News 09 March 2021

EU Enlargement and Language and Religion in the Balkans

Language and religion in the Balkans are the main challenges between different nations and ethnic groups and among the main issues in their accession in the European Union in the last 15 years. This is one of the conclusions of the recent RESILIENCE webinar, as you can see in the video which is now available.

EU Enlargement

The EU enlargement and integration of the Western Balkan countries into the European Union is an important issue and was discussed during the RESILIENCE seminar entitled: “EU Enlargement and Linguistic Challenges in the Balkans” held on January 14, 2021 and organised by the Sofia University RESILIENCE team. More than 30 scholars, experts and young researchers from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada and other countries took part in this online event.

Political Developments

Prof. Anna-Maria Totomanova from Sofia University presented current political developments on a topic that should not be used for political purposes – the origin and development of the Slavic script and the name of the Bulgarian feast of education and science on the Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture and of the Slavonic Script – 24th May. It turned out that some of the participants – both politicians and experts – were trying to use this action of renaming the 24th of May as an additional argument in the ongoing negotiations between Bulgaria and Republic of North Macedonia about our common religious and cultural heritage. 

This case study shows how politicians are often ready to sacrifice historical truth and legacy to gain some political credit and popularity among the nationalistically oriented minority or religious minorities.

The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dr. Pavle Mijović from the University of Sarajevo presented the Role of Religious Studies: the Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During his presentation he said that Bosnia and Herzegovina is recognized as a “potential candidate country” for accession and it is on the current agenda for future enlargement of the European Union. Unfortunately, no significant progress towards EU integration has been detected. EU enlargement is often seen as a quite abstract and bureaucratic process, but it is probably one of the most powerful policy tools that exist. Enlargement processes can help new democracies catch up with all sorts of advanced Western standards by moving towards democratic consolidation. Regarding the topic, dr. Mijovic thinks that soon Religious Studies will become one of the most effective soft power instruments, helping bring change from within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and raise awareness of the renewed public understanding of the EU. “In my opinion, this is what the integration process is all about”, concluded Dr. Mijovic.


Prof. Aleksander Nikolov from Sofia University gаve an interesting example from Bulgaria. He presented the relation between language, religion and identity in the Balkans in a particular case between two ethnic and religious groups in Bulgaria – the Gagauz and the Pomaks. Gagauz despite their turkophony did not experience great difficulties to be included in the larger bulgarian community, mostly because they were Christian orthodox. The case of the pomaks is far more complex – this group regardless of their dialects and bulgarian “mother tongue” remains a “suspicious” and “problematic” community (maybe because they are muslims) for the Bulgarian nation-state. The conclusion of prof. Nikolov is that for modern Bulgarians religion is still a very important marker of ethnicity and national affiliation.

Overcoming Religious and Ethnic Biases

The participants in the event agreed on the understanding that the European projects like RESILIENCE are of great importance because we can learn a lot from each other how to overcome the religious and ethnic biases, which are still existing in our societies. The presentations in the seminar show how religion somehow is more important than identity and ethnicity in the Balkans. In conclusion Prof. Totomanova said that Balkan countries participants do not consider RESILIENCE as a tool for solving their religious and ethnic problem. They perceive it as a space for sharing experience and expertise in the area of religious studies and for presenting their academic and sometimes achievements in policy making.


Watch here the video from the Second webinar from the series “RESILIENCE goes Balkans”:


Interview with Dr. Pavle Mijović.

More about the webinar.