Evidence from popular music shows that the Yugoslav region just like other European countries does possess a 'deep reservoir' of notions of modernity, morality, hierarchy and entitlement through which popular culture and everyday discourse mobilise meaning. Wekker's search for the affective legacies of racialised colonial imagination in the 'cultural archive' reinforces Anikó Imre's argument that scholars of European media ought to apply the lens of east European postcoloniality to everyday popular culture as well as highbrow literature and cinema. The most unambiguous examples of colonial racialised imaginaries in post-Yugoslav entertainment, even more so than Cro-dance's tribalism and primitivism, were occasional blackface performances on music television. Popular music stands alongside transnational sport and film as a major vector for an embodied transnational cultural politics of race, where what producers and audiences perceive through transnational media is adapted or vernacularised through their own perceptions of race and identity.
The Yugoslav region – or so one would infer from most works about the territories and identities that used to be part of Yugoslavia – apparently has nothing to do with race, and race apparently has nothing to do with the Yugoslav region. The region has ethnicity, and has religion; indeed, according to many texts on the Yugoslav wars, has them in surfeit. Like south-east Europe and Europe's ex-state socialist societies in general, the Yugoslav region has legacies of nation formation, forced migration and genocide that invite seeing its past and present through the lens of ethnopolitical and religious conflict. Moreover, as part of ‘eastern’ rather than ‘western’ Europe, and without its own history as an imperial power, it did not experience the mass migration from outside ‘Europe’ of millions of people whose identities would be racialised as non-white. Studies of how ideas of ‘race’ have circulated and been adapted across the globe, for their part, themselves still almost always pass over the east of Europe and its state socialist past. The paradox is all the greater because, ever since the 1990s, south-east European cultural critique has been deeply informed by a translation of postcolonial theory into a way of explaining the historic and present-day structural peripheralisation of the region and its people. And yet, in domains from everyday cultural artefacts to often-forgotten nodes of transnational history, the Yugoslav region has been as entangled in global ‘raciality’ as any other part of the planet.
These entanglements, moreover, have created conditions for shifting, ambiguous identifications with symbolic histories and geographies of race. They include not only identifications with ‘Europe’ as a space of modernity, civilisation and (critical race studies would insist) whiteness, but also analogies drawn between ‘Balkanness’ and ‘blackness’ in imagined solidarity, as well as the race-blind anti-colonialism of Yugoslav Non-Alignment (which, under Tito, cast the leader of this European country as a model of national liberation for the Global South). The Yugoslav region is increasingly likely to be thought of as ‘post-conflict’ and ‘postsocialist’, the product of ethnopolitical conflict and the collapse of state socialism, at once – yet it is less commonly placed in the global context of the legacies of colonialism and slavery that should emerge from the refusal to divide the planet into separate ‘postsocialist’ and ‘postcolonial’ worlds that Sharad Chari and Katherine Verdery (2009) describe as ‘thinking between the posts’. The foremost of those legacies, as Charles Mills (1997) and others write, is the global pervasiveness of ‘race’. At a time when the juncture of ‘postsocialist’ and ‘postcolonial’ lenses for making sense of ex-Yugoslavia, ‘the Balkans’ and ‘eastern Europe’ has been inspiring reinterpretations of the region's transnational and global history that multiplied even as this book was being written, it is no longer possible – and never should have been – to contend that the Yugoslav region stands somehow ‘outside’ race. The question is where it stands, and why that has gone unspoken for so long.
My own research has reproduced this disregard for race, a sense that race was not something south-east European studies ‘needed to know’. In 2006 or 2007, reading archived newspapers and magazines in the National and University Library in Zagreb during my PhD on popular music and identity in Croatia, I was stopped short by an interview with a music presenter, Hamed Bangoura, from one tabloid's entertainment supplement in 1993. Referencing the English-language title of Bangoura's show, DJ Is So Hot, the headline, also in English, called attention to his skin colour and Guinean heritage with a directness that, growing up in a white, British, anti-racist family, I believed had been ‘left behind’: ‘DJ is so black.’ My postgraduate training had equipped me to note even the most ‘trivial’ invocations of ‘Europe’ and ‘the Balkans’, ‘Westernness’ and ‘Easternness’, modernity and backwardness, as everyday rearticulations of nationhood; yet south-east European studies' theoretical literature seemed to have posed no questions to which ‘DJ is so black’ might be the answer. Indeed, a white liberal reflex of ‘You can't say that!’, confusion over how I would bridge my home discipline's literature with work that explained it, plus fear that I was inappropriately projecting British identity discourses on to somewhere which, by not sharing Britain's colonial history, also lacked Britain's insecurities about race, meant I did not even write down a citation.
Scholarship by feminist and queer writers of colour, and campaigns to decentre Eurocentrism and whiteness at UK universities, would challenge me to rethink my past work on post-Yugoslav identities, as would listening on Twitter to a philosopher of critical race theory I had first followed for her disability activism, and trying to understand what I had meant when, teaching at my old department in 2011–12, I asked Master's students ‘How would south-east European cultural studies look if it had been based on Paul Gilroy instead of Edward Said?’ Planning to mention Bangoura's interview during a paper at a conference on ‘Racialized Realities in World Politics’ in 2016, I revisited my handwritten notes from Zagreb. It might be in that daily newspaper or this magazine; I've remembered, accurately or not, it was 1993. If it was, I failed to record it. I did find – and this time had noted – an interview with a forgotten dance-music vocalist called Simplicija, part of a mid-1990s Croatian movement that adapted ‘Eurodance’ pop as evidence that Croatia was culturally Western and European while Yugoslavia and Serbia were not. Simplicija, alias Dijana Vunić, said her on-stage gimmick, devised by a well-known ‘Cro-dance’ backing dancer, Tomislav Tržan, ‘isn't just new in Croatia, but even in European and worldwide circles’ (Morić 1995). The gimmick – collapsing multiple European and American caricatures of blackness into one soft toy – involved a grinning monkey puppet known as Dr Rap.
Ephemeral even for 1990s Croatian pop, explicit in mobilising colonial advertising tropes as perverse association with Afro-European Eurodance and African-American hip-hop modernities, ‘Simplicija’ placed a caricatured racialised imagination in plain sight, just as, two decades later, a Serbian/Croatian/Slovenian celebrity talent-show franchise, licensed from Spain, regularly dressed contestants in blackface to impersonate African-American, Caribbean or Afro-European stars. There could hardly be blunter instruments proving the Yugoslav region is not ‘outside’ race, but is deeply embedded in transnational racialised imaginations and therefore a global history of coloniality; indeed, such obvious expressions of racism do not even constitute the whole range of ambiguous and shifting roles that race has played in the Yugoslav region, before, during and after Yugoslavia itself. If the Yugoslav region is somewhere where television blackface goes unmarked and football fans have hurled racist abuse at black players, it is also somewhere where state socialism identified with the decolonising Global South more than eastern Europe through Non-Aligned ideology, and where Aimé Césaire, the theorist of Négritude, could identify a Dalmatian shore, Martinska, in anti-colonial solidarity with his own Martinique. And yet, compared with ethnicity and religion – which in many other settings are intricately linked to race – ‘race’, or the politics of racialisation and whiteness which constitute it, is rarely a subject of study for the Yugoslav region.
