History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans

Article excerpt

Pamela Ballinger, History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003, 368 pp.

History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans concerns a little-known region: the border zone between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia known as the Julian March. Historically part of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, this region became part of Italy after World War I. At the end of World War II, the Julian March was partitioned by Italy and Yugoslavia, followed by the exodus of the majority of the ethnically Italian population. After the break-up of Yugoslavia, the region was divided between Slovenia and Croatia. Today, ethnic Italians form a minority amongst a largely Slavic population.

The book narrates the history of the Julian March during the course of the twentieth century, focusing in particular on violence associated with war which is variously silenced or voiced in different periods by different actors and groups. The study is centered in particular on a comparison between the ethnic Italians who left the Julian March for Trieste after World War Il and the remaining Italian minority.

Ballinger, who conducted multi-sited archival, ethnographic and oral history research in the Julian March in 1995-1996, focuses in her study on how marginal populations located in transborder zones experience and narrate the processes of state formation and break-up. She asks, what is the relationship between national(ist) history and the history and identity of local groups? How is the history of violence silenced/voiced in official/individual narratives?

The organization of History in Exile demonstrates the meticulous historical research conducted by the author on the region. In Part I, "Making and Breaking States," she examines how the history of the Julian March at three important junctures, World War I, World War II, and the break-up of Yugoslavia, is narrated by different local actors and groups. She shows how different groups narrate differently their experiences of war and violence. In Part II, "Making Memory," Ballinger relies in particular on oral histories to demonstrate how different groups create narratives of suffering and victimization based on claims about purity or hybridity. She shows how local groups link their more marginal histories to national histories in order to make claims for reparations in a contemporary environment in which the term "genocide" is increasingly used to resuscitate silenced histories of violence.

In an intricately layered narrative, Ballinger shows how different and opposed groups mutually construct a story of their own victimization. …