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Tracing creative moments

The emergence of translocal dervish cults in Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig

In postsocialist and postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, popular dervish cults are re-emerging after several decades of (semi)clandestine existence due to official bans and repression imposed by the Yugoslav state socialist governmentality. This article explores how an absence of divine knowledge ensuing from this disruptive history—strongly felt among various Bosnian dervishes today—is transformed into spiritual creativity and an improvisatory dynamic mediated by charismatic sheikhs. It traces “creative moments” leading toward the formation of a Bosnian dervish cult and its realignment with translocal networks of dervish lodges to explore the dynamics of divine knowledge and its creation inside these networks. The ethnography presented here suggests that we move a step beyond mere sociological descriptions of how translocal cults are organized across distance to explore in a more nuanced way the historicity and the dynamics of how divine knowledge is (re)created and idiosyncratically appropriated within these networks.

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Have You Ever Been in Bosnia?

British Military Travelers in the Balkans since 1992

Catherine Baker

Tens of thousands of British military personnel traveled in former Yugoslavia as peacekeepers between 1992 and 2007. The settlements where British forces established their military presence and supply chain were conceptually far from former Yugoslavia's tourist sites, but military travelers made sense of them by drawing on the commonplaces of previous travel accounts and the lessons of pre-deployment training. British military travelers constructed themselves as often frustrated helpers in Bosnia who struggled with political limitations on their activities but found satisfaction in improving socio-economic relations at the level of the immediate community. For troops, long otiose periods in a stabilizing and startlingly cheap country engendered a touristic sensibility. This article draws on published memoirs and more than fifty new oral history interviews with British peacekeepers and their Bosnian employees to illustrate how British military travelers drew on, perpetuated, and changed the patterns and representation of British travel to the Balkans.

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Grave Matters and the Good Life

On a Finite Economy in Bosnia

Larisa Jasarevic

This article outlines how the good life and a decent death in contemporary Bosnia are underwritten and undermined by informal forms of debt. Such debts finance pursuit of a pleasurable life in a post-conflict, post-socialist economy but inspire daily anxieties, not least about dying indebted. The article runs through household budgeting, everyday splurges, bodily discomforts, ordinary death and a funeral marketplace, suggesting a 'finite economy' of vernacular practice incited and limited by an habitual fixation on existential finitude.

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Violence and Identification

Everyday Ethnic Identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Torsten Kolind

Structurally inspired anthropological analyses of war and violence tend to claim that conflicts have an inherent potential to create unambiguous identities. Based on ethnographic data from everyday life among the Muslim population of Stolac in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina the article shows that this is not necessarily the case. Instead of resorting to the politically created dichotomous categories of ethnic exclusion, the Muslims of Stolac favored ambiguous identifications highlighting coexistence and interethnic respect. In this way of refraining from exclusive ethnic antagonistic identifications they experimented with ways of inhabiting the world together with the ethnic others; mainly the Croat population of Stolac.

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Conjuring "the people"

The 2013 Babylution protests and desire for political transformation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Larisa Kurtović

In June 2013, a breakdown in the routine functioning of state bureaucracy sparked the largest and up to that point most significant wave of protests in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, named the Bosnian Babylution. The protest centered on the plight of newborn babies who, because of this particular administrative problem, could no longer be issued key documents, even to travel outside the country for life-saving medical care. These events exposed the profound nature of the representational crisis gripping this postwar, postsocialist, and postintervention state that has emerged at the intersection of ethnic hyper-representation and the lived experience of the collapse of biopolitical care. Yet, as this analysis shows, this crisis has also helped unleash new forms of political desire for revolutionary rupture and reconstitution of the postwar political.

