Toward a Genealogy of the Balkan Discourses on Race

Dušan I Bjelić. Interventions. Volume 20, Issue 6. 2018.

Considering themselves as white and non-colonial Europeans and despite the history of state racisms, the Balkans regularly foreclose race from the Balkan historiography. This is the case for two reasons. First, the predominance of the national paradigm in Balkan historiography which acknowledges state and ethnicity as the only possible historical actors; and second, the Balkans’ partial inclusion in Europe’s administrative union as the new historiographic paradigm. The idea of a United Europe rests on the creeping assumption that because the European Union is a new political entity without a previous history and because it has formally denounced colonialism and anti-Semitism, it somehow deserves a clean slate and the right to shift ownership of its colonial histories to former colonial subjects and their national histories. As David Goldberg notes, this itself is a mode of racialization: “Racial europeanization has rendered race unmentionable, unspeakable if not as reference to an anti-Semitism of the past that cannot presently be allowed” (2006, 339). Europe presents itself as the continent on which post-ideological liberalism reconquered its space from communist and fascist totalitarian regimes. The collapse of real socialism forced the historiographies of the victorious liberal democracies and of the defeated socialist regimes to begin articulating a United Europe as a new historiographic project rendered as a place of shared and overlapping histories. According to Maria Todorova, post-Cold War Europe “emerges as a complex palimpsest of differently shaped entities, not only exposing the porosity of integral frontiers, but also questioning the absolute stability of the external ones” (2009, 202). But the reality on the ground seems somewhat different. Instead of “the porosity of integral frontiers,” barbed wire and immigrant camps defend today’s European frontiers from undesirable races (De Genova 2016, 20). Underneath the EU sovereign unity looms an administrative war on immigrants as spatial-racial enemies in which the Balkans holds the frontline. By becoming a part of the EU’s legal system, the Balkans cannot any longer claim colonial and racial exceptionalism.

Foucault on Europe’s Discourse of Race: A Theoretical Preamble

Michel Foucault’s genealogy and archeology of race discourses outlined in his series of lectures offered during the 1975-1976 semester at the Collège de France and published as Society Must Be Defended (2003) was the first of three volumes of lectures on biopower (2007, 2008). In this book he arrived at the conclusion that modern political sovereignty, liberal, Fascism, and Socialism, are triangulated with race and war in such a manner that “war is the very sum of peace” (Pasquino 1993, 80); hence, sovereign peace is permanently unstable and is open to rupture by racial discourse. Rather than offering a definite answer to “what is race?” Foucault asks what is the history of discourses on race. More specifically, how did a certain eighteenth-century discourse on the “war of races” as “counterhistory” to Monarchist official history of state sovereignty over time become a biological fact and the locus of biopolitical sovereignty, and how did a discourse on war become institutionalized state racism? To the surprise of many postcolonialists (Mitchell 1988; Stoler 1997), Foucault arrived at a radically new concept of race, as something that does not come from outside in relation to external race but rather from within a single society, from internal conflict and civil wars by splitting the population as a single race into two internal races, one a super-race, and one a sub-race.

In other words, what we see as polarity, as a binary rift within society, is not a clash between two distinct races. It is the splitting of a single race into a super-race and a sub-race. To put it in a different way, it is the reappearance, within a single race, of the past of that race. In a word, the obverse and the undesired of the race reappears within it. (Foucault 2003, 61)

What used to be only a premodern narrative about a war between external races now became the state’s civil war of internal races, and what used to be a discourse on the “abnormals” now becomes something on the order of “internal colonialism.” The origin of “race” Foucault locates in the power exercised through governmental apparatuses, specialized knowledges, institutions, tactics, and strategies; i.e. race as an effect of “governmentality” (2007, 108). By focusing on practices of power rather than on ideologies, Foucault closes the gap between the European national and colonial histories; while colonialism and imperialism were an extrajudicial externalization of internal colonialism, state racism was the judicial internalization of external colonialism and imperialism. Not only had the nineteenth century converted “race” as a political concept into a natural “fact,” but it had also converted “counterhistory” into revolutionary racism from the Left and from the Right. In Marxism, “race struggles emerged as ‘class struggles’” (Foucault 2003, 79) while, in the twentieth century, Nazism as an emancipation of the German nation emerged “in the legend of warring races” (82). The notion that race and state racism come from within European societies and that race discourse via Nazism and Marxism on the tail of interwar race sciences entered in the same sequential order the Balkans’ political histories at the beginning of the twentieth century opens the door to the possibility of examining race discourse from within the Balkans and East European societies.

The other reason to engage the Balkans with Foucault’s genealogy of race discourses is because his discourse challenges some of the established concepts and arguments about the Balkans’ postcoloniality. Maria Todorova’s foreclosure of race and internal colonialism from Balkan studies comes to mind. While influenced by Foucault’s concept of discourse, Todorova nonetheless forecloses “race” from Balkan studies on at least three different yet related levels: perception, the historico-structural difference between the colonial West and imperial Ottoman Balkans, and methodology.

On the level of perception, she differentiates the perception of “stigma” (2009, 186) within the same racial type (white Balkans) and the perception of race between two racial types (whites and non-whites). Because the Balkans are a type of white Christian Europeans, racist stereotypes directed toward the Balkans by Western Europeans are misplaced; rather, the western perception processes the Balkans’ geopolitical ambiguity of the in-betweenness of West and East as a stereotype of abnormality (17) and not as a race. “Unlike orientalism,” Todorova explains, “which is a discourse about an imputed opposition, balkanism is a discourse about an imputed ambiguity” (17). Predominantly Christian and white, in the global scheme of race relations, the Balkans are on the side of “white versus colored, Indo-European versus the rest” (19). “It is my thesis,” she concludes, “that while orientalism is dealing with a difference between (imputed) types, balkanism treats the differences within one type” (19).

