Friday, February 09, 2007

Double-sided "inat"

After reading a passionately written and touching post by fellow blogger blackbird, titled Inat and a Turbulent Life, I started typing a comment in response to her post on her blog.
As some of you know –or have noticed- concision is not my forte. Realizing that my comment was soon to be as long as her post –inat is truly an inspiring subject- I decided to post my “comment on inat" here, on my own blog, and I hope blackbird won’t mind.

For those of you who are wondering what in the world inat is:
  • Pronounced “eenat” it is a word used frequently in Serbian.
  • My 1959 crumbling dictionary, inherited from my parents (“Stozer Srpskohrvatsko-Engleski Recnik”) defines inat as "spite", and an action “iz inata” as doing something “out of spite”.
  • I'd say, inat is often used as the equivalent of “grudge” or "stubborn defiance" that will urge you to do something (or not) for reasons that in most cases will baffle the minds of those not accustomed to Serbian logic. It is a kind of defiant spirit, an "esprit de contradiction" with a touch of "mauvaise foi”.
  • I believe, inat to be something perhaps not exclusively, but most definitely specifically and typically Serbian.
  • In the words of Dragan Milovic (of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London): “an attitude of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation - sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.”
  • My father, mother, sister, friends, ex-boyfriends, former colleagues and my dear husband will no doubt agree, I possess my own healthy dose of it....and it has not always served me well.
  • More on Inat found on blackbird's blog and these links at the bottom of her post: "Inat: Serbia's secret Weapon" and here

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning, that in the Serbian mentality or culture as it where, inat is far from the negative, bloody-minded trait "spite" or "stubbornness" are in most other cultures. While sometimes formally frowned upon, inat can tacitly be "felt" to be a quality, the cherished trait of "sticking to one's guns" and more often akin to integrity and defiant determination than to narrow-minded stubbornness. And perhaps it is the verb "to feel" that is key here; for this has nothing to do with logic or pragmatism, indeed it is this emotional quality that perhaps makes inat endearing, if at times infuriating.

Now that I've hopefully managed to clarify the obscure meaning of inat, here's what I wanted to say about it.

Although I was not there, I'm the first to take my hat off to the inat, humor and sheer spirit displayed by Serbs in Belgrade during the bombings of '99; the postcards depicting fiery & smoke filled skies defiantly stating "Belgrade by night" or the "target" symbols sprayed on civilians' coats and bags. Inat, is certainly a force to be reckoned with and can entail immensely positive and admirable actions. It has often also made me laugh, because it is such a lofty, crazy aspect of the Serbian character.

However, in my humble opinion, besides being totally childish -if endearing- and lacking in mature judgment, inat is far from being the "well-wishing-friend" Serbs think it is.

When inat (as in Dragan Milovic’s perfect definition “doing things because someone has told you you can’t, not necessarily because you actually want to”) becomes a guiding principle, it can ultimately lead you to perpetually live your life against someone else's doings, actions, positions, thoughts.

Seriously, if you are always doing in defiance and defining yourself against someone or something, then how can you as a person, group or people ever be independent -or free for that matter? How can you stand on your own two feet and follow a path that is yours and good for you?
And how vulnerable are you to manipulation because your inat makes you so predictable? (like the “Who says we cannot swim? Sink this boat!”) Your “opponents” need only to play you like a musical instrument, for you will shoot yourself in the foot “za inat”....and serve them by doing it.

Especially in emotional circumstances, inat can also lead to willful and nurtured preservation of grudges that anchor you in the past ("Da komsiji crkne krava /If only the neighbour’s cow would die”). Is it really worth your present and your future, and wasting the energy that could be devoted to making it brighter on your neighbor's stupid cow because of something that happened generations ago?

I really have a lot of affection for inat. But I truly believe, that as much as it has pulled Serbs through the toughest and potentially most humiliating moments, and spurred them on with superb dignity, humor and a kind of proud spirit, it has also been, and is to this day, their (our) Achilles heel*. Because (showing your) inat too often, becomes the objective and makes you lose sight of what really matters, what you wanted or where you were heading to begin with.

In today’s global, pragmatic, capitalistic society inat is not seen by the world as an engaging, endearing, amusing trait. Nor is it proof of integrity, strong character and determination. It is more often than not (viewed as) a stupid, proud, primitive weak spot to be manipulated and used against whoever is ready to die rather than look at the bigger picture and consider it with a little perspective.

The day perspective is valued as much as inat is in the Serbian culture -
and please don't read this as selling your soul, the end justifying the means or giving in- that day, the capacity, creativity, intelligence and will of Serbia's citizens will truly take off and realize it's true potential... for -"za inat?"- it will have left the past behind.

...or perhaps it is just a question of putting the notorious "inat" to good use?

