Wilson Center Experts

Melissa Bokovoy

Fellow
Global Europe Program

Expertise:
Europe
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History, Regents' Lecturer, University of New Mexico
Wilson Center Project(s):
"The Politics of Commemoration: Memory and Mourning in Serbia and Croatia, 1918-1941"
Term:
Sep 01, 2005
-
May 01, 2006

Intellectual journeys are never simple and they often parallel personal experiences, as well as historical twists of fate. My path to researching and writing about twentieth-century Yugoslavia and its politics and society embraces all of these. Love of politics, the historical, ethnic, and religious diversity of the Balkans, and the prospect of living and researching in a country with warm weather and even warmer hospitality drove me into the seminars on Yugoslav and Balkan history given by Barbara and Charles Jelavich at Indiana University. Little did I know that 1988, the year of my dissertation research, Communist Yugoslavia would begin to unravel and that I would experience first hand the destruction and demise of both a state and society founded not 50 years earlier. Observing Yugoslavia's demise and, at times, living in the tumult and violence of 1990s Yugoslavia and its successor states, I began to reflect on how the South Slavs, over the span of 70 years, have lived under four regimes with fundamentally different political and socio-economic structures. I focused my research and the types of questions that I asked in order to understand the ways in which the South Slavs have coped with the transition from one system to another. Thus, the bulk of my published research has examined the ways in which the twentieth century regimes in Yugoslavia, their political elites, structures, institutions, and ideology, as well as their state and nation building processes and strategies, have interacted and impacted the society over which they ruled. I also began to examine how different groups within society reacted to political processes and shaped policies and strategies. I researched and wrote about these issues in my first historical monograph, Peasants and Communists: Politics and Ideology in the Yugoslav Countryside, 1941-1953. This monograph examined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia's precarious and volatile relationship with its largest and most diverse constituency, the peasantry. It takes the reader first into the private interior of the Party's leadership offices where Communist leaders shaped agrarian policies and then into the villages where the peasants communicated their displeasure with the CPY's policies through everyday acts of resistance. My research stays in Yugoslavia also produced significant intellectual and personal friendships formed during my years in Yugoslavia. Multiple lively conversations in the basement café of the Yugoslav National Archives about whether or not individuals and groups within society mattered in authoritarian states turned into a conference and a co-edited volume. State-Society Relations in Yugoslavia, 1945-1992 examined the evolving relationship between Communist Yugoslavia and its workers, peasants, young people, women, and ethnic groups. Collaborative projects, learning from my colleagues, and broadening my intellectual world have been mainstays of my career. Upon joining the UNM history department, I took advantage of the diversity of historical approaches and regional fields found in my department by team teaching world history courses, writing grants, and eventually collaborating with a senior colleague to write a two volume Western Civilization text/reader, Sharing the Stage: Biography and Gender in Western Civilization. As a result of my years at UNM, I developed an interest and expertise in two new fields: gender and women's history, and history and memory. In the late 1990s, these two fields were beginning to inform East European historiography. Bringing together my interest in politics from below, passion for the field of Yugoslav studies, the need to understand how South Slav ethnic and national identities are forged and maintained, and the desire to incorporate gender and women's history into my research agenda, I embarked upon my current project, "The Politics of Commemoration: Memory and Mourning in Serbia and Croatia, 1918-1941." In this study, to be completed during my fellowship year at the Wilson Center, I examine how the Serbs and the Croats, individually and collectively, mourned, remembered, and commemorated those who lost their lives in the Balkan Wars and World War One and how the resulting cultures of commemoration and distinct historical understandings of the wars clashed in the period leading up the Second World War. Key to understanding the public, private, and cultural dimensions of mourning and remembering is the role women played in these activities and how commemorative organizations and activities are gendered. My work thus far has been supported by a community of scholars within the field of East European studies. Each and every contact and conversation advances my research. Discussing this project with Wilson Center fellows with their diversity of expertise will certainly help me strengthen and better conceptualize the final draft of my manuscript.
 

Education

B.A. (1983) History, Pomona College; M.A. (1987) and Ph.D. (1991) East European History, Indiana University, Bloomington
 

Subjects

Balkan Region,Eastern Europe,Gender Issues
 

Experience

  • Associate Professor of History and Regents' Lecturer, The University of New Mexico, August 1998-present
  • Director, International Studies Institute, College of Arts and Sciences, University of New Mexico, 2002-present
  • Assistant Professor of History, The University of New Mexico, August 1991-98
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego, April-June, 1996
  • Assistant Professor of History, Saint Mary's College of Minnesota, August 1990-May 1991

Expertise

Twentieth century Yugoslavia/Balkans; memory, gender and war; nationalism and commemoration in EE; peasants and communists

Project Summary

For the last decade, historians, anthropologists, literary scholars, political scientists and others have examined the power and significance of individual, collective, and national memories in the former Yugoslavia. Most commentators argue that during the wars of Yugoslav succession and the Kosovo crisis in the 1990s, the generations born after WWII were simply remembering and reenacting brutalities from World War Two. My project moves further back in time to explain how the public and private commemorations of the Balkan wars and World War I inextricably linked the personal and collective experiences of Serbs to the physical and symbolic landscape of a Yugoslav state and simultaneously excluded the other south Slavs, especially Croats, from staking similar claims. This study of complex and contested sites of memory and mourning for interwar Yugoslavia sheds light on the process by which Serbs and Croats, during the late twentieth century, constructed distinct narratives and memories of past injustices, wrongs, and sorrows, and represented their respective nations as victims and not perpetrators.

Major Publications

  • Sharing the Stage: Biography and Gender in Western Civilization, 2 volumes, with Jane Slaughter (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
  • Peasants and Communists: Politics and Ideology in the Yugoslav Countryside, 1941-1953 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) (American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies' Barbara Jelavich Prize)
  • State-Society Relations in Yugoslavia, 1945-1992, with eds. Jill Irvine and Carol Lilly (St. Martin's Press, 1997)

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Ethnonationalist Conflict in Postcommunist States

April 29, 2014 // 12:00pm1:00pm

The Source of Financial Crisis

May 01, 2014 // 12:00pm1:00pm

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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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