Commentaries on BOSNIA REMADE Published

Reading Gerard Toal and Carl T. Dahlman’s Bosnia Remade: Ethnic cleansing and its reversal. Oxford (2011), ISBN: 9780199730360

Alexander B. Murphy a,*, Alex Jeffrey b, Andrew Gilbert c, Adam Moore d, Gerard Toal e, Carl T. Dahlman f

a Department of Geography, University of Oregon, 173 Condon Hall, Eugene, OR 97403-1251, USA

b Department of Geography, The University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EN, UK

c Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Chester New Hall Rm. 524, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8S4L8, Canada

d Department of Geography, University of California at Los Angeles, 1255 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1524, USA

e School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, National Capital Region, VA 22314-2932, USA

f Department of Geography, Miami University, 233B Shideler Hall, Oxford, OH 45056-1846, USA

Published in Political Geography 36 (2013) 12–20.

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The Birth of a Nation: Radovan Karadžić and the Ethnopoliticization of Bosnia in 1990

Critical Geopolitics

Stjepan_Kljuić,_Radovan_Karadžić,_and_Alija_Izetbegović_in_Sarajevo_1992By the time he strode to the podium in Skenderija Hall, Sarajevo, on 12 July 1990 to speak, the journey of Dr Radovan Karadžić from obscure psychiatrist to politician, wartime leader, and later accused war criminal had begun. Karadžić had been working for months behind the scenes with likeminded Serb nationalists in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia to create a new political party, a party explicitly for people of Serb nationality in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In neighboring Croatia the Serbian Democratic Party (Српска демократска Странка / Srpska Demokratska Stranka, СДС or SDS) his friend, and fellow psychiatrist, Jovan Rašković, helped found on February 17, 1990, was a model. Two different inaugural boards worked to found a similar party in BiH, and many prominent Serb Sarajeveans were approached to lead the party. All turned it down, and Karadžić, with Rašković’s blessing and public endorsement before his speech, had become leader almost by default. Also endorsing the party that day in Skenderija…

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A modification in light of the Mart Bax fraud saga

Scholars of the Bosnian war will be familiar with the writings of the Dutch anthropologist Mart Bax. A series of publication of his on the Marian pilgrimage site Medjugorje are cited in Bosnia Remade. I found the essay in Halpern and Kideckel (eds) Neighbors at War and his 2000 “Warlords, Priests and Ethnic Cleansing: A Case-Study from Rural Bosnia-Herzegovina” published in Ethnic and Racial Studies essay compelling. On page 13, we cited both these publication and wrote: “Some violence, as Mart Bax demonstrated in western Herzegovina, was between extended family groups of the same ethnicity and motivated by long-held grudges.”

In light of the scientific finding that his work involved considerable fabrication, this sentence can no longer be considered valid.

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Book Award

Bosnia Remade was the recipient of the Association of Borderland Studies Past Presidents’ Silver Book Award for 2013.

For more on the Association of Borderland Studies see:

We would like to thanks the Association, and 2013 Award Committee Members, chaired by Dr Joseph Nevins, for this honor.

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New Book by Alex Jeffrey

IMG_0770Alex Jeffrey is a lecturer in Geography at Cambridge University in the (maybe not so) United Kingdom. He is the author of a theoretically innovative new book called The Improvised State: Sovereignty, Performance and Agency in Dayton Bosnia published by Wiley (pictured herein with the cover). He has also written a series of important articles on the ICTY and transitional justice mechanisms in Bosnia. I was among a panel of five discussants who engaged the book at the recent Association of American Geographers meeting in Los Angeles. The session was an interesting experience with one discussant remarking that it seemed we weren’t engaging the same book (which was really more a reflection of the different backgrounds of the commentators). My comments and those of the other discussants are likely to appear in a Political Geography book forum in the next year. Congratulations Alex on the book.

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Transcript of Tanya Domi’s Comments


Thank you- thank you very much Gordon.  And now we hear from Tanya Domi who is an adjunct professor at Columbia but who was also deeply involved as a domestic actor we’ve heard in Bosnia in the late 1990’s with the OSCE there, worked on human rights matters for the press office and as a result somebody who is very close to observing many of the- of the international engagement that we can read about in the book and I am glad to have her join us and sort of give a first-hand perspective to the book.


