A week of war

Well, week one of the internship is in the books! Wow, I can’t believe it’s already July. It’s been over two weeks since I left Denver, and I simultaneously feel like I left yesterday and that I’ve been in Sarajevo for months – neither of which are accurate, obviously.

Last week really threw me in without much introduction or preparation for what I was about to step into. My organization, the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), partners with a French organization – War Art Reporting and Memory (WARM) – to host an annual festival in Sarajevo. A number of professionals working in some capacity with war come to Sarajevo for a week of conferences, films, and photography exhibitions. This year, the festival focused on the Syria crisis and jihad, but expanded to many other areas of conflict.

My supervisor, Tatjana, assigned me to cover four different events throughout the week by writing articles to be published on Balkan Diskurs. I covered a film screening entitled, ‘Shoot! Filming the War,’ a conference, ‘Civilians at War,’ an interview with war photojournalist Enrico Dagnino, and another conference, ‘War Archives.’

I also attended several other films, conferences, and art exhibits throughout the week. A number of fascinating people with REALLY sweet jobs came to present: film directors, museum directors, magazine editors – lots of artists, and mostly French. (Disclaimer: I have a sour aftertaste from the pompous attitudes of the French people I encountered. Bleh. Yet, I am learning French this summer, because apparently they weaseled their way into claiming the language of diplomacy. My colleagues – fellow interns – and I much prefer Italian, Spanish, Bosnian, German…really anything besides French. But, I digress. Rant over.)

Here’s a list of the events I attended, just to get an idea of the week:

‘They Will Have to Kill Us First’ – a film about the resistance of Malian musicians against jihad

‘Thinking of You’ – a film about an artist’s installation of thousands of dresses and skirts in a football (soccer) stadium in Kosovo as a representation of the survivors of sexual violence during the war – pictured below

‘Thinking of You’ – installment by Alketa Xhafa-Mripa

‘Breaking the Stigma & Silence around Sexual Violence in Conflict’ – conference

‘The Disappeared – The Invisible War of Syria’ – a film about the thousands and thousands of ‘disappearances’ and victims held in detention centers and ‘hospitals’ by the al-Assad regime…a tragic and very difficult film.

‘Ordinary Heroes / Rescuers’ – outdoor exhibition done by PCRC highlighting stories from Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Holocaust where ‘ordinary’ people made heroic efforts to rescue people in imminent danger

‘My Son the Jihadi’ – a film about Sally Evans and her devastating account of her son Thomas, who traveled to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab after converting to Islam and radicalizing in the UK.

‘The Shock of an Image: Does it inform?’ – a conference with a number of war photojournalists and magazine editor from the Paris Match

‘Nota Roja’ & ‘Between Headlines’ – photography exhibits by Bernandino Hernandez & a Mexico group show, respectively

‘Guantanamo’ – a book reading & discussion with author Frank Smith

There were a number of other films and conferences I wanted to attend, or at least the topic sounded fascinating, but I exceeded my capacity for atrocities, death, human brokenness, evil. I’ll take some time to write reflections on the different topics separately, but I’ve been inspired by some of the presentations and discussions for research projects I want to work on for the remainder of the summer.

  1. Sexual violence in war; reducing the stigma in sharing narratives; supporting and protecting witnesses. Immediately following the wars in the Balkans region, women (men were victims, too, just even more stigmatized in sharing, and largely did not speak out) were sharing and testifying against their perpetrators. However, the courts promised witness protection both in the testifying process and after, but none of the promises were followed through, so many victims were seated next to their perpetrators in the courtroom, testified in public, weren’t offered protection after the cases, etc. …and on top of this, the trials rarely ended with a conviction and appropriate sentence. Through this process, survivors were silenced because speaking out and sharing their stories was more harmful, and essentially seen as pointless. One of the panelist termed this process of institutional, systematic apathy towards the crimes as ‘secondary rape,’ which has been reported as more traumatizing than the initial trauma … So, this is one possibility of looking into more.
  1. De-radicalization of children and terrorist recruitment

The films/panels from the festival looked particularly at jihad and ISIS recruitment, but recruitment reaches to any terrorist organization, child soldiers, etc. The intersection of psychological rehabilitation and security is quite fascinating to me, so I’m excited about looking more into this. Also, from my studies & conversations with locals, Bosnia seems quite susceptible to recruitment, or even a potential step into Europe for jihadist groups – for a number of reasons I won’t explain here, but I am interested in looking at vulnerabilities from the individual to state level in psychological manipulation and recruitment.

  1. War photojournalists & PTSD

I interviewed a photographer who was textbook PTSD. He could’ve been reading out of the DSM to me. It was incredibly humbling to hear his story, and just to begin to get a glimpse of the living hell he experiences when he comes home from the field. He wasn’t the only photographer here this week that indirectly talked about ‘losing their souls’ and the personal impact of documenting war – interpersonal violence, devolution of family life/friendships, hyperawareness, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, substance use/abuse…my heart broke for them.

I was interviewing this particular photographer as a ‘reporter,’ obviously not as a clinician, but I think for him it may have been incredibly therapeutic to share stories he said he didn’t share with people – and they were stories when he put down his camera to help someone survive or escape, just incredibly courageous.

He was sharing these stories because I asked him about the ethics of war photojournalism, and whether he intervenes in situations he could do something about, get someone help, prevent something horrific, etc… He said he didn’t want to tell me. And I said that was totally fine, planning to move on. Then he said, well I want to tell you, I just don’t want you to write about them. I agreed and was so thankful he was willing to tell these stories that unfortunately, are not what reporters typically want to hear. They want the quote, or the quick snippet for their article, and I felt honored that he was willing to trust me. I honestly think he was desperate to share.

All this to say, I can see the lack of help / support for photographers working in this field, but really any profession that is exposed so regularly to violence, death, illness, etc. Would love to look at the intersection of psychosocial support while in the field and upon the return home.


It’s obviously been a light week with really happy topics. So, if you want to shoot any funny emails, texts (if you have iMessage), or photos my way, they will be warmly appreciated! I went on a run the other day to try and sort through all of this week. I found a wonderful pedestrian trail outside of the city, which makes running much more therapeutic. The stares from the locals are distracting – Sarajevo, like most of Europe, does not have a running culture. Anyway, I ran for a while and was ready to turn around to head back towards town. I decided to walk a little further, and came upon this little nook with a stream trickling down over exposed rock. The natural springs are safe for drinking, or so I’ve been told, but I was still a little apprehensive after ‘GIARDIA!’ has been drilled into my Colorado brain. I was desperate – 85 and humid – and splashed the water all over my body and into my parched mouth. I somehow felt a little clearer, a little lighter, and a little stronger to go on.


The pace of life here affords me the space to slow down and to stop flying through my days. Time is not of the essence, being is of the essence. Presence is of the essence. I’m thankful I stopped to walk a bit on my run. I’m thankful I came upon the little stream. It was an immaculate reminder of small graces and goodness, even amidst tremendous pain, suffering, and injustice.


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