In December , the guns fell silent on Bosnia-Herzegovina and so did much dialogue. Silence is omnipresent in this postwar society: People conceal their suffering; they remain silent about their potential responsibility and guilt and—in interethnic encounters—the violent past is often wholly screened out.
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Drawing on a literature analysis as well as own interviews and ethnographic observations conducted in Bosnia-Herzegovina since , the article focuses on the interplay between silence and the constitution of ethnic boundaries. In accordance with the literature, it argues that silencing in-group atrocities reinforces the boundaries between former enemies by strengthening ethnically biased collective memories. This conclusion assumes that silencing necessarily leads to forgetting. The following paper challenges this perception and argues that silence about war and the avoidance of conflict in interethnic communication can, in fact, also promote a further consolidation of ethnic boundaries.
When conversations about past realities only take place between like-minded people, the likely result is that their pre-existing shared perspective on this reality will become solidified. In other words, silencing war in interethnic encounters impedes any potential revision or restructuring of interethnic relations and therefore stabilises the boundaries between ethnic groups. Throughout history, individuals, regimes, and worldviews as well as historical facts have consistently been banned from the collective memory to construct or reconstruct a consistent image of the past that serves present political objectives.
During the disintegration of Yugoslavia, this perspective of reality, embodied by a shared history, was reversed. The aim shifted from the integration of all the South Slavic nations to the exclusion of everyone and everything not genuinely Croatian. In both cases, damnatio memoriae —the practice of silencing certain aspects of the past—can be considered as a strategy for solving a societal integration problem: the integration of former enemies in Yugoslavia and the integration of all Croatians under the common umbrella of Croatian Nationalism during and in the aftermath of the Yugoslavian breakup.
For various reasons in Bosnia-Herzegovina hereafter BiH , the situation developed differently. Structurally considered, major agents of socialisation are ethnically organised.
Rather, there are various—not only different— but also competing collective memor ies. The past as well as the present are still contested. Although, at first glance, it seems as if the memory of war and its consequences is banned. Within a broader empirical research project about the transformation of identity-related interpretation patterns in postwar BiH conducted by the author of this paper between and , it became increasingly apparent that in this context, characterised by ethnically divided and competitive reality perspectives, the more or less conscious silencing of certain facets of the past seems to be ubiquitous.
However, hitherto the phenomenon of silence in postwar BiH has not been systematically examined. The following article focuses on the analysis of the social impact of silence after the experience of war and seeks to illuminate the interrelation of silence, collective memories, and ethnic boundaries. With this focus, one important manifestation of postwar silence is excluded from further consideration: the silence after personal suffering.
It is quite remarkable that in the conducted interviews, many interviewees were initially not willing to discuss their personal experiences of war. A several participants stated quite explicitly that they did not want to speak about what happened to them and that they want to forget—proof that they have in fact not forgotten! Nevertheless, all declined the offer to interrupt the interview, and during the course of the continued conversation, most opened up and introduced personal experiences, although these were often wrapped up in generalised stories.
By remaining silent about what happened, victims try to regain their dignity and overcome shame and humiliation as well as protect themselves from further attacks Guthrey : Even if people are willing to talk about their suffering, it is not always socially acceptable to do so. In particular, sexual violence is a tabooed topic, which has been noted as well over the course of my research in BiH.
It is estimated that between 20, and 60, women were raped during the Bosnian war Wood : However, there are no reliable numbers, not least because only a few women talk about the sexual violence they suffered. Male victims of sexual violence appear to be even less willing to talk about their experience.
In BiH, only in recent years has male-on-male rape been mentioned at all Williams Institute This shows that the silencing of individual experiences of violence could indeed be socially originated. However, this topic is not of primary interest for the article at hand which specifically focuses on the interrelation of silence and the boundaries between ethnic groups.
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It will be shown that in BiH, the silence within ethnic boundaries works according to the aforementioned principle of damnatio memoriae. Inconvenient facets of the past were silenced and thereby excluded from the collective narratives to construct a morally pure image of the in-group and thereby strengthen the ethnic boundaries. This result is foreseeable, as it is in accordance with empirical studies on collective memory as well as theoretical reflections on the topic see below.
When it comes to the silencing of war in interethnic encounters, the paper contradicts previous research on this phenomenon, which argues that not talking about war with members of the respective out-groups contributes to an integration of the Bosnian society Stefansson However, this conclusion presupposes that silence is inevitably followed by forgetting.
The article challenges this perception. Drawing on the empirical data conducted in BiH as well as existing theoretical reflections on the topic, it argues that silencing particular facets of the past in postwar BiH produces variable results depending on the context: In some cases, it indeed fosters forgetting; in others, however, it supports and preserves memory. The paper is divided into three further sections. Subsequently, a theoretical approach to the inter- relations between collective remembering, forgetting and silencing as well as their connections to ethnic boundaries is outlined.
