Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Tales about water abound in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. National space, real and imagined, is intertwined with its many rivers, centuries-old water supply infrastructure, renowned mineral springs, and thermal waters first used for medicinal purposes during the Roman Empire. Yet amidst these longstanding mythologies and no shortage of new water-centered development schemes (linked, for example, to bottled water export, ecotourism, and hydropower), over the last three years, Bosnian capital Sarajevo has been experiencing frequent cutoffs in the water supply. Despite being a part of an effort to repair the city’s troubled and still state-owned waterworks, these shortages have been engendering bitter complaints and protests among residents of Sarajevo, many of whom remember well the water cutoffs that ordered life during 1992-5 Bosnian War. The disaffected citizens perceive these interruptions as nothing less than a form of everyday “terror”—suggesting that the crisis of water provisioning is, at the same time, a profound moment of reckoning with the troubled Bosnian postwar state. To understand the charged response generated by infrastructural breakdown, in this paper, I draw on archival and ethnographic research focused on water procuring practices that punctuated everyday life during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo, and the ways in which memories of this suffering generate new political effects. As I parse through the conceptions of historical injury and cosmic justice that are mobilized through this new politics of indignation, I show how Sarajevo’s troubled water supply system has become a powerful analogy for the disappointed dreams of a new future.