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……


About Gerard Toal

I am an Irish born DC based Political Geographer researching territorial conflicts and the dynamics of geopolitical competition in post-Communist Europe.
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