Don't Mourn, Balkanize! on ZnetBy Andrej Grubacic
November 15, 2010
1. Can you tell ZNet, please, what Don't Mourn Balkanize! is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Don't Mourn, Balkanize! is a chronological selection of various commentaries, interviews and essays written for ZNet and Z Magazine “after Yugoslavia” and between 2002 and 2010. Some of these essays and conversations were written in Yugoslavia, others in the United States. All the essays have been originally written in Yugoslav languages. It is important to read these essays chronologically so as to see how movements and ideas mature. The reader will find me contradicting myself, as well as making mistakes and trying to correct them, all of which reflects my own development as a protagonist, propagandist, and essayist. This book is not a scholarly volume, it is not a piece of investigative journalism, and most emphatically it is not a work of theory. It is a selection of commentaries and conversations in the long tradition of Balkan socialist propaganda.
The first part, “Balkanization from Above,” follows the farcical trial of Slobodan Miloševic; the assassination of Zoran Djindjic; the “humanitarian” occupations of Bosnia and Kosovo by the “international community”; and the privatization and neoliberalization of the Serbian part of Yugoslavia. The other part of the book, “Balkanization from Below,” consists of essays and conversations related to the possibilities of anticapitalist, pluricultural resistance in post-Yugoslavia. Essays collected in this book reflect the possibilities and limits of this process today, and specifically in the Serbian part of former Yugoslavia.
I wish I could say that there is an abundance of revolutionary projects and multitude of exciting, utopian moments ready to capture the imagination of American militants. I am afraid that readers won’t find Argentine-style horizontalists or Mexican-influenced Zapatistas in fragmented, postwar Yugoslavia. What they will encounter, instead, is a socio-political landscape of desperation, destitution, and collective disappointment. They will meet hungry workers who lost their factories; angry students unable to afford privatized education; refugees still living in “temporary” camps; Kosovo Roma deported from Germany and other countries of the civilized world, and simply dropped in the middle of transitional poverty. An American activist who recently visited Kosovo told me that she had never been to such a place. She stood on every barricade from Oaxaca to Genoa, and in every war from Iraq to Lebanon. But she never experienced anything quite like Kosovo. This is a country of an absolute defeat, she told me. The words are well chosen.
However, we cannot lose hope entirely. In the midst of this rather discouraging social scenery, one can see hazy contours of new “balkanotopian” projects and new possibilities of resistance. In the Serbian part of ex-Yugoslavia, as in the rest of the Balkans, with the remarkable exception of insurrectionary Greece, we can discern a very slow but promising awakening of resistance to the post-state socialist regimes. These scattered islands of unrest and self-activity have explicit or implicit anarchist sensibility. I am very grateful to my comrades from Pokret za Slobodu (Freedom Fight Collective), Globalni Balkan (Global Balkans, at www.globalbalkans.org) and Voice of Roma (www.voiceofroma.com). Their sustained and courageous work is an important inspiration behind this book.
2. Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
I grew up in Belgrade—or, more precisely, between Belgrade and Sarajevo—but I always considered myself Yugoslav. I do not see any reason to stop doing so now. Yugoslavia might not exist anymore (after all, this collection includes, as its subtitle, the words “after Yugoslavia”), but Yugoslavia for me, and for people like me, was never just a country—it was an idea. Like the Balkans itself, it was a project of interethnic coexistence, a transethnic and pluricultural space of many diverse worlds. The Balkans I know is the Balkans from below: a space of bogoumils—those medieval heretics who fought against Crusades and churches—and a place of anti Ottoman resistance; a home to hajduks and klephts, pirates and rebels; a refuge of feminists and socialists, of antifascists and partisans; a place of dreamers of all sorts struggling both against provincial “peninsularity” as well as against occupations, foreign interventions and that process which is now, in a strange inversion of history, often described with that fashionable phrase, “balkanization.”
My family was a microcosm of this deeper Balkan reality. My grandparents were socialists, partisans and antifascists— dreamers who believed in self-management and the Yugoslav “path to socialism.” This idea—and especially the Yugoslav and Balkan dream of an interethnic, pluricultural space—was dramatically dismantled in the 1990s. That was the beginning of my struggle to understand my own identity and the problem of Yugoslav socialism. I went on to look for another path toward what my grandparents understood as communism. It seemed to me that the Marxist-Leninist way of getting “from here to there”—the project of seizing the power of the State, and functioning through a “democratically” centralized party-organization—had produced not a free association of free human beings, but a bureaucratized expression of what was still called, by the official ideology of a socialist state, Marxism. Given my distrust of bureaucratic Marxism, I became an anarchist very early on. Anarchism, in my mind, meant taking democracy seriously and organizing prefiguratively— that is, in a way that anticipates the society we are about to create. Instead of taking the power of the state, anarchism is concerned with socializing power—with creating new political and social structures not after the revolution, but in the immediate present, in the shell of the existing order. The basic goal, however, remains the same. Like my grandparents, I too believe in and dream of a region where many worlds fit, and where everything is for everyone.
