Intermedia Research Studio 403
Department of Sociology
I remember driving on the highway from Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje to Jablanica for the first time in the beginning of May, 2014 – I had been in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a week. Prior to arriving, I learned about the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995. I knew that the social tension in the country was not resolved due to the fact that I was carrying out a volunteer placement at a youth peacebuilding centre for three months, and that the town in which I was living was still segregated almost twenty years following the end of the war. Although it was a new one, I would eventually become familiar with the feeling I had as I drove through the Bosnian mountains and saw the Croatian flag waving from the top of a hill. I would see it every time I drove that direction, and many more flags like it, but seeing it for the first time brought, for me, a new understanding of the ethno-religious division that persists in Bosnia today. The symbolism of a flag in Bosnia, be it Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian, was always open to being interpreted as a declaration of nationalism, separatism, intolerance, other forms of hatred, or simply obnoxiousness. A flag that was not Bosnian represented to me, at the very least, a statement of opposition to the country it was place in and toward the people who identified with it, whereas a Bosnian flag seemed to be a substantiation of correct, or superior identity to the exclusion of other members of the country. Paired with the physical evidence of the past war that I could not avoid seeing everywhere – abandoned buildings, walls covered in bullet holes – I found sights like the Croatian flag in the middle of Bosnia unsettling; these were common too. The ubiquitousness of similar sights brought on the feeling of tension that I became well acquainted with during the summer.
To be clear, my own interactions with individuals in Bosnia were ones that left me feeling great affection, friendship, hospitality and generosity, and I came to know a country that is far different in nature than what one might be led to assume, knowing Bosnia’s turbulent history. But the ethnic division was still striking to experience, and it provoked a great deal of thought; how was it that this division seem to be crystallizing, making re-unification within Bosnia seem doubtful? My placement mentor, a lifelong resident of Bosnia herself, would describe those who identify themselves on a specific ‘side’ in the ongoing internal conflict as being nationally burdened. Nationalistic and ethnic identification, and related forms of social attachment seem to have an inhibitive effect on re-integration and tolerance among ethnic groups in Bosnia.
Nationalism in Canada is felt to a very different degree than it is in Bosnia, and is not known as being particularly strong next to our American counterparts; but the sentiment is present, and can be a powerful force nonetheless. Nationalistic identification can just as easily provoke solidarity or divisiveness wherever and whenever it is prompted. In Canada, where we claim to uphold liberal democratic values, and pursue through the law the protection and enhancement of multiculturalism, Aboriginal peoples remain particularly exposed to the experience of oppression and societal exclusion. Though Canada has not sustained a brutal war like the one that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the colonial context within which the country was formed might be seen as a source of conflict of similar significance and lasting impact.
I believe a parallel can be drawn between the racisms and nationalisms that persist in both Canada and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I hope to better understand the role that cultural, ethnic, nationalistic, or other forms of identification play in maintaining post-conflict hostility and enduring racism. Insofar as one might regard the situation in Bosnia as a source of insight into the circumstances here in Canada, I hope to focus on identification’s contradictory nature, and the manner in which it is, or is not reconciled on an individual level in either country.