The contrast with ethnicity is stark. After years of research explaining the late Yugoslav crisis through social inequalities and the intricacies of ‘workers' self-management’, the rise of ethnopolitics in the Yugoslav public sphere in 1985–91 made studying Yugoslavia synonymous with studying ethnicity and nationalism even before the wars began.1 The wars, and post-war ethnonationalist elites' persistence in power, tightened the bond further – as, when millions had been targeted for persecution because of ethnicised difference, they had to some extent to do. A field crossing history, anthropology, sociology and politics has debated how far twentieth-century notions of the relationship between ethnicity, language, territory and sovereignty would also have been held by inhabitants of the region in the medieval and early modern past, or even the late Ottoman and Habsburg periods (Fine 2006; Judson 2007; Blumi 2011b); used evidence about ethnopolitical conflict dynamics from the region for broader theory-building about nationalism and ethnicity (Brubaker 1996) or post-Cold-War international security (Posen 1993); investigated how alternative, multi-ethnic models of belonging were marginalised by Yugoslav constitutional logics, erased before and during the wars, and silenced again in post-conflict settlements (Dević 1997; Gagnon 2004; Hromadžić 2015); and shown how intersecting ideologies of gender, sexuality and nation turn bodies into symbolic battlegrounds and women and sexual minorities into material targets of ethnopolitical violence, across and within ethnicised boundaries (Mostov 2000; Žarkov 2007; Helms 2008).
Despite this literature's concern with legacies of historic violence in the present, however, it rarely opens the question that would connect the region with an element of belonging already recognised as inescapable and constitutive for so many other areas: how has ‘race’, a notion propagated to support European colonial power and domination, manifested in the Yugoslav region, where attachment to ‘Europe’ informs so many forms of collective identity and where historical memories of being imperial subjects not imperial rulers inform so many narratives of national pasts? The Bulgarian scholar Miglena Todorova, writing in 2006, could already argue south-east European studies was separating its region from the rest of the globe by concentrating only on ‘ethnicity’ while excluding ‘race’:
Native and non-native scholarship on the history and culture of peoples in the region treats ‘ethnicity’ as the central category that has organized group and individual identities and social relations in the area. Political scientists and area studies scholars in the so called ‘West’ describe the Balkans as the embodiment of ‘ethnic nationalism’ and ‘ethnic violence’ while highlighting the democratic, pluralistic, civic and developed nature of a Western first world. From the perspective of this scholarship, ‘race’ has not played part in the historical, cultural and social experiences of peoples in Southeastern Europe.
(Todorova 2006: 3)
So powerfully has this structured the field that even studies deconstructing or decentring ethnicity beyond realist frameworks of ‘ethnic war’ still hold their ethnicity and nationhood conversation largely outside race.
This is the case, moreover, even though south-east European cultural studies since the early 1990s has drawn heavily on postcolonial and subaltern theory, which, explaining the condition of the Middle East and India (Said 1978, 1993 ; Mohanty 1988; Spivak 1988; Bhabha 1994; Chakrabarty 2000), would not have had to exist were it not for the same European imperialism that spread modern ideas of ‘race’. If ‘the West’ had defined itself for so long against (its own imagination of) ‘the Orient’, might ‘Europe’ not have been constructed against ‘the Balkans’ or ‘eastern Europe’, and how had the Balkans themselves internalised that? While Homi Bhabha's approach to cultural hybridity helped anthropologists of south-east Europe critique essentialist notions of ethnicity, the most influential work for south-east European studies has been Edward Said's Orientalism, which Milica Bakić-Hayden and Maria Todorova both used as a critical tool for understanding the imagination and representation of ‘the Balkans’ from inside and outside (Bakić-Hayden and Hayden 1992; Todorova 1994, 1997 ; Bakić-Hayden 1995). These critiques developed throughout the 1990s as tropes about ‘the Balkans’ multiplied through and around accounts of the Yugoslav wars (often, erroneously, called the ‘Balkan’ wars) (Todorova 1997; Goldsworthy 1998; Bjelić and Savić (eds) 2002). Bakić-Hayden's and Todorova's very terminology wove Said into their discipline: Bakić-Hayden (1995) wrote of ‘nesting orientalisms’ (e.g. Croatian narratives framing Croats as ‘European’ and Serbs, across a symbolic boundary of national identity, as ‘Balkan’, even as Slovenian identity narratives laid the European–Balkan boundary at the Slovenian–Croatian border, further west), and Todorova termed the whole discourse ‘balkanism’ (Todorova 1994: 453). Critical analysis of how ‘symbolic geographies’ (Bakić-Hayden and Hayden 1992) are based on civilisational hierarchies – the very model that, on a global scale, gives critical race theory its reading of the genesis of white supremacy (Mills 1997) – became and would remain foundational in south-east European studies.
Todorova's and Bakić-Hayden's own differences over whether balkanism existed within broader structures of orientalism (as Bakić-Hayden thought) or whether (as Todorova thought) it was separate and sometimes antagonistic had less impact than the lens into which their work combined. In disciplines from cultural studies to International Relations (IR) (or even where both overlap), the ‘balkanism’ literature's parallels between postcoloniality and the Balkans' own global structural position illuminate questions such as the exoticising pressures facing south-east European cultural producers on ‘world’ markets (Iordanova 2001), or the prejudices of Western peacekeepers and politicians whose stereotypes first provided rationales for not intervening against aggression during the Yugoslav wars (Hansen 2006), then for various levels of international tutelage over the successor states (Majstorović and Vučkovac 2016). Yet even then, it rarely interrogates the underlying history that made postcolonial thought necessary: the legacies of European imperialism and the ‘global racial formations’ (Collins 2011: 167; see Omi and Winant 1994) of thought, feeling and power that colonialism spread around the world. Outlasting decolonisation, structuring present-day settler societies and former metropoles, and circulating globally, either these formations must have passed through and been adapted into the region, or some distinctive aspect of historical experience must have immunised the region against them.
