How generations remember: an ethnographic study of post-war Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina (completed)

Monika Palmberger

Mostar is a city that has witnessed profound political, economic and societal changes in the twentieth century with the formation and eventual break up of socialist Yugoslavia. The latest and most severe changes as a result of the war fought in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 left Mostar, a once multinational city, divided into two parts, one Bosniak-dominated, the other Croat-dominated parts. The thesis examined how, in this post-war and post-Yugoslav context, members of different generations, with distinct personal experiences and exposure to different public discourses and historiographies, give meaning to their society’s and their own pasts.
A central question ran through this project: how do individuals of different generations position themselves in relation to the fractures and turning points of history when narrating their lives in terms of national identity and coexistence? This led to two further questions: how do people ground their identity in the past within a society that has seen so many political ruptures? And when do individuals relate their personal memories to national historiographies, and when do they dissociate them from them? Rather than concentrating on the narration of particular events, my interest lies in how central political periods in BiH are narrated and in the meanings they assume in the life narratives of individuals of different generations.
In this thesis I showed how, after experiencing severe changes, individuals reflect on their lives and on the history of the society they are bound to by rethinking the past, (re)positioning themselves in the present and (re-)envisioning the future. I argued that generational positioning, seen in terms of age as well as stage of life, is crucial in this threefold process of reorientation. In explaining the latter it is important to consider not only the stage of life individuals found themselves in at the time of the event they are narrating, but also the stage of life they are in when they are actually narrating it. Even though there is little interaction between Bosniaks and Croats in Mostar and their respective histories are written antithetically, I revealed common discursive tactics which run along generational rather than national lines.

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