The project “Social and Cultural Capital” was extended to include studies of symbolic divisions in society in Serbia. This part of the project, entitled “The Fields of Symbolic Contestation in Serbia”, was realized in 2011-2012. Using media texts in the daily press, in magazines, and intellectual-political journals, we analyzed the symbolic practices of the citizens of Serbia through which the symbolic and social boundaries between social groups are established and classification struggles for imposing one’s own representation of the social world as dominant are waged.
We analyzed texts in three groups of media in Serbia: among the dailies we selected “Blic” [(the daily newspaper with the highest circulation in Serbia, owned by the German-Swiss enterprise Ringier Axel Springer Media AG, which was, in the period from 2006 to 2012 close to the governing Democratic Party (DS) ]; „Kurir“ [a high circulation tabloid which, in the period from 2006 to 2012, represented opinions close to the opposition parties of the political spectrum right, and which, in the course of the 2012 elections, practically became the voice of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS)] and the relatively low circulation, analytically oriented, liberal „Danas“. Among political weekly magazines, we have selected for analysis the „nationally oriented“ „NIN“ (in the period from 2006 to 2009, after it had become part of the Ringer enterprise in 2009, with a new editorship, it changed its politics), and the „cosmopolitan“ „Vreme“ (which, in the course of the 2000s, as a result of financial difficulties, gradually softened its anti-nationalist rhetorics). Finally, to represent the opposing forces in the political sense in semi-scientific publications, we have chosen the journal „Nova srpska politička misao“ (with an editorial policy which is led by the values of the political right) and the proceedings of the radio program „Peščanik“, which is considered one of the voices of the „Other“ (liberal) Serbia. In a seven year period, from 2006 to 2012, we sampled 70 issues of daily newspapers (ten per year), 35 issues of weekly magazines (five per year) and seven issues of “Nova srpska politička misao” and “Peščanik” each and conducted an analysis of these materials.
The starting point for our analyses was a modified version of the framework for the study of symbolic divisions in American/French society presented in Michele Lamont’s “Money, Morals, Manners” (Lamont: 1992). In our analysis, we started from divisions between US and THEM on the basis of: 1) economic wealth; 2) morals; 3) political orientation (“cosmopolitans” and “patriots”); 4) culture/manners, with subdivisions between a) the educated and the uneducated; b) the urban and the rural/recently urbanized; c) the symbolic (European) North of the country and the symbolic (Oriental) South of the country.
In studying symbolic practices and classification struggles we conducted three groups of analyses: discourse analysis of media content in the weeklies “Vreme” and “NIN” and intellectual-political journals ”Peščanik“ and “Nova srpska politička misao“; content analysis of the dailies “Politika“, „Press“ and „Danas“, and an analysis of semi-structured interviews with representatives of elite groups in Serbia: politicians, university professors, activist of important nongovernmental organizations and artists.
Within discourse analysis, the goal was to analyze public discourse, that which is conducted to the wider public via the media, but stems from specialized representatives of particular social spheres (politicians, experts), as well as that which is specific to the media, which is produced by the sphere of the media as a relatively autonomous field in which public meanings are created. The basic topic of analysis were symbolic divisions in Serbian society, that is, the way in which symbolic boundaries were discursively marked, constituted, commented on or questioned and torn down. The study showed that the demarcation lines identified as relevant in the form of hypotheses at the beginning of the research are present in public discourse to widely differing extents. Some divisions are quite marginalized and they are rarely spoken of explicitly, and when this does happen, not with the aim of strengthening or justifying the existing division, but with the aim of describing it or bringing it into question (for example, North/South). On the other hand, the division based on education, that is, what would in the key to Pierre Bourdieu’s research, who inspired our overall research project, be termed “cultural distinction” or differences in “cultural capital”, remains permanently noticeable and legitimate, continuing the state already noted in a series of previous studies. Likewise, the division into “cosmopolitans” and “patriots”, mainly politically produced and formulated, is very much present in public speech, but mainly in those sources which are not focused on daily reports for the wider public, being, instead, focused on intellectual debate, albeit in a wider circle of academic experts (Peščanik and NSPM).
In our project we have also explored a new tendency in public speech in Serbia, the tendency for existing divisions, the most recognizable of which is that between the so-called “First” and “Second” Serbia, to be set aside and bridged by some new political-cultural conceptions. Having termed this discursive position the “Third Serbia”, we have followed the ways in which it has arisen and the parts of the political and intellectual space out of which initiative has stemmed for its symbolic establishment. We are able to preliminarily conclude that the time for a vocabulary of sharp, unbridgeable differences has passed and that the political and ideological battle in Serbia today is more profitably waged with a vocabulary of compromise and leaving the past behind. The extent to which this is a welcome, constructive direction of development or, conversely, the extent to which this direction of development contributes to the covering up of a difficult past and the creation of an inappropriate consensus on the basis of unresolved problems stemming from the policy implemented in Serbia in the 1990s, is a question this study cannot answer, as these are quite new developments the results of which will be seen in the near future.
