Saša Kesić - Towards Marina Gržinić, Jovita Pristovšek, and Sophie Uitz (Eds.), Opposing Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Turbo-Nationalism: Rethinking the Past for New Conviviality
Marina Gržinić, Jovita Pristovšek, and Sophie Uitz (Editors), Opposing Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Turbo-Nationalism: Rethinking the Past for New Conviviality (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020)
Bionote: Saša Kesić is an art teacher and independent researcher from Belgrade. He received his PhD in 2016 from the Department of Theory of Arts and Media, University of Arts in Belgrade. In 2020, he published the book That's How the Queer Grew... in Contemporary Eastern European Art and Culture, in which he connected queerness, performativity and presentation.
The volume Opposing Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Turbo-Nationalism: Rethinking the Past for New Conviviality1“focuses on collective amnesia in regard to traumatic events of the European past, and the ways in which these past events affect the present and future” (xi). In other words, in the thirty chapters the book contains, an attempt was made to explain how genocides and the politics of silence shaped the constitution of identities, communities and nations in Europe.
Three traumatic European genocidal histories represent the core of this book:
1. colonialism – the construction of a Belgian identity in the period after its colonial past in Congo;
2. antisemitism – the construction of national identity in Austria after the “Anschluss” (annexation) of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938;
3. turbo-nationalism2 – the construction of national identity in Serbia and “Republika Srpska” (Serb Republic) after the dissolution of Yugoslavia (1990-present).
In all three cases, colonialism, capitalism, fascism and racism work simultaneously, creating discrimination and exclusion. Therefore, all authors contextualize contemporary European societies in different ways, primarily in relation to their relationship to their own past, such as: Austrian Empire – Austro-Hungarian Empire – First Republic – Federal State – Anschluss – Second Republic – State Treaty. In such analyzes, through theoretical and artistic practices and research, the authors propose processes of emancipatory empowerment.
Marina Gržinić in the introduction named “Burdened by the Past, Rethinking the Future” puts forward a number of theses, in a desire to illustrate the structure of the book. She states that, if we want to discover different ways of dealing with memory and history currently, we have to think in terms of nothing less than life and death – in a biopolitical way, as Michel Foucault suggested in the mid-1970s (“make live and let die”), and a necropolitical way, as Achille Mbembe explained the radical change in 2003 (“let live and make die”). Also, amnesia has two paths – pseudo-amnesia, if we talk about postmodern fascism, and glorification, if we talk about turbo-fascism. What “is co-substantial with necropolitical racializing assemblages,” and what “presents a confiscation and therefore an absolute erasure of counter-culture political histories” (11), is seizure. She suggests a possible trajectory: biopolitics/amnesia (1970s) – abandonment/aphasia (1990s) – necropolitics/seizure (2003-present), and emphasizes that “memory is a question of biopolitics, and history is the main terrain of necropolitics: it is constantly under attack, being erased, rewritten and evacuated” (12). Finally, “the post-humans, the regime of whiteness, primarily, in the Occident are just a violent mob without the possibility of entering into any substantial social perspective such as alliances and common struggles and forms of conviviality” (16).
In the first part of the book, named “In the Aftermath of Colonialism,” seven authors from different perspectives write about the Belgian colonial past – its involvement in the Congo case. Kasereka Kavwahirehi in “The Politics of Memory in Congo: How King Leopold’s Ghost Still Haunts Us” outlines some strategies, such as destruction of records that were used from King Leopold II to Mobutu and Kabila, for the domestication of the memory of the Congolese people. Geneviève Kaninda, Tony Kokou Sampson and Kalvin Soiresse Njall in “Colonial Denial and Mutations of the Colonial Propaganda in Belgium: Struggles, Strategies, and Impacts on Society,” start from the point that in the early 2000s, dust rose in Belgium for disclosing facts about its involvement in the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, killed in 1961. Véronique Clette-Gakuba in “An Attempt at Black Political Subjectivation in a White Institution: The Case of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium” confirms the existence of tensions since the 1960s between the museum decisions not to raise the issue of restitution of cultural property and the actual presence of the African diasporas in the museum. Nicole Grégoire in “Postcolonial Belgium and Reparatory Justice: The Case of the ‘Colonial Métis’” explains that métis were children often abandoned by their Belgian father, and then taken away/kidnapped from their Congolese, Rwandan or Burundian mother, sometimes as young as four months old, by the colonial administration and Christian missionaries and brought to Belgium. Matthias De Groof in “Congocene: The Anthropocene through Congolese Cinema” suggests art as a possible place of remembrance of colonialism – he explains that the term “Anthropocene” is used euphemistically and refers to a type of Belgian colonialism. As Gržinić explains in the introduction, “despite the work of many historians on the topic of Belgian involvement in the Congo, this narrative is rarely heard outside of academic circles, and it remains on the margins of the official narrative of a modern European history” (16).
