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The Story of Crass: A Review

Crass Fullfrontalrecordings.co.uk
2006

I was never a fan of Crass. I found their music dull and probably the only thing going for them for me were their stunts, which were hilarious. The infamous "Reagan/Thatcher" phone conversation really got up some peoples noses and was even talked about in parliament. Still, that wasn´t the only stunt and many of these are talked about in this book.



Humour aside, there was also much serious stuff talked about and that really hits home when you start reading about Crass around the Falklands conflict. You really start to think how the authorities were worried by Crass. Steve Ignorant admits in the book that once they were drawing attention from the authorities, he was ready to back off quickly. That comes as no surprise as everyone who read "Last Of The Hippies" by Penny Rimbaud will know just how far the authorities will go to silence you!



Then there´s the bits about Crass as a band. The full history from start to finish including the lyrics/music/records being talked about and how they came about. Plus the idea of where the idea of them dressing in black came up! Then most importantly their backgrounds are talked about and how they all met etc. Some very interesting pieces there.



There´s just so much in this book that it would be hard to fit in one review! However one surprise to this book are comments from Garry Bushell and I can see what he is saying regards Crass and the Anarchist moment. Even Steve Ignorant felt that way about many people in the movement especially his commments towards many of the folk at the Autonomy Centre in Wapping.



I could go on all day about this book as it is a great read. I read it in one sitting and couldn´t put it down as George Berger has done such a great job keeping it flowing from start to finish. I can´t think of one book written on a band that has held my interest as much as this one has. That´s not bad for a band I never liked!



What else I liked about how George Berger has written this book is the fact that he hasn´t grovelled to the band. This shows throughout this book but becomes more apparent when you read the epilogue.



As well as gaining an awareness of a band that influenced so many people you will also get something else from this book. It will make you think about how you go about doing things and for all you serious politico´s out there - Crass say it´s ok to have a sense of humour!!



The only downer was Andy Palmer didn´t want to contribute to this book. It would have been great to read his thoughts on Crass as the other band members did. Maybe he´ll do something in the future and I think when he reads George´s book he´ll probably be disappointed he didn´t take part.



Maybe they could have featured some of the Crass artwork in the book too?! Still, you get some photos from the Dial House Collection but I´m sure the main core of people reading this book would have preferred some artwork! Still the quality of the photos is good and the author has made sure the photos don´t flood the book unlike other band biographies.



A great read and a must for everyone in to Punk Rock! Nuff said!


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The gospel of Crass

Crass The gospel of Crass
By Tom Hodgkinson
Independent on Sunday
22 October 2006

In the late Sixties, two young artists rented a tumbledown cottage near Epping in Essex. Inspired by Lennon, Kerouac, Camus, RD Laing and other counter-culturals, the pair had no interest in commercial art or indeed the commercial world as a whole. So they changed their names, becoming Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, and set about creating a bohemian household, growing their own vegetables and living simply. Rather than a commune with strict rules, the idea was "open house".

Over the next 40 years Dial House would be home to scores of adventurers, outsiders, artists, musicians, writers and assorted Bohemians, and out of it would emerge a series of radical creative projects, the best known of which is the punk band Crass.

The Crass project was conceived as a reaction to the anarchic outbursts of punk and the Pistols. Using the medium of punk, Crass would go out there and get their message across. And the message was: look after yourself. Do it yourself. Take responsibility. You are in charge of your own life. With their fantastic symbols and art and straightforward rage, Crass found a huge audience among a generation alienated by Thatcher's policies. It affected even this writer as a 13- year-old: I remember listening to Stations of the Crass on holiday in France with my friend Simon. Back home we wore black jumpers and bought CND badges.

