Friday, December 08, 2006

Yugoslavia Today: Part II

A few weeks ago, I did a very brief review, based on memory, of George Oor's "Yugoslavia Today" I decided to re-check out the book in order to do a more accurate review of the book.

What we can look forward too:
"A trip across Yugoslavia offers the pleasures of a Mediterranean coastline as well as the exhilarating experience of a holiday in the mountains. For the Westerner making an excursion through the country, there is also the possibility of coming nto contact with ancient civilisations and plunging into the exotic way of life of the Oriental and Moslem worlds."

- Sign me up ;) Although, again maybe I'm too politically correct and overly sensitive but I feel a bit "iffy" about characterising the entire Oriental and Moslem world as "exotic"; in their eyes, Western culture is probably just as "exotic" and "mysterious" and "foreign."
Furthermore, I felt that this was a theme throughout the entire book. Mr. Oor has a tendency, in my view, to portray entire ethnic communities, especially the Muslim community, with a very broad brush stroke; frequently using over generalizations. He has a tendency, more often than not, to instead of showing the complexities and diversities within the religious communities, to base his assesments of entire communities based on the most "traditional" and "conservative" members of that society.

North South Divide:
One of the most interesting observations was his description of the North-South divide within Yugoslavia. As with the larger global North-South divide, the North tends to be more industrial, while the South more agricultural.
Furthermore, he sees the ethno-religious/socio-economic divide as being not "Croat vs. Serb" or "Christian v. Muslim" or even urban vs. rural, but specifically, "Catholic vs. Muslim" with the Orthodox serving as a balancing point between the two.

More gems (snarking time!) Before I get onto some of the beautiful towns & villages of Yugoslavia, in part III of the review (and of course, Bosnia in particular) here is a few more "gems"

"The mountain people of Crna Gora, on the other hand, are sometimes unabashed losers in any laborious exercise..." (He does go on to say that once they set their minds to the task these "unabashed losers" can produce work of astonishing quality.)

How old are we? A photo caption reads, "A familiar sight on the road, a girl spinning wool..." The "girl" in said photo is at least 50 years old.

Earlier in review one, we met the "violent, but hospitable!" Serbs. Today, we'll meet "shiptar" (quotes included in the book) craftsmen who jealously preserve their way of life.
Isn't "shiptar" a racial slur against Albanians? Or at least, a not very politically correct term? Maybe the use of the word has changed over the years, but I do know that from reading various UN ICTY transcripts, "shiptar" was used a racial slur against Kosova/o Albanians, much like "Turk" was used as a slur against Bosniaks.


Onto some good points...

Oor does make specific mention of the religous diversity, pluralism and tolerance found in Bosnia.


There are some absolutely gorgeous photos included in the book, of various Churches, waterfalls, etc. Which I'll discuss in Part III

6 comments:

Daniel said...

Shaina: "Although, again maybe I'm too politically correct and overly sensitive but I feel a bit 'iffy' about characterising the entire Oriental and Moslem world as 'exotic'; in their eyes, Western culture is probably just as 'exotic' and 'mysterious' and 'foreign.'"

Maybe I don't quite understand what you wanted to say. Although his observations were based during communist dictatorship in today non-existent "Yugoslavia", it is exactly what one feels when he/she visits Sarajevo (for example). I am refering to the term he used, "exotic". There are different flavors of exotic in Bosnia, for example, one might make the case that Austrohungarian architecture and achievements in Bosnia are also exotic. I don't think I quite understood what you wanted to say, but I do agree with you that focus should always be made on diversity and pluralism of Bosnia.

Shaina said...

Oor does not lable the Austo-Hungarian empire's influence in Bosnia as "exotic."

My response was specifically to this paragraph that I quoted in my piece: "For the Westerner making an excursion through the country, there is also the possibility of coming into contact with ancient civilisations and plunging into the exotic way of life of the Oriental and Moslem worlds."

Exotic isn't necessarily a "good" or a "bad" term. Although I think in many eyes, it is synomomous with "strange" "mysterious" "sensual" etc. I was commenting on the tendancy of some in the West to characterize the entire Moslem world as "exotic", without apparent thought that in the eyes of the Moslem world, the West is probably just as "exotic."
Maybe I just read too much Edward Said's theory on the occident and the orient. And how in that context, "exotic" is used to convey culture out of the mainstream. i.e. The Western culture is the point of reference of normalcy, and anything that does not fall into the parameters of Western culture is "exotic" or "strange".


Furthermore, from the paragraph I quoted, Mr. Oor gives the impression (at least I thought he gave the impression) that not only did the Ottoman Empire leave an 'exotic' mark on Yugoslav culture; but the PRESENT DAY Yugoslav Muslims were all just as 'exotic' as in the days of the Pashas. etc.

For example, in the book, he almost always uses the word "strange" or "exotic" when making reference to Muslim culture, both past & more importantly, present day.


It would have been better in Mr. Oor makes mention of the complexities within each community, instead of broad brushstrokes: such as his lable of "violent, hospitable" Serbs, "lazy" Montenegrians, etc.

Daniel said...

Oh, you see, I always viewed "exotic" as something "tropical" or worth seeing, or "different than ordinary". Let me check encarta...

... checking....

Exotic = strikingly different: strikingly unusual and often very colorful and exciting or suggesting distant countries and unfamiliar cultures.

Haha.. now I understand what ticked you off. He said: "there is also the possibility of coming nto contact with ancient civilisations and plunging into the exotic way of life of the Oriental and Moslem worlds."

Haha.. there is nothing "strikingly unusual" in how life is led by different ethnic groups. There are only religious differences that are noticable, that's all. There is nothing strange with Bosniaks or any other different groups in Bosnia; one can go to Mostar, or Bihac, or Konjic, or Banja Luka, or Sarajevo, or Tuzla, and yet, you will not notice strikingly unusual or strange characteristic of people, because different ethnicities are mixed together. Same with Vancouver in Canada. You can go down the Robson street and see all kinds of races, but races doesn't even count as differences if you ask me. Same with religions. To be different, you need to be strikingly different. For example, comparing aliens on Mars and people of Bosnia would yield strikingly unusual or strikingly strange differences. But of course, we won't go that far. In conclusion, I think that George Oor should have used different words, but anyways, the state and time when he wrote his book is behind us, and thanks heaven, communism in that part of europe has collapsed over a decade ago.

Daniel said...

...more like over a decade and a half :)

Belgrade 2.0 said...

Shaina, he did write "For the Westerner making an excursion through the country". If he didn't emphasise that part (For the Westerner) i have would agreed with your remark hundred percent, this way he has an alibi :)

Regardless of that i find your review excellent.
Cheers,
Viktor (ex Belgrade Blog, now Belgrade 2.0)

Shaina said...

Thanks Viktor,

actually, when I read "excursion through the country" I interpreted that (probably wrongly) to mean the "country of Yugoslavia" as oppose to the "countryside."