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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Serbian Australians in the Shadow of the Balkan War
Nicholas G. Procter

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000
204pp. Hb.: £ 37.50, ISBN: 0-7546-1247-3.

Which impact do wars have on culture, health and social life of emigrant communities abroad? Procter, a mental health professional of the University of South Australia, investigates how the Serbian community in Australia coped with the tragic events in the Balkans. The author develops two concepts of individuals' affections by global (Yugoslavia) and local (Australia) events: the concepts of 'Long Distance Devastation' and 'Local and Global Hurts'. Health effects constituting these concepts included sleeplessness; inability to concentrate; loneliness; physical pain; anxiety. As particularly distressful since lacking reliable information people felt their continuous preoccupation with the fate of family members living in the conflict area (127). The study covers the period of time from July 1991 until early 1996. Based on Gadamer's Philosophy of hermeneutics (1) and Marcus' contemporary ethnography (2), the research unfolds through 8 chapters. Quotes of Serbian Australians describe how the Australian government's support of the UN-boycott against Serbia and Montenegro resulted in the ethnic divide of the former Yugoslav community. The emotional descriptions on how the Balkan events affected their social relations with Australians and former Yugoslav friends reveal an appalling insight to psychological damages caused by war. Of particular interest for students and scholars working on issues related to nationalism, ethnicity, ethnic conflict research and multiculturalism, are chaps. 5 'Towards a New Blood and Belonging' and 6 'The Experience of Long Distance Devastation: Globalisation of Worry'.

Serbian Australians created new bonds of belonging: they revitalised their ethno-cultural identity. Their ancestors' customs and traditions represented a kind of 'mental home' supportive to manage the distressful changes of their social environment. The global news broadcast was perceived as strongly biased against the Serbs; Serbian Australians hence exclusively kept to themselves increasing their cultural and religious activities. The support provided by the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian National Federation in Australia helped some individuals to cope with the daily atrocities reported. Others tried to come to terms with their feelings of worry, anxiety and anger with personal withdrawal from public interaction.

This a-political study shows appallingly how the war's 'shadow' immediately affected the Serbian community's health. In a globalised world, immigrant / ethnic communities cannot exit; they are forced to cope with the events in their homelands. The investigation reveals one option: the dynamics of re-nationalisation. As a political result, violent conflicts do not resolve problems of nationalism, but plug nationalism - not patriotism - into the following generations.

(1). Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, London: Sheed and Ward, 1975.
(2). Marcus, Györgi, 'Contemporary problems of ethnography in the modern world system', in: J. Clifford and G. Marcus (eds.), Writing Culture: The poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, pp. 165 - 193;
_______ 'The redesign of ethnography after the critique of its rhetoric', in R.F.Goodman and W.R.Fisher (eds.), Rethinking Knowledge: Reflections Across the Disciplines, Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 103 - 122.

Dr. Josette A. Baer
REECAS, The Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

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