In the second part of the book, named “Nationalism and Antisemitism,” five authors deal with Austria’s attitude towards its Nazi past: “The Austrian Second Republic and the construction of an Austrian national identity after the fall of Nazi rule are defined by endemic and denied antisemitism as well as the denial of responsibility in the Nazi atrocities” (17). Elisabeth Brainin in “Amnesia and Lies in Austrian Reality” claims that there is a social rift in Austrian society’s confrontation with National Socialism. Berthold Molden in “Stand Together Like One Man! Tropes of Unity in Austrian Media Discourse” outlines two master narratives regarding Austria’s Second Republic – the “victim myth” and the question of how long Austria had been deprived of its self-determination. Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur in “(Re)membering Resistances in the African Diaspora in Post-Nazi Austria as ‘Counteramnesic’ Practices” examines the fact that the African Diaspora is virtually invisible within many nation states, which further results in diasporas being invisible to each other as well. Claudia Tazreiter in “Social Amnesia as a Politics of Erasure: Contemporary Austrian Identities and the Traces of past Horrors in Everyday Life” explores the processes of social and collective memory-making and representation through visual culture, based on the biopolitics of racialized order and death. Sophie Lillie in “The Burden of Proof: How Neglect, Ineptness, and Antisemitism Shaped Art Restitution Policies in Post-War Austria” gives a detailed historical overview of the case of people, mostly Jews, who survived the Holocaust, as well as those who did not, and whose works of art were taken away by the Nazis.
In the third part of the book, named “Turbo-Nationalism and Europe,” even two texts bear the name of Serbian extreme nationalist leader Slobodan Milošević in their titles – one deals with his crimes, the other with the echoes of his trial. The other three authors, originally from Bosnia, look at the consequences of the Balkan wars of the 1990s from different aspects. Šefik Tatlić in “‘New’ Fascism: The Aftermath of the Europeanization of the Western Balkans and the Necropolitics of Historical Revisionism” starts from the colonial origins of fascism and its role in the First World – it “glorifies colonialism and normalizes coloniality as an epistemic foundation of the contemporary world” (223). Sir Geoffrey Nice in “Rethinking the Past: Slobodan Milošević – Tried to Death” writes about Milošević’s 467-days long trial for his crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s. Nevenka Tromp in “Echoes of Justice: Afterlife of Slobodan Milošević’s Trial” focuses specifically on the Milošević trial at the ICTY. Nejra Nuna Čengić in “Lest We Forget? Speech and Non-Speech in Post-War Sarajevo” qualifies “how silence and speech about personal war experience appear in the accounts of inhabitants of a Sarajevo neighborhood who spent the war period there” (289). Hikmet Karčić in conversation with Marina Gržinić and Šefik Tatlić, in “The Mass Atrocities Committed against Bosniak Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina Are Not Something That Happened Just Once,” talks about concentration camps that existed in BiH during the war from 1992 to 1995, genocide and religious aspects of memory in the Bosnian community.
In the fourth part of the book, named “The Relation between Amnesia, Power, and Archives,” Nikita Mazurov in “Archival Amnesia: A Counter-Forensic Source Anonymization Methodology for Whistleblower and Leak Archives” follows a case study of Terry J. Albury, a former FBI agent accused of leaking documents related to the surveillance of journalists and religious and ethnic minority and immigrant communities. Adla Isanović in “Archives, Knowledge Production, Politics of In/visibility, and Bosnian Forensic Reality” explains the politics of invisibilization and necropolitical regime on the example of the parallel between increased digitalization – Windows 95, and the production of a surplus flesh – as the outcome of the Srebrenica genocide in summer 1995. Isanović makes an analysis of the genocide3 in Srebrenica and the new reality of Bosnia, its forensic reality. The forensic reality is a massive space of Bosnia transformed into a place of excavation of unidentified bodies. The forensic reality is paradoxical as it is digital, highly technological; the life in Bosnia, for the Muslims, is on the other side a life of poverty, no jobs, no subsidies. The counter-forensic methods are not against excavation as in common graves there are bodies of loved people missing for years, but they oppose super-digitalization amidst a poverty and abandonment. This digitalization leads to a maximum digital data and biometrics identity cards, while on the other side food is missing. Tanya Ury in “Personal Affects: Going into the Archive and Empire’s New Clothes” composes neoarchives based on the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne, which collapsed in 2009. Gloria Wekker in conversation with Birgit Sauer in “A Genealogy of Amnesia in Europe” starts form the self-representation of people in Austria – as the first victims of National Socialism and as those who exclude “Others,” especially refugees but also other migrants.