So the three other Canadian girls, Nathalie, Natasha, Magali and myself went to the centre this morning to begin our orientation. Majda (our coordinator/placement mentor) taught us about the history of the ethnic division in Bosnia and Herzegovina and specifically in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje as our very first ‘activity’ as volunteers at the Omladinski Centar. It is devastating. Similar to social issues in Canada in a small way, and otherwise totally heartbreaking, and overwhelming! The divisions run so deep between groups, and are deepened by the separated government systems, that chance seems so unlikely and not even possible in many ways. (Hervieux, May 9)
The city [Sarajevo] itself left a great impression on me. To say it is rich with history seems to fail to do it justice, by a lot! Something I was able to learn about from a walking tour we took, was the lasting implications of centuries of empires come and gone in the city, or the whole country for that matter. When I travelled to Europe before, I recall thinking that European countries cause North America to pale in historical comparison, but Sarajevo seems… much more ancient in many ways. It also seems wiser for that reason, and you can feel that the city has been through a lot. Sarajevo has ‘changed hands’ a number of times, and each change has left a cultural group behind, feeling more or less entitled to the city, depending on who you ask. (Hervieux, June 1)
Although not sociological, I believe a historical context is required in order to understand the extent and the depth of ethnic division in Bosnia. Speaking directly to the role of identity as something subject to historicization, Hall (1996) notes that historically specific developments and practices have “disturbed the relatively ‘settled’ character of many populations and cultures” (p. 4). As early as 1100 A.D. the Ottoman and the Habsburg dynasties controlled different parts of the Balkans. The two dynasties battled for dominance between the fifteenth and nineteenth century, until each empire collapsed with the start of First World War in 1914. The Austro-Hungarian Empire retained control of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and parts of Serbia and Montenegro at the time that the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb. This provoked Austria to declare war on Serbia; both country’s alliances and rivalries caused many more European countries to be drawn into the conflict, resulting in the start of World War I. Yugoslavia was established as an independent national state by the Entente alliance with the resolution of the war in 1918.
Nationalisms among the southern Slavs, according to Carol Rogel (2004), developed with the western European Enlightenment, for this led to the early formation of national consciousness. People started thinking of themselves as belonging to national groups or different cultural entities within their multinational empires, and these differences manifested in the Serbs’ adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet and Orthodox religion from the East, and the Croats’ Latin alphabet and Christianity, which was an influence of the West. Consider, Ernest Gellner’s statement that “nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist” (as cited in Anderson, 2006, p. 6). Ergo, the notion of a Greater Serbia was first proposed in 1844, in opposition to Austro-Hungarian command over a portion of Serbia. Croatia too wanted greater autonomy, having once been its own state. From a shared desire for greater cultural and political autonomy under the Habsburg rule came a sentiment of cooperation between Balkan states from which the Yugoslav political programs were born (Rogel, 2004, pp. 1-7).
This cooperation became more difficult upon the creation of Yugoslavia. Croats and Slovenes resisted the arrangement of the new state, but as Serbia was among the WWII’s victors, it regarded Yugoslavia as an enlargement of Serbia – “a fortuitous fulfilment of the Greater Serbia idea” (Rogel, 2004, p. 6). They preferred centralized power in Belgrade in contrast to other parties who were in favour of a federal power arrangement. Ultimately, a Serb parliamentary monarchy under the rule of the Karađorđević dynasty was established. But the first Yugoslavia did not last long. Economic hardship and political dissonance – Croat resistance of Serb centralism through the rightist Croat Ustaša movement became the most significant political threat – mounted with the Second World War (pp. 6-8).
During this war, the Croats did not support Yugoslavia and became their own fascist state, the royal Yugoslavian government fled to exile, and the rest of the country became protectorates of Axis powers; the first Yugoslavia ceased to exist. A movement of Serbian royalists emerged during the war, called Četniks. Josip Broz Tito, a communist and Yugoslav federalist led a movement of Partisan resistance to the occupation in the country, which fought fascists, Četniks, and Croat Ustaša. In fact, fighting occurred between all national groups and had devastating effects. As Rogel (2004) states, “if the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia has historic roots, it is in this World War II period of political, ethnic and religious brutality” (p. 10). With the end of the war, and with Tito’s communist-led Partisan forces’ triumph, the second Yugoslavia was created with Tito as president. Tito’s approach was to “rule with a strong hand, ever mindful of balancing the country’s political and national elements” (Rogel, 2004, p. 10). Under his rule, Yugoslavia held a “formal policy of equality among its constituent republics and nationalities” (Lindstrom, 2005, p. 230). During my own time in Bosnia, I often heard Tito’s Yugoslavia spoken of in a positive, nostalgic manner, with Tito himself treated as a hero.
