Together but Separate. Symbolic and Social Boundaries in an Ex-Yugoslavian Viennese Neighborhood

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 13:15
Oral Presentation
Ana MIJIC, University of Vienna, Austria
People of ex-Yugoslavian origin are an integral part of Vienna. According to estimates over 250.000 people with roots in former Yugoslavia are living in the Austrian capital. A great many of them came as refugees during the war in the 1990ies.

The violent dissolution of Yugoslavia has had an enduring impact on the diasporic community also in another respect: the war drove a wedge between the ex-Yugoslavian Viennese of different ethnic allegiances. Yugoslavian diasporic organizations, soccer clubs, or cultural facilities disintegrated along ethnic lines. Yugoslavia as well as Yugoslavians disappeared from the scene and with them the hitherto effective informal pan-ethnic network of neighborhood support—the so called komšiluk.

Within an ongoing sociological research project I am focusing on the identity-formation of the Bosnian diaspora(s)—i.e. Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Serbs—living in Vienna. The analysis of narrative interviews conducted with Viennese of Bosnian origin reveals, that there are quite ambivalent interpretation patterns regarding the neighborhoodly relations between the Viennese Bosnians of different ethnic affiliations: Frequently, interviewees claim that even in Vienna Bosnians are not able to interact peacefully, that they have to avoid each other, and argue simultaneously—i.e. within the same interview—that ethnicity is immaterial in everyday life, that they don’t even know which ethnic group their neighbors belong to.

In my contribution I would like to illuminate this ambivalence. More precisely, I will focus on the analysis of the symbolic and social boundaries between Bosnians of different ethnic backgrounds in one specific Viennese neighborhood: the so called Balkan-Mile. The Balkan-Mile is the informal expression for the Ottakringer Straße, a street which is highly frequented by former Yugoslavian migrants. By combining a hermeneutical analysis of narrative interviews with ethnographic observations in this neighborhood I seek to examine the everyday practices and processes of boundary making and the differentiation between “us” and “them”.