Impossible Borderlands: The Case of the Yugoslav Utopias

The drawing of the border between the West and the East, as pointed at throughout last week’s short reflection, is a contextual and temporal matter: ideological forces, historical tendencies and political actors all participate in these processes that are never fixed. The highly flexible and fluid concept of Central Europe as an acting “controversial territory” between Eastern and Western Europe nicely illustrates the difficulties in drawing any definite “borders”.

As Miller argues, the most compelling and pervasive, and yet dangerous answer to these questions can be provided by going back to the great historical divide that existed for centuries separating Western Christian peoples from Muslim and Orthodox peoples. This line dates back to the division of the Roman Empire in the fourth century and to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire in the tenth century. In the Balkans – the center of my interest here – the line would coincide with the historical division between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, passing through the former Yugoslavia, along the border that separates Slovenia and Croatia from the other republics (88).

In a way then, the border itself between “Central Europe” or Mitteleuropa and “Eastern Europe”, or one of the multiple borders that can be drawn between the two also separates Yugoslavia in two, emphasizing its geographical, cultural and political positioning (and perhaps that of the Balkans as well) as an “imperial borderland”. The question of the borderland is an especially significant concept, in the defining of not only the “impossible histories” of Yugoslavia, as Šuvaković would say, but also of the history of the Central/Eastern European region as a whole.

The issue of the borderland is also very much in the center of my own thinking when it comes to the role utopian and dystopian narratives assume in the reflections and critiques of the political and cultural manifestations of the socialist system and its evolution throughout the 20th century on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Therefore, the “borderlands” of Yugoslavia – such as Kosovo, Vojvodina, or the Slovenian Karst region; and the notion of Yugoslavia itself as a borderland, between Central and Eastern Europe, the East and the West, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian empires, structures my approach towards the specific significance and form utopian narratives assume in Central/Eastern European contexts.

In my own project, that investigates the persistence and transformations of utopian narratives throughout the heterogenous and clash-filled history of the establishment of socialism and nationalism in Yugoslavia (sometimes kindred, sometimes opposed efforts), the border(land) is never a fixed, mythologized, irremovable line (precisely the danger that Miller points at when he talks about establishing the border based on “historical” data). Rather, the borderland, embodying the tension between the Eastern and Western, Central and Eastern, but also “civilized” and “barbarian”, carries the potential for a utopian rethinking of where and how geo-political, cultural and societal lines are (re)drawn.

Iva Dimovska

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