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Anthropological Quarterly 77.1 (2004) 161-165

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Regionalism, Memory and Belonging at the Frontiers of the Nation-State

Maple Razsa
Harvard University

Pamela Ballinger. History In Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

When the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s prevented her from conducting fieldwork on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia Pamela Ballinger made productive use of her displacement, moving north to a study the Julian March, the region spanning contemporary Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. In her painstakingly researched History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans she exposes a terrain fraught with a staggering number of competing narratives of ownership and belonging. Each chapter engages a successive layer or dimension of 20th Century history, from World War I to contemporary regional politics, and Ballinger makes her way delicately through the thicket of claims and counterclaims. The claimants in these struggles—to name just a few—include Habsburgs vs. Italians, Italians vs. Royalist Yugoslavs, Antifascists vs. Fascists, Socialist Yugoslavs vs. Americans, Slovenes vs. Italians, Croatian Nationalists vs. Yugoslavs, Croatian Centralists vs. Istrian Regionalists, and, most recently, Croatians vs. Slovenes.

History in Exile, however, takes as its primary axis the cleavage created when, at the close of WW II, the Istrian Peninsula, comprising the bulk of the territory of the Julian March fell under Yugoslav control and some 200-350,000 ethnic [End Page 161] Italians fled. The departure left the Italian community of the region sharply divided between those who stayed (rimasti) and those who left into exile (esuli). The broad range of historical episodes and themes engaged in Exile are by in large viewed through the recent interpretive struggles of these two constituencies.

The partitioning of the Julian March cut through not only communities but also families, as individuals were forced to choose sides between competing political and state systems. And it was Ballinger's discovery of self-described Italians living on each side of the border, with starkly different accounts of what it means to belong in Istria, that led her to the central concerns of her project. There is Eleonora who left Istria with her family in 1948 when local communists nationalized the family home for then Anglo-American Military Government controlled Trieste. Her vision of Istria is of an Italian ethnic and cultural domain; she stresses Istria's legacy as a one-time Roman colony and the centuries of Venetian rule that preceded Habsburg rule in 1797. She goes so far as to say that the "genuine Istrians" are only to be found outside of Istria today, among those who fled.

Her cousin, Gino, still lives in the Istrian town of Rovinj/Rovigno, which, alongside Trieste, is the principle base for Ballinger's research on the wider region. Gino joined the Yugoslav Partisans at the close of the war, at age seventeen, and was an active member of the Italian minority organization favored by Tito in the postwar years. Whereas for Eleonora "Istrian" signifies Italianess, Gino stresses the hybrid Italian and Slavic languages, cultures and populations of Istria, a view much more in harmony with the principle slogan of socialist Yugoslavia's rhetoric to ethnic relations: "Brotherhood and Unity" (Bratsvo I jedinstvo) and contemporary Istrian regionalism.

Illicit and Licit Discourses

Ballinger gives a meticulous accounting of the variable ways in which both rimasti and esuli have situated themselves vis a vis the shifting state borders of the Julian March, constantly pulled between the competing irredentisms that have laid claim to it, including various incarnations of Yugoslavia, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. She gives us a detailed, textured rendering of the ways in which social actors not only refract changing state borders and geopolitical conditions but recast or accommodate with the dominant state projects. Rather than romantic readings of resistance to state power the reader gets fine-grained accounts of how the narratives of both esuli and rimasti were at various times at odds with or in harmony, licit or illicit, in their relationship to official narratives of state building, including those of totalitarian...


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