The chosen theme of the study trip "Kriege erinnern" (“Commemorating Wars”) is to this day one of the most controversially discussed topics in all post-Yugoslavian societies, and in particular so in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the society of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as in all successor states of the former Yugoslavia, intense conflicts of memory exist concerning the commemoration of both wars – the Second World War and the wars of the 1990s. However, the front-lines of these conflicts of memory do not follow identical patterns in that contrary to the wars of the 1990s the commemoration of the Second World War is understood and discussed less ethnically than politically.
In spite of all that, the wars of the 1990s on the territory of the disintegrating Yugoslavia can only be understood by taking into account the Second World War and the way socialist Yugoslavia tried to come to terms with it. Since the 1980s and in particular during the 1990s especially the downright refusal to openly discuss the interethnic civil war, which took place on Yugoslavian soil during the world war, made the political instrumentalisation of the memories of the Second World War possible and thus became the basis for and means of violent escalation - paradigmatic for this are the controversies about the former concentration camp Jasenovac (in Croatia).
Even today, 15 years after Dayton, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still counted as a fragile state which accounts for the fact that conflicts about commemoration are especially virulent there. These conflicts are not only about coming to terms once again with the Second World War and dealing with the traumatic experiences of the war of 1992-1995, but also about the question which chances and limitations to interethnic reconciliation exist in a state which since the end of the war has been to a great extent held together by international commitment. These conflicts also touch on the question which chances and limitations to interethnic reconciliation exist in a state, where after the end of the war victims and perpetrators (once again) live together.
The study trip incorporated a number of carefully selected destinations such as memorial parks and memorials as well as meetings and exchanges with scientific and civil society institutions which are of importance to the historical and present understanding of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian society and post-Yugoslavian societies in general.
The following questions were at the centre of our interest:
Many memorial sites of the Second World War have undergone a change of character, of their whole meaning, following the wars of the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia as well as the collapse of their shared state of Yugoslavia. The recent war has had an influence on these places of commemoration, either through destruction and neglect or through the reshaping and changing of existing topics and sites of commemoration. These sites, just as the (not yet) existing sites of commemoration for the war of 1992-1995, are therefore focal points for transformation, for the reshaping of public and private commemoration in the respective societies, but also for obstacles manifesting themselves in the handling of the wartime past by a society. How close both events in the past, how close both wars are interwoven in memory, is what we were trying to find out during our journey.
Accordingly we set out to seek traces - a search for the visible and invisible, for lost and only just developing signs and traces of memory.
We visited impressive landscapes of memory, which were designed in the 1960s – such as the memorial at Jasenovac. We visited landscapes where memory is to be made forgotten, sites which to this day carry no sign of commemoration – such as the grounds of the former prison camp at Omarska: a place or rather no place of commemoration from the recent war. We visited memorials dedicated to events of the Second World War which were reshaped and changed after the war of the 1990s - Kozara for example - and we visited memorials in memory of the victims of the Second World War, which today are threatened by neglect and slow but steady decay – such as the Partisan Monument in Mostar. We visited many other places and experienced manifold ways of dealing with them.
Our journey was also shaped by the many encounters with people, and we are grateful to all of them for the time and patience they granted us in answering our questions. We spoke to historians and students in Banja Luka and Sarajevo. We visited the NGO “Research and Documentation Centre“, which is investigating and establishing the number of war victims. We also met representatives from the charity “Kuča SEKA“ in Goražde who are active in the psychotherapeutical care and support of women, children and men traumatised by war. We also met Satko, a former prisoner in Camp Omarska - Satko hardly 17 years old back then – who told us not only about the war, about survival, about death and forgiveness from a very personal perspective, but who through his narratives would also in the first place confront us with ourselves.
Having returned from the study trip, the students have put together their knowledge gained during the seminar and the impressions and experiences collected during the trip on this website. Many students have engaged in intensive research on a specific question or site already before, during and after the trip. Others felt they wanted to present the experiences made during the journey in a travel diary. That is why we decided to offer room to both approaches – the scientific and the personal – on our website.
Although not for everyone, for most of us the journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina was the first encounter with this country and its people. Therefore, on the following pages we will not answer all the questions that have been outlined before. However, what we offer here are our own first thoughts on these questions; thoughts based on the reading of scientific texts as well as on those experiences made during our search for memory in Bosnia and Herzegovina.