Presentation title: Anticolonial Intellectuals in Non-Aligned Yugoslavia

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Natasa Kovacevic


In 1968, Aimé Césaire’s play The Tragedy of King Christophe was performed at the second BITEF theater festival in Belgrade, two years after being performed at the First World Theater of Negro Arts in Dakar. That same year, Agostinho Neto presented his translated book of poetry at the October Meetings of Writers in Belgrade. In 1975, Léopold Sédar Senghor participated in the Struga Poetry Evenings and awarded its most prestigious award, the Golden Wreath. During the era of decolonization, these and other writers/intellectuals carried enormous prestige due to their status as both anticolonial leaders/revolutionaries and thinkers devoted to developing a new cultural expression and an anticolonial critical discourse. As Yugoslavia developed its Non-Aligned foreign policy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, its writers, intellectuals, and journalists – who were in many cases former revolutionaries and partisans – wrote about European colonialism and the various movements of liberation, developing an anticolonial intellectual discourse that, in many tropes and rhetorical moves, echoes the more familiar critical texts by Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and CLR James. Thus, for example, the travelogue Crno na Belo [Black on White] by avant-garde poet and novelist Oskar Davičo, whose travels in west Africa overlap with Yugoslav President Tito’s own trip in 1961, could be said to figure as the literary and critical accompaniment to an emergent political narrative. I will consider this text side by side with contemporaneous Yugoslav travelogues, and literary and cultural criticism, to think about Non-Alignment also as an attempt to develop an anticolonial intellectual discourse in Yugoslavia that is intertwined with the politics of national liberation. These texts often quote and analyze anticolonial poetry and prose; describe conversations with anticolonial intellectuals-revolutionaries in the Global South; address the necessity of developing an independent cultural policy; include subaltern narratives in an attempt to “give voice” to the colonized; and highlight the biases of colonial epistemology. While their occasional Eurocentric biases and blind spots should in no way be glossed over, they make a contribution to the concurrent development of global anticolonial intellectual discourses. It is important to reconstruct these early networks of intellectual solidarity between the Global East and the Global South since, according to Monica Popescu (At Penpoint, 2020), contemporary scholarship tends to privilege Western postcolonial theory starting in the late 1970s – and more recently, I would add, the contemporary articulations of decolonial theory – while “early” anticolonial intellectual work is often downplayed as merely “pioneering” and compromised through its embroilment in the violence of national liberation.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Colonial, Postcolonial, Decolonial and Neocolonial Experiences