Brendan Humphreys compares and contrasts the Ukraine War and Bosnia War
The article, published in the Turkish Policy Quarterly, argues that there are some clear differences, such as two conflict parties as opposed to three in Bosnia. Yet there are some disturbing similarities; the cultural assault on the idea of an independent Ukraine, the brutal disregards for civilian casualties, the presence of many foreign volunteers and mercenaries, and the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.
Two articles have been published in the media by Brendan Humphreys and Judith Pallot predicting the role the Russian prison system in controlling dissent against the War in Ukraine:
“Marina Ovsyannikova risked jail by opposing Putin on TV. Here’s why we fear for her” The Guardian Newspaper 15th March 2022
“Will Russia put Ukraine dissidents into camps?” Riddle 17th March 2022
The same issue is discussed in greater length on the gulagechoes blog:
Humphreys, Brendan, book chapter
“Serbia and Russia: Between piety and politics” in
Conservatism and Memory Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe
Edited By Katalin Miklóssy and Markku Kangaspuro, Routledge, 2021, eBook ISBN9781003251743
Humphreys, Brendan, Review of Balkan Legacies, The long shadow of conflict and ideological experiment in Southeastern Europe, edited by Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA, Purdue University Press Central European Studies Series, 2021, 412 pp., ISBN: 9781612496405; Eurasian Geography and Economics. DOI: 10.1080/15387216.2021.1988864
This collection, edited by Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman is a fresh, engaging sample of recent scholarship on the Balkans. “Legacy” as defined by the editors, is made distinct from “tradition” by stressing that the former is “unselective”. However, most of the contributors define their contributions in terms of memory; Halbwachs and Nora are nodded to, so too Todorova, indeed quite extensively. To quote one contributor on bridging these not-quite-synonymous terms: “If legacy is conceived as a totality of past experiences (reflected or unreflected, well-remembered or half-forgotten) that have relevance for – and impact on – the present, it is obvious that communicative memory is largely structured in generational terms when it comes to the process of transition from memory to legacy” (202, italics in original). Theorizers of legacy are not really engaged with; Wittenberg (2015), – who distinguishes outcome, antecedent, and a candidate mechanism linking the two – is listed in the editors’ intro, but he is not cited in any of the chapters. Much the preferred term here, as stated, is memory.
Although the memory field seems flooded, there is no certainly drought in sight, not in the near future anyway. Here, however, there is some welcome methodological rigor, and theoretical refining of terms. Jovana Janinovic writes how the discourse of the field in no longer confined to “social or collective memory” but “disputed, commodified, reconciliatory, historical, conflicting, uneasy, relentless, commercial, unsettled, legal, disturbing, or resilient memory, to name only a few variants” (227). We will not be forgetting Jerusalem any time soon (nor, indeed, Yugoslavia). The latter, unsurprisingly, accounts for many chapters, but Romania does count as Balkan, so too does Greece (for reasons best known to themselves, the British intelligence services seem to have kept Greek and Balkan matters separate in the late 1940s).
While the socialist past is the common factor, it is not exclusive. Greece’s difficulty in addressing its contested and often violent past fits in here so fluently that it is easy to overlook that its regimes and system were anything but socialist. Yet there are some creepy and chilling details in Evi Gkotzaridis’ excellent chapter that remind one that the forces of reaction had their own fondness for primitive rituals. In their suppression of the leftists defeated in the civil war, victorious Greeks had a right wing version of the samokritika. These “declarations of repentance” (diloseis metanoias) were typically extracted via torture, and passed out by prison authorities to church, ministries, the prisoner’s home region, and even the press. In a further act of kindness, the penitent was then expected to inform on his comrades; standard Stalinist practice.
Marietta Stankova’s chapter on Bulgaria grapples with the complexities of the physical leftovers of communism, and the problematics of the cult of Dimitrov. These provide a fresh addition to her 2010 biography of the Cominterm legend (Stankova 2010).
Physical legacy is at the core of Mattias Bikkert’s and Irida Vorpsi’s section on Albania. This is hardly surprising, given the degree to which Hoxha managed to superimpose a superstructure of the absurd on his country. Although very different in tone and style, Skopje’s 2015 surreal exercise is examined in Miso Dokmanovic’s contribution. Interestingly, he argues that “antiquisation” project did “in a sense represent the continuation of the old communist legacy to refrain ethnic communities (mainly Albanian) from participation in the public arena, but under a new label and by new means” (263). So in two senses, old is new.
Markus Wein’s section of the unlikely return of a royal legacy to Bulgaria touches on an unexamined subject – the varying legacies that monarchal systems had in the region. It is worth remembering that prior to World War II, many of the region’s regimes were royalist; Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania, with Greece keeping some form of a constitutional royal setup until the 1970s. In an interesting bridging of royalty and democracy, former King Simeon II (Simeon Borisov von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, born 1937) returned from exile and served as prime minister from 2001 to 2005. Wein argues that there was “fertile ground in Bulgarian society for political messages with a strong monarchial undertone” (276). One has to wonder about elsewhere in the region. Although very stable European democracies – Scandinavian, Benelux, and British – manage to balance democracy with nominal feudalism, there seems less nostalgia further east and south. “King” Leka’s attempts to restore monarchy in Albania almost landed him in jail for sedition (although his son Leka II does seem to have had some advisory role in government). Serbia too has a crown prince in a ceremonial role, but there seems little actual interest in restoring the Karađorđević dynasty, despite some public sympathy for the idea, at least according to opinion polls. Romania too has a pretender to the throne – a Hohenzollern no less – but there is little public support for restoration.
Ruxandra I. Petrica provides a fresh perspective on Romania, offering a glimpse of a lost California on the Black Sea coast. In her discussion of the vacation villages of Vame Veche and 2 Mai, we catch a glimpse of a “hippie a la roumaine”, a 1960s/70s counter-culture of jeans, yoga, naturalism, and guitar strumming – “and island of freedom tolerated but not fully controlled by the Communist party” (197).
Fresh too, and very entertaining, is Irena Šentevska’s chapter on Yugoslavia’s troubled relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest. Yugoslavia was the only socialist country that partook in the competition, and even managed to win it in the pivotal year of 1989. The grim gloss on this was that when the federation descended into war, one of the chants of the “chetniks” and JNA conscripts heading to Croatia was “We’ll fuck Tajči” (the Croatian singer who sang at the 1990, Zagreb-hosted competition).
The one minor complaint – which is actually a compliment – is the brevity of some chapters. Steven Bozanich’s contribution on the revival of the Serbian hadjuk tradition has a touch of “hit and run” about it – surely this contentious topic is worth more than a mere seven pages? So too Dragana Kovacevic Bielicki’s piece on the “ethnification” of Yugoslav refugees; we seem to go from intro to conclusions rather too quickly. Admittedly, this is a snippet from sizable ethnographic field research, but one would certainly like to read more. It might well have been that with the book running to 400 pages, there were restrictions on some of the chapters. That said, the editors have still managed to assemble an admirable selection of essays into a very informative, but also very readable, enjoyable book.