Todorova, Maria, and Zsuzsa Gille, eds. Post-Communist Nostalgia. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010.
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Table of Contents
- Todorova, Maria. “Introduction: From Utopia to Propaganda and Back.”
- Boyer, Dominic. “From Algos to Autonomos: Nostalgic Eastern Europe as Postimperial Mania.”
- Creed, Gerald. “Strange Bedfellows: Socialist Nostalgia and Neoliberalism in Bulgaria.”
- Petrović, Tanja. “Nostalgia for the JNA? Remembering the Army in the Former Yugoslavia.”
- Schwandner-Sievers, Stephanie. “Invisible—Inaudible: Albanian Memories of Socialism After the War in Kosovo.”
- Berdahl, Daphne. “Good Bye, Lenin! Aufwiedersehen GDR: On the Social Life of Socialism.”
- Burić, Fedja. “Dwelling on the Ruins of Socialist Yugoslavia: Being Bosnian by Remembering Tito.”
- Gille, Zsuzsa. “Postscript.”
Todorova, Maria. “Introduction: From Utopia to Propaganda and Back.”
“A specter is haunting the world of academia: the study of post-Communist nostalgia.”
notes obsession of academics with the concept
(Western) media treats post-communist nostalgia as a malady
research on Eastern Europe is marked with “the obsession over Vergangenheitbewaeltigung”, i.e. reassessment or coming to terms with/coping, dealing with the past, but also redress and retribution
practically all Eastern European capitals have monuments to victims of communism and most have museums condemning Communist rule
Barbara Wieliczko and Marcin Zuk in their 2003 paper “Post-Communist Nostalgia Among the Middle-Aged Middle-Class Poles” conclude that ‘the main source of nostalgic attitudes is the merging of economic and social status after the transition’ which ‘gives those less financially successful a feeling of being deprived of both social position and economic well being.’
Frances Pine: ‘what people remember about socialism is a pride in production and in their labour and also a sense of being part of a project that was modern and directed towards the general good. Rather than a case of collective amnesia or even nostalgia…it should be taken partly as an invocation of a past in order to contrast it with, and thereby criticize, the present. When people evoked the ‘good’ socialist past, they were not denying [its negative aspects], rather they were choosing to emphasize other aspects: economic security, full employment, universal healthcare and education.’
Ivan Klíma quoted in Washington Times, 2004: ‘Nobody is nostalgic for the Stalinist era but many old people are nostalgic for their youth. They miss the security of Communist times…’
“it is not only the longing for security, stability, and prosperity. There is also the feeling of loss for a very specific form of sociability, and of vulgarization of the cultural life. Above all, there is a desire among those who have lived through communism…to invest their lives with meaning and dignity, not to be thought of, remembered, or bemoaned as losers or slaves. Lastly, there is a new phenomenon: the tentative but growing curiosity among the younger generation.”
content of nostalgia: elements of disappointment, exhaustion, quest for dignity and also “an activist critique of the present using the past as a mirror and irony”
nostalgia in Yugoslavia has “a certain tinge of imperial of colonial nostalgia”
Boyer, Dominic. “From Algos to Autonomos: Nostalgic Eastern Europe as Postimperial Mania.”
“Eastern Europe is nostalgic; it yearns.”
Traditional narrative says that nostalgia is a result of confrontation with “market-centered modernity” and “the precipitous expansion of Western European sociopolitical imaginations and institutions into Eastern Europe for economic and security reasons”
“staggered, reeling under this double confrontation” Eastern Europeans are “reaching backward, seeking to balance themselves”, building “emotional bridges to their own past”
“Only in memory could Eastern Europeans retrieve their senses of security and autonomy as new market and governmental forms of sociality filled the social and historical “vacuum” created by the collapse of totalitarian states. Thus, Eastern Europeans naturally tethered themselves to recalled, also always fantasied aspects of life before 1989 that seemed better…than the chaos and devolution of life today.”
Because nostalgia is a “sociotemporal yearning for a different stage or quality of life”, post-socialist nostalgia is not interpreted as a desire to return to socialism by as “a desire to recapture what life was at that time…”, in other words a defense mechanism [which nostalgia as such actually is].
“we should regard Eastern European nostalgia always also as a postimperial symptom, a symptom of the increasingly manic need in Western Europe to fix Eastern Europe in the past” because of the former’s decline in order to dominate the latter.
Eastern European nostalgia is future-oriented: rather than recover the past (return home), it signals estrangement from post-socialist transformation driven by non-Eastern European interests and to claim on future self-determination.
