Sarajevo 2SrebrenicaGorazdeSutjeskaMostarJablanicaSarajevoBanja LukaPrijedorKozaraDonja GradinaJasenovacZagreb
Map Study Trip "Commemorating Wars" in Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Study Trip Commemorating Wars.
The Commemoration of the Second World War and the War of 1992-1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Route and Destinations:

1. Zagreb 8. Jablanica
2. Jasenovac 9. Mostar
3. Donja Gradina 10. Sutjeska
4. Kozara 11. Gorazde
5. Prijedor 12. Srebrenica
6. Banja Luka 13. Sarajevo
7. Sarajevo

Sarajevo (Historical Institute / Research and Documentation Centre)

Page Contents


The Historical Institute, Sarajevo

The Historical Institute (Institut za istoriju, Sarajevo) is a non-university academic research institution. In recent years, the renowned institute under its director Husnija Kamberović has contributed to a revival in historical research in and on Bosnia and Herzegovina due to its own research and far reaching international networking. By meeting researchers working there we intended to find out which part historical research plays in coming to terms with a past defined by war.

Official Website of the Historical Institute:

Research and Documentation Centre, Sarajevo

The Research and Documentation Centre (Istraživačko dokumentacioni centar) in Sarajevo was founded in 2004. Today, in cooperation with two other institutions in Croatia and Serbia, a connection which exists since 2006, it arguably represents the most significant civil society institution dealing with a coming to terms with the past of the 1992-1995 war. The Centre stands out due to the fact that it conducts its work and organization in general with a view towards the whole of Bosnia, namely by attending to all victims of the war, irrespective of their ethnic background.

Official Website of the Research and Documentation Centre:

Research and Documentation Centre, Bosnian War Crimes Atlas Project:

Sebastian Buchecker: War Veterans in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Neglected by the Government and yet a Social Class with the Potential to Unify the Bosnian People?

When looking at wars the focus is often directed solely at civilian casualties and the fallen soldiers. Thus, however, a group of war victims, that is veterans who have to live on with the traumas of war, is neglected. The reason for this is mainly that already the Yugoslav society, to which Bosnia-Herzegovina used to belong, hardly knew broken combatants but instead almost exclusively glorified partisans. Out of this experience significant differences have arisen both in the status and the treatment of war veterans, who constitute about a third of the Bosnian population, during the war of 1992-1995 and also today, 15 years later. Nevertheless, or maybe even because of the neglect experienced from the state, this group could play a major role in the reconciliation of Bosnian society.

By now there exist a number of research papers dealing with this question using different approaches. In the following text, using the aforementioned research papers, the problems experienced by war veterans in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be presented. Moreover, the text will comment on the possible potential of war veterans in playing a major role in the creation of peace.

Welfare and the War Veterans during the war 1992-1995

Fikret Muslimović (a brigadier in the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina), already during the war in 1993, came to the conclusion that good supplies and welfare provisions for veterans and the wounded were of great importance to an army, since the moral of the troops could be affected by an unsatisfactory treatment of the above mentioned groups. Thus, especially soldiers of the Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane (HVO), the Bosnian Croatian Army, received preferred access to employment, housing, and humanitarian aid. Following the measures of the Yugoslavian People’s Army (JNA) wounded soldiers and war widows were given pensions. In the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) and the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS) the provision for veterans was established on the ruins of a system of social protection, which had originated during the era of Yugoslavian socialism.

What all three armies had in common was that members of the forces, fighting for their own nation (while in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina one cannot speak of nations but of ethnic groups), were glorified as heroes and martyrs. This status, however, was to become severely endangered after the end of the war by the Dayton Agreement.

War Veterans as a Social Class after the Dayton Agreement

Why are war veterans a separate group within society? For one thing all former combatants irrespective of the army they belonged to share the common experience of having fought in a war and perhaps of having killed people. This experience separates them for example from civilian victims who often belong “only” to the side of the “concerned party” but not at the same time to the side of the “acting party”.

Moreover, the foundation of a large number of veterans’ associations following the Dayton Agreement alludes to the fact that former soldiers consider themselves as their own social class. Veterans’ associations are moreover supported by the national parties. In addition, the major veterans’ associations are even financed by the state. Thus, the associations receive albeit limited political influence and a voice when it comes to the distribution of pensions.

Furthermore, social and material demands of veterans during the war were adapted to the conditions following Dayton (that is the conditions of the Peace Agreement of 1995). Although the demand for humanitarian aid decreased, the pensions increased, free land was given to veterans and their families and unpaid salaries were reimbursed with vouchers. Thus, a social system for a relatively strictly defined class in society was established. Therefore, war veterans can be considered as their own social class which, comparable with for example the class of pensioners in Germany, is supported by the state.

Nevertheless, war veterans by no means form a social class which exists independent from other groups within society. In every society there exist connections and interactions between different groups. Thus, many former officers until today enjoy a high reputation among the population and have been overrepresented in public associations and clubs since after the war. On the other hand, a large part of the veterans consists of people from the countryside who lost their homes and who during and after the war increasingly began to enter the urban spaces. This yet again led to reactions from the traditional urban elites which try to remain separate from the veterans while at the same time being relatively powerless with respect to changes within the urban space and its changing social system.

