Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Amanda Marie Hunter on Bringa

In her article Nationality Categories, National Identification and Identity Formation in ‘Multinational’ Bosnia, Tone R. Bringa examines the conceptualization of ethnicity and nationality prior to the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. Bringa carefully delineates the two with her assertion that ethnicity is reflective of individual ascriptive action while nationalism is derived from state-level descriptive action. That is, the relationship to the state constitutes the difference between each concept. Throughout the rest of the paper, Bringa argues that elite- and state-led dispensations of nationality generated grave distortions in an otherwise stable process of “multiethnic coexistence” (2).

Since it emanates from the individuals experience in a community, the substance of ethnicity tended to reflect the general mutability of life (i.e. work, marriage, or community of residence). Conversely, nationality closely mirrored regime change and elite politicking. Neither was fixed and each relied heavily upon the ‘other’, of varying propinquity, for definition. For example, the Communist state sought to construct a reality that provided for no official acknowledgment of religion, despite a populace in which religion is a major source of cleavage. Political actors methodically denied the existence of some groups while extending the benefits of recognition to others in return for support. After Bosnian Muslims were recognized by the state, Croats asserted that Bosnian Muslims were no more than ethnic Croats with a different religion, and the Serbs levied the same the claim in their own favor

I appreciate the authors’ criticism concerning western attempts to import a Wilsonian peace via the Dayton Accords. It may be that the peacekeeping programs were laden with normative prejudice and treated culture and all its complexities as epiphenomena. Missing from this assessment, however, is to what degree Serb and Croat actions were also internally and culturally coherent. The author exposes her own biases when the Croats and Serbs, apparently unable to distinguish between western elitist machinations and their own will, seem to have been herded into war (with a special noted exception for the intelligentsia) in her concluding comments. Finally, the scope of the paper feels artificially abridged due to a timeline that reaches, briefly, back to World War II.

In sum, there are tensions within the authors argument because, while cleary aimed at divesting elitism of utility, the author falls short of fully advancing the agency of the individual. To do so would mean confronting the idea that the capabilities for both making war and keeping peace are equally human.