Contests of heritage and the politics of preservation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, K. S. Brown

History, politics and Balkan landscapes

Visiting Skopje, the capital of the Republic in the 1950s, the geographer H. R. Wilkinson considered that Skopje's urban landscape provided a striking commentary on the various phases of its growth, and the varied backgrounds of its peoples (1952: 399). He stressed the juxtaposition of the markers of previous regimes the mosques and baths of the Ottoman period, the finery of the interwar Serbian aristocracy with those of the new socialist regime. He also noted the contrasts in private dwelling space in the Republic, as Albanian ku1as jostled for space with Greek mansions. The juxtapositions became more striking after the catastrophic earthquake of 1963, when Skopje underwent modernisation and massive expansion.

The impression that Wilkinson received has persisted. Macedonia as a whole has come to be considered a place of heterogeneity, contradictions and historical ruptures. Commentators delight in the linguistic quirk that means that the French term for fruit salad is macedoine, and metaphors of medley, chessboard or mosaic are commonplace in descriptions of the territory. This aspect of the region is taken by political analysts to be a sure sign that Macedonia is another Bosnia-in-waiting; in a parallel set of descriptions, Macedonia is a powder keg, a fault-line, or a seething cauldron of historical conflicts, all bound to explode into outright conflict (see also Kotsakis, Chapter 2).

In these descriptions, little analytical distinction is made between the levels at which heterogeneity is observable. This blurring of the properties of states, cities, ethnic groups and, at the last resort, individuals, has recently been described as the product of a discourse of 'Balkanism' (Todorova 1994, 1997). Drawing on Said's model of Orientalism, itself suggestively applied to descriptions of the Yugoslav War (Bakic-Hayden and Hayden 1992), Todorova argues that the term 'Balkan' has been progressively shorn of the conditions of its invention, and taken as a category of explanatory force. Originally, the term Balkanisation was coined to describe the intrusive state-making of the Western Great Powers; now that the long-term consequences of foreign intervention are working themselves out, the observable violence is considered to be the home-made product of inherent and permanent confusion.

In a recent article on the destruction of cultural sites in the former Yugoslavia, John Chapman (1994: 120) draws attention to what this impression of a natural or irredeemable diversity of cultural elements misses. In stressing the importance of human agency, he emphasises the active processes that have sedimented into the region's material appearance in the following terms:

The physical and social landscape of a region is more than a palimpsest of long-term settlement features; it is an imprint of community action, structure and power on places. The significance of place in the landscape is related to place-value created by individuals and groups through associations with deeds of the past, whether heroic and transient or commonplace and repeated.
Chapman goes on to note that in the war zones of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1992 3, sites that had acquired significance were then targets for those who sought in turn to create a homogeneous landscape of the nation-state. Indeed, any commitment to the protection of a site because it had cultural significance often appeared simultaneously to mark it out for destruction. Chapman thus focuses on the wilful and deliberate targeting of sites with particular historical resonances in the course of recent fighting, in what he calls, following Joel Halpern (1993: 6), an 'ethno-archaeology of architectural destruction.' He alludes also to the paradoxical effect of such targeting, which at times appeared to enhance the symbolic value of what was destroyed, by introducing a dimension of victimhood. Ruins can, at times, carry more meaning than their intact predecessors (Chapman 1994: 122; following Povrzanovic 1993).

What Chapman's formulation additionally offers, though, is a reminder that one can also conduct an ethno-archaeology of construction. In the citation given above, he also points toward a suggestive line of inquiry for such an enterprise. He marks events that are commemorated as at least potentially separable into two categories 'heroic and transient or commonplace and repeated.' The two categories identified here resonate clearly with those of Fernand Braudel; the ?v?nementielle, the motivated and wilful historical interventions of powerful actors, and the longue dur?e, the working out, with no implication of self-consciousness, of collective mentality.

In a perceptive review of Braudel's argument in The Identity of France (1989 [1986]), Perry Anderson (1992 [1983]) suggests that the notion of the longue dur?e lends ideological valency to the nation, while another concordance can be drawn between the ?v?nementielle and state initiatives. In this respect, the work of the Annales school, from which much of the impetus to a new 'social' history came, has at times come to serve the purposes of those in search of an enduring volk, which has survived the predations and prestations of any particular individuals or states from above.

The political use of such a notion of the processes of history is apparent when one reads works about the break-up of Yugoslavia. Below is an example of appropriation of Braudel's division from an article by Peter Vodopivec (1992: 223):

Yugoslavia passed its seventy years in accordance with Braudel's schema: on the political surface, seemingly turbulent in terms of events, with numerous splits and sudden changes; on the level of economic and social history there is the rhythm of gradual but persistent modernisation; and as regards the collective mentality, behavioral patterns and norms of value are caught in a cycle of lengthy duration.
The effect of the division here is that 'Yugoslavia' is reduced to an epiphenomenon of history an irrelevance to those with the 'long perspective'. Implicit in the argument here is that the sites of 'collective mentality' are such groups as Slovenes, Serbs and Croats.

Examples such as this demonstrate the political utility of long-term history which is predicated on the existence of distinct groups. The claiming of such broad, deep roots has come to be a key part of the ideological project of many nation-states. Benedict Anderson suggests that the biographies of nations are fashioned 'up-time... wherever the lamp of archaeology casts its fitful gleam' (1991: 205). The notion that drives such narratives is that nation-ness has no origin point, but is immanent in a population which has existed for as long as one can imagine. In such formulations, there is still room for identifiable political figures. Their importance is celebrated through rhetorics of awakening and the teaching of national self-awareness: their biographies fit within a larger frame, subordinate to that of the entity into which they were born.

As with time, argues Benedict Anderson, so with space. In this regard, though, the subordination of particular politics into a general unfolding of destiny could be argued to operate less smoothly. Arjun Appadurai (1995: 213 14) identifies the paradox that a state faces in seeking to create this vision of space as follows:

The nation-state conducts on its territories the bizarrely contradictory project of creating a flat, contiguous and homogeneous space of nationness and simultaneously a set of places and spaces (prisons, barracks, airports, radio stations, secretariats, parks, marching grounds, processional routes) calculated to create the internal distinctions and divisions necessary for state ceremony, surveillance, discipline and mobilization.
Benedict Anderson suggests that the nation-state's power lies in its ability to blur the distinction that Appadurai marks here. Within the territory of the state, national churches are sacred, as are the homes of national citizens. Legitimacy thus resides in two potentially distinct locations. In one sense, it lies in the mundane; in the other, in the punctate occasions marked out by authority, of one kind or another. What Appadurai offers here, then, is a clarification of the very different modes in which space and place within a nation-state acquire historical resonances and meaning.

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