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Inat—a Secret Weapon of Resilience? Serbian Mentality Part 3

by Laura on October 22nd, 2012

Asking around about inat, I’ve received interesting some feedback. … Let sleeping dogs lie, just write more cute anxious-mommy stories.

It all started when I wondered about the 1999 Nato bombing. The thing I wanted to know was, with bombs falling on your city: Why not just get the heck out?

Me: I know there are exceptions to all stereotypes …

Fellow mommy friend: Of course, they never hold true for everyone.

Me: But what about inat?

Friend: Ha! That one is completely true. Inat means spite, but not exactly. Not in the sense of retribution. Inat is something like, “You gave me sanctions, and I survived. Now you want to bomb me? I’m not going anywhere. Bring. It. On.” That’s why all of us were walking around Belgrade wearing t-shirts with a target on them.

Not an actual 1999 t-shirt, but (I hope) a decent approximation …

The Anxious Mommy Perspective on National Emergencies

Here’s the thing, after 9/11, many Americans came up with emergency contingency plans. (Serbs—feel free to throw salt over your shoulder or to spit on the ground … )

No joke, I know exactly what I’m going to do if some shit hits the fan here. Who I’ll call, what I’ll bring if I have 10 minutes to pack the family in the car and leave. Not to be macabre, but even before Libya, my plan did not involve knocking on the heavily fortified doors of a likely targeted American Embassy.

I know, I know, there are a lot of reasons people didn’t leave Serbia. Some had no place to go, let alone the money to go there. The bombing didn’t just occur at night, and only on military installations. The entire country was targeted, and travelling—even across local city bridges—was as treacherous as staying in one spot.


Etymology of Inat

Originally a Turkish word that means “persistence,” inat takes on a deeper meaning in Serbian. (The Ottoman Empire ruled over the Balkans for 500+ years, hence the language influences.) From Open Democracy, Aleksandra Kovac said

The meaning of the Serbian word inat in a bilingual dictionary like Morton Benson’s is often defined in terms of malice, spite, or grudge. None of these is a direct equivalent and each contains only a partial component of the emotional complexities the word suggests to the Serbian ear.

A closer correspondence for inat would be, in the words of Dragan Milovic [London's Institute of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies.] … “an attitude of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation—sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.” (2004)


A closely held secret

Back in April 1999, the BBC called Inat: “Serbia’s Secret Weapon.”

Nato’s bombing of Serbia is bringing inat even closer to the surface of its people’s raison d’etre.

They get up, go to work, and carry on with life as normally as possible, not through any notion of presenting a stiff upper lip—but because Nato doesn’t want them to.

Inat is doing something on purpose, even though it’s forbidden, perhaps because it’s forbidden.


No one ever mentioned inat to me 

Over the last ten years, I’ve had many dear friends and wonderful colleagues who are from ex-Yugoslavia, living in the US and Europe. People who’d lived in places that are now called Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Serbia. I’ve met Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and agnostics. Even atheists (I know, scandal!). All sorts of mixes, too.

The point is, I know a lot of people from the Balkans, but no one mentioned inat.

Talking about politics and even something that might be construed as a cultural identity (and therefore dangerously “nationalistic”) is still a complex, emotional subject. Truly, depending upon whom I ask, inat is either seen as a nasty, negative quality, or one of survival and resilience.

Nevertheless, I feel like I got a satisfying answer. … When Nato started bombing Serbia, why didn’t people just leave?

Because of inat.


From → Expat Mommy

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  4. Boz Zamboni permalink

    Hi Laura,
    As a proud native Yugoslav and equally proud adopted Australian, this word is very dear to me – and I’d say with confidence the same for the vast majority of ex-Yugo’s…

    It encapsulates dogged, unwavering rebellion/resistance/stubbornness in face of overwhelming adversity – all that with only 4 letters!

    If you Google ‘Stjepan Stevo Filipovic’, a WWII Yugoslav People’s Hero, his image at the gallows, with a noose around his neck firmly in place, will help paint a thousand more words…

  5. Yes. Such a subtle and powerful phenomenon!

    My analysis of Inat from 2008:

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  8. Mkat permalink

    I think inat is just the Serbian version of the British saying “carry on” despite what may happen ie. The battle of 1389, the Kosovo bombings, fighting our hardest against the nazi allied croats in ww2, etc. It’s the idea of staying with a plan no matter what happens…no matter the likely outcome. It is not slicing off your nose but actually bravery in its purest form. It may seem foolish to some, but inat always requires absolute 100 commitment to follow through on something no matter; if the enemy is 10 times your size. No matter if they are dropping bombs on your houses and they are a superpower. No matter the absurdity of it all, we are bravest of the bunch…the bravehearts… the Spartans…the Serbs.

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