Crass defiantly refused to sell out, and that meant running their own business affairs. Crass members sat at home with a Gestetner machine and made all their own sleeves. They also set up their own label and encouraged artists as diverse as Bjork and Chumbawumba in their early days. Derided by some as hippies, they were in truth existentialist bohemian anarchists for whom punk music was a means of communication. Penny Rimbaud certainly is more at home sitting on the porch with a Gauloise, an espresso, Walt Whitman and Schoenberg than pogoing, gobbing or getting pissed on lager. Indeed, his more earnest approach was sometimes criticised by Steve Ignorant, Crass singer, who wasn't above having a laugh and drinking beer. Not that he wasn't above reading Walt Whitman either.

In creating a self-sufficient exstence where they grew their own vegetables and kept goats and chickens, they were actually doing what punk had suggested people do, which was to create anarchy in the UK. By anarchy, I am of course not talking about smashing up bus stops - although that has its place - but responding to the practical ideas of thinkers like Kropotkin, who argued that to be free we need to make work something meaningful and to "look after ourselves".

Crass were hugely influential, and turned on a generation to the possibilty of creating a life for oneself that was outside the restrictions of conventional 40-hour a week employment. In one aspect Penny is disappointed: in creating an open house, a place of refuge and inspiration that would be open to all, he imagined that he would inspire the creation of a network of such houses across the UK, each within a day's walk of each other, something like the monasteries of old which would dole out hospitality to any passing traveller. That has not quite happened yet. But there is still time.

But, by 1978, when Crass was formed, Dial House already had a 10-year history of radical projects. Penny Rimbaud had been involved in the creation of the Stonehenge Free Festival. He became sickened by the medical establishment when his friend Wally Hope died following some kind of hellish One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest type psychiatric treatment. To this day, he claims that Wally was murdered by the State, an idea argued in his book Shibboleth. There was also Exit, an experimental art group that handed out packets of seeds and prints by Gee at their gigs, which were always free.

In creating a space for outsiders, Dial House and Crass are in a tradition that stretches right back to the Middle Ages, According to historian Norman Cohn, the 13th and 14th centuries saw the flowering of a movement called the Brethren of the Free Spirit. To the pure of heart, they said, all was pure, and therefore you could sleep with your sister on the altar and it wouldn't be a sin. The followers of this cult were drawn from all walks of life, and women found it particularly liberating as an alternative to domestic life.

Much later, the Industrial Revolution and the extreme Protestant individualism that accompanied it led freedom-seeking artists and writers to recoil in horror from the "dark Satanic mills" and attempt to create their own communes and retreats. Coleridge and Southey dreamed of establishing a "Pantisocractic" community of labouring philosophers living the simple life.

The later 19th century is peppered with attempts to create utopian set-ups. John Ruskin established the St George's Guild, and Edward Carpenter, inspired by Tolstoy, set up a shared house at Millthorpe. Charles Kingsley worked on plans for an ideal community. In the 20th century, Eric Gill and others lived in a creative commune at Ditchling where art, craft and working the land were combined. There was a movement called Guild Socialism where Catholic writers resurrected the old idea of the medieval craftsmen's guild as a way of organising work and reuniting art and life. More recently, we have the example of Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury set. In fact, Penny believes that Dial House's recent court case, where the house was nearly lost to property developers, went their way partly because the judge could see that here was a Bloomsbury Group sort of set-up, a comparison which perhaps justified the venture in his mind.

Many of these rather self-conscious experiments in living were short-lived, but the remarkable thing is that Penny and Gee have actually achieved success. It is perhaps the lack of rules and the free nature of the place that has ensured its longevity. It is perhaps also the commitment of the various residents, as life there is not exactly easy. Apart from the hardships of living on little money, there are the inevitable conflicts of living with other people.

Although Crass were famous for their denunciation of the patriarchal nature of Christianity, there is undoubtedly something of the monastery about Dial House. The latest building project is a wooden chapel at the bottom of the garden. It's a place that offers spiritual sustenance. I've been a visitor for some years now and conversation there is always of the highest quality. Yet Dial House can be a challenging place to visit and a challenging place to live. Penny and Gee love debate to the point of aggression, and you have to be made of pretty stern stuff to cope with the constant piss-taking.

