Catherine Baker
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Just as anti-racist movements often struggle to discuss 'racism' as structural oppression rather than individual prejudice, studies of the Yugoslav region struggle to thread together discussions of race. During the Anglophone academy's postcolonial and subaltern turn, which overlapped with the end of state socialism and the Yugoslav wars, the asymmetric relationship led to a decisive theoretical conjunction when scholars brought up in the region but working in the USA applied postcolonial theory to explaining postsocialism. Queer studies have injected new energy into the postsocialism-postcolonialism conjunction, in the footsteps of eastern European feminists using postcolonial theory to explain how post-Cold-War western European feminists had marginalised eastern European women's perspectives. Postcolonial thought is still closer to the centre of south-east European studies than many other fields.


Even though the Yugoslav region was not an imperial metropole, even though many symbolic geographies of ‘Europe’ allocate it to Europe's spatial and material periphery, race is part of its social and historical reality. Categorisations of race, processes of racialisation and constructions of collective identity in relation to whiteness have not even simply been a postsocialist phenomenon: accordingly, cultural racism and anti-blackness in the region cannot just be called a product of identification with the symbolic pole of ‘Europe’ in the late twentieth century as an aspirational alternative to the authoritarianism and financial stagnation of late state socialism. The region's imaginations and fantasies of race, sonically and visually undeniable in the everyday ‘cultural archive’, nevertheless reveal shifting rather than stable identifications with race, depending on which aspects of the region's historical experience are mediated through which national and collective identities. Disentangling the relationship between ethnicity, nation and race, and recognising the multiple racial formations ‘translated’ into the region before and during state socialism, explain the region's ambiguous position towards race in postsocialism and the confusion that trying to position the region in global racial politics can often cause. The Yugoslav region is not an anomaly or an exception when it comes to race; it reflects the same ‘translations’ of race that structure the rest of the world.

And yet, despite important research on ‘race’ and whiteness in the region (e.g. Bjelić 2009; Kilibarda 2010; Longinović 2011; see also Imre 2005; Todorova 2006), these ideas have played much smaller roles than ethnicity or religion, or even postcolonialism, in mainstream social and cultural theory about the region. Such theory is itself a transnational production, circulating between the region's academic and cultural institutions and foreign universities which are products of colonial legacies and sites of racial struggle; those producing it may be diasporic scholars, exiles, cultural outsiders or still consider themselves living in the same home country. During the Anglophone academy's postcolonial and subaltern turn, which overlapped with the end of state socialism and the Yugoslav wars, this asymmetric relationship led to a decisive theoretical conjunction when scholars brought up in the region but working in the USA applied postcolonial theory to explaining postsocialism (Bakić-Hayden and Hayden 1992; Todorova 1994, 1997 ; Bakić-Hayden 1995). Postcolonial thought is still closer to the centre of south-east European studies than many other fields.

An image from another discipline which (after the Yugoslav wars) shares many topics with south-east European studies, International Relations, illustrates the comparison. Anna Agathangelou and L. H. M. Ling visualise the power dynamics between IR subfields as if they were the kind of colonial family compound Ann Laura Stoler (2002) describes, with their own spatial politics and intimate inclusions/exclusions. Postcolonial International Relations is among the ‘ “illicit” progeny’ outside this ‘House of IR’, theoretical formations challenging the discipline's foundations from outside rather than bargaining for acceptance inside (Agathangelou and Ling 2004: 32). Postcolonial thought in a ‘House of south-east European studies’ would not quite be in the father's master bedroom (we might find realist studies of ethnicity and nationalism there), but with studies of identity in the region so deeply informed by theorising the ‘Europe’/‘Balkans’ relationship, ‘balkanism’ is securely indoors, quite likely settling in upstairs. However, when the history of structural and material violence that globalised ‘race’ is also the origin of the dominations contested by postcolonial theory, it is even more curious that south-east European studies is full of postcoloniality yet, as a conversation, separate from race.

One route for (re)incorporating race has been mapping the constitutive hierarchical binary of whiteness and blackness on to what the field, informed by postcolonial thought, holds to be the foundational binary of south-east European identity construction: ‘Europe’ and ‘the Balkans’. Some accounts equate the Balkans' marginalisation within Europe – accentuated for more than a century by how migrants from the region have been racialised in destination countries as only conditionally white or within new semi-racialised categories like ‘east European’ – with blackness itself (Jović Humphrey 2014) – an identification some Non-Aligned Yugoslavs readily made in solidarity with decolonised Africa (Radonjić 2015), and which re-emerged after Yugoslavia, especially in Serbia and Montenegro, for communicating resentment about the region's or country's altered international status. Another route, which goes further in accommodating the region's ‘nesting orientalisms’ (Bakić-Hayden 1995) where ethnicity and geopolitics intersect, views especially Slovenia, and sometimes Croatia, as sites where late socialist/postsocialist identification with ‘Europe’ necessarily involved identification with whiteness, giving the orientalised Othering of Roma, Albanians and Serbs racialised as well as ethnicised overtones (Longinović 2011).

