Androcentric Communism: The Contradictions of Identity and Liberation in a Yugoslav Case

Rade Zinaić


The thought of prominent Yugoslav communist revolutionary and dissident Milovan Djilas is a key linkage through which to understand the relationship between contemporary Balkan popular culture and the histories of struggle from which they emerge. Djilas’ political trajectory, from the chronic poverty that defined his childhood in warrior-saturated Montenegro to his embrace of the communist project, is a primer on the productive manner in which popular culture nurtures “freedom dreams” that produce unique and compelling interpretations of specific political ideologies (Kelley: 2003). His life is an example of how a recently stigmatized popular culture can signify in ways that are not ethnocentric and reactionary and underscores the creative complexity of South Slavic folklore.

Several important questions about sacrificial themes in South Slavic folklore inform my analysis of Djilas’ politics. To what extent have decades of underdevelopment and uneven capitalist penetration reignited concepts of honour (čast), manliness (čojstvo), and heroism (junaštvo) as both a mainstay of social discipline and a bodily locus of social protest? After all, these concepts were just as effectively appropriated by non-Marxist conspirators and nationalist politicians. Indeed, honour, manliness, and heroism – staple concepts of military mobilizations and patriarchy – are also used to justify draconian and atomizing economic policies where an aspirational ethic of endurance trumps potential class solidarities. Does economic emasculation nourish male-centered dispositions that affirm structural inequality or can these dispositions, in specific contexts, produce cultures of emancipation? Must these dispositions always be male-centered? What does an emancipatory politics lose if emptied of viable notions of heroism and honour, that is, the ability to set inspirational examples of courage and integrity integral to any socialism, anti-racism, or feminism worth its name? Recent research has persuasively documented the crucial role these popular and nominally male-centered examples had in mobilizing Yugoslav communist partisan women against Nazi occupation (Batinić: 2015). Using a theory of cultural hegemony and resistance that draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Antonio Gramsci, my paper reconsiders these cultural attributes not as political ethnocentrisms, but as resources for genuine, inclusive political visions that draw on established popular histories of sacrifice and social solidarity.

Balkans - Partisans - Folk Culture - Hegemony - Habitus - Gender - Yugoslavian Communism