Sure, thank you so much.  I want to echo my colleagues in their congratulations to Gerard and Carl Dahlman.  I think it’s a very impressive piece of work, having been on the ground through much of what you write about, at least through 2000 and later, I went back many times and continued- I just was there in February.  I have to say that you have created “one-stop shop”, so to speak, because we’re talking about millions of documents, we’re talking about intermediary reports that- they would just go by me.  You know, I have to talk about this today, and then next week it will be another area- and what you’ve done is masterful in collecting that information in an analytical critique as well as the generation of not just the maps, the population of the maps which became a dreaded document in my life, as I worked in Bosnia.  But the fact that you’ve populated so much data and your discussion about political geography- the effects, the outcome from the ethnic cleansing from the war and then the output from the international community.  And let’s put it right on the table: the international community’s efforts, for better or worse, on fulfilling and Annex 7 the right of return of refugees.  Let me just say as I began to read the book a rush of memories came back to me as I lived and worked in Bosnia in 1996 to 2000. And my first personal experience with refugee return was actually in Sarajevo and I was renting, actually, a room from a Bosnian woman who lost her husband during the war- not due to the war- um, but her nephew and his wife returned to Sarajevo from Germany, where they had fled in 93’.  And it was a Sunday night and I was not expecting six refugees to show up at my landlady’s apartment and I’ll be honest I was sort of like, shocked, one, and two it’s like, oh my god, ah yeah I know there are refugees so I have to personally deal with this on a Sunday night as I get ready for work. And, um, I didn’t really speak much Bosnian at that time and so fortunately the nephew’s wife did speak- ah, both of them spoke very good English and he had been a medical student at the medical faculty and we were sitting there just having a nice conversation, they had driven there, driven back from Germany and she turned to me and said “you don’t know how lucky you are,” and I said, “ooh yes I do, I do know how lucky I am,” and then she said “you don’t know how lucky you are, you are an American,” and I said, “yes, I know how lucky I am with that passport,” and she said, “look what they did to me,” and stood up and showed me these horrible scars, showed me her stomach- she had been shot through the stomach on the streets of Sarajevo.  And I went, “Wow,” you know, I came face-to-face with it and I said “You know, I got to take a walk,” and I left the apartment and just took a walk for about thirty minutes.  And that was the beginning of my personal interaction with people who had begun to return.  And, over the course of the next several years I witnessed many family reunions and I cried.  I didn’t know these people but I cried, I was so moved.  People coming back from Belgrade to reunite with their families, people coming back from Montenegro to reunite with their families.  Ah, and your comments, Andrew [Gilbert], about how there’s no discussion about the individuals, about the people themselves, about the women who survived horrible crimes, about the internally displaced, where I actually went with Ambassador Robert Barry who followed Ambassador Robert Frowick, you know, in a train that had been just stopped on the tracks, it was a refugee camp where old- older Croats, very old senior citizens were living in just deplorable, deplorable conditions.  So let me just say that all of this happening- and I was really struck because I’m sitting at an international table at OHR or with the SFOR commander, etc., and no discussion, like there’s just no discussion that’s like “Let’s just do it, let’s just do it.”  And so, your chapter on building capacity is really remarkable because I think there may have been some things left out and I’m going to talk about that, but I have to say you have captured- for at least the moments I was there- you have reconstructed it brilliantly and I will give you lots of credit on that.  Um, and let me just say, I’m not going to quote anthropologists or anything like, I’m looking at this through an international public policy lens because I think it is a great contribution.  Ah, your narrative, your story, and your documentation of that story about what the international community attempted to do.  Ah, let me just say in addition to the extremely data rich observations about Zvornik and Doboj, I will lend another. I was working in eastern Bosnia in my first iteration, where I was initially assigned, I was actually in Sokolac in eastern Bosnia, and Zvornik was part of my area of operation and I can tell you that the efforts to return clearly did not really begin in earnest until 1997 but you, your mentioning in your reporting that in essence the 96’ elections did in fact solidify ethnic cleansing is no question, absolutely true.  It was a marred election, the P2 form brings back horrible memories for me, I will say to you that that became a cornerstone of US foreign policy I think it’s regrettable, when I hear this discourse now about Libya I am very concerned about that, that we’ve gotta go to elections, we’ve gotta go to elections, that vetting all these people should have been part of a process but didn’t happen until much later.  But the election process, I will say that the drafting of the election law, was continually confronted with how do we get around, how can we reverse ethnic cleansing through the election law. And that was a huge discourse internally at the OSCE because we were charged with the elections, and I think that the attempts made were to be commended but I don’t think that they actually worked.  Although I was in Srebrenica when we went back to support the minority government and they elected the Bosniak government, I was there, I went to Drvar when in fact there were riots in the municipal building of Drvar, I recall going there with General Clark and his colleagues, my boss Bob Frowick- I mean, Bob Barry,- General Shinseki and the election effort was really very much focused on how can we get around it, how can we help return proportional representation.  So, just for your information that was a significant lift, and I don’t think it achieved what it aimed to do.  And I would also agree with Andrew in that um, that your introduction about the whole issue of poverty reduction I think that one of the things that I came away with having not only worked in Bosnia but in so many transitional democracies that you cannot eat democracy, and the war has left terrible consequences for many women being singular heads of households, many older people, many of them older women, who are living in dire poverty.  And the internally displaced I don’t think are going to return because of the lack of economic opportunities, I mean it’s just not there.  And I think this is the Achilles heel and potential undoing of the entire Balkan region. I was just in a remarkable book talk this morning on Serbia’s 20-year economic history and it even lags behind Bosnia in terms of attracting FDI, its exports still are meager, I think that is, I truly believe that if you are hungry, if you have no hope or possibility, I believe that really undermines the return effort and I just don’t see people returning as a consequence.  So I think that your introduction to that is to be commended and perhaps explored later. I will also say that one of the big fears at the table was oh, they’re going to return, Oh my god, what are we going to do?  You know, and one of the big fears always was about the Srebrenican widows. Oh my god they want to go back, they’re going to go back we’ve got to protect them.  So, I think that some of those things, simple lives, the concerns and the worries of the international community, and I think a lot of it was very short term, not necessarily strategic, but for anybody working in the Balkan region for anybody whose looking at the right of return, I’m sure this is something Israel worries about and pushes back on forever and a day, your work is to be commended and sought out by all and I certainly recommend it.  I’m not going to get into a deconstruction about the history and about identities which Gordon clearly has articulated from his personal standpoint, but I will say there was a big lift, it is a commendable lift by the international community, millions of dollars spend and yet I would agree that I don’t think the outcome is good.