The fifth part of the book, named “The Relation between History, Memory, and Futurity,” mostly follows the fascism/Nazism line – how to fight fascism with activism and art, how concentration permeates in post-war life, how controversial the narratives regarding Austrian identity are, and how important political remembrance is for the future. Jamika Ajalon in “A Fluid Code” points to the need, given that fascism is growing, “to tighten control over the media, and drain, by every means possible, support for the arts, artists, and/or anything that does not reflect perfunctory pedagogy” (385). Pedro Monaville in conversation with Marina Gržinić and Šefik Tatlić in “Expressions of Nostalgia Are Not Necessarily a Glorification of Colonialism” explains that, “while the high politicization of Congolese students in the 1960s encouraged a generally critical engagement with the colonial past, expressions of nostalgia for that past also occasionally pop up in the archives of the student movement” (395). Max Silverman in “The Concentrationary Palimpsest” emphasizes that the “concentrationary” did not disappear with the defeat of Nazism, but in various ways it permeates in post-war “normal” life. Ruth Wodak and Markus Rheindorf in “Contested Narratives about Austrian Identity after World War II: Denials, Silences, and Appropriations” “discuss the construction and gradual dismantling of myths surrounding Austria’s Nazi past through the qualitative discourse analysis of the intergenerational transmission of shared narratives” (426). Sophie Uitz in “Political Remembrance for the Future: Perspectives and Limits of Arendt’s Re-Framing of Memory and History as Political Concepts” re-assesses “how Arendt frames and distinguishes memory and history as political concepts in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Nazi regime as discursive, political concepts” (446). Uitz draws a few connections between her findings in re-reading Arendt and current events related to history and remembrance in Austrian politics today, such as Trümmerfrauen, installed in 2018 – the women who clear up the rubble after Vienna had been bombed in spring 1945.
In the sixth part of the book, named “Conviviality: Obstacles and Antagonisms,” the central focus is again on Austria ‒ its normalization of Nazism on state television, the Waldheim affair and its attitude towards the Slovenian minority. While the first text deals with Soros posters in Hungary, the last one shows the whitewashes of colonial legacies in Britain. Hedvig Turai in “Back Up from the Basement?” focuses on Soros posters, which appeared all over Hungary in spring 2017. Drehli Robnik and Renée Winter in “Normalizing Nazism: History on Austrian State Television – Political Programmes in Times of Nationalist Government” starts from “a medium’s gerontology” – television looks old on state TV, it is for the old (population that is over 50) and by the old (reference to the journalist/history-narrator Portisch who was born in 1927). Ruth Beckermann in conversation with Michael Loebenstein in “There Is No Historical Film. Every Film Speaks Always about the Present Time” points out that one of the central topics in her film The Waldheim Waltz (2018) is about generational conflict. Jovita Pristovšek in “From Biopolitical Amnesia toward the Necropolitical Agnosia” gives a detailed insight into the processes of erasure of the Slovenian minority in Austria. Shirley Anne Tate in “Love for the Dead: Sambo and the Libidinal Economy of ‘Post-Race’ Conviviality” writes about a boy – sambo, who is believed to have come from Africa in the eighteenth century.
The importance of the book lies not only in the fact that, actually, it is the first book, to my knowledge, that brings these three genocides in parallel and questions the status memory and history of Europe, but that it also unearths the silent academic pact between theory, geopolitics and ideology that leaves unquestioned the genocides for as long as they are used for the most brutal political power games, and for as long as they are always committed against those termed as inferior, less, other, but in reality are hyper-exposed, dispossessed, exploited. Again, the book is here not to forget, in order to prevent that this will be repeated, but also learn, to really read facts, data, documents, structures of legal, economic, political power and find a way for a path toward another world and other forms of empowerment.
As a whole, the research behind “Genealogy of Amnesia: Rethinking the Past for a New Future of Conviviality” seeks to discover the procedures that silence three genocides – of the enslaved Black People by Imperial Europe, of Jews in extermination camps by Nazi Germany and its allies, and the Srebrenica genocide during the Bosnian War. Therefore, this critique is necessary in order to create new conditions for living together in Europe, as well as in the rest of the global world with all its subjectivities and identities.
Europe’s genocidal past plays a vital role in the construction of collective and national identities, which are created with the help of mechanisms of silence, oblivion, amnesia, racialization, political and economic dispossession, gender discrimination, hegemonic nationalism, etc. Why is it so essential to connect these three genocides?
