Reviews

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

Andrej Grubačić proposes a radical new vision for the chronically misrepresented Balkans.


Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! Essays After Yugoslavia

Publisher: PM
ISBN: 1604863021
Author: Andrej Grubačić
Price: $20.00
Format: Softcover
Length: 272 pages
Publication Date: 2010-11
Amazon

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.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.