Wikipedia as a Battleground for an Exclusive Ethnic Appropriation of Cultural Heritage: Who Does Avdo Međedović Belong to?


  • Slaviša Raković Independent Researcher



Wikipedia, online ethnography, oral heritage, Avdo Međedović


Wikipedia, consisting of articles from various areas of knowledge, drawn from natural and social sciences as well as from different domains of culture, is one of the most widely read webpages. Although it does not pretend to be a location where ‘truth’ can be found, one of the principles of Wikipedia is the verifiability of information, i.e. editors have an obligation to reference their sources. Nevertheless, many Wikipedia texts of interest to different and often conflicting cultural groups show bias towards one interpretation of ‘truth’. This is not surprising, because Wikipedia is open for anyone to create content. It is also not surprising that Wikipedia has become a battleground of different narratives, given that it is one of the most popular pages on the Internet. Wikipedia texts in different languages ​​on issues of the ethnic ‘ownership’ of certain segments of cultural heritage in the Balkans are interesting illustrations of this kind of struggle over dominant narratives. As a specific example in this text, I use Wikipedia resonances of the findings of Milman Parry, the Harvard classicist, from his journey to Yugoslavia in the 1930s. Parry, with the help of his student Albert Lord and local fixer Nikola Vujnović, interviewed many guslars from Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, and recorded and wrote down their songs. Academic interpretations of the findings had a significant echo, both within academia and the wider public sphere, even back then, and it continues to this day. One of the ‘consequences’ of this echo nowadays concerns the exclusive ethnic-cultural appropriation of the guslars in the context of ethnic and geopolitical tensions in the Balkans. The availability of Parry and Lord’s recorded material and transcripts on the Internet in the last couple of decades has contributed to the popularisation among a wider audience of the topic of the ethnic origin of the guslars the two academics spoke with. These tensions surrounding the issue of origin of certain guslars within academic and popular discourse have also penetrated Wikipedia. In this paper it is claimed that Wikipedia biographies of the most famous of Parry and Lord’s guslar interlocutors reflect existing academic and popular discourses regarding the process of establishing the ethnic Self while distancing oneself from ‘Others’. Specifically, an insight into the multilingual Wikipedia biography entries of Avdo Međedović, dubbed the Homer of the Balkans, shows how different communities of memory, through ethno-politically motivated citation strategies on Wikipedia, directly or indirectly deny one another cultural authenticity.


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How to Cite

Raković, Slaviša. 2023. “Wikipedia As a Battleground for an Exclusive Ethnic Appropriation of Cultural Heritage: Who Does Avdo Međedović Belong To?”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 18 (2):515–538.