The notion that the Yugoslav region, the Balkans or eastern Europe could have entered the twenty-first century without exposure to the global dynamics of race is, this book argues, unsustainable, when these spaces have so often been defined in relation to ‘Europe’ and when the very association between Europeanness and modernity is, in critical race theory and decolonial thought (Mills 1997; Mignolo 2000), an inherently racialised logic. Such a notion would require the region to have been subject to utterly separate historical forces from those that shaped western Europe and the territories it colonised; and it weakens further once one views postcoloniality and postsocialism (i.e. the social–economic–political–cultural dislocations produced by the collapse of state socialism, often thought to distinguish contemporary eastern Europe as a region) not as analytics for separate parts of the world but as descriptions of two twentieth-century world-historical transformations which both had global reach. Sharad Chari and Katherine Verdery, a geographer of capitalism and an anthropologist of postsocialism, respectively, termed this agenda ‘thinking between the posts’, urging scholars not to divide the globe into one sphere defined by the end of empire and another defined by the end of the Cold War; their 2009 article epitomised efforts in literary theory, social/cultural history and gender studies to combine postcoloniality and postsocialism into one globally aware lens for understanding eastern Europe, including the Yugoslav region (Bondarenko et al. 2009; Chari and Verdery 2009; Owczarzak 2009; Gille 2010; Cervinkova 2012; Veličković 2012; Imre 2014; Koobak and Marling 2014). Recognising that the history of state socialism does not and should not isolate eastern Europe from the rest of the globe strengthens the presumption that identities in the region have been formed not just around ethnicity but also race.
Contemporary south-east European studies, while bracketing off race, engages much more critically with ethnicity. Dissatisfied with accounts in the 1990s attributing the Yugoslav wars to historic ethnic and religious schisms, scholars questioning why Yugoslavia experienced not just socio-economic shock but also ethnopolitical conflict when state socialism collapsed have deconstructed the hardening of ethnicised boundaries in late Yugoslav society, the escalation of collective narratives of victimhood, and the processes through which proponents of violence intimidated rivals seeking inter-ethnic coexistence or socio-political orders that were not based primarily on ethnic identity (Dević 1997; Gagnon 2004; Žarkov 2007). Some anthropologists of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina have set the pace in decentring ethnicity altogether. Rather than seeing the Yugoslav region just as a post-conflict space, defined by the extent of inter-ethnic tension/reconciliation, they treat it as simultaneously post-conflict and postsocialist, structured by intertwined shocks of the collapse of socialism and the destruction of everyday socio-economic fabric through war (Bougarel, Helms and Duijzings (eds) 2007; Helms 2013; Hromadžić 2015). Even more recently, these two linked turns have inspired research into social inequalities in Yugoslavia which, by ‘bringing class back in’ (Archer, Duda and Stubbs 2016), seeks to understand the late Yugoslav crisis as Yugoslav officials, experts and the public perceived it, rather than assuming that the ethnicised frameworks which were made hegemonic during the 1980s crisis had necessarily structured Yugoslavs' perceptions so pervasively at the beginning.
Together, these moves to recover ‘what nationalism has buried’ (Dević 2016) – the social and political alternatives stifled by the manipulation of social grievances into ethnicised entitlement, the violence of ethnopolitical separation and the clientelism that still keeps wartime ethnonationalist elites in power – open more space for recognising race and whiteness, as well as ethnicity, as dimensions of identity construction in the region. This is not only because the social inequalities turn asks scholars to account for a wider range of experiences of marginalisation and how these intersected – some studies explicitly call their framework ‘intersectional’ (e.g. Žarkov 2011; Bonfiglioli 2012: 58; Bilić and Kajinić (eds) 2016b), others echo the diffusion of intersectional analysis into the social sciences in the 2010s – but also because among the very things nationalism buried were memories of Yugoslavia's global Non-Aligned entanglements and the idea of explaining Yugoslavia's role in the world through global connectivities not ethno-territorial antagonisms. Rhetorics of anti-colonial solidarity and histories of thousands of African and Asian students who travelled to Yugoslavia – hundreds who settled there – have been subsumed, as Vedrana Veličković (2012) notes, in the necessary but not all-encompassing work of explaining (post-)Yugoslav ethnopolitics. If today's Yugoslav region is both post-conflict and postsocialist, it is also – following Chari and Verdery (2009) – postcolonial. Yet we cannot explain the region's position(s) within those global legacies of colonialism and slavery if we exempt it from global formations of race.
Yet positioning it within them is still complicated by its position on what has, many times over, been constructed as a periphery of Europe. Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, a cornerstone of postcolonial cultural history, connects the transnational ‘structures of feeling, producing, communicating and remembering’ (1993: 3) within which black people in the Atlantic world were dispersed because of enslavement, imperialism and postcolonial migration. Given that the Yugoslav region was not a colonial power in the age of empires and was a subject not protagonist of imperial rule, what might arise from translating Gilroy's lens to south-east Europe and seeking a ‘black Adriatic’? Instead, south-east European studies treats race with exceptionalism, sometimes through unease at applying it outside former imperial metropoles and settler colonial societies, sometimes through well-meaning reluctance to import Western analytical frameworks into the supposedly separate historical context of (post)socialism. Race is subsumed into ethnicity and nationhood – but it need not be.
Beyond exceptionalism: intersections of ethnicity, nationhood and race
Scholars in Black European Studies at locations including Germany, the Nordic countries and the Netherlands have had to confront exceptionalism in order for the mainstreams of their own area studies to hear them (Loftsdóttir and Jensen (eds) 2012b; Wekker 2016). Exceptionalism obscures the global pervasiveness of ‘race’ as a structure of thought by implying that race is not relevant for understanding somewhere because it was not directly involved in European colonialism; because it was colonised itself; or even, in the Dutch white liberal discourses that Gloria Wekker (2016) critiques, that its imperialism was benign compared with other powers'. The racial exceptionalism of south-east European, east European and Soviet studies lies not only in extricating these regions from globally connected historical analysis but also in conflating race with ethnicity on one hand while defining eastern Europe as a space where identities are defined by ethnicity rather than race on the other. The feminist media scholar Anikó Imre explained unequivocally in 2005 why she studied antiziganism (the marginalisation of Roma) as racism and how white Hungarians often reacted defensively:
Race and racism continue to be considered concepts that belong exclusively to discourses of coloniality and imperialism, from which Eastern Europe, the deceased ‘second world,’ continues to be excluded, and from which East European nationalisms are eager to exclude themselves.
(Imre 2005: 83)
Her interlocutors' insistence that US racial politics and eastern European ethnic-minority questions stem from separate, incomparable historical conditions is not too far from how white Dutch or Nordic progressives exempt their nations from reckoning with racism and whiteness: dividing the world into zones where racism and colonial violence are ‘an issue’ and zones where they are not. What drives postsocialist racial exceptionalism, Imre argued further in 2014 while calling for a ‘postcolonial media studies in postsocialist Europe’, is how ethnic-majority narratives of national identity blur ethnicity and race:
In these narratives, race is generally occluded by ethnicity, a term used almost synonymously with nationality with reference to linguistic and cultural identity markers. While these identity markers are understood to be as powerful as genetic codes, race itself is not part of the vocabulary of nationalism. It has a hidden trajectory in Eastern Europe because the region's nations see themselves outside of colonial processes and thus exempt from post-decolonization struggles with racial mixing and prejudice. As a result, Eastern Europe may be the only, or the last, region on Earth where whiteness is seen as morally transparent, its alleged innocence preserved by a claim of exception to the history of imperialism.
