Thursday, November 23, 2006

Interesting Discovery

I'm one of those Americans who find it interesting to read what foreigners and visitors to the U.S. think about the States. Doesn't mean that I agree with everything they say, but it is always interesting to get a view of your country from an outsiders' perspective, not to mention healthy as well.

Anyways, in the library I found an old "travel" guide to the former Yugoslavia published somewhere in the early 1980s. There was no date, and I couldn't find any mentions of Tito to try to gauge if it was written before or after his death.

First discovery: Half of Yugolavia! Mostly I have just focused on primarily Bosnia, than Serbia and to a lesser extent, Croatia; for the obvious reason that those are the countries that are most involved and effected by the war. But it was interesting to see towns in current day Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia. Especially Slovenia-what a gorgeous country!

Second discovery: Am I too politically correct? Beyond introducing us to cities, the book also introduced us to some "locals" as well. One picture featured a eldery Serb farm couple, dressed in traditonal ethnic clothing. The caption below their names read (paraphrase) "Like all people of the Balkans, the Serbs are proud and violent people, but they're very hospitable hosts!" Maybe this is just a sign of me being too politically correct, but the entire description just sounded really condesending, overly generic/stereotypical, and reduced the entire peoples of the Balkans to an overly generic caricature. And I'm not sure what was going on that the one picture of people expressly idenfied as "Bosnian Muslims" were people in a marketplace, where the women wore white hijabs. First, I was surprised to see so many people dressed in more "traditional" clothing, especially circa 1970s-1980s. I know that some conservative and elderly women of Eastern Bosnia where colorful kerciefs and other head covering; but even amongst the more conservative set, I have rarely seen a traditional hijab on. Secondly, it seemed as if the authors were ignoring the complex and varied for Islam and Islamic culture has played in Yugoslavia, and instead were just relying on really generic protypes. Most people in the west associate Islam with wearing a veil of some sort? Fine. Find a picture of some people wearing a veil, and use them as the prototype for all Bosnian Muslims. Now, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a traditional outfit, and of course, very conservative/traditional Jewish and Christian ladies do the same as well. I just had a feeling that if someone traveled to Yugoslavia they would be in a big surprise to discover that unlike what the picture makes it out to be, 99% of Bosniak women are not wearing any sort of clothing where you can indentify their religion with!


Anonymous said...

Actually the only Bosnian woman raised as Muslim I had any sort of lengthy conversation with, was wearing really tight jeans and a denim jacket, and no head covering. I did see Muslim Bosnian women and girls wearing scarves, but not pure white except in a couple of cases.
One lady who was very old, and one very young lady,maybe about 20-25, traveling with her two children and her mother, who looked to be about 60, who dressed in a more Western manner.
I also saw an older lady from Jajce who definately was Christian, a Bosnian Croat lady, who was almost as conservatively dressed as myself. She had tatoos of crosses on her hands, that's how I knew.
Anyway there was always a lot of variety, both in the old days and more recently, within and between communities.
I too really hate when some book characterizes a whole people as 'violent' in that fashion. It's almost worse if they add that that same people is 'hospitable'.

Shaina said...

I agree. You are much better versed in Bosnia than I am, but from my understanding is that Bosniaks are probably the least observant of the major religious groups in Bosnia. And today, I have seen photos with a few girls with head coverings on, but the vast majority of Bosniaks don't wear head coverings, and I'm guessing it was even less 2 decades ago. If I remember correctly, and I'll have to check to see if I'm right, the book even had a note of interest about not taking pictures of Muslim women without their husband's permission. Can't remember it exactly though. It was something along those lines, and it gave me the impression that the authors didn't spend much time in Bosnia.
Besides the over generalizations, and condesending attitudes, the pictures were lovely.

Kirk Johnson said...

Could the women have been county-dwellers? I would imagine that women in the country dress much more conservatively than urban women. My experience in Bulgaria suggests that older, rural women would dress modestly and often cover their heads whether Muslim or Christian.

Bg anon said...

I'm not sure I would divide people as least or most religious on ethnic group basis.

More accurate I think is sympathy towards the communist party.

And as Kirk implied the rural / urban divide is another factor that should be bourne in mind.

Belgrade is not Serbia just as Sarajevo is not Bosnia.

Shaina you know these stereotypes are still used. Sometimes by hacks who are paid to write reports about countries they know nothing about. They fall back on lazy generalisations.

Then there is self stigmatization which in my opinion is sometimes no better. And of course foreigners have to be politically correct and listen to stinky generalising rubbish as not to be seen as insulting to locals.

igor said...

Slovenia: yes, it's gorgeous, you should visit it :-)

National costumes: (native) Yugoslav tourist broshures were also full of people in traditional costumes.

Violent Serbs: Maybe not quite the right expression, but... a friend from Hospitality Club described them as intense, giving this example: the mother of his host in Serbia told him that they are very hospitable and all, but if he betrays their confidence, they'll kill him. I agree about generalizing of course.

Hijab (I guess you mean headscarves): Of course travel guides aim for "exotic" pictures, not the ones representing "average" population. I have no idea how widespread the headscarves were before the latest wars but I wouldn't be surprised if there were villages (if not towns) full of them.