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Achieving the Ordinary

Everyday Peace and the Other in Bosnian Mixed-Ethnicity Families

Keziah Conrad

In Bosnia, 20 years aft er a war of ethnic cleansing, mixed-ethnicity families swim against the stream of nationalist separatism that insists all Bosnians should be neatly sorted into ethnic categories. When asked about their experiences, however, mixed families in Sarajevo during fieldwork from 2011 to 2012 repeatedly insisted that they were just “ordinary,” “normal” families. In this article, I look closely at an ordinary evening in the life of one such family, examining how they achieve this atmosphere of everydayness within which ordinary kin relationships are sustained despite the volatility of differences in ethnic and religious affiliation. Using a conversation analytic approach and building on the work of ordinary ethics theorists, I argue that the sense of being an ordinary family is an accomplishment constituted through active intersubjective work.

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Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo

Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina

Andreja Mesarič

This essay observes contemporary Islamic dress practices in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a catalyst throwing into relief various tensions within Bosnian society – not only between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, but among Bosniaks themselves. Based on fieldwork carried out in Sarajevo, it looks at how people employ notions of culture and tradition when justifying what types of Islamic dress, if any, are compatible with Bosnian modernity. The essay analyses how people selectively draw on fragments from the historical and ethnographic record when they argue for or against veiling, and shows how, even though many denounce veiling and particularly face veiling as foreign to Bosnia, women who veil themselves equally draw on notions of culture and tradition when justifying their dress choices to others. The essay highlights how competing visions of Islam play a role in the transformation of religious, ethnic and gender identities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and argues that dress as a gendered bodily practice does not merely mark assumed essential differences between an imagined Bosnian and foreign Islam but serves as a crucial means of their construction.

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Troubled locations

Return, the life course, and transformations of 'home' in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Stef Jansen

This article confronts the nationalist and foreign interventionist discourses on 'home' in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina with the everyday experiences of a category of persons who are perceived as the ultimate embodiment of the promised homecoming encapsulated in sedentarism: minority returnees. It ethnographically traces the initially mirroring movements of two households and their differential ways to overcome the effects of displacement as well as their insertion in broader transformations. Infusing the notion of 'home' with an eye for security in its widest sense, and, in particular, highlighting the importance of the life course, it investigates the significance of place through a contextualized household political economy of 'home'. In that way it explores the conditions in which certain remakings of 'home' come to be seen as more feasible than others.

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The gender of coffee

Women and reconciliation initiatives in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina

Elissa Helms

This article explores the gendering of reconciliation initiatives from the perspective of Bosniac women active in women's NGOs in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. I illustrate how established patriarchal gender relations and socialistera models of women's community involvement framed the ways in which some women's NGO participants constructed essential ethno-national and gender differences, in contrast to dominant donor discourses. This leads to exploration of how gender patterns embedded in the institution of komšiluk (good-neighborliness), particularly women's coffee visits, provided both obstacle and opportunity for renewed life together among ethnic others separated by wartime ethnic cleansing. Distinguishing between the two concepts, I show how, from the perspective of women's roles and experiences, “life together” may be all that displaced women want or expect out of “reconciliation” initiatives, and that even this may be beyond the capacity of many displaced people to forego talk about injustices and guilt stemming from the war.

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Daughters of Two Empires

Muslim Women and Public Writing in Habsburg Bosnia and Herzegovina (1878–1918)

Fabio Giomi

This article focuses on the public writings of Muslim women in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Habsburg period. From the beginning of the twentieth century, several Muslim women, mainly schoolgirls and teachers at Sarajevo's Muslim Female School, started for the first time to write for Bosnian literary journals, using the Serbo-Croatian language written in Latin or Cyrillic scripts. Before the beginning of World War I, a dozen Muslim women explored different literary genres—the poem, novel, and social commentary essay. In the context of the expectations of a growing Muslim intelligentsia educated in Habsburg schools and of the anxieties of the vast majority of the Muslim population, Muslim women contested late Ottoman gender norms and explored, albeit timidly, new forms of sisterhood, thus making an original contribution to the construction of a Bosnian, post-Ottoman public sphere.