Re-imagining the 'imagined community': the case study of the post-1991 Serbian
Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic (European University Institute, Florence)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates the phenomenon of rejecting membership of the ‘Serbian community’ among Serbs in London. Drawing on data from ethnographic fieldwork with Serbian immigrants in London I will discuss how this diasporic community does not want to be seen as belonging to a specific ethnic ‘community’.
Paper long abstract:
The fall of Yugoslavia in 1991 and ensuing ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina had as a consequence massive migration movements both within the region of former Yugoslavia and outbound towards Western Europe, North America and Australia. During the 1990s displaced people from former Yugoslavia represented the largest cohort of asylum seekers in the UK. Numbers of refugees and internally displaced people have risen even higher after the NATO bombardments of Serbia & Montenegro in 1999. In addition to involuntary migrants, another half a million of young people emigrated from Serbia since 1991 fleeing political regime of Slobodan Milosevic and raging nationalism, army conscription and poverty. I'm currently doing fieldwork in London about post-1991 immigrants from Serbia and their families in 'homeland'. What makes this research different from other studies about transnational migrant families is a phenomenon of rejection as a reaction to creation of (new) Serbian identity in the 1990s marked by the politics of expansive nationalism (the idea of uniting all Serbs in one state), self-victimisation ('the world is against the Serbs'), re-discovering of roots and tradition suppressed during fifty years of Tito's Yugoslavian ideology of 'brotherhood & unity' that went hand in hand with the 1990s revival of Serbian Orthodox Church, 'ruralisation' of city landscapes in Serbia caused by massive economic decline and hyperinflation. All this had direct impact on positioning of new immigrants from Serbia in London vis-à-vis Serbia and on their conscious efforts for either connecting or disconnecting both from those whom they left in Serbia and from other Serbs in London. For Serbs from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo who came to the UK as refugees, becoming a member of 'Serbian community' in London was a means of survival; for Serbs from Serbia who were coming to London as economic/political immigrants, rejecting 'homeland' was a means of creating a new identity, one that was no longer Yugoslav, but not yet 'Serbian' in a sense this identity was created in and by 'homeland Serbia' in the 1990s. Drawing on empirical data from ethnographic fieldwork with Serbian immigrants in London, I will argue in this paper about new kind(s) of diasporic communities, those which actually do not want to be seen as 'community', because to admit membership in 'Serbian community' from 1990s onwards, often was associated with negative image and stigma. Thus for many of my informants rejecting 'Serbian community' and embracing liminal identity of not being Yugoslavs any more but not yet Serbs, became the only feasible option for finding continuity after disruption(s) caused by fall of Yugoslavia, subsequent wars and social transformations in Serbia. But how did this affect their kin ties with families, mostly parents who remained in Serbia? Do they by rejecting their Serbian identity reject their kin ties as well? Does blood become thinner than water then? I will answer these questions from the perspective of material culture studies which gives a different angle on issues of migration, diaspora and homeland by looking at how people construct their diasporic identities through objects, domestic interiors and consumption.