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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:7–10.


Three Years of Balkan Research (2005–2008)


The Southeastern enlargement of the European Union is an inevitable process that cannot be halted. Therefore we have to be well-prepared in the Member States of the European Union in issues related to Balkan Studies. This refers to state officials, politicians, intellectuals and entrepreneurs alike – primarily in states neighbouring the Balkan region. Not to mention the bureaucracy of the EU and the Members and officials of the European Parliament. (In order to avoid a situation that evolved in 2004 on the morrow of the Eastern enlargement of the EU, in which neither Brussels, nor individual Members States acquitted themselves well with regard to their knowledge about Europe and their neighbours. The EU seemed to be lacking the necessary preparedness in East Central European Studies.) We set out from this underlying principle when we initiated the launching of the Balkan project in June 2004 and founded the Centre for Balkan Studies in October 2005 as a joint ’virtual institute’ of the Social Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Europe Institute Budapest.

What was our actual objective?

First of all, we wanted to create a forum for researchers of the Balkan region, civil society, entrepreneurs, diplomats and politicians to be able to meet and exchange their views on issues related to the Balkans. We intended to organise conferences, publish printed and electronic publications, including periodicals and book series. (Because we believe that civil society, i.e. intellectuals and entrepreneurs, will have to be assigned a special role in European policy-making in the future. This is the legacy of classic European values, gradually sinking into oblivion, and this might be one of the fundamental pillars of Europe in the future. It is a distinctive feature of our culture that distinguishes us from other cultures of the same rank.)

Secondly, we wish to widen the world political perspective of the middle classes in Hungary. We share the view that during the Soviet occupation of the country the foreign political and world political perspective of middle classes was significantly narrowed and deformed: one could still observe a certain level of curiosity towards the West, but it was rather contingent in the lack of regular visits abroad. The world political perspective was deformed partly due to the fact that the Soviet system tried to force an artificial interest in East-Southeast European affairs, thus arousing a counteraction in Hungarian society. As the interest in issues related to East and Southeast Europe was in fact a forced curiosity, a kind of ’official’ and guided interest, it decreased significantly after the system change. Now that we are members of the European Union (since 2004) and it has become obvious that the enlargement of the EU would continue in a southeastern direction, we should raise awareness in domestic public thinking about the fact that our southeastern neighbours might be just as important as the western ones. Moreover, in certain respects they may be even more interesting and important for investors.

Thirdly, in our view it is of primary importance to use our ’civil-scientific’ power to turn the attention of the political elite to the significance of the Southeast European region. We must not forget that the governments of the day might contribute to the raising of economic and cultural interests to a great extent by using their tools provided by the budget and cultural-political demonstration.

What have we achieved in the past three years and in which direction do we wish to proceed?

1.) We have been organising a regular conference series. We organised 15 conferences in the period between October 2005 and April 2009. The topics that we dealt with in the framework of these conferences touched upon the geographical position of the Southeast European region, as well as the interrelatedness and differing interests of the peoples living in the Carpathian Basin and in the Balkans (e.g. their competing position in the global market). The conferences also shed light on political and power relations (e.g. the conflicting interest of Russia and great powers in the region) and the elements of development of the Balkan region that might arouse the attention of middle classes and political stakeholders in Hungary. (Including minority conflicts and cross-border programmes in the field of economics and nature history, e.g. issues related to the Danube.)

2.) The conference series has a steady audience of 120-160 people, the most acknowledged Balkan experts regularly participate in these events, as well as government officials of neighbouring countries and leading experts and representatives of the Hungarian state administration and the opposition (ministers, secretaries of state, ambassadors, heads of institutes and MPs).

3.) The homepage of the Centre for Balkan Studies was launched and has a solid editorial board of acknowledged experts. The homepage is regularly reloaded with news, topical articles and thematic studies, and operates as an electronic monthly periodical. (We could not organise and create the financial basis of the publication of the electronic periodical in English. This is one of the main tasks of the future and, hopefully, the periodical will be available in both languages by 2010.)

4.) We publish a book series entitled „The European Union, the Balkan Region and Hungary”, which has had two volumes so far (published in 2007 and 2008) and has the present volume as the third one in the row. These volumes include the edited version of lectures delivered at conferences organised in the framework of the Balkan project. The volumes have been published in the foreign language book series of the Europe Institute Budapest. (Begegnungen)

5.) We established the financial basis of the project: the fundamental financing is provided by the Europe Institute Budapest, the Research Group on European History of the Social Research Centre and the Balkan project included in the framework agreement on strategic research concluded between the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian government.

6.) The staff responsible for organising events and editing publications – the virtual institute – has been recruited. The conference organisers are employees of the Europe Institute Budapest and the Social Research Centre of HAS (headed by Ferenc Glatz, including Attila Pók, Beáta Kiltz and Andrea Antal), the editorial team comprises the staff of the Europe Institute Budapest, and members of the Research Group on European History (Ferenc Glatz, Kornélia Burucs and as foreign language proofreaders and translators Beáta Kiltz and Rita Besznyák). Editors of the homepage also include staff-members of the Europe Institute and researchers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences led by Attila Pók, József Juhász and Andrea Antal, the head of project management being Attila Pók assisted by Andrea Antal as project secretary.

This is the current state of affairs, in the summer of 2009. The project schedule of the following two years was compiled by the leaders of the programme, the necessary financial means are available due to various tenders and applications. A foreseen continuation is the broadening of the thematic scope of research. This would involve putting the individual states on the agenda and examining the impact of the world economic crisis on the position of the region in world economy and world politics as well as its impact on the relationship of the Balkan countries and the East Central European region.

A further matter of discussion could be the survey of cross-border cooperation with special regard to the Danube and various ways of spatial development (including the rural development of border areas). Another step forward could be the publication of the homepage in English. We wish to generate a continuous dialogue between experts and politicians. We intend to maintain the institutions that have proved to be successful (conferences, book series and homepage), and expand the range of events by workshop conferences providing opportunity for Balkan researchers to discuss a specific topic. The results of these workshops would then be published on the homepage. A column entitled “History of the Balkans” would be launched in the historical periodical História and an issue of the periodical Ezredforduló would be devoted to the topic every year. In the recently launched periodical Párbeszéd a vidékért [Dialogue for the Countryside] we regularly publish articles on cross-border processes in the Southeast European region for the enhanced development of border regions

We sincerely hope that our readers would put the Balkan volumes of Begegnungen on their bookshelves and the included writings would figure on the list of their regular readings.


Budapest, July 2009


Ferenc Glatz