In an era when creative production has become for many simply a career option, it is fantastically inspiring to have in our midst proper artists, who in life and work constantly and continually demonstrate that there is another way of living and working.

And the work goes on to this day. There are now four full-time residents at Dial House, and it is run as an arts centre, hosting weekend workshops and debates. Gee has a major show of her work opening soon in New York. Penny and Bronwen Jones - Crass's Eve Libertine - perform poetry with avant-gade jazz under the name Last Amendment. A recent arrival at the house is the writer Jay Griffiths.

George Berger's book is an engaging, useful and well-researched if somewhat scrappily finished account of the Crass years and Dial House before and after. It is largely an oral history and there are some very fine photos. It shows brilliantly the intellectual and artistic conditions that led to the creation of Crass and also the events that have folllowed since Crass finished in 1985.


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BUY THIS BOOK and derange your senses

Crass The Story of Crass

By Alistair Livingston
Greengalloway

September 2006




Shock and awe. Got the book and read it last night. Then couldn’t sleep. Just like after reading Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming - the book manages to transmit the intensity of that which it describes. Which is brilliant. But now I am exhausted. Do I read it again? No, I can’t, today being Friday, I have to rest and relax ahead of a weekend of full on being a carer for a disabled person. 



So I am listening to the ATV/ The Image Has Cracked/ 1978 not Crass...Viva la rock'n'roll...Arthur Rimbaud spoke to me through New York’s new wave ... letting the disorded fragments of my mind re-assemble after the derangement of my senses. Which makes me think of Kenneth Grant as well as Penny Rimbaud.



Certain fugitive elements appear occasionally in the works of poets, painters, mystics and occultists which may be regarded as genuine magical manifestations in that they demonstrate the power and ability of the artists to evoke elements of an ultra- dimensional and alien universe that may be captured only by the most sensitive and delicately adjusted anntennae of human consciousness... [This] would sem to require that total and sysematic derangement of the senses which Rimbaud declared to be the key to self knowledge ... "The soul must be made monstrous ... The poet makes himself into a seer by a long, tremendous and reasoned derangment of his senses... This he attains the unknown; and when, at the point of madness, he finishes by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has beheld them!"

This formula of derangement was for Rimbaud, as for some of the greatest artists and magicains, the supreme key to inspiration and the reception of vivid images such as those which flash and tremble upon the luminous canvases of a Dali or an Ernest.


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Modern punks needed

Crass By Richard Cabut
The First Post
September 2006

We need more rebellious music to match our inflammatory times, says richard cabut
Contemporary political rock culture is characterised by the image of Bob Geldof with his arm thrown cosily around the shoulders of Tony Blair.

The music scene wasn't always so servile. In the 1980s, the anarchist punk band Crass railed against authority rather than embracing it. So articulate were Crass in their espousal of anti-consumerism, self-rule and - against the background of the Falklands War - peace, that questions were asked in parliament.

They sold a phenomenal 2 million-plus records which, it is said, helped to inspire everyone from the anarcho-punks to the anti-globalisation movement.

So where, in these inflammatory times ripe with the necessity for action, has that good old anarcho spirit gone? Where are the songs and gigs screaming about Iraq/Iran, or about the sheer boredom of celebrity culture?

Crass, as a new biography by George Berger reminds us, politicised a whole generation - but unfortunately not this one. This lot are happy to leave it all to sanctimonious, self-publicist Geldof and Bush-toady Bono - although how these people, who show their love of the world by flattering those who are busy messing it up, retain any credibility is something of a mystery.

Then there's Coldplay, whose turgidity gives singer Chris Martin's favourite worthwhile causes a bad name by association, and eco-dabblers like Damon Albarn and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Meanwhile, Mercury Prize winners the Arctic Monkeys are happy to take punk's spikey lustre, but have decided its ethos doesn't look good on the dance-floor.