Loss of Social Status of former Combatants in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the End of the 1990s

At the end of the 1990s the traditional image of heroes and martyrs began to crumble. And thus, the war veterans experienced a harsh loss of social status. Along with this also came the social decline of the group of former combatants.

The growing international influence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Den Haag which resulted in the arrest of many former officers led to a further loss in reputation for the veterans.

From a social point of view, however, the end of the 90s meant even more severe changes. The criteria for the distribution of pensions were negotiated anew. Moreover, what followed was a reduction of pensions; the payment of pensions was increasingly affected by delays. Today the minimum rate of pensions for war veterans is around 296 KM (148 Euros) per month, which to some extent leads the veterans looking for metal on minefields in order to support their families with the money they earn in that way.

At the end of the 90s, former combatants and their families had to leave the land they had been given after the war and had to take up residence in newly built housing blocks. Thus, an increasing number of people were more or less forced to enter the urban centres which led to conflicts with the urban elites of the prewar era. The situation is yet aggravated by the high rate of unemployment among veterans.

The loss of social status among former combatants can indeed be considered as drastic. From the former defenders of the country they turned into a neglected class within Bosnian society. Facing non-observance and inadequate welfare led to a feeling of unjust treatment, uselessness, and bitterness. This yet again has fatal consequences on their daily life. Among the biggest problems, which veterans and their families suffer from, are alcohol and drug abuse in order to make forget the gruesome experience of war. Often the veterans’ aggressions surface in the form of domestic violence. Mental health problems (e.g. PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder) often even lead to suicide. Also one can detect an increased urge towards emigration among former combatants, in order to literally leave the war experience behind them.

War Veterans Active in the Creation of Peace

In Bosnia-Herzegowina many ways become apparent in which the war of 1992-1995 is dealt with and the experience of warfare is attempted to be overcome. One way in which this happens is of course the work of the ICTY. However, there exist also other developments within peace projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina which focus on integration based on shared experience. For example the „Dealing with the Past“-Project devised by the Centre for Non-Violent Action in Sarajevo. As part of this project, public panel discussions are organised which enable veterans of all former warring parties to speak about their path into war and their ideas about the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The participants of these panel discussions are trained in the run-up to the meetings in order to rule out nationalistic argumentation. This also illustrates the limits of these interethnic projects.

15 years after the war, perpetrators and victims still live side by side in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still today, this social condition stands in the way of real reconciliation. A lot of intuition and tact is yet needed in order to bring parties together who only recently were enemies and to have them speak about their role in the creation of peace. If this happens at all it will do so only under unconstrained and informal conditions.

Even though their common social problems constitute a central point of cooperation for the different veterans’ associations, at the same time they are divided by their different political goals. And it is exactly those political goals which make it difficult to imagine the veterans as an important factor for the reintegration of the country’s society. Should more former combatants, however, agree to come together and be ready to share their experience, then this shared experience and their perspectives could also help to induce other parts of society to engage in this dialogue. Another advantage could be that despite their being politically neglected, many of the former combatants still enjoy a high reputation within their respective ethnic group and are thus in a position to influence their fellow citizens towards engaging in a dialogue.


Picture Gallery Sarajevo

The Historical Institute

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Marion Forster, Julia Merl and Birte Richardt: Travel Diary Entry, 25 May 2010

SarajevoA journey of several hours through the mountains is lying in store for us. We start off with some delay because some of us have just been out partying for too long the evening before in Banja Luka ;-)

The landscape is of an incredible beauty. Luscious green, mountains, a river. Reminiscent of Austria. But untouched. Free. Having arrived in Sarajevo, we check in at our hotel. Hotel Grand , a little outside of the city centre.

We make our way to the Historical Institute. It has no connection to the University of Sarajevo. It is an independent scientific institution. No contact with students. There they also do research pertaining possible connections between the Second World War and the wars of the 1990s.

It is easy to see that we have left the Republika Srpska. Bombed and shelled houses everywhere. To get to the institute we have to enter a normal residential building. Well, in fact it is a rather old building, grey, rather decayed. The institute conveys a feeling of having been squashed into a former flat, everything a bit makeshift, patched together, barren, small. On the table a potrait of Tito. On the walls, portraits of former heads of the institute. Here we hear that the question of who is the guilty party, who are the perpetrators of the war, is completely rewritten within the current mainstream of Bosnian society in comparison to the situation before the war. The guilty party, the perpetrators of the Second World War are no longer the Germans. Instead the occurrences of the 1990s are projected back and imposed on the Second World War – and thus the perpetrators are now identified as Serbs. In both wars.

SarajevoBefore the war, we then hear, the inhabitants of BiH did not have any issues concerning their different religions and ancestry. Indeed, sometimes one did not even know if ones best friend was Serb, Croat or Bosniak. Today, almost 20 years after the war: Differences, even the school books are different. What could be a History of Bosnia? Difficult to answer – would one write about the people? Or about the region? How does one write the history of a country whose inhabitants in parts do not see themselves as inhabitants of this country?

