Workshop on History and Theory of Violence in the 20th Century. Collective Violence: Emergence, Experience, Remembrance. Sarajevo/ Bosnien und Herzegowina: Tobias Bütow, Michaela Christ, Christian Gudehus, Veronika Springmann; Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research, University of Essen; Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Hans-Boeckler-Stiftung; Gemeinnützige Hertie Stiftung; Köhler-Stiftung, 26.09.2007-30.09.2007.
Reviewed by Daniel Uziel
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (February, 2008)
Workshop on History and Theory of Violence in the 20th Century. Collective Violence: Emergence, Experience, Remembrance
The question of collective or mass violence in the 20th century, especially in its genocidal form, stood at the focal point of a workshop organized by four young German scholars (TOBIAS BÜTOW; MICHAELA CHRIST; CRISTIAN GUDEHUS and VERONIKA SPRINGMANN) and supported by the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research in the University of Essen, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Hans-Boeckler-Stiftung, the Gemeinnützige Hertie Stiftung and the Köhler-Stiftung. The workshop took place on 26-30 September 2007 in Sarajevo - a city heavily associated with violent events in the last century. The declared aim of the organizers was to “initiate a forum for a new generation of researchers studying the process of collective violence.” It also aimed at presenting a comparative view and research on collective violence case studies. The workshop offered not only the possibility to hear many presentations from different scholars from around the world, but also a chance to visit some of the “crime scenes” usually discussed in the sterile environment of the academy.
On the first day the participants were invited to a city tour guided by journalist ERICH RATHFELDER. The tour focused on sites related to the siege of Sarajevo, such as the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the hilltop from which a particularly deadly mortar shell was fired at the city on 28 August 1995. The workshop was opened with a lecture by WENDY LOWER (Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich) titled “Possibilities and pitfalls of comparative violence research”, which dealt with comparative methodology using the example of violence against different groups (especially Jews) in Eastern Europe. This lecture set the basis for the comparative theme of the workshop. The lecture was followed by a discussion in small groups.
The first full day began with two papers dealing with more theoretical aspects. DORIS GOEDEL (University of Salzburg) discussed the emergence and dynamics of non-violent systems. According to her research, popular resistance to an escalation towards violence initiated by the regime proved to be the most efficient means of mass-violence prevention. Perpetrators in Nazi concentration camp were incorporated into the middle of ELISSA MAILÄNDER-KOSLOV’s (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) talk. She defined their violence as a micro-social act, motivated by the dynamics characterizing a workplace. Excess cruelty that sometimes came with violent acts was supposed to enhance the guards’ authority and further erase the inmates’ identity. Concentration camps also stood at the focal point of the paper that opened the session about violence and gender. DOREEN ESCHINGER (Humboldt University, Berlin) dealt with violence in women concentration camps by analyzing victims’ memories and artwork. According to Eschinger, violence against women in concentration camps was aimed particularly at erasing their sexual identity. The role played by women in dealing with the aftermath of violence was the topic of OLIVERA SIMIC’s (University of Melbourne) paper. She presented an overview of the role of women in society and in the military. Since the military is mostly a men’s domain, women became breadwinners in times of war. This change gave them higher social status afterwards.
FRANK WOLFF (University of Cologne), KAREN KRÜGER (Frankfurt/M) and CARL BETHKE (Free University of Berlin) discussed different aspects and case studies of collective violence and its praxis. Frank Wolff described his on-going project of typifying and classifying pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe in the time span 1881-1946. His systematic work includes the registration of specific data related to each pogrom, like background, geographical location, perpetrators, etc. Karen Krüger sought the roots of the Rwandan genocide in the results of race research done during the colonial time. Physical characteristics of the Hutu sketched by race researchers, were widely disseminated by Tutsi propaganda in the 90s and not only spread hatred, but also helped the perpetrators to identify their victims when the mass killing began. Carl Bethke discussed in his paper the continuation of mass violence in Bosnia from the Second World War as described in the local press during the war. Bethke rejected the theory of continuation by describing the factors that contributed to the break between the two conflicts: the long history of wars in Bosnia, the way the Second World War history was narrated and remembered in the country and the fact that Serb leadership was not fascist. STANISLAS BIGRIMANA (Africa University, Zimbabwe) described the way tribal collective memory influenced the historical perception of the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. The wide gap between the traditions of the two tribes after Rwanda’s independence in 1959 was a major factor that contributed to the escalation of their previous conflict into genocide in 1994. The last session of the day was titled “Cinema and collective violence”. It centered on a screening of the documentary film “We are all neighbors”, produced in Bosnia 1993. The director of the film, Norwegian anthropologist TONE BRINGEN was present and took part in the discussion about the making of the film that followed the screening.
The whole third day was dedicated to a field trip, considered by many to be the high point of the workshop. The group visited Srebrenica, the site of the worst massacre of the Balkan War. The visit was guided by ANNE BITTERBERG, a co-worker of the Westerbork Memorial, who consults the team of the relatively new Srebrenica memorial. The trip included a visit to the industrial complex used by the UN Dutch Battalion in summer 1995, to the small museum located within the complex and to the cemetery across the road, where the massacre’s victims are buried and its adjacent monument. Local authorities and organizations are still working hard to find and identify all the massacre’s victims by digging up old mass graves and exhumation of the victim’s remains. The group was able to visit one of the mass graves and hear from the supervisor about the grim work done by him and his coworkers. A follow up of this trip was a visit to the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo, an organization dedicated to the documentation and registration of the Bosnian war victims. The workshop participants heard a powerful presentation by MIRSAD TOKACA, the Center’s director, followed by a Q&A session.
