That’s what I want to do when I grow up: the role of anthropology in communication

Recently, I found out this absolutely interesting article on the experience of an anthropologist working for the WHO.

Her experience shows how anthropologists, or just even the use of the anthropological method of the participant observer can make a dramatic difference in the effectiveness of our communication.

I think that to a great extend the approach of the participant observer can be used also in Europe. I believe there is a wide prejudice over anthropology, which is still considered a “colonial discipline”, something that can be applied only to underdeveloped populations and/or criminal organisations.

However, as this article demonstrates, anthropology is very closely related to international relations, to global issues, even to government relations.

That is why, in the humble way I can contribute to ameliorate communication, I will always try to apply the few anthropological principles I have been taught. I strongly believe that those are far more respectful of diversity than any religion, political ideology or economic theory.

From your own correspondent: time for change

Dear All,

Thank you very much for have followed my (mis)adventures linked to the research for my MA Thesis.

As Abruzzo traditions impose, I have celebrated properly the successful defense of the thesis, which granted me the highest mark: 110/110 cum laude.

This would not have been possible without the support of many professionals, professors and friends who supported me morally. academically, financially and emotionally until the moment I walked the stairs of Gorizia University’s aula magna.

Apart from drinking and eating and dancing, I have also continued my personal researches, trying to follow the possible future outcome of next Serbian elections. My opinion will be out in few days.

Overall, I can confirm that writing my MA thesis resulted in the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had. I said “confirm” because I had the same impression while writing my BA thesis on Montenegro independence. Thus, after attentive scientific experiments, I can corroborate my previous theory with fresh, brand new findings.

Some of you might be interested in the non-emotional, less introversive findings of my MA thesis. Fair. Let me thank you in advance for such curiosity.
As a matter of fact, the outcome of my research might be published soon by a Serbian institution. I will keep you posted. However, from time to time, I will make sure that a selection of arguments exposed in my thesis will be published on this blog, in a brand new section.

So, what’s next?

My eagerness to keep researching will not be stopped by the lack of perspective in the academia, nor for the objective difficulties our generation has to face when it comes to “finding a job”.

It is clear though (as demonstrate by my recent inactivity… I beg your pardon), that the time I will be able to devote to such research can be effected by the weight/mass of my wallet, by the emptiness of my fridge and related emptiness of my stomach. I am not trying to touch you, to make you feel pity for me: personally I don’t like easy challenges. What I really mean is: unite we stand, divided we fall. The Bridge opens its doors to any international relations expert, anthropology aficionado, international law student, European law critics willing to share clever discussions, sleepless writing nights and vivid debates on the topics of this website. The objective is simple: as a very good friend of mine uses to say: “life’s too short to read bad books or stupid news!”, ergo  the goal is to provide impartial, alternative, high-quality commentaries on issues afflicting the Balkans, Europe and their relationship. Honestly, many write about these topics, but very few provide something more than a placid re-interpretation of facts. Apart from “imaginative” ultra-nationalists, of course…

For this reason, I am announcing you that The Bridge is changing. both graphically and content-wise.

I hope that you will keep staying connected to us.
I also hope that many more  of you will actively join, walking a mile with us, on The Bridge.

From your own correspondent in Bruxelles: first chapter sent

Some says that the first chapter of your thesis is the most difficult to write down. I disagree.

Not just because I love writing, and I love writing about the topic of my thesis (and ergo I love my thesis), but also because it is much harder to find a way to capitalize your writing effort, and make it worth.

I have the impression that for how much energy I might put in my writings, this won’t change much in my future. I am aware that Bruxelles “working environment” it’s not really sensitive to hardcore, mind-blowing, concerned MA thesis, especially if written by a (not so) young Italian wannabe anthropologist. This however does not change the amount of time I spend every day to work on it.

Some others might contest that the value of a thesis relies in its scientific arguments, not in the effort the student put in it. I would really like to find someone willing to sit down and pass through my thesis with a scientific eye. This would be already and achievement.

