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Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of Former Yugoslavia

  • Milica Bakić-Hayden (a1)


This paper introduces the notion of “nesting orientalisms” to investigate some of the complexity of the east/west dichotomy which has underlain scholarship on “Orientalism” since the publication of Said's classic polemic, a discourse in which “East,” like “West,” is much more of a project than a place. While geographical boundaries of the “Orient“ shifted throughout history, the concept of “Orient” as “other” has remained more or less unchanged. Moreover, cultures and ideologies tacitly presuppose the valorized dichotomy between east and west, and have incorporated various “essences” into the patterns of representation used to describe them. Implied by this essentialism is that humans and their social or cultural institutions are “governed by determinate natures that inhere in them in the same way that they are supposed to inhere in the entities of the natural world.” Thus, eastern Europe has been commonly associated with “backwardness,” the Balkans with “violence,” India with “idealism” or “mysticism,” while the west has identified itself consistently with the “civilized world.“



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1. Said, Edward, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979).

2. Cf. Edouard Glissant's remark that “[t]he West is not in the West. It is a project, not a place,” quoted in Segal, Daniel A. and Handler, Richard, “How European is Nationalism?Social Analysis 32 (December 1992): 1-15 .

3. Inden, Ronald, Imagining India (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 2 .

4. See Wolff, Larry, Inventing Eastern Europe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), especially chaps, v and vi, on “Voltaire's Russia” and “Rousseau's Poland.“

5. Inden, 49-51.

6. West, Rebecca, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (New York: Penguin, 1982 [1941]), 21.

7. Roger Cohen, “A Balkan Gyre of War, Spinning Onto Film,” The New York Times (12 March 1995): B-l.

8. The notion of “civilization,” an eighteenth-century neologism, was itself a product of the Enlightenment, which needed a complementary term to define itself against and found it in the backwardness, even barbarism, of eastern European lands (see Wolff, Eastern Europe, 4).

From the Balkan perspective, it was during that same period that “the image of ‘enlightened Europe’ replaced the hostile image of the ‘Latin West’ which had designated ‘the other’ to traditional milieus in the Balkan area,” so that what had been for their predecessors the “Catholic” west now became “civilized” Europe. See Alexandru Dufu, “Small Countries and Persistent Stereotypes,” Révue des études sud-est européennes (Academie Roumaine) xxxi, nos. 1-2 (1993):5-10;

9. Hegel diagnosed India to have only “an Idealism of imagination, without distinct conceptions,” in which the philosopher's Absolute Being lives “in the ecstatic state of a dreaming condition.” (see Hegel, G.F.W., Philosophy of History, trans. Sibree, J. [New York: Dover, 1956], 139).

10. Arjun Appadurai, “Putting Hierarchy in Its Place” Cultural Anthropology (February 1988): 40-41.

11. Among the German philosophers, Hegel plays a special role in articulating imperial knowledge of the Orient as Other. He claimed, for example, that “it is necessary fate of Asiatic Empires to be subjected to Europeans,” just as it was the fate of “the rotten edifice of the Eastern Empire” to crumble in pieces “before the might of the vigorous Turks” (Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree [New York: Willey Book Co., 1944], 142, 340).

12. “Out of the Window,” The New York Times (24 June 1903): 8.

13. Some more recent writings have gone even further in seeing the influence of this “primitive Slavic strain” when claiming that it was actually proximity “to the southern Slavic world,” “a breeding ground of ethnic resentments,” that taught Hitler how to hate so infectiously. Thus spoke Robert Kaplan, the author of the book with the presumptuous title Balkan Ghosts (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), xxiii. In a similar mode, ABC network presented a program in November 1993 devoted to the war in the former Yugoslavia, with the TV anchor, Peter Jennings, heroically walking on the map of the war-torn country, depicted in the title of the program as “The Land of Demons.”

14. Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [1986] 1993); Ronald Inden, op. cit.

15. Todorova, Maria, “The Balkans: From Discovery to Invention,” Slavic Review 53, no 2. (Summer 1994): 454.

16. See Todorova, 476. It is interesting that as early as the thirteenth century the first Serbian Patriarch, St. Sava, expressed the same condition of being in between but not in terms of “neither East-nor West” but “the East on the West” and “the West on the East” (see epigraph to Milica Bakic-Hayden and Robert M. Hayden, “Orientalist Variations on the Theme ‘Balkans': Symbolic Geography in Recent Yugoslav Cultural Politics,” Slavic Review 51, no 1 (Spring 1992): 1.

17. The frequent perception of impurity in phenomena that blur categories is elaborated by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger (London: Routledge, 1966).