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Transcript of Gordon Bardos’s Comments

Great, thanks a lot, Andrew.  Well, next is Gordon Bardos who I think, hopefully you should all know, ah, and who is, ah, an astute observer of everything Balkan and of course when I asked him to join the panel he had already ah, not quite read the book but had the book already, ready to read and so there is nothing which escapes his attention in terms of following matters and he, of course, is someone has not just scholarly interest but also spent time at a crucial moment in Bosnia at that juncture so I’m looking forward to your comments, Gordon.


Thank you, thank you Florian, thank you Gerard, for asking me to do this.  Um, I want to apologize at the outset because this is the end of a very, very long week so my mind is kind of all over the place.  I had to put something in writing because otherwise I would be going off on all kinds of tangents to I’ll be a little bit more formal in saying what I have to say than I probably should be.  But I guess I really want to congratulate Gerard and his coauthor. This is a very impressive piece of work.  Um, I personally haven’t studied the returns process in BiH adequately enough, so I’m not going to criticize them on those efforts.  But I do want to applaud them for focusing on what’s probably the most noble thing that the international community can do in the region which is asserting the right of people to go back to their homes.  Um, there’s clearly still a lot to be done in this regard and the authors deserve our thanks for emphasizing the continued importance of this.  Now, I want to… so much for the praise (laughter).

Yeah, it’s not fun if we agree on everything… it’s something that I know that Gerard and his coauthor and I have a deep ontological disagreement.  Um, the authors have a largely constructivist view of identities.  Um, and my sense in reading the book is that their completely legitimate disdain for nationalism and nationalist projects leads them to underestimate the importance and the strength of ethnic identities and loyalties.  Thus, the authors at the outset reject the view that ethnic identity was the primordial axis of life in Yugoslavia.  While using the word “primordial” is perhaps too strong, I would argue that it is not off the mark to say that it was the “primary” access to life in Yugoslavia, in the region before Yugoslavia was created and in the era of post-Yugoslavia era as well.  In fact, a very strong case can be made that ethnicity predicts two-thirds to ninety percent of the time, and if I had those odds in Las Vegas I would be a very wealthy man.  Two-thirds to ninety percent of the time what someone’s political and historical views are, who they’re going to vote for, whom they’re going to marry, where they are likely to move, which soccer team they’re going to root for, and where they’re going to be buried.

