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Zones of violence: Serb women inside the siege of Sarajevo

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation explores a silenced history of violence that took place inside the 1992 to 1995 siege of Sarajevo, when the city was held under attack by Bosnian Serb forces (the Army of Republika Srpska, or VRS, Vojska Republike Srpske). Inside the siege, Serbs came to be associated with the ethnic aggressor, and faced violent retribution. I conceptualize the retributive violence inside the siege as an internal “zone of violence” that was made possible by the much larger external zone of VRS aggression. Today, the siege’s internal zone of violence remains a well-kept public secret, too contentious to commemorate. This research is based on one year of fieldwork in Sarajevo and over 60 interviews with 23 Bosnian Serb women who lived through the siege. It is divided into two parts. Part one offers an oral history of the siege’s internal zone of violence from the perspective of Bosnian Serb women. I describe their social decline from “neighbours” to “aggressors” inside the siege, a moral shift that made retributive violence thinkable, and permissible. Part two offers an ethnographic account of the afterlife of this silenced history of violence, as Bosnian Serb women navigate a fraught post-war ethno-moral landscape. This research makes two interventions. First, it unsettles the victim-perpetrator dichotomy, focusing attention onto a segment of post-war society about whom we know very little: victims on the side of the perpetrator. Second, it provides empirical data about an often overlooked dimension of war: the complicity of civilian women, describing how a minority of Bosnian Serb women supported the besieging army, even as they suffered its violence. I make a case for “opening up” the victim-perpetrator dichotomy in order to recognize complex subject positions that blur the line between “pure” victims or “pure” perpetrators. Asking what is at stake for post-conflict societies when recognition is withheld from such “impure victims,” I argue for the importance of recognizing suffering on the side of the perpetrator.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Dossa, Parin
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