On the historico-structural level, Todorova argues the post-imperial “Ottoman legacy” (2010, 181) rather than postcoloniality defines “the ontology of the Balkans.” Colonialism is a specific historical system of capitalism as naked exploitation, while the post-imperial Ottomans were military administrators and conquerors. On that point, Todorova invokes Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay “Colonialism is a System” (2006). Sartre, she elaborates, “worked from Marx’s premise that colonialism presented capitalism in naked form, [which] for a philosopher [is] a surprisingly concrete and historicized definition” (Todorova 2010, 179). The confusion arises, she insists, out of “a specific ontological Angst to ‘decenter’ Europe” (Todorova 2010, 190), shaping the Balkans and the East European postcolonial analysis lacking in systemic analysis common to Marxism.

Todorova’s phrase “a methodological conundrum” (2010, 181) addresses the methodological incommensurability between balkanism and orientalism. Orientalism as a discourse about the anticolonial struggle grew out of the Palestinian history of the Zionist occupation of Palestine and is a discourse derived from “the vector of space,” while balkanism, on the other hand, is derived from the “vector of time” (2010, 182). By way of difference in discourse and methodology, Todorova in effect differentiates on the ontological level the category of ethnicity from race; while “race,” in Said’s register, is a category of “space,” “ethnicity,” in her register, is a category of “time.” Consequentially, ethnic civil wars, which postcolonialists, in her view, tend to conflate with colonial struggle, such as Kurds in Turkey or Iraq, or Yugoslav ethnic minorities against the Serbs (2010, 181), are not “anticolonial struggle” because they are inspired by nationalist aspirations, which belongs to “the vector of time” and not space. “The category ‘space’,” she concludes, “is oftentimes uncritically linked to ethnicity or nation,” and confusing such conflicts with anticolonial struggle “replicates unintentionally statist and nationalist claims under the guise of a new scholarly jargon, or produces rather static and ahistoric structural analysis” (182).

Unlike Todorova, Milica Bakić-Hayden considers balkanism a variation of Said’s orientalism, which in the Western Balkans appears in its clearest form as “nesting orientalism” (Bakić-Hayden 1995). “While geographical boundaries of the ‘Orient’ shifted throughout history,” Bakić-Hayden writes, “the concept of the ‘Orient’ as ‘other’ has remained more or less unchanged” (917). The term “nesting orientalism” captures the putative representational patterns of geographic essentialization of heterogeneous populations along the ancient cultural and religious axis of the hierarchical West-East binary, by which the less civilized are always “east of me.” Cultures and ideologies perpetuate the East-West binary so that their representational patterns can install essences in local identities as “original” selves, which as a consequence of the internalizations of such essences, people come to see themselves or their ethnic neighbours in terms of these toxic representations. Informed by the political reality, “nesting orientalism” constructs toxic dichotomies in the service of such politics. “In the end,” she concludes, “it is not just the question of representation, but rather persuasiveness that calls for explanation; hence, my discussion has reflected critically on the force that cultural constructions have in directing human action” (930), such as tragic ethnic wars. “Nesting orientalism” is not just about toxic representation but also about toxic motivation.

Both discourses ignore Balkan ethnic homogenization vis-à-vis other ethnic groups as self-racialization and as a situation of “internal colonization.” Balkanism and “nesting orientalism” foreclose these categories from Balkan studies and gloss over an entire social dimension bound with race discourses and governmental practices of internal colonization. While agreeing with Todorova that “nesting orientalism” does not prove the conditions of colonialism and at best addresses the issue of geopolitical stigmatization, I find that she errs in excluding race relations and internal colonialism from Balkan studies. Her claim that race relations cannot exist inside the “same type” is historically incorrect, given the fact that Europe’s racist war grew out of ethnic self-racialization.

The event of radical ethnic homogenization as self-racialization dominated Europe’s interwar transnational space. Ethnic homogenization as self-racialization as the “friend”-“enemy” relation was at the centre of Carl Schmitt’s discourse on spatial races and spatial racism. When, upon Hitler becoming German chancellor, Schmitt calls for “an absolute ethnic identity [Artgleichheit] between leader and following” (2001, 48), he uses the word Artgleichheit instead of the German word Ethnizität. Artgleichheit, “in a concrete biological manner” (Gross 2007, 38), means a type-of-same-species opposed to [artfremd] “species-alien” Jews. In Schmitt’s “friend” and “enemy” political scheme (2007), “an absolute ethnic identity” of the German Volk figures as race in relation to Jews as the political enemy. Similarly, as we will see later, in the interwar period the Yugoslav racial “Dinaric type” and the Greek fili (which means at the same time ethnic and racial) served in their race discourses as a racial matrix for ethnic self-racialization vis-à-vis their ethnic exteriors. In other words, extreme ethnic unification (Artgleichheit) in a struggle between “friend” and “enemy” over shared space is a process of ethnic self-racialization vis-à-vis Jewish ethnicity as an internal sub-race. Self-racialization was not unique to the Nazi race discourses against the Jews. During World War II, Europe had not only subjected the Balkans—whom they considered a sub-race within the same “white Christian type”—to genocide and forced labour, but moreover the Balkans underwent their own self-racialization vis-à-vis the Jews, the Roma, Muslims, Serbs, Vlachs, and Albanians, and subjected them to racial laws and ultimately to “genocide” (Mojzes 2011). To treat the Balkan race as a single biocultural “type” is in itself essentializing (Lee 2012, 39); rather than a biological substance, the Balkan race concept ought to be regarded as a political event of ethnic self-racialization vis-à-vis ethnic minorities as spatial-political enemies (Hayden 1993, v), and to the extent that policies of ethnic cleansing and population exchanges speak to the fact that the Balkan race concept is a “vector of space.”

Political conversion of ethnicity into race is central to accounting for this history as “internal colonialism.” It is puzzling that Todorova ignores this concept on the grounds of the postcolonial lack of Marxist structural analysis when the Marxists invented the concept. Introduced by Lenin in his analysis of Russian capitalism, it was then extended to the United States by Trotsky (1969) and to Italy by Gramsci (1999). On Soviet forced collectivization, Alvin W. Gouldner, an American Marxist, writes:

What had been brought into being was an urban-centered power elite that had set out to dominate a largely rural society to which they related as an alien colonial power; it was an internal colonialism mobilizing its state power against colonial tributaries in rural territories. (1977, 13)

As for the question, “Do nationalist civil wars over space count as anticolonial struggles?,” one may respond by asking, “Does war as inherently a biopolitical event count as race relations?” The Balkans’ modern history is a history of wars over ethnic space. On the point of war, Foucault has the following to say: “war is about two things: it is not simply a matter of destroying a political adversary, but destroying the enemy as race, of destroying that [sort] of biological threat that those people over there represent to our race” (2003, 257). Race is an operative category of war and can be internal to a single society entangled in civil war over ethnic space.

