Guardians of the frontier: "the Balkans" in global politics of sexuality and race
In 2015, the Western Balkans became a new site in the geography of the transnational refugee crisis produced by conflict and repression in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa when more than 800,000 refugees arrived in Greece from Turkey and most continued overland towards the EU and Schengen borders, thus transiting the post-Yugoslav states. This unprecedented situation for the region’s governments, police, NGOs and volunteers cast ‘the Balkans’ geopolitically as a site of contingently and asymmetrically European response to Middle Eastern conflict rather than the zone of ethnopolitical antagonism they had commonly been constructed as during the Yugoslav Wars. It also gave rise to iconic images of displacement which, through the racialised visual politics of contemporary European discourses of identity and security, contrasted with those from the Yugoslav Wars. These images in turn became political resources elsewhere in Europe to amplify Islamophobic narratives constructed against the background of a spike in urban terrorist attacks by Islamist sympathisers, as did the region’s longer-term history of Christian–Muslim relations as the former Habsburg/Ottoman frontier and contact zone. Another development in post-Yugoslav cultural politics has, meanwhile, received much less critical attention: the political positioning and identity performances of female leaders including the first female president of post-Yugoslav Croatia and the first female prime minister of Serbia, an openly gay woman. While one phenomenon might appear explicable within the global politics of race and another within the global politics of gender and sexuality, this lecture argues that in both cases – and to understand ‘the Balkans’ in their full global context – these lenses must combine.
Dr Catherine Baker is Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History at the University of Hull and a specialist in the contemporary cultural politics of war and nationalism, especially in the post-Yugoslav region. Her books include Sounds of the Borderland: Popular Music, War and Nationalism in Croatia since 1991 (2010), an edited volume on Gender in 20th Century Eastern Europe and the USSR (2017) and, most recently, Race and the Yugoslav Region: Postsocialist, Post-Conflict, Postcolonial? (2018), while her articles have appeared in International Feminist Journal of Politics, Slavic Review, European Journal of International Relations and elsewhere.