Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-Making in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-Making in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-Making in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-Making in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina


In the wake of devastating conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the polarizing effects of everyday ethnic divisions, combined with hardened allegiances to ethnic nationalism and the rigid arrangements imposed in international peace-building agreements, have produced what Azra Hromadžic calls an "empty nation." Hromadžic explores the void created by unresolved tensions between mandated reunification initiatives and the segregation institutionalized by power-sharing democracy, and how these conditions are experienced by youths who have come of age in postconflict Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Building on long-term ethnographic research at the first integrated school of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Citizens of an Empty Nation offers a ground-level view of how the processes of reunification play out at the Mostar Gymnasium. Hromadžic details the local effects of the tensions and contradictions inherent in the processes of postwar state-making, shedding light on the larger projects of humanitarian intervention, social cohesion, cross-ethnic negotiations, and citizenship. In this careful ethnography, the Mostar Gymnasium becomes a powerful symbol for the state's simultaneous segregation and integration as the school's shared halls, bathrooms, and computer labs foster dynamic spaces for a rich cross-ethnic citizenship—or else remain empty.

Azra Hromadžic teaches anthropology at Syracuse University.


On July 23, 2004, eleven years after the destruction of the famed Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and after a decade of painstaking international diplomatic efforts and more than thirteen million U.S. dollars invested in the reconstruction, the new “Old” Bridge was reopened to the public. Together with thousands of “internationals” and “locals,” I witnessed the opening ceremony. Numerous speeches were given by key international and local leaders who spoke about the significance of the event for the city’s divided people and the country’s future. Popular singers and actors gave inspiring speeches and sang patriotic songs. Boats passed under the bridge, and celebrated divers leaped into their river from the rebuilt bridge. After several hours of emotionally charged entertainment, children from the two divided sides of the city, the Bosniak/east side and Croat/west side, met in the middle of the bridge. This moving “bridging” act officially opened the bridge to the public.

While absorbing the excitement, I followed the crowds and carefully crossed the new bridge packed with people. Then I returned to the streets. They were crammed with people celebrating, drinking, eating, or simply walking around, wanting to take part in the event. Without thinking, I found myself crossing the main boulevard, the onetime front line of battle, and walking over to the Croat west side of the divided city. I was stunned by the contrast between the two sides: there were no crowds on these streets; there was no celebration; it was business as usual. Some youth were sitting in bars, ignoring the lights and noise coming from the other side. I felt confused—how is the rebuilding of the bridge a symbol of national reconciliation if the majority of Croats in Mostar do not even acknowledge its rebirth?

In the weeks following the opening ceremony, I scrupulously investigated those tensions. As I was grappling with the competing meanings and . . .

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