And moreover, this is not something that only began in the 1980’s or 1990’s.  Less than ten years after World War II, Dennison Rusinow noted that the problems of ethnicity and nationalism in Tito’s Yugoslavia have become so serious that, and I quote: “The tendency to subsume all other questions and conflicts to the national one, and to interpret and simplify every issue in national terms, was again becoming nearly universal” (The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974, p. 273). Decades before Rusinow, another one of the great scholars of the region, R.W.C. Watson, would in his turn bemoan the fact that when writing a history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, “the vital question of nationality met me at every turn.” As a side note, I suggest here- that the sort of, underestimation of the importance of ethnicity is why, I mean we can talk about this because it’s really actual… given what’s happening now, ah, I would say that the authors mistakenly view the SDP as, and I quote, “a genuine alternative to nationalist dominance,” and I think that’s, that’s a misrepresentation of what the party really is. But, we can talk about this more during the discussion.  Now, I also found the discussion of Bosnia as a distinctive geopolitical space to be somewhat weak and contradictory. While the authors correctly state that territorializations of Serbia should be understood as, quote, “historically shifting and geographically contingent,” they then seem to adopt the- ah- and please correct me if I’m misreading it, they then seem to adopt the opposite view with respect to Bosnia, implying centuries-old and almost organic unity. In fact, ah, BIH’s borders have been just as historically shifting and geographically contingent as those of any other states in the region, at times expanding to include parts of Serbia and Sanjak, and at other times becoming smaller as Montenegro and Croatia or Serbia incorporated parts of it.  Moreover, the view that the authors claim- that Yugoslavia was collectively- was a collectivity of separate entities, and that it’s incorrect to compare Yugoslavia and Bosnia. Now, that is true that Yugoslavia was a collective of separate entities, but I would argue that you can make the exact same argument about Bosnia.  Um, eastern Herzegovina has much more in common culturally and spiritually with Montenegro than it does with central Bosnia. Western Herzegovina and the Posavina have much more in common with Dalmatia or the Pannonian Plains respectively than they do with Sarajevo.  And the traditional economic areas of the areas around Banja Luka has traditionally been more towards Zagrab than it has been towards- towards ah, Sarajevo.  Um, the authors ah, they actually to some extent admit this as well when they claim that the Serbs from the krajina have a separate identity from those in Herzegovina, which kind of shows that, you know, to me the argument that it’s a really kind of distinct geographical space really doesn’t kind of, hold very strongly.  Another problem with this line of reasoning is that I think there is simply not a critical mass of people in Bosnia who see it that way.  In fact, many people in BiH imagine themselves to be in another place or associated with some other peoples.  Whether we look at the frequent sentiment expressed by the current president of the RS, when he says that Serbia, he considers Serbia to be his homeland, so the statement by one of ??? main ideologist, and I quote, “Spiritually and emotionally, I feel closer to a Muslim in the Philippines than I do to a Croat or a Serb in Sarajevo.” So for these reasons I think that the book, to some extent, overdoes the argument about Bosnia being any more of a distinctive geopolitical unit than any of the other states in the region.  Um.  Another problem that I had was that I think that the timeline in describing the polarization of Bosnian politics was problematic.  I think it would be pretty easy to go much further than the 1980’s or the 1990’s.  Let me take just one example of how, I mean this has always been out there: the history of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Dialectical Journal. I’m sure everybody spent a lot of time reading that.  Um, it was founded in 1975, the majority of the studies published between 1975 and 1986 were not about dialects common to all the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina, they were about Muslim dialects (quote), and Croat dialects, and Serb dialects. Stories like this are repeated about every aspect of the Bosnian experience, especially in the anthropological studies of Bosnia where as Toni Bringa points out, Croats and Muslims did not like to go into each others’ houses because they didn’t like the smell of each others’ cooking. Or, the William Lockwood study of central Bosnia in the 1960’s, when he observed the following: “On one occasion in Gorni Vakuf, when a Muslim and a Catholic celebration fell on the same day, the town was evenly divided. The Muslim festivities were held at one end of the town, and the Croatian at the other, with youths of each group strolling the main street of town, only to the invisible boundary which separated the two halves.  Because of evidence such as this, I would- you know- I would personally say that- you know- I think the authors go too far in one direction in terms of their understanding and portrayal of Bosnia.

Now, I would say that there’s kind of four competing perspectives that are out there in terms of you know, the Bosnian experience and what Bosnia is like.  The first would be Donia and Fine’s view of the common life of Bosnia, which ah, Gerard and his co-author endorses, you guys seem to sort of fit into that one. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things a little bit too much. Um, there’s a somewhat more nuanced view provided by Xavier Bougarel, who says that the words “tolerance” and “hate”, “coexistence” and fear”, are all equally applicable to Bosnia.  Then there’s Robert Hayden’s thesis of interethnic relations in Bosnia being characterized by antagonistic tolerance. And finally, there’s the “ancient ethnic hatreds theory” that I find to be most often promoted by residents of Bosnia-Herzegovina themselves.  Um, I kind of tend to see Bosnian history at some points between what Bougarel and Hayden say it is. But let’s consider what Bosnians themselves have to say about their historical experience.  And, especially how the most important and influential Bosniak authors and public figures understand it.  Now, in contrast to this view of Bosnia as “common life” in Bosnia, and interethnic relations in Bosnia being those of tolerance, consider the following: according to one Bosniak intellectual, “All of the existing documentation reliably confirms that genocide has been committed against Bosniaks in a permanent continuity since 1683.”  Genocide in permanent continuity since 1683.  Another leading Bosniak intellectual, Mahmood Shaikh, pushes the persecution of Bosniaks even further back in history.  According to Mahmood Shaikh the persecution of the Bosnian Aryans in Bosnia, the Bosnian Christians, and ultimately the Bosnian Muslims, and all the Muslims of southeastern Europe, in fact, extends back at least to the twelfth century.  Bosnia, according to Mahmood Shaikh, is the victim of a centuries old tragedy and the victim of Satanic forces, and claims that the Bosniak national community which lives in Bosnia today represents the historically continuous remainder of a community always exposed to genocide and persecution.  A recent book on the Sanjak reports that the Muslim population on the territory of the former Yugoslavia has been exposed to a horrible genocide dating back three hundred years.  And, the current mufti of the Sanjak¸ Muamer ef. Zukorlić, claims that the Bosniaks of Bosnia, and the Sanjak, have been the victims of eleven genocides throughout history.  Um, now that road does not fit in with the view of a tolerant, multiethnic society. Now, just to add to this sort of, this portrayal of violence in the region, um, something I just came across which was very interesting, and it just happens to come from a book by the person sitting to my left, and I notice that just everybody take a look at the book, um, there are 132 military conflicts- 132 military conflicts- between the Ottomans and the Bosnian Muslims, on one side, and Serbs and Croats and Habsburgs on the other, before the twentieth century even began.  Um, so, again this really doesn’t sound like a very tolerant and harmonious society to me, and that’s why I think it’s problematic to put Bosnia, to portray it in the paradigm of the common life, that, that it’s sometimes depicted. And it’s too bad that Bob Donia’s not here because, because he would be able to defend some of these charges.  (Laughter)

