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  • The Ideal of Bosnian Multiculturalism
  • Thom Kuehls (bio)
David Campbell, National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia (Minnesota, 1998)

In National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia , David Campbell draws upon the events of Bosnia in the early 1990s to make a case for a multicultural political ethos. For the reader who might ask what Bosnia is Campbell drawing upon in order to make such an argument, Campbell might respond: What Bosnia, indeed. “Rather than assuming a pregiven, externally existing entity called Bosnia,” Campbell writes in his preface, “this book is concerned primarily with ‘metaBosnia,’ the array of practices through which Bosnia (indeed, competing ‘Bosnias’) comes to be”(ix–x).

National Deconstruction is driven both by what Campbell sees as “the shortcomings of conventional understandings of ‘intra-state’ versus ‘inter-state’ violence” and by his belief that “alternative interpret ations (can) offer more, both analytically and politically”(3). Specifically, Campbell offers deconstruction as one such alternative. His contention is that a deconstructive approach fosters “at least the necessary condition for thinking about a solution (to the Bosnian situation) that does not come from either the victory of one side over the other, or an acceptance of the logic of partition”(183). As such, there is obviously an ironic element to the title of Campbell’s book. Campbell is aware of the meaning that has become attached to the word deconstruction. To a great extent deconstruction has become a synonym for breaking something apart. And no where, perhaps, but Bosnia/Yugoslavia is better known as a place where a nation was broken apart. Campbell does not deny this negative aspect of deconstruction. He goes on, however, to argue that such a rendering of the term misses “the productive complexities” of deconstruction. To speak of national deconstruction, then, may have less to do with the destruction of a nation than it has to do with contrasting “the notion of identity as self-contained with an understanding of identity as being the effect of a contingent set of relations”(20). In other words, national deconstruction is about how the nation is produced, how it comes to receive a particular identity among an array of varying identities, and moreover, how the materialization of that identity is forgotten.

This is the driving force of Campbell’s book. He has not written a history of the break-up of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the specific problems that posed for a region known as Bosnia. He has attempted a much larger and more important project. Campbell has provided us with a compelling discussion of the (international) politics of national identity. The strength of National Deconstruction as I read it, is two-fold. First of all there is Campbell’s critique of what he calls the “settled norms of international society — in particular, the idea that the national community requires the nexus of demarcated territory and fixed identity”(13) and second there is his vision of a multiculturalism that is both democratic and deconstructive.

Campbell does a wonderful job of demonstrating how the “settled norms of international society” “were not only insufficient to enable a response to the Bosnian war, they were complicit in and necessary for the conduct of the war itself. This is because inscribing the boundaries that make the installation of the nationalist imaginary possible requires the expulsion from the resultant ‘domestic’ space of all that comes to be regarded as alien, foreign, and dangerous”(13). Bosnia was understood as a conflict between competing self-contained identities in a territory that remained to be “demarcated.” Quoting Henry Kissinger, Campbell draws out the monoculturalist assumptions embedded within the settled norm of the nation-state: “Bosnia has never been a nation: there is no specifically Bosnian cultural identity”(168). With no specific cultural identity, the nation of Bosnia, in effect, never did exist. The solution to the crisis of Bosnia, when both nation and territory are viewed in this light is perhaps obvious: partition. The land must be divided among the existing nationalities such that each specific territorial space would be occupied by a specific nation, with a fixed and self-contained identity.

Of course, as a purported response to “ethnic...

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