Yet even beyond the north-western republics or their Habsburg and Venetian legacies, the Yugoslav region and its associated ethnonational identities have been implicated in racialising Others through civilisational hierarchies linking whiteness to ‘European’ belonging and modernity and blackness to their imagined opposite. They have also been subjected to racialising judgements themselves. Often, they have been involved in processes of racialisation running ‘up’ and ‘down’ simultaneously, even as the region's peripherality in European colonial history and its peripheralisation in the contemporary European economy have been adduced as reasons to disidentify Yugoslavia and its national identities from race. There are thus at least three modes for relating race to the Yugoslav region: a mode of indifference, colour-blindness or – to use the vocabulary of critical race scholars already exposing race in other parts of Europe outside the largest ex-metropoles – ‘white innocence’ (Wekker 2016); a mode of analogy, likening the marginalisation of part or all of the region through spatialised ‘Europe’–‘Balkan’ hierarchies to racialised marginalisations elsewhere; and a mode of connection, seeing identity-making projects within and projected on to the region as embedded within, not just parallel to, the global circulation and translation of ‘race’.

To illustrate these modes, consider how each might develop the phrase with which the anti-essentialist geographer David Campbell (1999) summarises his critique of the linkage between ethnic exclusivism and territory in the ethnopolitical logic of the Bosnian conflict and in the internationally mediated peace agreements that enshrined it: ‘apartheid cartography’. The mode of indifference might not even comment on its association between the spatial politics of violence and ethnicity in post-Yugoslav Bosnia-Herzegovina and those of violence and racialisation in apartheid South Africa. The mode of analogy might invite readers to agree, through their moral stance on apartheid, that the effects of territorialised ethnopolitics in Bosnia were similarly illegitimate and deleterious, might more sceptically question whether the separate histories of South African colonialism/apartheid and Balkan nationalism make this an inappropriate comparison, or might view ethnicised Othering in Bosnia as directly equivalent to Western prejudice against racialised minorities.1 The mode of connection might do even more.

The mode of connection might position apartheid in South Africa and ethnonationalism in Bosnia within global formations of thought about ethnicity, race, territory, difference, biological essentialism and the capacity for civilisation; trace links between transnational public mobilisation of civil society against apartheid and foreign journalists' and activists' campaigns for solidarity with embattled Bosnians; ask how structures of thought and feeling produced during the colonisation of South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement shaped responses to the Bosnian conflict and its aftermath outside and inside the region; critically interrogate discourses about Bosnians being treated ‘like Africans’ or ‘a Third World country’; or position exclusivist ethnonationalisms in the Yugoslav region, Republika Srpska's genocidal strategy of homogenisation and apartheid's bureaucratic racism within one connected account of race, identity, territory, violence and diplomacy in the twentieth century.2 Of all the modes for approaching race and the Yugoslav region, the mode of connection is the most challenging and the most necessary.

Connecting race and the Yugoslav region

Just as anti-racist movements often struggle to discuss ‘racism’ as structural oppression rather than individual prejudice (Lentin 2004), studies of the Yugoslav region (and eastern European studies in general) struggle to thread together discussions of race. Often, texts and histories where race should come into view are scattered throughout the literature, rather than being connected into the kind of conversation that already exists about modernity, orientalism and postcoloniality in the Balkans. And yet, this well-established conversation can and should be viewed within global raciality – using conceptual tools the field already knows.

‘Race’, as an ideology and structure of power, is deeply tied to ‘civilisation’ and ‘modernity’, to defining self against Other, to essentialised representations of people and places stretched into global hierarchies of space and time (Mills 1997; Mignolo 2000). ‘Racialization’, as a process, simultaneously makes a temporal judgement, basing ‘cultural dimensions of modernity on the foundation of racial hierarchy’, and a spatial judgement, ascribing humans wherever they live to essentialised modern or unmodern cultural zones depending on which part of the globe their perceived race attaches them to (Winant 2001: 16). Like postcolonial theorists, critical race theorists are concerned with ‘the characterization of oneself by reference to what one is not’ (Mills 1997: 43), ‘the reliance on difference to produce identity’ (Winant 2001: 16; emphasis original). South-east European studies, having adapted postcolonial theory, knows these dynamics well. Yet critical race scholarship adds a further meaning of ‘Europe’ to balkanism's ‘Europe’/‘Balkan’ binary. If ‘Europeanness’ also, at some deep-rooted level, entails a notion of the collective ‘self’ being ready to rule over racialised Others, aspirations towards ‘Europe’, however unconsciously, might involve identification with such readiness. This both reframes the balkanism paradigm and destabilises the Yugoslav region's typical position in categories of coloniser/colonised.

Theories of global raciality, moreover, emphasise that racialised domination and whiteness constituted in the past, and still constitute today, a worldwide project, not limited to former imperial metropoles and lands they colonised. To accept, with Charles Mills (2015: 223), that ‘white supremacy was global’ implies unambiguously that south-east Europe, like any other corner of the planet, has been affected by it and incorporated within it, even though a weight of economic and cultural evidence testifies to the region's peripheral and uncertain position within ‘Europe’ throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' geopolitical reconfigurations. Critical race theory's ‘Europe’ is a fantasy of civilisation defined against savagery, of self-determination defined against spaces requiring external intervention, of politics and civics (therefore of the city) against the wilderness, all defined according to racialised boundaries projected on to people and territory (Mills 1997: 42). Yet where does a marginalised periphery of Europe fit into the global raciality of Mignolo, Winant or Mills?

