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SSEES Research Blog


A showcase of research from UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies staff and students


Stop signs of the times

By Sean L Hanley, on 14 November 2013

Gordy GRD Eric Gordy discusses how writing his new book on remembrance and responsibility in Serbia led him to reflect on the role of the  researcher and intellectual.

The primary goal of most of the people I did graduate study with was to become a ‘public intellectual,’ who would engage, explain, and bring the apparatus of organised knowledge to public controversies. Certainly in developing this goal we all had some models and references – maybe the most prominent for me were the legendary ‘New York Intellectuals’ of the mid-20th century who sought a central role for intellectual discourse in public culture. But the idea of the ‘public intellectual’ can be traced back a bit farther – one touchstone might be Ralph Waldo Emerson, who railed against isolation and obscurantism, arguing that ‘The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men [sic] by showing them facts amidst appearances.’ And he set out this contrast in 1837:

Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.

Maybe a bit more widely used is the reductive functional definition of the public intellectual, entirely consistent with our bureaucratic overseers’ concept of what constitutes ‘impact.’ For the astrophysicist, novelist and essayist Alan Lightman, the public intellectual is an academic ‘decides to write and speak to a larger audience than their professional colleagues,’ sometimes outside of their field of expertise.

These minimal definitions still compete with some more contemporary ones that (bombastically?) elevate the importance of our research and writing. In a (1993) articulation by Edward Said, he celebrated ‘the intellectual as exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak the truth to power’; in this view the intellectual is ‘someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’être is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.

In that vein Said cites C Wright Mills, to the effect that ‘If the thinker does not relate himself to the value of truth in political struggle, he cannot responsibly cope with the whole of live experience.’ Taken together these are high demands on the production of publicly engaged knowledge that imply a (self-serving) superiority over the debate and demand a level of consciousness and conscience that few if any people can claim. In a similar spirit David Palumbo-Liu argues that ‘today’s public intellectual is a provocateur who also provides a compelling reason to think differently.’

The romantic notion of public intellectual as heroic tribune is naturally a bit more appealing than the functionalist one of public intellectual as person who talks to media. But it is difficult to accomplish not only because few of us have the qualities of courage and sacrifice that seem to be demanded (I for one do not), but also for some prosaic practical reasons. Emerson warns that ‘Such an attempt, of course, must have difficulty, which no genius could surmount.’ What sorts of difficulties might be involved? Here are a few that I encountered in trying to come up with an account of public memory in Serbia (Warning: they are less exciting than the prospects that Emerson and Said have to offer). (more…)

Milošević and Šešelj in the dock: contrasting psychologies of power

By Sean L Hanley, on 7 January 2013

Photo: ICTY building, The Hague Wikimedia Commons

 The defences offered by former top politicians and generals of trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) can seem like rambling political bluster. However, examined more closely, they offer a revealing glimpse into different psychologies of personal power. argues Kristen Perrin

There are moments when the proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are more closely followed by mainstream media than usual.  This commonly happens when events inside the courts are tumultuous enough to warrant international coverage, reminding some people that the war crimes tribunals relating to the Yugoslav wars of the mid-nineties are, in fact, still going on.  A recent example was the closing statement Vojislav Šešelj, former leader of the Serbian Radical party, gave the ICTY in March 2012.  Šešelj’s behaviour in the court was notorious by this point – he had gone on a hunger strike, refused to attend his own opening statement while defending himself, and taken multiple opportunities to distract, delay, and otherwise interfere with the progress of his trial.

This type of behaviour was not new to the ICTY, and was in some ways comparable with that of Slobodan Milošević when he represented himself.  Looking at transcripts from his trial, we can see that Milošević’s strategies were not mainly driven by the idea of making a legal defence, but were politically and historically charged.  This is common in ICTY trials, and its implications have been widely discussed.  However, few researchers have used ICTY transcripts to study the cognitive patterns of those on trial – that is, taken examples from the transcripts to paint a picture of the thought processes of these individuals. (more…)

Karadžić trial: If I were a prosecutor

By Sean L Hanley, on 30 October 2012

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić has presented evidence in his defence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – it almost amounts to a second prosecution case, finds Eric Gordy.

Evstafiev-Radovan Karadzic 3MAR94

Photo: Evstafiev via Wikicommons

If I were a defence lawyer for Radovan Karadžić – currently on trial for genocide and war crimes at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague –  I would be inclined to offer the advice most defence lawyers offer to defendants in criminal cases: do not present a defence unless you have to. The prosecution is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defence does not have to prove anything to get an acquittal – all the defence has to do is raise doubt. When it starts presenting its own evidence, it raises the risk of providing additional material for the prosecution.

This is especially the case if the defendant is, like Radovan Karadžić, guilty. Prosecutors love it when this kind of defendant decides to offer a case. It becomes a second prosecution case, offering the prosecutors both new evidence and the chance to introduce in rebuttal evidence that they were not able to introduce when it was their turn.

So let’s have a peek at the some of the evidence that Karadžić submitted on 15 October in his defence. He gives us a written statement by Blagoje Kovačević, a Republika Srpska Army (VRS) colonel who ranked high among the commanders in the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. (more…)