We Were Grasping for Air: [Post-]Yugoslav Anti-War Activism and Its Legacy, by Bojan Bilic (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft | Southeast European Integration Perspectives, vol. 8, 2012), 224 pp.
Positioned at the interface between historical sociology, anthropology, and social movement studies, We Were Gasping for Air goes beyond the widely exploited paradigms of nationalism and civil society to track the (post-)Yugoslav anti-war protest cycle which unfolded throughout the 1990s. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in the region, the author argues that (post-)Yugoslav anti-war activism cannot be recovered without appreciating both the inter- and intra-republican cooperations and contestations in socialist Yugoslavia. (Post-)Yugoslav anti-war undertakings appropriated and developed the already existing social networks and were instrumental for the establishment of present-day organisations devoted to human rights protection, transitional justice, and peace education across the ex-Yugoslav space.
By examining anti-war activism in Serbia and Croatia, We Were Gasping for Air is a welcome contribution to the story of Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution. Its focus on civic forms of mobilisation, rooted in the experience of socialist Yugoslavia, complements the many studies of elite-led nationalism and fills an important gap in the literature. Theoretically informed and empirically rich, Bilic’s study helps us to understand the sources and complexities of political contention in a wartime context.
Jasna Dragovic-Soso, Goldsmiths, University of London
This study is the first to trace the origins and development of the anti-war movement in the former Yugoslavia, from its prehistory in the alternative engagement of the socialist period to its post-history in the professionalised NGO sector. Bojan Bilic uses insights from political sociology to explain why anti-war activists mobilised, the forces that encouraged, divided and demoralised them, the successes and failures of the movement, and the legacy it leaves in the long post-war. This book is essential for understanding politics and intellectual life in the former Yugoslav states in the 1990s and afterwards.
Eric Gordy, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London
Bojan Bilic’s book provides a comprehensive analysis of anti-war contention in the post-Yugoslav space. A tour de force of historical sociology, the book, based on rich interview material and thorough archival research, explores the dynamics of activism in ways which challenge existing explanations framed in the context of methodological nationalism and/or idealist conception of civil society. Bilic reconnects the activisms of the 1990s with earlier civic engagements in Yugoslavia, notably student, feminist, and ecological initiatives. Written in an accessible style, Bilic's book confronts key questions regarding the meanings of the movements for the main protagonists and their implications for the wider public sphere and for social and political change. It is a “must read” for anyone interested in the region and in activism and social movements more generally.
Paul Stubbs, The Institute of Economics, Zagreb