To be honest, I have found someone. My beloved friends are supporting my editing, helping me polishing the thesis, providing an incalculable added value.
I have also hell of a good “supervisors team”.

But I somehow am sure that, out there, there will be very few people interested in an anthropological criticism of the enlargement policy.
Since I believe it is extremely useful, I am considering the idea of voluntarily (and freely) send it to our Commissioner Füle, once it will be ready.

Maybe this might not be the right approach, but lately I paid to much attention to the so called “right approach” than to the content of the message I was delivering.

It’s time to go look back at contents rather than shape.

Predrag Matvejevic’s “Borders and frontiers”: what is the price paid by the participant observer?

As promised, here you can find the book review published (in Italian) on DADA (click here to download the Italian version).


Predrag Matvejevic’s “Borders and frontiers”: what is the price paid by the participant observer? 

140 pg
2008, Asterios Editore, Trieste.

Predrag Matvejević, one of the most controversial and internationally renowned experts on the Balkans, in “Borders and frontiers” draws a personal and peculiar picture of the political experiences in the region, before and after the violent implosion of former Jugoslavia. His work contains a variety of concepts and ideas worth analyzing from an anthropological perspective, especially in the field of political and juridical anthropology. At a first glance, the book would not be enlisted on the vast anthropological bibliography regarding the Balkans. Although, as for his famous “Mediterranean Breviary”(1), the poetic and dreaming style of Matvejević hides a more vigorous and deep message, the structure and objective of which are typical of the anthropological method.

Matvejević:“poethical prose” with anthropological message
In order to fully understand the value of this production, it should be placed on a timeline: the book gathers articles and memories converted into a written testimony between 1990 and 2002. The articles can be found in chronological order; each article is inspired by a concrete event, but goes beyond the pure analysis of this event, mixing the memories of the author with the history of the region marked by a series of milestones. However, Matvejević manages to compress in these 140 pages even a longer period of time, characterized not only by his personal experience, but especially by the societal changes of the Balkan communities, well-known by the author.

It would be of no anthropological interest to compare “Borders and frontiers” with previous ethnographical oeuvres on the Balkans(2). Nevertheless, general awareness of the ethnic composition of the Balkans is necessary to comprehend the inner and perceptive anthropological value of this book. The oeuvre lacks clear and notable ethnographical description of the groups: the author frequently uses quotation marks referring to Serbs, Croats and other ethnical groups. In spite of the phenomenal practical value of such approach, the proper meaning of this wording is clear for the reader initiated to the Balkan specifities.

“Between asylum and exile”: Matvejević as participant observer
Philip Bock describes the responsibilities of the anthropologist as following:

“l’antropologo ha certe responsabilità nei confronti della sua professione. Come scienziato sociale, egli è tenuto a usare la sua intelligenza critica, a scegliere argomenti sociali autentici per la sua ricerca, e a portare avanti tale ricerca con energia e immaginazione. […] L’antropologo, inoltre, ha la responsabilità di lavorare per una scienza integrata dell’uomo.”.(3)

Following these enlightening words, Matvejević work can be considered free from any political, ideological or historical “pollution”. He uses a very descriptive and “poetic prose”(4), depicting the reality of the current Balkan society from the perspective of the pure participant observer, as derived from Malinowski’s(5) work.

