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Match-making across enemy lines

By Blog Admin, on 20 May 2014

Serbian-Albania couple

Photo credit: Armanda Hysa

Armanda Hysa discusses her research on mixed marriages between Serbian husbands and Albanian wives in the rural Sandžak region of Southern Serbia with Tena Prelec, where she researched 13 of an estimated 350 such couples.

 In 2006, Vera was a key component in a wide smuggling network in the Southern Balkans. During the 1990s, they dealt with oil, iron and cigarette contraband across Northern Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Occasionally, one of the members of the network complained to Vera that he couldn’t find a woman who would accept to marry him and go live with him in his remote village in Serbia. ‘Serbian women are disobedient, selfish, and only want to live in the city’ – was the usual grumble.

Vera was then reminded of her divorced niece living in Northern Albania, who was unable to find another husband in her home country. She put the two of them in touch, and the first of a string of match-made loves between a Serbian groom and an Albanian bride blossomed (this one, however, did not last very long: soon enough, Vera’s niece fled from southern Serbia to marry a Macedonian). It was immediately clear to Vera that this was a looming business opportunity, and she was determined not to leave it untapped. (more…)

Borders and what they do: lessons from a lost Habsburg province

By Blog Admin, on 3 May 2013

Contested Frontiers in the Balkans-p17oi0ls081o7l132i1l2ld101al9Why write about a province that has long ceased to be and is currently divided between three states?  Irina Marin explains why she wrote about the historic Habsburg province of the Banat of Temesvár

Well-hidden behind the title Contested Frontiers in the Balkans: Ottoman and Habsburg Rivalries in Eastern Europe is a monograph of the Banat of Temesvár or, by its Romanian name, Banatul Timișoarei. Why write a book about a historical province that has long ceased to be one and is currently peacefully divided between Romania, Serbia and Hungary? Outside the region and a narrow circle of historians, the Banat is a classic Ruritania, a non-existent land for all the reality it has for outsiders.

Everybody will have heard of Transylvania, Bosnia or Kosovo, but I doubt the Banat of Temesvár is at all known in the English-speaking world. Even when events take place there which are worthy of public attention, people usually refer to the present-day countries rather than the historical province, even if the name ‘Banat’ is still in local usage. So why write a history of this seemingly obscure province?

First of all, because no such history is available in English. The region deserves putting on the map of Anglo-Saxon historical scholarship. This, however, is not a strong enough reason and does not forestall the Ruritanian accusation. We instead should perhaps turn the question around and ask what makes a province worthy of interest. Sadly, more often than not the answer is blood and violence: whether blood sucked by vampires (as in Transylvania) or massacres and ethnic cleansing (as in Bosnia, Kosovo). Extremes of violence should, of course, never be ignored or left unexplored and unexplained.

The problem arises when one concentrates exclusively on such places visited by unprecedented violence. It creates the impression that nothing but ethnic violence comes out of Eastern Europe and fuels myths of  ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ as characteristic of the region.

I have therefore stopped at the Banat of Temesvár as a relatively peaceful province, with just as many ethnicities and religious denominations as these, but if anything dogged by myths of harmonious ethnic cohabitation rather than the perennial ancient-hatred myth. My new book is not intended to solve bibliographical disputes, count populations or work out who was there first. It is instead a historical meditation on the destructive and creative effect of ebbing and flowing borders on an ethnically variegated population, who lived and died under several waves of imperial rule, under nation-states and under communist and post-communist regimes. (more…)

Russia for the Russians – a putative policy

By Blog Admin, on 11 April 2013

RM12-112

Photo: RiMarkin via Flikr. License CC BY-SA 3.0

There have been tensions between native Russians and ethnic minorities since the Tartar Yoke of the 13th century. Successive rulers either tried to keep an uneasy peace or fanned the flames of division. Frederica Prina discusses the Russian government’s latest strategies for creating an identity that embraces all of Russia’s citizens. 

