Zala Volčić. Serbian Spaces of Identity: Narratives of Belonging by the Last “Yugo” Generation. New York: Hampton Press, 2011.
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Experience of Yugoslavia and socialism varies by gender, class, generation, and location.
Edward Said: “imaginative geography” = spatial reordering of the world via symbolic/imaginary association of images with people and place to create a sense of here vs there and us vs them
Generation born in Serbia, Yugoslavia from early 1960s to mid-1970s:
- grew up in the 1980s
- matured in atmosphere of “disintegration, existential danger, and insecurity”
- witness to rapid political and economic changes, incl. collapse of socialism, rise of nationalism, peace negotiations, strikes, demonstrations, sanctions, poverty/impoverishment, NATO bombing
- considered 1990s as “the lost years of their lives”
- self descriptions, e.g.
- “the last Tito / brotherhood and unity / socialist / Yugoslav generation”
- “the lost generation”
3 interpretations of Yugoslavia’s collapse:
- primordialist (Kaplan) = “ancient hatreds”
- instrumentalist (Ramet) = elite manipulation
- security dilemma (Woodward) = external conditions (Cold War ending) while economic situation deteriorating
- discourse constructionist = Balkanism
“Yugoslav imaginary” – Tito held nationalisms at bay and Yugoslavia together, backed by US military aid and IMF / World Bank loans
But “Yugoslav society did not have a clearly defined identity”
- push for the development of Yugoslavism as a way to tackle ethnic/nationalist conflict
- 1961 “Yugoslav” on the census, with 1.7%, then 1981 5.4%, 1991 2.2% or about 700K of total
Yugoslavism imposed by communist elites
Dubravka Ugresic: Yugoslavia = “mental empty space”
Two versions of Yugoslavia in Serbs’ imagination
- open, culturally rich / multicultural, full of possibilities, exciting, between East and West, free, warm, young, secure, intimate, home; brotherhood and unity, anti-fascism, socialism, Tito, Non-Aligned Movement leadership
- foolish dream, false, decadent, ideological, imposed, mistake, sick, corupt
Identity markers of Yugoslavia [viz Anderson’s imagined community]:
- Tito – “the living embodiment of the Yugoslav community”
- World War II, anti-fascism, Partisan struggle
- unique / exceptional (and superior) between East/socialism and West/capitalism
[not included: self-management / economic system]
1980s remembered as the time of economic crisis; only later they were “re-becoming Serbs.”
“the former Yugoslav state was never really positioned as a political community able to overcome the national differences.” So it was easy for elites to use nationalism for legitimation.
In the minds of author’s informants “nationality is biologically determined.”
Economic crisis, Milošević, and SLO/HR independence “all contributed to produce strong national identification in Serbia.”
Shift from “brotherhood and unity” to “blood” rhetoric. Nationalism replaced multiculturalism.
Milošević’s 1987 Kosovo Polje speech – turned him into a charismatic leader, marked the rise of overt nationalism
Author’s informants celebrate or blame Milošević for fostering Serbian nationalism, provoking the wars, and destroying Yugoslavia.
1389 Kosovo battle = Serbian foundational myth – Serbs as victims
…aided by highlighting WWII atrocities against Serbs by Ustaše, economic exploitation by SLO/HR
“the success of nationalism is framed less by the recycling of public national rituals than by creating a situation in which national identity appears natural”
E. Balibar, 1996: “the fundamental problem…is to produce the people [and] to make the people produce itself continually as a national community”
Identity markers of Serbia
- unique, especially by having a soul the West lacks, e.g. emotional, honest, warm passionate – West as the Other
- language and Cyrillic script
- Serbian Orthodox religion
- national character – superior, passionate + tragic, melancholy, self-destructive, inat, javasluk, indestructible
- tradition – guardians of European culture, literature, folk songs, costumes, food
- [turbo folk?]
identity: politically constructed (Anderson, Gellner) vs an essence
“national identity means the identification of a particular group as members of a particular unit, and this unit or nation is a political, social, gendered, spatial construction” with markers like language, territory, economy, history, ethnicity, etc.
1990s remembered as
- Milošević regime political propaganda + confusion, absurdity, banality, stupidity (of the regime)
- protests / demonstrations, urban resistance – 1991-1992, 1996-1997
- economic crisis – sanctions, hyperinflation, poverty + resulting fear, uncertainty, dislocation, resignation, cynicism, fatigue
- withdrawal into private life
West as the Other is significant in shaping Serbian national identity.
- Othering of the West – West is capitalist, rich, consumerist, commodified, pompous, empty, culturally vulgar / dead, cold, soulless, artificial, decaying, hegemonic (cultural globalization / homogenization)
- internal Othering / Othering from within / internal Serbian Balkanism – of others, especially Kosovo Albanians, Croatian/Kosovo Serb refugees
- internalization of Western stereotypes – appropriation, self-exoticization to emphasize superiority, e.g. in films
Serbs by way of political discourse see themselves as “most European country in Europe,” defenders / last bastion of European culture. Slovenes and Croats have similar discourses (“Balkan madness” and Orhodox/Byzantine/despotic Serbia, respectively).
West’s othering of the Balkans, see Kaplan, Todorova, Wolff
NGOs perceived as
- agents of democratization
- agents of Western hegemony
Media is widely blamed for the rise of nationalism and Milosevic.
Role of media in Yugoslavia
- support the values of Yugoslavia
- promote a sense of belonging to Yugoslavia
- reflect the country’s cultural diversity
- transmit state propaganda
Media in the 1990s:
- media control and manipulation
i.e. continued, since the late 1980s, the format but in service to the new regime and its ideology (populism, nationalism).
Paraphrasing M. Thompson, 1995: “the media contributed…to the spread of an authoritarian society that left little opening for a democratic solution to the conflicts and severely limited the formation of public opinion in Serbia.”
4 models of Serbian media
- RTVS – regime propaganda tool, widely watched, esp. the evening news
- media coverage of wars – used Othering, reinterpretation of history, collective memory loss for nationalism purposes; black-and-white stereotypes and emotional appeal in reporting
- trivialization of media – soap operas (1980s – US soaps, 1990s telenovelas)
- independent media – B92
“Blaming the media” discourse:
- produces awareness about media’s role
- naturalizes the status quo of the political order as it both allows to dismiss the notion reasons other than the media, including Serbs as a collective body, are behind the nationalism and wars, and undermines the necessity to discuss responsibility and the willingness for debate
“There is an invention of a new version of the past, in which the guilty party is always someone else — either Milosevic and his regime, criminals, communists, or the mass media.” Which exempts Serbia from charges of or responsibility for nationalism, wars, etc.
Further deregulation, privatization, and commercialization of the media after Milosevic leaves little to no space for the political and has led to the fragmentation of discourse “wherein the depoliticized masses are excluded from the central debates of the political culture” – people treated as marketing targets, not political subjects, Serbs as consumers not citizens.
Nationalism and capitalism are mixing in the media – market and nation are the same.
Yugonostalgia – added here
New nationalism in Serbia:
- kinder, gentler, more moderate and civic
- denial and reinterpretation of the past (ethnic war, virulent nationalism) but on the backdrop of democracy, civil society, human rights, and market economy discourses
- hostility to internal others rather than other nations, a return to conservatism, patriarchy, and populism
- reinterpretation of wars against the Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo as anti-terrorism – 1389 Kosovo battle not a defeat but sacrifice to stop Turks from advancing to Europe turned into Serbia protecting Europe from terrorists
- more sophisticated ways of exclusion, incl. victimization rhetoric, silence