“The nostalgic Eastern European is…an ideological necessity of postimperial Western Europe…”
socialist nostalgia is a phenomenon of Bulgarian popular culture, manifested, as elsewhere in the region, in “a revalorization of Socialist-era consumer goods and products, a revitalization of some Socialist ideals, and the transvaluation of maligned Socialist material culture (especially that of more propagandistic character) into kitsch.” e.g. didactic signs and socialist period paraphernalia in nostalgic cafes
Regarding the timing of nostalgia’s rise in Bulgaria and elsewhere in the region in early aughts, the term nostalgia “only resonates when…there is no chance of going back and when improvement is evident.” It indicates “a tipping point, when there is still lived memory but little hope or even desire for return because of an exhaustion of options and some improving hope for the future.” [which suggests there is an alternative] Which is why it first arose in East Germany and last in less developed places like Bulgaria.
“it is the disadvantaged who feel nostalgic” but the nostalgia is triggered by their recognition of the inevitabilities of the present
“In emasculating the past of its potential for resistance, nostalgia also makes it marketable. It is no coincidence that the rise of nostalgia is often signaled by the appearance of consumer items that evoke the past. [W]hile the move to nostalgia makes the Socialist past marketable in a capitalist economy, the commercialization of these ideas and images further associates them with capitalism rather than an alternative.” The commercialization of socialism depends on and at the same time furthers the domestication of the past. “[N]ostalgia becomes a resource for the expansion of capitalism…”
Petrović, Tanja. “Nostalgia for the JNA? Remembering the Army in the Former Yugoslavia.”
Almost 20 years after Yugoslavia disintegrated, former republics are independent states but “their citizens still share memories of the common past: experiences dating from the Yugoslav period, which are for the middle generation simultaneously experiences of socialism, connect people who are nowadays divided by national borders…”
Former JNA soldiers have a JNA-in-a-heart tattoo on their arm with dates of service and tell army stories (memories from the army).
The pervasiveness of JNA stories is explained by their continued existence “despite their outdatedness and impossibility to fit into current dominant narratives, because for their authors they are means to prove, emphasize, negotiate—all in all to perform—their masculinity.”
Common among narrators is a discomfort from feeling “their memories are outdated, problematic, and inadequate in the new post-Yugoslav circumstances.”
JNA was both the embodiment and agent of unity in Yugoslavia, one of the 3 pillars of Yugoslavi unity referred to as “the forge of Yugoslavism” [kovačnica jugoslovenstva and a ‘school of brotherhood and unity’.
Warren Zimmerman said JNA was the most Yugoslav of all of Yugoslavia’s institutions because people from all over the country met there.
In post-YU countries, redolent with nationalist discourses, positive attitudes or memories toward Yugoslavia fell out of favor, were suppressed in processes of ‘collective amnesia’ [Stef Jansen] or ‘confiscation of memory’ [Dubravka Ugrešić], and marked with lack of patriotism and “pejoratively marked as “Yugo-nostalgia.””
JNA is “one of the most salient symbols of Yugoslav socialism.”
Men who consider their JNA experience an important part of their past and identity are Yugo-nostalgics.
Their positive attitude toward the JNA is nostalgia, made possible by the irreversibility of the experience.
Three storylines of JNA memories:
- male friendship
- school of life, as initiation of boys to men – most widespread
- subversive strategies to make life easier or combat authority
Most former JNA soldiers start with or include in their stories on internet forums the dates of service and location, name mates and officers. “this insistence on details and factuality has the primary function of stressing the extraordinariness of the army experience for their own personal lives… The factuality also enables the establishment of solidarity among those who shared the same experience and provides evidence of closeness…”
“Membership in the group of former JNA soldiers is revealed as a dominant aspect of the identity of” forum participants “while their national identity does not play an essential role.” At the same time, they perpetuate the stereotypes about various YU nations.
Dividing lines among soldiers are not nationality but education and rank (officer-soldier).
Forum messages are not politically contextualized (few political references to past or present) but rather stress personal aspects of the JNA experience as “primarily a means of social construction of masculinity.”
JNA narratives are part of broader Yugoslav past narrative, “characterized by nostalgia and myths about prosperity, success, and importance” in opposition to the present situation. This function does not require being a former soldier or old enough to remember Yugoslavia.
Still, former JNA soldiers feel the need to justify their memories to indicate they are aware such memories don’t fit the current context.
“Expectations that the memories of socialism should be “thrown away”, and the unreadiness of individuals to do so, is a consequence of the discrepancy between prevailing “official” attitudes toward the Socialist past and the experience of really lived communism.” The former, dominant national discourse presents the system as a totalitarian illusion and Yugoslavia as a wrong country and false [artificial] project, the latter is personal, real and meaningful and worth preserving in memory. Nostalgia occurs in the discrepancy between the two.
“whether we call it nostalgia or not, we have the right to keep our memories of socialism, since they are proof that [Quoting Teofil Pančić in Leksikon YU mitologije, 2004:] ‘everything from our past that we remember so well was not a dream or an imagination, a proof that we were and remained somewhere and someone.’