(Imre 2014: 130; emphasis original)
Although the Netherlands was an imperial power and eastern Europe was first under imperial domination then in state socialist geopolitics imagined as a site of global anti-imperial solidarity, the expressions of ‘white innocence’ (Ross 1990) against which Wekker and Imre both write suggest that, in racial exceptionalism and attachment to whiteness, the two regions are not so far apart. They share, at least, a European family resemblance transcending the west/east divisions constructed before and during the Cold War; recognising race as a systemically global structure (Mills 2015) makes them not just in parallel but connected.
Scholars of other eastern European countries and the USSR, not just the Yugoslav region, face the obstacle of reconciling the predominance of ethnicity and the invisibility of race. The fact that in Soviet ideology race was not a category applied to the Soviet population, but only a social problem that capitalist–imperialist America had brought on itself, often led post-Soviet scholars to insist that only contemporaneous categories of ethnicity (narodnost) and nationality (natsional'nost) mattered for understanding collective identities in (post-)Soviet space; yet Soviet thinking about those, Kesha Fikes and Alaina Lemon (2002: 515) argued, still contained a hierarchy of biological and cultural essentialism that did resemble race. The argument that ‘[w]e don't have races, we have ethnicities’ – with which Miglena Todorova (2006: 168) summarises Marxist–Leninist and liberal racial exceptionalism in (post)socialist Bulgaria – epitomises the division of the globe into spaces ‘with’ and ‘without’ race even more succinctly. While state socialism co-operated in separating these by projecting racism on to the West in order to undermine interwar and Cold War Western claims to moral superiority, late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalist thinkers had themselves projected contemporaneous European and American racial thought on to their own concepts of the ethnic nation (Todorova 2006; Turda and Weindling (eds) 2007; Bartulin 2013). Paradoxically, both the complete separation and the complete conflation of ethnicity and race have closed down opportunities to understand the interaction of both ideas in pre-socialist, socialist and postsocialist constructions of nationhood.
Even immensely significant works for understanding nationalism and social identities in eastern Europe, which could not have posed their questions if not for postcolonial scholarship, may struggle to separate race from ethnicity or race from nation. Susan Gal and Gail Kligman's The Politics of Gender after Socialism, a foundational work in postsocialist gender studies on reproductive politics and nationalism in eastern Europe, is informed by postcolonial studies of anti-colonial nationalist movements which, as Partha Chatterjee (1993) argued, cast women as bearers of tradition while letting men be ‘unmarked, and rational, subjects of “modernity” ’, regulating sexualities, bodies and behaviour through gendered double standards (Gal and Kligman 2000: 26). Gal and Kligman, like Chatterjee, show how patriarchal control over women and reproduction (in postsocialist Poland restricting abortion, or in the then very recent history of mass sexualised–ethnicised violence during the Yugoslav wars) became ‘a logical project of nationalism’, fuelled by a ‘focus on motherhood and women as “vessels of the nation/race” ’ (Gal and Kligman 2000: 26). The postsocialist nationalist projects, not the book, had conflated ‘nation’ and ‘race’; the book still did not disentangle their relationship or historicise how global formations of ‘race’ might have influenced specific instances of ‘nation’ over the decades when nationhood in eastern Europe, including the Yugoslav region, became an organising principle of statehood and society.
Postsocialist feminism, acknowledging the mutually constitutive relationship of ethnonationalism and patriarchy as nationalist governments largely replaced state socialist regimes across eastern Europe after 1989, was not only at the forefront of questioning early 1990s liberal assumptions that the collapse of Communism would bring all east Europeans greater freedoms, but also of recognising interlocking systems of oppression in ways that did not then call themselves intersectional but might still have been compatible with intersectionality, or with a translation of it to east European settings. Feminists recognising the intersection of gender and ethnicity in sexualised ethnopolitical violence during the Yugoslav wars and in the patriarchal politics of postsocialist ‘retraditionalisation’ (Mostov 2000; Žarkov 2007) drew on Nira Yuval-Davis's Gender and Nation, a feminist intervention in nationalism theory; yet Yuval-Davis's earlier Racialized Boundaries with Floya Anthias, explicitly linking ‘race, nation, gender, colour and class’ and more grounded in the politics of anti-racist struggle in Britain, where the two authors taught (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1993), has had far less influence in comparison. Yet can or should intersectionality, a theory developed by African-American women to explain their situation in the USA, be translated into feminism in Europe? A common critique of European feminist adaptations of intersectionality that address hinges of gender, class, nationhood and ethnicity but displace race ‘beyond the national borders’ is that they make ‘the preoccupation with intersectionality … an interesting theoretical puzzle’ (Petzen 2012: 293–4).2 Sirma Bilge, similarly, warns against a ‘depoliticized’, ‘ornamental’ and whitened intersectionality that, by naming intersecting identities without theorising what structures of power produce them, diminishes ‘the constutive role of race’ in intersectional feminism; she discerns ‘a chronic avoidance of race’ in white European feminist theory (Bilge 2013: 408, 412–13). How might east European gender and sexuality studies that frame themselves as intersectional take on board Bilge's critique?
Recent post-Yugoslav translations of intersectionality already, in fact, position themselves within a tradition originating in African-American feminism. Vera Kurtić, executive co-ordinator of Ženski prostor/Women Space in Niš, noted in 2013 that ‘[d]espite the growing acceptance of Intersectionality in the US and mainstream Western Liberal feminism, the idea of the intersection of different oppressions … is rarely applied when it comes to Romani women in Serbia’, far less to Romani lesbians, the position from/about which she was writing (Kurtić 2013: 6). Bojan Bilić and Sanja Kajinić, editing a volume on LGBT activist politics in Croatia and Serbia, grounded intersectionality in 1960s–80s African-American (and Chicana) traditions of feminist theory and activism, encouraging activists in the Yugoslav region to recognise their own structural positions through understanding how and why these thinkers theorised interlocking oppressions where they were (Bilić and Kajinić 2016a: 10–14). This book suggests that, alongside translating intersectional analyses from elsewhere to model interlocking oppressions in the region, intersectionality can and should also recognise the global formations of race that connect the USA, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and former state socialist Europe – and the rest of the globe – into a deeper history of colonialism that has both made whiteness available as an identification within east European national identities and informed the frames through which it is disavowed.
