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Storming the EU Fortress: Communities of Disagreement in Dubravka Ugrešić
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Spark in Athens. Fire in Paris. Insurrection is coming!

—Andreas Kalyvas

Critical responses to "post-Yugoslav" writer Dubravka Ugrešić have tended to envision her work as a single voice reflecting the national preoccupations of loss and factional identity after the wars in her homeland. Recently, however, scholars have begun to situate the artistic and intellectual work of Ugrešić in a much broader context that speaks to concerns shared by many countries now faced with articulating a "place" within the new European Union. Ugrešić's post-communist literary production increasingly moves away from a sense of lonely horror and melancholic attachment to her disappearing country and instead places the Yugoslav tragedy in a global postcommunist and newly relevant EU context. Even early texts that map the route of her 1990s exile already offer a perspicacious analysis of the emerging New World Order in which the "Balkan" wars are but one instance of the fashionably derogatory ethnicization of alterity in the market of cultural difference, where cultural chauvinism dangerously overlaps with multiculturalism. Nonetheless, this increasing focus on analyzing transnational politics—especially identities fostered by neoliberal capitalism and the aftermaths of postcommunist transitions— informs more forcefully and confidently Ugrešić's recent essays collected in Nobody's Home (2008) and the novel The Ministry of Pain (2007), which largely dissects and compiles the fragments of Yugoslav identity among its refugees.

Ugrešić's career as an internationally established writer has, paradoxically, flourished beyond her incipient Yugoslav context due to her unrelenting excursions into topics suppressed by all nationalist governments in the 1990s wars in Yugoslavia: patriotic violence and kitsch, loss of a common country, misogyny, and revisionist historiography. Her outspoken newspaper essays criticizing the right-wing Tud-man government in the midst of patriotic euphoria earned her social ostracism in her native Zagreb, and eventually she lost her university teaching position and left Croatia for Holland under death threats. Famous for her experimentation with patchwork fiction and feminist themes in the 1980s, Ugrešić continued to combine a number of prose genres—essay, short story, vignette, patchwork novel—in the last two decades. Her unexpected generic juxtapositions seem particularly well suited for capturing the sense of existential loss and displacement occasioned by postcommunist wars and transitions to capitalism.

Ugrešić's intellectual engagements have always called for us to approach her literary production next to her essays and autobiographical reflections, which often provide clues to the conceptual frames and political thematics at work in her writing. Early collections of essays, Have a Nice Day (1995) and The Culture of Lies (1998), explore the forbidden mourning for Yugoslavia, a country assumed doomed to extinction both by local nationalist warmongers and Western media and military interventionists. Ugrešić caustically dissects the stereotypes of communist oppression employed in the breakdown of Yugoslavia, demonstrating that the newly independent homelands have ever more retreated into solipsistic intolerance and enforcement of intellectual conformism. In a characteristic fashion, Ugrešić chronicles the "banalities" of everyday life—vignettes ranging from reflections on soap opera to cultural kitsch to political brainwashing—to expose the ubiquitous practices and discourses that characterize post-Yugoslav transitions. But more importantly, she contextualizes the Yugoslav tragedy in the global context of Western-dominated media propaganda, mass production of kitsch globally, and the streamlining of intellectual ideas for the consumer market. The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (2002), in turn, is a patchwork novel that, stringing reflections on the diary form, photography, curiosity collections, and artistic performance, explores the avenues of personal memory and European historiography available after twentieth-century upheavals. Thus, the problem of Yugoslav refugees' reconstitution of their imaginary homeland abroad is related to the erasure of Jewish histories across European capitals as well as to the questions of postmodern historiography in the context of intellectual consumer markets.

To return to the more recent texts that will be the focus of this essay, Ugrešić has increasingly moved away from, though by no means abandoned, the focus on meticulously articulating the trauma of loss of the phenomenological and intellectual space once known as Yugoslavia. Her novel The Ministry of Pain, in the words of Stephenie Young, both depicts and itself performs the function of...

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