Capitalism from Outside? Economic Cultures in Eastern Europe after 1989

By János Mátyás Kovács; Violetta Zentai | Go to book overview

Becoming European: Hard Lessons
from Serbia
The Topola Rural Development Program

Mladen Lazić


Introduction

Contemporary economic culture in Serbia, the characteristics of which resulted from several contradictory historical processes, cannot be analyzed by simply “de-constructing” these characteristics into simple dichotomies like East and West, traditional and modern, or socialist and capitalist. Serbia’s historical development—in which belated modernization took the form of socialist quasi-modernization shaped as a “liberal”/quasi-market/opened-toward-the-West system that finally ended in a civil war, international isolation, and economic collapse— produced a complex mixture of value orientations that could serve as a basis for quite different modes of socio-economic reproduction.1 This mixture has been characteristic of wider social groups, defined by their level of education, urbanization, or age, but it also cuts through subgroups and even individuals, leading to ambiguities in their general life goals and everyday behavior.

The pronounced complexity of recent events produced ambivalent expectations among foreigners, especially Westerners who have worked in Serbia, so that their views on the cultural characteristics of the local population have also been marked by incongruities and contradictions. The Topola Rural Developmental Program (TRDP), a three-year economic aid program run by a Western agency in a rural environment, provides a very good opportunity to study the encounters of these internal and external cultural mixtures and ambiguities.

1 For more on these intricate characteristics of the Serbian historical development—torn between Eastern and Western, traditional and modern, socialist and liberal, autarchic and oriented-toward-the-world patterns of socio-economic reproduction—see Lazić (2005).

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