Astrea Pejović: Towards an Anthropology of Defeat: The Heroization of the Yugoslav Wars in Serbia

This thesis is organized around the idea of writing an “anthropology of defeat”. It follows the question of how a defeated state makes sense of its responsibilities through processes of commemoration. It antagonizes the Serbian state against processes of transitional justice, which frame Serbia as the perpetrator of the biggest number of war crimes, including genocide, while simultaneously pressuring the state to commemorate those crimes. The research aims to problematize the idea that the outcome of the wars involved a fixed binary opposition between victory and defeat. Through an analysis of how the defeated side commemorates the war, it aims to expose the varieties of narratives that have been voiced using the state as the main channel. The research starts with an analysis of the commemoration of three state-sanctioned war heroes. Following these three cases, I argue that the state seeks to purify its role in the wars by constructing narratives of bravery over war crimes. Furthermore, while commemorating the outstanding courage of its heroes, the state also generates self-victimizing narratives by positioning itself against more powerful enemies. I argue that these representations of enemies further reproduce the real-existing war-enmity, which works in the opposite direction of post-war reconciliation processes. Framed in this way, these narratives represent the 1990’s wars as outcomes of an ancient hatred among Balkan peoples, erasing the political aspect of the conflict and the responsibility therewithin. The research also shows how, contrary to the aims of the state, the mythologized lives of the heroes have managed to escape state-sanctioned narratives and how they have generated communities, opening space for the articulation of personal war traumas and critique of the state.

Astrea Pejović is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest. Her Ph.D. research “Towards an Anthropology of Defeat: the Heroization of Yugoslav Wars in Serbia” follows three heroes from three different, but intertwined, conflicts from the 1990s – Major Milan Tepić from the War in Croatia, Košare Heroes from the War in Kosovo, and Colonel Milenko Pavlović from the 1999 NATO Bombing. Through the analysis of these three heroes, the research aims to deduct how the morally-ambiguous wars have been re-shaped into a heroic narrative and how that narrative contributes to the construction of different enemies (Croats, Albanians, NATO/West/America). The thesis consists of one year of ethnographic work in Serbia. It experiments with visual methods, including visual archives, photography, and film. Through this research, Astrea connects her two backgrounds – her studies of Visual and Performing arts at the Faculty of Drama and Cultural studies in Belgrade, and Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University.


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