How war was hatched from peace: political aesthetics, mass performance and ecstasy at the beginning of the post-communist ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in the Caucasus.
Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).
When the whole wave of "ethnic conflicts" exploded, as if out of the blue, in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s, I spent a total of more than 24 months as a social anthropologist and reporter in the war areas of Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Chechnya, Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. It surprised me that despite the considerable cultural differences between these areas, the post-communist nationalist conflicts were in many respects very similar. In this work I focus on their common features from the point of view of the agency of the participants as actors -the activists, soldiers and wider groups of those who agreed with or even supported them. What interests me is "why the boys go to war and why those who ought to have had some sense applaud them for it". This question is all the more urgent because these conflicts were often dominated by paramilitary volunteer units, even the regular armies were often formed at the beginning on a strikingly activist principle and initially the conflicts had unbelievably broad mass nationwide support. Using the extensive material of my own observations, and studies of nationalist political aesthetics, pre-war urban legends and popular metaphors I show how the conflicts developed from a political aesthetic of post-modern nationalisms (cultivated in a similar way in all cases), with its source deep in the contradiction between the universalism of radical modernisation and the nationally orientated cultural politics both cultivated by communist regimes. I try to show that war did not come out of the blue, or result from some politician pressing a button. I show how its political aesthetic first emerged very inconspicuously in the cultural sphere of the imagination of works of art, dreams and later manifestos, and then "exploded" on the squares in the form of great national spectacles (carefully followed by the media), to be followed by the performance of smaller already armed street-dramas, prewar parades, exercises and provocations from which the real armed conflict was eventually born. I seek to show the steps along the way from the ethos of war "on paper" and "in the marble of statues" to war in the field. I stress that for any real understanding of these movements of mass mobilisation it is essential not to consider the phenomena of nationalist (pre)war aesthetics, their embodiment through ritualisation and a certain mass ecstasy in isolation from each other, but to study them all as parts of one process. Particular emphasis is placed on work with temporality and the typical liminally ecstatic feeling, so typical for post-communist societies in the time of discontinuity, that an "explosion" is simply inevitable, that (in this time of the crisis of modernity and universalism), we must now finally "wake up", "be reborn" and "return to roots". To the expectation that everything is about to "hatch out".
|Title:||How war was hatched from peace: political aesthetics, mass performance and ecstasy at the beginning of the post-communist ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in the Caucasus|
|Additional information:||Permission for digitisation not received|
|UCL classification:||UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > SSEES|
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