Dealing with the past

I, like most of my cohorts here, came to Bosnia for the summer because we are very interested in the Bosnian war and its aftermath. We all have varying interests with regards to the war — human rights violations, psychological impact on children, advocacy — but we’re all here for essentially the same reason: we want to learn more about it. But after my first week here, it’s become fairly obvious to me that the vast majority of Bosnians would really rather forget about it.

It’s not that they aren’t open. I’ve found that Bosnians, in generally, tend to be a fairly open and inviting people. If you ask them a question, they’re more than happy to give you a very honest (sometimes too honest) answer. The other night while a few of us were out socializing, I was talking to a Bosnian who has been living in the States for close to a decade, but was back for a week to take care of family business. He asked me what I was doing here in Bosnia. When I told him that I was interning at both the Genocide Research Institute and the Association of Concentration Camp Torture Survivors, he remarked ‘Wow, those are both highly related to me.’ I asked him how so. And very matter-of-factly, he said ‘I was in a concentration camp during the war.’

It blew me away. I knew coming into this experience that I would encounter lots of people who had been directly impacted by the war (because really…everyone was) but to have it be so close to me was a pretty intense experience. I wanted to ask him more about it, but since I had consumed approximately five pivo’s (beer) at that point, I didn’t trust myself to ask in a manner that wouldn’t be considered offensive.

So on the one hand, when it comes to dealing with the past, people here seem fairly open about it and willing to chat. However, the physical evidence of the war — bullet holes, Sarajevo roses (pictured below) and bombed buildings — is being eliminated. I can certainly understand why people would want to move on from such a tragic period in history, but it just seems to be such a contrast between wanting to remember and wanting to erase.

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