Twenty-one years after the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, Bosnia is still coming to terms with its recent dark past.
La Trobe’s Dr Damir Mitric researches personal memories of life before and during the Bosnian War. By highlighting the nuanced experiences of loss and remembering a time of coexistence, Dr Mitric hopes his work can help Bosnia reconcile and move forward.
Exploring Bosnia’s history of loss
History, it’s said, is often conveniently written by the victors, but Dr Mitric’s work focuses on the personal histories of loss.
‘What my research does is argue that the memories of before the war have been confiscated by the war itself. There’s an inability by people to go back to “before the war”, as if the war is the only thing that ever existed.’
Through listening and writing about the terrible human experiences of the Bosnian War, Mitric is particularly interested in highlighting the stories of ambiguity.
‘A lot of the narratives we have about war are black and white, and the reality is there are lots of grey areas in between.
‘What my research does is focus on this grey area to try to come up with different ways of looking at the future – one that’s not as bleak as the one we are staring at right now.’
Dr Mitric brings these stories to light through a range of formats beyond academic journals, such as mainstream media articles and film, to reach a wider audience. His upcoming documentary Return to Bosnia, made with Dave Corlett (Go Back To Where You Came From) and directed by Wes Greene (Nalu Productions), follows Dr Mitric’s personal journey back to his homeland Bosnia to try to make sense of what happened.
‘It doesn’t really give any answers, but what it does is ask some really important questions. It invites the viewer to reflect on what the war meant and what the real obstacles to reconciliation are.’
Finding the real story
‘What often happens in post-conflict societies, is that knowledge is confiscated by those in power,’ says Dr Mitric. ‘The silent majority can be easily controlled because they don’t have access to knowledge and their own histories.’
Dr Mitric, whose family fled the war, says in Bosnia today there are three versions of history being written and taught as part of the school curriculums. Each is based on the same essential idea that the Bosnian people are somehow divided into three camps of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs and that ethnic division had always existed.
‘The political elite create three different types of people out of us and tell us the story of how dangerous it is for us, how we cannot trust the other party and how they are the ones who can protect us.’
The version of history being told, he says, is being written by the same people who wanted the war to begin – the political elites. ‘They use ethnicity as a way to divide people and to keep the status quo, which keeps them in power,’ he explains.
‘In a post-conflict society, it is very easy to use that strategy because people are, of course, scarred by the war, which was real and which was horrendous. But, it’s putting us in limbo: we have no future at the moment.’
Knowledge is power
Dr Mitric says the current Bosnian political discourse of division ‘I know is not quite true’ because ‘I’m a walking monument of a time that’s forbidden to be remembered.’
By that, Mitric explains he was born to, what would now be called, a Bosniak mother and Serb father. Before the war, 40 per cent of all marriages in urban areas were ‘mixed’. ‘I always refer to that statistic because I think it’s the ultimate proof of beautiful coexistence,’ Dr Mitric says. ‘People decide to marry each other, have children and nurture those children in both traditions.’
Dr Mitric says there’s an entire generation growing up now that have had nothing to do with the war and who are suffering, probably the most, from its consequences.
‘They are growing up in a place that has 41 per cent unemployment – and that’s just the official figure. They’re going into schools that are essentially segregated, living in quasi poverty and they don’t have the opportunities that other children, let’s say in Australia, have at their age.’
Dr Mitric says he hopes discourses can trigger these young people to think about their present-day lives and explore how they got to where they are and who the key people are who actually ‘created this mess’.