The answer is that global raciality accommodates many local racisms. The very structure of white supremacy that Mills calls the ‘racial contract’, a tacit agreement among whites not to know of racialised Others' suffering, involves not just creating and legitimising systemic inequality between differently racialised groups but also the boundaries of whiteness and non-whiteness altering to tend towards (without predetermining) the ‘limited expansion’ of whiteness over time: this, for what Mills (1997: 78–9) calls ‘ “borderline” Europeans, white people with a question mark’, including ‘the Irish, Slavs, Mediterraneans, and above all … Jews’, is the ambiguity of racialisation in northern European and settler-colonial societies. ‘Intra-European’ forms of racism (Mills 1997: 79; emphasis original) also subdivide European meanings of race. One such is the construction of Nordic and Teutonic races versus more indolent southern European ‘races’ (typologies juggled by South Slav scientists throughout the early twentieth century so their nations would seem the most ideal blend). Antiziganism, though Mills does not name it, is another, which also depends on its structures not being seen (McGarry 2017: 108). Yet the fact that Mills does not theorise antiziganism specifically, although from east European perspectives it is distinctive enough to need naming and irreducible to discourses about other groups (Imre 2005; Sardelić 2014), suggests south-east (or central) Europe does not raise any further issues for him than the general ‘borderline Europeans’ question. Indeed, even Said, who inspired the postsocialist translation of postcoloniality, arguably struggled to account for the Western Othering of Eastern Europe (Dix 2015) or even the condition of the late Ottoman Empire (Deringil 2003: 313) at all.3

Walter Mignolo and Madina Tlostanova (2006: 210–11), conversely, do recognise ‘the colonial and ex-colonial locales of the subaltern empires’ and ‘the people who were multi-marginalized and denied their voice by Western modernity’, including ‘the Yugoslavian bundle of contradictions in the Balkans’, as experiences that would produce Mignolo's border thinking in the former Second World; the reason it is not more politically powerful, they suggest, is because ‘desire to assimilate to the West’ won out instead. Unpacking that bundle places state socialism, post-Ottoman heritage and Non-Aligned legacies, as well as after-effects of Austrian, Hungarian and Italian rule, on to the cloth of decolonial thought: but doing so requires integrating theories of global racial formations, ‘race in translation’ and the ‘global colour line’ (Vučetić 2013) into the study of state socialism and postsocialism. This requires reckonings south-east European studies rarely make. Where Frantz Fanon (1963: 96 in Bhambra 2014: 31) argues ‘the opulence of Europe “has been founded on slavery” ’, does this include the opulence of Habsburg Zagreb, Venetian Split or independent Ragusa? The opulence of Ottoman Sarajevo? Would Yugoslavia's diplomatic and military assistance to the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale fighting French colonial forces retrospectively exempt the region from complicity in such a legacy? Or did the structures of knowledge, power and not-needing-to-know that have constituted ‘global white ignorance’ (Mills 2015) since the beginning of Atlantic slavery and the colonisation of the Americas permeate the Yugoslav region – and the rest of state socialist Europe – as they did the rest of the globe?

The answers are complex. For some scholars, balkanism is itself a form of racialisation, driven by identifications with whiteness whether open or unavowed (Longinović 2011). Within the region, especially during Non-Alignment, identifications between Yugoslav/Balkan experiences and African or African-American experiences have often been made in solidarity with victims of racial oppression; and yet for eastern Europeans racialised as white to claim equivalent experiences to African-Americans, Afro-Europeans or black African migrants in Europe would ring hollow for historians of global white supremacy: for them, balkanisms, even those projected and enforced by the West, would not have the same history as the racisms that European colonists first articulated to justify the subjugation of indigenous Americans and enslavement of Africans. The history of ‘race’ and racialisation is nevertheless inseparable from the modern and contemporary meanings of Europeanness on which balkanisms as well as orientalisms rest.

And yet neither socialist and postsocialist Europe in general, post-Ottoman Europe or the Yugoslav region with its extra geopolitics of Non-Alignment are commonly part of the globe, or even the Europe, theorised by critical race scholarship. Stam and Shohat (2012: 80), indeed, sum up US spatialised hierarchies of knowledge production about the world by noting the bounding of ‘Latin American/Caribbean’, ‘Asian/Pacific’, ‘African’ and ‘Middle East’ studies on one hand, versus western Europe and the US as the ‘quietly normative headquarters’ that ‘strategically mapped’ all other areas – yet east European or Soviet studies, equally products of the Cold War, are not even part of their map (Hajdarpašić 2009).4 Gilroy (2004: 157), writing on European cultural racism, describes common themes in ‘European racial nationalisms all the way from Sweden to Rome’ – but what of those further east and south? Monica Popescu's suggestion (inspired by a story by the South African writer Ivan Vladislavić, whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Croatia (Warnes 2000: 273)) that ‘the figure of translation’ could mediate ‘post-apartheid and post-communist’ critical apparatus (Popescu 2003: 408) did not lead to critical race literature speaking directly about the Yugoslav region unless scholars of the region constructed their own hinge.5