First, it is evident that looking historically the process started with a vicious denial, an oblivion of colonialism that still stays at the last fortress of deep amnesia that is continually reappearing in forms of revolutionary demands by the Black community all over the world that teaches us historically what it means to oppose, resist, organize, claim a proper space and place in time and history. Second, we see that amnesia, as nurtured by the white colonial matrix of power, is so resistant that the movement Black Lives Matter has to happen to stop the processes of persistent racialization.
The feverish, brutalized and systematic methods of racializations, reinvigorated through the twentieth century and in the twenty-first century, just exploded into our white faces. However, it was again shielded, this time with a “post-race” global capitalist society model of our present.
Antisemitism is a core ideology of annihilation of people based on a block of hyper-racist prejudices that were so massively accepted in the WWII that produced genocide of disastrous proportion, the extermination of millions of Jews. This was so stubborn and persistent that even though the end of the WWII in the twentieth century bought images and documents of the machinery of madness and structure of industrialized death, all this continued and reappeared again and again in the first decade of the new millennium. Therefore, the studies in this volume search for connections, parallelisms, and to expose poignantly and so disturbingly painfully comparisons of the madness of all occidental imperial nations.
We have learned nothing from history: this is another important message coming from this volume. In the 1990s, the parallels and dialogue, the empowerment from studying and unlearning appeared as a thin light on the horizon. Then, in the same 1990s, a collapse of the whole space of the once former Eastern Europe happened, and socialism went into the deep history and began to be associated with totalitarianism only and solely. The same totalitarianism that was used as a shield after WWII to shift the discussions from the Holocaust and from the murderous capitalist imperial industrial machinery of death into the clash only acceptable after WWII between democracy and totalitarianism.
In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the complete deregulation of socialism by capitalism, with an imposed amnesia, and a total ban to talk for decades on socialism, another genocide happened on the soil on Europe (the same Europe that stated after WWII “never again”) – the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the very peak of the Balkan war (former Yugoslavia) that hit Bosnia and Herzegovina, by the Serbian paramilitary forces and Milošević and his murderous allies. The Srebrenica genocide came just a year after the Rwanda genocide (in just 100 days in 1994, some 800.000 people were slaughtered in by ethnic Hutu extremists). The new genocide was again committed in the heart of Europe, under the eyes of Europe and the United Nations.
This volume provides a very comprehensive analysis of what was going on in former Yugoslavia, before the 1990s, in the time of the Balkan war, and after the 1990s. This is a very brave and difficult task as it is not possible to rely solely on the historical distance, as well as on the archives and documents of the past. This is the first time that such an analysis is put in parallel with the two other genocides. Furthermore, a very detailed analysis is presented regarding the changes in Europe at the fall of the Berlin Wall and then in the 1990s until today. The post-Srebrenica genocide time showed an even more bestial situation: that the Serbian society and “the Republika Srpska,”5 instead of reflecting on what happened, pushed a new dimension of amnesia. What we learn is that in Serbia oblivion changed into the glorification of the genocide. This is supported by hyper-populist and monstrous political’ nomenclature all the way to our present day when this volume is published. In the meantime, the same glorification is central for the imperial global capitalist forces – Trump is a very good case. Former Yugoslavia, in its belatedness, is another case, as it repeats on a smaller scale the Trump model. The politicians from Serbia to Slovenia (Aleksandar Vučić and Janez Janša) are such two cases.
Finally, because of such a troubling vicinity and of a missed reflection on what really happened and the role of Europe in all that was going on, again, in Europe, specifically the Occident and former Western Europe, these topics were swept under the rug. With this books, they are pulled out in a larger context, so that we start a process of further analysis, working through and trying not to repeat the events of the past.
1 The volume arose from the art- and theory-based research project “Genealogy of Amnesia,” which was awarded funding by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) from 2018 to 2020.
2 A term coined by feminist theoretician Žarana Papić in 2002, when she conceptualized hegemonic postsocialist nationalisms in the Balkans in the 1990s, specifically in Serbia (8–9).
3 According to Gržinić, “Europe’s genocidal past assumes a fundamental role in the construction of collective and national identities. This past uses mechanisms to generate silence, oblivion and amnesia in relation to the un-reflected genocides of the past, which continue to serve current discourses of discrimination and exclusion” (18).
4 In order to truly provide a substantial point to this review, I also had an internal correspondence with one of the editors. Some of the points refer to these discussions by e-mail.
5 According to the editors, “the construction of a new national identity in Serbia and ‘Republika Srpska’ (Serb Republic), [happened] along with the negation of war crimes after the dissolution of Yugoslavia (1990-present). It is important to state immediately that, in contrast with Austria and Belgium, ‘Republika Srpska’ is not a state, but rather a territorial entity that declares its ‘full autonomy’ despite being part of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (xii).
Published on: May 9, 2021