Virtual Landscapes of Memory

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Mikula, M (2003)

This paper will focus on two World Wide Web projects: the virtual nation of Cyber-Yugoslavia (www.juga.com) and the homepage of former Yugoslav president Tito (www.titoville.com). Both projects problematize our under standing of nationhood and political leadership through skilful manipulation of the structural characteristics of the medium. The virtual, performative and transitory nature of both the nation and the state will be exemplifed by Cyber-Yugoslavia – a virtual nation-building endeavour conjured up by Belgrade expatriate playwright Zoran Bacic. The changing character of political leadership will be discussed against the backdrop of Tito’s homepage, which archives numerous image and sound files documenting the life of the former Yugoslav president. The two projects share at least three common elements: their genre is parody; their subject matter is repressed collective memory; and they reflect the anxieties of the postmodern condition in their treatment of its most emblematic medium, the Internet. The repressed collective memory encapsulated in these projects is that of South-Slav unity, as an alternative to the now dominant particularist ethno- nationalisms of the Yugoslav successor states. The idea of unity of the South Slavs, which gained popularity in the nineteenth century under the Habsburg yoke, was institutionally sanctioned in two twentieth-century Yugoslav states: the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–41), called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes from 1918 to 1929, and the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–91), called People’s Federative Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1963. The first was made possible by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War One. Its nation-building rhetoric, underpinning the politics of centralization and Serbian hegemony, rested on a view of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as ‘three tribes’ of the same nation. The second Yugoslavia, which grew out of the national liberation movement in World War Two, was founded on federalist principles and a nation-building rhetoric of ‘brotherhood and unity’, i.e. national equality for all the member nations. During the period of existence of both Yugoslav states, a tendency against political unification and in favour of the formation of independent national states co-existed with the dominant nation-building narratives. Tito’s model in particular, which may be interpreted as a compromise between the two opposing tendencies, left a deep cultural legacy of ethnic tolerance and was internalized by segments of the post-World War Two generations in former Yugoslavia as an important part of their national identity. Linda Hutcheon has explained the popularity of parody in periods of ideological instability as an impulse for challenging the established norms. I would like to suggest that the technological advances and the introduction of the new mass media also encouraged the proliferation of parody as one of the modes of positive self-reference with a universal appeal akin to Bakhtinian 'carnival laughter'. The Internet in particular seems to foster the more positive, universalizing aspects of what Hutcheon calls 'parodic ethos'.
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