JNA experience is both personal and collective, shared by generations across the successor republics.
This makes it suitable for art, though few such works emerged in post-YU period.
Film Karaula (2006) based on the 2003 novel Ništa nas ne smije iznenaditi.
Quoting Karaula director Rajko Grlić in Vesna Milek, 2006, insisting the film isn’t about Yugonostalgia: ‘Yugo-nostalgia is a political phrase, used by politicians to test if people are more in favor of the previous or the current regime.’
But issue of nostalgia was omnipresent in the discourse on the film:
- It was a post-YU project with actors from all republics
- Received financial support from Ministry of Culture from each republic (1st ever)
- Extremely popular in every republic: topped box office in first two weeks (also a 1st)
Film “produces the feeling of solidarity among the former Yugoslavs by showing recognizable details from their common past much more than dividing them by insisting on the tragic end of the common history.”
Despite denials of Yugonostalgia, the film was promoted in a way that exploited Yugonostalgia: press conference on the Blue Train, children dressed as Pioneers, YU flags
Quoting Maria Todorova, 2002: it is important in dealing with the remembering of socialism to study the ‘relationship between individual memory and the production of official normative assessments designated as public memory’.
Individual memories accumulate into collective ones and cannot be erased by normative public memory/discourse.
Remembering the JNA in the context of post-YU post-socialism “becomes a problematic cultural practice…perceived as an expression of the “dangerous” and “decadent” feeling of Yugo-nostalgia.” Still it’s resistant to the suppression of positive accounts of YU past, as a counter-discourse to the dominant ideology.
Total absence of signs of commemoration/memory of YU socialism. Partisan monuments were destroyed, statutes beheaded, streets renamed.
Sokol Beqiri may be the only artist who visualized the absence of remembrance of pre-Milošević Yugoslavia.
“public memory of Yugoslav socialism was neither visible nor spoken about in public in postwar Kosovo until the independence declaration [in 2008].” Even exceptions like artists used a bitter tone.
Public memory of YU socialism is thus a “supplanted memory”, supplanted by more significant memories, here of recent war.
“commemorative silence” is the effect of war trauma
political references to pre-Milošević Yugoslavia were “aggressively anti-Yugoslav”
Express newspaper on 2/17/08 front page headline: ‘Fuck YU (1913-2008)’
But Tito-nostalgia existed in private.
Responses based on qualitative, private interviews with 20 Kosovars aged from late 30s and up, i.e. those with a lived memory of Yugoslavia:
- private Tito-nostalgia is not much different from other groups in other republics, mostly for late 70s and most of 80s
- memories are underpinned by loss, of security, living standards, wealth, education
- childhood times at school are especially prominent in memory
- Tito as a father figure
- wounded memory of all that ending tragically
quoting Patrick Hyder Patterson: ‘consumer culture [was] one of the relatively rare factors which worked to reinforce a pan-Yugoslav identity’ across ethnicities
Killing of the father (Tito) after his death by eradicating all signs of his memory is the first step to creating a new one. It’s both loss and liberation at a regime’s end.
“killing memory through consensual silence and the eradication of all all visual representation in public space amounts to a death after death, which in the case of Tito for the Albanians, is a powerful sign in respect to Yugoslavia’s utopia of brotherhood and unity.”
Private memories of interethnic friendship and cooperation in Tito’s Yugoslavia exist but they are cut with “hurt memories” of when that ended, which supplanted the former.
Arjun Appadurai says the social life of things is subject to shifts in value and demand. Berdahl argues the same is the case for the social life of socialism.
“memory refers to practices, performances, representations, and other modes of shaping images of the past.”
Unlike history, which is historical representation in written or narrative form that’s open to interpretation, memory is “a more infinitely malleable, contestable, interactive, and social phenomenon.” Memory can be personal and public, individual and collective.
Museums, commemorations, and monuments lend physicality to memory and relate it to history.
“memory puts the past into dialogue with the present.”
Many former Yugoslavs “continue to resurrect images” of SFRY “in lamenting the loss of their country. Refusing to join the nationalist euphoria of the post-Yugoslav age, they choose to dwell on the ruins of their old identity, congregating around the memory of Tito….This collective pilgrimage to the memory of Tito” is manifested in commemorative acts like visits to Tito’s birthplace in Kumrovec and grave in Belgrade, websites dedicated to Tito, writings of exiles [Tito Facebook pages], etc.