In the light of such limpness, what we need is a committed, oppositional and, yes, anarchic, rock culture to kick up a rebellious stink once more. Arise, kids, you've got nothing to lose but your chainstores - which, I suspect, is the problem in a nutshell.

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Burn Collector on PMR

Burn CollectorBy Simon Czerwinskyi
Political Media Review
January 1, 2011

The fractured nature of the zine dictates it be ingested in small doses. Due to most zine’s thematic schizophrenia, this is the case the majority of the time. However, when collected, some zines are able to communicate an overarching theme. The recent reprint of Al Burian’s Burn Collector (which collects issues 1-9, and exists as a depressing postcard from the 1990s) transcends the usual scattered fare of the punk zine, and read all at once, is a solid block of wallowing introspection.  Burian weaves an intricate labyrinth of belly-aching, existential complaints, wry observation, and general punk pathos over the course of the nine issues collected here. And I felt a little wrung out after trudging through the contents of Al’s brain.

Burian was ahead of the curve in regards to hardcore burnout. Punk in the ‘90s was filled with many divergent musical genres, radical politics of all stripes, and the feeling that perhaps it would all brim over into something sustainable and useful. 

Such was not the case and Burian accurately—and painfully—articulates the malaise and disillusionment many punkers felt after the radical scene dried up; as a result, a good number of hardcore acolytes went on to wedge themselves into the straight world. The marked difference here is that Burian articulated all these feelings and regrets before the bottom fell out. In that, there is a historical importance (and personal relevance) to any stalwart of 90’s hardcore and punk. If you came out the other end feeling jaded and deflated, the book will definitely strike a chord.

That being said, music and “The Scene” are rarely addressed in Burn Collector. Burian burrows deep into his personal history, various rag-tag living situations, and failed relationships. While the meat of it doesn’t involve specific reference to punk, the approach and attitude most certainly spring from a personality bred by punk. There is much sarcasm to be had here, and there are many passages of Burian dissecting seemingly irrelevant minutiae (a common punk rock pastime).

The issues in which Burian escapes himself, such as an interesting piece about his visit to a recently re-unified Berlin, are certainly the best. Here, Burian examines a burgeoning youth culture of scrappy proportions. He witnesses ad-hoc dance clubs, ramshackle speak easies, and kids generally excited about their new-found freedom. And the final piece in the book, detailing Burian’s interaction with former President Ronald Reagan, is as punk as it is entertaining.

 The thematic consistency (Al feels bad about existence) is the main failing point here. The redundancy of a morose Burian is hard to take in such a concentrated form. Spread out amongst issues and read every couple months, Burn Collector might retain its freshness and poignancy. However, as a collection, it just weighs too much. The terminally beleaguered Burian simply wears the reader out. The subject matter changes, but the bleak perspective stays the same, and any potential a new topic might have of straying from the repetitive path is smothered by Al’s depressive mental heft. Burian is a fine writer who is limited by his myopically grim vision. As a whole, Burn Collector is impressive in its single-mindedness—a single-mindedness that, unfortunately, leaves little breathing room or variety for the reader.

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Teun Voten Interviewed in Working Class Magazine

By Luke Koz
Working Class Magazine
Issue XII: The Outlaw Issue

As a war photographer, journalist and anthropologist, Teun Voeten has courted extreme circumstances. For How de Body, he traveled to Sierra Leone to report on child soldiers just in time for a ceasefire to end, leaving him stranded in the Bush, hiding from warring rebels. His work in progress focuses on the drug war in Mexico. To write it, Voeten’s spent much of his recent time in the most dangerous areas of conflict. His A Ticket To is a catalogue of his experiences through photographers, featuring images from conflict zones throughout the world. War has featured prominently in most of his work.

However, war does not factor into one of Voeten’s most enduring works, Tunnel People, though extreme circumstances do. In the book—recently translated, updated and reissued by Oakland-based publisher PM Press–the anthropologist chronicles his time spent underground during the mid-1990s in New York City’s tunnels. Over five months, Voeten photographed, studied, interviewed, and became part of a small group of homeless people who decided to live in the tunnels beneath the City.

