This research project examines four nation-building processes in South-eastern Europe after 1945: the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), Macedonian, Moldovan and Montenegrin cases. The main focus of research is to explore issues of popular perceptions of nation-building and the appropriation, or rejection and modification, of national identities. By providing historical and anthropological perspectives, this comparative study of nation-building processes aimes at providing new insights into various problems with respect to nationalism and national identity in South-eastern Europe.
All four countries illustrate the contingencies and intricacies of nationalism in the multi-ethnic and post-imperial South-east European political and cultural zone. One of the main problems is the divergence between official concepts of national identities and identities of everyday interactions, which can lead to the de-legitimisation of the political system which often clashes and contradicts with local and vernacular identities. Our major research interest is, therefore, to examine collective identities of ‘ordinary’ people and how they relate to official identity ascriptions. Under which circumstances were people willing to accept new national identities? How did they accommodate their entrenched, pre-national identities to the new official identities and how have national identities been related to other social identities? What kind of social processes and popular pressures were generated by elite nation-building? Another set of questions relates to the problem of transformation of social identities: what has emerged or changed in the process of imposing national identification on groups which previously had defined themselves in non-national ways. We also examine the contents of new national identities and whether they connect to established cultural practices. What kind of cultural boundaries do they draw and how is ethnicity constructed in these different national contexts?
These questions are essential for understanding the post-World War II, and the post-socialist political and cultural developments in the four countries under investigation. During the last 15 years, all these countries have been embroiled in violent conflict and they still harbour significant potential for conflict. We want to explore how these difficulties have affected the identities of the majority populations, and what sense ‘ordinary’ people make of their nation.
The project is based on the close co-operation between partners in Germany, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, and Serbia and Montenegro. All have significant experience in historical and anthropological research, especially I the domain of national identities. Moreover, The Department for Southeast European History in Graz hosts the “Halpern Collection”, a unique collection of ethnographic and historical sources from the former Yugoslavia, which forms an important body of sources for our project. Research will be carried out by interdisciplinary research teams and individual researchers in Berlin and Graz, as well as the four participating Southeast European countries. A total of sixteen researchers will be involved with specific topics of the project, which will last three years.
In order to explore the topics of the project, the research teams will conduct historical, ethnological/ethnographic and sociological research in urban and rural areas. The research is divided in three modules:
1. Mobility patterns of nation-state building after 1945.
This module underscores the connection of mobility patterns and nation building. By drawing on Benedict Anderson’s concept of bureaucratic pilgrimages, the central concern of this module will be to identify historical and contemporary patterns of educational and professional migrations. Are they centred on the national capital, or do they transgress the borders of the (former) republic? How were mobility patterns shaped during the socialist period and what has changed afterwards? The role of the Diaspora and the impact of long distance nationalism on national mobilization are also discussed in this module. The exploration of these problems is mainly based on historical (archival) research and oral history interviews.
2. Appropriation and representation of public symbols in private spaces after 1945.
This module will investigate how national identity has been materialized and represented in everyday life among people from different class and ethnic backgrounds. By including a temporal perspective on the socialist period (1945–1990), the central research questions of this module are: how do ‘ordinary people’ recall nation-building and the introduction of ‘national’ symbols in their private spheres? How do representatives of the ordinary population narrate their memories in relation to the nation-state? Where did the political efforts to implement national identities intersect with personal experiences? What are, if any, the national symbols displayed in private spaces? The main methods guiding the research for this module will involve ethnological/ethnographic fieldwork, mainly participant observation, but also oral history interviews.
This module will focus on the construction of “national folklore” and will address the project of nationalizing folklore studies. What were the character and the aim of nationalizing folklore studies? Which local traditions of “folk culture” typically represented the nation? Which groups and popular cultures were excluded from the dominant notion of national culture? These questions will address official strategies of crafting the contents of national identity by linking it to particular constructions of popular culture. We also attempt to grasp the popular perception of officially sanctioned folk culture. The research will especially emphasize the display of “folk culture” in officially-designated places of representation (e.g. ethnographic museums and folk dance/music ensembles). For that purpose, the researchers will employ ethnological approaches to examine popular participation in the creation of “folk culture”.