The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944-1991

The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944-1991

The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944-1991

The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944-1991

Excerpt

By now the general outlines of a historical analysis of the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s have emerged. First journalists and then social scientists had their say. The journalists have moved on to new topics; social scientists continue their work. Historians, typically more methodical, have begun to contribute to the scholarly debate. They do so at a time when the majority of work on the collapse of Yugoslavia has perpetuated three tendencies: it places politics at the center of the interpretation, it relies too much on historical analogy, and it ultimately describes rather than explains. These are all natural inclinations, given the predominance of journalists among the early interpreters of the collapse. The first tendency needs little more than to be stated: any perusal of the books written in the last ten years on the Yugoslav situation will demonstrate that the vast majority treat the collapse of Yugoslavia as a function of power relations in the state. Thus we have been consumed by the way that Slobodan Milošević came to power, relations between Serbia and Slovenia, comparisons of the validity of the grievances of the various ethnic groups, the wars themselves, and other such topics. In such discussions, Serbian nationalism is a fixed entity, a given that is never critically analyzed.

The second tendency, to rely too much on historical analogy, serves the first: for many commentators, explanation consists of illustrations of the ways that Serbian behavior today mimics Serbian behavior of earlier eras. On the most general level, the ubiquitous “ancient hatreds” approach serves as an excellent example. But one of the most popular recent histories of the Serbs all but presents Serbian history as a series of comparative vignettes: Milošević acts as I lij a Garašanin or Prince Lazar did in earlier times, Biljana Plavšić becomes the Kosovo Maiden, the past and the present become virtually identical, and . . .

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