Finally, the paper moves to an empirically founded reflection on the questions of how and why people in postwar BiH remain silent in intra-ethnic as well as in inter-ethnic encounters. The interviews were collected in three successive cycles with individuals from different ethnic allegiances in several regions of BiH between and The selection of interviewees was based on maximum variation sampling to ensure a broad range of perspectives.
All interviews were recorded and transcribed. The confidentiality of information supplied by the interviewees and their anonymity was respected. The interviews were largely unstructured, i. Unlike different types of content analysis, this approach does not focus on the information content of a text e. Put differently, the primary interest is not the issue of what people are talking about but rather the issue of how they talk about specific contents and in which ways they express them. Because these strategies for coping with interpretation problems are usually deployed unconsciously, they cannot be ascertained simply through direct questions.
Thus, objective hermeneutics is the proper tool for dealing with the special problems presented by researching silence.
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This poses the question: How can something be analysed that usually remains unsaid? One possible way to do so is to focus on breaches of silence, i. An objective hermeneutical sequence analysis offers the best means for identifying these breaches of silences. This article presents the results of the analysis of these sequences together with only selected examples from the interview material—to render the entire analysis process would go beyond the constraints of the article.
The hermeneutical analysis is complemented by ethnographic observations of interethnic encounters conducted by the author during field research between and and compared with the results of other, both qualitative and quantitative, research. Simultaneously, collective memories are constituted by these groups: they define what should be remembered and what should be silenced and forgotten. Hence, the relation between collective memories and symbolic or social boundaries 2 are reciprocally constitutive Giesen In doing so, collective memory must be understood—as memory research shows—as an interplay between individual and group.
Furthermore, there is also an interrelation between the past and the present. The present is shaped by the past, while the past is shaped by the present Schudson They satisfy present needs and accommodate the demands of a social constellation by sorting out relevant or useful from irrelevant or useless information. For this purpose, mnemonic communities must not only remember, but also forget.
Hence, canonisation does not only mean that the same things are remembered, but also that the same things are forgotten. Against this backdrop, silence seems to be as necessary a condition for forgetting as talking is for remembering. While acknowledging that silence is often coupled with forgetting and talk with memory, we wish to expand on the ways in which silence can also be used to facilitate recollection, while talk can be used to enhance amnesia.
In other words, we suggest that silence be understood as a complex and rich social space that can operate as a vehicle of either memory or of forgetting and thus can be used by various groups for different ends. Vinitzky-Seroussi and Teeger : Zerubavel : With time, their hold over the parties begins to loosen, a new generation comes to power, and though silence is still ordained at the national level as wise and necessary, people start talking, looking, digging, writing and inevitably accusing. Winter : 5. Restrictions on communication according to Hahn These types of communication restrictions were all relevant for the analysis of the interview transcripts and the observation protocols, because the analysis required considering if the observed silence is just a preliminary concealment e.
However, the following outline will not elaborate all the identified types of silence. Instead, it will focus on those types which are immediately connected to the un- making of ethnic boundaries.
Regarding the material dimension, it will concentrate on the identification of tabooed topics and tabooed issues; regarding the social dimension, it will particularly focus on the tactful silence and the silence, respectively, which is arguably often mistakenly considered as tactful. Simmel : 4f.
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According to Goffman, being tactful means to act in a way that enables others to save face. Hahn emphasises that the peculiar thing about tact-related bans on talking is the fact that there are no specific contents, topics, or forms of expressions as such that are forbidden, but rather that the social characteristics of everyone present in a situation determines what is permitted and what is prohibited Hahn : In other words, content is not primarily what counts, but context.
However, what Hahn describes here does not only apply to tactful silence. The social context is in general of the utmost significance when it comes to silence. As the following presentation of the empirical analysis shows, silence within ethnic boundaries and silence across ethnic boundaries, i. It was … that is in, in … by the manifest … by the manifestation of the Ustasha propaganda by us Croats, that is, that we were second-class citizens in that Yugoslavia.
Interview 1. It was just the Serb revenge. Interview 2. Repeated frequently enough, these scripts become formulaic or iconic, which is to say, they tell truths rather than the truth.
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For the Croatian case, this omission reveals itself most clearly with regard to the crimes of the Ustasha regime in the Second World War and with regard to Operation Oluja Operation Storm in Oluja was a military action carried out by the Croatian Armed Forces to regain control of the Croatian Krajina region around Knin that had been occupied by Serbs since Whereas the liberation of the Croatian territory itself is an integral part of the collective memory in Croatia, the war crimes committed during the operation were typically omitted. People who violate the taboo, who demand the acknowledgment of the crimes and the recognition of the victims, continue to risk being denounced as traitor, as heretic.
Whether we want to admit it or not, at least our freedom was assured back then [in former Yugoslavia].