Yugoslavia and Turkey are two nation states that emerged at the end of World War I out of the remains of the Ottoman (and in case of Yugoslavia, partly of the Habsburg) Empire. One was a monarchy founded in December 1918, with the former King of Serbia becoming the King of a 'three-named nation' of South-Slavs. The other, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was forged under the conviction that the Ottomanist policy of the last Sultans had failed and that the Anatolian 'heart' of the former empire should become exclusively Turk. The founding of the two new states triggered a dynamic development especially in the large cities, where the new regimes first implemented their nation building projects.
In the past few years, the SIBA project, based at the Middle Eastern Studies, University of Basel, has researched four of these cities through the lens of local photo reporters, focusing on the major daily newspapers Politika, Vreme, Cumhuriyet and Akşam, and on the old and new capitals Istanbul, Ankara, and Belgrade, and, as a contrast and second Yugoslav city, Sarajevo. Based on the analysis of a large database of photographs from public and private collections in Bosnia, Serbia and Turkey, the SIBA project now formulates a series of questions to be discussed in an interdisciplinary conference, introducing a visual approach. The questions turn around three key issues: (1) the contrast between the city centres as a showcase of the new political elites and the çarşı/čaršija as the meeting place of the population as a whole, (2) the cult of the body in the service of the new nation, (3) the impact of this nationally connoted perception of the body on everyday life, as reflected in dressing habits, religious attitudes and urban leisure activities.
Press photography of the urban public sphere offers impressing visual evidence on many aspects of everyday life which otherwise remain in oblivion. At the same time, it reveals to which extent the representations of power expressed the general zeitgeist of the period. Whereas the dynamic expansion of the new Turkish capital Ankara is well researched, the similarly fast development of interwar Belgrade is much less known. In both cities, the new political elites created a public space which was to represent modernity combined with the values of their rule. To a lesser extent, this was also the case in Istanbul, and even Sarajevo. In contrast, life in the old trade quarters, the çarşı/čaršija, seems to have continued as if the Ottoman Empire had never come to an end. The visibility of the nation-building project in the urban sphere was not limited to infrastructure and large new buildings: It mobilized large sections of society, which engaged in activities very much conforming to the period zeitgeist: An impressive portion of the analyzed press photography covers parades in various forms: athletes, scouts, soldiers, men and women alike. The new rulers took a huge effort to form modern citizens of their subjects, with a focus on the youth, and on symbols. In Turkey, Atatürk banned the red felt cap (fes) and dotted the public space with his monuments to mark the break with the Ottoman past. Women were awarded active and passive voting rights in 1930 and 1935 respectively and asked to exchange their veils with a coat. In contrast, Yugoslav peasants, and a large portion of the Yugoslav Muslim population, continued to wear traditional garb, while the government tried to establish a synthesized national folk culture based on traditional peasant customs from all regions of the country.
The conference will discuss the SIBA project's findings bringing together researchers from history, art history, urban studies, architecture, anthropology, Balkan studies and Turkish studies, from Southeastern Europe and beyond, channeling in-depth knowhow from various methodological approaches, both visual and non-visual. Selected papers will be published in an edited volume. The conference is generously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.