by Cheryl Brewster, OLLI member

Ronelle Alexander, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at UC Berkeley will be teaching "The Complex Cultural Identify of the Balkans" in the Winter 2012 term. Professor Alexander brings a rich background to this course with a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature from Harvard University, extended experience in this academic area, and over 30 years of specialization in Balkan studies at UCB. She first encountered the music and dance of the Balkan region through her participation in folk dancing in the 1960s. These interests led her to visit the countries and immerse herself in the people, their history, and their culture. Through this interaction, she formed an emotional attachment to this area which preceded and then augmented her academic focus.

Professor Alexander acknowledges that when one hears about the many Balkan countries… not just the newly separate countries of what used to be Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo) but also the neighboring Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Albania…there is a tendency to think about the fierce nationalism and violent ethnic disputes in this area, particularly the conflicts of the 1990s.  However, she intends to present how elements of the complex cultural identify of the peoples of this area can potentially unify them instead of being used as tools to divide them.

Although suggested readings will include information on historical background, the course will provide a comparative, multi-perspective cultural approach rather than a historical focus. The many Balkan systems of belief, languages, cuisine, folklore, music, and customs have risen from a long periods of early convergence and later divergence within this divided region. Interestingly, these areas of cultural commonality from shared historical experience may potentially break down borders and barriers.

Professor Alexander hopes that students will take away an increased appreciation of how recognition and understanding of cultures can provide a means to help prevent conflict and bring about reconciliation and stabilization. As citizens of an increasingly globally connected world we must be able to define and understand ourselves in terms of commonalities instead of differences to maximize the potential of new relationships and enhance cooperation. Learning about different cultures can promote this end.