Before any further content analysis, it is worth to focus on the fundamental and unique situation in which the author finds himself. By the frequently repeated periphrasis “between asylum and exile”(6), the writer describes the peculiar position from which he analyses the Balkans: born in Mostar from a Jew Russian father, Matvejević fully lives the socialist dream of modern Jugoslavia. This will clearly leave its footprint on his life. The violent implosion of the Jugoslavian dream brought the seeds of a cultural and personal “renaissance” for Matvejević, forced to move from Croatia to France and then Italy. Here he refines his role of “conscience of the Balkans”, cubing his importance: if the Balkans are the superego of Europe, Matvejevic can easily be addressed as the superego of the Balkans. The Balkan “dark hole” gets discovered, almost violated by the simplicity of Matvejevic’s message, who is able to transpose his deep knowledge of the region in the mind of the Western reader, demonstrating also wide awareness of Western culture and values. For this reason, Matvejevic is a perfect example of participant observer, since his status of exiled/asylum applicant makes him detached enough from the political contingency of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, from the dark chronicles of the last years. On the other hand, his cultural knowledge and deep interest in political issues, enable him to produce a perfect political anthropological perspective of the present situation in the Balkans, saving years of ethnographic research, indispensable for any other political anthropologist. His state of being attached/detached to the region, his fresh, succint and expressive style make us the gift ofthis insightful, sharp and concentrated anthro-political analysis of the most controversial years of the Balkans.

Responsibilities of historical mistakes: the role of the literate
Matvejević’s deep knowledge of the functioning of Balkan societies clearly emerges in his harsh and merciless critic of the Jugoslavian inteligencija after the passing of Drug Tito. The ultra-nationalist wave endorsed by several politicians back then is unconceivable for the uncompromising moral of the author. However, while the struggle of power leads(especially in the Balkans) to fight and clashes far beyond community values, the behaviour of the “sage”, of the poet, of the artist should be free from any political influence or, rather, should find its roots in an authentic and shared common cultural background, endorsed by the society or by a minority of it. Matvejević attacks those manneristic artists who passively served the several regimes responsible for the surge of violence and chaos in the ’90. Nevertheless, his pitiless judgement moves from an interesting, although hidden comparison between the responsibility of the intellectual towards the society with the traditional political structure of the Jugoslavian tribes.

According to our interpretations of Matvejević’s condemnations, the role of the literate resembles that of the kneža, of the vojvoda, of the serdar in traditional Balkan societies. It is possible, in fact, to make a comparison between segmentary societies existing in the region till the late ’70(7) and the way culture is administered in the Balkans. An excellent description of the leadership role is the one by Sahlins:

“ The typical leader of a tribal society is nothing but the distinguished copy of the authoritative elder […]. Here [in the tribal societies], is an interpersonal relationship based on charisma.”(8)

In the same line of argument, the artist, as the cultural and intellectual leader of the community, has the responsibility, along with Matvejević, to guide the members of the group, although considering their common background, working to find the compromise between stillness and changes, homeostasis and transistasis(9) in that society.

However, the slavish alignment of the same intellectual with Milošević, Izbegović, Tuđman, Karađić induces a fight between those responsible literates, aware of the roots of their culture and able to contribute to the common good, and those exploiting the gap between their culture and the general perception of the same culture, plagiarizing, raping, bending the traditions for the sake of political power and fake consensus.

When will the Balkans look themselves in the mirror?
Matvejević’s bitter criticism of the Balkan societies costed him 5-month imprisonment sentence by the Zagreb Court. An EU membership candidate country, demonstrated the lack of self-criticism and perceptibility towards what should be its own  voice of consciousness. However, Matvejević addresses problems too big and involving the totality of the Balkans beyond his person. In his most interesting articles “On the Danube”(10), and “Our Talibans”(11) he touches upon fundamental hot topics of international law andinternational relations such as the issue of global justice (ICTY mandate) and international economic cooperation. Furthermore, the criticism of the author towards his homeland can be interpreted as a feeling of closeness, of involvement, of care and missing, nostalgia and a hope for a better future.