Working Class caught up with Voeten at The Half King, where he was scheduled to read from Tunnel People. However, rather than a reading, Voeten treated his audience to a photograph showing and interview session that more closely resembled a director’s casual Q&A than a formal event. He shared anecdotes about Bernard, one of the central figures in Tunnel People, and discussed some lessons he learned living in the tunnels (short version: don’t leave a bag of cookies in your rat-prone bunker). He spoke with humor and an earnest energy one would think impossible for someone who has spent decades documenting war zones. We spoke with Teun about his work, his approach and the update of Tunnel People.

WC: So, we hear you’ve been working in Mexico lately, correct?

Teun Voeten: I’m working now on a new project. It’s about the drug violence in Mexico.

WC: Where specifically in Mexico have you been?

TV: The Northern part, the border with Texas, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Michoacán, many states—basically, the hot spots in the war on drugs, though actually the whole country is influenced by it.

WC: Where does the violence take precedence?

TV: It takes place on the Mexican side. Ciudad Juárez for example it borders El Paso. El Paso had like three killings in a year while Ciudad Juárez had thousands.

WC: Is it fair to say your work showcases an embedded or personally integrated approach?

TV: You could call it embedded or you could call it anthropological. I’m basically an anthropologist. Actually, I just interviewed a friend of mine who has been embedded with the military for a book. I asked him, “is this journalism or anthropology,” because of the integration. You see, anthropology is a science, and journalism and science are the same, except a journalist presents findings in an easy to read way. But journalism is founded on research and observation [like science]. In anthropology, there is also participant observation, in which you act like one of the group—or become one of group.

WC: Does the anthropological approach account for your voice?

TV: Well, that’s also my personal style. I wrote a book about Sierra Leone and it was basically following my own personal experience when I was nearly killed. It’s good to structure a work around your own experiences. Although I do think your own experiences should be put in perspective, because it’s a book about other people. I’m not writing about myself, but I’m writing about a situation in which I’m a participant.

WC: Tunnel People, even though it’s a fundamentally different subject from war, there seems to be similarity. What attracted you to that subject?

TV: I have an interest in people living and surviving in extreme circumstances at the edges of the human condition, be it in a war zone or be it in a tunnel. I’m also interested in sociopolitical phenomenon and of course war is a sociopolitical phenomenon and poverty is another.

WC: It’s been over a decade since you wrote Tunnel People, yes?

TV: It’s been thirteen years and I’ve now done the update.

WC: How was going back to it? What did you do for the update?

TV: Last year, I was able to track down most of the people I mentioned in my book. Actually, with Bernard, the main character, I was still in touch with him. He is a smart, funny guy.

WC: He was sort of like the mayor of the underground in a way …

TV: Yes, but it’s a little bit relative. He was one of the most intelligent and eloquent individuals I met there.

WC: How is he?

TV: He’s doing fine. Today is his birthday. We’re going to have lunch tomorrow. He has been working at the Parks Department and he’s getting his degree to become a security guard. He’s taking care of his sick father. He has strong ties with his family and he’s never broken with his family: his mother, his brothers, his children. He was a little bit of an exception. He has it well together. He stopped doing drugs. Once in a while he has a beer and that’s it.

WC: It’s been thirteen years, for some reason it seems people keep returning to Tunnel People. What do you think explains it?

TV: People have a huge fascination with homeless people living underground in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. When I wrote the book, New York was high amongst the very most expensive cities. Right now, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo, and Moscow might be more expensive. It’s very fascinating though that homeless have literally become invisible in such a place. It’s a very telling metaphor. And of course, people love creepy New York stories. There was that book, The Mole People. It was very sensational and not so accurate, but it’s still a bestseller. Or this for example: my friend Marc (Singer) made a movie, Dark Days, and people are still seeing that movie and they love it.


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52 Releases in 2010, Join the Friends of PM Press for 2011!

