Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss Peaceful Balkanisation It is “Balkanisation” that we should thank for an Ocean of small, inventive and funny

building additions, hilarious new villas of random styles, march of dream-come-true houses, cities in fragments and innovations born in the Balkans. As the republics in former Yugoslavia split from each other [but wait and see, more separation is likely too come in 2006-7…], many displaced people marched in desperation from enclaves in the direction of homeland states. There, life had to be started anew. Supported by relatives and used by war profiteers many were prompted to built their own homes and businesses rather than wait for the nationalist systems to help out. Buildings grew on top of roofs, in the middle of parks, floating in rivers and in the middle of streets, capturing street lamps and signs. Rooms poppedup over alleys, enormous terraces grabbed for space, roofs stretched up higher than allowed. Their architecture appeared random and free, unexpected, often unfinished and decorated. Buildings started to speak about where they were coming from, but many, illegal ones, just tried to conceal an apparent and sudden desire for more space. Some buildings would say: here I am, while others would whisper: please don’t look. What happened is that all separated cities in the Western Balkans after the fall of Yugoslavia felt free to choose their own way and their own look. For example, Zagreb has allowed extensive proliferation of an “urban villa,” mixed-style houses for the upcoming ex-village class in the city. Priština tripled, and gave William Jefferson Clinton its main street decorated by a mini-copy of the Statue of Liberty, all in thanks for his military support against Milošević. Belgrade grew its extensive roof-top additions, two-level cute mushroom houses, one-level massive new Orthodox shrine and a glitzy field of Turbo architecture, mix between high-tech and neo-Byzantium styles. In contrast, Sarajevo, renovated by Europeans and Americans, fell into a forgotten town that is sinking into apathy. But, Mostar has renovated its famous bridge and built a sculpture of Bruce Lee, as the only historical figure who has not harm all three sides in the recent war. Novi Sad, doubled in population, emerged with the new rich Valley of Thieves, privatised coastline on the river Danube. Skopje’s new fluorescent cross on the hill peak overlooking the city adds to the vibrant mix of Roman, Byzantium, Ottoman and Communist and New Orthodox Christian monuments. Simultaneously, a tiny blue-metal Orthodox Christian church was aviated by an army helicopter from a shipyard in Bar to an allegedly sacred hilltop, a disputed border between Montenegro and Serbia. In Tirana the artist mayor paints both illegal and legal buildings in bright colours and abstract patterns.. In Ljubljana, leading architecture firms copy Tirana’s mix of colours for façade design. The only true nomads in the Balkans, the Gypsies, keep building poor shanties out of cardboard they find which they sell or recycle for miserable rates. Now why do we cherish these examples? We love them because they are uglybeautiful, self-made, optimistic and full of energy. We also respect them because they are not against the system, they are not alternative to the system, they are the system taken seriously by legalization processes. Once Rem Koolhaas and two researchers from AMO confessed that the Balkans should “capitalize on lowering standards” to better their identity within Europe. In their mind Europe would benefit from lowering its own standards and the Balkans know how to do it best. Furthermore, another Dutch messiah Winy Maas proposes that Balkanising, will also be helpful to improve identity of Switzerland, with its complex confederation of cantons.

The issue comes down to a very simple question: do we want a simple Europe: sameness everywhere we go…or singular Europe: difference everywhere we go? Faced with this question, Balkanisation is seen as a winning strategy for the potential of difference. All in contrast to the original meaning of Balkanisation, the term is understood only as negative; a synonym for little and fierce wars and bloody divisions between multiethnic communities. Period. The danger in this view is a birth of a natural view to Balkanisation, one that says that to kill and to fight is Balkan per se and its predestined fate. This short-sighted belief gives birth to new forms of fascism. It implies that war and destruction are natural to the Balkans, that atrocities are born out of its geography, which blood is in the soil. This perceived fatalism is analogous to stereotypical beliefs about Arab peoples. Entire nations are portrayed as natural destroyers, murderers and the like, which implies collective guilt above personal responsibility. Balkanisation is optimal because it is an architecture of conflict that shifts the results of conflict from war to the city building. As such, we can turn Balkanisation into a tool for catalysing difference. We can Balkanise monotonous corporate buildings and design for better working space. We can Balkanise European suburbia by highlighting cracks and building creative borders and islands of exciting lifestyle. We can lower European standards which yield boredom and instead make better results with small adaptations. Balkanisation can give the majority a desire to feel like a great minority [all great minorities are small], more dynamic and more optimistic…and more in charge. Finally Balkanisation is neither negative nor positive. It depends on the situation. The question is not how much the Balkans is going to capitalize on Europe. The question is to what extent Europe will be open to use the potential of Balkanisation. Balkanisation has turn around and from a war project it becomes the architecture of peace.

Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss is an architect, founder or NAO [Normal+Architecture+Office] and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.

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