nationalism and those crazy balkans - extracts from zizek interview

rc-am rcollins at
Tue Mar 30 06:53:13 PST 1999

[I can't find the stuff on 'more europe', but these comments might be of interest.]

Civil Society, Fanaticism, and Digital Reality: A Conversation with Slavoj Zizek interviewed by Geert Lovink

[...] For me what was partially so attractive, so sympathetic about real socialism, despite being a corrupt, cynical system, was the belief in the power of the spoken word.

[...] Now there is the pure ignorance of the regime, which is simply not interested in ideological questions. I feel sorry for those countries in which writers nowadays play an important role. Take Serbia, where this nationalist madness was fabricated by writers. Even in Slovenia it's the same with the nationalist writers, although they do not have much influence.

[...] There is a messianic complex with intellectuals in Eastern Europe. Nothing against it, but it becomes extremely dangerous in Slovenia when this messianic vision of intellectuals is combined with a vulgar anti-Americanism, which is a very popular political attitude of right wingers. America for them means no national solidarity, filthy liberalism, multi-culturalism, individualism, the market. They are afraid of a pluralistic democracy and there is a proto-fascistic potential in it. This combination of nationalist writers, whose obsession is how to retain national identity, and an anti-capitalist right-wing movement is very dangerous.

[...] In a state of less than 2 million we offered 100,000 non-Slovenians permanent citizenship, against terrible nationalistic resistance. There were no dirty tricks involved, like a test if you knew Slovenian. We are still in an intermediate stage. When a new political logic imposes itself, the Sittlichkeit, the unwritten rules are still unsure, people are still searching for a model. The question is: will we become just another small, stupid, nationalistic state or maintain this elementary, pluralistic opening? And all compromises are worth it for this goal.

[...] in Slovenia I am for the state and against civil society! In Slovenia, civil society is equal to the right wingers. In America, after the Oklahoma bombing, they suddenly discovered that madmen are everywhere. Civil society is not this nice, social movement, but a network of moral majority, conservatives and nationalist pressure groups, against abortion, [for] religious education in schools. A real pressure from below.

[...] I don't underestimate the social impact of the loss of stability. Is the frame of liberal capitalism able to solve this antagonism? Unfortunately my answer is no. Here I am the old-fashioned left-wing pessimist. I think that ghettoisation, like half of L.A., is far stronger than the Marxist class struggle. At least both workers and capitalists still participated in legality and the state, whereas liberal capitalism simply doesn't integrate the new ghettoes. Liberal democracy has no answer to these problems.

A lot of times, this Soros approach of openness indulges in its own species of covered racism. Recently at a conference in Amsterdam, Press Now asked whether it was possible to find a universal language so that intellectuals from various parts of the former Yugoslavia could start a dialogue. I find this cliché extremely dangerous, because it comes from an idea of the Balkans as the phantasmatic space of nationalistic madness. This phantasy is very well manipulated and expressed in some popular works of art, like Kusturica's film Underground. He said himself, in Cahiers du Cinema, that in the Balkans, war is a natural phenomenon, nobody knows when it will emerge, it just comes, it's in our genes. This naturalisation of the Balkans into an apolitical, primordial theatre of passions is cliché and I find it very suspicious. I would like to quote Hegel here: "The true evil is an attitude which perceives evil everywhere." I am very suspicious about this apparent multi-cultural, neutral, liberal attitude, which only sees nationalistic madness around itself. It posits itself in a witness role. The post-Yugoslav war is strictly the result of European cultural dynamics. We don't need this simplistic liberal deploring of "why don't people speak to each other?" Nobody is doing power analysis.

A common Western cliché is the so-called complexity of the Balkans. This specifically allows the West to maintain its position as an excluded observer. What you should do is what I call a phenomenological reduction a l'envers. You should not try to understand it. Like TV, the funny effect when you disconnect the voice, you only have these stupid gestures. Cut off the meaning and then you'll get the pure power battle. The Balkans are a symptom of Europe in the sense that it embodies all that is wrong in the light of the utopian notion of the European Community itself. What is the dream? A kind of neutral, purely technocratic Brussels bureaucracy. They project their mirror image on the Balkans. What they both have in common is the exclusion of the proper political antagonisms.

[...[ Up to a point I agree with this, but I have always been in favour of military intervention from the West. Around 1992, with a little bit of pressure, the war would have been over. But they missed the moment. Now, with the shift of balance and the stronger Russia, this is no longer possible. At that time, Croatians and Slovenians were in favour of independence, and the Bosnians were much more ambiguous and they are paying the price for it. The Bosnians didn't want to prepare for war, they were slower, more careful and that's why they are now so mad at the West. There was no protection of Bosnia from the Yugoslav army, despite all the guarantees. And then, after the attack, the West suddenly started talking about ethnic struggles, all sides must be guilty, and primordial passions.

I don't cry too much for Yugoslavia. The moment Milosevic took over and annexed Kosovo and Vojvodina, the balance of power shifted. There was the choice between a more federal Yugoslavia and a new, centralist one. Do not overestimate the role of the media in the late eighties. Media were allowed to play this role in order for local communist bureaucracies to survive. The key to the Yugoslav crisis is Milosevic's strategy to maintain the power of the old nomenclatura by raking up this national question. The media did their dirty work. It was horrible to watch day by day the stories in Slovenia about Serbs raping us and in Serbia about Albanians raping them. All the news was filtered through this poisoning hatred, from everyday crime to economics. But this was not the origin of the conflict. That was the calculation from the power elite to maintain power.

[...] Every nation in Europe has this fanaticism, conceiving itself as the true, primordial nation. The Serbian myth, for example, is that they are the first nation of the world. The Croatians consider themselves as primordial Aryans. The Slovenians are not really Slavs, but pretend to be of Etrurian origin. It would be nice to find a nation that accepts the fact of being the second and not the first.


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