A Tour to a Site of Genocide: Mothers, Bones and Borders

By Simic, Olivera | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2008 | Go to article overview

A Tour to a Site of Genocide: Mothers, Bones and Borders


Simic, Olivera, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

In this personal narrative I aim to describe internal struggles I endure for one day in Srebrenica on my visit to a mass exhumation site. The narrative discusses and raises a series of questions related to human motivations, actions and disturbing traumatic experiences. In an attempt to bring attention and value to our personal experiences, my essay is a critical reflection on some common concerns facing all post conflict societies; that is, making sense of the past horrors and the ways we pay tribute to them. This essay intends to talk about the things and feelings often left unspoken, and, although quite specific in its focus on Srebrenica, contains universal themes that cross countries and continents. Written only a few days after my visit to the site of genocide, the narrative brings with it many humbling and vivid details that are imprinted on my memory. Although I am excited at the prospect of sharing my memories with the world, at the same time I am reluctant to give a revisionist account of this day as I am aware of ethical dilemmas whenever one tries to challenge values and aims of the post genocide tours. The narratives of women from Bosnia and Herzegovina are making an important contribution to history and warn future generations to learn lessons from the past atrocities. This is my contribution to it.

Keywords: Post Genocide, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Feminist Scholar, Insider

Positioning myself (2)

As someone who was born and grew up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I witnessed my country falling apart and watched unspeakable atrocities unfold. Not only did I become aware of what human beings are capable of doing to each other, but the pain I have experienced through the loss of my country, my friends and neighbours has marked my life and has made me committed to understanding why people act in disastrous ways, and what the causes and consequences of this behaviour are.

Having this personal background and being a young feminist scholar and a human rights lawyer, I find myself in the unique situation where, on one hand, I am a woman who experienced the pain and tragedy of war and, on the other hand, I am someone who is expected to be an 'impartial, objective scholar'. This position produces a number of internal struggles for me when I am working on issues of human rights, violence and conflict. To be an 'objective scholar' who is expected to have distance from the events to be researched, I find an extremely difficult goal to achieve. These two different roles of being an 'outsider' distanced from the research subject as a scholar while at the same time a woman and an 'insider' of the atrocities that I am examining creates an ongoing internal conflict for me. The challenges and contradictions created by these two roles are parts of my personal and professional life that I am trying to balance all the time. However, sometimes it is hard to achieve a balance and one of the sides prevails.

This is the story of an experience where my struggles were challenged from one moment to another for one whole day. At the end of it, my personal, 'insider' story prevailed and became shaped in the essay you have in front of you. While aware of feminist, ethics and other theories that could be easily applied to 'back up' my story, I purposively avoided adding any theoretical framework to it. This essay is a personal account and voice of a woman who, similarly to her female compatriots is too often denied spaces and forums to speak up. Women's lives and experiences in public spaces have been absent or made invisible for a long time, and, bringing women's concerns, situations and experiences makes feminist research and writing important as to correct both "the invisibility and distortion of female experience". (3) Thus, since feminist theory is informed by the real life stories of women, I believe that my personal experience is an important feminist intervention and contribution to a field of feminist theorizing. …

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