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Race and the Yugoslav region

Postsocialist, post-conflict, postcolonial?

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Catherine Baker

This book explains theoretical work in postcolonial and postsocialist studies to offer a novel and distinctive insight into how Yugoslavia is configured by, and through, race. It presents the history of how ideas of racialised difference have been translated globally in Yugoslavia. The book provides a discussion on the critical race scholarship, global historical sociologies of 'race in translation' and south-east European cultural critique to show that the Yugoslav region is deeply embedded in global formations of race. It considers the geopolitical imagination of popular culture; the history of ethnicity; and transnational formations of race before and during state socialism, including the Non-Aligned Movement. The book also considers the post-Yugoslav discourses of security, migration, terrorism and international intervention, including the War on Terror and the refugee crisis. It elaborates how often-neglected aspects of the history of nationhood and migration reveal connections that tie the region into the global history of race. The book also explains 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'. Race and whiteness remained perceptible in post-war Bosnian identity discourses as new, open-ended forms of post-conflict international intervention developed.

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Introduction

What does race have to do with the Yugoslav region?

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Catherine Baker

Like south-east Europe and Europe's ex-state socialist societies in general, the Yugoslav region has legacies of nation formation, forced migration and genocide that invite seeing its past and present through the lens of ethnopolitical and religious conflict. Scholars of eastern European countries and the USSR, not just the Yugoslav region, face the obstacle of reconciling the predominance of ethnicity and the invisibility of race. Scholars in Black European Studies at locations including Germany, the Nordic countries and the Netherlands have had to confront exceptionalism in order for the mainstreams of their own area studies to hear them. Much scholarship on race, postcoloniality and whiteness on European peripheries is indebted to academics and activists in German Studies, including Afro-German women who started theorising their 'double oppressions' in white German society in collaboration with Audre Lorde.

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Catherine Baker

Evidence from popular music shows that the Yugoslav region just like other European countries does possess a 'deep reservoir' of notions of modernity, morality, hierarchy and entitlement through which popular culture and everyday discourse mobilise meaning. Wekker's search for the affective legacies of racialised colonial imagination in the 'cultural archive' reinforces Anikó Imre's argument that scholars of European media ought to apply the lens of east European postcoloniality to everyday popular culture as well as highbrow literature and cinema. The most unambiguous examples of colonial racialised imaginaries in post-Yugoslav entertainment, even more so than Cro-dance's tribalism and primitivism, were occasional blackface performances on music television. Popular music stands alongside transnational sport and film as a major vector for an embodied transnational cultural politics of race, where what producers and audiences perceive through transnational media is adapted or vernacularised through their own perceptions of race and identity.

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Catherine Baker

Race, as well as ethnicity, is an essential category for understanding the micropolitics of postsocialism, and for situating the Yugoslav wars more widely in late-twentieth-century European history. Post-9/11 Islamophobia compounded late-twentieth-century Western cultural racisms that already stigmatised Islam as incompatible with liberal democracy, along lines inflected by specific national histories and experiences but with common assumptions that Islam was incompatible with a secular Europe or West. The forms of anti-Muslim racism combined the xenophobic opposition to extra-European migration of late-twentieth/early-twenty-first-century European cultural racism with the War on Terror's racialised Islamophobia. The idea of 'postnational' defence in twenty-first-century European security viewed national interests and defence as 'multinational', 'achieved in solidarity with others well beyond the borders'. The politics of racism and peacekeeping in the Yugoslav wars exemplified how post-Yugoslav racisms mediated the geopolitical reversal that many ex-Yugoslavs felt they had undergone.

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Catherine Baker

Ethnicity and migration, two central topics for studies of the Yugoslav region, have been and are intimately linked to race. Just as ethnicity has been more central than race in south-east European studies, certain migrations have been more central than others, which tell the history of majoritarian ethnicity but are integral to understanding the place of 'race'. Indeed, even the ethnopolitical violence responsible for forced migrations within and away from the region has often involved translating ethnicity and nationhood through 'race' to more effectively dehumanise the subjects of violence and harden the symbolic boundaries of ethnic difference to their extreme. The Great War is a part of the history of race and the Yugoslav region as the theme on which the explicit discussions of race in the region have turned. The racialisation of ethnonational and religious boundaries facilitated genocidal expressions of Serb and Croat ethnonationalism during the Second World War.

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Catherine Baker

In domains from the history of popular entertainment to that of ethnicity and migration, ideas of race, as well as ethnicity and religion, have demonstrably formed part of how people from the Yugoslav region have understood their place in Europe and the world. Even within the expanding history of state socialism and race, the impact of the 1990s wars on memory and identity set the Yugoslav region apart; yet the geopolitics of Non-Alignment had already distinguished Yugoslavia during the Cold War. Miglena Todorova on twentieth-century Bulgaria anticipated much of the transnational turn in Cold War history by centring race as part of identity under state socialism. Habsburg cultural history has addressed race and anti-blackness in consumer and leisure culture, far less across the wider empire outside metropolitan, majority- German-speaking Vienna.

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Catherine Baker

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.