BALKANIZATION OF BORDERS

INTERVIEW WITH STEFANO LUSA 
BY NATASHA SARDZOSKA

The unhomelessness – that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations. To be unhomed is not to be homeless, nor can the ‘unhomely’ be easily accommodated in that familiar division of social life into private and public spheres. In that displacement, the borders between home and world become confused.

Homi Bhabha

Stefano Lusa is historian and journalist, born in Capodistria. He holds a PhD in History of Contemporary Societies from the University  of Torino, and is currently editor in chief of the information program at Radio Capodistria, where he conducts the program of in-depth analysis Il vaso di Pandora. Among other, for the radio he has followed in 2015 the refugees in the Balkan migratory route. He is special news correspondent for Slovenia for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, he collaborates with Italian, Slovenian and Croatian newspapers.
As historian, his research was arguing the democratization processes in former Yugoslavia and the Italian-Slovenian relations.
He has published the following books: Italia-Slovenia 1990-94 (Il Trillo, 2001) and La dissoluzione del potere (Kappa Vu, 2007).

We met in Capodistria/Koper during my research stay in Istria, in the frame of my field work based on social qualitative methods and we have discussed the dissolution of former Yugoslavian borders and its impact on the generation of multifaceted cultural patterns and practices.

 

NS: Koper, Istria, border-zone: how does it feel to inhabit a border city? How would you define your cultural affiliation?

SL: On the border one lives as anywhere else could live. Borders exist everywhere, even in the big cities, between one neighborhood and another. The question is how can we go beyond borders, if we want to meet the Other. In that sense, one could think of “The conquest of America” by Tzvetan Todorov or “The collapse” by Jared Diamond, that teach us that only the cultural interactions makes us win.
Culturally speaking I am a product of the place I dwell in the places I have inhabited. I believe everything leaves an imprint, a sign. At the end, to quote Todorov again, nobody feels at home nowhere, that is to say we all feel a certain sense of foreigness, strangenerness, which in my case is not at all traumatic. I have always been someone who loved being counter-current.

NS: According to you, then, mixed cultural identification could be a problem? Why?

SL: Mixed identities are not the problem, but they tend to become a problem when someone asks you to self-define yourself. In former Yugoslavia, for example, the census represented some kind of a plebiscite. In those cases, the person who had to respond the census was facing very dry, direct question and was obliged to give a definition of themselves. This practice was much cruel that what it seems: for a child of a mixed marriage, for example, it was as if they had to respond whether they cherish more their mom or their dad.

NS: Well, this is the implication to cultural self-definition and self-affiliation in the context of dwelling in the crossroad of one or several borders?

SL: We have to understand that our cultural dimension depends on places and cultures with which we have an interaction and which leave a cultural imprint on us after all. If you study in Paris, and of course if you are not dumb or obtuse, it is impossible that this big city with its great enormous cultures does not leave traces in you. And here we do not argue the refusal or rejection of one’s origins, we do not talk about substitution of values, traditions and usages of one own culture with those of another one, but we strive to understand that all this leaves traces. Let me give you an example: I have had friends who used to live in the Netherlands, and their whole life they were longing to come back in their home in Istria. When they finally got retired, they have spent few months in Croatia and eventually decided to go back to Amsterdam. So they kept living between Croatia and the Netherlands.
They, who in the past were super attached to Croatia, where they have lived for more than 40 years, they have become Dutch even though they never wanted to ask for Dutch citizenship.

NS: One can argue the Istrian “pure culture” as a merger of the three communities (IT, SL, HR), as a hybrid concept?

SL: In Istria in the ’80 the Istrian identity was invented. The followed pattern and scheme was the one described in Hobsbawm book “Nations and nationalism”. Firstly, cultural groups wanted to discover again (or rather invent) a series of cultural traditions and references; then later the policy has strengthened them as movement. Theoretically, the Istrian is a fruit of interactions between the Croatian, Slovenian and Italian culture. This concept seems to appear as big openness and exaltation of the cultural hybridization, but in fact it is excluding because it puts new frontiers between us and the others. In fact, being Italian, Slovenian or Croatian is not enough to be considered as Istrian, because if you come from Ljubljana, Zagreb or Rome you are anyways perceived as a foreigner, a different one, which is not part of the category “gente nostra”.  In a nutshell, the Istrianity is pure exaltation of small regional fatherlands.

