Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who looks back when you look at your money?

The Dayton peace accords, which created the nation-state of Bosnia, resolved the ethnic tensions between the Bosniaks/Croats and the Serbs by dividing them into two semi-autonomous states within one nation. Ironically, while the division resolved the immediate conflict, it also institutionalizes the division.

You can see this in Bosnian money. Every bill comes in two versions, a Serb version and a Croat/Bosniak version. The Serb version has Cyrillic writing above Roman letters.

The Croat/Bosniak version has the reverse.

The Serb version has an ethnic Serb hero.

The Croat/Bosniak version an ethnically Croat or Bosniak hero.

In some things here, the ethnic division matters a lot. With money, it doesn't matter at all: the bills with Croat or Bosniak faces are just as prevalent in Republika Srpska as in the Federation, and vice a versa. In fact, nobody would even know which faces they were carrying around unless they got out their wallet and checked.

The heroes pictured are all intellectuals--great writers or musicians or artists or historians. Politicians and military leaders would offend one side or another, I suppose. But I think it also says a lot about the Yugoslavian appreciation for the life of the mind that everyone finds it natural to rally around these cultural heroes. When I ask locals who is on the bills, they always know.

What great thinkers or writers or musicians or artists would we put on American money? We'd have to pick ones that everyone agreed are great and whose faces are recognizable. Who would we pick? Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Duke Ellington, Frida Kahlo? Who do you think?


Nathan said...

Bob Dylan, though maybe he is too political. Herman Melville, but nobody knows what he looks like. Maybe Tom Hanks, because he looks like a movie star.

Annette said...

Is it horrible that I don't know what Bob Dylan looks like? I thought about movie stars. Maybe they really are our shared culture heroes. But I don't know how seriously I could take a ten dollar bill with, say, Woody Allen's face on it.