American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
The postsocialist Balkan region has been marked by civil wars, economic crises, institutional restructuring of healthcare and privatization of both public property and corporations. Right-wing, nationalist, and populist groups are gaining traction worldwide and in this region as well. Bribery, corruption, political oppression, and censorship are becoming increasingly visible and are amplified in a context of life and death in the oncology wards in Serbia. My research closely engages with the issue of scale when rethinking what corruption means for citizens of Serbia. On one level, corruption and bribery are deemed activities for the “big fish” and government officials, and as such are strongly condemned. On a much smaller scale, personal networks and bribery exist as “favor economies” (Ledeneva 1998; Brkovic 2016) and form corruption networks even in the complex spaces of cancer treatment and clinical trial entry. The “unachievable” nature of the Serbian transition, as described by my informants in numerous statements like “It'll never end..”, is discursively attributed to the rise of bribery and corruption. Yet the latter are seen as necessity, as part of the modus operandi through which citizens of Serbia exercise agency in a chaotic world of postsocialist transition, replete with competing practices and ideologies of both socialism and neoliberalism. In this work, I illustrate how the simultaneous use and judgment of bribery are means through which citizens of Serbia take charge of their own lives and occupy the role of active citizens as imagined through tropes of neoliberalism.