Europe Is Elsewhere: Voices from the Edge of Empire

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Evelyn Preuss, Yale University, USA


    “For Serbs, [the Balkan] begins down there in Kosovo or Bosnia, and they defend the Christian civilization against this Europe’s Other. For Croats, it begins with the Orthodox, despotic, Byzantine Serbia, against which Croatia defends the values of democratic Western civilization. For Slovenes, it begins with Croatia, and we Slovenes are the last outpost of the peaceful Mitteleuropa. For Italians and Austrians, it begins with Slovenia, where the reign of the Slavic hordes starts. For Germans, Austria itself, on account of its historic connections, is already tainted by the Balkanic corruption and inefficiency. For some arrogant Frenchmen, Germany is associated with the Balkanian Eastern savagery — up to the extreme case of some conservative anti-European-Union Englishmen for whom, in an implicit way, it is ultimately the whole of continental Europe itself that functions as a kind of Balkan Turkish global empire with Brussels as the new Constantinople, the capricious despotic center threatening English freedom and sovereignty.”[1]

    Slavoj Žižek’s attempt to locate the Balkan on the European map entails ex negativo a definition of Europe. While the former is defined by attributing a lack in civilization, democracy, freedom, self-determination, expertise, ethical values and law and order, these same characteristics implicitly constitute the imaginary denoted as ‘Europe.’ This dichotomous split into lack and the supposed ability to suture bears political pith; in the colonial enterprise, it translates the imaginary into the real. Over the centuries, projecting such lack onto racially or territorially demarcated Others provided the legitimation for supposed tutelage and, hence, intervention—military and otherwise—, while the supposed ability to suture converted into entitlement. Given these implied impositions, Žižek’s map renders also a topography of colonialist ambition, or at least, attitude. Moreover, highlighting the perspectival aspect of any identity assignation, Žižek also points to the fluidity and transpositionability of identity concepts. Zooming out from the fault lines, which he draws along the borders of the European nation states, Europe itself not only figures as the West of its formerly colonized spaces to the South and East, but also as the East of the United States, which represent the most advanced of the neo-colonialist, globalizing forces that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have termed ‘Empire.’[2] Depending on perspective and context, Europe itself evinces as a deficient Other vis-à-vis the corporate and political power houses seeking to extend their rule from the other side of the North Atlantic. Emerging as a highly contested notion, Europe, on the one hand, is conceived as the agent of ‘Empire’ and, on the other, as the last and most muscular bulwark against it—or it is even employed in both senses simultaneously. My paper will analyze these dynamics of identity construction by exploring common themes among the voices from the colonialized edges of ‘Empire,’ such as Daniela Dahn,[3] Emir Kusturica,[4] Pankraj Mishra,[5] Dipesh Chakrabarty[6] and Vasant Kaiwar.[7] Ironically, the voices of the colonized uphold the idea of ‘Europe’ as a liberal and democratic commonwealth, emancipating the individual based on universal ideals. Redressing the neo-colonialist, ‘Imperial’ advances of Europe with Europe’s own colonialist attitudes and agenda, these intellectuals call for a reshaping, or re-definition, of Europe according the very imaginary to which it lent its name for the purposes of colonialist conquest. They gesture that ‘Europe’ is not ‘Europe’ (anymore), but on the edge.


    [1] Slavoj Žižek, “The Spectre of Balkan,” The Journal of the International Institute, vol. 6, (2) 1999,–spectre-of-balkan?rgn=main;view=fulltext

    [2] Cf. Empire, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000).

    [3] E.g., Wehe dem Sieger: Ohne Osten kein Westen (Woe to the Winner: Without East No West) (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2010).

    [4] E.g., Smrt je neprovjerena glasina (Death Is an Unverified Rumor) (Belgrade, Novosti, 2010); several foreign language editions use translations of the French title of the same autography, Ou suis-je dans cette histoire? (Where Am I in this History?) (Paris: Lattes, 2011).

    [5] Age of Anger: A History of the Present (New York: Farrar, 2017)

    [6] Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000).

    [7] The Postcolonial Orient: The Politics of Difference and the Project of Provincialising Europe (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).