Yugo-nostalgia is everywhere in former country, but especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina
BiH was “a metonymy for Yugoslavia” and the site where its destruction was the most brutal; central to both construction and dismemberment of Yugoslavia
With its identity and territory linked to Yugoslav project, BiH “often clings onto the memory of this project in defining its current identity.” [Bosnian Muslims recognized as a nationality in 1968 in recognition of their rising prominence in the LCY and Tito’s reliance on them in counterbalancing Croatian and Serbian nationalisms; status reflected in the 1974 constitution]
Tito-nostalgia in Bosnia:
- Graffiti “Tito come back, everything is forgiven.” [Tito vrati se, sve ti je oprošteno]
- Cafe Tito in Sarajevo
- weekly Partisan movies on TV
“continuing echoes of the Yugoslav past in Bosnia’s present” stems from its special place in the Yugoslav project, with Bosnian Muslims prominent in it.
Robert Donia and John V.A. Fine: the regime thought of Bosnian Muslims as a core around which a Yugoslav identity would emerge.
High percentage of Bosnians declaring as Yugoslav – in the 1991 census, 12% in Mostar, 16% in Sarajevo, 21% in Tuzla
“the inextricability of contemporary Bosnian Muslim identity from the memories of Socialist Yugoslavia”
Yugo-nostalgia of Bosnians in Bosnia is different from that of those in diaspora. Bosnians in Bosnia remember socialism nostalgically and hold Tito in high regard, Yugo-nostalgia of Bosnians in diaspora creates a different identity.
“remembering Socialist Yugoslavia offers [Bosnians in diaspora] an opportunity to articulate different Bosnian identities”
Generational divide in ideas about identity, but image of Tito as father of the nation straddles it.
Two central symbols of Bosnian identity today:
- Relationship between Islam and Bosnianness
- Role of Tito
or (multi)religious vs secular definition.
In diaspora men’s memories, Tito is a loving, handsome protector with fatherly qualities, caring for the Yugoslav household, with Bosnian Muslims his most loyal and grateful children and the most Yugoslav/genuine of Yugoslavs.
Cult of Tito as the father was important in BiH where worst Partisan battles were fought in WWII.
Tone Bringa: the preservation of the Tito cult became integral to the preservation of Bosnia (while Croats and Serbs distanced themselves from Tito)
Generational differences in defining Bosnian identity are reconciled by all identity aspects being based in the masculine image of Tito as the protector of Muslims.
Interviewees (Bosnian men in Chicago) “dwell on the still-smoldering ruins of Yugoslavia in order to pick up and dust off their Tito icons, which become central symbols of their contemporary national identity. Their nostalgia is…an ongoing negotiation over what it means to be Bosnian in a world without Yugoslavia.”
gendered and generational nature of men’s (Tito/Yugo) nostalgia
Paraphrasing Tim Pilbrow: “it is the very ambivalence regarding national identity’s central symbols (Tito and Islam) that congregate individuals into a collective identity.”
[For the older generation, socialism meant peaceful coexistence of nations; for the younger generation who grew up amidst the wars, socialism means oppression of Islam.]
Gille, Zsuzsa. “Postscript.”
In Eastern Europe, the object of nostalgic longing varies, but these are common objects:
- social proximity
- shared way of life
- disappeared country (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union)
Related: “the search for a lost authenticity or a clearer, more homogeneous sense of identity”
Reach and severity of various totalitarianisms limit subjective memory
Common aspects of post-communist nostalgia:
- time lag among countries from GDR to Romania
- commodification (medals, clothes, toys, home décor)
- social critique (of postsocialism)
“oppositional/alternative memory practice of those outside power” vis-a-vis the official, sanctioned discourse
“the very existence of nostalgia symbolizes the evasion of talking about the past in the public sphere and in political terms.”
Paraphrasing Maya Nadkarni: “What nostalgia achieves…is that it creates a register of cultural inheritance that provides the building blocks of a distinctive, authentic, and honorable national identity capable of standing up to both the Soviets and the West.”
Paraphrasing Tim Pilbrow: private memory practices aggregate into a collective authenticity, helping to preserve and rejuvenate the nation
Paraphrasing Linda Hutcheon: “women are rarely burdened with nostalgia”
Paraphrasing Tanja Petrovic: “Yugo-nostalgia is deridingly equated with such “feminine” characteristics as weakness, lack of flexibility, and inability to adapt and…the “soft” value of forgiveness.
State socialism emasculated men by getting women into the labor force and using masculine female bodies in propaganda. Socialism as “a profoundly castrating experience” which explains assigning paternal qualities to leaders.
“nostalgia for communism…may be construed as the continuing relinquishing of masculinity, rather than simply longing for being taken care of by a strong paternal figure.”
Nostalgia for communism intercepts both “new patricentric cults in post-Yugoslav memoryscapes” and the capitalist economy.
“lamenting the losses that came with the collapse of state socialism does not imply wishing it back” – favorable recollections are selective as to their object, not all-encompassing for the entire package of Socialism
Not all post-communist nostalgia references communism.
Not all talk about communism is nostalgic.
Lots of people don’t want to talk about communism anyway: “forgetting, amnesia, silencing/burying the past, getting on with one’s life…”
Attitudes to the past change rapidly.