Peoples of the Mountains, Peoples of the Plains

Peoples of the Mountains, Peoples of the Plains: Space and Ethnographic Representation: by Karl Kaser from the collection of essays entitled, “Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe”

Peoples of the Mountains, Peoples of the Plains is an essay that gets to the heart of the “Other” narrative; looking specifically at two distinct groups of people in the Balkans. Karl Kaser examines the work of Jovan Cvijic, a Serbian geographer, and Dinko Tomasic, a Croatian sociologist, to show how the “Other” narrative can influence two authors with “similar research objectives,” but who reach “starkly different conclusions.” Kaser explains that his objective is not to prove the veracity of either side, but to simply show how the “Other” narrative can drastically influence the work of two scholars.

Kaser spends some time in the essay describing the two data sets: the Dinaric Mountain people, who spend their time herding in the Dinaric Mountains and the Pannonian Plains people, who conversely live in the valleys and spend their time cultivating the land. Kaser finds that Cvijic portrays the Dinaric Mountain people in a positive light: he describes them as intelligent, sensitive and non-materialistic. He describes the Pannonian Plains people negatively, however, saying they were “cold and brusque” and “lacked a democratic spirit.” Tomasic, not surprisingly, finds the opposite as Cvijic: Tomasic praises the plains people and disparages the mountain people. Tomasic calls the mountain people outlaws and ruthless.

Kaser concludes his essay saying that the cultural “Other” can often “portray different portraits of the same group.” He goes on to admonish both authors for straying too far into politics with their ostensibly scholarly works. These findings can, argues Kaser, help to explain some details of the Yugoslav civil war in 1991: the Serb or Dinaric Mountain mentality can explain their aggressive behavior and criminal behavior; likewise, the Croat or Pannonian mentality is obvious in the Croat defensive posture they took.

This essay drew interesting parallels from the different mentalities of the Balkan peoples to their behavior during the civil war. It also helps to explain why many observers would assume that these groups have always been at each other’s throats. Kaser does a good job of presenting his argument and showing how it reaches his conclusion.

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