- Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary
The recent violence in the Balkans has perplexed foreign analysts. The mainstream interpretation conjured images of the violent Balkan man and blamed atrocities on inherent national maladies. A few historical constructivist voices contextualized the violent events in world politics and emphasized how the peoples of the Balkans lived within or on the margins of empires. They consumed the images of aggression and brutality assigned to them by the West. Struggles to create a sense of collective identity outside of that domineering framework have been futile. Vampire Nation joins these constructivist voices, but offers a unique deconstruction of Serbian nationalism through a detailed textual analysis of the “vampire” metaphor. Longinovic tells us how in 2007, a year after Slobodan Milosevic’s death, a man visited his grave and planted a stake in the ground, a metaphorical second killing of sorts, making certain that the “vampire” will never come back to haunt the living again. The vampire culture and its connection to bloody Balkan history has indeed begged for an interpretation.
Tomislav Longinovic grew up in Yugoslav Belgrade and has a unique perspective on Serbian society: not quite a detached ethnographer, nor a fully national participant, he critiques his own cultural upbringing and writes an insightful analysis of the “vampire” character of the Serbian nation. He chooses his informants from a wide range of fields and from throughout Balkan history, and analyzes a myriad of texts, films, plays, and orations. Although the work is reflexive, it is free from the insufferable self-reflections of the Western observer seeking local acceptance.
The author is well-known from his previous writings on the metaphorical image of the vampire, but Vampire Nation is the first of his works that takes the leap into nationalism and stands as a critique of Serbian violence. The [End Page 1299] “vampire” is a mythical creature with origins in the 17th century Balkans, and was well embedded in the magic and mysticism of daily life along with witches and werewolves. The vampire was the worst demonic being of all, however, with an unsurpassed lust and thirst for blood. The vampire stories circulated widely in western Europe as well, as did the images of the Slavs as the European “other.” On the far edges of “civilized” lands, these fearful people were perceived to be as violent as the magical creatures they themselves feared. The image of the “Serbian vampire” is rooted in these early European cosmologies: the Serbs are a backward, ancient people that feast on blood and fear the light of civilization. The Serbs, as Longinovic argues, had little choice but to conform to this assigned cultural identity. They embraced it, but the “Serbian vampire” for internal consumption is quite different: he is a heroic figure, an individual who spills blood for the nation.
Once with their own empire, the Serbs coexisted with the Byzantine Empire, but fell to Ottoman hands in the 14th century. Destabilized and without a territorial permanent base, the Serbs did not fully unite as a national collectivity until the rebellions against Ottoman rule in the early 19th century. The memory of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo united the Serbs and it was transformed into a mythical bloody battle between the invading Ottoman army and the Serbian Principality. The battle set up an ethnic memory of Orthodoxy against Islamic invaders and the Serbian defeat was considered to be a great loss for national and cultural pride.
Serbia became a republic within socialist Yugoslavia after World War II, but the “cultural strength” of the Serbs put them in an advantageous position within the Federation. Serbia was accused of having controlling interest in Yugoslavia, especially when Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic became president of the ailing Federation. In 1991 Yugoslavia ceased to exist and the Yugoslav wars erupted, giving way to ethno-religious conflicts involving genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape, internment camps, mass graves, and torture. The Western interpretation of the violence focused on the vampiristic Serbian cultural identity that needs blood to exist. This “thirst for blood” stereotype of the Serbs has also been...