Xenophobia, Fantasy and the Nation: The Logic of Ethnic Violence in Former Yugoslavia
Chapter VII in: V. Goddard, J. Llober & C. Shore (Eds.), Anthropology of Europe: Identity and Boundaries in Conflict, pp. 143-171. London: Berg, 2004.
Glenn Bowman is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Kent where he directs the postgraduate program in the Anthropology of Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Identity. He has done extensive field research in Jerusalem on pilgrimmages, as well as on shrine practices in the Middle East and the Balkans. In addition to this research, he has worked in Jerusalem and the West Bank on issues of nationalism and resistance, and has carried out fieldwork in the former Yugoslavia on political mobilization.
The violent ethnic nationalisms which replaced Yugoslavia’s communalist ethos of bratstvo i jedinstvo (‘brotherhood and unity’) when, in 1991, the Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia fragmented into its constitutive republics took observers by surprise, and the bloody ethnic warfare that has continued to rage in the territories of Former Yugoslavia since that time has substituted trepidation for the enthusiasm with which most Europeans greeted the collapse of communist hegemony in Eastern Europe. The character of the nationalisms of Former Yugoslavia furthermore challenges the optimism with which theorists of nationalism such as Eric Hobsbawm heralded the demise of a phenomenon they believed—in the light of the developing global economy—could only be seen as atavistic. Hobsbawm’s elegiac Nations and Nationalism since 1780 closes with an assertion which, after Vukovar and Mostar, resonates with modernism’s tragic hubris:
The world history of the late twentieth and early twenty—first centuries…will see ‘nation states’ and ‘nations’ or ethnic/linguistic groups primarily as retreating before, resisting, adapting to, being absorbed or dislocated by, the new supranational restructuring of the globe.
The very fact that historians are at least beginning to make some progress in the study and analysis of nations and nationalism suggests that, as so often, the phenomenon is past its peak. The owl of Minerva which brings wisdom, said Hegel, flies out at dusk. It is a good sign that it is now circling round nations and nationalism” (Hobsbawm 1990: 182-183).
Contemporary nationalisms and the ethnic identities they mobilise may seem, when considered from a global perspective, to be irrational in so far as from that point of view the national states they strive to realise seem inappropriate to the economic structure of today’s world.
I will argue, however, that such a viewpoint is incapable of comprehending the powerful appeal ethno-nationalist rhetorics can have for people caught up in the day to day struggle to sustain, and improve, the ways in which they live. In the local domains in which people live and emote, exclusivist identities and strategies seem to be as powerful and goal-oriented as they were in earlier periods—if not more so.
In this paper I will analyze the logic of ethnic antagonism as it is manifested in the new nations which have sprung up on the territories of what was Yugoslavia in order to suggest that ethnic nationalism cannot be understood in the terms of the modernist rationalism of its analysts. Instead, I will argue, it is often constituted within political discourses which link passion and rationality in a manner which modernism—with its image of humankind as intellectively rational—is incapable of explaining or undermining.
Former Yugoslavia may be a harbinger of a long period of ethnic wars engulfing not only the territories which were, until very recently, stabilized by communist rule but also other regions which had been politically fixed by the global antagonism between communism and capitalism. An understanding of the processes which led to the bloody collapse of Yugoslav federation may thus enable social scientists to devise new models for the analysis of identity which may allow comprehension of the ‘irrational’ resurgence of impassioned exclusivist communalisms and the inter-communal wars they promote.
The collapse of the communist federal system’s legitimacy, which began in 1988—1989 when the Serbian nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic abrogated the autonomy of Kosova and the Vojvodina and deposed the government of Montenegro, inaugurated throughout the republics of what was then Yugoslavia a search for new ways of legitimating power structures which, in all instances, were already in place (the state apparatuses of the respective republics remained operative during the transition from republican to national statuses).
The discourse in which this new mode of legitimation took place was, without exception, democratic; Yugoslavs, caught up in the pro-Western ecstasy that swept through Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, accepted the western panacea of democratic elections as the cure for all ills that had afflicted them under communism.
Elections took place in the republics of Slovenia and Croatia in April 1990, and in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herçegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia in December. The results of these elections differed considerably: Slovenia and Croatia voted in centre-right anti-communist coalitions; the Macedonian elections produced a hung parliament, and a coalition government encompassing old Communist Party nomenclatura as well as reformist communists and nationalists was subsequently negotiated; Bosnia–Herçegovina set up a coalition of Croats, Muslims and Serbs which excluded the communists; and Montenegro and Serbia reinstalled their communist leaderships.
The politicians who took power in these elections did so in contests in which they claimed that the programmes they wished to enact were the programmes ‘the people’ really desired. In a situation in which the people had previously had little if any say in what was enacted by the state, there were no elaborated ‘popular platforms’ which could be appropriated by political candidates (Gaber 1993); the prevalent sense among the populations of the various republics was simply that the previous system had not worked and had, particularly through the previous decade of unequal economic development and massive foreign debt, led to a substantial decline in their standards of living.
Thus the only popular will to evoke was one of gross dissatisfaction, and the most convincing programmes to develop out of that were ones which promised to find, and abolish, the reasons that the system had failed. The sudden collapse of socialist hegemony in Yugoslavia and throughout Eastern Europe, which was for the most part brought about by economic bankruptcy and not by organised internal resistance, gave rise to popular fantasies of transformation which were virtually millenarian; people felt that if they took the magical draught of democracy proffered them by the West they would instantly move into a new, and far better, world.
Political platforms were thus not organised around plans for serious and rigorous structural changes in the political and economic domains but around talismanic pronouncements that if the parties running were elected they would transform the state into something that expressed the real will of the real people and would expunge from the nation all those agents and agencies which had in the past perverted that will.
What the elections all had in common then was the assumption that legitimacy devolved from ‘the people’ rather than from the self-ordained mission of the previous communist leadership which was that of realising the ‘people’s state’ communist ideology saw as the inherent goal of the historical process. The central question then, which was foregrounded in all the elections, was ‘who are the (real) people?’.
The answer provided by those politicians who won the elections—which was evidently the answer the majority of the voters wished to hear—was that the real people were the members of the dominant ethnic groupings of the respective republics. In Slovenia, for example, the victorious centre-right DEMOS coalition argued on a nationalist ticket that Slovenians were inherently industrious and productive and that if they could destroy the influence of the communists and the other (‘Southern’) non-Slovene national groupings which interfered with their work Slovenes would become as wealthy as the capitalists of neighbouring Austria who they emulated.
The ticket was effectively ‘Slovenia for Slovenians’ and this ‘programme’ was far more attractive to the electorate than the platform of the left reformist coalition which demanded full civil rights for all persons resident in Slovenia as well as radical, and arduous, changes in social and economic organisation.