One hinge – analogy – provided a title for another significant contribution to south-east European studies at the turn of the millennium: Maple Razsa and Nicole Lindstrom's article on nationalist, liberal and cosmopolitan balkanisms in 1990s Croatia. Razsa and Lindstrom (2004) applied Bakić-Hayden's and Maria Todorova's insights to examples from commentators with different relationships towards Croatian ethnonationalism, collected years after Yugoslavia collapsed, to show balkanism still structured post-Yugoslav national identities in the established successor states. The title, ‘Balkan is Beautiful’, playing on ‘Black is Beautiful’, evokes Croatian reclamations, as well as rejections, of ‘Balkan’ identity. Their parallel rests on how David Theo Goldberg ‘writes of race, but [in ways] which could be true of the Balkans’ (Razsa and Lindstrom 2004: 650).6 Goldberg himself writes five years later of ‘[t]he Balkans, [which] resonate at the margins of Europe with thickly, if complex, ethnoracial undertones’ (Goldberg 2009: 26) – but his own typology of twenty-first-century racisms (racial ‘Americanization’, ‘Palestinianization’, ‘Europeanization’, ‘Latinamericanization’, ‘Southafricanization’ and ‘neoliberalism’) offers no place for the Yugoslav region or other postsocialist countries except a Europe defined by the direct colonial activities of its West.

Establishing the globality and plurality of racial formations nevertheless lays ground for balancing the planetary reach of ‘race’ with the localised racial formations of Habsburg, Venetian and Ottoman rule, of state socialism and Yugoslavia's even more specific state socialist Non-Alignment. These, in Mills's terms, are the region's versions of ‘specific subsidiary contracts’ (Mills 1997: 24) that constitute any area's position in the global ‘racial contract’ of white supremacy. That contract is, moreover, ‘continually being rewritten’ (Mills 1997: 72; emphasis original) as the racial polity adjusts to systemic crises such as – though Mills even having written on Stalinism (Mills 1994) does not make this explicit – the beginning or end of the Cold War. State socialism's racial exceptionalism, locating race and racism in American capitalism's historic wrongs while detaching race from myths of European civilisation and modernity, was one subsidiary contract (Todorova 2006); the further disidentifications from whiteness contingently available through Yugoslav Non-Aligned anti-colonialism were another.

Whiteness, still, is woven into identity narratives throughout the Yugoslav region – whether unavowed, underneath symbolic geographies contrasting ‘Europe’ with an Other space, or openly, in antiziganisms or anti-blackness combining ethnicised entitlement to regulate minorities' settlement on national territory with culturally and/or biologically essentialised rationales for why these racialised Others could never assimilate into the nation. Mills's figure of the contract (partially) distinguishing ‘signatories’ and ‘beneficiaries’ (Mills 1997: 37) again offers a resolution. While signatories, aware moral and material hierarchies of race and whiteness exist, choose to align themselves with these systems, beneficiaries do not align themselves with the racial contract in the same way – they may even seek to detach themselves from it through ‘post-racial’ or ‘colour-blind’ imaginations – but are still its beneficiaries, through structures and legacies dating back before they were born. People from the Yugoslav region racialised as white, and the collective selves they have imagined, may or may not have been signatories of the racial contract; to the extent that they identify with whiteness or it is ascribed to them, they are, nevertheless, among its beneficiaries. Many Yugoslav Communists might have been beneficiaries but not signatories; in postsocialist nationalisms the signatories increased.

And yet – a further complication – the region's inhabitants and ethnic-majority diasporas have not universally been granted full access to whiteness on the same terms as Anglophones and north-western Europeans. Whether through association with primitivised easts and tropicalised souths, through antiziganist ascription, through Islamophobic suspicions of bearded ‘Mediterranean-appearance’ men, or through markers of language and accent complicating apparently white bodies, the region's ethnic majorities as well as minorities enter the ‘white but not quite’ category (Agathangelou 2004b: 88) in many Western formations of race. This ambiguity often leads to forms of internalised colonialism that resist one's own Othering by a hegemonic foreign discourse by using those same techniques ‘to alienate and demonize [one's] own constructed “others” ’ (Agathangelou and Ling 1997: 9). This might well be how a lens of global raciality would describe ‘nesting orientalisms’.

This ambiguity of whiteness in relation to east European national identities – at certain times, in certain places – simultaneously suggests solidarities across difference. Commenting after the 2016 Brexit referendum on so-called ‘post-referendum racism’ (rising street harassment and violence against white EU citizens, often Polish, and people of colour), for instance, Akwujo Emejulu argued ‘whiteness, even in discussions about racism and anti-racism, can … seemingly de-prioritis[e] the interests and experiences of people of colour’ who were already protesting against ‘institutionalised Islamophobia’, state violence and deportation. Yet Emejulu also distinguished between ‘previously “invisible” and privileged white EU migrants’, primary addressees of her critique, and ‘ “white” migrants from Eastern Europe who have been and continue to be subject to instutitionalised xenophobia as their labour value is exploited’ (Emejulu 2016). Their structural position did not erase or make irrelevant their race, but was not purely determined by skin colour. Such contingencies emerge through studies of and theory from the Yugoslav region and wider state socialist/post-Ottoman Europe, yet are rarely heard in wider Anglophone theoretical production.

Postcoloniality, postsocialism and the politics of knowledge production

The Yugoslav region's most widely read theorist, outside south-east European studies, is the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, a Lacanian and critical theorist known both for his postcolonial readings of the ‘Europe’/‘Balkan’ division and for his suspicion of multiculturalism. While Žižek came later to balkanism than Bakić-Hayden or Maria Todorova, he transfers this critique into the field of ‘theory’ for readers who have not encountered the theoretical production of these Serbian- and Bulgarian-born, US-based women. His 1999 essay ‘The spectre of Balkan’, for instance, describes the Slovenian antemurale myth, recognises how the European–Balkan boundary shifts in differently nested nationalisms, and (like the literature scholar Vesna Goldsworthy (1998)) views cultural production as the key site where such imaginations and fantasies spread (Žižek 1999).