I survived the violence of the Yugoslav wars and NATO interventions, but in the end it was my political work in Belgrade—in the country that I still refuse to call by any other name but Yugoslavia—that made it difficult for me to stay there. With the kind help of many generous friends, especially those from Z Communications, I found refuge in the United States. Although I moved to the United States in 2005, I was already a foreigner well before that moment. I became a foreigner in the early 1990s, when the political ideas of interethnic cooperation and mutual aid as we had known them in Yugoslavia were destroyed by the combined madness of ethno-nationalist hysteria and humanitarian imperialism. Being here, on the other side of the world, away from home and reading news from Yugoslavia—or whatever other name local elites and foreign embassies now use to describe it—was then and remains now equally disconcerting. The new, former state-socialist republics were neoliberalized, privatized or colonized and caught in an uneasy tension between sclero-nationalism and neoliberalism. A foreigner with papers to prove it, I remain an outsider trying to make sense of what has happened to the idea of the Balkans and to the country I came from. At the same time, I have and continue to find myself to be a Yugoslav, a man without a country but also, as an anarchist, a man without a state.
I feel absolutely no loyalty to Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian national causes. I have no other emotion but utter contempt for people who helped destroy Yugoslavia, and I feel the same about the people who are now selling what is left of it. I stand equally distant from the traditionalists and from so-called transitionalists. As you will hopefully discover through reading this book, I believe that the obligations and responsibilities that stand before us (all of us who believe in this deeper conception of the Balkans) are to restore and to revive the idea of Balkan federalism; to infuse it with a new, contemporary meaning; and to fight against the interconnected impositions of Euro-American imperialism and provincial ethno-nationalism. In other words, we must simultaneously and passionately struggle for another, balkanized Europe and a different, balkanized world. The future of Europe, should there be one, is in the Balkans, not the other way around.
3. What are your hopes for Don't Mourn Balkanize!? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
In Don't Mourn'Balkanize! I make a distinction between two kinds of "balkanization." First one is what I call "balkanization from above.” I use this expression to describe a project, remarkably consistent in history, of breaking Balkan interethnic solidarity and regional socio-cultural identity; a process of violently incorporating the region into the system of nation-states and capitalist world-economy; and contemporary imposition of neoliberal colonialism. Both Europeans and local self-colonizing intelligentsia have in common a contempt for everything that comes from this “wretched peninsula.” The events described in the book are nothing but the most recent phase in colonial ordering of the Balkans and its “retorted creatures.” The history of the Balkan peninsula is written in blood of the Great Powers’ attempts to prevent movements towards Balkan unity. Although essays in this book cover only the latest manifestations of elite balkanization, my contention is that the destruction of state-socialist Yugoslavia was a project of the same century-long process of balkanization from above. In contrast, Socialist Yugoslavia was a result of a long tradition of movements for Balkan unity, a manifestation of balkanization from below. After the defeat of real existing socialism, the Yugoslav state, with its indigenous socialism, and its global south, nonaligned orientation, could no longer be tolerated. Through the historically well-established pattern of imperialist intervention and local collaboration, this typically Balkan experiment has been destroyed in a series of bloody ethnic wars. Europeans and Americans have successfully blocked every peace initiative during the conflict. Balkanophobic racism in “the civilized world” has diverged into “paternalistic balkanism,” reserved for the helpless and childlike Bosnians and Kosovars, and “raw balkanism,” meaning the evil Serbs. Former Yugoslav republics were immediately transformed into veritable laboratories of “state-building,” “multiculturalism,” “truth and reconciliation,” “democracy-promotion,” and economic privatization. Political choices became restricted to local chauvinist and pro-European options. Alternatives were declared non-patriotic or anti-European. The so-called non-governmental organizations and other organs of civil society, that monstrous creation of American democracy- promotion, joined hands with nationalists and outright fascistic extremists against the pro-Balkan Left. The International Tribunal in The Hague was established in order to promulgate and further refine the official (European and American) truth of humanitarian ideology. Intervention on behalf of this ideology (“humanitarian intervention”) was wildly popular among Euro-American elites, and subsequently used as a justification in every imperialist adventure from Iraq to Afghanistan.