The sensitivity of adapting intersectionality to local contexts without detaching it from its origins exemplifies the politics behind Walter Mignolo's decolonial revisiting of Said in Local Histories/Global Designs: ‘what happens when theories travel through the colonial difference?’ (Mignolo 2000: 173). Said's orientalism, Mignolo argues, captures the historical and cultural locations of India and the Middle East far more than the ‘greatest and richest and oldest colonies’ of Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas, where European colonial formations of race began; moreover, it exhibits ‘enormous silence’ about race (Mignolo 2000: 57). If Said offers postcoloniality without race, so too may theories based on him. These are directly relevant questions for the Yugoslav region's ambiguous position, but the region only appears in Local Histories/Global Designs once, in a passing hint towards 1990s sectarian violence, as Mignolo explains that all scholars' knowledge production is shaped by where and when they have lived, and how colonial power has operated on their bodies and lives:
As recent events in postpartition India, Ireland, and ex-Yugoslavia reveal, the sensibilities of geohistorical locations have to do with a sense of territoriality … and includes language, food, smells, landscape, climate, and all those basic signs that link the body to one of several places.
(Mignolo 2000: 191)
Mignolo's decoloniality would later engage more deeply with postsocialism in collaboration with the Russia-based feminist Madina Tlostanova, extending a decolonial ‘thinking from the borders’ – itself based on W. E. B. Du Bois's ‘double consciousness’ of African-American experience (Du Bois 1994 ) – to historicise how simultaneous attachment-to-Europe and rejection-by-Europe have characterised national identities across the former Russian and Ottoman empires (Mignolo and Tlostanova 2006). Local Histories/Global Designs itself, however, did not suggest where amid the colonial difference the Yugoslav region might lie, showing once more that even global postcolonial thought in the 1990s viewed that region more as a space of ethnopolitical conflict than a former space of state socialism, Non-Alignment and global connectedness. Nevertheless, theory that views ‘race’ as a global structure of power, thought and feeling, more than an identity category only relevant to nations directly implicated in or subjected to European overseas colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade, helps to connect the translations of postcoloniality and intersectionality that have helped theorists from the region and outside explain its geopolitical position(s) under state socialism and postsocialism.
‘The Balkans’ in global racial formations
Positing a ‘black Adriatic’ from Gilroy's ‘black Atlantic’, a device through which I encouraged listeners in Nottingham and Budapest to trace such connections in their own work at workshops in 2015–16, is to ask: what questions would south-east studies have to pose in determining what an equivalent of Gilroy's transnational approach to black intellectual history might be?3 Gilroy both calls for a ‘transcultural, international’, non-nation-state-centric mode of black social, intellectual and cultural history inside and outside Europe (Gilroy 1993: 4) and emphasises that racialised hierarchies of belonging, the legacies of colonialism and slavery, are still circulating the globe in what many Americans and Europeans were then imagining as the supposedly cosmopolitan, multicultural and post-racial present (Gilroy 2004); moreover, his anti-essentialism towards race and racism harmonises with the deconstruction of ethnic identities in recent post-Yugoslav studies.
The critical race theorist Charles Mills, meanwhile, links race both to the violence of colonialism and slavery and to the construction of spatialised hierarchies of civilisation/backwardness around people(s) and territories, an insight that sets south-east European constructions of ‘Europe’ and the ‘Balkans’ within a global history of such formations. ‘Race’, for Mills, represents a ‘moral cartography’ that, on levels from colonial grand strategy to twenty-first-century urban micropolitics, divides the world's territory into civilised and modern spaces, populated by and belonging to people of white European descent, and the remaining ‘wild and racialized’ spaces, where people, territory, histories, cultures and knowledges are marked for permanent subordination, exploitability and disposability, exotically appealing and viscerally threatening at once (Mills 1997: 46). Racialised hierarchies of modernity, civilisation/wildness and Europeanness, in critical race theory, were embedded so systemically into modern intellectual and political history that they must be in the lineage of any symbolic geography invoking these concepts today (Winant 2001: 16; Gilroy 2004: 157; Goldberg 2009). Balkanism – as Miglena Todorova (2006: 39) already suggests for Bulgaria – is no exception.
By emphasising processes of ‘racialisation’, not ascriptions of race to pre-existing groups, critical race theory also fits with the turn in the 2000s towards studying ethnicity as process rather than fixed ‘groupness’ (Brubaker 2004: 4) in the history, anthropology and sociology of south-east Europe. Racialisation, like ‘ethnicization’ (Oberschall 2000: 984), describes the processes that reproduce these categories and structure the social world: chief among them, for race, are the violence and dehumanising tutelage that, as Frantz Fanon (1963, 1986  ) showed, coerce people racialised as non-white to internalise the structures of white supremacy and their subordinate, contingent position within it (Mills 1997: 89). Another consequence of the construction of the racial order is the condition of ‘whiteness’ itself. ‘Whiteness’ encompasses the people, spaces, beliefs, aesthetics, histories and types of knowledge that enjoy full personhood and modernity within the racial order (Dyer 1997; Garner 2007). So deeply is it naturalised, indeed so deeply must it be naturalised, that those who uncontestedly fall into it have the privilege of not needing to recognise it (Frankenberg 1993; Ahmed 2007), a condition Mills (2015) calls ‘white ignorance’.
The grounds for racialising people, symbols and spaces into categories have however varied at different historical moments (Winant 2001), and taken different forms across the globe (Goldberg 2009), making it more accurate to talk of multiple ‘racisms’ (Garner 2010) or ‘racializations’ (Bonnett, in press) than one unchanging ‘racism’. In particular, what Howard Winant terms the mid-twentieth century's ‘postwar racial break’ of decolonisation and anti-racist struggle (which did involve state socialist Europe) marked a ‘transition to a new racial order’ where racism still operated but more diffusely, less perceptibly (Winant 2001: 10, 14, 308). Post-Cold-War Europe, for instance, witnessed what were often termed forms of ‘new racism’ (Barker 1981) or ‘cultural racism’ (Taguieff 1990), with boundaries of collective identity based on cultural values rather than perceptions of inherent biological difference (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991); such racisms coexisted uneasily with myths that Europe in defeating fascism, relinquishing its colonies and acquiring multi-ethnic populations had become ‘post-racial’ (Lentin 2008: 497). This context, whether or not white nationals acknowledged it, informed any European society that had experienced mass migration and where racism was a named political issue (Gilroy 1987; Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1993; Lentin 2004; Fekete 2009).
While south-east (and eastern) Europe has seen less migration from outside Europe (and that is not the same as no migration), other bonds tie it into the global racial order. These include the fantasies and desires of colonial exoticism, legible in the region's contemporary and historic popular culture, and the transnational imaginative circuits along which globalised popular entertainment travels; histories of people of colour who travelled through and settled in the region, among them Africans enslaved under the Eastern Mediterranean slave trade, African students who travelled to Yugoslav universities and Chinese merchants traversing postsocialist Europe; south-east European states' and individuals' global entanglements, especially at world-historical moments such as the Cold War or the present refugee crisis; the adjustments migrants from south-east Europe make to their new home countries' racial formations and how they themselves are, often ambiguously, racialised there; and the racial ideologies that motivate anti-Semitism and antiziganism explicitly, other constructions of ethnic and national identity less so. They run through a region whose people often complain, with reason, that Eurocentrism placing the Balkans on the outside has targeted them, and yet where many expressions of national, urban and socio-economic identity enact identifications with Europe which might, or might not, be part of the Europe that imposed colonial domination on the world.
