Who will respond?: The temporalities that legitimized actors during the May 2014 floods in Serbia

Authors: Ruth Trumble*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Political Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, East Europe
Keywords: temporality, geopolitics, distributed preparedness, emergency response, flood
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:15 PM
Room: Plaza Court 6, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In May 2014 three months’ worth of rain fell in three days causing the largest flooding in Serbia’s recorded history. The town of Obrenovac came to represent the disaster when all 32,000 residents had to be evacuated after the floods arrived. Local and international actors rose to prominence while state actors were criticized for a slow response. These events posed a sharp contrast to the Obrenovac flood of 1981 when the Yugoslav system of distributed preparedness was successful in preventing a disaster. By the 1970s, Yugoslavia’s system was efficient, decentralized, and prioritized cooperation among actors from the local residents to federal responders.

I build on literatures on disaster preparedness and the performance of the state to discuss how actors involved in flood responses in Obrenovac, Serbia used crisis events to legitimize their presence. This legitimization is shaped by multiple temporalities which include the speed and efficiency of response, long-term harms that increase the vulnerability of affected communities, and chronological geo-political shifts in the disaster landscape. I use discourse analysis of archival materials, recent news media, and semi-structured interviews with those affected by the 2014 floods to demonstrate how multiple temporal performances of entities such as the state, the international community, and residents legitimize certain actors over others. The redistribution of actors’ roles in disaster from the Yugoslav system of preparedness in 1981 to the May 2014 floods reveals the ongoing reorganization of state responsibilities in Serbia for disaster preparedness since the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

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