One of the great words of our time is the Balkan/Turkish word ‘inat’. Most ‘Western’ diplomats and politicians dealing with the Balkans of course have never heard of it, even though those who know the region well regularly remind us of the force of inat Serb-style. Thus here. And here. It even makes it into a book title..
It is not an easy word to define in English. Inat has numerous elements which, depending on the circumstances, can be positive or negative – or, in some bewildering disconcerting unpredictable way, both at the same time. The core of the idea is stubborn, possibly heroic, maybe self-destructive defiance, often combined with a degree of vainglorious showmanship to make the effect all the more dramatic.
One phenomenon in British culture demonstrating a sort of inat is a crowd of noisily chanting and absurd English football hooligans overseas, who deliberately provoke the local police knowing that they will get a thrashing.
Otherwise we Brits (or at least English?) tend not to behave in an inat way, preferring instead to avoid making a difficult situation worse and/or rather coolly weighing what the best way forward might be. If someone upsets us we may seek to retaliate in some way, or we may inwardly satisfy ourselves that the person concerned is a swine who does not deserve our further attention, and loftily (or meekly) move on.
But others respond differently.
In Zagrab last week I asked my Croatian colleagues for their examples of inat. One professional woman promptly replied that her neighbour had complained to the police that her grass-cuttings had gone on his lawn. "Now from inat (od inata) to pay him back I’ll make sure that this happens even more!"
Another inat example I have been given is the poor man who can scarcely feed his family and buys a large second-hand Cadillac with his remaining money – just to show the world that he is not weighed down by his problems and can do what the heck he likes.
My presentation in Belgrade when I left post in 2003 gave my own best inat experience, involving a previous Republika Srpska leader insisting to me that the Bosnian Serb delegation would not go to the 1996 London Conference simply because the nameplates on the table would not be to their liking:
“Is it in your interests to go?”
“So are you going to go?”
“In that case your position is stupid”.
“Serbs are stupid”.
The operational point is that using a classic Carrot and Stick policy when dealing with former Yugoslavia (eg the idea that Serbs should give up Kosovo for faster European integration) implicitly assumes that those offered the choice are going to think hard and sensibly about what is in their interests.
But what if they don’t?