Here lies the ambiguity which the 1990s translations of Said's orientalism into balkanism could not resolve. Maria Todorova, in a reissued Imagining the Balkans, distanced herself from direct orientalism–balkanism parallels, the Ottoman Empire from ‘empire’ as European imperialism and the Balkans from postcoloniality at all:
[T]he main difference between the two concepts is the geographic and historical concreteness of the Balkans versus the mostly metaphorical and symbolic nature of the Orient. The lack of a colonial predicament for the Balkans also distinguishes the two, as do questions of race, color, religion, language, and gender. […] Postcolonial studies are a critique of postcoloniality, the condition in areas of the world that were colonies. I do not believe the Ottoman Empire, whose legacy has defined the Balkans, can be treated as a late colonial empire.
(Todorova 2009: 194–5)
Several scholars from south-east Europe who do view their work as postcolonial – including Dušan Bjelić, Konstantin Kilibarda and Miglena Todorova – view this as ‘foreclosing’ (Bjelić 2017: 4) the Balkans' place in global (post)coloniality. Bjelić lights particularly on Maria Todorova's remark that ‘Balkanism conveniently exempted “the West” from charges of racism, colonialism, Eurocentrism and Christian intolerance: the Balkans, after all, are in Europe, they are white and they are predominantly Christian’ (Todorova 1994: 455).4 While this ‘after all’ was imaginary reported speech, Bjelić (2009) perceived an unexamined whiteness in Maria Todorova's own framework as he would in Julia Kristeva and Slavoj Žižek.5 Kilibarda (2010: 41), meanwhile, argues directly that Todorova's ‘coding of the Balkans as “white”, “European”, and “Christian” and thus, somehow, placed outside the realm of postcolonial critique’ overlooks the role of ‘whiteness’ as a colonial legacy worldwide, including in this region.
Miglena Todorova, in 2006, had anticipated all these articles in arguing that Imagining the Balkans did not provide the necessary intersections for relating Western orientalism and balkanism in a wider post-Ottoman space (Todorova 2006: 60). Using critical race theory, she set balkanist discourses within a broader sphere, in which ‘Western balkanist narratives shared properties because these narratives originated in the “transnational” culture of the “white Atlantic” ’ (Todorova 2006: 55) – an extrapolation of Gilroy's ‘black Atlantic’ towards the global circulation of whiteness as a subject position that anticipated Stam and Shohat (2012: xv) by six years.6 The result is an explicitly connected history, explaining what Imagining the Balkans itself did not: that even as the book distanced the Balkans from postcoloniality, it furnished south-east European studies with a vernacular postcolonialism making it easier, not harder, to draw global connections.
Indeed, the Yugoslav region is already linked into transnational European racial formations by studies of antiziganism. For Kurtić, or the socio-legal scholar Julija Sardelić, post-Yugoslav structural discrimination against Roma proves that constructions of racial (phenotypical and cultural) difference, beyond just constructions of ethnic belonging, are inherent in such marginalisation. Sardelić (2014), for instance, draws on the Romani activist Valeriu Nicolae, plus Balibar, Gilroy, and Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, in seeing Yugoslav/post-Yugoslav antiziganism as one expression of transnational European ‘cultural racism’ against visibly different, supposedly-unwilling-to-assimilate minorities. Some writers on European racisms had also used the region's inter-ethnic relations in arguments that late-twentieth-century racisms were becoming reoriented around constructed cultural difference not skin colour, with John Solomos (2003: 251) perceiving ‘new types of cultural racism based on the construction of fixed religious and cultural boundaries’ in the break-up of Yugoslavia. Even the fixing of ethnicised boundaries between South Slavs acquired racialised dimensions during the violence, when ethnicised myths of certain nations standing at the ‘bulwark of Christianity’ (antemurale Christianitatis) during European wars against the Ottoman Empire cast Muslim or ‘Balkan’ Others as the new threat from the East (Žanić 2005).
Post-Yugoslav scholars have linked the antemurale myth to race and whiteness most tightly for Slovenia, Yugoslavia's most prosperous republic. Slovenia was where independence supporters in the 1980s first contrasted their nation's identification with ‘Europe’ against the rest of Yugoslavia's supposed ‘Balkanness’ as a reason to separate (Croatian nationalism soon followed), and was the region's first EU candidate and member, integrated earliest into EU border security structures and ideologies (see Chapter 4). Maria Todorova calls the antemurale myth ‘one of the most important European mental maps’, portable around Europe as the imaginary front line against Islam shifted from the Spanish Reconquista to the Habsburg–Ottoman wars and even taken up by the USA after 9/11 (Todorova 2005a: 76). The antemurale myth predates both Atlantic slavery and the Spanish exclusion of indigenous people in the Americas from European humanity, Mills's and Mignolo's respective origin points for ‘race’; yoking nationhood with Christianity, it was, once Europeans started dividing the globe into ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ territories according to inhabitants' skin colour, implicitly racialised long before today's West explicitly racialised Islam. The conflation of historical myths about defence against Islam with contemporary transnational security discourses about terrorism and migration was widespread in post-Yugoslav Slovenia and, as they too built relationships with EU border security structures, the other successor states (Mihelj 2005; Petrović 2009: 44–5).
Tomislav Longinović, writing on 1980s–90s Slovenian identifications with Western Catholicism/‘Mitteleuropa’ and on interwar Yugoslav ideas of a ‘Dinaric race’, already reads ‘race’ and whiteness as distinct from ‘ethnicity’ in Yugoslav national identity narratives (Longinović 2011). The ‘Dinaric race’ described by the Yugoslav anthropologist Vladimir Dvorniković had offered certain forms of interwar Yugoslavism a category that unified Bosnian Muslims, Croats, Serbs and Montenegrins but excluded Jews, Albanians and Roma. Slovenian attachment to ‘Europe’ in the 1980s did not use the language of race but for Longinović was simultaneously attachment to whiteness, marking the Balkans as a space on a fundamentally lower civilisational level and thus racialising the Serbs. Longinović describes the discursive separation of the Slovenian nation from Yugoslavia's south and east as involving a ‘racism [which] was not immediately perceivable by Western observers, because whiteness, technological superiority, and universalist humanism have all been incorporated into the specter of Europe itself as the symbolic foundation of the West’ (Longinović 2011: 90–1).