According to Lindstrom (2005) Yugonostalgia exists in the former Yugoslavia today in a variety of forms (p. 237). This concept is defined as nostalgia for the fantasies associated with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which existed from 1945 to 1991 (Lindstrom, 2005, p. 228). This sentiment does not, however refer to an equation of the “memories of a Yugoslav past and the present desires, expressed by and through Yugonostalgic representations of this past” (p. 228) but does involve a “critical engagement … with the symbolic geography of disunity that has dominated political discourse” in states of the former Yugoslavia since the end of the Bosnian War (p. 229). Whereas brotherhood and unity were foundational ideologies to the federal communist state prior to the war, these values have been replaced with divisive principles ever since, and despite the “significant overlapping of territories, languages and customs that granted the continuity of mutual relations in [the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia]” (Bakić-Hayden and Hayden as cited in Lindstrom, 2005, p. 229). This expression of “reconstructive longing” or reflectiveness on fantasies of the past contrasts and counters the hegemonic discourses of divisive cultural politics that pervaded the 1990s and 2000s (Lindstrom, 2005, p. 227). However, Lindstrom (2005) adds that Yugonostalgia exists today “in the context of ongoing political and societal struggles over the symbolic meanings of the former Yugoslavia” (p. 237).
I watched a television series with my ten year-old host brother, Rijad, for many weeks in a row; a historical drama that retold the story of the 1930 World Cup soccer tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay. The show depicted Yugoslavia’s very first appearance in the World Cup in which the team enjoyed relative success, including a famous win against the mighty Brazil. Rijad was thrilled about it, and would cheer for Yugoslavia with earnestness. What was his orientation toward the memory of Yugoslavia, a country that existed before he had been born, I would wonder?
Majda said that when this town was overtaken in the war (I don’t know by which side) people were forced to hide in their basements for six months. Until 2002, the municipalities of Gornji Vakuf (Bosniak, Muslim) and Uskoplje (Croat, Catholic) functioned entirely independently. Majda estimated that of the thousands of people living in this area, perhaps five hundred families are in support of the Omladinski Centar and its work of bringing children together from both sides, and uniting future generation. Who’s to say? Clearly my host family is in support of it. But that doesn’t seem like many families, really. (Hervieux, May 9)
After the war which lasted four years, and resulted in over one hundred thousand deaths, as well as the violent displacement of two million people, citizens of Bosnia are faced with “rampant unemployment, social dislocation, and weak states marked by widespread corruption ” (Lindstrom, 2005, p. 230). The poverty rate in the country is high, and various other factors in the country act as if to ensure a separation between groups. The war ended in 1995 with the “so-called Dayton Peace Agreement”, after which Bosnia and Herzegovina became defined as a tri-nation state (Majstorović & Turjačanin, 2013, p. 11). Of the Dayton Accord, Slavenka Drakulić, a Croatian journalist said:
Instead of shedding tears of joy, I am worried, afraid, uneasy. Since I cannot trust the people who signed the treaty, whom can I trust? Only the Americans, who will have to police this place if it is to work. This peace will be extremely artificial and very fragile. (as cited in Rogel, 2004, p. 159).
Through this agreement, the political structure of the country was organised into two highly autonomous entities. Each entity with its own legislature and president, these are the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – the latter a decentralized federation of Croats and Bosniaks (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013, Government and society section). Alongside this consociational government, the educational system in Bosnia enables a partition to fester. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), Bosnia has a “fractured educational system, in which students learn according to ethnically coloured, often biased curricula” (Government and society section). As I learned while living in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, the Croat school system follows Croatia’s curriculum. This means that students of Uskoplje do not even fully learn the history of the Bosnian War, and are exposed to Croatian history in its stead. Croat students, unlike their Bosniak peers, are also exempt from learning the Cyrillic alphabet, despite the frequency of its use in the cantons of Bosnia led by the Republika Srpska. Presumably, the effect of this is that three separate sets of citizens are raised within one country, each one “unfamiliar with and distrustful of the others” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013, Government and society section). It is in this manner that the town of Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje is divided, mirroring the circumstances and sentiments of the whole country.
