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Much of human history can be boiled down to the fundamental consideration of identity – who we are, which groups we belong to, who is one of us and who is not. Identity is often both a feature and a consequence of our wars, an influence in how we handle mass migration, and a cause for referendums on secession and independence. But the causal relationship also works in the other direction: Circumstance can also cultivate ideology and thus identity.
The emergence of nationalism in the Balkans, and especially in Serbia, in the 19th century is a case study for this complex cause-and-effect relationship. By the beginning of the 1800s, the once-great Ottoman Empire had slipped so far that Tsar Nicholas I referred to it as “the sick man of Europe.” As the Ottomans lost control of more European territory, they at last found themselves retreating from even the Balkans. It was immediately clear to those who lived in the Balkans that the empire was losing its ability to put do