18. Bakic-Hayden and Hayden, 1-15.

19. Wolff, 7.

20. Inden, 1-47.

21. See Wolff, especially the first three chapters on “Entering,” “Possessing” and “Imagining Eastern Europe.“

22. Ibid., 86-87, 29.

23. Quoted in Wolff, 81.

24. The ambiguous image of Europe among many Balkan peoples has been variously addressed. See, for example, Katherine Verdery, “Is Romania in Europe? Interstitial Elites and the Politics of Identity” (paper presented in the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Phoenix, AZ, November 1988); Alexandru Dufu, 5-10; Gal, Susan, “Bartok's Funeral: Representations of Europe in Hungarian Political Rhetoric,” American Ethnologist 18, no. 3 (1991):440-58.

25. This emphasis on links between ethnic and cultural nationalisms and precommunist identities directly challenges modernist views of the origins of nationalism in the social and religious reform movements of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. See, for example, Gellner, Ernest, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983); Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities (New York: Verso, 1983); Hobsbawm, Eric, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

26. Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogical Imagination, ed. Holquist, M., trans. Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. (Austin: University of Texas Press, [1981] 1993), 14.

27. See Bhabha, Homi K., Nation and Narration (New York: Routledge, 1991), 1.

28. This was particularly prominent in the Serbian political scene where the leader of the largest opposition party (Serbian Renewal Party), Vuk Drasković, was often characterized in the official media so as to directly evoke Vuk Branković, a legendary “traitor” of the fourteenth-century battle of Kosovo. The international recognition of Croatia's independence in January 1992 has been depicted in the popular media as the final restoration of Croatian statehood after the nine-hundred-year curse by King Zvonimir, the first Croatian king recognized by the Papacy (murdered in 1089), and with a special place in national history as “the last Croatian king” (see Žanić, Ivo, “The Curse of King Zvonimir and Political Discourse in Embattled Croatia,” East European Politics and Society 9, no. 1 [Winter 1995]: 90123 ).

29. The New York Times (6 April 1990):A-8. More recently, an editorial has suggested that the US should appeal “to predominantly Roman Catholic Croatia's longstanding desire to extricate itself from Balkan conflicts and associate itself more closely with the West” (“Balkan Brinkmanship,” The New York Times [10 March 1995]: A-28).

30. The Romanian scholar Alexandru Dutu notes: “[w]e hear even nowadays that what explains dramatic conflicts, like the one in the former Yugoslavia, is the difference between “catholic” and “orthodox” Europe, as if atrocities were inspired by piety: but who has the patience to study the transformation of religious attitudes into political violence?” (“Small Countries,” 7). On the relationship between religion and nationalism in eastern Europe, see Anthony Ugolnik, “Living at the Borders: Eastern Orthodoxy and World Disorder,” First Things (June/July 1993):15-23; Elisabeth Prodromou, “Toward an Understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy and Democracy Building in the Post-Cold War Balkans,” Mediterranean Quarterly 5, no. 2 (Spring 1994): 115-38.

31. In the symbolic geography of the former Yugoslavia, “north” and “west” were equally endowed with positive connotations, “south” and “east” with negative ones (see Bakic-Hayden and Hayden).

32. When members of these peoples contributed intellectually and otherwise, they were often subsumed under Austrian, Italian or Hungarian rubrics. For example, one of the pioneers of European Indology of the eighteenth century, the missionary Paulinus a Sancto Bartolomaeo, was referred to in German sources as an Austrian and in Italian sources as an Italian or Hungarian, whereas according to church records he was, in fact, the Croat Filip Vezdin. The local church records in Cimovo (Hof am Leithagebirge) in lower Austria show that Vezdin was born of mother Helena Bregunic and father Jurij Vezdin (Ivan Slaming, “Filip Vezdin, Pionir Evropske Indologije,” [Zagreb: RadJAZU, 1968], 552). In his work De antiquate et affinitate linguae zandicae, samsrcdamicae et germanicae dissertalio (Rome 1798), Vezdin discussed the similarities among Persian, Sanskrit and German, ignoring the Slavic languages which, in fact, have more affinities with both Persian and Sanskrit than does German. Later, in the nineteenth century, Slavic Sanskritists and linguists debated why Paulinus-Vezdin did not discuss Slavic languages in this context. Some suspected that he was germanized and forgot his mother tongue, others that he was embarrassed about it (things slawisch often being viewed as sklawisch in those days), and a third group denied that he was a Croat in the first place. Recently, however, Croatian scholar Branko Franolic establishes Vezdin's identity in the very first sentence of his monograph: “Filip Vezdin was an Indologist of Croatian nationality” (Filip Vezdin's Contribution to Indie Studies at the Turn of the 18th Century in Europe [Paris: Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1991], 3.

33. Borba (13-14 August 1994): 7.

34. Andrić, Ivo, Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule, eds. and trans. Juričić, Z.B. and Loud, J.F. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990), 17.

35. Milorad Pavic, “Europe and Serbia,” Politika , no. 172(1991), reproduced in American Srbobran: Literary Supplement (September 1993): 1.