In the end, however, it’s not Matvejević who is putting the Balkans on a trial, it is the rest of the international community who is asking uneasy questions. Matvejević’s questions to the reader are,  the ones that many countries posed when the madness of the ’90s Balkan wars exploded. In fact, regarding Milosević’s trial, the author asks:

“Perché Milošević deve essere giudicato all’estero, da giudici che non parlano la sua lingua, in una città olandese scelta dalle Nazioni Unite, dentro una prigione sterilizzata, automatizzata, ultramoderna, invece che da giudici serbi, dentro un carcere belgradese dove i rumori e gli odori della vita balcanica scavalcano le porte e le finestre e arrivano fino alla cella dell’imputato? […] Veramente la giustizia serba è inferiore a quella di altri paesi sparsi in Europa e nel resto del mondo?”(12)

Today Serbia, together with the other former Jugoslavian republics, is facing the utmost difficult obstacle of overcoming their past. “Ghost that we weren’t able to bury”, as Matvejević says in a subtitle of his oeuvre. Although a part of the world is currently speaking instead (and in the name of the Balkans), the fundamental question is when will the Balkan themselves find the ability to take the constructive criticism and act. That day, probably, people like Karađić and Mladić would have already been judged and sentenced by foreign tribunals supporting the non-genuine nationalism. That same nationalism so brilliantly criticized by Matvejević in his current work. And then, hopefully, he will be remembered as one of the first grasping and naming the core of the problem from such an internal/external perspective.

[1]P. MATVEJEVIĆ, Breviario Mediterraneo, Zagreb, 1987.
[2]Among the others, we mention the estimable effort made by the local author CVIJĆ, Peninsule Balcanique, Paris, 1918, whose compoeuvre inspired and resuted as a fundamental basis for further research.
[3]P. BOCK, Modern cultural anthropology, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 1969; Italian edition: Antropologia culturale moderna, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino, 1978, pg.476. Translation: “the anthropologist has certain responsibilities towards his profession. As a social scientist, he has to use his critical intelligence, to chose authentic and origianl social topics worth to be research upon, and to continue the research with energy and imagination. […] Moreover, the anthropologist has the responsibility to work for an integrated science of mankind”.
[4]C. MAGRIS, Matvejević, triste farsa di una condanna, Corriere della Sera, Milan, 8.XI.2005.
[5] B. MALINOWSKI, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Routledge, London, 1999.
[6]P. MATVEJEVIĆ, Confini e frontiere, p.79 Trieste, 2008.
[7]It is well known that C. BOEHM produces one of its most appreciated oeuvres on the Montenegrin society based on research held yet at the end of the ’60: C. BOHEM, Montenegrin Social Organization and Values, political ethnography of a refuge area tribal adaptation, New York, 1983.
[8]M.D. SAHLINS, The Segmentary Lineage: an Organization of Predatory Expansion, in American Anthropologist, vol. LXII, 1961, pg. 327.
[9]Homeostasis (from Greek: ὅμοιος, hómoios, “similar” and στάσις, stásis, “standing still”; defined by Claude Bernard and later by W.B. CANON in 1926,1929 and 1932) is the property of a system, either open or closed, that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition.W.B CANON, Organization For Physiological Homeostasis. Physiol Rev. 1929; 9: 399-431.
[10] MATVEJEVIĆ, ibid, pg.43-100.
[11]MATVEJEVIĆ, ibid, pg 113-133.
[12]MATVEJEVIC, ibid,  pg 96-97. Translation: “Why Milošević has to be judged abroad, by judges who don’t speak his language, in a Dutch city chosen by the UN, in a sterilized, automatized, ultramodern prison, instead of being judged by Serbian judges, inside a Belgrade prison, where sounds and smells of Balkan life overwhelm doors and windows and arrive till the accused’s cell? […] Is Serbian justice inferior compared to the ones of other countries in Europe and in the rest of the world?”

“From your own correspondent…” Prologue

Apart from my unconditional passion for the Balkans, this blog takes its vital energy from a more substantive issue I am about to describe.

In Jan. 2011 I had the luck to be selected for a thesis research scholarship aimed at sending students abroad to collect findings for their thesis. Being an international relations student, the scholarship was a rare blessing, which granted me the chance to discover even more the rocky and harsh Montenegro. Pairing that intense research with my previous experiences in Crna Gora, I managed get closer to a decent comprehension of value schemes guiding the various social groups politically active on the independent Montenegrin soil.

