War and Human Rights: Complicit in the Face of Genocide

One of the most recent and most unknown genocides in recent memory was that of Bosnian Muslims during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Genocide had happened in Europe after the Holocaust which all vowed to never be repeated. The world stood by and watched while genocide was occurring a 4 hour plane ride from Berlin.

This genocide is very particular when it comes to its appearance to the outside world. These people dressed like westerners and acted like westerners wearing American Football gear and their Adidas brand shoes. Sarajevo had just hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and represented the appearance of a modernized Western City. However, this masked the uprising of religious and nationalist separatism between the Yugoslav Republics. Serbian nationalism was rising in the absence of Josip Tito and had reached a boiling point in the former Yugoslavia. The rich and modernized Slovenia was able to separate without much resistance by the Serbian government. However, the separation of Croatia and then Bosnia-Herzegovina led the the violent bloodbath that was the Bosnian War and Genocide. I chose the image below because it symbolizes the rise and fall of Sarajevo as the War took its toll. The bullet-ridden Olympic rings are symbolic of the broken and destroyed unity and the now broken Bosnia.

One of the most important discussions about this topic is that it is often shied away from Anthropologists as a powerful and important subject. The resistance to making the Anthropology of War and Human Rights class in the department was immense, yet Anthropologists study ritualized warfare. This subject is often left for Political Science of Journalism to cover, yet they often look at the larger picture and can’t get into the implications of the people. While these jobs are important to deconstruct War, they often forget the individual. War is part of our culture as human beings, what makes the United States go to war as opposed to the tribes of Papua New Guinea? Who should make that distinction?

One of the hardest parts of discussing the Bosnian Genocide was the existence of tactical rape camps to shame Bosnian Muslim women while impregnating them with Serbian children. I am beginning to think that this is one of the reasons that this war is often forgotten. Addressing the ideas of tactically charged rape is not only disturbing, but nauseating. Rape can barely even be spoke about by individuals in the context of a crime, I imagine that the process of rape being used as a process to systemically shame an entire generation isn’t even thought of.

President George H.W. Bush couldn’t even come to speak about coming into Bosnia to put a stop to this war in its earliest years. He stated:

Now, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is a complex, convoluted conflict that grows out of age-old animosities. The blood of innocents is being spilled over century-old feuds. The lines between enemies and even friends are jumbled and fragmented. Let no one think there is an easy or a simple solution to this tragedy. The violence will not end overnight, whatever pressure and means the international community brings to bear. Blood feuds are very difficult to resolve. Any lasting solution will only be found with the active cooperation and participation of the parties themselves. Those who understand the nature of this conflict understand that an enduring solution cannot be imposed by force from outside on unwilling participants.

The President of the United States of America, the most powerful individual in the world simply dismissed this war as the idea of the “Balkan Powder Keg.” After he stated this, there was no hope for Bosnia. The Arms Embargo left them to be slaughtered by the well-equipped Serbian Army and the Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered. Two presidents stopped and watched the entire world turn on Bosnia. They watched Genocide occur in Europe, in the shadow of the Holocaust and refused to let one side fight. They watched while an entire group of individuals were slaughtered by Nationalistic intentions because of the fear of another Vietnam. Yet, NATO forces simply stood by and watched as massacres in Sarajevo and Srebenica, rape camps in Karaterm and Vilina Vlas, and mass graves were created. The United States became complicit in the gaze of darkness.


Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics Symbol destroyed during the Bosnian War

This week’s music is Perfekte Welle  by Juli. This is a popular German alt-rock group that originated at the turn of the century.

Prompt 6 COMPLICIT Added with permission from Dr. Kathleen Young.


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