At a seminar on 6 June 2017, Dr. Filip Ejdus, Assistant Professor at the University of Belgrade and Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, presented the volume Memories of Empire and Entry into International Society: Views from the European Periphery (2017, Routledge) which he edited. The event was chaired by Kalypso Nicolaïdis (St Antony’s College); Richard Caplan (Linacre College), Vjosa Musliu (Free University of Brussels) and Jan Zielonka (St Antony’s College) were the discussants.
As Dr Ejdus explained, the voulme builds on critiques of the English School approach to International Relations (and especially its Euro-centrism) raised by Iver Neumann and Jennifer Welsh by looking at seven Eastern and South-eastern European states, each analysed in a separate chapter by a native scholar. The starting point of the book is that English School, in studying how non-European states enter into the European society of states, has neglected the European periphery, partly because it was taken for granted as being fully European. By bringing the under-studied cases of Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Romania into the limelight, the volume applies the critical English School approach to analyse the entry of this liminal space into international society and the role of memories therein.
The volume examines the ways in which these seven states entered international society and what their expectations from this process were, based on their past experiences and memories derived from the empires they were breaking away from, were once members of, or that they could look back to as a “golden age” for their nations. The book covers the Ottoman, Byzantine, Habsburg and Russian empires, - arguing that memories of them both helped and complicated these small states’ entry into international society.
Dr. Ejdus summarized the book’s main conclusions in four points. Firstly, the volume argues that all nation-builders activated memories of empires and claimed to have special status in international society due to their historical experience. Secondly, the memories of empires were constitutive of the identities of the states as they were being built. “Who is us” and “who is them” were decided based on these memories. While these characterizations delineated territorial boundaries and helped build nations against the external “others”, they also defined and led to conflict between “modernists” and “conservatives” domestically. Thirdly, the memories of empires helped these states to make sense of international society, once they joined the European society of states. Serbia, for instance, rather than viewing international society as “anarchic”, tried to position itself at the centre of its regional order, in a process very similar to the one studied by Neumann. Serbia thought that international politics was about being “central” to the Slavic society of states, re-imagining the medieval Dušan Empire and envisioning the creation of Yugoslavia based on this memory. The fourth and final conclusion of the book is that memories are politically inconsistent and unstable and they change over time. Even today it is not possible to say that synchronization with international society has been completed. These states continue to align their memories with their expectations from international politics.In their comments, the three discussants complimented the very interesting and rich case studies. In her discussion, Dr. Musliu praised the book’s review of the English school and how it traced the narratives these states used as they were ceasing to be an “other” and becoming part of international society, each competing to present itself as “more European”. Dr. Caplan saw the book as fascinating both in terms of the empirical cases that it covered and in its philosophical discussions. Dr. Zielonka stressed how the periphery is an important part of the Empire and how a lot of ideas of what the Empire is, come in fact from the periphery. There might be an asymmetry of power but not an asymmetry of relationship between an Empire and its periphery. The volume edited by Dr. Ejdus shows this point very well and contributes to a literature that has ignored this key element.
Yaprak Gürsoy, St Antony's College