FORUM – Twilight of the Proletariat: Reading Critical Balkanology as Liberal Ideology

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In New Perspectives 01/2017, we published Rade Zinaić’s thought-provoking essay ‘Twilight of the Proletariat: Reading Critical Balkanology as Liberal Ideology’, which steps into the well-charted terrain of writing about ‘the Balkans’ from a different perspective. While broadly sympathetic to the arguments of what he terms ‘Critical Balkanology’ (CB), Zinaić turned his own critical gaze towards this scholarship and asks about its own theoretical limits and political complicities with the problems it claims to unveil. Choosing Tomislav Longinović’s The Vampire Nation as repre- sentative of broader issues, Zinaić argues that in its focus on representation, CB overlooks real material struggles and “obfuscates class”. In his nostalgic adoration of Yugoslavia’s urban, middle class, liberal culture of the 1980s and 1990s, the CB argument becomes locked within the bounds of the very liberal ideology which, according to Zinaić, is responsible for the impoverishment and oppression of the lower classes of the former Yugoslavia.

We invited three leading scholars in the field to share their views on Zinaić's rich and uncompromising critique: Catherine Baker, Nataša Kovačević and Dragan Kujundžić. Although diverse, they cohere around two basic questions:
- Is Critical Balkanology guilty of reproducing the liberal discourses it criticises, as Zinaić claims?
- Are poststructuralism and historical materialism incompatible, or is there a productive way of bringing them together after all?

Rade Zinaić then offers a rejoinder and pushes forward the argument originally presented in the ‘Twilight of the Proletariat’.

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Sunset (Brothers) by Caspar David Friedrich The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Public Domain,