News > Additional Stories

52 Releases in 2010, Join the Friends of PM Press for 2011!

In December, we celebrated our 52nd PM Press release of 2010 (that's one per week!), and we are inviting you to join the Friends of PM to help us usher in the 2011 releases.

We launched PM Press as a means to impact, amplify, and revitalize the discourse and actions of radical writers, filmmakers, and artists. The Friends of PM program provides us with a stable foundation from which we can build upon our early successes and provides a much-needed subsidy for the materials that can't necessarily pay their own way. You can help make that happen — and receive every new title automatically delivered to your door once a month-by joining as a Friend of PM Press.

Read more


Spotlight on PM Press: Interview with Ramsey Kanaan

The Aqueduct Gazette Newsletter
Winter 2011(V8)

Just as Aqueduct hit the 50th- book mark, another small socially-engaged press hit 100. PM Press, out of Oakland, California, has been putting out manuals, children's books, manifestos, and fiction and nonfiction books on radical history, politics, culture, and art. Aqueduct is pleased to spotlight some of the speculative work that PM Press issues and to talk with Ramsey Kanaan, PM founder.

Interview with Ramsey Kanaan

Aqueduct: PM Press is only three years old and already it has passed the hundred book mark. Can you tell me about the goals and achievements of the press, as they stood then, as they are now?

Ramsey: Our overarching goals (lofty I know, but you've got to have something to reach for) are to destroy Capital and the State, and build a better world. On a more mundane, but eminently practical level, we hope that by putting out quality books (and CDs and DVDs and other printed materials) in a variety of formats, styles, and genres, we might actually contribute, in some small way, in amplifying the ideas, and engaging in the practices that might actually help move us all a few steps closer. Making such work/idea accessible, and getting it in front of folks' eyes (and ears) would be nice too!

Aqueduct: I've been seeing your exciting and gracefully designed Outspoken Author series at Last Word Books down in Olympia for a couple of years now without knowing anything about the press. I'm excited to learn that Terry Bisson is the editor of these books, which Eleanor Arnason's Mammoths of the Great Plains is published under. Do you have any word from Terry about what's coming down the pike for this series?

Ramsey: We do indeed have some great authors lined up. The next two will be two of SF's grandparents- Michael Moorcock and Ursula Le Guin. We've also contracted Cory Doctorow, and are working on Marge Piercy ( once we've gotten new anniversary editions of her classic novels Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep out next year) and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

Aquedyct: Your catalog says pretty plainly that feminism is part of hte broader vision of a radical conversation going on at PM. Can you tell me what that vision looks like on your end? How do you go about bringing questions of feminism, gender, and antiracisim to the table; waht do you look for in a book; and what kinds of discussions do these perennial questions provoke on your staff?

Ramesy: Revolutionary change is a process. And all processes have history (and herstory) and context. Excavating, and engaging is not just part of that vision, but a prerequisite. We'd like to think that our output is part of that process, and critical engagement. Questions of patriarchy, sexism, race, gender - and, of course, class, are always on the table, and part of the editorial decisions on what, and why (not to mention, for whom, and to what end) to publish. In general terms we look for two things in a book. That it is really good. And that it contributes something beyond entertainment (not that being entertained is a bad thing per se). Unfortunately, given that we haven't yet destroyed capitalism, economic questions (i.e., can we sell it) also play a part in the equation.

Aqueduct: Finally: how can I subscribe to your newsletter?

Ramsey: Easiest way to subscribe is to just sign up over our website. Though emailing me at ramsey@pmpress.org would also work pretty good! Even better, of course, would be subscribing to the Friends of PM program. For as little as $25 a month, the lucky subscriber gets everything we publish, sent to their door- typically 2-5 books a month!

Aqueduct: Thank you!