Given this unique chance, I decided to use it in the best way I knew, i.e. requesting the support of my supervisors, “forcing” them to follow each and every step of my academic experience.
To cut it short, the pious supervisors of my BA thesis had to suffer a certain amount of  emails, in which I carefully described them the then ongoing process of researching, screening texts, interviewing. Every email’s object was: “Dal vostro inviato a Podgorica”, From your own correspondent in Podgorica.

Two years after, the correspondent moved from Podgorica to Bruxelles (some might say it is an evolution. I seriously doubt it). My new field of research will include “control rooms” filled with Eurocrats, posh conferences, spirited aperitivi with political figures.
Two years after, I had to understand that the path towards Orient imperatively passes through Bruxelles. My bridge to the Balkans had to take a detour from the usual path, heading to the European Capital, building a metaphysical (or ephemeral?) branch of my new bridge to Orient.

To put it less philosophical, I am currently researching on my MA thesis, which will investigate upon the possible effects of the superimposition of the acquis communautaire over former Jugoslavian republics’ internal legal systems. I will focus on the consequences for Serbians and Montenegrins, for their values systems, for their traditional institutions and culture.

In order to have a complete picture of the situation, I would not restrict my research in Bruxelles, but I will have the chance to entertain a research period in Serbia, so to corroborate my findings (or destroy them…) directly on the effective field of application of the aforementioned acquis communautaire.

And I will keep you posted.
Your own correspondent in [Bruxelles/ Novi Sad/ Belgrade/ wherever my research will lead me] is once more on the go.

DADA: a stunning answer to Italian quest for (young) talents and (really) expert academics.

I am a lucky Italian student.

Most of my colleagues, university students like me, would disagree on the general meaning of this affirmation. It seems that being an Italian it is not a synonym of a natural born privilege, but within few decades it became an equivalent of looser, defeated by history. Not to mention that, being a student, seem to be as useless as never before…

Dear Reader, if this is the case, if you believe that Italy has nothing more to offer then sun, beaches, wine and good food, you have a pretty sad perception of my country.
Thus, this post is about hope.

A group of inspired researchers, headed by prof. Antonio Palmisano, gave birth to an amazingly interesting review: DADA.
Its subtitle explains more about it, but it does not picture the variety and the innovation of the review itself. As the “post-global anthropological review”, DADA surely fills an empty spot, creating a space where to analyze and debate cultural events of topical interest, with a clear anthropological perspective. Have a look at the first special edition‘s summary: it is rare to find such a complete and, in the same time, diversified collection of contributions. None of my metaphors would fit the experience of reading it by yourself. As a very good friend of mine used to say, “if life’s too short to spend it reading unworthy stuff”, stop reading this post and download DADA. But come back, afterwards.

Because DADA is much more than a review, and I can show you why.

As described by prof. Palmisano on DADA’s website, among the objectives of the review, one should catch your attention immediately: it pledges to involve young people in effectively producing articles within the framework of an international, scientific, academic, interdisciplinary review.
Given the nowadays panorama of Italian decadent academic community, DADA experiment is not just revolutionary, but also encouraging. It delivers a fundamental message to foreigners, Italians and (most important) to my colleagues: Italian Gross Domestic Production of Culture it is not over.

As a collaborator to the review (my article on Matvejević will be published on this blog soon), I am proud to have been part of this experiment. Given the results, I hope that this experiment will become a successful, continuous example that Italian students, guided by wise academics, are “alive and kicking”.

I beg your pardon, dear Reader, if you might feel this article as an abruptly arrogant show-off. Bear in mind the excitement and satisfaction that a 20-something year old student might feel, after collaborating to such a gratifying experience, while feeling stuck in a retrograde country, without real future perspective.
If after this statement you still fell offended by the aforementioned arrogance, it is my belief that it is time for you to move and do something to revert the situation.

Or to join the black blocks, if you feel like.