Although Longinović does not explore the racial politics of post-Yugoslav Serb identities (of those racialised by Slovenian nationalism), his explicit linking of symbolic geographies of Europeanness and modernity with race and whiteness shows that critical theories of global racial formations can combine with approaches to identity and nationhood in south-east Europe to create deeper understandings of the region's politics of belonging. Through naming such articulations as explicit not implicit, structural not coincidental and globally connected not regionally isolated, ideas about race and expressions of racism become recognisable as more than impossible-to-contextualise anomalies or ‘scattered experiences’ – and then one can discuss how often others have encountered them too (Ahmed 2015: 8). Indeed, scholars of every part of Europe beyond the ‘core’ countries in the history of race and imperialism have struggled against the exceptionalism of imagining other European nations as ‘historically white’ and viewed even those nations that did not have their own empires or were ruled by other empires through an explicitly postcolonial lens. Despite the political and economic disparities between the Nordic region and the ex-USSR, studies of both areas have insights for understanding race in the Yugoslav region.
Postcoloniality and whiteness in peripheralised Europe
Much scholarship on race, postcoloniality and whiteness on European peripheries is indebted to academics and activists in German Studies, including Afro-German women who started theorising their ‘double oppression(s)’ in white German society in collaboration with Audre Lorde (Obermeier 1989: 173; Campt 1993). The title of Sander Gilman's On Blackness Without Blacks (Gilman 1982) first summarised, then undid, the conceptual basis of German racial exceptionalism: that race was not relevant in German society or German Studies as it would be for Britain or France, because the German-speaking cultural area's population had until very late on been white (see, e.g., Sieg 2002; Campt 2004; El-Tayeb 2011).
Germany resembles the Netherlands, Gloria Wekker's subject, in the levels of public and academic exceptionalism confronting scholars committed to Black European Studies and/or transnational postcolonial history. Both had large overseas empires, though the Netherlands' was two centuries older; indeed, contemporary queer of colour critique grounded in both countries often unites them as sites where recent celebration of white gay/lesbian identities combines with racialised stigmatisation of blackness and Islam in identifying the nation with a white, secular, sexually liberated ‘Europe’ (El-Tayeb 2011; Haritaworn 2015). As former imperial metropoles, however, they invite a common objection against extending conclusions about their racial formations to other areas where German literary–cultural traditions influenced the nineteenth-century production of national cultures: that ‘race’ did not matter in European nations without colonies. Yet postcolonial studies of the Nordic region have overcome this, showing striking similarities between former colonial powers and nations that were sometimes under their own neighbours' imperial rule.
Coalitions of white and Afro-Scandinavian scholars, working across national boundaries, have demonstrated that not only the assertive middle-ranking empires of Denmark and Sweden, but also national identity-making projects in Swedish-ruled Norway and Danish-ruled Iceland, were implicated in the systems of thought and power that constituted the racial project of colonialism. In Sweden and Denmark, dominant public narratives hold (as in the Netherlands) that Scandinavian imperialism was less exploitative than British or French and that racism is not a Scandinavian social problem (Pred 2000; Sawyer 2002). Yet Ylva Habel (2005: 125) still documents a ‘longstanding fascination with the exotic’ in Swedish national culture, using Fanon's understanding of the ‘hypervisibility’ of blackness to set Swedish reception of Josephine Baker's tours in the same structure of feeling and power as public fascination with ‘blackamoor’ pages brought to Sweden by eighteenth-century transatlantic trading companies. Kristín Loftsdóttir, studying fin-de-siècle Icelandic textbooks and adventure narratives, argues meanwhile that Icelanders identified their nation with Europeanness, civilisational mastery, masculinity and whiteness, and enacted ‘counter-identification’ with Africa, through comparable racialised/gendered frameworks to those described by historians such as Ann Laura Stoler (1995, 2002 ) and Anne McClintock (1994, 1995 ) for western European imperial nations (Loftsdóttir 2009: 271). While Sweden had an empire and Icelanders could have viewed themselves as imperial subjects not colonisers, notions of whiteness and European civilisational advantage, constructed versus ‘Africa’, defined both nations.
Loftsdóttir and Lars Jensen, a scholar of postcolonial Denmark, collected similar studies from across the Nordic region to demonstrate that colonialism was ‘a narrative with universal ramifications’, beyond the areas imperial history usually sees. Despite the range of Nordic historical experiences ‘from colonizing powers, to colonies themselves’, the volume emphasised that the Nordic countries, ‘while … certainly peripheral to the major [European] metropolitan cultures … generally participated actively in the production of Europe as the global centre and profited from this experience’ (Loftsdóttir and Jensen 2012a: 1). They, like Habel, linked past with present by showing how perceptions that Nordic countries did not participate in European imperialism have informed contemporary national narratives of tolerance, innocence and cosmopolitanism while impeding public recognition of structural racism and obscuring global asymmetries of power in the humanitarian and peacekeeping projects that fed into Nordic states' geopolitical identities after 1945 (Habel 2012; Jensen 2012; Loftsdóttir and Björnsdóttir 2015). Nordic societies were involved in processes of colonialism even if most individuals producing it ‘had never been to Africa nor participated directly in the colonial project’ (Loftsdóttir 2010: 43): through Nordic scientists' contributions to racial theory; white Scandinavians' participation in settler colonialism in British dominions or the USA; popular cultural representations of Africa or Islam that invited past or present Icelanders, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians or Finns to share in racialised constructions of nationhood and whiteness, ‘self’ and ‘Other’; and the impact of these legacies and their disavowal on present-day responses to migration and multicultural change.
South-east European studies can likewise ask how intellectuals and travellers from south-east Europe participated in these global processes, and what identity-work travel narratives and visual consumer cultures – familiar sources in imperial history – performed in the Habsburg South Slav lands, the post-Ottoman nation-states or unified Yugoslavia. These two peripheries of Europe nevertheless have different structural positions, with the economic gap widening during and after state socialism; moreover, the politics of ‘ethnicity’ in south-east Europe differ from Nordic (or Dutch) models. Whereas in the Netherlands only non-autochthonous people supposedly possess ethnicity, or in the USA ‘ethnic’ labels denote multiple non-Anglo-Saxon diasporic heritages with shifting relationships to conditional whiteness (Wekker 2016: 22), in south-east Europe the ethnicity–nationhood–territory nexus means autochthony is ethnicity. The only people without ethnicity in its dominant politicised sense are from outside the region – though, when racialised as black or Chinese, they certainly have ‘race’. These might seem obstacles for Nordic/south-east European comparison – yet the postcolonial social/cultural history of Russia and the ex-USSR has addressed them already.
Integrating the USSR into transnational black history began with the thought of African-American intellectuals like Du Bois and Langston Hughes who travelled there, then continued through Allison Blakely's groundbreaking Russia and the Negro into a series of studies on Cold War racial politics, black Soviet histories, and Soviet concepts of ‘race’ and ‘nationality’ (Blakely 1986; Baldwin 2002; Fikes and Lemon 2002; Hirsch 2002; Matusevich (ed.) 2007; Roman 2012) plus the explicit post-Soviet hinge between Russian identity and ‘privileged whiteness’ (Zakharov 2015: 13).7 These, on various scales, connect histories of Afro-Russians with the Cold War politics of Soviet internationalism and Soviet–US rivalry, answering what even most self-described studies of global racial formations leave unasked: how histories of state socialism and global raciality combine.