Ok now, so much for history.  What do the authors have to say about Bosnia’s future?  Unfortunately, they’re not very optimistic.  After nationalists came to power in Bosnia in 1990, the authors claim that Bosnia’s government was dysfunctional, and they also say that the system set up under Dayton is dysfunctional.  Given the fact that Bosnians and Herzegovinians have voted strictly along strictly ethnic lines in every election held in Bosnia since 1911, this suggests that a democratic Bosnia with freely elected officials is doomed to being a dysfunctional state, especially since international interest in Bosnia has not proven sufficient to radically change the course or nature of Bosnian politics and society.  And, it’s indicative that in a very big book- 321 pages plus endnotes, appendices, and bibliography- the recommendations that the authors have for improving things in Bosnia come in one paragraph on page 319. This is not a criticism of the authors.  In fact, they are to be applauded for their realism and their intellectual honesty in recognizing that there’s relatively few things that we can to do control and manage ethnic conflicts as severe as those in Bosnia. Even as great a thinker as Ernest Gellner admitted that he could only come up with relatively banal- his words- relatively banal suggestions for what to do to ameliorate ethnic conflict. And, that seems to be the general consensus. I mean we all basically talk about the same thing: some sort of co-sociationalism, some form of federalism, power sharing- but there’s not that many really original ideas out here.  Now, I want to end on a positive note.  One of the book’s strong points is the wonderfully vivid way the authors describe particular places, a skill which is probably specific to geographers.  But, there’s one detail they miss when describing Zvornik: when one looks across the Drina river from Zvornik, one sees two mosques with minarets on the Serbian side of the river, which were there undamaged throughout the war, whereas we know what happened to virtually every mosque in Zvornik territory um, on the Bosnian side of the river.  To me, that shows the importance of order and relative peace.  Fortunately these are, I think, the two things we can provide Bosnia.  Um, while the experience of the last 15 years shows that we have neither the resources nor the intelligence to nation-build or state-build properly, we do have the ability to provide Bosnians with the security and the time to let them do these things themselves in an environment free from the threat of war and violence.  Um, I’m going to end it at that. Gerard, again, congratulations it really is a very impressive piece of work despite my… my disagreements (laughter).

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Transcript of Andrew Gilbert’s Comments

Dr Andrew Gilbert is a faculty member in Anthropology at McMaster University. View his biography and publications.


Yes thank you, ah, Florian, and thank you for the invitation, and the book, you know, one of the nice things is you get these new books and then you decide to review them and I got two!


I got 23 but…(laughter in audience)…but I had to return them, unfortunately!