Žižek connects balkanism to racism in four different ways: its ‘rejection of … Balkan Otherness’ in defence of civilisation; its perception of the Balkans as ‘the terrain of ethnic savagery’ that can only be reconciled by ascribing racism to the Other, not oneself; an ‘inverted racism that celebrates the exotic authenticity of the Balkan Other’, a fetishisation which for Žižek (as for the film scholar Dina Iordanova (1998)) explains why hedonistic visions of the Balkans in the cinema of directors like Emir Kusturica are so popular; and a ‘logic of displaced racism’ whereby ‘[b]ecause Balkan remains a part of Europe and is inhabited by white people, racist clichés that one wouldn't dare use in reference to some African or Asian nation can be freely applied to Balkan’. While some of this is compatible with the Longinović–Bjelić reading of balkanism as racialisation, Žižek's apparently unperceived contradiction between his fourth and second orders of racism lead him to argue that, within the region, Slovenia has been

most exposed to this displaced racism since it is closest to Western Europe. When, in an interview regarding his [film] ‘Underground’, Kusturica dismissed Slovenes as a nation of servants, as ‘the grooms of the Austrians’, no one was bothered by the outright racism of this statement.

(Žižek 1999)

There are indeed several relevant critiques of Kusturica: his self-orientalism evoking balkanist stereotypes in response to the Western gaze; the fetishising antiziganist tropes in his portrayals of Balkanness in general, Roma especially; the sympathies with Serb ethnocentricism that saw him leave Sarajevo for Belgrade when the Bosnian conflict began and to support the building up of a pseudo-independent Republika Srpska, including co-operating with the RS government to build a neotraditional open-air museum, ‘Andrićgrad’, near Višegrad, where RS forces had worked to eliminate Bosniaks and their post-Ottoman cultural heritage (Halilovich and Phipps 2015: 35–6).7 Within Bakić-Hayden's, Longinović's or Bjelić's structural terms, however, a Serbian-towards-Slovenian direction of racism would run against south-east Europe's usual north-over-south, west-over-east hierarchies – another instance where racism and ethnicity are not reducible to one another.

Critical race scholars, meanwhile, are highly critical of Žižek's position that liberal multiculturalism is a hegemony that a European anti-capitalist left should resist (see Žižek 2017). Žižek, Stam and Shohat (2012: 120–1) suggest, places multiculturalism itself, not colonial exploitation, at the apex of the global capitalist structures he opposes: by erasing bottom-up coalitions of anti-racist struggle and transversal solidarity that had to emerge before multiculturalism could acquire what little hegemony it has, Žižek can present multiculturalism as a universalising project of the powerful (Stam and Shohat 2012: 120–1). Sara Ahmed (2008) reads Žižek as taking an idea that was developed to challenge against hegemony as if it were hegemony, so he can celebrate freedom to offend as counter-hegemonic – when such deliberate offence actually reinforces the most hegemonic structures.8 Here, as with his use of balkanism and race, Žižek has inverted the histories and power-structures behind what he critiques in order to produce an outcome akin to ‘reverse racism’ accusations (Lentin 2004: 31), which equalise, one might even say relativise, forms of discrimination by dehistoricising their origins and structural effects (Bjelić 2002: 21).

Žižek's emphatic, provocative identifications with ‘Europe’ (which one might expect a Lacanian to reflect on better) themselves encourage theorists to critique him as representing European theory. Stam and Shohat (2012: 93–131), for instance, frame both Žižek and the French sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant as examples of European theorists opposing multiculturalism and ‘identity politics’. While reading Žižek as a European philosopher, they do not – unlike Bjelić (2009) – additionally situate him as one whose intellectual trajectory passes through the late socialist/postsocialist Slovenian academy. Yet that discursive community is, this book shows, the product of pre-Yugoslav and state socialist racial formations, inflected by the continent-wide peripheralisation of south/eastern Europe and the ‘nesting orientalisms’ (Bakić-Hayden 1995) of the region's identity constructions. These formations are connected to, though not the same as, the histories of ‘race’ in the French academy or any other.

When other theorists, mostly women, have already expressed Žižek's main points about the Yugoslav region and spatialised hierarchies of modernity, a book about postcoloniality and south-east Europe need not even spend much time on him. Yet his work is a rare example of theoretical production from and about the region being engaged outside south-east European studies. The multi-layered reading of Žižek above, using both south-east European perspectives on postcoloniality and critical race perspectives on ‘Europe’ and whiteness, shows the critique of balkanism and the work of global critical race and decolonial studies can be compatible: they are not inherently ranged against each other, even though critical race perspectives unsettle many of south-east European studies' assumptions about ‘Europe’ by casting Europe as the metropole of colonial violence and the source of racialisation. Situating the Yugoslav region, the Balkans or eastern Europe within global formations of race does not require a flat rejection of the idea that their societies and people have been marginalised or structurally oppressed; not even of the idea they have often been targets rather than beneficiaries of racialisation. Historicising the structural power relationships and legacies of ‘race’, as Gilroy (2000) does, can globalise the study of identities in the Yugoslav region without inviting the essentialism that much of this field avoids.