At the other end of the political spectrum the winning argument in the Serbian elections, in which Milosevic’s national socialist party was returned to power, was that Serbs were true communists who would, were they not impeded by anti-Serbian foreign conspirators (people like the ‘Croat’ Tito who Milosevic claimed had orchestrated a ‘Vatican–Comintern’ conspiracy against Serbia), re-establish a ‘Greater Serbia’ as wealthy and as powerful as the (imagined) one which had ruled over vast areas of Balkans in the period before the Ottoman conquest.
The only ‘Yugoslav’ ticket present in all the republican elections was that of the League of Reform Forces led by Ante Markovic, who, as federal prime minister, had instituted radical economic reforms throughout Yugoslavia in 1989 and 1990. Markovic’s platform called for “an undivided Yugoslavia with a market economy, political pluralism, democratic rights and freedoms for all citizens” (quoted in Thompson 1992: 104). He was soundly thrashed in all the elections, carrying only Tusla, an industrial town in Bosnia-Herçegovina.
Two specific elements operated within the political discourses of the victorious parties, whether anti-communist or communist. The first was an evocation of the essential character and desire of the ‘people’ being appealed to; the second was a scapegoating of ‘the other’ who denied the people their true realization and the rewards it would bring about. Each of these elements appealed to a nationalist definition of identity elaborated in ethnic terms.
The Yugoslav elections were won by parties which called upon people in terms of their ethnic identities and attributed the problems which afflicted them to persons and groups which had in the past been their neighbours (neighbours not only in the sense of the residents of contiguous republics but also, in most cases, in the sense of literal neighbours in ethnically mixed communities).
The appeal of these platforms served to drive wedges between peoples who had previously lived together or in close proximity (see the Disappearing World documentary, “We Are All Neighbours” directed by Debbie Christie and based on the work of Tone Bringa).
Thus ‘ethnic cleansing’ was already set out as a political agenda in the 1990 republican elections in so far as what the victorious political programmes sketched out in theory would subsequently be given body on the ground in Croatia, Bosnia-Herçegovina, and areas within Serbia such as the Sanjak and Kosova.
It is important, however, to stress that this project was choreographed by the political leadership. Generating ethnic antagonisms provided a facile means for people in power to hold on to it and persons seeking power to achieve it at a time when previously effective means of grasping and holding power were being undermined and overturned.
It is not, however, sufficient to say simply that this was ‘done’ to the people by an opportunist and unethical political leadership. We must investigate the enthusiasm with which elements of the Yugoslav populace responded to being ‘hailed’ (Althusser 1971: 162-163) as ethnic nationalists who had to destroy their neighbours in order to affirm their selves.
The brutalities which have characterised ethnic interaction in the succeeding three years could not, I contend, have been foreseen by an observer of the patterns of coexistence which had characterised the post-war years; after the eruption of nationalist fervour, intermarriage, co-residence and economic cooperation were replaced by mutilations such as the gouging out of eyes and hacking off of genitals as well as by the rape of women and children, the wholesale massacre of ethnic groups within towns and villages, the desecration and destruction of the properties and houses of those viewed by the perpetrators as ethnic ‘others’, and the collection of men, women and children in concentration camps where torture, murder, and genocidal deprivations of food and water are commonplace.
Such activities have been carried out by Serbs, Croats and Bosnians and, although Slovenia has not seen ethnic warfare because of the relative homogeneity of its population, I have observed brutal harassment by Slovene police of persons who were ethnically non-Slovene whose only ‘crime’ was being within the borders of Slovenia. The ethnic hatred which has erupted throughout the territories of Former Yugoslavia may have been instigated from above, but the popular response to that fomentation has been enthusiastic.
Tomaz Mastnak, a Slovene social philosopher, points out that the volunteer militias, which have carried out the larger part of the atrocities, are not anti-social anomalies but are expressions of precisely the sort of society which has developed in ex-Yugoslavia: “The militias are exactly the people in arms—civil society at its most uncivil” (Mastnak 1992: 7). Analysis of the current situation must not only ascertain why ethnic divisiveness has served as a successful means of grasping power but also determine why the call to arms against former neighbours has been responded to with such passion.
When new states separate themselves off from an old state in which their peoples had been consolidated, the problem of how to determine which people belong to which new nation is problematic. In the case of the new states which have sprung up on the territory which was Yugoslavia, the clear-cut boundaries of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are poorly defined territorially. The modernization processes which affected Yugoslavia and its peoples in the twentieth century further mixed ethnic populations already intermingled by earlier experiences of living under the Ottoman and the Austro–Hungarian empires (see Hammel 1993).
Bosnia–Herçegovina, which was forty percent Muslim, thirty-three percent Serbian, eighteen percent Croatian, and nine percent ‘others’ (a census category which designates other national and ethnic groups as well as persons who refuse to define themselves in national or ethnic terms) is not a demographic anomaly: Croatia is seventy-five percent Croat, twelve percent Serbian, and thirteen percent ‘others’; Serbia, not counting its allegedly autonomous regions of Kosova (ten percent Serbian and ninety percent Albanian) and the Vojvodina (fifty six percent Serbian, twenty one percent Hungarian, and twenty three percent ‘others’), is sixty—five percent Serbian, twenty percent Albanian, two percent Croat and thirteen percent ‘others’; and even Slovenia, which considers itself ethnically homogeneous, is ninety percent Slovene, three percent Croat, two percent Serbian and five percent ‘others’ (van den Heuvel and Siccama 1992: frontispiece).
When substantial populations of persons who do not share the ethnicity of the hegemonising group reside on the territory of the state that group is attempting to create, the process of legitimating statehood in ethnic terms foregrounds the question of what to do with inhabitants who have no ethnic rights to membership in that political collectivity.
When the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ do not run along defensible territorial borders but through the middle of towns and villages and, all too often, through the middle of families, the desired ‘national entity’ can be discursively presented as penetrated and occupied by ‘enemies’ who must—at least—be disarmed by disenfranchisement (Dimitrijevic 1993) and—at best—be neutralized by exile or extermination.
This discursive project of transforming neighbours into enemies opposes the dominant state discourse of the previous forty-seven years of ‘Yugoslav nationality’ which naturalised cooperation and consanguinity. The traditions which had constituted identities since the Second World War were designed to efface inter—communal antagonisms and to establish Yugoslav bratstvo i jedinstvo as the only viable means of ensuring the survival and well-being of individuals.
