Accepted Paper:

Strategies of psychic self-sufficiency in times of upheaval: the case of Serbia  

Author:

Maja Petrović-Šteger (The Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines some of the practices and narratives of psychological and spiritual defence and of psychic self-sufficiency in contemporary Serbia. It focuses on particular forms of mental discipline, intended to spiritually fortify the national psyche in the times of upheaval.

Paper long abstract:

Ten years of my off-and-on fieldwork in Serbia have amassed an ethnographic archive recording the feelings of oppression and frustration felt by many Serbs about the country's political, legal and economic future. Many Serbs blame both local politicians and global political actors for their sorry past and contemporary plights. In pushing for a public response to certain unacknowledged 'wounds' and injustices, they both disavow and begin more obliquely to articulate feelings of guilt and culpability in relation to the country's part in the wars of the 1990s. Some claim that during the wars of the 1990s, alongside official fighting on battlefields, the Serbs had allegedly endured invisible attacks, in which they were mind-mapped and biophysically poisoned—through infected objects invested with subliminal commands that were making people ill. These so called 'astral attacks' were coordinated by Serbia's enemies involving magicians and parapsychologists. The locus of psychological warfare, the argument went, was not Serbia's land but Serbia's consciousness. In response, some groups of people were particularly interested in forming a so called 'psychological shield' capable of warding off negative influences (including black magic). Widely dismissed after the wars as fanciful, this concept of astral attacks and of psychological shields seems to be enjoying a revival in some circles of contemporary Serbian society as a bulwark against the most corrosive effects of the current global economic slowdown. Proposed paper proposes to examine some of the practices and narratives of psychological and spiritual defence and of psychic self-sufficiency in the times of upheaval.

Panel P077
Ethnography of the invisible