The fact that Jews were the Balkan internal race further complicates Todorova’s claim that nationalism differs from colonialism and ethnicity from race. Not only did the Balkans’ internal colonization make Jews racial victims, but it also made them racial victimizers and external colonizers of Palestine (Bjelić 2017). Bulgaria’s Jewish population who became committed Zionists were an extraordinary case. The Bulgaria Zionists’ colonization of Ottoman Palestine, with the first and the second alyah (the wave of Jewish settler emigration to Palestine across Europe), coincided with the creation of the Balkan nation-states on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century. Balkan national ideologies—Bulgarian, Serb, and Greek—grew out of the national desire to regain the lost empires and inspired Zionism in Bulgaria and beyond. Observing the Russo-Turkish War in 1878 from Paris, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of the Modern Hebrew language, saw in Bulgaria’s nationalism the mirroring of proto-Zionist desire:

Thirstily I read about these events in the press without realizing at first the connection between them and myself … and suddenly, like lightning before my eyes, my thoughts flew across the Balkans … to Palestine, and I heard a … voice calling to me: the revival of Israel and its language in the land of its fathers!. (Fellman 1973, 21)

As Balkan Jews who survived the Holocaust, Bulgarian Jews were not only the largest Balkan Jewish population taking action in the colonization of Palestine, but were also the most committed Zionists. In the twentieth century, Bulgarian Zionism simultaneously became victim to an internal colonization in Bulgaria and external colonizers in Palestine.

Unlike Todorova, Bakić-Hayden entertains the possibility of the internal splitting of the same racial type (even in socialism), but only on the level of representation as othering. Sure, one may argue, nesting orientalism manufactures toxic othering, but all othering is not race; race is not constituted on the level of a stereotype but, on the level of exercise of power over life and death, is a purview of forms of governmentality and its strategic and tactical use of law, institutions, knowledge apparatuses of security, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. In socialist Yugoslavia, nesting orientalism was not a governmental discourse but part of an informal street and tavern narrative. Furthermore, one may ask if the East-West dichotomy is the only matrix of the Balkans’ orientalist othering. Can nesting orientalism account for every Orientalizing stereotype? For example, in 1939 when Mladen Lorković (1909-1945), a member of the fascist Croatian party, claimed that Croatian original identity is Iranian, that the word Hrvat (Croat) originates from the Iranian word Hu-urvath, meaning “friend” (Yeoman 2007, 110); or when Vlatko Maček (1879-1964), leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, claimed Bosnian Muslims are pure-blooded Croats who “carried in their souls Croatian national consciousness, imbibed with their mother’s milk” (Yeoman 2007, 115), this Croat self-orientalization directly undermines the basic principle of nesting orientalism and its West-Orient exclusionary binary. But if the same is considered from the perspective of the genealogy of Croatian race discourse, the apparent contradiction ceases. Consider Lorković’s self-orientalization in conjunction with his demand for the “return [of] the Croatian soil to the Croat people” (Yeoman 2007, 111). The category of Croatian soil now redefines the category of Iranians as a racial category; rather than oriental, it is seen as an ancient civilization, which had over time preserved not only the purity of its blood but also the hold of its soil. “Croats are Iranian” articulates a strategic mobilization for the creation of a racial state and calls for the internal conquest of ethnic space. The Croatian race discourse’s anxiety about the Serb “nomadic mobility” and about a Croatian doomsday due to the “immigrant Vlach-Greek Eastern or Serb elements” (114) speaks to the anxiety of conquest as a justification for the Croatian conquest. Nomads and immigrants are interlopers with no commitment to the state; they have no blood anchorage to the soil. By settling in Croatian ethnic space they lead to the “collapse of [Croatian] biological strength” (111), implying that they will always be a potential or actual enemy of the Croatian state and anxiety justifies ethnic cleansing and genocide. The strategy of such anxiety reflects the discourse’s intention to mark “immigrant” bodies as an internal race for a hopeful, or a real, displacement or extermination necessary for the creation of a pure racial state, or what Mahmood Mamdani calls “race branding”:

When Nazis set out to annihilate Jews it is far more likely that they thought of themselves as natives, and Jews as settlers. That link is race branding, whereby it become possible not only to set a group apart as an enemy, but also to exterminate it with an easy conscience. (2001, 23)

But race branding in itself does not rise to the level of internal colonialism unless it is conducted by state apparatuses. In other words, the Balkan Othering can rise to the status of internal race only if the Balkan state’s sovereignty rests on the production of “bare life” (Agamben 1998), which can be killed and not punished.

Considering Giorgio Agamben’s concept “bare life,” homo sacer, as the sovereign’s marker of an internal race, and the fact that he found a contemporary equivalent to bare life in the Bosnian concentration camps of the 1990s, I claim neither balkanism nor nesting orientalism operates in the register of race and internal colonialism. When Luxemburg Prime Minister and President of Eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker blamed the “Ottoman legacy” for the failed Greek state he was not, as Todorova would have it, imputing Greek ambiguity within the same racial type but, rather, racial difference. “Ottoman legacy” here proves not the absence of Balkan coloniality but rather the presence of new forms of racial formations; as a colorblind neoliberal, Juncker carefully avoids any biological reference; rather, the Greeks, in his register, are a “fiscally” inferior race, which is defined by the very interests of global financial capital. The point is not the use of a stereotype but the force of financial rationality transforming economic relations into racial relations within a single white racial type.