We are told that after the war there exist attempts of certain parts of the population to create some kind of „monopoly of grief”. An interesting viewpoint: Similar to the situation in Germany after the Second World War, they say. You as Germans for a very long time could not say that you also became victims of expulsion, and you and others also forgot for a long time that also Roma, Roma and disabled persons, and many others were killed in the concentration camps – it disappeared under the unimaginable number of victims of 6 million Jews. So they tell us.

We then continue to the Research and Documentation Center (RDC). Obviously the funding is much better here. Even though one asks oneself where the money is coming from. Donations and support by big international organisations, also Western governments. Everything is arranged in a very classy way. We are welcomed in a room reminiscent of a surgery’s reception desk. The presentation takes place in a spacious lecture room. Countless books, elegant wooden furniture. A lot of light. High quality technical equipment. That is how I imagined an institute, and yet it creates an odd contrast to the one we visited previously.

Im Research and Documentation Center (RDC)Two employees tell us about the activities of the centre. Only here, within this organisation, do they deal with all victims of the war of 1992-1995, and not only with those of one particular ethnicity. One of the most important tasks for the staff of the RDC is establishing the identity of the victims. A task that should actually be undertaken by the state. 97,000 casualties. This is the figure which the RDC made public in 2007, as the up to that point identified number of victims of war. Interference in the work of the RDC by politicians is nothing unusual. Attempts to manipulate the number of war victims have been made by all three ethnicities since the end of the war.

Thus, the RDC and its work hardly receive any appreciation from political and state authorities in BiH, especially not when it comes to numbers of victims. Recently, in the spring of 2010, the news was spread in the Bosnian public that the RDC was denying genocide. The answer of the RDC: „Genocide is not a question of numbers, but of intent.“ The two members of staff, very young, very sympathetic, very grave – explain their field work. They have been to every mass grave in Bosnia that is known so far. To every death and prison camp that is known so far. To the regions affected by ethnic cleansing. They have spoken to survivors, to family members. To perpetrators and victims. An impressive show of strength, important but still not less difficult.

By now the government has acknowledged the figures, but still does not support the projects of the RDC. However, gradually the people are beginning to trust the numbers made public by the RDC. The RDC is working on a War Crimes Atlas – which can be accessed through the website of the RDC – showing cartographic details concerning mass graves, elaborate graphs and statistics of casualties for every region in BiH. Also information on mined areas which still exist all over the country, especially in the mountains, especially along the former front-line. This centre offers assignments in a whole lot of different areas: With a degree in law, history, economy and so on – it would definitely be interesting to work there.

Der Avaz-Tower in Sarajevo.In the evening we meet again with Satko. The whole group has been looking forward to this. He shows us some of the important places in Sarajevo. First of all we visit the highest tower building in the Balkans, the Avaz-Tower. Up to the 35th floor. We are met with an incredible view of Sarajevo. From here we can see the infamous Snipers’ Alley, which leads straight through the city. This street was an easy target for the snipers in the surrounding hills … Then towards the city centre. To the bridge where the first two victims of war in the capitol found their death. To the market square, to Gavrilo Prinzip, and to the Baščaršija.

An impressive and beautiful city. Everywhere one can still detect the scars of war, of the long lasting siege at the end of the 20th century. Truly a huge difference compared to the Republika Srpska. Somehow a little more … honest? More real? Better than the fenced in prefabricated houses in the RS, who could really be placed anywhere and look like no one is living in them? Or does this picture simply fit better to what I was expecting of Bosnia? Almost every façade shows signs of shelling. What insanity. The „red roses“ on the streets which show where the shells hit. Like splashes of blood. What kind of feeling must it be not to be sure if you will survive crossing the street?

Treffen in der AltstadtSuddenly it feels like being in Turkey. In the old town, rows of tall and ancient houses in oriental style, still breathing the bustle of Sarajevo’s heyday. The voice of the muezzin resounds through the warm night, a strange but beautiful melody. It seems to sense the abstraction of our journey and reflects it. A beautiful mosque in the middle, not far from it a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, a Synagogue. Formerly at least. Partly destroyed during the war. Nowhere in the world did the world religions live so peacefully together as here, says Satko. Once again one realises how different Islam is here compared to the one in Arabic countries.

After the tour of the city we go to the City Pub where we end the evening with beer and rakija. Some people from the group have already returned to the hotel or have set out to explore Sarajevo on their own. A funny but also very strange night. We have great conversations, have fun, even dance a bit to the jazzy live music. The day in Sarajevo is more of a relaxed day not considering the pressure of time but from a psychological perspective. Here we are not directly confronted with the camps and the murders of the wars in former Yugoslavia. Pleasant. Easier to cope with, even though one does not really have the time for it.

For some of us the night is rather long because the guys have a small jacuzzi tub in their hotel room ;-) That is exactly what the journey is about. We are young. We feel the sorrow but we also live during this journey and simply enjoy what offers itself to us.

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