If discourse analysis represented the central portion of our project in this second year, then content analysis is the link to last year’s analyses. The aim of these analyses was to identify in media texts phenomena which represent the manifestation of economic, cultural, social, and political capital; to identify the carriers of these types of capital; examine the frequency with which topics dealing with different types of capital appear in daily press, and the direction of attitudes in relation to them (positive, negative, neutral). Among the phenomena which are an expression of economic capital we followed the topics related to business ownership (companies and shares), stories of business success, business advancement and successful business moves (in the work of companies and individuals), indicators of wealth (in particular, real estate – apartments, houses, farmable land, but also luxury goods such as cars, yachts, etc), the income of companies and individuals (gains and losses and maximum and minimum income). Political capital was operationalized as institutionalized power, and the indicators we used were the forms of expression of this form of power, activities of the carriers of this form of power, and topics linked to responsibility/irresponsibility which accompanies it. Among indicators of social capital we followed the frequency with which topics related to corruption, political and familial hiring (nepotism), the development and use of assistance networks (solidarity), forms of mutual expert solidarity (expert “back guarding”), the influence of political parties on social life with the use of informal channels and the link between social capital and wealth. Finally, we followed cultural capital through the appearance of topics related to education, cultural participation, taste, life-styles, media, urban/rural relations, that is relations between the “European” North and “Oriental” South of the country.
The third segment of our research were semi-structured interviews with members of elite groups in Serbia. The idea was to analyze how they perceive symbolic divisions in society in Serbia and which of them they consider particularly important. Seven politicians, eight university professors/political analysts, four NGO activists, and four artists were interviewed, ten from Belgrade, eight from Novi Sad, three from Niš and two from Novi Pazar (23 in all). The respondents spoke particularly frequently in the course of their interviews about seven groups of symbolic divisions in society in Serbia: the political-ideological division between the “First” and “Second” Serbia and the tendency towards fragmentation within them, socio-economic divisions which are gaining in importance, divisions between the political elite and civil society; ethnic-religious divisions; regional division in Serbia; divisions along the axis of centralization-decentralization of Serbia and gender divisions.
As we had expected, one of the dominant topics was the political-ideological division between the “First” and “Second” Serbia. The “First” Serbia would in its own terms be traditional, Orthodox, sovereign Serbia, while members of the “Second” Serbia see themselves as representatives of a liberal, cosmopolitan, pro-European Serbia. This division was particularly strong and clearly evident in the 1990s, but in the interviews (as in the results of discourse analysis) the dominant subject was that this division is somewhat passé and that it is slowly becoming a thing of the past. A topic which came up often was the appearance of fractions within these blocs. In one and the other bloc “orthodox”, authoritarian streams are appearing which insist that this bipolarity be maintained and, in relation to this division, “heretic” or reformist streams which believe that this bipolarity is no longer relevant and that it represents a problem. What could also be noted in the course of these conversations was the attitude that this fragmentation within the blocs of the “First” and “Second” Serbia was made possible by the fact that the blocs have become closer themselves and the tensions between them are no longer as strong. Likewise, considering the fact that a pro-European attitude is now present in both opposing political-ideological groups, the establishment of new lines of demarcation and differentiation is currently underway, with the attitude towards NATO taking on an important role. The majority of those interviewed were of the opinion that ethnic divisions in Serbia have gone underground, but although they are no longer as visible, they still have a strong presence in social life in Serbia.
There is also agreement regarding the fact that socio-economic divisions are gaining in importance and that in times of economic crisis the perception of social divisions is largely taking place along these lines. Considering the fact that the number of unemployed and citizens of Serbia living below the poverty line is rapidly growing, the topic also often came up of establishing class boundaries within society in Serbia. A number of interviewees pointed out the divisions between those employed in the public sector, who are characterized by a certain security of income and employment, and those who are on the market and whose living conditions are characterized by high uncertainty.
The general conclusions of the analysis relate primarily to three issues. First, the noted gap between the apathetic and deeply moralized discourse of ordinary people and the optimistic, expert jargon of their political representatives, which could have serious repercussions for the democratic dialogue between the government and the people, a precondition for the functioning of a democratic order. The moralization of the approach towards public issues on the part of the citizens mainly stems from loss of faith in the meaningfulness of the political sphere, and it unavoidably leads to political apathy and alienation of the citizens. On the other hand, professional politicians mostly do not take this seriously, not understanding the extent to which, as democratic representatives of the political community, they are dependent on it. Secondly, conclusions speak to the clear difference between valuation of different types of capital in media space and everyday life. The results have shown us that the citizens of Serbia consider the scale of values current in our society to be illegitimate – which is particularly true of the dominance of differences in economic capital, which citizens consider to be deeply unjust. On the other hand, content analysis and discourse analysis of media texts show that there is a very frequent tendency in them for the legitimization of capitalist success as something morally just and desirable. Finally, both discourse analysis of media texts and the analysis of the results of semi-structured interviews with members of elite groups show a tendency for the calming of political-ideological divisions between the “First” and “Second” Serbia and their internal fragmentation, the damming up of ethnic divisions, and the strengthening of socio-economic and regional divisions in society in Serbia.
Within the project, the conference “Us and Them – Symbolic Divisions in Society in Serbia”, was organized on July 7th and 8th, 2012, in Belgrade, Serbia and the volume “Us and Them – Symbolic Divisions in Western Balkan Societies” (edited by Ivana Spasić and Predrag Cvetičanin) was published.