflect upon the way in which they make it possible for common users to make sense of the global world and find a place within it. The notion of folklore used above will thus be seen in a Gramscian perspective as a “spontaneous philosophy”, as an attempt to produce a non institutionalized “conception of the world and life”. 


Bio: Ivaylo Ditchev is professor of cultural anthropology at Sofia University, Bulgaria, dpt of Cultural studies and writer. Research in political cultures, national and urban identities. Doctoral studies in France, habilitation in sociology. Among his works „Albania Utopia. Behind closed Doors in the Balkans” (Paris 1996), „To give without loosing. Exchange in the Imaginary of Modernity” (Paris 1997), “The Eros of Identity” (in : “Balkans as Metaphor” MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2002). “Der Skandal des Konsums” (in: Warenaesthetik, Suhrkamp, 2011, 196-2006). At present he directs a research program on the relation between new media and citizenship practices. Some of his publications can be consulted online in the online magazine Eurozine. His last book is entitled “Citizens beyond places? New communications, new borders, new habitats”, Sofia. Ditchev directs an MA in cultural anthropology and an online journal of cultural studies seminarBG.



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