Yugoslav federation had been posited on the drawing of different borders between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’. The partisan war against the Nazi occupation had forged solidarity between individuals from all of Yugoslavia’s ethnic groups in defense of the ‘homeland’ and had simultaneously brought Tito and the Communist Party to power.
It had been followed by a brutal purging of the ‘enemy within’ which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Yugoslav ‘collaborators’ and the driving into exile of many more. Subsequently the Ustase, Croats who—with Nazi encouragement—had waged ethnic war against non-Croats during the period of war-time occupation, were defined in state rhetoric as ‘Nazis’ (i.e. quislings of a foreign power) rather than as Croats.
Communist rule entailed ideological control over the representation of the past, and those horrible events that would disrupt the new inter-ethnic cooperation were not to be mentioned, except in the collective categories ‘victims of fascism’, on the one side, and ‘foreign occupiers and domestic traitors’, on the other side” (Denich 1991: 2).
A later boost to Yugoslav solidarity was provided by Tito’s break with the Soviet Union in 1948 when “the greater part of the nation rallied behind Tito in the face of the Soviet threat” (Auty 1966: 247). Subsequent developments in state policies kept Yugoslavia ‘balanced’ between ‘East’ and ‘West’, and the interests of the nation—and of the various peoples who constituted it—could thus always be drawn up in opposition to the conspiracies of a labile set of enemies threatening Yugoslavia from beyond its territorial, and ideological, borders.
Thus discourses of ethnic antagonism could not easily call upon hegemonic tradition to justify the division of communities in so far as the hegemonic tradition of the communist state argued to the contrary that the survival of the Yugoslav peoples depended on defensive cooperation. Agencies wishing to establish exclusively ethnic identities had, therefore, to ‘invent’ traditions (Hobsbawm 1983) of ineluctable antagonisms which could validate radical redefinitions of the field of sociality and cooperation.
Such invention did not, however, involve the conjuring up of grounds for antagonism ex nihilo ; the successive Yugoslav constitutions (there were four, with the latest written in 1974) had kept markers of national identity alive within the federation, and many incidents and episodes in recent and not so recent Yugoslav history could be re-remembered and interpreted to provide the basis for arguments that putative neighbours were in fact, because of their different ethnic identities, blood enemies in disguise.
It was not so much, therefore, that traditions of inter-communal antagonism were ‘invented’ but that a discursive shift was effected which allowed peripheralised and muted ‘memories’ to become the central points of new definitions of identities.
Demographically Yugoslavia is made up of six major national groupings (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Moslems) and twelve minority nationalities (Albanians, Hungarians, Turks, Slovaks, Gypsies, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Ruthenians, Czechs, Italians, Vlachs, and Ukrainians) scattered throughout an area characterised by diverse regional histories and considerable variations of wealth.
Under Tito six republics were recognized, five corresponding to the dominance of national groups within them and one (Bosnia–Herçegovina) peopled by three major national communities (Croatian, Serbian and Moslem). Two autonomous regions (Kosova and Vojvodina) were furthermore created in acknowledgement of the majority population of Albanians in Kosova and the large proportion of Hungarians in the Vojvodina.
The major nationalities can—for the most part—be differentiated in terms of religion and/or language: thus Slovenes are Catholic and speak Slovenian, Croats are Catholics who speak Serbo–Croatian (the ‘Croatian’ language is mainly distinguishable from the ‘Serbian’ by the fact that the former is written in Latin script and the latter in Cyrillic), Serbs speak Serbo–Croatian and are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Not only, however, do persons of one ‘national’ identity live within the territorial bounds of another ‘nation’s’ republic, but there are also categorical anomalies such as Serbs who are Catholic.
Furthermore, some of the other nationalities appear to be products of communist state policy rather than of ‘natural’ cultural distinctions. Thus, for instance, Montenegrins are recognised as a national community but speak Serbo–Croatian and share Orthodox affiliation with neighbouring Serbs. Macedonians, who have a distinct language, only took on a religion nominally distinct from that of the Serbs and Montenegrins in 1967 through the machinations of the Yugoslav state (see Pavlowitch 1988: 105-106).
The Muslims, a Serbo–Croatian speaking ‘nationality’ without a territorial base, were only given national status in 1968 in order “to remove them from the competition to demonstrate their ‘real’ identity as either Serbs or Croats … [so as to] neutralize the territorial aspirations of either with respect to Bosnia” (Allcock 1992: 283).
As is demonstrated by the anomalous Muslim ‘nation’—a national group without a national territory—the granting of national status was a discursive ploy which functioned in certain instances (as when Serbs and Croats wished to lay ethnic claim to Bosnia–Herçegovina through asserting that Muslims were Serbs or Croats who had converted to Islam during Ottoman rule or when Serbs wished to assert that Macedonian or Montenegro was ‘really’ Serbian) to disenfranchise ethnic claims and in others to provide a strategic sop to ethnic groups being consolidated within a multi-ethnic state.
In the latter instance the communist state provided a rhetoric within which people wishing to assert identities which were not fully assimilated within and dominated by the communist state were able to declare ethno-nationalities. State patronage of such supplementary identities, which served as a means of dispersing potential federation—wide anti-statist solidarities, encouraged the subsumption of national identities within the encompassing identity provided by the Yugoslavian state.
In so doing it maintained those identities as what Edwin Ardener has referred to as “blank banners” (Ardener 1971: xliv)—signs of identities which are not linked to specific programmes but which can, when appropriate situations arise, be mobilized as icons and given contents appropriate to those situations. Thus national identities served during the period of state hegemony as means of expressing regional conflicts (mostly economic) which could not be expressed in the rhetoric of a unified communist federation (Allcock 1992: 281-287).
When, however, statist ideology lost both its legitimacy and its power to control regional disputes in the late nineteen eighties and issues of unequal economic development among the republics became grounds for the expression of opposition to the old order, these national identities provided discursive foundations on which to base political activity.
Dissatisfaction with the central government, provoked by perceived injustices effecting all the inhabitants of a region, regardless of their ethnic affiliation, could thus most easily be articulated in ‘national’ terms and this ensured that it would be the nationalist road, rather than any other, which would be seen as leading beyond the impasse of communist politics. With the effective self-destruction of communism, the source of the disasters of the past and the deprivations of the present had to be sought in terms of national or ethnic antagonism.
The process of redefining official discourses on identity and developing the political implications of those transformations began in the early eighties when Milošević fuelled his ascent to power in Serbia by stirring up popular animosity towards Kosovan Albanians by promulgating the belief that ‘Muslims’ were, as they had in the fourteenth century, threatening to drive Serbs from their historical homeland of Kosova.