Anyway, the next thing I wanted to mention was the walk I took with Rijad the other day. He was watching cartoon and I was imagining him wishing his host sister were more fun. So I asked him if he wanted to come for a walk with me! I asked to see the river that’s behind the house (the Vrbas river) so he took me. We went all through the Bosniak side of town, and past lots of small and large garden plots, abandoned buildings, cemeteries, some shops, kids playing, Ricky’s school and back across the river onto the main street to our house.
On the walk, I experienced for the first time the effects of the war that Majda taught us a bit about. Buildings with bullet holes in the walls and dilapidated structures had already made an impression on me, probably within the first day or two. Any buildings that didn’t look like this were clearly new. There are some buildings in town however that remain standing in the middle of the ‘core’ of town that are neither rebuilt or inhabited. They just exist in their war-torn states without anyone caring (or more likely, anyone with enough money) to fix them or to remove them. One such structure stands out to me; it’s right on one of the main roads I take to the centre in the morning, across from Ivona and Stjepana’s house. Bullet holes cover every bit of the remaining brick and metal structure. The metal is in shreds. A tree has grown up through the open centre of the building.
Well on our walk, I attended carefully to the way Rijad presented his town to me, specifically concerning the visible signs of the war that ended almost ten years prior to his birth. I can’t imagine being taught about it by your parents and teachers…
We ran into two young women early in our walk, who I was delighted to find I knew! One of the girls was Naida, with whom I had gone for coffee a few nights before. It was extremely cool to run into a ‘friend’ in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje! I told her that the other Canadian girls and I had made loose plans to meet at Cafe Charlie at 7 P.M. that night, and that it would be nice if she would join. She hesitated and told me she didn’t want to, and that she couldn’t really go to Cafe Charlie. She asked if I understood ‘the situation’. She was talking about her unwelcomness on the Croat side of town, where Cafe Charlie is located. I hadn’t meant to invite her to do something so uncomfortable and inappropriate, and I immediately felt badly! The discrimination and intolerance between the two ethnic groups in town have such a direct and daily impact on everyone in town, including the ones that had no involvement themselves in the conflict. They are all, Rijad and Naida included, nationally burdened. (Hervieux, May 11)
It might appear evident that a plurality of factors are impactful in producing ‘the situation’ in Bosnia today, almost twenty years after the war. It is not solely an institutionally enforced division, but the cause cannot be attributed to the painful recollections of the war itself either, as harmful as these are to overcome. New generations share sentiments with origins that precede their own births. I do not mean to imply that social disunity is gratuitous; it is justified that resentment between warring parties constitutes the legacy of a significant conflict such as the Bosnian War. It is also important to note that the persistence of ethnic intolerance is not universal; many people, young or old, and of each of the ethno-religious groups act consciously to refute the status quo, and to bridge the divide between themselves and others. Indeed, some people choose to deny identification as a Bosniak, a Serb, or a Croat altogether by calling themselves a Bosnian – a member of the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet, the burden still has tremendous implications throughout the country.
Socio-psychological concepts such as national attachment, a “relationship towards one’s own nation”, and ethnic distance, “stereotypes and prejudices in relations with members of other ethnic groups” are products of national or ethnic attachment (Majstorović & Turjačanin, 2013, p. 136). Such attachments are formed alongside one’s identity – a discursive and performative process (Hall, 1996, pp. 1-3). Stuart Hall (1996) examines cultural identity, which is a significant element in the process of Balkan nationalist and ethnic attachment. Cultural identity and other new forms of identification, in Hall’s view, are related to the problems that have come to characterize modern societies. According to Hall (1996), through recognition of a common origin, shared characteristics or ideal with another person or group, and with “the natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on this foundation”, identification is constructed (p. 2). Hall explains that this process operates across difference, and thus entails “discursive work, the binding and marking of symbolic boundaries”; in order to consolidate the interior, it “requires what is outside” (1996, p. 3). Critically, cultural identity formation involves a narrativization of the self that is more a “product of the marking of difference and exclusion” than of finding a commonality and “naturally-constituted unity” (p. 4). The contradictory nature of identity formation is presented in the fact therein contained – that to designate oneself, or one’s identity, one must distinguish what it is not, the Other. Identification demonstrates why citizenship of a country, such as Yugoslavia, and later Bosnia “inevitably becomes enmeshed with questions of national belonging and communal self-definition” (Hall, 1996, p. 176).