One would not normally, perhaps, describe the President of Russia as ‘anti-Russian,’ but this is how not a few people described him, waving their banners, on the annual ‘Russian March’ that took place on National Unity Day, 4 November 2012. Some 6,000 Russian nationalists, from Moderate to Far Right, gathered in central Moscow. Alexander Belov, the leader of the (banned) ‘Movement Against Illegal Immigration’, was cheered when he called President Putin an, ‘Enemy.’ In what way, an enemy, on National Unity Day?

Taken to extremes, Russian nationalists would like to keep Russia only for the Russians; they think that the Russian Government has not done enough to establish a Russian nation state. Given Russia’s turbulent history, as a multi-ethnic Romanov empire and a multi-ethnic Soviet Union, such caution is understandable. In the same way that creating a Russian citizen out of an ethnic imperial melting pot defeated many a Romanov, so the Soviets, while they aimed for the creation of a homo sovieticus (whose ethnic consciousness would be overridden by Communism), settled for managing the ethnic diversity they had inherited.

Ethnic diversity management

What we might call ‘ethnic diversity management’ was incorporated into Soviet policy. It included the establishment of titular republics (Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Armenia…) where ethnic minorities were temporarily ‘assigned’ until, that is, they became model Soviet citizens. The American sociologist Rogers Brubaker described it as an, ‘irony of history’ that what should have been a temporary arrangement, however, turned into the consolidation of ethnic differences. And what of the Russians in the USSR? How were they assigned? That was never determined, perhaps because it was not thought necessary, or could it have been that the Soviets thought that it was much too difficult to define ‘Russianness?’ One might say that there was a marginalisation even at the Russian centre of the USSR; and that marginalisation included Russian Orthodoxy, hitherto a bastion of Russian national identity.

Thus it was that, during the Soviet period, a citizen of the USSR was neither wholly ethnic, nor wholly Soviet. The national consciousness of the USSR’s many ethnic groups was never extinguished; and historic Russian identity – whatever had survived the Romanovs – was an ill-defined concept.  (more…)

Milan Mladenović’s street: does a Belgrade alternative rocker belong to Zagreb’s cultural heritage?

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2012

Bělehrad, Terazije, odpolední provoz

Photo: Aktron / Wikimedia Commons

An initiative to rename a Zagreb  street after Serbian ‘new wave’  rock musician Milan Mladenović raises complex issues about Croatian cultural identity, finds  Catherine Baker

In 1990, Milan Mladenović and the rock band he fronted, Ekaterina Velika, was part of a vibrant cultural scene – the Yugoslav ‘new wave’ – that connected large cities throughout former Yugoslavia. Bands and their fans regularly visited the major metropolitan centres of Yugoslavia’s six republics as routinely, taking their mobility for granted.

 In 1992, when the route between Zagreb and Belgrade had become a notional line crossing an international border, a front line and a UN protected area, Mladenović was among eight musicians from Belgrade alternative rock bands (EKV, Električni Orgazam and Partibrejkers) who formed a supergroup called Rimtutituki in support of the Serbian movement to resist conscription. Their one recorded song, Slušaj vamo (Listen here), is probably the most significant protest song of the Yugoslav conflict:?

 Two and a half years later, in 1994, Mladenović was dead at the age of 36. He would be remembered as a musician who had refused to be co-opted by nationalist politics, and as part of a music scene that had to be re-situated within new wartime and post-war forms of cultural memory.

 Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, the music of Mladenović and his counterparts in the Yugoslav new wave – novi val in Croatian, novi talas in Serbian – has formed part of a complex of everyday cultural references turned identity markers. The new-wave scene was irreducible to any republic, future nation-state, or ethno-national culture. Even as it played on and fixed images of particular cities and their urban ‘asphalt’, mobility around the country gave it meaning. Novi val and novi talas, with that mobility and that country gone, would come to stand for a moment and a milieu where the difference between those who said ‘novi val’ and those who said ‘novi talas’ was of no significance. (more…)