The official Serbian press began to run stories telling of instances in Kosova of Albanian ‘Muslims’ raping Serbian women and desecrating Orthodox monasteries as well as recounting the allegedly frequent expulsions—authorised by Albanian officials empowered by Kosova’s autonomous status—of Serbian families from their houses and lands so that those properties could be taken over either by illegal immigrants from neighbouring Albania or by the children of the profligately breeding Kosovans (Ramet 1992: 200).
There was, simultaneously, an official blessing and promotion of old traditions (frowned upon as ‘folkloric’ during Tito’s regime) recounting the heroic struggle of the Serbian nation against the invading Ottoman armies. Vidovdan, the annual celebration of the defeat of the armies of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic by the Ottoman armies on the ‘Field of Blackbirds’ on 15 June 1389, became an official ceremony in the period leading up to the abrogation of Kosovan autonomy.
Prominent members of the Serbian government, including Milosevic, would listen to village minstrels lament the melancholy fate of the Christian heroes who died six hundred years earlier defending Serbia against foreign invasion before presenting rousing speeches on the theme of ‘never again’.
On Vidovdan 1989, with Kosovan autonomy crushed and a state of siege in effect in the towns and villages of Kosova, the bones of Prince Lazar, which had rested in Serbia since his defeat six centuries before, were ceremonially paraded through the towns and monasteries of Serbia before being ‘returned’ with great fanfare to the Orthodox monastery of Gračanica at the heart of Kosova.
The articulation of a Serbian discourse, which was grounded on antagonism to Albanians, served to reconstitute ‘Serbia’ as a locus of identity and ‘Serbian interests’ as a focus of concern. At the same time as this was occurring in Serbia, Croatia too was moving into a nationalist phase in which the definition of the community and its appropriate concerns were central issues and devices.
Partly in response to the perceived threat of Serbian nationalism and partly as a means of gaining power, nationalist politicians called for the separation of Croatia from the Yugoslav federation on the grounds that, under communism, the Croatian people as a whole had been punished for the activities of the Ustaše (Duki 1993: 251) and had, consequently, had their rights a Croats and Yugoslavs suppressed by the ‘Serb-dominated’ state.
Croat nationalists invoked memories of the Titoist government’s crushing of the 1971 ‘Croatian Spring’ movement (a large scale political agitation which had demanded a degree of political decentralization and greater financial autonomy for the republic of Croatia) in order to illustrate this thesis, and argued that, as long as the central government was in control, the Serbs would continue to deny Croats their historic rights as a people.
In 1989 Franjo Tudjman—once a communist partisan, at that time president of the newly established ‘Croatian Democratic Union’ (HDZ), and now president of Croatia—cleansed the Croat national image (sullied by years of an equation being drawn between Ustaše fascism and Croatian nationalism) by announcing at Jasenovac (site of the most notorious Ustaše extermination camp) that the Ustaše depredations were nowhere near as extensive as state propaganda had claimed and, furthermore, that they were no different than any of the other brutalities which had been effected in that period (Tudjman 1990).
Subsequently, the press in both Croatian and Slovenia provided apparent validation of the latter point by publishing pictures of the bodies of thousands of victims (those of Slovene and Croat collaborators as well as of Serbian anti-partisan etnici [Chetniks]—and members of their respective families—who had fled from Yugoslavia in front of the victorious partisan forces only to be handed over to the partisans by British troops) of massacres carried out by the partisans after the close of the war.
Photographs of caves full of stacked bones flooded the newspapers of both republics giving rise to campaign rhetorics in which these persons, previously referred to in non-national terms as ‘Nazis’ or ‘quislings’, became ‘Croatian victims’ or ‘Slovene victims’ of communist brutality.
The Slovene nationalist ticket was, at base, simply an anti-communist ticket, and the positivity of a Slovene identity had to be invented. In the period leading up to the vote for independence a number of icons of Slovene identity were mustered, including—most successfully—the kozolec, a device for drying hay particular to certain regions of Slovenia, and a day before independence was announced heated discussions were still going on in parliament about what the new-born country would use for a flag (nearly every suggested pattern was refused by the parliament because members could discern traces of the old Yugoslavia flag in them).
It is the absence in the Slovene instance of a mobilisable history of specific ethnic antagonism towards a neighbouring group which enabled Slovenia to escape the inter—communal warfare that has desolated the rest of Former Yugoslavia. This lack contributed to the downfall of the nationalist right in the period following independence. A central programme of the elected DEMOS coalition was opposition to abortion on the grounds that ‘Slovenia is a small country surrounded by large enemies, and women should not have the right to abort future defenders of the nation’.
A substantial number of women felt, however, less threatened by an external antagonist than they did by this attempt to abrogate their powers over their bodies, and this new antagonism engendered numerous pro-abortion groups which joined with other oppositional parties in a coalition which overturned DEMOS’s parliamentary majority and returned a liberal coalition in large part concerned with local issues (Salecl 1993).
Thus while in Slovenia the drive for independence was fuelled by antipathy towards communism and the federation which imposed it on Slovenia, once the old order had disintegrated Slovenians were left without the convenient distraction of external enemies and with the difficult task of envisaging and creating a viable national identity for themselves.
In Croatia, to the contrary, the ‘blank banners’ which the anti-Yugoslav parties raised in opposition to the Yugoslav state soon became inscribed with the emblems of earlier collective struggles. Despite Tudjman’s partisan past and his attempts to exorcise the ghosts of the Ustaše from Croatian nationalism, he adopted many of the programmes and symbols of the Ustaše Independent State of Croatia as soon as he was called upon to articulate a programme for the HDZ.
Campaigning for the presidency in the election campaigns of spring 1990, Tudjman and the HDZ called for an independent Croatia which would expand to Croatia’s ‘historical borders’ (thus encompassing most of Bosnia Herçegovina), would fly a national flag on which the red star of the Yugoslav state would be replaced by the ‘chessboard’ pattern (šahovnica) which had graced the national flag of the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, and would purify the Croatian language of all ‘Serbian’ words.
He also, according to Denich, announced that the “World War II Independent State of Croatia was not…a ‘quisling’ formation, but an ‘expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people (nation) for its own independent state” (Denich 1991: 6). ‘Positivity’ was achieved for Croatian identity through the taking on of a previous anti-Yugoslav Croatian identity, and this assumption of the trappings of the ‘real’ Croatia not surprisingly terrified the Serbs who lived within the borders of Croatia. They saw before them— realized once again—the same nightmare order under which they, or their relatives, had suffered between nineteen forty-one and nineteen forty five.