The last day’s discussion revolved around remembrance of violence. NIKOLAI VUKOV’s (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia) paper dealt with monuments erected in Eastern Europe after 1945. Early monuments were dedicated to the “heroes of the Red Army” or to the “victims of fascism” and resistance fighters. Specific groups, especially Jews and women, were not mentioned in these socialist monuments and appeared only after the fall of communism in East Europe. Although the war in Bosnia ended in 1995, mass memorial events to the war in Sarajevo started only in 2007. NADIA CAPUZZO-DERKOVIC (University of Geneva/Commission to Preserve National Monuments, Sarajevo) presented in her paper the reasons for this phenomenon, namely the demographic changes that occurred in the city during the war and the difficulties in creating an agreed-upon remembrance policy. She pointed out, however, that there is currently a wave of memorial events and monument construction projects in the city. Psychological mechanisms influencing the collective coming to terms with a violent past were presented by SABINA CEHAJIC (University of Sussex). Her empirical research focused on interviews with a large number of Serbs, in which they were presented with a set of questions regarding the way they deal with their country’s recent violent past. She found that multiple social contacts make it easier for the individual to come to terms with the past and accept it. She finished her presentation by posing the question of what kind of social tools could create multiple social contacts in societies torn by troubled past. STEPHAN IONESCO (Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts) compared and analyzed the narratives of Rumanian Holocaust and gulag survivors. The two narratives proved to be structurally similar in several respects, such as being ideologically influenced, emphasizing similar motives (resistance and “standing”) and omitting similar problematic issues (collaboration, sexual violence etc.).
The workshop ended with final remarks by GABI BABIC (University of Konstanz) and DANIEL UZIEL (Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel), and a discussion regarding a follow up of the workshop and networking. The main conclusions of the workshop were the need for further research regarding factors that contribute to mass violence escalation and the dynamics of mass violence. From the historical point of view, the wide spectrum of participants and their papers provided some valuable hindsight into several examples of mass violence and into the dynamics leading to them. One of the greatest advantages of this workshop was its location in an authentic “crime scene”. Beside Sarajevo, the Srebrenica trip and the other activities outside the conference room were extremely stimulating to all participants. As one participant observed, it is one thing to write about mass killing, and a completely different matter to stand next to an open mass grave. Although it looked as if the world learned some valuable lessons after 1945, the armed conflicts of the last decade of the 20th century and mass killing of civilians that occurred as a result of them seems to prove that we need to gather more knowledge about this topic. The organizers hope to set up a continuation of the workshop throughout the next couple of years.
Wendy Lower: Possibilities and pitfalls of comparative violence research – case studies of Eastern Europe
2. Explaining violence: Theories
Doris Goedel: About the absence of violence: non-violent system changes
Elissa Mailänder-Kosov: Power relations, violence and cruelty: a new perspective on perpetrators and Nazi concentration camps
3. Women, men and violence: Perception, rules and sufferings
Doreen Eschinger: Women killing women: women concentration camps in national-socialistic Germany and the perception of the female victim
Olivera Simic: Gender side of reconciliation: women in the aftermath
4. Doing violence: Dynamics
Frank Wolff: From Odessa to Kielce? Comparing pogroms and anti-Jewish violence, 1881-1946
Karen Krüger: “They are not different from us, they just look different”: colonial stereotypes and the ethnic dimension of violence in Rwanda 1994
5. Creating violence: Discourses
Carl Bethke: Does history repeat? The Second World War and the war in Bosnia 1992-1995
Stanislas Bigrimana: The fraternal twins in war: exploring the narratives that shape the ethnic consciousness of the Hutu and the Tutsi in Burundi and Rwanda leading to the “rationalization of collective violence”
6. Cinema and collective violence
“We are all neighbors”, a movie by Tone Bringen, Norway, 1993
Discussion with Tone Bringen
7. Remembering violence I: Memorials
Nikolai Vukov: The signs of violence and the violence of signs: memorials to victims of mass atrocities in Eastern Europe after 1945
Nadia Capuzzo-Derkovic: (Non) Existence of of monuments dedicated to the siege in Sarajevo
8. Remembering violence II: Words
Sabina Cehajic: Dealing with the past and facing the future: social-psychological precursor of intergroup reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stephan Ionesco: The dynamic of concept of resistance in post-genocide remembrance: revisiting the narratives of Holocaust and gulag survivors from Romania
9. Final discussion: Gabi Babic and Daniel Uziel
10. After the war: the presence of missing people
Panel discussion with Mirsad Tokaca at the Research and Documentation Center Sarajevo
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/.
Daniel Uziel. Review of , Workshop on History and Theory of Violence in the 20th Century. Collective Violence: Emergence, Experience, Remembrance.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2008 by H-Net, Clio-online, and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact H-SOZ-U-KULT@H-NET.MSU.EDU.