Skip to main content Accessibility help

Beyond East and West: Solidarity Politics and the Absent/Present State in the Balkans

  • Jessica Greenberg and Ivana Spasić


In this piece, we develop a more complex picture of the East-West divisions that have characterized much analysis of the region since the crisis began. By examining how differently positioned actors have responded, the migration flows become a heuristic for other important but less visible processes in post-socialist state formation and Euro-integration. We use the complexity of Serbia's reception as an empirical ground to create a new analytic framework that moves beyond over-simplified dichotomies. Doing this allows us to bring seemingly unrelated kinds of political action into the same frame to reveal an emerging trend in citizen and noncitizen political engagement.



Hide All

1. For a full account, and links to new Hungarian laws regarding border controls see: “Hungary: Migrants Abused at the Border,” Human Rights Watch, July 13, 2016 at (last accessed February 23, 2017).

2. “Between Transit, Repression and Push-backs: Report on the Current Situation for Refugees in Serbia,” Moving Europe, May 30, 2016, at (last accessed February 23, 2017).

3. See for example, Holmes, Douglas, Integral Europe: Fast-Capitalism, Multiculturalism, Neofascism, (Princeton, 2000); Shoshan, Nitzan, The Management of Hate: Nation, Affect, and the Governance of Right-Wing Extremism in Germany, (Princeton, NJ, 2016). See also the contributions to Allegra's forum on Brexit: “#Brexit, Europe, and Anthropology: Time to Say Something,” Allegra, July 1, 2016 at (last accessed February 27, 2017).

4. Pavlović, Dušan, Mašina za Rasipanje Para: Pet meseci u Ministarstvu privrede (Belgrade, 2016).

5. These include: refugees and IDPs from across the former Yugoslavia, Roma living in informal settlements without documents, rights and services, and (largely) Roma refugees who have recently been forcibly repatriated from western Europe. It is beyond the empirical scope of this article, but an adequate analysis of “response” would ask how such distinctions in citizenship practices play out and how bureaucratic institutions keep track of and manage these populations. Practices for granting and denying citizenship to those born in other republics (sometimes ethnic Serbs and sometimes not) were endlessly complex.

6. For excellent analyses of the complexity of these changing citizen regimes see: Shaw, Jo and Štiks, Igor, eds., Citizenship after Yugoslavia (London, 2013), and Vasiljević, Jelena, Antropologija građanstva (Belgrade/Novi Sad, 2016).

7. Gilberto, Rosas, “The Border Thickens: In-Securing Communities after IRCA,” International Migration 54, no. 2 (April 2016): 119–30.

8. de Genova, De Genova Nicholas and Peutz, Nathalie Mae, The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement (Durham, NC, 2010), 2.

9. “The Long Year of Migration and the Balkan Corridor,” Moving Europe, Open Democracy, (September 28, 2016) at (last accessed March 20, 2017).

10. Dunn, Elizabeth, “The Chaos of Humanitarian Aid: Adhocracy in the Republic of Georgia,” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights 3, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 123 ; Fassin, Didier and Pandolfi, Mariella, eds., Contemporary States of Emergency (New York, 2010).

11. Moving Europe, “The Long Year of Migration.” It also can't be ignored that these experiences at the border were particularly resonant for Serbian citizens, whose own free travel into Hungary was recent and hard won. In one report from the Serbian-Hungarian border, reporters found a Serbian man “hiding” among a large group of Middle Eastern refugees waiting to be allowed into Hungary and further on to western Europe. He said he had his passport taken from him for some legal violation, and that “refugees were his only chance” to reach Germany and find a “better life” there. The problem is, he confessed, he didn't speak Arabic . . . so he complained to the journalists that he didn't know how successful he will be in pretending he was Syrian. This is a perfect, if tragicomic illustration of the way that border practices intended for some populations have ramifications for others. As borders become more heavily policed, it is not surprising that we see strategy sharing among different marginal populations. Serbs can now travel to Schengen countries without a visa, but for a limited period of 3 months, with restrictions on employment and earnings. That this man was trying to “pass” as a refugee is also testament to the provisional nature of “culture and language” controls at the border that leave people open to highly speculative and contingent application of rights.