GilbertOh! (laughter in audience)  Um and I don’t think that I’ll probably use the full fifteen minutes because I am very much interested in seeing what Gerard has to say and what some of the other people here have to say and, um, but we’ll just mention a few things and we’ll first start off by saying that I agree with Florian that the book is an achievement.  It’s almost impossible in my mind to do justice to the story of the state building: war, its violence, and its aftermath, and the book does a remarkable job of pulling in an enormous number of strands and trends and moments and back and forth, and you can’t do justice to it all but it puts enough out there so that if you have an interest in this material as context- what came afterwards, what came before- then it gives you something that you can kind of use and it is useful in that regard, and in that sense it really is quite something, to have done that. And I should also do a little full disclosure: so I set out to do um, a study of Bosnia state-building through refugee return.  That was my doctoral dissertation project when I started out, I was in Prijedor in 2000 and 2001, two summers, and then um, there in Sanski Most for about a year and a half across 2002 and 2003.  And so, it was very interesting and rich to read the three other case studies against what I sort of knew and in the end I decided to actually talk far less about return per say than about what that process told us about international intervention kind of more broadly, and so, in a sense, I’m kind of happy that this book was there because it sort of felt like, you know, it needed to be written and I knew a lot about it but I wasn’t going to do it so it’s great that it… you know (laughter)… I do think it’s an important story so um, I have a few prepared remarks so I’ll talk about them and then pass it on to the next person and we’ll take it from there but I do want to say that it’s tempting when reading a book like this that you know a lot about, it can be tempting to make the discussion of the book as much about what is not there as what is there and I personally think that this would not make for a very interesting discussion for those who have not read the book, but I also think it’s unfair to the author.  I just, really feel, and this is just a… a principled position that you should talk about what is there and not what’s not there because then it becomes this sort of “you should have included this and not this,” and it doesn’t get us very far.  So I may touch on things that aren’t addressed in a straightforward manner but my sense is that what I want to do is relate that to what is there.  So we’re going to get to think of it as a potentially expansionist book so we can kind of think of ways in which we can think of what is in the book and use it to talk about some other things. So, not what’s not there as sort of missing element what should be but instead hear some other things that kind of connect to the book and how might the book kind of expand upon it.  Um, so that’s kind of going to be my approach.  And so, in some ways, one of the things that I know Gerard has done research on and what is not here and would be interesting to talk about in light of the book is the perspectives or the meaning of ethno-cleansing territorialization um, for the returnees themselves, which is to say, we get a lot of the reading on the meaning of this from law, from discourse, from the built environment, from the landscape, from mapmaking, but we don’t get a lot of the words of returnees and also how they may also change over time, so what it means to return, and the question of return over time, for the people themselves who are kind of implicated in it as its kind of objects are largely not there, and again, that’s a- you can’t do everything- but it is one of the things that would be interesting to hear from Gerard because I think that it is one of the things, if we want to answer the question which is posed, if you don’t know the book- the last, tenth chapter is, “was ethnic cleansing successful?” That in part we need to take the question to that level may not be something too surprising to hear from an anthropologist.  Um, Ok.  But the book sets up and provides vital context in answering the kinds of questions like that, and so I want to start out with a few arguments for the importance of the book.  And one argument for the importance of the book is the wider context of the book, and that is that this is a particularly European story of war and nation state building.  Um, that the Bosnian war and post-war peace lie in the center of global and post Cold War transformation.  So if you know anything about the region you know that NATO, OSCE, UNHCR, the EU itself were themselves remade as part of Bosnia’s remaking and I think that this is a critical context to this story.  Norms of international justice, self-determination, state sovereignty, were also significantly remade or newly institutionalized in the wake of the Bosnian war and its post-war peace and I also think that the contradictions of the EU project itself find stark expression in Bosnia.  Now why bring this up?  I think because it helps us to understand some of the stakes for the foreign actors the kind of decision making processes that went into what they did and um, but also because I think that at the center of each one of those transformations, though: NATO, OSCE, UNHCR, norms of international justice, self-determination, state sovereignty- at the center of all of this stands the problematic figure of the refugee.  And so, this is an argument for saying that this book is critically important because um, this kind of critical, this problematic figure of the refugee is as Hannah Arendt told us long ago is kind of indivisible from European state building- they go hand-in-hand- European state-building, its history um, is the history of refugees, and vice-versa.  Um, and so in some ways you could think about the war in Bosnia was in part about the attempt to create stateless peoples in their own homes.  It’s really, the state has now changed, you’ve stay in your home, and that’s really what the creation of refugees in part what about.  Um, and this persisted in the return process, as the book also points out in a really good way.  So, I think attention to refugees, their placement, their creation, their movement, their attempts to erase them as refugees, is critical because of the nature of the war and its conclusions.  Which is to say, this provides critical insight into contemporary Bosnian politics because the question of the state in Bosnia, right, its form, its legitimizing polity, its territorial expression, is still an open question.  