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Post-Yugoslavia. New Cultural and Political Perspectives, edited by Dino Abazović and Mitja Velikonja

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(Basingstoke, uk & New York, usa: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) isbn 978-1-137-34613-1.

Post-Yugoslavia. New Cultural and Political perspectives, co-edited by Dino Abazović and Mitja Velikonja, makes a valuable interdisciplinary contribution to the research of contemporary post-Yugoslav socio-cultural problematics. The book is a collection of six scholarly articles interrogating the processes of symbolical, cultural and political change in the realities of the former Yugoslavia. The authors examine the relationships between the production, transformation, and re-affirmation of narratives and practices in the different spaces of post-Yugoslav identity-creation. While scholarly research widely focused on the political and institutional barriers of coming to terms with the Yugoslav past, this book presents a thematically and methodologically innovative framework for the study of present-day memory and identity politics.

Despite the variety of perspectives and scholarly expertise, the book presents a well-integrated collection of articles investigating several overarching concerns, namely the effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms, the present-day uses of socialist heritage, and the effects of the re-actualization of identities in the wider, non-regional context.

The inquiry of the effectiveness of transitional justice mechanism figures most prominently in the contributions of Marlies Glasius, Francesco Colona, and Dino Abazović. The authors critically assess the underlying tensions and discrepancies between institutionally professed principles, peoples’ expectations and the actual practices in post-conflict societies facing their past. Glasius and Colona question the effectiveness of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty), commonly understood as one of the fundamental components of transitional justice. By critically exploring the changing benchmarks in assessing the Tribunal’s success, the authors suggest a rather experimental and “performative” character of the icty in terms of its operational development and socio-political effects. Whereas the article proposes the metaphor of the “theater” as a methodological tool in understanding the current icty stage, there seems to be little reference on the actual socio-political outcomes of such performances. In a similar vein, Dino Abazović’s article questions the mechanisms of transitional justice in relation to post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina. Arguing for the need of political and community reconciliation in opposition to current settings of ethno-national fragmentation and social exclusion, Abazović explores the role of religious communities in social reconstructions. Even though religious actors have remained at best silent in relation to war atrocities, the author envisions religious leaders as potentially key actors in the process of reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless, the triggers of such re-definition and auto-reformation remain unclear and the article does not take into consideration the diverse conceptualization of justice and forgiveness within different religious communities.

The second overarching concern of the book, interrogating the present-day uses of socialist heritage and the strategies of re-invention and re-appropriations of Yugoslav cultural identity, is widely explored in the contributions of Mitja Velikonja and Vjekoslav Perica. While Velikonja seeks to understand the representations of “imaginary Yugoslavia” in contemporary popular music in Slovenia, Perica aims at sketching an alternative pantheon of heroes from the socialist era. Velikonja meticulously analyses the pro-Yugoslav music scene in Slovenia exploring whether such “new Yugoslavism” supports or subverts the dominant anti-Yugoslav political discourses. Even though pro-Yugoslav music appears to be no threat to the dominant discourse, the author concludes it still remains an ideological alternative to current Slovene Yugophobic narratives. Similarly, Perica explores the legacies of Socialist Yugoslavia through the peculiarities of the symbolic nation-building processes in the newly independent nation-states. The author proposes the exploitation of several icons of Yugoslav popular culture as a plausible antidote to dominant ethno-nationalistic discourses. While both perspectives certainly present ideological alternatives to current developments in the post-Yugoslav nations, they seem to lack present-day prospects of political action. Moreover, by evoking the emancipative force of yugonostalgia they seem to distance themselves from a critical approach towards the peculiarities of the post-Yugoslav condition.

Whereas the question of the re-actualization of identities is somehow common to all the contributions, Maria Koinova’s and Dubravka Žarkov’s articles bring to the surface the question of diasporic experiences of post-Yugoslav identity-creation. While Koinova’s contribution analyses the role of the Dutch context in the mobilization patterns of migrants of former Yugoslavia, Žarkov’s contribution proposes a detailed analysis of the politics of denial in the Dutch tv miniseries on Srebrenica. Similarly to Velikonja, Koinova shows that the “frozen” Yugoslav identity is not influential in transnational politics but represents a positive force for reconciliation. Nevertheless, such an approach seems to neglect the significance of the political component of reconciliation processes. Žarkov, on the other hand, points to the importance of the political, illustrating how the denial of Dutch responsibility in the Srebrenica genocide re-affirmed itself in cinematic representations by purposely blurring the distinctions between victims and perpetrators.

Even though the book proposes to examine current dynamics of identity and history creation within and outside the region, only parts of the former Yugoslav region are taken into thorough examination and there are no references to other non-regional actors except for the Netherlands. While the editors acknowledge the dominant reference to the Dutch involvement due to the functional role of the Netherlands in transitional justice processes, a comparative framework interrogating forms of transnational “post-Yugoslavism” might have been of greater urgency. Moreover, whereas the individual contributions do effectively manage to present the relationships between old and new myths, the “factual” and the “fictional” in (re)shaping narratives and identities, commentary on the novelty of cultural and political perspectives appears under-expressed. In fact, while appropriations and commemorations of the Yugoslav socialist experience present an important factor in preserving Yugoslav memory and heritage from imposed oblivion it still remains unclear to what extent the post-socialist condition can be regarded as separate from the post-conflict one and to which extent forms of new Yugoslavism present prospects of socio-political action.

Nevertheless, due to its heterogeneity and interdisciplinarity this book is an important read not only for students and scholars working on the peculiarities of the post-Yugoslav condition but also for those interested in broader processes of transitional justice and collective memory redefinitions.

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