Bones once again played a substantive role in the constitution of identity (Salecl 1993: 81 and Bloch 1982 and 1989: 170) as Serbs of the Krjina region of Croatia invited local and Serbian journalists and photographers into caves where the skeletons of Krjina Serbs massacred by Ustaše had been cached. Not only did these monuments to the fate of Croatian Serbs under the Ustaše serve locally to legitimate Croatian Serb resistance to the new Croatian order (a resistance which led to the Krjina establishing itself, by force of arms and ethnic cleansing, as an independent—albeit internationally unrecognised—Serbian state), but they also provided a focal point for the articulation of ethnic hatred towards the Croats in Serbia proper. Denich points out that while
the rebellions of Serbia communities in Croatia were motivated by their own memories of the Ustasha regime, now eerily reincarnated in the declarations and symbols of the new nationalist government…the inhabitants of Serbia itself had not experienced the Ustasha terror, and their wartime suffering had come at the hands of the Germans and other foreign occupiers, rather than Croats. Accordingly, there was little history of overt anti-Croat feeling throughout Serbia” (Denich 1991: 11).
Nonetheless, the Milošević regime ensured that Serbs in Serbia would recognise their own potential fate at the hands of ‘Croats’ in that of the Croatian Serbs who had died forty-five years earlier. The state-controlled Serbian media repeatedly presented television and newspaper images of the bodies and, as I witnessed when I was in Belgrade during the opening days of the war, the official publishing houses filled the bookshops with multiple volumed, profusely illustrated texts recounting the until—then suppressed history of the ‘Croatian’ attempt to exterminate the ‘Serbs’.
Serbs in Serbia proper, who had already been convinced by the regime–orchestrated hate campaign against the Kosovans that they—as Serbs—stood to lose their ancestral homeland (not, note, their own homes, but the home of the Serbian people), were now being told that they—as Serbs—stood to lose their lives (see the Ministry of Information pamphlets by M. Bulajic 1991 and S. Kljakic 1991).
With the successful promulgation of Milošević’s brand of national socialism, which involved the putting into circulation of previously discredited traditions and previously silenced atrocity stories, the Serbs gained the promise of a ‘Greater Serbia’—invoked by the threat of its theft—and the brotherhood of a ‘Serbian people’—conjured up by images of its extermination. Like those who followed the pan pipes of ethnic nationalism in other regions of Former Yugoslavia, the Serbian people were promised a utopic future in exchange for a commitment to the protracted struggle to destroy the enemies of that future.
What Milošević, Tudjman and other nationalist politicians have gained by playing the ethnic card in their quest for power seems clear. By transforming the discursive field of the social from one based on cohabitation and cooperation (‘unity and brotherhood’) to one based on exclusivity and ethnic warfare (‘blood and land’), they have been able, first of all, to displace people’s self-interest onto a plane where self-interest is defined in essentialist terms as the interest of oneself as a ‘Serb’, a ‘Croat’, a ‘Slovene’, or whatever.
When a person is induced to imagine his or her self primarily as a representative of an ethnic collectivity, a threat to that collectivity—like a threat to its power or to the life or property of any of its members who are presented as such—is simultaneously a threat to that person.
He or she not only sees the threatened co—national as ‘the same as’ his or her self but also imagines that co—national’s enemy as simultaneously an enemy to all those (including his or her self) who share identity with the threatened one (cf. Bowman 1993: 446-448). The enemy does not attack people as such; it attacks ‘Serbs’, ‘Croats’, or ‘Slovenes’.
The second advantage gained by playing the ethnic card is that, while the social problems which had generated the initial dissatisfaction with the communist regime have remained in place and—in most cases—actually worsened, the conjuring up of an enemy (or a multitude of enemies) enables the politicians to fix the blame for those problems on that visible antagonist.
It has not proven necessary, therefore, to take on the difficult task of restructuring society in either Croatia or Serbia; all that needed to be done to convince the majority of people that positive steps were being taken was to wage war against the enemy or enemies.
One might argue that it is, in fact, the war which keeps the nationalist regimes in power. If the war were to stop, it would be more and more difficult to attribute the radical and increasing impoverishment of the people of Croatia and Serbia to the actions of their enemies, and the corruption and inefficiency of the ruling cliques would become apparent.
The final advantage gained by the nationalist leadership through the evocation of a world structured around an absolute, well-nigh “ontological” (Kapferer 1988), antagonism between a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ follows from this Manichaeism. In Former Yugoslavia, nationalist leaders lay claim to the need to abrogate the rights of the people they lead on the grounds that absolute power is necessary to destroy the absolute enemy of the people.
If the enemy is the source of all evil, and the ‘we’ that would exist were that evil to be eradicated is inherently good, then the leadership which, in these sullied days, directs the struggle to destroy the evil is itself the personification of the principle of good. The elevation of the nationalist leadership, and particularly of the ‘Leader’ per se, to the status of ‘agency of redemption’ is evident in the impassioned waving of posters of Milošević in Serbian nationalist demonstrations and, even more saliently, in the placing of statues of Tudjman alongside those of the Virgin Mary in souvenir booths at the Croatian pilgrimage centre, Medjugorje (see Bax 1991 and Bax forthcoming on the development of the shrine).
The leader stands in as the charismatic representation of the ‘will of the nation’ and, as long as it is believed that he represents that will, any activity that he initiates will be seen as ‘necessary’ for the redemption of the whole. Such legitimation of power can be undermined in two ways. One occurs when people lose faith in the existence of the evil which serves to justify the state’s violence and repression, as happened in Slovenia.
Another occurs when people lose faith in the leader as charismatic representative of the principle of the nation, and the challenge offered Milošević by Vojislav Seselj of the extreme right wing Serbian Radical Party in the 19 December parliamentary elections in Serbia is grounded on such a reassessment. Here the leader can be exposed as a ‘false messiah’ and his place can be usurped by another whose even greater violence and extremism seems better to manifest the violence the nation needs to destroy the violence that would destroy the nation.
The nationalist leaderships’ discourses on the enemy, which are widely and powerfully promulgated by the media of communication they control, create, in effect, a world divided between two camps in which there is no neutral place to stand. Thus anyone who does not support the national leadership is necessarily a supporter of the enemy (this logic has justified the extreme repression of anti-nationalists in Serbia and Croatia as well as the brutal murders by Bosnian Serbs and Croats of co—nationals who refuse to take up arms in support of the national cause) and all elements of the social field have to be interpreted in terms of the side on which they stand.
A widely circulated story in Bosnia tells of an exchange of graffiti on the contested border between Serbian and Bosnian sectors of Sarajevo. Someone wrote on a wall of the Central Post Office, which stands on that boundary line, “THIS IS SERBIA” and someone else soon after painted that message out and replaced it with “THIS IS BOSNIA”. A third interlocutor crossed out the second message and wrote in its place “THIS IS A POST OFFICE!”.
