Dealing with the Past: History and Identity in Serbia and Croatia

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Dealing with the Past: History and Identity in Serbia and Croatia

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Title: Dealing with the Past: History and Identity in Serbia and Croatia
Author: Pavasovic Trost, Tamara
Citation: Pavasovic Trost, Tamara. 2012. Dealing with the Past: History and Identity in Serbia and Croatia. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This project analyzes the influence of history and myths in the construction of ethnic identity narratives by intellectuals and elites, as well as the appropriation and negotiation of these identities among contemporary youth in Serbia and Croatia. By analyzing the multiple meanings assigned to identity at both the elite and individual level, I argue that none of the present theoretical models allows us to build a complete understanding of how ethnic identity actually works on the ground. This project moves away from treating ethnic identity as a given, instead examining how it is constructed and reconstructed at the “top” level, how it is lived and negotiated on the “bottom,” and how these understandings change over time. I first examine the identity narratives and dominant myths articulated by elites, leaders, religious institutions and intellectuals during Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the late 1980s and 1990s, utilizing discourse analysis of official history textbooks, key works of intellectuals, and rhetoric of political elites. I argue that identity is constantly in the process of construction, reconstruction and fine-tuning; attention should thus be paid to the content of dominant myths that weave together various narratives, and to strategies of myth articulation. Second, I examine the extent to which these narratives have persisted among contemporary youth. Relying on two years of ethnographic research, including 160 in-depth interviews, 1200 surveys, focus groups and participant observation in Serbia and Croatia, I find that “lived” identity narratives are contextual, frequently contradictory, and have important generational, class, gender, and regional cleavages. This research has broad implications for theories of ethnic identity construction, in addition to calling for a reconsideration of the methodology commonly used in studying ethnic identity.
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