Here is where Foucault’s discourse on race and colonialism from within a single type becomes a game-changer for Balkan studies. Biopolitics historically produced race from within the same type. Racism did not begin in Europe at the tail end of imperialism but through the genesis of the nation-state. According to Foucault, not only was external colonialism predicated on, or coupled with, “internal colonialism,” but external race was also predicated on, or coupled with, the splitting of a single European or Balkan type of two internal races. By the end of the nineteenth century, Europe’s “abnormals” became an internal equivalent to Europe’s external races and vice versa. How is it possible to regard Europe as the “same type” when it was populated today by “different types” of Asian and African immigrants? Are they not Europeans? Isn’t Europe multiracial and aren’t the Balkans as Europe’s “type” an integral part of this racial heterogeneity? Again, such omission has to be corrected by reference to Foucault’s claim that internal colonialism and the formation of internal race run parallel with external colonialism, which had through time informed each other via the boomerang effect of colonial practices. “A whole series of colonial models,” Foucault argues, “was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself” (2003, 103). How is it possible not to view today the so-called refugee crisis as anything other than “the boomerang effect of colonialism”? In other words, modern European history produced two faces of colonialism, one internal and one external, and two faces of race, one internal and one external. Today, they are both internal and thus we can talk about two types as part of a single type, internal-external and internal-internal races.

“Blood and Soil”: Balkan Ethnicity as Race

The state racism of the twentieth century was the synthetic point between internal and external colonialization and when “State sovereignty … becomes the imperative to protect the race” (Foucault 2003, 81). As its first function, racism decides who lives and who dies on the basis of the separating and ordering of groups according to racial hierarchies. As its second function, racism establishes a positive relation to war. World War II has been traditionally regarded as the first “racial war,” while World War I has been seen as a “civil war between white nations” (Füredi 1998, 38). This distinction is problematic at general and specific levels of history. As the matrix of the biopolitical paradox, war is by definition racial. Foucault ponders war as a biopolitical event par excellence: “How can one not only wage war on one’s adversary, but also expose one’s own citizens to war, and let them be killed by the millions?” (2003, 257). World War I was not only a war over and because of colonies, but it also included almost a million colonial subjects as non-white troops to fight the white European war. On the Balkan front for Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, World War I was a continuation of the previous two Balkan wars; but with the involvement of colonial troops in the first global war, the skeleton of a third Balkan war became also a proxy colonial war. The most prominent racist feature of this war was the instrumentalization of colonial subjects by race to function as weapons of war.

The British and French colonial armies arrived in Salonika in 1915 to open the Macedonian Front. For the Allies, the Macedonian Front was part of the overall colonial calculus; as one British diplomat put it, “England, especially, cannot afford to disinterest herself from the Balkans, because the Balkans are one of the principal stepping-stones on the way to India” (Price 1917, 6). By August 1, 1916 the composition of the Armée d’Orient in Salonika was as follows: French, 127,000; Serb, 122,000; British, 119,000; Italian, 24,000; Russian, 9,560 (Alimpić 1967, 112). The non-white composition of the French colonial troops consisted of North Africans, Central Africans, Malagasies, Indochinese, and Creoles; the British troops included Hindus, Sikhs, and Nepali Gurkhas. While, for the most part, non-white soldiers played a supporting role to the French and British continental armies, during the major offensive September 15, 1918, French African troops (9,000-10,000 in number) played a decisive role in a significant breach of the Bulgarian and German lines, along with the Serbian 2nd Army (Hall 2010).

In addition to being the first racist war, World War I was also the site of the discovery of “blood type” as a new racial principle (Kohon 1996). This discovery was made by the Polish serologists Hanna and Ludwik Hirshfeld, members of the University of Zurich and of the Royal Serbian Army’s central bacteriological laboratory stationed with the Serbian Army in Macedonia during World War I. The presence of multinational and multiracial forces allowed the Hirshfelds “to study the blood of various races and nations” (Belinska and Schneider 2010, 48). During the course of their epidemiological testing of soldiers’ blood via blood agglutination, they stumbled upon a revolutionary discovery about the bipolar origin of race inscribed in A and B blood groups. They found that type A was present as the predominant type only among Northern European nations. Group B was more frequent among Asian and African nations. This discovery suggested that a group factor had been formed on two opposite ends of the world: the A factor somewhere in Northern Europe and the B factor in Asia, perhaps on the distant highlands of Tibet or in India (Belinska and Schneider 2010, 58). Because the findings dismantled the previous discourse on the biological purity of race, they called for new discursive strategies and objectives. One element remained the same, however: the war-race link. As Ludwik Hirshfeld explained,

Evidently, driven by eternal unrest, people migrated from the West to the East and from the East to the West, mixing with one another and giving rise to racial hybrids that were smelted in the foundry of joint history into a single nation. A study of the blood of individual nations enables us to decode their distant past. (Belinska and Schneider 2010, 58)

In their published paper (1919, 678) the Hirshfelds included a racial chart.

The Hirshfelds’ racial “blood type” chart reveals the almost identical level of the A-B blood mixture, type A 45-48 percent and type B 20 percent for all three groups. None of them could claim racial purity and racial superiority over the other. Race discourses had to shift the focus strategically from the racial purity of the body to the purity of the “blood type’s” living space—which would give German race discourse its name: Lebensraum. Just as race was instrumentalized as a “weapon of war” during World War I, so would blood type be instrumentalized as a geopolitical weapon of racial space. As an instrument of race and war, blood type would play an ambiguous role in Balkan race discourses. On the one hand, as a scientific category, blood type gave scientific grounding for the ethnic majority’s state sovereignty. On the other hand, as an archive of war and migrations’ memories, blood would serve also as a source for bellicose claims over ethnic space.