Less humorous are other attempts to lay claim to places and cleanse them of the sullying marks of other presences; I refer here not only to ethnic cleansing per se but also to its landscaping correlate in which volunteer squads from Serbia come into areas of Bosnia which have been taken and purged of Muslims by the Serb militias in order not only to tear down mosques but also to turf the ground on which they stood, plant trees, and install playground equipment.
A pragmatic interpretation of this activity—based on the perpetrators’ subsequent denials to visitors that a mosque had ever stood in the place of the park—would be that the landscapers are attempting to mask the ethnic cleansing that occurred there. I suspect, however, that in so far as the visitors are known to know that Muslims had lived there, the remaking of the landscape serves to create, for the Serbs themselves, an image of a new world bearing no signs of the history out of which it was violently born.
This elision of the historic process is a necessary element of a discursive legitimation of the violence involved in creating those ‘cleansed’ communities; the institution of the ‘real’ Serbia is a ‘return’ to a state of ontological purity and such a state must be devoid of markers of the polluted and ‘unreal’ condition ‘Serbia’ was in before its redemption.
The violence on which this new and pure order is founded is not part of the order itself; what is real is the world to come in which evil will have no place and all that is in place will be good. This fantasy structure is evident in a story told me by a UN worker who recounted an exchange in which, after he berated a Serbian militiaman for having taken part in the destruction of the ‘beautiful and ancient Old City’ of one of the Bosnian towns, the man replied ‘but we will build a new and more beautiful ancient Old City in its place’.
In the preceding pages I have proffered an interpretation of the genealogy of this logic. Fantasies of the well—being to be experienced once the old destructive order is overcome are put into circulation by nationalist demagogues. However, once the communist regime is replaced by the new nationalist orders, the promised wealth and fulfilment fail to materialise and already—designated scapegoats—members of other national groups seen both to obstruct the national interests from outside and to sabotage their realization from inside— are shown not only to carry the blame for the inequities of the old system but also to bear responsibility for the failures of the new one.
As the new nationalist leaderships attempt to gain firmer grips on state apparatuses, they demonise the nations’ others by providing ‘proofs’ that these antagonists are not only opposed to the well—being of the people but are also dedicated to their absolute destruction. Newspapers and radio stations, controlled by the national governments, circulate fear—inducing stories of murders and mutilations carried out against members of the national community by persons of other nationalities.
By promoting widespread fear and distrust, the new leadership validates its call for the mobilization of the nation to wage war against internal and external enemies thereby securing its hold on repressive state apparatuses. Milos Vasić writing of the militarization of the Bosnian Serbs, demonstrates that “first, warmongering chauvinist propaganda is spread by the Serbian—controlled media. Fear takes hold and the idea that ‘we can’t live with them any more’ becomes dominant” (Vasić 1993: 8).
Popular acceptance of such stories of persecution itself engenders murders and mutilations directed against the ‘other’ which defensively returns like for like thus giving rise to new rumours and stories of atrocities committed by the antagonist. As Christie and Bringa’s “We Are All Neighbours” shows, a spiral of reciprocal distrust and reciprocated violence is initiated by acceptance of these rumours and this destroys patterns of sociality and replaces them with antagonisms based on fear and manifested in violent moves to destroy the enemy before it can destroy oneself (cf. Riches 1986 and Loizos 1988).
Moves to destroy that enemy follow the logic of what Riches calls ‘tactical pre—emption’ (Riches 1986: 6-7); murdering children, women and the elderly in order to prevent them from becoming, procreating, or aiding those who will murder you makes good sense once the enemy is recognised as such.
That recognition, however, cannot be explained solely in empirical terms, especially when, as in the village portrayed in the documentary, the evidence of antagonism runs counter to the testimony of daily life. Although it is undoubtedly true that political forces play a significant role in giving shape to and disseminating rumours which generate fear and give rise to inter—communal violence, it is not clear why such rumours should be accepted as true and— perhaps more saliently—why they should be seen as pertinent to situations in which no signs of inter—communal antagonism have previously been evinced.
The amount of violence now raging between the communities of Former Yugoslavia was not manifest before nationalist mobilization; as Cornelia Sorabji demonstrates in the Bosnian instance “for the most part tolerance, good will, and a conscious desire for cooperative and civil relationships filled the joints between the three populations” (Sorabji 1993: 33—34, see also Bringa 1995).
If we explain the extreme levels of brutality evident in Former Yugoslavia today as something endemic to ‘the Balkans’ we not only deny such ethnographic evidence and ignore the recent history of modernization in Yugoslavia but also effectively cast Yugoslavs out beyond the pale of what we term ‘human society’ (to act in that manner ‘they’ must be essentially different from ‘us’).
If, on the other hand, we accept that the political discourses of the contending leaderships of the former republics have somehow transformed Yugoslavs into something different than they were before, we are still left with the question of ‘where has this penchant for extreme violence come from?’. Peter Loizos, faced with analogous instances of genocidal violence in the Cypriot context (Loizos 1988: 651), argued that ethnic violence is focused on a specific set of subjects by antagonistic political rhetorics.
He left in abeyance, however, the question of what in the people such rhetorics were addressed to called them to answer to its call and adopt an image of the other as enemy with such passion that the will to efface the presence of that other from the earth overcame the moral scruples which had regulated social interaction before the other came to be recognised as such.
While the ‘Balkan mentality’ argument manifests intellectual sloth in so far as it mobilizes commonsensical and racialist stereotypes in order to ignore the challenge of understanding other cultures, the political rhetoric argument in turn ignores the challenge offered to modernist conceptions of human nature by situations in which communities which have lived together in peace and cooperation suddenly fragment into warring factions.
If, as enlightenment theories of human nature contend, human beings will act rationally and cooperatively when given the choice, then there is no reason why—when the options proffered are between a proven model of cohabitation and a radical paradigm of violent confrontation—the choice should be made for inter—communal antagonism and war.
Although I have demonstrated in the preceding pages that the latter option was offered up to the peoples of Yugoslavia by opportunistic political factions, I have not been able to demonstrate any ‘rational’ reason why the people accepted the logic of inter—communal hatred as more verisimilitudinous than their own experiences of cohabitation and cooperation.
If, as Mastnak argues, the current situation is an expression of the will of the people, then it is important to try to discern what in people resonates to a call to rise up with a seemingly primal rage to destroy an enemy before that enemy is able to destroy them. I suggest—and in so doing follow the lead of Jacques Lacan—that we must look beyond the rhetoric of social discourses to those primal fantasies mobilised by those rhetorics. These fantasies, generated by the first encounter of the human infant with the symbolic order, resonate with and impel the subject to answer to the call to inflict absolute violence against an absolute enemy.