More scholars, inspired by struggles for racial equality and black liberation in the West, New Left activism around migrant solidarity and growing feminist engagement with intersectionality, were drawing such connections even as I was writing this book. Yet the groundwork is older. Anikó Imre (2005: 80) already argued in a 2005 chapter for the volume Postcolonial Whiteness that ‘white supremacy's function in the constitution of East European national identities is rooted much deeper than either these nations' official self-representations or the Western media portrayal of recent ethnic confrontations would suggest’; yet this unambiguous statement had little wider impact.9 Today's scholarship – including research marginalised scholars would have done earlier if not for institutional obstacles – has existing theoretical argument about race, whiteness and postsocialist identities on which to build, even though so far it has not reframed the discipline's conversations in the way that the 1990s adaptations of Said still make ‘Europe’/‘Balkan’ and ‘western’/‘eastern’ Europe constructions live themes.

This is not to say that postsocialist translations of postcolonialism are static. Queer studies, in particular, have injected new energy into the postsocialism–postcolonialism conjunction, in the footsteps of eastern European feminists using postcolonial theory to explain how post-Cold-War western European feminists had marginalised eastern European women's perspectives (Slavova 2006; Cerwonka 2008; Tlostanova 2010). Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska's volume De-Centring Western Sexualities (Kulpa and Mizielińska (eds) 2011) fitted into a wider queer postcolonial studies framework in critiquing assumptions about ‘eastern Europe lagging behind the West’ (i.e. assumptions that Western trajectories of LGBTQ politics were the most advanced or only models for sexual and gender minorities' recognition elsewhere). Indeed, Mizielińska and Kulpa (2011: 19) called the volume ‘an effect of merging post-communist and post-colonial studies’, mirroring how postcolonial queer scholarship critiques spatial–temporal hierarchies of modernity constructed around global homophobia/biphobia/transphobia (see Rao 2014). But would studies of LGBTQ rights claims in eastern Europe, as Melanie Richter-Montpetit (2016) suggests for such claims in general, also ultimately have to account for the history of chattel slavery to connect them into a full global history of rights claims and modernities? If chattel slavery's frameworks of anti-blackness were, as Mills (1997) argues, foundational to modernity and liberalism globally, even these apparently disconnected topics exist not just as analogy/disanalogy but connection, joined through the complex history of appealing to and imagining ‘Europe’ in which queer politics and so many other domains of life in postsocialist Europe are embedded.10

Such connections nevertheless remain exceptions. How many theorists of postsocialism who were not already starting to connect their work to global formations of race, or to listen across difference as intersectional feminism mediated through the (often unremunerated) digital scholarship and activism of women of colour has had to challenge white scholars like myself to do, would have read a volume called Postcolonial Whiteness and thus Imre's chapter in 2005, or indeed 2015? The connections for which this book calls have not gone wholly unmade; rather, the wider field has failed to take them up. The reasons why may be a complex set of factors, though in decolonial perspective they would all appear symptoms of an underlying coloniality within academic knowledge production. Postcolonial, decolonial and some feminist critics of postsocialism have argued, like counterparts in the Global South, that white Western European and Anglophone scholarship keeps most of them in roles of ‘native informants and silent subalterns’ even when its arguments supposedly decentre Europe and the West (Tlostanova, Koobak and Thapar-Björkert 2016: 4). The very ‘epistemic ignorance’ (Alcoff 2007: 40) of whiteness, the privilege of not-needing-to-know shared by beneficiaries of Mills's ‘racial contract’, leads most scholars who do not already intend to read and cite theories about it to ignore it or not perceive it. Material exclusions, racialised insofar as are visa regimes and income differentials within and between nations, compound the exclusions within theory itself: precarious scholars (more likely to be minorities) with less time to publish, or prevented by visa requirements from post-doctoral work in institutions with more extensive postcolonial studies and black studies departments, would have taken their work further earlier without those barriers.11

The variety of engagements with race and racialisation made by scholars connected to the Yugoslav region, the breadth of diasporic experiences mediating scholars' associations with it, the fragmentations of collective identities witnessed by scholars who became refugees during the Yugoslav wars or grew up abroad within a post-Yugoslav ‘1.5 generation’, all make it difficult to speak singly of ‘theory from the Yugoslav region’ about race. There is not one theory, but a range; there are multiple ways of situating the region in the post/colonial and post/socialist past and present; even ‘from’ is a spectrum not a binary. A certain configuration of historical experiences runs in and through the region which cannot be reduced even to ‘eastern Europe’, ‘postsocialist Europe’, ‘south-east Europe’ or the ‘Ottoman ecumene’, despite overlaps. German-speaking, Italian-speaking and Ottoman racial formations, the legacy of Non-Alignment and how the region's people have been racialised abroad across time all converge into that configuration.

