Day 30: MNEMOSYNE and More Polling

mnemosyneHaving reached a milestone of thirty days in Serbia, rarely a day has gone by that I have not been busy, I have not gathered new data, or I am have not made positive gains in my research. Today was no exception.

My first meeting of the morning was with the director of the Center for Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija (MNEMOSYNE), an NGO that works to preserve Serbian cultural sites and histories in Kosovo. They work in cooperation with the Pristina Museum, “in exile” with its collections housed at Belgrade’s ethnographic museum. A large part of our discussion revolved less around the center’s activities than around the now familiar feelings by Serbs that their country has been abused by the international community.

In particular, she challenged me to explain what interest the United States has in determining the fate of Kosovo and what need it has to intervene in the affairs of weak countries. She further pointed out that after the Second World War, the United States and the rest of western Europe rushed to rebuild Germany. Why was the same not done for Serbia? Why is it that every small country in the Balkans that seceded from Yugoslavia granted their basic political ambitions yet Serbia continues to be punished? Obviously these were questions I could not properly answer. Bottom line, the feeling of humiliation by Serbs runs deep. The West should be more wary of these feelings, particularly as Serbia continues to struggle to enact the social, political, and economic reforms demanded by the international community.

When we did get to a discussion of MNEMOSYNE’s work, she related that they find it very difficult to fulfill their mandate without the support of the United Nations and European Union who administer Kosovo. Moreover, there is the feeling that many NGOs and International Organizations working on Cultural Preservation in Kosovo are overtly pro-Albanian. This has led to little confidence in most international agencies and the feeling that Serbs must take these causes into their own hands if they wish to preserve their heritage in the province. Most importantly, she believes that Serbs need to stand up and openly express their interests in international forums; that they must not be afraid to take pride in being Serbs particularly when all other groups in the Balkans show no compunction in hiding their own nationalism/patriotism.

In addition to a very interesting discussion, my host gave me quite a lot of reading material. These included three large bound books on Decani Monastery and Serbian Cultural Heritage in Kosovo, three more books on CD in pdf format including their large annual report, and two loose leaf articles written for academic conferences on religious heritage sites. By the time I return home next week, I think my Serbian academic library will have tripled without having purchased a single book! I have a lot of reading to do.

My next stop of the day was at the offices of another prominent polling agency here in Belgrade. Like the previous pollsters, my hosts have seen that the question of Kosovo has become fairly “status quo” in Serbian society, with few people talking about it publicly and even fewer running public surveys about it. Notably, it seems that not a single major firm in Serbia has conducted a poll about Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence. This could be politically motivated; it could mean people do not care.. although I strongly doubt this. It is hard to draw conclusions from the absence of data, but it is a very curious absence.

As I told my hosts about my work, they very excitably related to me that they have just been doing a large amount of qualitative as well as quantitative work on my very subject: namely public feelings about Kosovo historical narratives and the importance of that territory to Serbian national identity. Unfortunately, this information is proprietary and highly confidential so it is agonizingly out of my grasp for the time being. They did tell me that they had been doing longitudinal polling for the past several years on behalf of the US Embassy on the question of Kosovo, but again I would have to ask them for the data. Given how welcoming they have been to me so far this trip, I am not overly optimistic. Regardless, I am exploring my contacts to see if I can secure any roundabout connections to the consular staff.

My hosts were also very enthusiastic about my work and promised to see what data they had available they could give to me. Likely much of it will be several years old. Yet if the data is fairly consistent across time series, it may be reasonable to suggest that feelings on Kosovo remain constant… so dated data does not necessarily mean useless data. They also have data that is region specific and seems to suggest that Serbs outside of Belgrade, particularly in the south, take a much greater interest in Kosovo. In further conversation, they told me that the historical Kosovo narrative is deeply ground in the early academic curriculum of Serb students and has deep symbolic resonance even in everyday conversation. Coming from two very modern, pro-western, cosmopolitan Serbs, this may be a significant observation that could be generalized to a wider population.

Tomorrow I will be meeting with a third (and likely final) polling firm that focuses on election polling data. Hopefully they will be able to provide me some specific demographic data about who votes for which parties and issues. Later on, I will be meeting with Dr. Slobodan Samardzic, a professor of political science at the University of Belgrade. He was also the former Minister for Kosovo and Metohija under the previous DSS Kostunica government. I am certain that both meetings will be incredibly interesting.

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