The infant’s entry into the symbolic order, initiated when the child learns that it must call to another for what it desires, is simultaneously an expulsion from a world in which it subsequently ‘remembers’ it had had everything it wanted. Freud, in the opening section of Civilization and its Discontents, posits that “the infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his ego from the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him” and that this experience may give rise to inchoate memories of “an oceanic feeling” like a “limitless narcissism” (Freud 1963: 3—4, 9).
In this pre—linguistic state the child has no conceptual apparatus with which to distinguish ‘inside’ from ‘outside’, and thus perceives itself as both locus and source of sensation and what gives rise to sensation. The child’s entry into language expunges that sense of narcissistic omnipotence by reordering the world in terms of a dualism; in separating from the mother the child goes from sensing that the world and itself are coterminous to knowing not only that it is only part of a world but furthermore that it is a small and helpless part which must call upon others who have the power to give it—and deprive it of—what it wants.
After the moment in which the world is taken up by language, primal ‘enjoyment’ (which Lacan terms jouissance) remains only as the trace of an absence (Lacan writes “we must insist that jouissance is forbidden to him who speaks as such” [Lacan 1977: 319]). That absence or lack serves as a screen onto which we project fantasies of fulfilment—of full enjoyment—in the form of objects or scenarios of desire. These ‘part objects’, which fetishistically stand in for the jouissance which has been irrecuperably lost, seem to promise access to the fulfilment from which language has banished us.
As such they cover the abyss of that primal lack and enable us to fantasize that ‘if we had this thing we would have our happiness (jouissance) ‘. Thus, although that lack can never be anything more this side of language than the wound of an amputation, it nonetheless remains the field on which we inscribe the desires which drive our self—motivated activities.
The idea of amputation—of something brutal that has been done to sever us from that part of ourselves which gave us our pleasure—brings up, of course, the question ‘who has done this thing to us?’. In Lacanian terms this violator is that being which makes us know the foundations of language by introducing us as infants to presence and absence (self and not self) through its demand that the mother leave the child and come to it.
Although Freud calls this figure ‘the Father’, it need neither be personified nor gendered—it is something/someone outside the union of infant’s body with that which feeds, comforts and sustains it which the infant, in its initial incursion into signification, recognises as breaking that union through the assertion of its presence—its ‘voice’.
However, once the child comes to recognise the necessity of operating within the symbolic order, it channels its desires into certain patterns of behaviour through learning that certain activities will provide fulfilment (and others punishment). Through its experience of parental reward and deprivation it comes to constitute for itself an image (‘the ego ideal’) of what it must be to earn the love of those it desires and the things with which those others can provide it.
This image of the ‘good self’ serves, through an internalization of what the child perceives the parents desire it to be, to establish the child’s identity within normative patterns of motivation and expectation. This apparently rational process of enculteration functions, nonetheless, through a process of temporary displacement whereby the child imagines that it will still be able to fulfil all of its desires despite having to modify its tactics to accommodate the demands of its parents.
The narcissistic will to power still underlies the child’s relationship with the symbolic order. It is only through negotiating the Oedipus Complex that the child learns that there are limits to its desire which cannot be evaded. The Oedipus Complex is resolved when the child, which until that time continues to demand the body of the mother (the first fetish substitute for jouissance) as the object of its desire, is ‘convinced’ that it must—in its own self—interest—abandon that demand.
This occurs, in ways that differ according to the gender of the child, when the child is brought to realise that, if it continues to demand that which neither society nor the parental voice which ‘speaks’ for society will allow it, it will be deprived of the possibility of any future pleasure through what Freud asserts the child recognises as ‘castration’ (Mitchell 1974: 74—100).
The threat of castration is consequently internalized in the ‘super—ego’ which effectively serves to remind the child, and the adult it becomes, that if it is to have pleasure at all certain objects of desire must be abandoned and substituted for by objects society acknowledges as appropriate. The properly socialized person is, in other words, one who recognises that full satiation—the return to jouissance that the Oedipal fantasy evokes before the threat of castration drives it back into the unconscious—is rendered impossible by ‘reality’.
Nonetheless, traces of this difficult construction of individual identity remain inscribed in the unconscious. People will always encounter— dispersed through the wide field of their activities—frustrations of their strategies of fulfilment, and such moments frequently evoke the pre—linguistic scenario wherein a generalized antagonist is set in opposition to a fantasy of pleasure and fulfilment.
In such instances failure to achieve fulfilment are experienced as a consequence of the activities of the ‘demonic’ antagonist the infant first encountered when its primal omnipotence was shattered by the ‘voice of the Father’. When frustration of desire evokes the fantasy presence of this antagonist—perceived in infantile terms as a being which exists only to steal all it has from the child in order to pleasure itself—persons are likely to respond by directing primal rage and violence against what they perceive as the source of that frustration.
In most instances, however, such eruptions of unconscious materials into conscious life are subsequently interpreted (by both the actor and the recipient of his or her violence) as irrational behaviour (i.e., a ‘temper tantrum’) and are forced back into quiescence by the individual’s super ego. However, certain individuals who have failed to internalise the requirements of ‘reality’ dictated by the super—ego impose the logic of a psychic structure polarised between desire and antagonism onto the full field of their relations with society.
They thus interpret the world in terms of a dualism dividing all the elements of the social field into friend and foe (self and Other). In most instances such persons are perceived as paranoic and, if their violence proves endemically disruptive, are institutionalised. Certain discursive structures, however, draw upon the psychic opposition of antagonist and ego by establishing as real and normative a world polarized between obdurate enemies and a community threatened by them (Adorno and Horkheimer 1972: 187).
The forms of nationalism which have been mobilised in Serbia and Croatia (and which were stripped of verisimilitude in Slovenia because of difficulties in convincingly arguing for the presence of a demonic antagonist) draw upon this unconscious structure and mobilise the passions caught up in it by setting up the ‘real’ nation as the part object which covers lack.
In these nationalist rhetorics all real fulfilment follows from the realization of the Nation, and the ‘other’ (whether Jew, Croat, Muslim, Serb, Albanian or whatever) is inscribed in that rhetoric as precisely that which has as its only reason for being the desire to deny, steal and destroy the national identity that gives one what one wants and makes one what one really is; it steals land, rapes women, desecrates holy objects and, finally, annihilates the community in which one finds one’s identity. These rhetorics not only define the Nation as the ‘Thing’ which recuperates jouissance but also set up the Nation’s ‘others’ as incarnations of the demonic antagonist threatening pleasure at the very root of its being (cf. Žižek 1990).