The formation of a collective, cultural identity is presumably a benefit to one’s own self-actualisation, be this as a Serb, Croat, or Bosniak. But what is to come of the Other when one’s proximity to it and competition with it is destabilising, as it was in Yugoslavia, and arguably in present-day Bosnia, where all three groups are live amongst one another? The manner through which this collective identity is expressed is nationalism.
If it is the case that “it was nationalism that put an arrow in the heart of Yugoslavia” as the U.S. ambassador in Belgrade at the time of Yugoslavia’s disintegration claims (Zimmermann as cited in Rogel, 2004, p. 157), might nationalism also be the force that maintains the disunity in Bosnia today? According to Anderson (2006), nationalism, or nation-ness, is not only the most universally legitimate value in the political life or our time (p. 3), but it is also one that commands a profound emotional legitimacy (p. 4). This “‘anomaly’ of nationalism” is a cultural artefact which has become, “‘modular’, capable of being transplanted, with varying degrees of self-consciousness … to merge and be merged with a correspondingly wide variety of political and ideological constellations” (Anderson, 2006, p. 4), therefore accentuating the illusory quality of this historically new force. The nation itself is an imagined political community which is inherently both limited by boundaries and sovereign (pp. 6-7) – it is for this entity and the fraternity it induces which millions are willing to make “colossal sacrifices” such as the ones suffered in the Bosnian War (p. 7). Like an individual’s identity, a nation has finite boundaries with which it must set itself apart from its neighbours. Anderson (2006) remarks at the frequency with which it is insisted that nationalism has roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and we dare not forget, affinities with racism (p. 141). Through the example of the Bosnian War, one might see that “the great wars of this century are extraordinary not so much in the unprecedented scale on which they permitted people to kill, as in the colossal numbers persuaded to lay down their lives” (p. 144).
Furthermore, just as was the case for Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was once thought consolidated, and as it may prove to be the case for present-day Bosnia, many nations find themselves “challenged by ‘sub’-nationalist within their borders – nationalism which, naturally, dream of shedding this sub-ness one happy day” (Anderson, 2006, p. 3). This imagined community, manifested as either a nation or as a group within one exerts astonishing ascendancy. In a statement demonstrating accurate foresight, U.S. ambassador Zimmerman said of the anomaly of nationalism and its impacts in the crumbling Yugoslavia:
I fear that the crisis now visited upon the fragments of Yugoslavia may last a whole generation – a 20-years’ crisis. Nationalism, the Balkan killer, will have to run its span. During this process, one can hope, people will begin to realize that their national passions haven’t brought them welfare, or peace, or happiness” (Zimmermann as cited in Rogel, 2004, p. 159)
It’s opening night of the FIFA World Cup, and Bosnia is in it!! Actually, they are the only team competing that is new this year! So our family will be spending the night with popcorn in front of the TV. Unfortunately, Croatia is the favoured team of all the Croat people in Uskoplje, and they are pretty… nationalistic fans. Pretty obnoxious if you’re in a Muslim home and your little host brother is cheering for Bosna, and so, of course, you are too.