Ramsey: Totally a pleasure... rock on ramsey




'Don't Mourn, Balkanize!' A Radical Approach to the Balkans by a Paradoxical Thinker

By Alan Ashton-Smith
popmatters.com
13 December 2010

The Balkan region has been the subject of intense mythologisation for centuries.  Although it is part of the European landmass, it’s regarded as being worlds away from the countries of Western Europe. The Balkans, if we believe Western writers and travellers, are uncivilised and undeveloped, and populated by savage types who like nothing better than going to war with each other, and committing great atrocities in the process.  Although the designation ‘Balkan’ all but disappeared when the region was subsumed into Soviet controlled Eastern Europe, the legacy of communism has done little to improve Western perceptions.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of Eastern Europe, we have seen great changes in the Balkans.  Sadly, the process of political reorganisation has been fraught, and now the word ‘Balkan’ is most likely to call to mind the wars of the ‘90s. Although the region has continued to be regarded as irrevocably war-torn, the Balkans’ return to the global spotlight has provoked numerous commentators to debunk the myths that surround this part of Europe.

Andrej Grubačić is probably the most radical writer to approach the Balkans. He does so from an anarchist perspective, and his ideas are informed by both his background and his politics.  Although he is from Belgrade, which is now the capital of Serbia, he continues to think of himself as Yugoslav, despite the fact that Yugoslavia no longer exists as a country. This paradox of identity illustrates the difficulties that the changing political landscape of the Balkans have caused for people from the region. Grubačić is co-founder of the Global Balkans Network, an anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist organisation that aims to provoke political reform in the Balkans.

These ideas recur throughout Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! a collection of essays originally published in Z Magazine and its associated website, ZNet.  As might be expected, the focus is largely on formerly Yugoslav countries, but Romania and Bulgaria are also discussed, as is the positions of minority groups such as the Roma.  Grubačić’s most consistent argument is that the Western occupation of states in the Balkans must end. He certainly pulls no punches when discussing NATO, or the Western politicians involved in this occupation. Paddy Ashdown, the former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is described as a ‘postcolonial Harry Potter’, abandoning a ‘region marked by unseen evils’; and Clinton, Blair and Bush are said to be bigger war criminals than Milošević.

This is not to say that there is a strong anti-Western bias in this book. Grubačić also rightly attacks Milošević, and draws attention to the criminal connections of assassinated Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjić and the current prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi. Kosovo is, of course, a particularly important issue, and the essays included here chronicle the period straddling its declaration of independence in 2008; Grubačić is not particularly optimistic about Kosovo’s future, predicting further war but, crucially, he believes that the withdrawal of the West is most important to its survival.

He makes a distinction between what he calls ‘balkanization from above’ and ‘balkanization from below’. The former refers to the involvement the neo-colonial powers of the West in the Balkans, while the latter entails the reform of the Balkans by the people of that region. This would involve a rejection of the privatisation of businesses and factories in post-communist former Yugoslavia; instead they would be controlled by the workers. On a larger scale, Grubačić calls for a Balkan Federation that would unify the region and ultimately provide a model for Europe. He writes that:

This Balkans, neither capitalist nor bureaucratic-socialistic, would be a transethnic society with a balkanopolitan, pluriculturalist outlook, an outlook which previously existed but was lost in its incorporation into nation-state frameworks, and outlook that recognises multiple and overlapping identities and affiliations characterized by proliferation and multiplicity, an outlook that recognizes the unity produced out of difference.

This vision for the Balkans is certainly compelling; however radical and perhaps unlikely it seems. Although this kind of unity was possible in Tito’s Yugoslavia, whether it would be now is questionable. Nonetheless, Grubačić’s attitude toward the Balkans is more enlightened than most. He points out that the goal of the West seems to be to debalkanise the Balkans and bring the region closer to the rest of Europe. The alternative proposed in this book ensures that the Balkans do not lose their very particular character. However, the enduring misrepresentation of that character must first be overcome if the West is to trust the Balkans with greater autonomy.

It may not yet be possible to set Grubačić’s ideas into motion, but Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! helps to shake off the negative way that the region is perceived, and is thus a step in the right direction.




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