It is important, however, to recognise that people’s identification with the structure set out in nationalist discourse is dynamic, and it is the processual character of this interpellation which enables nationalist rhetoric to evoke unconscious psychic structures. Liberation from what it defines as antagonistic repression and the legitimation of desires it posits as both essential and realizable sets up projects for the subjects of nationalist appellation which promise not only to restore the true nation but also to realize their authentic identities for them.
During the period of communist hegemony (an hegemony established by Tito and celebrated, until the fall of communism, under the omnipresent gaze of his portraits) the ‘pleasures’ of national identification were explicitly proscribed by the ideology of bratstvo i jedinstvo; Yugoslavs were told—and convinced—that they had to give up the fantasy of ethnic nationhood in order to guarantee survival and the construction of a social system which could provide them with well-being.
Socialist ideology served, in other words, as a form of social super ego in so far as it asserted that if people were to continue to demand the fulfilment of nationalist aspirations they would be destroyed by the activities of external antagonists. The collapse of communist ideology occurred when the supra—national identity promulgated by the Yugoslav state came to be interpreted not as something which functioned for the self-interest of Yugoslavs but as something imposed upon them by ‘external enemies’ (the ‘Croat’ Tito or ‘Serbian hegemonists’).
The Yugoslav state’s proscription of ethnic nationalism came to be seen not as a rule one had to follow to survive and prosper in the real world but as a manifestation of antagonism, and at that moment Tito and the order he represented became ‘enemies of the people’ and the nationalist fantasy became not something impossible and self—destructive but something which could be— and should be—realised.
The discursive field was transformed into what Adorno and Horkheimer term a ‘paranoic’ structure (Adorno and Horkheimer 1972: 179-200) by the popularization of the belief that possession of peoples’ ‘real’ object of desire (the nation) was possible and only prevented by the presence of others whose sole reason for being was denying that object to the people.
This structure was set in place by propaganda which simultaneously evoked the future ‘restored’ nation as a fantastic object promising the utopic recuperation of pleasures lost when, in some hazy past, the people were exiled from their ‘homeland’ and a demonic antagonist standing as the corporeal antithesis of all configurations of will and desire.
However, while the promised ‘motherland’ is sketched in these nationalist rhetorics in edenic yet imprecise terms, the evil of the antagonist and the heroic devotion of the national leader to its extirpation are portrayed with graphic realism. In the nationalist fantasy it is the leader and the enemy which are the crucial, and operative, elements. One fights against the enemy under the guidance of the leader in order to ‘recover’ the nation, but since access to the pure enjoyment of being which the nationalistic rhetoric claims will be afforded by the defeat of the enemy is always already blocked by the limitations of both social and psychic realities, the destruction of the enemy will always prove inadequate.
Implicit in the psychic structure on which nationalist rhetoric draws is a spiral of violence which leads the members of the national community to always, at the moment of victory, seek yet another enemy who can be blamed for the ‘real’ nation not being in the place they have just recovered from the enemy they have defeated (Žižek 1991: 6).
If the Nazis had had the opportunity to exterminate every leftist, Jew, cripple, homosexual, and Gypsy that could be blamed for blocking the advent of the ‘Thousand Year Reich’ they saw as their true heritage, they would have had to begin exterminating those Germans who, despite fitting all the criteria of ‘pure Germans’, were nonetheless the causes of the failure of the Millennium to materialize. Vesna Peši suggests that the same logic operates in the Serbian instance when she writes that “after ethnic cleansing we will soon have traitor cleansing” (Peši 1992: p. 7).
The nationalist rhetorics which have led to war in Former Yugoslavia function, I contend, by prompting persons of a widely diverse range of social and historical backgrounds to recognise their essential identities as national rather than as based on gender, occupation, class, or place of residence.
They succeed in doing so through the discursive construction of enemies of the nation which not only serve as scapegoats to be blamed for everything which goes wrong both in society and the lives of its members but also function to evoke—through their negativity—a national positivity which people can fantasize would suddenly and paradisiacally emerge if the enemy were to be destroyed.
I have suggested, following Freud and Lacan, that this process of creating nationalist fervour succeeds because it echoes—in the social domain —processes of identity formation individuals negotiate in their earliest encounters with social reality. The violence of the infant’s entry into the symbolic order is mirrored in the violent scenarios through which nationalist propaganda presents the antagonism of the nation’s other to the ways of life of the national community, and it is—I argue—the resonance between these two ‘scenes’ which impels individuals—regardless of their adult experiences—to recognise themselves as addressed by calls to join the national struggle.
Psychoanalytic interpretations of social action are perceived by most social anthropologists as profoundly antagonistic to the way of life of the academic community to which they owe allegiance. This is because it appears as though psychoanalysis challenges the axiomatic assumption upon which that community is founded—the a priori truth that social reality is a social construct.
The interjection I have here attempted to make does not, however, oppose that axiom; it instead suggests that in so far as humans act within society because they recognise the identities with which society provides them as their own, so we must seek to understand the processes by which persons ‘recognise’ themselves in the subject positions provided by social discourses.
The domain of the ‘irrational’, which analytic discourses based on Descartian assumptions of rationality and identity disclaim, is, I contend, what impels persons to desire to take up, and defend, the cultural identities offered in social discourses. The ex—Yugoslav instance is, in some ways, an extreme case, but as I have argued there is both a social logic operating in those political discourses which construct blood enemies out of previous neighbours and a logic of identification—which draws upon moments inscribed in the human unconscious by the first encounter of the infant with the social order—which impels ex—Yugoslavs passionately to take up the bellicose ethnic identities proffered by those political discourses.
Neither that social logic nor the structures of the unconscious it mobilises could, I suggest, independently create the uncivil societies we see active in Former Yugoslavia, but brought together they engender logical, self—affirming social realities capable of both sustaining and reproducing themselves.
Other articulations of the social and the unconscious create other, less ‘extreme’, social orders where antagonisms are variously dissipated through the numerous social encounters persons have in the course of their daily lives; ex—Yugoslavia is an extreme instance only in so far as its politicians have succeeded in transposing fantasies of ethnic nationalism so effectively onto unconscious structures of antagonism.
Such a juxtapositioning is not, however, anomalous, and other ethnic nationalisms active today throughout Eastern Europe and beyond engage in analogous constructions of idealised essential identities and demonic others. The appeal of such discursive articulations is profound, and provides the nationalists who recognise themselves in the identities proffered with powerful and logical models of interpretation and motives for action.
To understand such persons, and the communities they constitute, we, as anthropologists, must attend both to the discourses through which their real is constituted and to the processes of identification through which they recognise those social realities as places in which to dwell and act.
University of Kent
Canterbury, U. K.
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