These imperial and colonial attitudes still define the terms “civilized world,” “international community” and “civil society.” Balkan people were never too impressed by civilization. As early as 1871, the founder of the Balkan socialist movement, Svetozar Markovic, ridiculed the entire “civilized world,” from Times to the obedient Serbian press. The civilized world, he wrote, “was composed of rich Englishmen, Brussels ministers and their deputies (the representatives of the capitalists), the European rulers and their marshals, generals, and other magnates, Viennese bankers and Belgrade journalists.” Markovic was an anti-authoritarian socialist who believed, as do I, in a pluricultural Balkan Federation organized as a decentralized, directly democratic society based on local agricultural and industrial associations. This is the kind of antinomian imagination that needs to be rediscovered: a horizontalist tradition of the barbarians who never accepted the civilized world that is now collapsing.
The second kind of balkanization is "balkanization from below." We might describe it as a tradition and narrative that affirms social and cultural affinities, as well as on customs in common resulting from interethnic mutual aid and solidarity, and resulting in what can be termed an interethnic self-activity, one that was severed through the Euro-colonial intervention. I maintain that in the Balkans this pluricultural reality finds its political expression in the anti-authoritarian politics of local self-government, communal use of the land, and various movements for Balkan Federation. The latter project included, in its most expansive and most inspiring proposal, all countries of former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. It is necessary, today more than ever, to see a lively debate between utopian proposals that dream of the libertarian organization of the society, always in thoughtful dialogue with local institutions and traditions.
As a disciple of Svetozar Markovic, our Balkan Mariátegui, I am convinced that every such proposal must blend with the local conditions and particular local institutions. According to Markovic, who lived in 19th century, local conditions will determine the nature of new society that the working class will establish in each country. The problem of bread, he wrote, is a problem of direct democracy. It is hard not to see the similarity between Markovi?’s eclectic, ethical socialism—which he defined not as a new economic system, but a new way of life—and proposals arriving from contemporary peasant movements gathered around Via Campesina. In a dialogue with Marxism, he sought a balkanized socialism based upon communal institutions and instincts rather than upon inexorable historical laws. He argued for socialist movements that are not only anticolonial with respect to the West and the East, but also revolutionary with respect to the Balkan past. His balkanized socialism was ethical and visionary, eclectic and humane, and on all accounts unacceptable to his state socialist critics who dismissed him as “utopian socialist.” His aim, he wrote in 1874, was internal social reorganization on the basis of sovereignty and communal self-government, and federation in the Balkan Peninsula. Herein, in his federalist plans, lies what is perhaps his greatest contribution: his feverish attempt to subdue the separate nationalisms of the Balkan peoples in favor of all inclusive, directly democratic federalism. This anti-authoritarian eclecticism, itself a most precious feature of Balkan societies and their revolutionary tradition, ability to connect local and global, subaltern and modern, is what I advocate under the name of balkanization of politics.
Svetozar Markovic died at the age of twenty-eight. His death was a result of years spent in exile and prisons of the Serbian state. One of his last acts before his death was to help found the first school for women in Serbia. He was buried on March 16, 1875, in the presence of thousands of peasants, some of who shouted at the police assigned to maintain order to remove their hats in the presence of the saint.
Many decades after the death of Svetozar Markovic, on July 15, 1924, a new publication, La Federation Balkanique, appeared. This was a fortnightly periodical published in Vienna in all the Balkan languages as well as in German and French. In a spirited editorial the program of this publication was defined as follows:
"The principal task of our publication as its title has already shown, is to propagate the idea of liberation and the right of self-determination of the Balkan people as well as that of federalization . . . We wish that they may cease to be the common pray of European imperialism and Balkan chauvinism: that they may cease to be the arena where the latter settle their disastrous internal quarrels . . . The working masses will finally be eager to unite its forces into single Balkan front directed against chauvinism and conquering Imperialism from whatever quarter they may come. We want liberty and peace for our countries and our peoples! We know also that this liberty and this peace are not graciously granted but must be conquered by a desperate struggle! And we are beginning this struggle!"
This is the struggle and the principle that a new generation of Balkan revolutionaries must begin anew, with the same passion, but in a contemporary context, with new organizational forms, new political sensibility, and new language. Balkan Federation: with no state, and beyond all nations.
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