‘Clean slates’-radical imagination-and-debts

Svjetlana Nedimovic (University of Barcelona)

Drawing on the moral-philosophical meaning of debt proposed in the overall project, I am using debt here as a metaphor for relating to the so-called troubled past: we talk of historical moral debts in cases of historical injustice and mass violence, within as well as between collectivities. This may be related to broader understanding of justice in terms of payment of debts. In the light of such wider understanding of debt, the research project explores ground and possibilities for a coherent, consistent and morally legitimated strategy of dealing with historical moral debts that would be in harmony with the political agenda and vision of the (even if most embryonic) New Left in the part of the Balkans.
The Left, what nowadays is commonly if perhaps erroneously termed the radical Left, has developed a clear political position on material, financial debts: it openly problematizes national financial debts incurred via dubious, conditioned arrangements with international financial institutions, to the point of advocating debt cancellation in some form and scope. Without going into the merit of this strategy, it ought to be said that it is based on the understanding that these debts are illegitimate and illegal and therefore ought not to be paid back. Illegitimacy and illegality claim is based on the origins, methods and conditions of incurring the debt. The question is what with moral historical debts – what sort of strategy applies there?
The Balkans is a category which cuts across the North/South divide while also mirroring it now that some parts joined the EU. At the same time, it is cast eastward to the rest of Europe and historically marginalized as ”fundamentally different”, which poses it as one of the principal Others to Europe as a whole (Other than North and South as well as East and West, a non-space of Europe). Those relations are also mirrored within the region. At the same time, the region is experiencing an awakening of the left political traditions and forces, which makes the case of the Balkans something of a nutshell in which difference facets of the problem can be observed and explored.
The Balkans under research here is limited to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia. While most of former Yugoslavia experienced similar socioeconomic and political processes known as the democratic transition since the 1990s, the three countries in the focus are additionally tied into something of a historical knot by their most recent, post-Yugoslav past – that is, the wars of the 1990s. The 1990s and mass atrocities among the collectivities (countries as well as ethnic groups) continue to shape most significantly the social and political setting in which the New Left is emerging and working.
The research will focus on recent activist and programmatic writings and other presentations, such as newspaper and media debates, by leftist practitioners and public intellectuals, as well as activist campaigns in practice. This will allow the feed back of the results of this exploration into the activist loop and open up political avenues for (perhaps, radical) imagination in societies considered to be arrested by the past.