Blakely, Maxim Matusevich and others show that before state socialism – when exceptionalism would hold inhabitants of the Russian Empire had not encountered ‘race’ – encounters with race and coloniality were already part of imperial Russian life. Matusevich and his contributors to Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa, for instance, juxtaposed histories of Africans and African-Americans in Russia since the eighteenth century (from Pushkin's great-grandfather to African students' descendants in post-Soviet cities) with studies of Russian/Soviet assistance to African rulers and liberation movements before as well as during Soviet rule (Matusevich (ed.) 2007). The Soviet instrumentalisation of race in international relations that threw the oppression of enslavement and settler colonialism back at the USA, already well established in the 1920s, informed the racial politics of state socialist regimes in eastern Europe – including Yugoslavia's – after 1945 (Todorova 2006). For Russian/Soviet spaces as for northern and western Europe, studies of racialised European colonial imaginations in the everyday reveal that representations of race and whiteness were circulating well before late-twentieth-century contestations of European belonging and multiculturalism, even before state socialist ideology would inscribe the USSR and Communism in general into a zone of the globe where racial politics were supposedly irrelevant.
Two studies of Latvia exemplify this longer history of race. The literature scholar Irina Novikova researched constructions of blackness, whiteness and collective identity around popular music through Soviet reactions to jazz (Novikova 2004). Investigating the travelling ‘Dahomey Amazon shows’ (human zoos) that visited 1890s–1900s Moscow and Riga, she then showed that even though Russia and Latvia did not have their own African colonies their capitals were still implicated in the same racialised logic of fin-de-siècle colonialism, modernity and spectacle through which audiences in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Nordic countries and Austria-Hungary understood themselves as protagonists of a European civilising mission and Africans as inhabitants of an eternally primitive space (Novikova 2013). Latvia's colonial engagement had once been even more direct: in 1651–8, the Duchy of Courland, under a German-speaking aristocracy, had founded colonies in Tobago and what is now Kunta Kinteh Island, Gambia. The project of reconstructing an autonomous, non-Russian and demonstrably modern Latvian national past after independence from the USSR, Dace Dzenovska shows, has led contemporary Latvians to reappropriate the Tobago colony's history as ‘a narrative of national historical presence’ (Dzenovska 2013: 405). Explicitly linking identification with the colonial project to the politics of postsocialist nation-building, Dzenovska signals appreciating coloniality as well as nationalism in understanding the implications of the ‘return to Europe’ (see Petrović 2009) that many members of postsocialist nations in the 1990s sought.
For Ukraine, meanwhile, the work of Adriana Helbig (2014) on African migration and hip-hop makes the very connections between global translations of ‘race’ and postsocialist national identity-making that I did not perceive when I encountered their everyday manifestations in Croatia. Helbig, a Ukrainian-American ethnomusicologist, had ‘thought of difference predominantly in terms of ethnicity’ because of her own diasporic experience and disciplinary training but found that her ‘research on global hip hop has forced me to crystallize my thinking on race’ (Helbig 2014: 5). Helbig's Hip Hop Ukraine is based on ethnographic research with black Africans (often students, in Ukraine via routes established during the Cold War) and white Ukrainians in local hip-hop scenes or working elsewhere in Ukrainian popular music. It connects postcolonial Soviet studies with global translations of ‘race’ through the transnational routes of popular entertainment. These translations of ‘race’ include: legacies of state socialist ideologies about music, blackness and Soviet identity (deriving from Soviet interpretations of African-American experiences and Soviet displacement of racism on to America) in the context of post-Soviet Ukraine's migration history; functions of blackness and whiteness in contemporary Ukrainian identity narratives; white Ukrainians' fetishisation of black performers; and the agency of black musicians seeking to change white Ukrainians' frames of reference about race but constrained by an existing white Ukrainian gaze that essentialises an exotic, wild and tribal ‘Africa’ and expects every black rapper to be African-American. The space of Gilroy's conceptual ‘black Atlantic’, Helbig shows, reaches far beyond the spatial Atlantic to make these Ukrainian/Soviet experiences comprehensible (Helbig 2014: 164).
Helbig's recognition that identity discourses around as everyday a phenomenon as music reveal deeply embedded legacies of historical processes of racialisation, like Wekker's approach to studying race and whiteness before mass postcolonial migration, inspires the structure of this book, which begins where my own rethinking of race and the Yugoslav region began: with imaginations of blackness, African-Americanness and Africa in Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav popular music, and what they might reveal about how musicians and their public understood the region's own relationship to race (Chapter 1). So contradictory are these identifications that explaining them requires treating the region's history not through the lens of ethnopolitical conflict between settled nations but as a more complex historical contact zone: Chapter 2, therefore, suggests how often-neglected aspects of the history of ethnicity, nationhood and migration reveal connections that tie the region into the global history of race – and that explain the many different racial formations, before as well as during state socialism, that people in the Yugoslav region have translated into localised understandings of geopolitics and identity, self and Other (Chapter 3). With these histories explicit, it becomes possible to perceive what two and a half decades of research on the Yugoslav region have so rarely expressed: the racialised politics of post-Yugoslav postsocialism (Chapter 4). Beyond a mode of analogy that would simply liken ethnicised prejudice or international structural marginalisation in the Yugoslav region to racism or postcoloniality elsewhere, the Conclusion argues for a mode of connection that places the region, systematically, within global legacies of colonialism, slavery and ‘race’.
In doing so, moreover, it demonstrates that tools already exist for fitting studies of other postsocialist societies, not just this region, into global histories of race and coloniality as well as European histories of nationalism and modernity. Indeed, critical race scholars emphasise that a European history of nationalism is simultaneously a global history of race. The ‘postsocialism and postcoloniality’ agenda, inspired by Chari and Verdery (2009), has already inspired scholars of eastern Europe as well as the USSR to trace connections between the ‘Second World’ and ‘Third World’ – a project that even as this book was being written was encouraging more and more historians to do so for Yugoslav state socialism. For south-east Europe, however, there are not only legacies of state socialism but also longer-term legacies of Ottoman rule in the configurations of memory, inequality and identity that structure constructions of nationhood, ethnicity, Europeanness and race; while Yugoslavia differed even from its Soviet-satellite neighbours in positioning itself as neither east nor west through its distinctive geopolitical narrative of Non-Alignment. All these factors complicate understanding how global racial formations have been adapted and translated into, across and through the Yugoslav region. None of them places the region outside the global history and politics of ‘race’ altogether.