Category Archives: Balkans

Serbian Dreambook: National Imaginary in the Time of Milošević

Some of you may know that my brother is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. He also works as a visual artist in photography, video, and other media, mostly in collaboration with his wife Gordana who is an artist.

In a few months, his book willl come out – Serbian Dreambook: National Imaginary in the Time of Milošević:

The central role that the regime of Slobodan Milošević played in the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia is well known, but Marko Živković explores another side of this time period: the stories people in Serbia were telling themselves (and others) about themselves. Živković traces the recurring themes, scripts, and narratives that permeated public discourse in Milošević’s Serbia, as Serbs described themselves as Gypsies or Jews, violent highlanders or peaceful lowlanders, and invoked their own mythologized defeat at the Battle of Kosovo. The author investigates national narratives, the use of tradition for political purposes, and local idioms, paying special attention to the often bizarre and outlandish tropes people employed to make sense of their social reality. He suggests that the enchantments of political life under Milošević may be fruitfully seen as a dreambook of Serbian national imaginary.

I have read most of the stuff in the book, at least in some earlier drafts, over the past few years, and I know this stuff is good! It will help you understand Serbia – in the wartime 1990s as well as before and after. And it may help you understand some other nations or some other groups of people (perhaps even TeaPartiers if you are dilligent in adjusting for different contexts, histories, etc.).

So, pre-order the book now – it will come out next May but it will be worth the wait.

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Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

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‘Going Direct’ – the Netizens in former Yugoslavia

