Book Review: Krieg im Frieden: Frauen in Bosnien-Herzegowina und ihr Umgang mit der Vergangenheit

Krieg im Frieden: Frauen in Bosnien-Herzegowina und ihr Umgang mit der Vergangenheit, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2011
Anja Sieber Egger
Reviewed by Hüseyin I. Cicek, Independent researcher at the cluster anthropology and violence University of Innsbruck

Lamentations are simply the need to constantly irritate the wound.

(Dostoevsky 48) In her recent publication, Anja Sieber Egger criticizes a common assumption in the scientific literature on (Post-)Yugoslavia and the Balkan-States, which legitimates the outbreak of the civil war and the cruelties between the Serbs, Croatians and Muslims as a natural inborn hate-syndrome. The hate syndrome has lead to violent conflicts between the three groups from generation to generation (23). However, if we take a closer look at the conflict-lines on European soil, we find that ethnical and religious proximity more often lead to violence than we might initially think. Within religions (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians), and also between religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the closeness of their heritage leads to violence. Sigmund Freud once characterized civil war as a phenomenon of “Narcissism of small Differences”; violence explodes much easier in such wars due to a lack of hierarchical and/or social differences.

In her book, Sieber Egger focuses on the city and region of Prijedor (13-41), by way of 32 women from the region who faced different kinds of violence caused by the Yugoslavian civil war. Why Prijedor? The region and the city was occupied by the Serbian Army very soon after the breakout of the civil war in 1992. Besides this, concentration camps were constructed in the area by the Serbs. This means that all ethnical groups, except from the Serbs, were systematically subjected to violence. With different theories and methods, the author is trying to find out (see below), how the women of Prijedor deal with their violent past and how these experiences affect the reconciliation process between the Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croatians and the Muslim Bosnians in the present (62). Sieber Egger’s selection of the women follows a specific logic: Some of the women were forced to leave their homes; others left ‘by choice’, which means that they escaped the violence, and those who stayed in the city during the civil war. With such a distinction, Sieber Egger focuses on a group of women, who are additionally divided into three subgroups, to draw a comparison between different war experiences and war migrations. She also divides the women into categories: High or low grade of education, married or widowed, religion, age and urban and rural regions.

In part one, which is subdivided into two chapters, Sieber Egger introduces her theoretical and methodological frame. She works with three different approaches to explain how the civil war affects the reconciliation process. With the socialanthropological network-analysis (41-44), she seeks to unveil the social background of the women and how their different relationships are affecting the present challenges.

With the social-anthropological network-analysis, Sieber Egger attempts to collect empirical data that should allow us to understand the behaviors of the women as well as to recognize the interplay between individual action and societal structures. Additionally she refers to Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (44): Humans are embedded in social structures, and these have an impact on the actions of every individual. But with their actions, individuals are influencing the social structures, which means that the reproduction of individual actions and social structures are based on interdependency and these actions have an impact on individuals and on their networks as well as on their role inside their social environment. Her third approach is the ‘biographical-narrative interview’. Through the interview, the author aims to allow the reader a glance into the lives of the women before, during and after the war.

Part two of the book is subdivided into six chapters where Sieber Egger presents her empirical data. The women of different ethnical genesis and religious confessions as well as their stories are the focus in this part. The last part of the book, with its four subchapters, is dedicated to an interplay between empirical data and analytical frame work. Sieber Egger unveils the multiple conflict structures very clearly. Not only has the war in the 1990´s made the reconciliation process difficult, but also the influence of historical self-victimization of the three groups. It is true that all groups of the Yugoslavian civil war are victims and perpetrators at the same time. But it is also true, as Sieber Egger mentions, that the role of the women in the contemporary process is very ambivalent (357-399). During the socialistic era of Tito, women were considered as mediators between the different ethnical groups. These pictures dominate the time of post-civil war. However, Sieber Egger shows very impressively how the societies in the post-Yugoslavian territories are captured in an environment of suspicion and fear (383- 399). Additionally, the different ethnical groups are exaggerating their victimhood to a level which makes it very hard to work on the reconciliation process. Women who are trying to break out face resistance within and outside their group. Every behavior that is not tolerated in the group of the women they belong to, can lead to her exclusion, which is the case for Ljiljana Živkovic (261-291).

Sieber Egger’s book is very well written and points out clearly the conflict structures of the Bosnian society. One of its main contributions is to show how easily violence and war can destroy relations that have lasted for generations within a very short time, and how hard it is to find a way of reconciliation which makes it possible to forgive, accept each others losses and find a way back to deal with the present in a respectful and honest way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *