How Post-War Generations Cope with the Past
Off and on distant memories, little fragments of times long gone, emanate from a mind and tickle intimate sentiments of a debonair childhood, initiating reminiscence on what once were epitomes of joy. Such is the story of The Hedgehog’s Home by Branko Copic. In the former Yugoslavia, this illustrated children’s book was the model for a didactic and witty way to familiarize young readers with the morals and ethics of multicultural coexistence and the importance of care for the environment. The hedgehog’s little den has been forever anchored in childhood memories as a peaceful safe-house.
The sense of foreboding mounted in intensity, like the gathering movement of an orchestra, the pressure and silence cranking your nerves until you were almost desperate for the noise to rend it all open again. The feeling was soundless but it crackled. You could not see it, but it was black. Then it would come: the double concussion-sound kerrump of shellfire and the air-cutting crack of bullets. (Loyd 25)
War journalist Anthony Loyd offers an insight in My War Gone By, I Miss It So, into how the madness of uncertainty becomes a daily routine in times of war. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted for 1,425 days, from April 1992 to February 1996. Growing up there, reality around the children mirrored the inversion of the story The Hedgehog’s Home. Twenty-five years later in careworn Bosnia, a country with an unemployment rate of 37,41% (Feb 2018 via BHAS), the idea arose to collect characteristic objects that marked the war-torn idyll of children. The War Childhood Museum, initiated by J. Halilovic, is an artistic attempt to communicate experiences of traumatic events to the world and to “advance mutual understanding at the collective level in order to enhance personal and social development”. (Halilovic)
Retracing a part of my identity back to Bosnia, I shared four years of joy and sorrow with people whose inherited memories of murder and destruction still shape everyday life. Nonetheless, mass graves and minefields are choked by the disarming self-mocking humour and inexhaustible stubbornness. These experiences nurtured my need to argue against our estrangement and socio-phobia for victims of war today. Furthermore, this essay aims to stress the positive impact of regeneration periods on the development of a peace-oriented consciousness. Most sources focus on the long-term aftermath of the war in Bosnia and The War Childhood Museum, may itself be regarded as an emblem against the impropriety of evaluating worthy and unworthy victims of war and displacement.
All over Bosnia, young artists transform the remnants of war into monuments of artistic expression, resisting a political elite who, by promoting nationalist ideas, twists the knife in the wounds of war. The Roses of Sarajevo envision the healing of those wounds as time passes. In the research paper “The environmental aesthetics of Sarajevo A city shaped by memory,” the authors concluded, that ruins, besides being reminders of devastation and war, can also be a decisive base for positive change, by creating a reasonable system of values (Husukic & Zejnilovic 104). To further understand the role of this “struggle between two memories,” as mentioned in The Making of The Modern Refugee (op. cit. Gatrell 119), Cornelia Sorjabi’s study “Managing Memories” is an elaboration of different types of memories, with a focus on “transmitted memories” (Sorabji 2), talking about ideas and images post-war generations have acquired through the proximity to elders. She argues that children who grow up listening to war stories ibidem, tend to have the same process by which they search their minds as those who experienced those events.
This future-oriented approach is also the subject of Ivana Macek’s “Transmission and Transformation: Memories of the Siege of Sarajevo”. According to Macek’s findings, this “secondary memory” (Macek 20) of post-war children has shown to have positive aspects, in contrast to the anthropologists, criticized by Sorabji, who account those memories as potential fuel for upcoming wars (Sorabji 1). The transmitted parental values also motivate the adoption of rationality and the trust in well-grounded knowledge (Macek 27). Thinking about multi-ethnic Sarajevo, a highlight should be put on children from ethnically mixed marriages. Kristin Deasy calls them in “WAR BABIES: The Balkans’ New Lost Generation“; “the most significant countervailing force against the gravitational pull of nationalism” (Deasy 79).
The effects of trauma, followed by deep distrust and psychic injury, represent themselves clearly in scientific studies. A clinical study called “Women in Bosnia Post-War” shows the wide spectrum of long-term post-traumatic reactions, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as one next to somatization, anxiety, depression, hostility and interpersonal sensitivity (Klaric et al. 171). The scientists conclude the study with an emphasis on further research on “cumulative effects of war trauma and post-war life stressors on the family”. The same goes for direct victims of sexual violence during war, which is explained by the examples of Bosnia and Rwanda in an article for The Human Rights Quarterly. Again, a concluding focus is put on the children as “a prism for identity politics” (Weitsman 561).
Turning to the western world, in the article “Trauma and suicidality in war-affected communities,” the results mirror the lack of cooperation and candour: Balkan refugees in Western Europe had a higher suicidality rate than those who stayed in their home-countries. The highest rate, of all countries involved in the study, including 255 participants, is that of Germany, at 19,6% (Jankovic et al. 516). The purpose of singling out these facts is to put a stress on everyone’s responsibility for future generations and to engage in a humane dialogue with victims of violence, displacement and discrimination because the diversity and intensity of positive and negative effects do not allow a dehumanizing generalization of victims. What’s more is a need for creative space for children and young adults who spent the early years of their lives in hostile circumstances that they might have the freedom to convert their experiences and thoughts individually into peace-nurturing representations of realities.
The Bosnian war is just another example of a slow healing process. The broken fragments of lost generations still hover in a transitional state from war to peace. Due to mass-emigration the responsibility relocates itself even more to the western world. The research report “Living in History”, published on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science, opens with a quote by Evelyn Waugh: “History doesn’t happen everywhere at once.” (op. cit. 399). The attempts of western societies to close the doors for refugees, both geographically and inter-personally is beyond comprehension. A glance at UNHCR statistics and the reported numbers of migration all over the world, disable every argument for remaining spectators. 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide (UNHCR). Around 90,000 asylum applications by children have been recorded in the year 2017 in Germany alone, of whom 10% were unaccompanied and separated (UNHCR, UNICEF & IOM 4). The list of ongoing wars and displacement in all parts of the world is “Nothing Except Commas”, correspondent to the chapter heading, and taken from a Palestinian poet, about the displacement of Palestinians:
“I tried to put the displacement between parentheses, to put a last period (full stop) in a long sentence of the sadness of history, personal and public history. But I see nothing except commas” (op. cit. Gatrell 118)
By Amina Omerika