Julia Barnes

Julia Barnes—Caves, Graves, and the Restless Dead: Remembrance as Statecraft in Slovenia

Julia BarnesJulia Barnes, PhD Candidate, Anthropology, University of Virginia

February 11, 2019
New Cabell Hall 236

The next meeting of the Far Right and (Anti-)Fascism Working Group will take place on Monday, February 11th at 2pm in New Cabell Hall 236. Our presenter will be Julia Barnes, a PhD student in the Anthropology department. Her talk, entitled "Caves, Graves, and the Restless Dead: Remembrance as Statecraft in Slovenia," examines pacifist reconciliationists taking part in the exhumation and proper burial of victims of ethnic cleansing at the sites of mass graves in western Slovenia. By centering antifascist and antiracist activists, Julia's work points to alternative visions of state and nation which challenge dominant regional discourses of ethnic purity and genetic superiority heavily reliant on ethno-nationalist deployments of historical memory.

My research project examines an emerging form of pacifist nationalism at the site of the first Yugoslav ethnic cleansing, the so-called Foibe Massacres of 1943-1949. It is designed to comprehend contemporary mechanisms of ethnic differentiation and unification strategically deployed among people living in western Slovenia. These massacres claimed some 115,000 people altogether and forced an exodus of 300,000 more. For the past 70 years, the region has been haunted by the memory of neighbors turning on neighbors, stoking a deep and unrelenting ethnic nationalism in public sentiment. Modern Slovenian political and religious groups in favor of ‘ethnic purity’ make claims to genetic superiority to those outside their political alignment. They essentialize the link between family and political affiliation, and foreground narratives of wartime victimhood and persecution to justify their exclusionary politics. The strength of Slovenian ethno-nationalism has been exemplified brutally in the country’s handling of the contemporary refugee crisis, and in the September 2018 appearance of an illegal, paramilitary “ethnic defense militia.” In the midst of this, I focus my anthropological research on the ideological minority: those who seek, through the deliberate wielding of cultural memory as a mechanism of the state, to configure an alternative vision for a multiethnic Slovenian nation. I follow the movement of reconciliationists, whose work has begun with the exhumation and proper interment of human remains. I posit that, couched within the subjective relations of both the ethno-nationalists and reconciliationists to the past, there is a fundamental idea of what the “nation” should be.