A key scene in Danis Tanović’s Academy Award-winning film No Man’s Land (2001) features two soldiers, a Bosnian Muslim (a Bosniak) and a Bosnian Serb, who have gotten stuck in a trench during the 1990s Bosnian War. In their joint effort to escape from this unfortunate situation, they draw closer; they talk about their prewar lives and recognise that they have many things in common, even some common acquaintances. However, it comes as no surprise when, in the firestorm of bombshells, the question arises of who is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, of their lives as they were before the murder and devastation. The two soldiers start to swap accusations until the armed Bosniak points his weapon at his opponent and asks one last time: ‘Who started the war?’
Around the world, conflicting parties engage in self-exculpation and self-victimisation – from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, not to mention the Middle East. Denying one’s own responsibility and guilt and the fight over one’s own victim status seems to be a constitutive part of many conflicts and postwar situations. As socio-psychological and sociological research show, self-victimisation is accompanied by several advantages. It not only contributes to a stabilisation of group boundaries by fostering internal cohesion and outward demarcation, but also promotes feelings of moral superiority. Hence, self-victimisation is politically beneficial and a suitable tool for protecting one’s own we-ideal and with it one’s own I-ideal in the context of collective violence. It is the chosen mean to restore those facets of identity, which have potentially been corrupted or injured by the collective violence. But what happens when people are confronted with conflicting perspectives of reality, with perspectives according to which the respective ethnic in-group is not to be considered only as victim of war but also – or even exclusively – as perpetrator?
Drawing on a reconstructive analysis of in-depth interviews conducted in different regions of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, I identify several strategies which enable people to cling to their self-image as victims, without having the desire (or the opportunity?) to point a weapon at the opponent. My Identities article, 'Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina', addresses how these strategies affect the symbolic boundaries between ethnic groups and with it the perception of we-ness. I argue that these strategies can be categorised into dissociative strategies, which conspicuously reproduce the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator along ethnic lines, and associative strategies, which seem to transcend this dichotomy. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that these seemingly associative strategies; for instance, the externalisation of guilt on outside third parties (like the international community) or the silencing of the war-torn past in interethnic encounters, do not necessarily contribute to an erosion of ethnic boundaries in postwar Bosnia. I suggest that, ultimately, they even reinforce ethnic boundaries. By avoiding conflicts with members of the ethnic out-group, one’s own narratives about the in-group’s moral and civilisational superiority is sheltered from external reappraisal. As a result, the in-group’s particular perspective on reality, and with it the ethnic boundary, is further consolidated.
Blog post by Ana Mijić, University of Vienna, Austria
Read the full article: Mijić, Ana. Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748348
Contested and interdependent appropriation of space in a multicultural commercial neighbourhood of Santiago, Chile
Patronato is a well-known commercial neighbourhood in Santiago, Chile with a tradition of migrants’ settlement and entrepreneurship that dates back to the nineteenth century. Today, the area is branded as a textile and vibrant ‘multicultural commercial neighbourhood’, as read in several street signs. Traders and workers’ ancestries include Chilean, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, Palestinian, Syrian, Haitian, Colombia and Venezuelan, among many others. Yet, despite its growing diversity, Patronato is often described (in the media, films and popular narratives) as a Palestinian-Korean neighbourhood.
In our Identities article, ‘Contested and interdependent appropriation of space in a multicultural commercial neighbourhood of Santiago, Chile’, we analyse memories, images and uses of space by entrepreneurs of Korean and Palestinian ancestry, as well as their competing and reciprocal appropriation of space. Through processes of social production and construction of space (Low 2017), we examine their experiences of making, inhabiting and appropriating space, in relation to the transformations of the political economy.
During fieldwork, we were surprised to see that a pervasive narrative of social replacement – depicted as a displacement of Palestinians generated by Koreans’ settlement – somehow concealed their visibly persistent coexistence in the daily life of the neighbourhood and, at the same time, omitted emerging processes of commercial interdependency. From here, firstly, our Identities article shows how processes of ethnicisation of space – popularly explained as given by ethnic differences and, as such, generating tensions among Palestinians and Koreans – respond to historical, economic and political shifts happening at a global and local level. Koreans and Palestinians were incorporated into the local economy and settled in Patronato (to then move to live in other areas of the city) in two crucial moments of the political economy:
Palestinians established themselves as textile entrepreneurs in the import substitution stage that begun in the 1930s. During this era, as happened in different countries worldwide, the State aimed to strengthen the local industry in the aftermath of the 1930s' Great Depression. By their side, Koreans settled in Patronato mostly in the 1980s. Since then, the importations started as part of a new stage in the political economy that, diminishing the presence of the State and facilitating the entry of overseas investors, pushed traders to compete in the global market. From here, a narrative of displacement and social ‘replacement’ from one period to the other predominates in Patronato. What emerges is a problematic narrative about the disruption of a previous (idyllic) way of living and golden age – a narrative that questions Koreans’ legitimate appropriation of the space. Patronato becomes invested with meanings and ethnically encoded via social practices, which are also economic, contextual and not necessarily cultural.
Secondly, challenging the prism of inter-ethnic socioeconomic conflict and separation among migrant entrepreneurs, our Identities article also shows emerging dynamics of social interdependence and adjustment taking place alongside the reorganisation of ethnic boundaries. It shows that narratives that highlight contestation over space overlook new adjustments and interdependencies, and that forms of material attachment to a place can change. During our fieldwork, real-estate agents in the neighbourhood stated that properties were still mostly owned by people with a Palestinian background, with Koreans acting as their tenants. In this case, the common-sense idea that Palestinians had sold the place and that, after facing bankruptcy with the beginning of importations, had been displaced by Koreans, was not that accurate. Ownership and (un)availability of properties have reconfigured the relation among Palestinian and Koreans and their descendants, moving from competency in the textile industry to interdependency in the real-estate market.
Beyond this particular case, illuminating the relationship between contestations and interdependencies, and unsettling the prism of ‘cultural differences’, is important. This is because the sole focus on tensions and differences, rather than on what migrant trajectories have in common, can mitigate potential solidarities and promote the persistence of prejudices. In this context, it is important to illuminate how inter-ethnic contestation is connected to the aggressive imposition of governmental programmes, which socially displace or unsettle some social groups in particular fields. Moreover, changes in business relations and in the local economy can arise, along with new interdependencies and the reorganisation of ethnic borders, and the re-ethnicisation of space. Crucially, this, rather than involving actual separation, allows individuals to organise their narratives of space and create a sense of continuity in a changing neoliberal city.
Blog post by Carolina Ramírez, Universidad de Chile, Chile and Carolina Stefoni, Universidad de Alberto Hurtado, Chile
Read the full article: Ramírez, Carolina & Stefoni, Carolina. Contested and interdependent appropriation of space in a multicultural commercial neighbourhood of Santiago, Chile. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1658394