Back in 1999, during the NATO bombing of Belgrade, Salon.com bragged that they could send a reporter to Serbia – the first online-only magazine to do such a thing. That was a sign that online-only journalism was maturing. But Dave Winer, while agreeing this is a sign of maturity for a US-based outlet, voiced the opinion that the Web was already there, in Yugoslavia, and that the people were on it, using it. Last week, Dave remembered that episode in a different context and I have, in a few posts before (regarding Mumbai attacks and Iran revolution), wondered why would American audience put more trust into an American reporter parachuted into a foreign country with no knowledge of local geography, history, culture, language and politics, instead of trusting the locals who are steeped into that knowledge – by reading multiples of them, you can quickly learn to detect (and thus ignore in any individual person’s writing) varieties of local political biases and use the collective reporting to get a clear picture and deeper understanding of local events – much deeper than the American reporter can ever dream of doing.
Anyway, I think Dave was right even back then in 1999. So I posted this in the comment of his blog:
Yugoslavia was on the Web in 1999! It just looked different from the Web we are used to seeing in the USA.
Urban centers in former Yugoslavia had a whole bunch of people who were excited about computers. Not having money to buy PCs or software, they built their own and programmed their own. I remember, as early as 1980, young programmers were sending their software to the big Belgrade radio station as audio files. Each day at 10am and repeated at 4pm, the announcers would warn us to get our tape recorders ready to record the audio to get the programs. Most were simple text or image processing programs but some were quite nifty. And nobody ever thought those should be anything but free for everyone to have and use (and read them into their Sinclair ZX Spectrums).
In March of 1991, the first big anti-Milosevic demonstrations were essentially organized and coordinated by a bunch of people in the city center via e-mail (those e-mail messages were later collected and published in a book). I did not have a computer of my own, but I knew some of the guys who did. I lived in the part of Belgrade, at the edge, towards the side where all the military barracks were. One day, during the demonstrations, I heard a distant rumble. March not being a time when we have thunderstorms, I immediately knew what that meant. I got on the phone and called one of the e-mailing organizers, telling him to tell the rest of the network that Milosevic is sending the tanks to the city. I opened the window and counted 40 tanks passing by my house. In the meantime, demonstrators hijacked a few fire-engines and blocked the narrow city streets in the center, effectively preventing the tanks from reaching the majority of demonstrators (I am not taking this as a sign that my message make a difference – I am sure I was just one of many doing the same thing – calling friends in the center to tell them about it). In other words, you don’t need everyone to be online, you just needed a small network of connected folks who can then use phones and f2f to convey information and organize the thousands in the streets (sorta like Iranian revolution two decades later).
In June of the same year, I came to the USA. I immediately got on Usenet where I could see all the reporting from the ground and from the global media. There were instant translations of reports by journalists on the ground writing for various media outlets in countries like Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and Japan. There were messages by UN peacekeepers on the grounds. There were messages by locals: Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims (not that any of those groups were monolithic – there were 52 political parties just in Serbia at the time, ranging from ultra-left to ultra-right with social-democrats in the middle, each with different interpretation of events and different visions for the future). By the end of the day, from all of these sources, I could piece together a pretty reliable story of what happened that day. Then I would turn on the TV and watch ABC, NBC and CBS anchors straight-out lie about it during evening news, every single night for ten years, just parroting what Albright, Cohen, Clark and Christopher were saying in their press conferences. So did CNN, and so did the NYTimes next morning. That is how I learned not to trust the US media.
Today, Serbia is still one of the least connected nations in Europe (a colleague of mine, Danica Radovanovic now at Oxford University, did a comparative study for her MS on this a few years ago, with hard numbers and all). The most important factor is a huge disparity between city and country – people living in big cities are as connected as you and me, on blogs and social networks and everything else, while rural inhabitants don’t even use e-mail yet.
The second factor is that many of the computer geeks left the country during the 1990s, being well educated, speaking English, and having salable skills – mad programming skills. They got jobs at IBM and such companies around the world, leaving the country to less tech-savvy folks.
But just because they left physically, does not mean they left emotionally, and are now acting as a huge network of the diaspora, and a conduit of information about the old country around the world. They inform their neighbors about the realities of the Balkans, disabusing them of lies they heard from Peter Jennings and Christiane Amanpour back in the 1990s, and they communicate with the people in Serbia (or Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, etc.) and help them develop the Web there.
My deal is Open Access publishing in science and medicine and I have done my part to seed the idea there (two trips in 08 and 09, each time giving two public lectures, three long radio interviews and in 09 also a short TV interview), gather a small bunch of pioneers and feed them information they need to change local system from within. I could not have done that if I remained in Belgrade.
Finally, many people from around the former Yugoslavia have sent their kids abroad during the wars of the 1990s. Those kids are all on Facebook, all friending each other despite ethnic differences, joining the same fan pages of old rock groups or Balkan-only candy brands. Their parents may have killed each other, but kids are OK.

Phlogiston

One of the nice benefits of hosting ScienceOnline conferences is that I sometimes get presents. The one that I find totally fascinating that I got this year is the 2009 issue of Phlogiston, the Journal of History of Science published once a year in Serbian language – print only (the journal does not even have a homepage).
Phlogiston cover.jpg
I got this issue from Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailovic who came all the way from Serbia to do a session on challenges to Open Access in developing countries together with her friend and colleague Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove.
The 2009 issue of Phlogiston is dedicated to Darwin and the articles are just amazing – from history to biology to societal implications to applications of evolutionary thinking to other disciplines. There is an article on biases in computer simulations of evolution, and an article on all the species that are named after Darwin himself (ending with the latest – Darwinius masillae). Jelka’s own contribution digs through Darwin’s correspondence to show how strongly Darwin himself disputed the Naturalistic Fallacy, especially in the context of his opposition to slavery which may have been one of the motivators for his thinking about evolution in the first place.
Totally cool reading! I wish the stuff was online so I could link to it, perhaps have some articles translated….

Friday Balkan Food Blogging: Krempita

The Bride Of Coturnix fixed a Krempita yesterday:




Yummmmmmmmmmmm!

How government fights against medical quackery

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Remember that ‘vampire’ is one the few words that Serbian language gave to the world. Garlic is THE remedy against everything there…..

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

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