A lesson learned from the Balkans

The Balkan region of Europe has many different “tribes” of people living in it, and many of them have “cultural grievances” against the other tribes. A cultural grievances is something passed down, like a carefully preserved family recipe, and given to the next generation. If you ask random Croatian about random Serbian, you will generally be able to get a pretty good sense that the two groups don’t like each other, but there will be no specific reasons why either the Croatian or Serbian don’t like each other, only that their groups don’t like each other.

Group identify, a “cultural grievance” and no possible way to actually address the “cultural grievance” (because all of the people involved in generating the grievance are dead, and have been dead for centuries) creates the toxic political mix where civil wars, and “Balkanization” happens. “Cultural Grievances” often continue on because they are impossible to satisfy, creating a perpetuating cycle of group identity by common complaint.

The first reason that “cultural grievances” are toxic is that they poison all good faith attempts at reconciliation. This is because participants will demand that the “cultural grievance” be addressed (often an impossible task) before any ACTUAL grievances can be addressed. An actual grievance like unequal distribution of services or blatantly tribal preference policies, where things could actually change, continue on because Group X had a goat stolen by Group Y an unspecified number of generations ago. I kid you not, sometimes it really is that stupid.

The second reason that “cultural grievances” are toxic is that it creates the social approval mechanism for out group violence. Well, if they aren’t a member of Group X, and they are a member of Group Y, well they DESERVE to receive the righteous and culturally justified violence delivered upon them by Group X. Meanwhile, this gives Group Y an actual grievance (violence visited upon them simply by being a member of a particular group) and gives Group Y the justification for “defensive violence.” When Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” he was speaking about this continual cycle of cultural violence between groups.

The third reason that “cultural grievances” are toxic is because they propagate on an emotional rather than logical level. Logic cannot address a cultural grievance, because people feel emotionally wronged even if they cannot explain logically why they personally were wronged. In American it is quite common to see minorities lament that “they oppress us” without ever using the phrase, “he oppresses me.” Why is this? Because it provides the convenient scapegoat of a cultural boogeyman. Any time something bad happens to a member of the in group, it can be blamed on the “cultural grievance” rather than any individual choice or consequence of the in group member. This is why many young black men helping widows and orphans across the street on their way to church choir practice are gunned down by racist white men (even if they end up with the “white hispanic” modifier for having a Germanic last name). “Ballistic sanctification” means that all sorts of good things will be said about the deceased because he was a member of the “in group” and the survivor will be painted as a racist hatey hater bigot because he is a member of the out group.

And lastly, “cultural grievances” are toxic because they lead first to riots, and then to civil war. In America the riots are all cultural touchpoints. The Rodney King Riots. The Watts Riots. Ferguson. Baltimore. Black Lives Matter. No matter how fair or impartial a government agency or judicial outcome is, the “cultural grievance” can be used to justify violence. Riots are not a good sign.

So, what can we do about “cultural grievances?” Nothing really. Until a leader inside the culture rises up who can help shift the culture to one where the cultural grievance is no longer a source of power for those who want to incite violence, things will remain the same. Of course recognizing that something is toxic is always a good thing, but how to get people to recognize that their own attitudes and beliefs are hurting themselves? We still have NATO troops in the Balkans working on three decades now, because these things linger.

Comments are open.

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3 Responses to A lesson learned from the Balkans

  1. Dick Baker says:

    I cannot answer for the Balkans, but I believe this to be true . . . You have two peoples at different
    points on the evolutionary scale, damn few common interests, and one the economic dependent of the other, living contiguously, one incapable of achieving the success of the other, there’s gonna be some skin broke and blood smeared.

    One lacks any sense of obligation or ambition to EARN their way, but rather feel entitled to their wants and whims. The other has a sense of responsibility and the historical burden, but resents
    the ingratitude, selfishness, and plain greed of the other.

    And finally, there’s political establishment that plays one against the other.

    Yup, toes will get stepped on!


  2. darko says:

    Well, as a random Croatian, i can tell you that i really do not dislike Serbians as a nation, But if i didin’t like them it could be because of the shelling and dropping bombs on my city and the rest of the country 26 years ago. And, one might say, systematic opression. Now, i’m not really old, but old enough to remember that period. And i can tell you that before the war. i had no idea or concern what nationality kid next me was. I still don’t concern myself with that.

    But, as with many things, it’s not all black and white. Naturally, i’m a little subjective and think that all the crap was mainly their fault.

    Now, i do agree with your post and all the points in it. And, to a small degree, it can be related to Croatia. Young people, who weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes, fall into the “cultural grievances” category. But the sentiment isn’t widespread, they are just loud and receive too much attention..

    And, of course, the politicians this way have easy topics to divert people’s attention from the real problems.

    What i’m trying to say is, i felt compeled to comment since i’m from the Balkans (or not, depends on who you ask) and the situation is a little complicated.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      A friend of mine, who comments on this blog from time to time, gifted me a painting. It is a painting he did based on interviews of children who survived civil war. I’ve looked at that painting, and spoken with the artist about what it means, and what it boils down to is this, the scene of destruction doesn’t tell you who is “winning.” It doesn’t show the complicated political backstory or the cultural significance. All it shows is the violence.

      And moving forward, you either work to drag the violence of the past with you as an excuse for more violence, or you don’t. And yes politics is complicated, and there are very bad men who have done very bad things throughout history.

      The painting is very “raw” and done in the bright colors and bold lines of a child’s hand, and reminds me that even the application of “righteous violence” is going to hurt someone. And that is something worth considering, no matter how complicated a situation, or justified some violence may seem.


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