I want to preface this blog post by saying that the beliefs of those in my community – my home country – are very different from my beliefs. The history of my country has made it so that many are blinded by hatred and false nationalism to overcompensate for their lack of global importance, and more mainly that of our country.
The “perfect” Serbian would be one whose family origins trace generations back to Serbia (which is quite the challenge due to vast migrations and shifts in our region), who’s a good law-abiding Orthodox Christian, and one with strong anti-Western values. Of course, depending on the government in charge, there will be some extra aspects added; such as if they voted for the “right” person or if they turned a blind eye to corruption. Now, what is considered “other” in my community has most often been people within our community. We share a language with Bosnia and Croatia, yet people from those regions are considered “other”. Those who practice Islam or Catholicism are also considered “other”. My community considers Russia our brethren, yet excludes those closest to us, with whom we share a past, a culture, and even a language. Another added layer to what is considered “other” is those who don’t openly reject Western influence. While most will indulge in Western media and consumerism, they will loudly and publicly reject those same things, as they’re a “betrayal” to our community and “unorthodox”. Those who look for better lives in Western countries or even simply political, intellectual, and cultural ideas from those places are seen as traitors and othered from the community, as they have supposedly fallen victims to the strong anti-Serbian propaganda sent out by the West (very false but that is unfortunately the narrative most nationalists in Serbia will spread).
It is very easy to “other” people and to group them into a category – whether due to our own fear of being othered ourselves or our inability to separate identity from an individual. Most groups we experience primarily as plural others are categorized through aspects of identity: religion, ethnicity, race, gender, etc… Ideologies and political views can often play into this as well. Due to deeply ingrained subconscious ideas we all have, it is very easy to slip into whatever perception of those “others” you’ve been taught. Most often, when a group is othered they are viewed as abnormal or inferior. This act of exclusion due to someone being different from your community can lead to small things, such as social exclusion from a friend group, as well as much larger and more impactful events, such a ethnic cleansing or hate crimes. It is much easier said than done, however, there is a very crucial importance in viewing things from an objective perspective and ignoring those deeply ingrained ideas when studying a field like International Relations or Political Science. Even more so in a region such as the Middle East, which is full of conflicting and coexisting identities, as it will lead to more practical and unbiased approaches. In the MENA a predominant amount of conflict is identity based, and having grown up in a region where some of the biggest conflicts were due to exclusion and othering, it is important to understand the reasonings behind this othering as well as to view it objectively in order to understand it completely. Everything we consume is in some way biased; being aware of this human nature of “othering” and the need to categorize people is the first step to successfully viewing a complex geopolitical history without inserting your own opinion.