The blood-type discovery—in combination with physical anthropology and medicine—would initiate the Balkans’ eugenic sciences (Turda and Weindling 2007). Faced with significant losses of life after the war, race discourses had to be regrouped around new strategies for reanimating race as a locus of state sovereignty. “Blood” at once became a biological and historical category. Biologically identical “blood types” enabled Balkan race discourses to introduce a history of wars of conquest, migrations, and cultures as differentiating factors. Ethnic blood became at once a timeless conduit of history and culture into the present and a marker of ethnic boundaries and a claimant to ethnic space. With such a composite biopolitical instrument, the postwar Balkan nations hoped to rebuild their “biological capital” (7), which the war had significantly depleted. Scientifically defining race as blood type would become an important biopolitical instrument for the conversion of ethnicity into an “internal race” and would initiate the Balkans’ “internal colonization”; this conversion would culminate with ethnic cleansing, genocide and the Holocaust during World War II and beyond (Mojzes 2011). As Turda and Weindling conclude, Balkan race discourses in the interwar period charted the Balkan ethnic map as a racial map:

The “blood and soil” mythology, in addition to a whole range of modern techniques aimed at improving the health of the nation, helped to create a new political biology, whose purpose was to prepare the “chosen race” (Croats, Romanians, Hungarians, and so forth), at the expense of others (Serbs, Vlachs, Jews), for the onset of racial utopia: the ethnic state. (Turda and Weindling 2007, 13)

These race discourses shaped interwar Balkan biopolitics in various ways. Soon after the Great War, eugenics publications emerged in Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece written by doctors, pathologists, psychiatrists, and physical anthropologists educated in Austria and Germany. As “a segment of trained professionals” dependent on state funding, their discursive formation “reflected the [state’s] aspirations” to gain legitimacy and also “to help their newly created ethnic states to modernize” (Turda and Weindling 2007, 7). Other reasons played a role in prefiguring ethnicity into internal race as the byproduct of a new biopolitical vocation. Biological and political concerns were intertwined. Such strategic reconfigurations of ethnic blood type as race had, for ethnic minorities in a shared ethnic space, a grim political future during the Nazi, Communist, and post-Communist contexts.

Blood type established the biracial origin of humanity and racial mixtures. The serological research had established more or less the same level of racial mixing; the new strategic task for racial discourse focused on the question of how to dominate in ethnically mixed space by way of state-administered racial policies. Ethnic dissimilation or assimilation were two possible discursive strategies of race discourses. The strategic task of dissimilation was to use blood to undo the history of ethnic mixing, to unearth discrepancies between blood type and cultural identity—as in the case of the Hungarian minority in Romania, the Székelys, which Romanian eugenicists argued were of Romanian blood type, but who, as Romanian “frontier guards” defending the Hungarian Kingdom from the Ottomans, had been slowly Magyarisized since the Middle Ages (Bucur 2002, 146). Similar claims in Croatian race discourse were made about the Bosnian Muslims, who, as it was argued, were pure-blooded Croats who had converted to Islam during Ottoman rule (Yeoman 2007, 103). Mixed blood defined spatial as racial enemies, such as the Roma, Jews, Serbs, and Vlachs in Croat race discourse, and Roma and Hungarian in Romanian race discourse. In Bulgarian race discourse the enemies were national minorities like the Turks and Muslim Pomaks. Birth control, the prohibition of abortion, selective breeding, and sterilization were some of the eugenicists’ technologies for racially enhancing the ruling ethnic majority. Assimilation strategies also characterized the Yugoslav and Greek race discourses. The strategic task of Greek race discourse was to mark its national space by way of Hellenizing it as a space of historic assimilation into the Greek “phyletic core” (Trubeta 2007). Yugoslav race discourse was synthetic in nature and was bound by the interests of the newly formed state. Grown out of its indigenous academic and political context, Yugoslav race discourse appropriated Cvijić and Dvorkinović’s racial anthropology of the “Dinaric type” as the racial matrix for the new race. Yugoslav race discourse emulated America’s inclusively exclusive model of synthetic race, at once inclusive of “positive” and exclusive of “negative” racial qualities; America’s “eternal youth, nobility, casting from themselves all that is damaging, and accepting all that is healthy and strong,” assures the American synthetic race the rule of the world (Yeoman 2007, 89). In addition to these discourses were German settlers’ Lebensraum discourses in Vojvodian and Transilvania (Turda 2015).

All these race discourses shared the same objective: the improvement of the “biological capital” of the dominant ethnic group. During World War II, all Balkan states enforced racial laws and contributed to the Holocaust. This was not the result of a smooth evolution of interwar race discourses into racist discourse, but the product of a discursive rupture by the racist radicalization of ethnicity as race.

Marxist Race Discourses: Class as Race

When Adolph Reed warned against the neoliberal claims which habitually “represent race and class as dichotomous or alternative frameworks of political critique” (2013, 52), he insisted on the critical link between them so that the critique of one category can be made only in terms of the other. To the extent that he insisted on such critical links of race and class, Reed returns to the genealogy of Marxist race discourse. The bourgeoisie’s race discourse informed Marx’s revolutionary discourse on class wars. Marx regarded Augustin Thierry’s history of “race wars” as the precursor to class wars and Thierry as “the father of class struggle” (1973, 528). Thierry’s race war, Foucault registered, reconfigured the bellicose “war of races” into the discourse of racial peace imposed by the Third Estate. While Marx, Foucault contends, reconfigured to a certain degree Thierry’s bourgeoisie’s race discourse, he nonetheless failed critically to examine the biological determinism of race. Foucault posits:

Socialism was racist from the outset … you will always find a racist component in socialism … it has in fact taken it up, developed, reimplanted, and modified it in certain respects, but it has certainly not reexamined its basis or its modes of working. (2003, 261)

The classical Marxist race discourse vacillates between racism and revolution, between class and ethnicity. Engels offered the most cogent example of Marxist biopolitics precisely in the case of the Southern Slavs (Wendei 1923). The Southern Slavs’ participation in the suppression of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution signified for Engels a case of counter-revolutionary barbarism. He characterized the South Slavs as a people without a history, a racially inferior people who were unable to form their own nation-states because “these people have related to each other for centuries as rogues and bandits, and, despite all their racial affinities, their mutual hatred is infinitely greater than that between Slavs and Magyars” (Marx and Engels 1973, 233). If the Slavs leave “the revolution entirely out of the picture … we too know what we have to do” (245):

Then we shall fight “an implacable life-and-death struggle” with Slavdom, which has betrayed the revolution; a war of annihilation and ruthless terrorism, not in the interest of Germany but in the interest of revolution! (Marx and Engels 1973, 245)

Lenin, Trotsky, and Gramsci reconfigured nineteenth-century Marxist race discourse as anticolonial. Lenin’s new revolutionary strategies based on the peasantry as the major revolutionary mass allied with the working class reconfigured the revolutionary role of the peasantry and by this conversion introduced ethnicity and race into the equation of revolution. In his “Preliminary Draft of Theses on the National and Colonial Questions,” Lenin introduces the question of race at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920: “it is necessary for the Communist Parties to render direct aid to the revolutionary movements in the dependent and subject nations (for example, in Ireland, the Negroes in America, etc.) and in the colonies” (in Trotsky 1969, 6). Similarly, in the “90 Years of the Communist Manifesto,” written in 1937, Trotsky declared: “The movement of the colored races against their imperialist oppressors” demands “the complete, unconditional, and unlimited support on the part of the proletariat of the white race” (1998, 25). By converting race into ethnicity and vice versa, the Lenin doctrine opened the door to national emancipation on a global scale, as well as the possibility for a future anticolonial race struggle.