This book, written by a white woman from London, England and Britain, could never be a book of theory ‘from’ the Yugoslav region anyway, only ‘about’: degrees of being ‘from’ the region are many, but none of them belong to me. I am among the scholars whose ethnic heritage is not linked to the region and who often benefit from initial presumptions of objectivity because they are outside the ethnopolitical and ideological (communist against nationalist) biases of which scholars in and connected to the region are more easily accused – although British nationality is no guarantee of objectivity when British scholars' capacity to pick a south-east European ethnonational claim to champion uncritically while denigrating its rivals, with overtones of colonial thinking about martial and partner races, was already evident when the First World War began. Whiteness protects me from the charge of ‘identity politics’ and bias when speaking about race. If I strive for objectivity in terms of avoiding the moral equivalency of relativism while being equally critical of each post-Yugoslav national position where necessary, I should be just as critical of my own national position, using tools I first learned to develop by applying them to countries that were not my own. This is not an ideologically neutral stance in today's Britain.

Encouraging other scholars of the Yugoslav region to make global raciality as central as ethnicity or social inequality in their research proceeds from, and I hope will feed back into, a drive to connect the region I study and the country where I have always lived and worked into the same cultural and historical processes. Writing at the imperial metropole, this is impossible without accounting for how ‘race’, racialisation and whiteness have shaped the Yugoslav region as well as Britain, since the global history of slavery and colonialism provides so many of the areas' structural differences. In many other respects – as the politics of entitlement, nationalism, borders, xenophobia and racism showed while Brexit coincided with my writing this book – the UK and Yugoslavia represent two comparable multinational states with severe regional inequalities, and unresolved histories of state and non-state political violence, with many surface parallels when fragmentation has loomed. Their different locations in the history of colonialism – though both are located there – reveal the comparison's limits most clearly (Baker 2016).

Even that limited comparison, however, makes ideas about the Yugoslav region resonate with struggles for racial justice in my own country. Scholarship on post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice in the region suggests histories of inter-communal violence and exploitation in the past need acknowledging for a society to coexist in social peace in the present, since these divergent narratives and their politics are already social facts; but it suggests these acknowledgements must simultaneously avoid creating simplistic collective paragons and villains, and recognise the demonstrable power imbalances that did shape the war. A ‘thick reconciliation’ (Helms 2010: 29) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, where people not only perform everyday social tasks together but understand neighbours' divergent narratives about the conflict across ethnicised and political boundaries, would require more nuanced views of the recent past than the narratives of collective victimhood and guilt dominating Bosnian politics and mainstream media. To avoid simplistic relativisations of ‘equal guilt on all sides’ (with which Serb politicians in particular have evaded responsibility for the wars), however, it would also have to acknowledge the unequal distribution of resources structuring what each side could achieve (the UN arms embargo disproportionately affected the under-equipped Sarajevo government, without diplomatic and military support from any adjacent state, compared with the VRS or HVO). ‘Ethnicity’ is not the same as ‘race’, because the histories of conquest and violence that gave rise to ‘race’ are so grounded in a specific moment of colonial expansion; but if recognition of historic wrongs is a precondition for social peace after ethnopolitical conflict, how much more must this be the case in a society as implicated in the history of racism, slavery and colonialism as Britain.

Acknowledging the silences of race, colonialism and empire in the British national present, and having already rejected the notion that Britain and the Yugoslav region belong to separate spheres of history (whether those are ‘Western’/‘Eastern’ European or ‘postcolonial’/‘postsocialist’), makes it impossible not to ask how race and whiteness have shaped national identities in the Yugoslav region, where I have so often researched identification with the modernity of ‘Europe’. Seeking to answer the challenges to Eurocentrism and ‘white ignorance’ (Mills 2015) made by current struggles for racial justice inside and outside the university, I come late to questions east European women, including Anikó Imre (2005) and Miglena Todorova (2006), already posed more than ten years ago. If today's conjunction of research on postsocialist racisms, state socialist Non-Alignment and pre-socialist black histories might finally inscribe global raciality as well as ethnicity into post-Yugoslav and east European studies, it stands on these earlier shoulders, and those of scholars in critical race theory and Black European studies whose questions can now be – should always have been – applied to state socialist Europe, the post-Ottoman space and the Yugoslav region. Vedrana Veličković (2012: 173), a literary theorist educated in Belgrade and working in Brighton, asks in her own essay on postsocialism and postcolonialism: ‘Let us hope that these interventions will no longer only be made by eastern European scholars’. As younger and older scholars from outside the region join the coalition, let us also hope – or make sure – that the expertise of those who first perceived those interventions could be made remains foundational. (I hope works published before this book will be cited at least as often as this one; I hope a reader who has reached this point will understand why.)

Even among the contingent and contradictory racial formations constituting ‘Europe’, situating race in the Yugoslav region is complex. The answer, for the imperial fin-de-siècle and the postsocialist, post-9/11 turn of the millennium, must account both for the covertly, sometimes overtly, racialised exclusions of the region and its people within other identity-making projects and for the access to whiteness its ethnic majorities, and national identities based on them, have had through skin colour and through identification with ‘Europe’ as a space of modernity and civilisation. Simplistically ascribing regions and peoples to history's ‘good’ or ‘bad’ box, based on which side of the colonial equation they belong, could only say the Yugoslav region or South Slav national identities have worked both ways. More granular, intersectional and anti-essentialist understandings of power, identity-making and individual and collective histories, however, reveal that – far from the region being outside ‘race’ – the tools necessary to contextualise it are precisely those that expose how racialisation works the spatial and socio-economic peripheries of Europe and beyond.

