Bojan Bilid Contentious Socialists: Recovering the Main Precursors of (Post-)Yugoslav Anti-War Engagement (Post-)Yugoslav

anti-war initiatives have remained surprisingly under-theorised in spite of their importance for understanding the developmental trajectories of both the national and regional civic scenes. This knowledge lacuna is reflective of the broader trend of marginalising (post-)Yugoslav anti-war engagement in East European sociological scholarship. The field of Yugoslav studies has recently been inundated by nationalism research which concentrates on the newly created “nation-states” and rarely considers the trans-national nature of the phenomena accompanying the painful process of Yugoslavia’s dissolution. This chapter shows that the (post-)Yugoslav anti-war initiatives did not appear immediately prior to the armed conflicts in a social and political vacuum. Rather, these undertakings — which invariably appreciated the cultural and linguistic affinities that characterise the Yugoslav space — appropriated the already existing activist networks developed throughout the second half of the 20 th century. In this regard, Yugoslav civic activists never questioned the principles of self-management socialism. The vast majority of (post-)Yugoslav anti-war protagonists — especially those related to the 1968 student protests and Yugoslav feminism — acted on the basis of clearly articulated leftist positions. Their ideology, in other words, did not differ from the political programme of the Yugoslav authorities. The principal objective of their engagement was to reduce the cleavage between the reality of living conditions, social inequalities and restricted freedoms, on the one hand, and the officially propagated — and often distorted — images of welfare and justice, on the other. Yugoslav civic engagement has been characterised by a tension between the necessity to be based on a regional (Yugoslav) model and the difficulty of putting such a model into practice. In the context of strongly competing nationally-bounded activist narratives which are nowadays embedded in fundamentally important foreign financial channels, the post-Yugoslav anti-war activists and human rights defenders could not have managed to wriggle out of the “leader discourse” which pervasively covers post-Yugoslav political culture. Often stretched between the unapproving public which considers them ‘traitors’ (or, increasingly, technocrats) and the resisting state, the activists have spent a lot of energy on trying to coordinate their own personal ambitions, internal power struggles and personality idiosyncrasies. Their political charge and the potential for establishing a new democratic counter-culture (at least among those who might have seen this as their long-term goal) have dissipated into a myriad of projects favouring urban and highly educated English speaking employees whose technical skills go way beyond those of their (ex-activist) employers. These activists have, thus, not only missed many opportunities for an intervention into social reality, but they have even perpetuated the power models which they set out to critique.

Forthcoming in 2012 in Towards Open Regionalism in South East Europe, edited by Paul Stubbs and Christophe Solioz (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft | Southeast European Integration Perspectives, vol. 6).


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