I asked Faruk what he thought of the Croat ruckus, and he said it was annoying. He was sort of complacent, I suppose, like he wasn’t saying it was the worst thing. I find it very awkward though. (Hervieux, June 12)
Though it’s just a game, and should carry little significance, we all know that competitions such as these can hold plenty of symbolism. Whether the Croats would acknowledge their intentions or not, their World Cup inspired flags, jerseys, banners and paraphernalia seem to make strong statements about their Croatian nationalism. I find it quite awkward, to tell the truth! The other Canadian girls and myself are very much in the middle of it too – despite our intentions to stay neutral, since my family is cheering for Bosna, and the other girls’ families are cheering for HRVATSKA! The opening game was between Brazil and Croatia, so every single cafe down the street to the centre is decked out in red chequered flags, and multiple projection screens were put up on the streets to watch. I had thought I might join the festivities with the other girls and their families, for the fun of it, but it didn’t seem right once my host family started watching the game in our living room (not to mention we were cheering for Brasil!). At least we could still see the fireworks that were being shot from the street in Uskoplje! I never thought the Croatian jersey, which I always saw [a family friend] growing up in Edmonton wear, would come to take on such a different meaning to me here. It kind of makes me cringe to see so many people wearing them. (Hervieux, June 14)
Different forms of nationalism would have varied effects on a nation; official styles of nationalism, that which emanates from the state, “[serves] the interests of the state first and foremost” (Anderson, 2006, p. 159) whereas, in contrast, nationalism that is not ‘official’ might have a converse effect on the state of Bosnia. It can be presumed that such sentiments, and other divisive forms of identification that accentuate nationalism must be shed for peace to achieved, and without further harm to befall the Bosnian state and those who reside in it.
Religious identity signifies, in the context of Bosnia, an intersection of historical, cultural and nationalistic identity.
Rather than sadness, [our tour guide] seemed to acknowledge his city [Sarajevo]’s experiences, what has not yet been put right, even now, and the unchangeable (at least for a while) realities of today – for example, that he will be buried a Muslim when he dies, because of his name, and in spite of the fact that he would rather call himself a communist, a Yugoslavian. (Hervieux, June 1)
Anderson (2006) says that, “nationalism has to be understood by aligning [religion], not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – and against which – it came into being” (p. 12). Religious affiliation in Bosnia is deeply tied to a historical development, a cultural distinction, and eventually, the ethno-religious categories, under which every citizen is subsumed, and subsequently demonised for their group’s involvement in the Bosnian War. Nationalism does not stand out as divorced from religion in Bosnia, for religion marks the retention of cultural difference – as though it is practiced to reinforce the notion of an essential difference, a difference of origin between Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, and Catholic Croats. The church steeples and the minarets of the mosque that stand tall among the communities that erected them symbolised, to me, the same thing as a flag would. This is because of religion’s association with national identity, which has ensured that religious identity has remained important in the country beyond its historical relevance (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013, People section). As is stated in the Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), “the role of religion within all three populations was elevated by the demise of communism, the revival of nationalism in the wake of Yugoslav disintegration, and the violence of the war” (People section).
Armin (a.k.a. Johnny) mentioned having not been to the church in Uskoplje yet, which I actually hadn’t done either, so a few of us made a plan to meet the next morning at 11!
Saturday morning I went to the church to meet the other Canadian girls, Daria and Lorena (Catholic) and Armin and his sister, Melissa (Muslim) at the church! I was good to finally go inside! I probably would’ve joined Ivona’s family to see it sooner if it wasn’t such a divisive element in GVU. I wasn’t sure how to go see the mosque until Dino took us last week, and I didn’t think I should see one without showing equal interest in seeing the other. It was especially good to take Armin and Melissa to the church for their first times! I think that would be a pretty hard thing for them to do here. I am proud of them for their interest. A nun joined us for a while, which was hopefully a positive thing, but I obviously didn’t understand most of what she was explaining of the faith to everyone. Then we went for coffee, phew! (Hervieux, July 27)
I had the honour of attending a reconciliation workshop while I was in Bosnia, which was hosted by the Omladinski Centar – the youth peace-building centre in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, with whom I volunteered. The presentation, given for the benefit and the education of the interested youth of the community, was the sort of thing that the Omladinski Centar regularly supported in the community, with the goal of providing a resource and a space through which peace and ethnic tolerance might be achieved. The workshop involved the presentations of the personal accounts of three survivors of concentrations camps during the war – a Serb, a Croat and a Bosniak man respectively. The workshop toured the country and was held at different locations similar to the centre in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje. The purpose of sharing was to publicize the stories of the experiences these men had and the horrors they encountered to anyone who wished to learn of them; there had been no official reckoning in Bosnia, apart from judgments at the tribunal in The Hague, of what happened in the camps. The other purpose was to commence a process of reconciliation between the men, and between the parties they represent. By sharing alongside men of different ethnic identities, more importantly, of the parties responsible for their suffering and imprisonment, prompted a collective healing and reconciliation. Nationalism was transcended through this process; the suffering of all three men at the hands of any one group served to equated the experiences of each, thus demonstrating the senselessness in distinguishing between one another and attempting with bitterness to place blame. The illusory quality of nationalistic sensibilities was emphasized in the workshop. National identity in Bosnia, intensified by historically rooted cultural distinctiveness, including a war, by the institutionalization of ethnic groups through consociational government and divided education systems, and finally through religious identity, is the most problematic source of tension to the country.