The politics of knowledge within global formations of race explain why this has seemed so difficult, confusing, inappropriate or even threatening – compared with the deconstruction of ethnicity in south-east European studies, where even though this represents a controversy rather than a consensus its premises are widely understood. Integrating race, and therefore the global legacies of European colonialism and Atlantic slavery, into studies of the Yugoslav region as deeply as ethnicity and nationalism might centre new questions, subjects and experiences and appear to decentre others – while requiring explicit consideration of how racialisation and whiteness work in contexts where the structural status quo sustains itself through keeping them ‘invisible’ (Ahmed 2007: 149).

This is so in world politics, where racism militates against empathy with victims of colonial structural violence and with victims of wars which were framed as liberal interventionist necessities but have been resisted as neo-imperialist wars fought amid racialised constructions of security and threat; in discourses that keep ‘Europe’ coherent as an ideal and legitimise the administrative, material and virtual fortification of European borders; and in knowledge production and the academy. The gap between the mode of analogy and the mode of connection is perhaps the same gap between lenses critiquing racism as individual prejudice – as progressive discourses of tolerance and inclusion have since the late Cold War – and lenses understanding racism as structural not individual, the product of historical and present-day violence and exploitation (Lentin 2004). Where progressive politics – including state socialist anti-imperialism – has often projected a ‘racism without racists’ (Bonilla-Silva 2013), conflating race and ethnicity in post-Yugoslav – and wider east European – studies has created a postcoloniality without race.

Yet accounting explicitly for race, racialisation and whiteness does not suddenly unmake existing approaches to postsocialist marginalisation and exclusion. Quite the opposite: a field which has already internalised some premises of postcolonial thought might, as Anna Carastathis (2014: 4) suggests to scholars of Greece, be better equipped than other disciplines to situate itself within the global history of race.12 The spatial hierarchies of modernity versus primitivism which ascribe essentialised stigma through imagined links between people, bodies, cultures and territory are both, for Charles Mills, the basic division of the globe underneath racialised ascriptions of identity and, in south-east European studies, the bases of anthropological, literary and historical accounts of the symbolic construction of the region's ethnicised and socio-economic boundaries. Recognising that global formations of race travel through the region, translated into its own identity-making projects, does not erase the region's own history of imperial subjugation, and does not imply the Balkans have not been, in the past and present, economically, politically and culturally marginalised. If one is already comfortable with ‘nesting orientalisms’, it is not so far a stretch to conceive of race, or its many formations, as an axis of exclusion nesting even further around others. What needs to be unmade, instead, is the exceptionalism that presupposes the Yugoslav region or postsocialist eastern Europe does not need to be connected into a history of race and coloniality which for centuries has permeated, and depended on permeating, the whole globe. The work of weighing up this balance, in a world of interconnected struggle, can both signal and inspire other ways in which solidarities between and across marginalised people and places are possible, imaginable and necessary.


1 In contemporary activism south-east Europeans will likely find more scope for building solidarities with the African diaspora through comparisons of periphery, dependence and xenophobia rather than claiming equivalent histories of enslavement – as the violence of chattel slavery, and its effect for the global black diaspora, was unique (Sharpe 2016).
2 See, for instance, Jeremy Crampton's study of ‘race mapping and the Balkans’ at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 (Crampton 2006).
3 Hywel Dix (2015: 981), for instance, argues, ‘Said appears not to consider the differences or conflations between Western, Eastern, Central and Balkan Europe at all’ (wherever their boundaries are) – which has not prevented theorists from the Balkans filtering orientalism through their own knowledge to produce new theory.
4 The Yugoslav region only appears in a passage mentioning VRS soldiers raping and impregnating Bosniak women to show (counter to a Brazilian national identity myth) that ‘miscegenation is the ambiguous product of a painful power-laden process of contact and domination, not something to be praised for its own sake’ (Stam and Shohat 2012: 27).
5 With thanks to a reviewer of the book proposal.
6 Razsa and Lindstrom cite Goldberg's Racist Culture: ‘although race has tended historically to define conditions of oppression, it could, under a culturalist interpretation – and under some conditions perhaps – be the site of a counterassault, a ground or field for launching liberatory projects or from which to expand freedom(s) and open up emancipatory spaces’ (Goldberg 1993: 211 in Razsa and Lindstrom 2004: 650).
7 Named after the Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić.
8 See Marina Gržinić (2015) recommending Ahmed to scholars of post-Yugoslav identities and gender politics.
9 A few authors on postcoloniality and postsocialism do cite it (Owczarzak 2009; Veličković 2012). Google Scholar, though more limited for non-Anglophone scholarship, lists twenty-one citations, including two on migration cinema in Europe, seven on Hungarian and/or Romanian antiziganism, three on critical whiteness studies, one on postsocialist feminisms and five on postsocialism/postcoloniality (plus duplicates). ‘Balkan is Beautiful’, published in a well-known area-studies journal by a large English-language publisher (Razsa and Lindstrom 2004), has eighty-eight citations there though only one year older.
10 With thanks to Melanie Richter-Montpetit for further discussion.
11 Paralleling University College London's ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign was ‘Why Isn't My Professor Black?’ – recognising that exclusions outside the curriculum also affect production and validation of knowledge.
12 Indeed, the margins-to-centre move through which south-east European translations of postcoloniality, taught to white Anglophones and Europeans in Western universities, has equipped researchers trained since the late 1990s to understand their own investments in orientalism and thence coloniality itself deserves recognition.
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Race and the Yugoslav region

Postsocialist, post-conflict, postcolonial?


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