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Slovo, Vol. 16, No. 2, Autumn 2004

Demonization and Defence of the Serbs: Balkanist Discourses During the Break-Up of Yugoslavia Tom Jackson School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London The violent destruction of Yugoslavia, at a time when most post-Communist societies were embarking on a process of democratization, contributed to the idea that the Balkans do not share the same culture, beliefs, history, or religion as people in the west. Many foreign commentators employed images and historical analogies that underlined a notion of Balkan separateness, backwardness, and barbarity — if not in opposition, then clearly not equal to, the level of civilization in the West. This essay, using the burgeoning body of ‘Balkanist’ theory, shall examine, the demonization of the Serbs and the demonization of commentators, both in Serbia and the West, who defended the Serbs. Discussions of ‘Balkanism’, feed into the construction of an image of Balkan lands and their inhabitants, and become important to the study of both the negative and positive portrayal of the most disparaged group; the Serbs. Articles about the Balkans often lead the reader to believe that the inhabitants of this region do not share the same culture, beliefs, history, or religion as those in the rest of Europe. Otherwise, how could murder, ‘ethnic cleansing’, and genocide be taking place at the end of the twentieth century in a continent that had, decades previously, decided to integrate its states in political and economic union in order to avoid a repeat of the two World Wars? It is certainly not a new idea that Western Europe regards itself as civilized and the Balkans as semi-civilized. During the conflicts of the 1990s, some commentators made judgements using the culture, history, and religion of each Yugoslav ethnic group in order to determine which was closer to European civilization, and therefore which side should be supported. The Serbian nation’s vilification in the eyes of the world was facilitated by a well-documented culture of defiance. Some of Serbia’s most popular and respected works of literature, such as Njegoš’s The Mountain Wreath, contain images of violence, murder, and genocide. Serbia’s most famous mythic heroes combine such attributes as cruelty, cunning, massive strength, and bravery. Its politics have been chaotic and raucous, notably with the defenestration of the royal couple at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Serbs have been described as paranoid and as having a collective ‘martyr complex’ over events that occurred in the distant past. In the 1990s, the operations of the Yugoslav army (functionally controlled by the Serbs) were particularly violent in the Croatian cities of Vukovar and Osijek. In © School of Slavonic & East European Studies, University College London, 2004

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