Past as Preface: Civilizational Politics and the 'Third' Balkan War

Journal article

Hansen, Lene (2000) Past as Preface: Civilizational Politics and the 'Third' Balkan War, Journal of Peace Research 37 (3): 345–362.

The concept of civilization has gained political as well as theoretical attention in the 1990s owing to Samuel P. Huntington's influential thesis about civilizational conflicts being the new conflict formation of the post-Cold War era. It is the aim of this article to problematize Huntington's claim that one particular reading of the Bosnian War follows from adopting a civilizational optic. Huntington argues that the war took place between three different civilizations and that the West should have abstained from intervention. I will draw out competing accounts of the war through detailed examination of three sets of texts - George Kennan, the Carnegie Commission investigating the First and Second Balkan Wars and the second Carnegie Commission examining the Bosnian War - each of which is representative of a common position within the Western debate. These texts specifically foreground 'civilization' as the key analytical concept but they challenge Huntington both in terms of the construction of 'Balkan civilization' and in terms of the policy prescription that should be adopted by the West. Whether to read the Balkan Wars as products of civilizational continuity or Western neglect is ultimately not simply a matter of objectively measuring historical facts, but of political and moral interpretation.

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