Trotsky’s “Negro Questions” is a complete strategic and tactical reversal of Engels’ “South Slav Question.” Trotsky reverses Engels’ counter-revolutionary “Slavdom” into a figure of revolutionary race in the American colonial context. In contrast to Engels, Trotsky acknowledged the American working class as an economic category which functions in real life as the white race: “99.9 percent of the American workers are chauvinists, in relation to the Negroes they are hangmen and they are so also toward the Chinese” (1969, 17). Trotsky promoted and modelled American Black nationalism according to the Slavic revolutionary model of national self-determination: “It is possible,” he argued, “that the Negroes will become the most advanced section [of the American revolution]. We already have a similar example in Russia. The Russians were the European Negroes” (18). Like a small Slav nation, the American Blacks should also demand their national sovereignty and create a Black Republic in the American South. “If the American Negroes succeeded in creating their own state,” Trotsky argued, “I am sure that after a few years of the satisfaction and pride of independence, they would feel the need of entering into a federation” (30). He compares America to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Black South with the Slavic Danube federation (19).

Gramsci did not always agree with Trotsky’s revolutionary strategies, but his “Southern Question” in many respects animates the same strategies and tactics of Trotsky’s “Negro Question.” Gramsci’s race discourse came about as a response to the rise of scientific racism after Italian unification, Risorgimento, against the Southern rural population. Based on economic and cultural inequality between the industrial North and the rural South, the unification had established the economic and cultural hegemony of North over South. To rationalize this inequality, the North developed scientific racism about the inferior Southern race unfit for modern industrial society. “There only remained one explanation,” Gramsci responds, “the organic incapacity of the inhabitants, their barbarity, their biological inferiority” (1999, 71). The “Southern question,” which the North concocted as if it were on the question of race, Gramsci correctly understood, worked as an instrument of class relations; here, too, race worked as a supplement to class.

Gramsci acknowledges the ambiguity of the Southern rural population, as “the large peasant mass, amorphous and disintegrated” (2004, 3), which the Northern bourgeoisie has subjected and reduced to “exploited colonies” (16), but in contrast to Engels, Gramsci recognized in the Southern “sub-race’s” “immense energy … in resisting and counterattacking whenever there is the least attempt at autonomous organization of peasant labor” (1999, 213). The vacillation between reactionary and revolutionary potential, in Gramsci’s revolutionary register, could mediate an alliance between Northern industrial workers and Southern peasants. Like Trotsky, Gramsci saw federation as a model for resolving the class-ethnicity ambiguity.

Postwar Yugoslavia seemed to fulfil Trotsky’s dream about the creation of a Slavic Danube federation (1969, 19) of ethnicities united in class solidarity and Grmasci’s federation of workers and peasants. It has been said that Socialist Yugoslavia was a fine Marxist balancing act between class and ethnicity. The Yugoslav Marxist Rastko Močnik reminded those too eager to dismantle Yugoslavia that the country was born in war as part of the anti-Fascist bloc (1998). In Yugoslavia anti-racism became a constitutive, so to speak, anti-category which class solidarity had to keep “race” in permanent repression. In other words, Yugoslav postwar social peace operated as a silent continuation of World War II by means of political suppression of the ethno-racist “counterhistory” vis-à-vis official state history. Yugoslavia not only served as a model for the anticolonial struggle after World War II, but it also actively supported various struggles militarily, economically, and diplomatically via the Non-Aligned Movement while at home suppressing ethno-fascism as an internal “enemy race.” To navigate such a structural paradox, all of Tito’s key concepts, figures and symbols, as Bosnian philosopher of war Ugo Vlaisavljević pointed out, underpinned Yugoslavia as a modern State, built on the battlefield of World War II, were remembered only in a restrictive way. The victorious Marxist revolution was fused with the memories of ancient ethnic victories. As a result, it created an ambiguous political psychology “of Yugoslav communism, its popular appeal, consisted in turning now recto side, now verso side of these ideological couplets” (2002, 202). The constitutional changes in 1974 aimed at shifting federal power to ethnic republics and provinces led to the awakening of ethnic tensions over ethnic space and ethnic “counterhistories” competing with official state history from the last war and the prewar period. This was the first structural sign of class-ethnicity ambiguity breaking through the system. The birth of the Serbs’ ethnic “counterhistory” as a bellicose challenge to the continuity of the history of the Yugoslav Federation played a role in some of the Yugoslav Marxists’ conversion of ethnicity and class into race. One of the most puzzling converts was celebrated Marxist philosopher Mihajlo Marković, one of the founders of the Yugoslav Praxis Philosophy group and himself a participant in the anti-Fascist war, who served at the beginning of the ethnic war as the chairman of the Serbian Sociality Party headed by Slobodan Milošević, the previous Serbian Communist Alliance. He published a paper titled “Tragedy of National Conflicts in ‘Real Socialism’: The Case of the Yugoslav Autonomous Province of Kosovo” in 1990 in Praxis International that clearly demonstrates biopolitical reconfiguration of the Marxist race discourse. This paper is relevant for the ways in which Marković strategically engages the biopolitical argument to question Kosovo Albanians’ use of procreation as a biological weapon to take over Serbian provinces.

