The Sofia Academic NEXUS: `How to think about the Balkans: Culture, Region, Identities` is the biggest so far international and interdisciplinary research project of CAS for which the Centre provided the scholarly supervision, the organization of the regular discussions and workshops, the selection, together with the NEXUS senior scholars, of the junior fellows, and the overall co-ordination and control of the quality of research.
In organizational terms, NEXUS serves as an academic supplement to the big policy project `Blue Bird – Agenda for Civil Society in Southeast Europe`. Within the latter`s framework, CAS worked in partnership with the Central European University, Budapest, the New Europe College in Bucharest, the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the latter serving as a supervisory institution for the Sofia Academic NEXUS.
The Sofia Academic NEXUS involves altogether 28 fellows from 9 different fields of research, among them 6 senior and 22 junior researchers, of whom 14 are from Bulgaria and 14 from 6 countries in the broader region of Southeast Europe.
The idea for NEXUS emerged in response to the negative images dominating Western discourse about the Balkans: the concepts of isolation, encapsulation, security issues and other implicitly negative terms. This, in turn, has led to a deficit of perspective, a shortage of visions about the future of the Balkans. The NEXUS teams share the conviction that the future of the region of Southeast Europe requires the construction of a common vision and the emergence of a regional public debate. Until now, the region has been perceived in terms of risks; the idea of the project is to reformulate the debate on the future in terms of opportunities.
Within this broader agenda, NEXUS focuses on a crucial aspect of the Balkan cultural legacy: the local identities, their multiple projections in space and the resulting and controversial interactions and the criss-crossing and overlapping of boundaries. It is a thematic and methodological framework encompassing more than 20 individual case studies. In their sum, they seek to answer the following major questions: how were, and are, national identities constructed in the framework of, or in opposition to, various types of modernizing political projects? On the other hand, how are `regions` produced: what are their imaginary centres, how are their boundaries constructed, how do they overlap? What are the cultural and mental maps of minorities and how are their fusions and splits, or problematic identities in general, projected in space? How are the symbolic codes of imaginary geography and imaginary history constituted? How do ideological mental maps project themselves on everyday culture in the anthropological sense, such as cuisine, clothing, housing, etc.? In one way or another, all these topics are also related to the comparative study of economic cultures on the Balkans.
The structure of NEXUS has been tuned to meet the combined need for continuity and integration of a wide variety of case studies. Thus the senior fellows were involved for the whole three-year period of the project and the junior (`associate`) fellows for one academic year.
The team met at least once every month for 3 to 4 days and discussed the individual fellows` project proposals and work-in-progress. Through this intensive interaction, NEXUS created a genuine Balkan intellectual community, in which discussions were extraordinarily vivid. These contributed a great deal to putting the various individual projects into a trans-disciplinary and cross-national perspective as well as to the further elaboration of the collective thematic and methodological framework of the project. The discussions continue electronically and as a result, NEXUS already has a considerable collection of minutes and virtual comments, accessible on the CAS website.
The NEXUS project was presented at various conferences and public events in Istanbul, Skopje, Budapest and, of course, Sofia. By the beginning of the third year, three interim reports and an extensive analysis of the scholarly results were produced and give a full account of the accomplished research work.
From October 18-20, 2002, the First International NEXUS Conference took place in Sofia under the title `The Balkans: Mapping Identities (18th-21st centuries)`. Organized by the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia in association with Sofia University, it gathered 35 eminent scholars and researchers from the Balkans, other parts of Europe, the USA and Canada. This grand international event demonstrated the necessity and importance of continuous dialogue between scholars and the public on the Balkans, as well as the relevance of the NEXUS scholarly results for this ongoing discussion. The second international NEXUS conference was in Budapest on 4-7 June 2004.
The practical final result of the NEXUS project is a series of scholarly publications on Southeast European identities, accompanied by a policy paper, which is the project`s contribution to the Blue Bird agenda. In the longer run, NEXUS can be seen as a tested mode of securing a more effective involvement of academic research in public debates, policies and decision-making.
NEXUS was sponsored by VolkswagenStiftung, the European Cultural Foundation and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.