36. See Bakic-Hayden and Hayden.

37. Borba (6-7 August 1994): xvii-xix, emphasis mine.

38. However, not even common Islamic heritage is so homogenous as it may appear. Albanian Islamic religious activity has long been influenced by the numerous Sufi orders and intertwined with practices derived from Albanian national custom and, as such, is quite different from the more orthodox, “pure” Islamic tradition of Slavic Muslims ( Berg, Steven, “The Political Integration of Yugoslavia's Muslims: Determinants of Success and Failure,” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 203 [1983]: 5259 ).

39. Berg, 56.

40. Petar Saric, “Alternativa nasilju,” Duga (18 August 1990): 67-69.

41. Branislav Matic, “Zelene age i crveni begovi,” Duga (18-31 August 1990): 15. “Spahiluk” means an area ruled by a spahija, a Turkish local lord. The article deals with the Serbian protest after the election campaign of the Muslim party of Democratic Action in Novi Pazar, Serbia.

42. “Garbage: Responsibility of State and Citizens,” Borba (25 August 1994): 15.

43. See Bakic-Hayden and Hayden, 10.

44. Muhamed Filipovic, “Fundamentalist, to smo mi” [an extended interview], Borba (3-11 May 1990); this quote is from 5-6 May (1990): 14. The ellipsis is in the original.

45. As Berg notes, both secular Bosnian Muslim politicians and intellectuals, and the official religious Islamic leadership had not been very sympathetic to the kind of nationalism present among Albanians in Yugoslavia (56). Cf. also Muhamed Filipovic's remark on the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 which opened the possibility for “Albanians to create a kind of national state of their own on the territory of the Serbian national state, which is in itself contradictory” (Borba [11 May 1990]: 5).

46. On the political affirmation and the development of self-consciousness of a Muslim nation in Yugoslavia, see Dennison Rusinow, “Yugoslavia's Muslim Nation,” UFS1 Reports, no. 8. (1982).

47. For example, during World War II Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the nazi puppet state of Croatia, which appropriated Muslims as brothers and allies of the Croats. In this regard, the Independent State of Croatia was imitating the Habsburg policy of an earlier date (see Rusinow, 3).

48. Filipovic, 14.

49. For example,

How can a traitor be better than a knight?

What is this talk of “sword” and “Kosovo“?

Weren't we both on the field of Kosovo?

I fought then and I am still fighting now,

and you have been a traitor then and now,

You've dishonored yourself before the world

blasphemed the faith of your own ancestors.

You have enslaved yourself to foreigners!

P. P. Njegoš, The Mountain Wreath, trans, and ed. Vasa D. Mihailovich (Beograd: Vajat, 1989), 377-84. Cf, Tomislav Longinović, “Visions of Identity: ‘Others’ in Literature,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the AAASS, Honolulu, November 1993.

50. Borba (7 May 1990): 5.

51. For more on “acculturation” from a Muslim perspective, see Djilas, Milovan and Gaće, Nadežda, Bošnjak Adil Zulfikarpašić (Zürich: Bošnjački Institut, 1994).

52. Dragoš Kalajić quoted in Borba (6-7 August 1994): xvii-xix.\

53. Ibid.

54. Slobodan Lovrenovic in Donas (11 August 1993): 22.

55. See, for example, Kapferer, Bruce, Legends of People Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988).

56. This is John Plamenatz's phrase used to describe the “Eastern type” of nationalism, the type found among the Slavs as well as in Africa, Asia and Latin America. See his “Two Types of Nationalism,” in Nationalism, The Nature and Evolution of an Idea, ed. Eugene Kamenka (New York: St. Martin Press, 1976), 23.

57. See Bugarski, Ranko, Jezik od mira do rata (Beograd: Beogradski krug, 1994); Čolovic, Ivan, Bordel ratnika (Beograd: Biblioteka XX vek, 1994); and Hayden, Robert M., “Politics and Media,” Radio Free Europe Report on Eastern Europe 2, no. 49 (6 December 1991): 1726.

58. See Bette Denich, “Dismembering Yugoslavia: Nationalist Ideologies and the Symbolic Revival of Genocide,” American Ethnologist (1994); and Hayden, Robert, “Recounting the Dead: The Rediscovery and Redefinition of Wartime Massacres in Laleand Post-Communist Yugoslavia,” in Watson, Rubie S., ed., Memory, History and Opposition under State Socialism (Sante Fe: School of American Research, 1994).

59. It may be worth noting that characterizations of the “contact group” (US, Germany, France, Britain and Russia) and its plan have themselves shown interesting patterns in symbolic geography, with divisions being seen at some times between “the West” and Russia, and at other times between the European powers, including Russia, and the US. Again, “essences” depend on political interests of the moment.

60. Jelena Lovrić, “Praćkom na medvede,” Borba (reprint from Feral Tribune) (5 August 1994): 14.


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