Accepted Paper:

Making sense of ideologies and practices of local democracy circulating between East and West: fieldwork in a local community office in Bosnia-Herzegovina  


Larissa Vetters (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

Through the ethnography of a local community office (mjesna zajednica) in Mostar (BiH)the paper examines the circulation and transformation of concepts and practices of local democracy in East and West.

Paper long abstract:

One of the most dearly held divisions of the Cold War period was the one into Eastern totalitarian and Western democratic regimes. After collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing breakdown of other socialist regimes, it fuelled much of the democratization efforts in now post-socialist countries.

The paper aims at unravelling ostensibly Western notions of democracy promoted in the Yugoslav successor state Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Tito's third way and Yugoslavia's claim to socialist democracy through workers' self-management form a unique background to explore questions of state-building, regime transformation and democratization. A close look at the ideologies and practices surrounding the local community office (mjesna zajednica) - formerly part of the system of socialist self-management and still existing in many parts of BiH - not only reveals deep ambiguities within concepts of democracy promoted by the international community, but also directs attention to changing configurations of the state, and multiple layers of meanings of democracy in West European countries themselves.

The ethnography of a local community office in Mostar (BiH) thus serves to contribute to an anthropology which is sensitive to the historical genesis of concepts and practices of local democracy, and the often forgotten cross-fertilization of ideas between East and West. The paper aims at reviving a tradition of mutual learning and of inquiry into each others' experience of local democracy. It extends this line of thinking to critical questions about the changing role of the state, and conditions for local democracy in contemporary European societies in East and West.

Panel W095
East looks West and West looks East - mutual constructions of anthropology