NS: Could we then deduce that Istria has become a substitute for former Yugoslavia. Have you ever asked yourself if this border-zone Istrian identity was an answer or a way of restitution? Restitution of the – perhaps – the “continuous invention of the tradition”?

SL: The discovery of the Istrian identity takes place along with the Yugoslavian crisis and could be seen, in fact, as a substitute for an alternative identity, the Yugoslavian one, which was out of date.

NS: This would be the challenge, in fact, or rather interpreted as a rebellion against the globalization?

SL: Yes, basically it could be interpreted that way. And that is typical for the marginal zones because they have not attributed to the big cultural fluxes.

NS: What was the cultural impact on the borders performed by the dissolution of the Yugoslavian borders?

SL: Yugoslavia is alive abroad. There is a fantastic research done by the Slovenian anthropologist and professor Mitja Velikonja drawing on the emigrants coming from former Yugoslavian countries, and who contemplate about their country with nostalgia. It is significant, because even when we are in New York, Berlin, Milan or Paris, we feel certain commonality or rather brotherhood with those coming originally from the former federation. There we do not really discuss politics, but rather material culture such as fruit juices produced by juice factory Fructal, candies and chocolates produced by chocolate factory Kras, we talk about small common world, that today does not have any raison d’être for the nowadays youngsters, who never lived in Yugoslavia, who do not have common memories and who do not even speak the common Serbo-Croatian language, which was the lingua franca of the Federation.

NS: Your view on the ALPE ADRIA Project?

SL: The Balkans begin always in the south: for the Germans, the Balkans begin at Vienna, for the Austrians the Balkans begin at Ljubljana, and so forth and so on. In the ’80 there was the project of de-balkanization of the Balkans. For example, Slovenians, also thanks to the ski and the architectonic structure of Ljubljana, designed by Joze Plecnik, the architect who redesigned Prague, have rediscovered their central-European dimension, leaving the Balkans in their past.

NS: From this standpoint, last but not least, could we claim the liminal quality of the geographical concepts and the mental maps in the Balkans?

SL: The Balkans, more than being a geographical concept, are a political concept, very well expressed by Maria Todorova in her book “Imagining the Balkans”. We could agree with her, that, more the Balkans are going European, more they get back in the Balkan past, that is to say more the ideas of nation, nationality and ethnical pureness penetrate in this area, more they make it  real melting pot, a hodgepodge.


Natasha Sardzoska is anthropologist, writer, poet, researcher and teacher, interpreter and translator, born in Skopje, Macedonia. She holds a PhD from the Karls Eberhard Universität in Tübingen, the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the Università degli Studi di Bergamo under the European excellence program Erasmus Mundus. She has taught at the SEEU Max Van Der Stoel, at the University of Tourism in Skopje and at the Schiller International University in Heidelberg. She was editor of the EMANATE Magazine in Brussels and has interviewed well-known politicians among which Marielle de Sarnez and Meglena Kuneva. She collaborates with international reviews, namely Doppiozero in Milan and Transmidia in Rio de Janeiro.

She has been working for the French National Agency for Higher Education AERES in Paris as quality assurance expert, for the Italian Ministry of Justice as project assistant, the National Antimafia Bureau as interpreter and for many international agencies and organizations among which IOM and EC.

She is author of three poetry books, Blue Room, Skin and He pulled me with an invisible string, her poetry was translated in Serbian, Italian, Spanish and English. She has translated and published books from Italian and Portuguese language and her doctoral dissertation drawing on the dissolution of former Yugoslavian borders impact on lives and artwork of expatriated and exiled artists was published in the National Library of Tübingen in Germany.

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