Race is not the term one would use to refer to the different ethnic factions that reside in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whereas it is used in Canada. But what is race, if not for another imagined category – a social construct? According to Satzewich and Liodakis (2013), ethnicity is defined as cultural characteristics, and “race” as genetic or ascriptive characteristics (p. 13). Race, however, has been proved to be a socially constructed category without any “real biological referent” (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2013, p. 13). This fact is emphasised by the notion of racialization – a process by which social relations among people can be structured by the “signification of human biological characteristics” in a way that creates “differentiated social collectivities” (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2013, p. 20). Certainly, the race concept continues to have social utility, as physical features are still used to signify “innate human socio-cultural characteristics” (Hier & Bolaria, 2006, p. 7).
Majstorović and Turjačanin (2013) find ethnic identity is “a dynamic multi-dimensional psychological disposition which entails a sense of belonging to an ethnic group as a community” which shares common history, origin, culture, beliefs, religion or language (p. 135). The scholars claim that Bosnian theorists identify ethnicity as one of the most important types of “social affiliation” (Majstorović & Turjačanin, 2013, p. 135). Ethnicity refers to the “social construction and definition of groups on the basis of real and imagined cultural criteria” (Satzewich, 2011, p. 4). The culturally constructed nature of both race and ethnicity, and thus the racism or ethnicism that results from the real existence of these categories makes the two concepts applicable to both Bosnia and Canada. It also draws attention to the relatability between the social conditions that exist in each country, in that we might refer to ethnic groups and racial categories when speaking of social groupings in Bosnia and Canada respectively.
Racism in Canada, as it has elsewhere, has begun to take a new form. Martin Barker claims that rather than being overt, “negative attitudes toward racial groups are increasingly being masked behind neutral language to appear politically and socially acceptable” (as cited in Satzewich, 2011, p. 8). Cultural differences instead of racial superiority are seen as threats to social stability – a strong marker of current sentiments in both Bosnia and Canada. As Majstorović & Turjačanin (2013) observe, in Bosnia, “ethnicity becomes a ‘realistic’ basis for comparison and competition, since it relates to distribution of social and political power in the country”. This is related to institutional divisions mentioned previously, as Majstorović & Turjačanin (2013) claim it is due to the fact that the political system is based on the ethnic groups of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs (p. 135). In Canada, structural racism is a form of oppression that arises through institutions, policies, attitudes and many other characteristics of our society, despite in the absence of any racist intent. These effects result in the social production of racial inequality wherein racialized groups are disadvantaged to the advantage of white people. Philosopher Iris Marion Young (1988), following martin Barker, claims that the reduction in overt and conscious policies of exclusion and segregation that once existed, and which do presently in Bosnia, has done little to reduce the oppression that many groups have suffered and continue to suffer in liberal societies (p. 272). All oppression is structural in liberal society and results from the differential exercises of power in everyday life (p. 275). She claims oppression is the “inhibition of a group” that is simply “part of the basic fabric of a society” (Young, 1988, p. 271).
Cultural imperialism is a form of oppression that is recurrent in Canadian society to the extent that it is a central component of it. Cultural imperialism is the experience of living in a society “whose dominant meanings render the particular perspectives and point of view of one’s own group invisible” while stereotyping one’s own social group and marking it out as the Other (Young, 1988, p. 285). This is a structural phenomenon that is experienced by individuals on the basis of their social group membership, which might include ethnicity, cultural identity, and the like (p. 273). The oppression of cultural imperialism and structural racism display many similarities.
