Picture Story: Holding Up a Mirror to Serbian Nationalism

Aug 14, 2012 Full story: Photo District News

An amusement park in Pristina, Kosovo, 2008. To see more images from the series, click on the Photo Gallery link below.

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Hamilton, Canada

#1 Aug 15, 2012
Lutton says his purpose isn’t to harangue or condemn the Serbs, but to hold up a mirror in order to challenge cultural assumptions and political rhetoric that continue to feed tensions, and divide and isolate ethnic groups.“I hope that by showing my perspective on things, it will add another voice, another idea” for Serbs to consider, Lutton says.(He’s under no illusions that Serbs will embrace his viewpoint, however.)

“Only Unity” takes its name from the motto of the Serbian Orthodox Church: Only unity will save the Serbs. It has become a nationalistic rally cry, and Lutton came across it in Serbian areas all over the Balkans.“It was used a lot in the 1990s to explain why Serbs were fighting to protect other Serbs in other areas,” such as Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

“In one sense that’s honorable to stick together,” Lutton continues.“But in reality it bred horrible destruction and atrocities. And a lot was excused by that phrase, by that concept.”

The symbol—and phrase—amount to an anchor point for Lutton’s exploration of the Serbian mindset, and how it shapes Serbian society. He has worked the cities and villages of the region in a street photography tradition, looking for images that capture a feeling of what life is actually like (as opposed to what Serbs claim it to be). He photographs in Belgrade, as well as Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and other contested regions where atrocious wars were fought in the name of Serbian unity. But Lutton has also explored how ethnic minorities—particularly the Roma—get on in Belgrade.

“The Roma are oppressed in many places, and not treated as badly in Serbia as in other countries. But I take issue with how the local government in Belgrade has treated them,” Lutton says.“There’s a disconnect between the people in Belgrade and the Roma community. They feel very separate.”

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