He acknowledges the destabilizing effect of the class-ethnicity ambiguity on “real socialism,” since the national conflicts had not been resolved. “They flared up,” he writes, “soon after those societies entered a period of serious economic and political crisis” (408):

An already explosive political situation in Kosovo is further complicated by the fact that it is economically the least developed region of Yugoslavia. Potentially, it is rich. Its huge reserves of coal and abundant amount of minerals; most of it is fertile plain, suitable for agriculture. And yet it had the bad luck of staying within the borders of the stagnant and decaying Ottoman state until 1912. (413)

On this point, he singles out high Albanian birth rates as an economic irritant, which he took as a biological weapon used by the Kosovo Albanians to demand Kosovo’s political autonomy. “Kosovo has the highest birth rate in Europe—slightly over 3 percent. The population rate in Kosovo is three times higher than in the rest of Yugoslavia.” That birth rates are used strategically is evident in the following: “In 1948 there were 498,000 Albanians in Kosovo, in 1981 the number was 1,227,000 and in 1989 it approached 2 million.” With a 35.5 percent unemployment rate, Serbian society cannot sustain an Albanian demographic boom. In a word,

The fall of the standard of living, which is rather alarming for Yugoslavia, as a consequence of a crisis, here is drastic because of the high birth rate. The quality of all social services (education, health, social security) inevitably deteriorates. (414)

Like population management figures, Kosovo Albanian demography is also a major biopolitical concern for Marković. He lists three reasons for such explosive demographic trends, all of which are biopolitical in nature: first, “the conditions of a rural, tribal society with material scarcity, isolation, illiteracy and ignorance”; second, “a traditional patriarchal structure in large communities, in which women live deprived of freedom, of almost any rights, programmed to spend their lives in hard labor, in serving men, and raising children.” While educated urban Albanian women “give birth to 2.2 children on the average … the figure is 6.5 for uneducated Albanian women in the countryside.” He attributes the absence of birth control among the Albanian population to religion: “Like some other religions, Islam strongly resists any family planning.” And the third reason was that “one of the objectives of the nationalist movement is to use demographic means in order to conquer space and bring forth a unified, ethnically pure state” (414). He offers birth control as a solution for the wellbeing of both peoples:

Family planning is necessary to prevent overcrowding of Kosovo and a growing gap between advanced and backward regions. But it must be done in a gentle, psychologically acceptable way, and by Albanians themselves, using primarily educational means. Special programs should be created to attach Albanian students to universities all over Yugoslavia and to employ Albanians from Kosovo in other republics. (Marković 1990, 424)

Identifying Albanian procreation as an existential threat to Serb sovereignty over Kosovo is clearly a biopolitical argument based on the history of wars. The Islamic conquest of Kosovo broke up the unitary life of the two populations and forever turned them into threatening neighbours. Islam demolished the Serbian Empire in the fourteenth century, but the structure of the battle had migrated from an external battlefield to the interiority of the Albanian and politicized sexuality. Pitting the political sovereignty of Serbia as a Northern “Piedmont” of Yugoslav modernity against the sexuality of other ethnic groups on behalf of civilizational progress, attests to the Marxist reworkings of the class-ethnicity ambiguity in terms of race as a solution and in a direction of state racism.

Marković’s paper is indeed relevant for illustrating how the class-ethnicity ambiguity emerges at the intersection between the industrial North and the rural South, which always shaped and reshaped Marxists’ race discourse at different times and in different political contexts. In many ways, the relationship between Serbia and its Southern and undeveloped provinces corresponded to the Italian North-South relation, but in the Yugoslav post-communist context the race factor assumed a strategic and tactical pivot toward Engels on the Southern race rather than to Gramsci. For example, Marković portrays Kosovo Albanians like Italian race science portrayed the Southern Italians: as an obstacle to Serbian industrial progress, which he claims is the cause of internal social conflict. One can hear in Marković’s argument an echo of Gramsci’s Mezzogiorno as the “lead ball and chain” of the industrial North. Southern Italians, the Italian race discourse argued, “made no progress after being liberated” by industrial progress, meaning that “the causes of the poverty were not external … but internal, innate in the population of the South—and this all the more since there was a deeply rooted belief in the great natural wealth of the terrain” (1999, 71). Marković does not name racial inferiority per se, but feeling entitled to problematize high Albanian birth rates is certainly a sign of racial inferiority vis-à-vis Serbian modernity.

One may claim Marković’s argument operates in the register of a “stigma” within what Todorova calls “the same type.” After all, birth control is often promoted as an emancipatory factor for traditional women chained to the patriarchal system of forced procreation. There is also a biopolitical dimension to ethnic procreation, as Marković’s concern indicates. Sexuality is the intersection of the body and an undesirable population, which calls for regulation and discipline. Because sexuality is procreative, it is, as Foucault argued, of particular concern for biopolitics: “sexuality is also inscribed, takes effect, in broad biological processes that concern not the bodies of individuals but the element, the multiple unity of the population” (2003, 251). Given the fact that Marković’s real concern was the status of the Serbian province and that he soon became the chairman of the party initiating the policies of Kosovo Albanian ethnic cleansing, only proves the existence of internal colonialism by which Kosovo Albanians became an enemy race for the Serbian state’s sovereignty over the province.

The conversion of Marković’s Marxism into ethnic racism stems from the fact that socialist Yugoslavia was formed as a biopolitical state dominated by the Communist Party elite as the revolutionary race. As a consequence, one may argue, the state absorbed the “revolution” into its apparatuses of social control of ethnic racism, allowing ethnic “counterhistories” to grow underneath the social peace of “brotherhood and unity” and unleash race for the ethno-racist counterrevolution.

Postscript: From a Metaphor of “Bridge” to the “Corridor” of Races

Recent European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (2016-2017) reports for the Balkan countries show that the same ethnic minorities from the interwar period remain a target of institutional and civic racialization. Wars and social changes apparently have not altered the patterns of the Balkan’s “racial formations,” with the exception of two new categories: “LGBT” and “refugees”/“immigrants.” The same can be said for today’s Europe as a whole. European governments are refusing to accept refugees entitled to political asylum because of their religious and racial identity, which has opened a gap between the EU’s declared protection of human rights and the “protection” of racial space as sovereign ethnic living space. Such a gap has given prominence to interwar race discourses on Lebensraum, living space, and Grossraum, a supra-sovereign sphere of influence beyond national borders. While Lebensraum prominently figures in barring Muslims from white Christian Lebensraum, the EU and Nato’s policing of refugees’ free movement on the open seas pertains to Grossraum. Both concepts provided the discursive framework for the spatial racism advanced by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt based on his spatial theory of sovereignty (2003) and his theory of “state of exception” (2005, 2014).