*Interestingly one's Achilles heel is often one's strongest quality, hence the glass is half full (the BBC reference to Inat: Serbia's secret weapon) or half empty...


Blackbird said...

Everything you say is true, Sandra, and thanks for elaborating on and broadening the subject of "inat." A wider discussion can only be a good thing.

The irony is that even though inat may not be regarded by other nationalities as a sympathique trait, it is precisely their inat that makes most Serbs not care about that! Yes, it DID pull Serbs through so much adversity and naturally those that survived because of inat have that in their natures, the natures they passed down to future generations. So no wonder it's still a prevalent characteristic among Serbs.

I would just add that even though it sometimes works against Serbs, as when other powers would prefer to see Serbs grovel rather than show their inat, there is more nurishment in dignity than bread. The exceptions to that thought are when small children are affected, etc., and when inat perhaps needs to be temporarily put aside.

On the whole, I regard inat as a feeling of defiance against injustice, as opposed to compliance for the sake of expediency that we so often see now in the Serbian government, the call for compliance that has lately been shoved down Serbians' throats by both their government and the Western powers that have their boots on that government. Therefore, I like possessing inat myself and will be glad if I've passed it on to my own children.

Those who understand inat could discuss it endlessly it seems!

angel said...

Thinking of Kosovo perhaps? Inat is certainly playing a role in terms of not letting that one go - when it's obviously long lost and you keep hanging on... I think that should easily qualify. Talk about stubborness to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself...

Blackbird said...

How the hell is opposing a land grab not in one's own interests?! Are you mad!

This land grab has been going on for many decades, marked by many years of oppression against the Serbs in Kosovo by the Albanians that overpopulated it by a deliberate policy to take over, and it is only the corruption of late western governments that has played into the hands of the thieves that would take what has never been theirs and in the process allow them to destroy everything meaningful to the Serbian people on that land. And the general public that doesn't have the brains to find anything out but regurgitates the propaganda of those corrupt governments that are pulling the strings.

I suppose you would be just fine with the U.S. giving up California without a fight. I'd like to see that one! If any part of the world has a case, which Kosovo doesn't, for being given up to another people, it's California to be given up to the Mexicans that will soon overrun it, or at least the southern half of California -- after all California was taken from Mexico. However, the Mexicans have not yet shown the kind of vicious nature that the Albanians have shown to Serbs.

The Serbs have been too tolerant for their own good all through history. That's another version of inat -- believing that the truth will out, even though you might suffer until it does and then you are pushed to the point of having to push back, because it never does , because there are people who don't care about the truth - they just want what they want, like the criminals they are. Serbian tolerance is evident to anyone with the ability to see or read -- the only multicultural part of the former Yugoslavia is Serbia -- with 30+ different nationalities living in peace, including Albanians, Croats, Bosnians, Gypsies, etc., etc., etc...

"If Kosovo is not ours, why are they asking us to give it up? If it is theirs, why are they taking it by force? And if they can take it by force, why they are so circumspect about it?" Serbian Poet, 2005.


J. said...

Huh! We lived down the street from the tourist-y Sarajevan/Bosnian restaurant, Inat Kuca, and I can't even tell you how facinated we expats were with this word. Thanks for the ever-not-so-concise response!

nuh ibn zbigniew gondek said...

As salaam alaikum.

I am a Canadian Muslim writer -- I just happened to surf onto your site today.

Come by my blog insha'Allah if you have an interest in poetry, reflections, fiction etc...

Ma'as salaama,

nuh ibn

Dejan said...

I think your comments are comprehensive and overall very accurate...I also really liked reading "blackbirds" comments as well...Thank you very much for posting...

I think I myself came to a significant realization of inat during the bombing/aggression/etc. against Serbia...I am born and bred American (but otherwise a 100% Serbian ;) but during the bombing when there were people on a bridge or encircling a factory and protecting it I was one with them and at that time truly understood what INAT is all about...A minuscule country such as our own resisted (and some would say very successfully based on observations after the fact) the amassed force of the most powerful country(ies) in the world...that is INAT...As someone who is very conscious of social justice/injustice inat has been my reservoir of resistance, my unbreakable and invincible reserve against the seeming insurmountability of such apparently intractable problems of war, "globalization"/neoliberalism/TINA, etc., etc. It has become something I think of daily and apply to even the most routine things...Now sure I have to agree sometime I will admit inat can be petty as when I am told to do something (which I was already doing or about to do) but which after being told/commanded/etc. will not simply uz inat ;)...I conclude however that inat to me is being Serbian and to be Serbian is inat...

To everyone else who may be scratching their heads in puzzlement and incomprehension right now I will say, paraphrasing somewhat awkwardly, "Its a Serbian thang, you wouldn't understand" ;)...