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Academic Event – Panel 3: Memory and (in) Security in the Former Yugoslavia

30 Sep 2014
14:30 - 16:00
Beograd and Budva Room

Academic Event – Panel 3: Memory and (in) Security in the Former Yugoslavia

Mediating International and Domestic Demands: State-sponsored Memory Projects in Serbia

Lea David


Just as norm-complying states adapt their practices to expected behaviors, post-conflict states are forced to adapt their practices and rhetoric to better resist pressures to comply with particular norms. In the same fashion norm entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations frame issues to help gain traction as norms, norm-violating states attempt to frame their own actions as being consistent with prevailing norms, even when they are not. Building on this insight, this paper analyzes mechanisms through which the ruling elite in present day Serbia strategically constructed commemorative arenas for the purpose of dealing with the opposing demands and norms made both on the international as well as the national level.

I suggest that the process of the construction of collective memory in Serbia after the wars of the 1990s has proved to be an exemplary case of how a post-conflict nation-state may mediate its contested past in order to bridge the gap between domestic demands and those of the international community. Within this process Serbia has utilized its transition towards Europeanization to appropriate, internalize, subvert, evade or transform categories of memory. Serbia’s situation, being cast in the role of the major villain in the wars of the 1990s, initially limited the options available to it. Subsequently the power imbalance between Serbia and the EU resulted in the Serbian political elite’s agenda of promoting a collective memory independent of international pressure. Within this enormous gap between the local demands to be recognized as the righteous party in the conflict and the international demands to confront Serbia’s problematic past, the ruling political elites in post-Milošević Serbia created mechanisms to best-manage its contested past.

Following three very different state-sponsored memory projects such as 1) the newly created national calendar; 2) state-sponsored veteran organizations’ projects and 3) the implementation of the Holocaust memory in school curricula, I analyze the ways norms of the Human Rights Regime influence the construction of memory politics in current Serbia. I suggest all three mechanisms are strategies of closing political spaces which thus prevent public debate, representation, negotiation and compromise. Additionally, these strategies of silencing were intended to reduce the tension between the contradicting demands at the international and the domestic levels.



Images of War: The Place of the War Past of the Parents in the Second Generation’s Identity

Kalina Yordanova


Memory is an organizing phenomenon for both individuals and societies. Memory allows us to organize our past, foster an identity and ensure our belonging to a group (Connerton 1989; Halbwachs 1950). Accordingly, memory plays a central role in shaping of contemporary identities: it helps us re-construct our identity in relation to our past and other people’s past. Working from these ideas, my paper examines how the identity of the second generation born after the war is being shaped by their parents’ war experience. The paper seeks to answer the following questions: How is the war past of the parents understood and used by their children in shaping the present? What are the images of the war as re-constructed by those born in its aftermath?

The paper draws on data collected during my fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012 in 30 families of war survivors of different ethno-religious background. It addresses its research questions through the prism of cultural anthropology and psychoanalysis using the qualitative methods of the semi-structured interview, children’s drawings and participant observation. The paper argues that the process of memory transmission does not take place in the presence of a consistent war narrative, but rather through the symbolic and often non-verbal platforms of the body, landscape, war jokes, commemoration, and art objects. There are four major reasons for the war generation’s inability to produce a comprehensive war narrative in first person: their perception of the war as a sudden, total and surreal event; the ambiguity of their experience of war, which originates in the shifts between the wartime positions of a victim, perpetrator and witness; survivors’ experience of the uncanny which challenges their capacity to comprehend extreme violence; and the wider context of the profanization of the war issue in politicized discussions on trauma and the clear-cut discourse on victimhood in present-day Bosnia which leaves out the politically incorrect narratives. Thus, parents’ autobiographical account of the war becomes displaced from the domain of language to the one of the act. Children struggle to imagine and understand the turbulent past of their parents in order to acquire identity and legitimacy for their claims (Bos 2003). Thus, they re-construct the world of the war as a scheme with no people, attack to the family home, survival at the expense of integrity, a dirty job assigned to heroes, and pure horror.



Nation-building Under the Societal Security Dilemma – the Case of Macedonia

Aleksandar Sazdovski



In 2009, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia announced the Skopje 2014 Project, a Project that envisioned an urban reconstruction of the city through a series of monuments of historical and religious figures, as well as various public buildings resembling neo-classical, or neo-baroque style. The Project was the culmination of a wider nation-building project initiated several years earlier that became known as “antiquisation” that sought to reconstruct and redefine Macedonian national identity, in which the uppermost importance was given to the figure of Alexander the Great. The nation-building project stressed a linear continuity of Macedonian national identity from antiquity to the present thereby emphasizing the nation’s unceasing existence and affirmation throughout the centuries. But what were the underlying causes that shaped the nation-building project? How have historical, political and other factors influenced the nation-building project in Macedonia? And why was ancient Macedonia chosen as the narrative around which the nation-building project could take place? These are the questions that the present paper will attempt to answer. The aim of this paper is to examine the complex interplay between security policy and nation-building, in the Macedonian context. More specifically, it will argue that the current nation-building project in Macedonia has been developed as a response to internal  and  external  perceived  identity  threats.  Namely,  ever  since  declaring independence  the  Republic  of  Macedonia  has  been  facing  a  double  societal  security dilemma  –  an  external,  stemming  from  the  country’s  immediate  neighbors  who  constantly  dispute  the  existence  of  a  distinct  Macedonian  national  identity,  and  an internal reflected in the constant challenges of the character of the State, by the country’s ethnic Albanian community. In response, the nation-building project sought to address these concerns.

Keywords: Macedonia, security dilemma, Skopje 2014, antiquisation, nation-building, national myths



Jim Seroka


Petra Roter