Both spatial concepts were an integral part of Schmitt’s race discourse. He theorized that the sovereign is above the law and can suspend law in order to preserve the unity of space and racial order inside the Reich’s Grossraum as racial Lebensraum. The origin of the “state of exception,” Schmitt argued, is the primal acquisition of land (Landnahmen: land-conquest), which parallels the history of colonial conquest and its racial organization of space (2003, 98). In order to define the German internal, racial hierarchy (i.e. Jews as an inferior race), Schmitt advances a new concept of spatial race which he called “spatial-alien” (raumfremd) and “racially alien” (artfremd), on the basis of a Jewish, non-political (i.e. a non-sovereign) relationship to the earth. What made Jews a distinctly inferior race, Schmitt argued, was their non-European nomadic origin. He clarifies this point in a 1939 theory of his geopolitical concept of the Reich’s Grossraum as racial unity of order and space where he explains that “there live many nations and national groups that are, however, not—apart from the Jews—racially alien from one another” (2011, 99). What makes Jews non-European is their non-political relationship to the soil, as demonstrated by the idea that the “relation of a nation to a soil arranged through its own work of colonization and culture and to the concrete forms of power that arise from this arrangement is incomprehensible to the spirit of the Jews” (122). Jewish relation to soil is nomadic and not sovereign, and they as spatial interlopers consequently leech off and profit from someone else’s sovereignty.

Today’s so-called refugee crisis has given new life to Schmitt’s spatial racism in the Balkans. At the receiving end, due to their skin colour, Africans passing through Balkan space are immediately considered as bodies that must be rejected because they are not from this space (De Genova 2016, 20). So one of the most difficult problems for refugees crossing the Balkans is hiding their “darkness” or racial marker. The case of Jasper, a Yasidi Syrian and legal resident of Germany, illustrates the extent to which the Balkans became white. While travelling through Greece as a tourist during the Xenios Zeus police operation, the Greek police stopped, beat, and stripped him of his documents and rights. “Jasper’s racialization as someone not quite German, not quite white, trumped his documented (legal) belonging in EU-rope” (Stierl 2017, 226). His “darkness” immediately triggered a localized “state of exception.” As Stierl puts it, in outlining Europe’s internal racial map, “While certain white, European individuals and groups may be abused as supposed threats to national homogeneity, the Syrian German tourist, the African passenger, or the Roma is always already that” (226).

The Balkans today are an integral part of Europe’s so-called refugee crisis. With the help of various autonomous segments of civil societies, people fleeing war-torn countries from Asia and Africa, beginning in the second decade of the twenty-first century, formed a route of free movement from the Mediterranean to Central and Northern Europe across the Balkans (El-Shaarawi and Razsa 2018). At first, willing to comply with international law, European administrative authorities tolerated the refugees’ arrival. However, increasing anti-immigrant voices declaring the immigrants’ a threat to social order triggered “new forms of governmentality” (Heller and Pezzani 2017, 97) which operated outside the boundaries of law and legal jurisdiction, extending to the sea. This was justified as a temporal and localized practice of the “state of exception” in which immigrant rights to free movement (among other rights) were suspended at various critical points of entry for the sake of maintaining social order. But in reality these zones of exception allowed for lawless policing, blocking, redirecting, incarcerating, and other disciplinary methods to manage racial control of the space of Europe.

One example which pertains to the Balkans is the administrative takeover of informal routes of migration, converting the routes into administrative “corridors” and zones of localized “states of exception.” On that point, Bernd Kasparek offers the following account:

In this sense, the corridor represents a space of exception, a space where rules and laws are suspended and a space that is not formally constituted … The corridor represents a “half-way bridge to Europe” since in order to enter it, the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea still waits ahead. In the corridor itself, migrants are subjected to a different legal regime that suspends some of their rights. Their access to an asylum system that could guarantee them some kind of status still lies at the very end of the corridor. They move and exist in a legally non-defined state and, as in the case of the exception of most nationalities, there is no recourse against such an arbitrary decision. (Kasparek 2016, 7-8)

And, once again, Schmitt becomes a necessary reference for understanding the question of “Europe’s identity” (De Genova 2016, 23). Repeatedly, the question “What is Europe?” provokes the question “Who is European?”, proving that the question “What is Europe” is “always already … a racial question” (345). The problem is not migration but the migrant’s presence on Europe’s racial map. On that point, de Genova posits, “the generic figures of ‘immigration’ and the diffuse politics of ‘foreignness’ suffice to reanimate race in terms that commonly, and perhaps increasingly, are articulated as nation: in terms of the ‘national’ identity of the ‘nation’” (346). Given that the “crisis” is a crisis of Europe’s racism, “new forms of governmentality” are in fact a return to the old administrative method of the racial ordering of European space. This naturally raises the question of race and postcoloniality. De Genova further argues: “The struggle of migration and borders reanimates race and post-coloniality as central to adequately addressing the most fundamental problems of what ‘Europe’ is supposed to be, and who may be counted as ‘European’” (2016, 23).

As of now, the slow motion of Europe’s neoliberal disintegration seems to fall into three distinct segments: the EU’s administrative rule, white Christian state sovereignties, and autonomous civil societies. All three segments operate under the subtle dosages of the “state of exception” in various ways to deal with the new racial context. The first two segments use the state of exception to preserve and reaffirm old racial hierarchies, while the third segment of civil society uses the state of exception to create active solidarity with Europe’s undesired races. In this context, the Balkans can no longer be thought of as a bridge but instead as a corridor of races, just as it was during World War I. The Balkans have become a racial aggregate and integral part of the racial ordering of European space, and consequently serve, once again, as the venue for answering the question: “Who is European?”