It still is one of the dominant ways to think of politics in Bosnia- is the question of state form.  And it’s still a major- if not the major- division between the dominant political parties.  So again, and this is just an argument for the importance of the book and the story that it tells, the importance for the figure of the refugee, and for refugee return, etcetera.  Now, a few kind of, observations, that I came across or kind of had as I was reading this.  Um, and I just finished it recently so I’m still digesting it so I think this is going to be an interesting discussion because I will continue to digest it all through the discussion.  So, who are the protagonists of the story?  The protagonists are, for the most part, politicians, and/or war criminals, and/or foreign officials.  But, other people are largely left out of this, or they’re brushed in rather abstract strokes.  So, we hear about them when we hear about votes, or maybe, you know, people kind of attempting to return, but they’re not really the protagonists so much as these others are.  Um, very few other voices are here, and there’s no other limiting factor to the designs of ethno-political entrepreneurs, however you want to call them, other than foreigners.  So, in other words this really is often a story of political elites versus foreigners, so we don’t get any other sense of any other kinds of limiting factors to the exercise of power on the part of, um, of certain elite actors.  Um, those limits could come in a variety of forms but it’s not there. Now, one virtue of this is, in my sense, um, the book presents a clear view of how deeply implicated and embedded foreign institutions and agencies are to the contemporary forms and structures of Bosnian politics.  Deeply, deeply implicated and deeply embedded.  And that is kind of one of the clear lessons or images of this, that is… and of course this began at the outbreak of the war and it only deepened over time and it shows that basically foreign actors and agencies are part of the context such that even to describe them as foreign or outside is, in my opinion, a bit of a misnomer.  I really think that they are kind of constitutive of Bosnian politics in a way that the kind of epistemology of intervention which relies on images of insiders and outsiders, locals and internationals, I think doesn’t really help us to really understand.  And this book kind of collapses that or at least pushes us to push that aside.  Um, every foreign sponsored or initiated action is considered an occasion for the making of Bosnian politics, and certain people are masters of this, Dodik is certainly a master of this, using every possible occasion as a way to kind of perform his politics and make his political position kind of known and firm.  Ok, so here is a kind of, a critical observation of the book. So, and it flows from this idea about internationals and their role in the book and in the process.  Like other books and studies of post-Cold War Bosnia, the question of legitimacy of foreign actors and agents is largely elided, ah, in part in the book they play kind of a quasi-heroic position in, in that they are represented as saying that they are all that stands between ethnocratic elites or regimes and the disposition, disenfranchisement, and oppression of the population.  Um, and this is a curious lacuna in the discussion of foreign state building more generally because as, well, you know, Max Weber told us long ago, the question of legitimacy stands at the center of the exercise of state authority.  Um, so instead of questions of legitimacy we get stories of capacity building, law and rights-based social and political engineering, the manipulation of material interests, the use of force, um, but not a question of legitimacy.  And, the reason I bring it up both specifically for the book is that it could be there because in my kind of, understanding, the refugee was eventually taken to be a part of a… of… claiming a moral legitimacy to the foreign efforts to remake the Bosnian state.  That, the reason why we are here is done in the name of return to realize the rights of refugees to return but also to make good on a total moral failing by European powers during the war itself.  And so, in that sense, refugee return was also kind of a moral mission by foreign actors in the remaking of Bosnia in a variety of ways that I think could lead us to then pose the question of legitimacy, which would be interesting because again, as I say, most of the literature on foreign state building talks about the engineering side, talks about power, but it doesn’t really pose the question of legitimacy.  Like, how is it that they are, how are they taken up?  How are they seen by the population?  Are they legitimate, are they not? Did they wrestle with that idea?  Did they play into the kind of things that end up going on.  Um, ok, so I will conclude my comments there except just to say that one thing that the book does put on the table that I would love to talk about is the issue of political economy and the economy of war generally.  Um, the book does a nice job of talking about what, ah, what the authors call “accumulation by dispossession”, what is a critical war time strategy of war profiteering, and um, it’s just fascinating to me that kind of, foreign interveners touched on almost every possibly formal part of politics, from laws about election engineering, I mean every possible- property law- every possible thing that you could think of, but didn’t want to touch the issue of employment.  Um, and when I was in the field doing my research it was often said, well, that’s too complex for us to deal with.  Like, all this other stuff is somehow apparently not complex, but this was too complex for us to deal with and yet it remained one of the few things upon which every single Bosnian could agree, which was, I mean I had people tell me if everyone had a job all of this nationalist BS would have no traction at all.  And rather than taking that as a kind of, I mean, you can take that as a kind of canny critique of the way in which patronage networks are used in particular ways but it’s also, to my mind, um, total influence of, yeah the self-managing socialist ah, understanding, where national self-determination and economic self-determination were co-realized as rights rather than kind of separately.  So anyway, that’s just to say that I would love a discussion of the economy because in my sense that doesn’t really come up to much, and it’s introduced here in the book in a really interesting way.  Um, so I’ll leave my comments there so hopefully I’ve managed to make some sense and put a few things to talk about on the table to talk about and I look forward to hearing.

