21 August 2007

Uneventment of History - the Case of Yugoslavia

Exact analysis of contemporary Slovenian historiography would probably show that it is - at least in a part, concerning the history of 20th century - dealing almost exclusively with great historical events, supposedly led and controled by great historical personalities. Such a method makes the impression that any social and political change takes place exclusively due to cleverness and wisdom of the rulers and the conscious strategies they excercise in the disagreements between competing political elites.

At the same time it seems that most contemporary Slovenian historiographers still cling to (neo)positivist paradigm and to an assumption that it is possible to discern positive facts from the archive material and that those facts can be organised into an objective narrative about things as they really happened. Such positivist paradigm neither requires nor demands any use of theoretical apparatus – and, consequently, there is not much of it present in Sloveniana historiography.

It could also be claimed that, since the breakup of Yugoslavia and especially in the last few years, Slovenian journalists and politicians missed no opportunity to critically evaluate historiographers and their work. Historiographers were shunned due to their allegedly communist past, while historiography itself was accused of being unobjective and politically motivated. Many politicians and journalists openly demanded the revision of the history of 20th century.

It seems that the dominance of the (neo)positivist paradigm and frequent public attacks on the work of Slovenian historiographers are somehow connected.

Wouldn’t it be possible to claim that theorethical weakness of the scientific field of historiography is, at the same time, a cause and an effect of ideological use and misuse of the science of history? A cause because epistemologically weak discipline has no effective theoretical means of resistance against ideological pressure and an effect because ideological appropriations of historiography leave it theoretically and epistemologically impoverished. Historiography, built on positivist paradigm, can justify just about any social and political order. In this regard it is truly impartial and while it remains such it opens itself both to allegations that it justified the communist regime as well as to servitude to a new, liberal democratic regime.

On the other hand, we should ask ourselves whether historiography can ever be emancipated from ideology and politics and, if such emancipation proves possible, whether it is desirable at all? Should historiography build its defence against ideologies that reproduce and sustain the existing socio-political order on "autonomy of science", on withdrawal into academic ivory tower, or is the field of autonomous science precisely the site of ideological reproduction and academic institutions ideological state apparatuses? Or should historiography, following Walter Benjamin, rather seek its inspiration in the "legacy of the defeated"?

Since neither "relaxed" attitude towards history of the young generation nor "objective" one of the old sufficiently tackles the problems that various ideological uses of history confront us with, we have decided to organize a conference, by which we will try to open up another perspective on the revolutionary and post-revolutionary past of Yugoslavia. To this end we invited researchers and theoreticians who neither practice nihilistic refusal of the past (so characteristic of the advocates of the ideology of the end of history) nor withdraw into academic sterility (and perceive history only as a detached object).

The conference will mostly deal with two problematics. The first problematic will be a theoretical exploration of two key problems of contemporary Slovenian historiography: the possiblity of absolute autonomy of the science of history, and its epistemological shortcomings, which prevent it from becoming theoretical instead of technical discipline.

The second problematic will consist of historiographical practice on the example of socialist Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was chosen because ideological uses and misuses of its past open up various important questions, pertinent to our present like, for example, is it justified to claim that Yugoslav socialism – which was based on anti-fascist resistance of the Yugoslav partisans and which has built a welfare state with unprecedented standards of worker’s rights, healthcare, education, science and art – was totalitarian? Was socialist revolution really just a voluntary project of evil and power hungry communist elite? What effects do such claims about history of Yugoslavia have on contemporary social and political situation in the countries that emerged on Yugoslav territory after its breakup?

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