Without having the pretence to outline all interrelated aspects of Balkan neighborhood, this text aims at reflecting upon the concept of difference with respect to the representation of Greeks, Turks, Serbs and Romanians in Bulgarian periodicals from the time of National Revival.
Such a reflective approach shares the notion that identity undergoes constant process of formation. Therefore it regards the relation between Bulgarians and their Balkan neighbors as a relation between collective subjects in a process of identity formation. The process involves defining the space of the collective self by forming an attitude to the neighbor as “the other”. However, such an attitude is not steadily defined but always already different. In this sense there is no unified image of the neighbors as “others” because the image of “the other neighbor”, stemming from a different ideological perspective, is also valid.
The choice of certain representation is informed by self-defensive politics, which control the boundaries of one’s identity. These boundaries are dynamic: ‘the other’ can come closer or further, to be threatening or good-willing. The dissemination of images becomes possible due to the difference in the narratives, by which ‘we’ regulate ‘our’ current identity. Different ideological intrusions, different types of political mobilization generate abundance of narratives, which re-write the text of ‘our’ identity in comparison to the texts of other identities. Especially in times of crisis these texts turn to the past to recreate narratives which retrieve stability to a certain community. Looking back to the past and redefining the relations with the neighbors as “others” in social, ethnical and religious respect is based upon the urgency of ‘our’ present perspectives. These retrospective identifications bring out scenarios which represent ‘us” as similar or as different to certain neighbors. With the help of such scenarios the level of permeability of the boundary between ‘us’ and the neighbors can be detected.
The periodicals from the National Revival provide examples about such scenarios. In the course of the paper some of these scenarios are revealed by series of quotations from a large number of newspapers and magazines. For instance, the narratives about cruel Turks, insidious Greeks, dishonest Serbs or craftily Romanians are brought to light at certain moments when the territory of the self is threatened. However, in different ideological circumstances certain journalists produce narratives about benevolent and helpful neighbors who should ally with Bulgarians on equal terms.
The religious, ethnic or social affiliation with certain community, as well as the complex effect of all of them, destabilize the monolithic narratives about ‘the ultimate enemies’ or ‘the eternal brotherhood’. The periodicals record an abundance of ‘other’ stories for each of the above-mentioned neighbor. They show in various ways the necessity to redefine identity according to the circumstances, which identity variables create.
In Zizek’s terms it can be said that the phantasmic scenarios bring jouissance to the (problematically collective and problematically unified) author/reader. S/he appears caught up in the sequence of images which secure his/her present state in the changing world.
The fate of this reflective approach on the subject of neighborhood appears to be analogous.