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The ASN 2011 panel discussion on Bosnia Remade: Florian Bieber’s Introduction

On the evening of April 16th 2011, the last day of the Association for the Study of Nationalities conference at Columbia University, Florian Bieber organized a book panel discussion of Bosnia Remade. The participants were Andrew Gilbert, Gordon Bardos, Tanyi Domi and Gerard Toal (Carl Dahlman was unable to attend for family reasons).

Through the hard work of Meaghan Foran, a transcript of the audio recording made that evening is now completed. The posts that follow are the contributions made by the individual discussants and the response and questions from the floor.

Book Panel on Gerard Toal and Carl Dahlman’s Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and Its Reversal (Oxford University Press, 2011), 16th April, 2011. Transcript from audio recording by Meaghan Foran.

Participants:  Florian Bieber, Tanya Domi, Gordon Bardos, Andrew Gilbert and Gerard Toal


BieberHey, welcome to the last panel on the last day of this year’s ASN convention so I, I ah I thank you for having the perseverance to stay for this book panel which I think promises to be- I hope- will be a very fruitful debate, um and the way we’re going to do this, we’re going to have a slightly different format than the one which is suggested but we’re going to have, I will briefly tell you what the book is about, and then we will go by the order of the program, and we will have the thoughts and then we’ll have a response and open up the floor.  Um, so we will all have, fairly, hopefully very not too long comments so that we have ample time for discussion and a debate.

So, um, this, this book uh and I’m very delighted that we’re having this panel here.  Um, Gerard Toal is here, he is the co-author of the book with Carl Dahlman who cannot be with us but we are very glad to have at least one of the two authors uh, here for today’s panel.  This book “Bosnia Remade” came out very recently so we have just managed to organize, to organize a discussion.  It’s a very ambitious work, uh, about in fact not just Bosnia being remade but also unmade in many ways.  It is a book which discusses two distinct periods in Bosnian history over the last two decades, namely the ethnic cleansing, the efforts to territorialize ethnicity during the wars and in fact also after the wars and the efforts of undoing the territorialization of ethnic belonging, in Bosnia after the war primarily by international actors.  So, in that sense this book is more than just remaking Bosnia, or I guess remade can be at sort of multiple ways, there were two efforts to remake Bosnia, one which was an ethnopolitical effort and one which was seeking to undo that.  And, the book comes from the perspective of political geography and critical geopolitics so it is in that sense also interesting because it is a disciplinary perspective which is maybe not all that well represented at the ASN always and that is a particularly welcome addition to the debate.  So it looks a lot at geography, the geography of ethnic cleansing not in a kind of given primordial or physical matter, so saying “because there is a river that means there has to be a border,” but looking at how geography is fundamentally constructed, and how it’s reconstructed multiple times over the last two decades in Bosnia. And it is in that sense it is a very data-rich book, so I think, um, no matter, and I think we’ll probably have different opinions on the interpretation of the data here in the debate, I hope, but I think what is very clear is that it offers, you know, I think it is a very you know, a reference book, for understanding the ethnic cleansing and the efforts to sort of, undo the ethnic cleansing.  I haven’t seen any doing, any material which so comprehensively looks at what happened in Bosnia from the demographic perspective, but a critical, you know, not taking numbers for granted but also challenging them and also challenging questions of maps, so you know, I think all of us who have worked in Bosnia are always struck by the fact that, you know, Muslims are green, Serbs are blue, and Croats are red, and there’s nothing you can do about that and this book presents the data but also at the same time challenges some of the assumptions behind the way in which data is presented and discussed.  So, in that sense it is a book about Bosnia in general but it is also, it’s also a case study- it’s a case study of basically three areas of Bosnia, primarily it focuses on Zvornik, Jajce, and Doboj as sort of three regions which have experienced ethnic cleansing and also efforts afterwards, um, to undo them. I think the book, in essence, is, I would say, fairly pessimistic in its conclusions in the sense that it tries to assess whether those two efforts to try and unmake and remake or to try to remake Bosnia in different ways over the last 20 years, what the results are, and I think the conclusion, seems to me that the ethno-territorialization of Bosnia has been successful to a very large degree, not as successful as some of its protagonists try to claim, but in the sense that there are territories that are fully homogenized, there have been returns but they are, to a very large degree the kind of geopolitical reality, so to speak, which is desired by nationalist leaders in the 1990s, has become a demographic reality to a very large degree, and I think that’s one of the key questions, I think, for our debate, is, you know, to which degree do we share this assessment and also what do we do with that assessment, and so in a way, what political consequences does this reality of Bosnia have today, and of course we’re speaking in a vacuum, we’re speaking in a moment when Bosnia is, you know, without a government for months, facing a very deep political crisis, there is a very real decision of holding a referendum in Bosnia for the first time since 1992, and one which challenges the existence of the courts but again also of the whole international intervention.  So, that very briefly is just a background to the book, and so I would now suggest we start in the order which is in the program. So we have first Andrew Gilbert from the University of Toronto. He is an anthropologist who has worked extensively in Bosnia, primarily work in Prijedor and spent considerable time there but has also worked a lot on questions of international intervention, more broadly in southeastern Europe, so somebody who hopefully will kind of add to the ah, again we’re trying to have a kind of interdisciplinary approach but also an approach of not just scholars but also researchers who have spent considerable time in Bosnia who are in that sense also able to assess not just the scholarly debates but also the kind of empirical realities of it. Andrew……

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Forum on Bosnia Remade forthcoming

A book forum is in preparation on Bosnia Remade. It features commentaries on the book by Alex Jeffrey, Susan Woodward, Alan Moore, Alec Murphy and Andrew Gilbert, followed by separate responses by Toal and Dahlman. It is scheduled for publication in 2013 in the journal Political Geography.

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