Southeastern Europe is a mix of ethnicities, religions and traditions existing on the foundation of different cultural practices and politics. The centuries of Ottoman rule on the Balkan peninsula had a profound effect on the culture and populations of the region. As a person born and raised in the Balkans, I have been fascinated by the nuances in the culture -what makes us different and what makes us similar, since my earliest childhood. My journey focused mostly on exploring cultures through music, food, fashion, tradition, history and lifestyles. This curiosity and drive to pursue my academic interests in music led me to the idea of doing a research on the impact of Ottoman Empire on the construction of cultural traditions and music in Southeastern Europe. My main goal with this research was to focus on the crossroads between the pre-modern and modern cultural manifestations, between empires and nations, and between different spheres of art and politics.
Therefore, the research strived to answer the following questions:
- What is the role of different musics in defining national, ethnic, and cultural identities in Southeastern Europe?
- How did the dynamics of Ottoman enlargement in the early and late modern period affect the development of music in the Balkans and construction of cultural traditions?
- How does the present Balkan musical tradition mirror the Ottoman legacy?
Since I have lived in the Balkans for 19 years, I had a vantage point in observing the cultural manifestations both objectively and subjectively while doing a research in this region. My research started in Bosnia and Herzegovina where I visited sights that had a crucial role in the Ottoman Era because of their economic and geopolitical importance. The trip continued to Serbia where I visited music festivals in different cities and observed musical and other cultural practices of different ethnic and national groups in the Southeaster Europe (Serbians, Montenegrins, Romanians). One of the most exciting segments of my journey was visit to Istanbul, the third and last economical center of the Ottoman Empire – a mecca for researchers looking for the remnants of the Ottoman culture. This is where I realized the omnipresent influence of the Ottoman Empire in architecture, cuisine, language, dress, music, art and religion (Islam) in the Balkans.
Arriving back to the Balkas, I gained a new sense of appreciation of the region I grew up in and realized that the Balkans, truly, is an example of cultural coexistence of the East and West developed on the multiple dimensions of the past conflicts and present dynamics.