The historical colonial development of Canada has lead to structural racism toward Aboriginal people in Canada today. John Borrows (2003), Canadian professor of law, specializing in Indigenous legal rights, aptly describes the oppression of Aboriginal people in the words that follow:
For most of this country’s history there has been very little recognition or protection of Aboriginal Peoples’ fundamental human rights and personal freedoms. This has resulted in their individual and collective lives being unduly susceptible to government interference. Governmental interference is evidence through the suppression of Aboriginal institutions of government, the denial of land, the forced taking of children, the criminalization of economic pursuits, and the negation of the rights of religious freedom, of association, due process and equality. (p. 224)
It is argued that colonial and cultural factors, in intersection with structural racism conspire toward Aboriginal peoples with results such as their overrepresentation in the Canadian judicial system (Borrows & Rotman, 2007). In Canada’s formation, Aboriginal Peoples were not endowed with the necessary rights and institutional means to preserve their cultural identities, despite recognition of their status as a vulnerable group (Borrows, 2003, p. 225). Indeed, the Indian Act, a particular policy informed by notions of racial inferiority and which continues to exist today is probably the best example of institutional racism in Canada (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2013, p. 208). As a result of these conditions, Aboriginal people have become “uncertain citizens” who are “loosely associated with the Canadian political community” but denied meaningful participation in the country, either collectively, or as individuals (Borrows, 2003, p. 225).
Victims of cultural imperialism like Indigenous people of Canada “experience a paradoxical oppression, in that they are both marked out by stereotypes and rendered invisible” (Young, 1988, p. 285). Thobani (2007) holds that exaltation of ‘national’ qualities of a particular kind of human being or members of a particular kind of community is a technique of power that has been central to the nation-building process (p. 5). Specifically, this entails that the self, or the national is constituted in binary opposition to its excluded Other. This is a politicised social process, in Thobani’s view (p. 6), for to be a national subject guarantees one’s access to tangible benefits and social entitlements (p. 21). The legitimacy of claims to rights in Canada’s history was asserted in an explicitly racial basis (p. 84), and even today, settlers from Europe are distinguished as ‘preferred races’ – alongside ‘non-preferred race’ immigrants – for integration into the nation (p. 75). Aboriginal people hence are situated for expulsion from nationality (p. 75). Furthermore, as Mbembe argues, colonial sovereignty, as it exists in Canada, is imposed and sustained by particular kinds of violence (as cited in Thobani, 2007, pp. 41-44). Perhaps conflicts in Bosnia and the violence of the colonial project that led to the founding of Canada might appear comparable in this context. The presence of nationalism in Canada thus may not represent an overly positive form of social arrangement, as is the case in Bosnia, if national subjects do not first acknowledge the implications of their citizenship on Aboriginal communities.
My intent for engaging in this discussion is meant to be suggestive. As I had asked, how might the situation in Bosnia be a source insight into the circumstances in Canada? What role does cultural, ethnic, nationalistic, or religious forms of identification play in maintaining hostility and racism in Canada? And might it be the case that these frameworks for social attachment derive from the same foundational social processes as they do in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in spite of the absence of a war? Of my perception of parallels of nationalism in Canada and in Bosnia, I must clarify. The manifestation of nationalism in Canada that I wish to refer to is twofold; the nationalism that non-Aboriginal Canadians display to the expunction of Aboriginal membership – that is to say, the ‘official’ nation-building style of nationalism – and the nationalism felt by Aboriginal nations (of which there are hundreds, as well as Métis and Inuit groups) to the negation of the validity of Canada’s nationhood or the citizenship of average Canadians. Perhaps this is a despondent manner with which to consider the condition of Canadian identity, but insomuch as living in Bosnia encouraged me to challenge my understanding of intolerance and social cohesion and division, perhaps assumptions about these phenomena in my own country ought to be put into question too.
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