12. Jansen, Stef, Yearnings in the Meantime: ‘Normal Lives’ and the State in a Sarajevo Apartment Complex (New York, 2015).

13. Petrović, Tanja, “Museums and Workers: Negotiating Industrial Heritage in the Former Yugoslavia,” Narodna Umjetnost, 50, no. 1 (2013): 96119 ; Petrović, Tanja, “The Past that Binds Us: Yugonostalgia as the Politics of the Future,” in Pavlović, Srđa and Živlović, Marko, Transcending Fratricide: Political Mythologies, Reconciliations, and the Uncertain Future in the Former Yugoslavia (Baden-Baden, 2013): 129–47.

14. Azra Hromadžić, “Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-Making in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina,” (Philadelphia, 2015); Helms, Elissa, Innocence and Victimhood: Gender, Nation, and Women's Activism in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina (Madison, WI, 2013); Spasić, Ivana, Kultura na Delu: Društvena Transformacija Srbije iz Burdijeovske Perspektive (Belgrade, 2013); Gilbert, Andrew, “From Humanitarianism to Humanitarianization: Intimacy, Estrangement, and International Aid in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina,” American Ethnologist 43, no. 4 (November 2016): 717–29.

15. Savanović, Aleksandar, “Civilni Sektor i Teorija Suverenosti. Case study: Model “Plenuma” u Bosni i Hercegovini,” in Podunavac, Milan and Đorđević, Biljana, eds., Ustavi u Vremenu Krize: postjugoslovenska perspektiva (Belgrade, 2014), 283–96; Razsa, Maple, Bastards of Utopia: Living Radical Politics after Socialism (Bloomington, 2015); Arsenijević, Arsenijević Damir, ed., Unbribable Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Fight for the Commons (Baden-Baden, 2014); Azra Hromadžić and Larisa Kurtović, “Cannibal States, Empty Bellies: Protest, History and Political Imagination in Post-Dayton Bosnia,” Critique of Anthropology (forthcoming, 2017).

16. Jansen, Yearnings in the Meantime.

17. Razsa, Maple and Kurnik, Andrej, “The Occupy Movement in Žizek's Hometown: Direct Democracy and a Politics of Becoming,” American Ethnologist 39, no. 2 (May 2012): 238–58; Greenberg, Jessica, “Being and Doing Politics: Moral Ontologies and Ethical Ways of Knowing at the End of the Cold War,” in Alexandrakis, Othon, ed., Impulse to Act. A New Anthropology of Resistance and Social Justice (Bloomington, 2016).

18. Miraftab, Faranak, “Invited and Invented Spaces of Participation,” Wagadu 1 (Spring 2004): 17 .

19. Ong, Ong Aihwa, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, 2006), 7; see also: Ong, Aihwa and Collier, Stephen J., eds., Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Malden, Mass., 2005); Gille, Zsuzsa, Paprika, Foie Gras, and Red Mud: The Politics of Materiality in the European Union (Bloomington, 2016).

20. Brown, Wendy, “Wounded Attachments,” in Brown, Wendy, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton, NJ, 1995), 5276 .

21. Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York, 2007).

22. Fraser, Nancy and Honneth, Axel, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, trans. Gold, Joel, Ingram, James, and Wilke, Christiane (London, 2003).

23. See InfoPark on facebook: Facebook, “InfoPark,” at (last accessed February 24, 2017).

24. The ombudsman report can be found here: Saša Janković, (Untitled Report), May 9, 2016 at (last accessed February 24, 2017).

25. For an excellent overview and critique of the planning, financial and social costs of the project see: Ljubica Slavković, “Belgrade Waterfront: An Investor's Vision of National Significance,” May 15, 2015, at (last accessed February 24, 2017).

26. The name relies on a pun with the parenthetical “vi” which translates alternately as Ne Damo, “We won't give Belgrade away,” and Ne Davimo, “let's not drown Belgrade.”

27. See: Pavlović, Mašina za Rasipanje Para.

28. Facebook, “InfoPark, Post From July 23, 2016” at (last accessed February 24, 2017).

29. Reeves, Madeleine, Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia (Ithaca, 2014).

Beyond East and West: Solidarity Politics and the Absent/Present State in the Balkans

  • Jessica Greenberg and Ivana Spasić


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed