From South-South Epistemologies to the Reflection on South-East Relations: putting on a decolonial lens
Global Convivial Forum
Joanna M. Moszczynska (Junior Fellow Mecila)
Global entanglements, Souths within the North included, read through a decolonial lens, provide interesting impulses for transregional studies, such as those dealing with relations between Latin America and Eastern Europe.
With the concept of the Global South, a desire emerged to make visible the literary and cultural communication between different geo-cultural peripheries since the end of the nineteenth century. South-South entanglements have been subject to research in critical thought and theory, historical relations, and the study of non-hegemonic and heterodox knowledge production. The Global in the Global South, as observes Sinah Kloß, underlines that “the concept should not be understood as merely geographical classification of the world, but as a reference attending to unequal global power relations, imperialism, and neo-colonialism” (Kloß 2017: 4).
However, the concept has met criticism from scholars who see the Global South as part of the imperial and Eurocentric binaries of East-West and North-South (Levander and Mignolo 2011: 9). From this perspective, the Global South indicates a “conservative return to the older ‘classical’ geopolitical and civilisation models”, neglecting regions and countries that do not neatly fit into either category (Tlostanova 2011: 69). To critically engage with the North/South differentiation, immanent to the concept of the Global South, Tlostanova proposes that we pay particular attention to those areas and places that cannot be easily identified as either North or South but are in between, such as post-Soviet and Eastern European post-socialist states (Tlostanova 2011: 69). Global entanglements, Souths within the North included, read through a decolonial lens, provide interesting impulses for transregional studies; for example, those that deal with relations between Latin America and Eastern Europe. Just like “South”, the notion of “East” carries a series of epistemological challenges that both comparative and transregional research can profit from.
Latin America (and the Caribbean) and Eastern Europe are two geopolitical areas that have been under economic, cultural, political as well as military pressure from the imperial powers, with whom they had to negotiate their national projects and visions of the future. The stigma of the (semi-) periphery bound by the postcolonial and post-socialist consciousness and the contested ideas of “the invention of the region”, in Anderson’s terms, that are found in the discourses from and about those regions show how the experience of oppression, marginalisation, and dependency have been crucial for the political and cultural (self-)understanding of those two parts of the world. Bringing together the scholarship on both regions, that is, Latin American Studies and Slavic Studies, should not limit itself to traditional comparative study but also allow searching for transregional and decolonial methodologies. What seems like a challenging task can nevertheless help better understand and map the entangled modern realities and representations of the regions, their spatial and temporal constellations and regimes, that is, their histories, cultures, institutions, trades, political transformations, migration processes, diasporas, negotiations of belonging, etc.
Manuela Boatcă, for example, underlines the ontologically peripheral position of the “forgotten Europe”, one that “has been defined as Eastern Europe and is often still reduced to being an Other within” (Boatcă 2019: 96). The scholar further observes that “Eastern and Southern Europe are often considered lesser Europes and have to be specifically mentioned to be included” and proposes “creolisation of Europe”, that is, “the project […] contingent upon creolising social theory so as to re-inscribe the transnational experiences of regions othered as non-European and non-Western or racialised as non-white – such as the Caribbean – as well as the multiple entanglements between Europe and its colonies into sociological thought” (Boatcă 2019: 96; 108). Of course, “creolisation” does not have to limit itself just to the social sciences nor to “Europe”, but be a transdisciplinary and transregional project. A similar reflection on epistemic violence, yet committed against Latin America and the Caribbean, is provided by Ana Nenadović:
In its transition from colony to coloniser, the United States of America monopolised the name ‘America’. The linguistic exclusion of the peoples south of the US border lead to their othering and marginalisation. Donald Trump’s slogan ‘Make America great again’ is perhaps the most recognisable contemporary expression of this neo-colonial and racist monopolisation of the name. Trump’s ‘America’ is, without any doubt, white settler USA (Nenadović 2022).
The reflection on the use of language is part of a decolonising project, or, in the words of Madina Tlostanova and Walter Mignolo, a practice of “decolonial border thinking”. Decolonial border thinking enables displacing European modernity and empowers those who have been epistemically disempowered by the theo- and egopolitics of knowledge: “Decolonial border thinking” […] is grounded in the experiences of the colonies and subaltern empires. Consequently, it provides the epistemology that was denied by imperial expansion. […] It also moves away from the postcolonial toward the decolonial, shifting to the geo- and body politics of knowledge” (Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012: 60).
Border thinking emerges from the anti-imperial epistemic responses to the colonial difference, that is, the difference that hegemonic discourse endowed to “other people”. This somehow subaltern position turns into an advantage as it implies the awareness of the “double consciousness” (DuBois 2007), “which is not the case in the world of imperial difference that longs to belong to modernity’s sameness so much that it often erases its own difference” (Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012: 68). The imperial difference then comes in two modulations: external and internal. External is the difference between the Russian Czardom and later Russian Empire to Western empires, whereas internal imperial difference refers to the one among Western capitalist empires. The idea of the imperial difference can also be applied to the Cold War context of the struggle for domination between the US and the USSR, perceived as superpowers and distinct areas to be compared only from a modern and imperial epistemological assumption, each one having its own zones of influence, that is, spaces, that belong to the same universe.
Anita Starosta, in her book Form and Instability: Eastern Europe, Literature, Postimperial Difference, elaborates on the notion of postimperial difference as a more accurate account of the condition of Eastern Europe while rejecting the category of Eastern Europe as obsolete and inadequate, at least within the area of literary studies. According to Starosta, the idea of postimperial difference is related to the emergent and overlapping ways of thinking about the region – that is, post-socialism and post-colonialism. This articulation raises the question, “Is the post in post-imperial the post in postcolonial?”* or even, as David Chioni Moore puts it: “Is the Post in Post-Soviet the Post in Postcolonial?” (Moore 2001).
Tlostanova draws attention to the complexity of such questions when she warns against both conflating the post-Soviet with postcolonial discourses and excluding it from them, as this kind of operations either invisibilise the post-Soviet space or strips it of its agency. The solution could be brought by a decolonial method to address the post-Soviet imperial and colonial difference and the ontological othering the post-Soviet has been subject to within the modern system of knowledge. Russia is a paradigmatic case of a “Janus-faced racialized empire which feels itself a colony in the presence of the West and plays the part of a caricature civilizer mimicking European colonization models and missions in its own non-European colonies” (she refers here to Caucasus and Central Asia, but with regard to today’s situation we may think of Russia’s European ex-colonies) (Tlostanova 2015: 47).
The scholarship cited here raises many engaging and thought-provoking issues, although not always directly having both regions, Latin America and Eastern Europe, as a joint case study. They nevertheless engage with the concepts and ideas such as: creolisation, imperial and postimperial difference, colonial difference and post-colonialism, and knowledge production, and thus broaden our perspective and incentivise us to rethink and improve our methodologies and enable us to open for a better historical, geopolitical and cultural understanding of those regions and their states:
According to a rough consensus, the cultures of postcolonial lands are characterized by tensions between the desire for autonomy and a history of dependence, between the desire for autochthony and the fact of hybrid, part-colonial origin, between resistance and complicity, and between imitation (mimicry) and originality. Postcolonial peoples’ passion to escape from their once colonized situations paradoxically gives the ex-colonials disproportionate weight in the recently freed zones. And the danger of retrenchment, or of a neocolonial relation, is ever present (Moore 2001: 112).
In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and many Latin American intellectuals have been reluctant to condemn Russia’s war crimes. Maybe putting on a decolonial lens on the gaze upon Eastern Europe could make the above-cited words of Chioni Moore effectively resonate among Latin American minds.
*It is a question inspired by Kwame Anthony Appiah (Appiah 1991).
Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1991): “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?”, in: Critical Inquiry, 17, 2, 336–357. Boatcă