Playing the Victim: How Post-War Nationalists Utilize Victimhood Narratives in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia

Authors: Dustin Tsai*, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnic Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Political geography, nationalism, Balkans, southeastern Europe, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, propaganda, nation-building, gender, victimhood, ethnicity, conflict, post-war
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Committee Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

History in the Balkans is a double-edged sword: when viewed holistically, the roles of attacker and defender have changed hands so frequently that any notion of a historical perpetrator or victim appear frivolous. However, history as taught and understood in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia today, is highly skewed and propagandistic. Through my interviews with young Croat and Serb nationalists, I identify a distinct pattern in which nationalists selectively invoke narratives of victimhood for how they choose to frame their own circumstances. These narratives are purposefully driven by state-owned institutions to indoctrinate young people into sympathizing with nationalist causes. I argue that perceived victimhood acts as a highly effective tool for politically radicalizing ordinary citizens into supporting nation-building projects; I further discuss various geographical cases where this phenomenon has played out. This paper draws from original research on youth nationalism in the Balkans and theoretically examines an underlying mechanism behind how contemporary nationalist movements operate, ranging from the rise of the European new-right to white nationalism in Trump’s America.

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