Institutional Ignorance

Despite its significance in European history, the Yugoslavian wars and the subsequent formation of the independent nations is severely overlooked and misinformed in Western culture. Perhaps due to the historic ties with the Soviet states, our understanding of the history is limited. Personally I was never taught about it in school, and I heard even less about it on the news; looking back at the media coverage of the time and considering my somewhat renewed understanding, I’ve started to deduce the possibility that the Western World’s depictions of the Yugoslav crisis were framed in such a way that the violence and international tensions surrounding the conflict were larger than the countries themselves, effectively presenting the people’s struggle as a spectacle for the rest of the world to observe.

This transcending idea of war and violence has, in American culture especially, become a source of distraction and entertainment, with Hollywood directors and game designers casting this faceless, vague, Eastern-European identity as a war-mongering antagonist, the cultural industries gain a new genre to export. Taking for example the 2001 ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ blockbuster, which featured the Yugoslavian crisis as a violent, albeit subdued background in which an all-American protagonist can be the hero.

Beyond that comes the recycling of the East-Block identities in video-games that simulate ‘Modern Warfare’. One of the most poignant titles would be Criterion’s 2006 release ‘Black’. Again, Yugoslavia is constructed as a drab, repetitive playground for the western gamer to indiscriminately commit their own war atrocities without consequence, destroying buildings and murdering countless faceless enemies.

I intend to explore this institutional fascination with Yugoslavian representations further, and will be incorporating similar examples in future posts.

Institutional Ignorance

An introduction.

Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia. A collection of independent nations that were both formulated and directly affected in the midst of the 1990’s Yugoslav wars. Considered to be the last major historic event of the 20th century, the immensity of this dissolution is still felt even today in the new independent states, all of which have had to establish new identities. As a grand narrative, the nation of Yugoslavia and its new successor states is steeped in a legacy of post-conflict rearrangements to the country’s imagined boundaries: From the exchange of ownership through the hands of early twentieth century empires, to the Nazi invasion of the 1940’s, right up to Soviet occupation during the Cold War, time and time again, the Slavic people have undergone profound changes to their political and social environment at the hands of others.

One particular nation in this collection has found itself in the mediated spotlight time and time again throughout the past two decades. In some instances it is depicted as an aggressor and instigator of conflict, whilst in other it is regarded as bastion of the Slavic republic. Under the dictatorship of President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia has been at the forefront of war-crimes, oppression and ethno-nationalistic violence up until his overthrowing at the turn of the millennium. After that the country spent the next eight years undergoing constitutional changes, civil unrest and negotiated reintegration within the rest of Europe, all whilst (to a certain extent) having to face up to the atrocities their people had committed.

Much like the axis forces who were defeated in the Second World War, the people of Serbia soon realised their national memory had been effectively tarnished by their involvement in the war, it would be up to the culture makers and artistic communities to retell their story under a new light, perhaps even through new mediums, in an attempt to re consolidate their national identity and thus their place in the Western World.

As a research group, our objective is to explore cultural sites and major social spaces within the country of Serbia, specifically the country’s capital city, Belgrade. Belgrade has been consistently regarded as an epicenter of the Slavic states, especially considering its previous position during the era of former Yugoslavia. This blog space is dedicated to archiving our research as well as constructing a narrative of our academic and personal progress during this project.

‘Belgrade is the world’

An introduction.