Society for the Anthropology of Europe
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
By the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, more than 100,000 had been killed and close to 40,000 individuals reported missing—some 9,000 of whom have still not been found or identified. Dealing with the ‘ambiguous loss’, i.e. not knowing where the body of one’s loved one is, makes the grieving process of many surviving families much harder than it would be if they had been able to bury the victims. The memory of the missing is kept alive and continues to be performed through symbolic home memorials made of photographs and personal objects belonging to the missing, as well as through public events such as annual commemorations, remembrances, and silent marches organized by survivors’ associations like the Mothers of Srebrenica. The issues surrounding the missing and their exhumation, identification and burial are some of the lasting legacies of genocide and war in Bosnia, that still affect many individuals, especially war widows and their families, as well as the respective local communities. The gaps, absences and open-ended temporality the missing persons left behind also impact on politics, culture and reconciliation within the broader Bosnian society and the diaspora. Based on a comparative ethnographic study of survivors of the genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in post-war Bosnia and in the diaspora—in Australia, the USA, and Sweden—the paper discusses how missing relatives who disappeared in the war continue to affect the social identities and memories of individual survivors and their fragmented families and communities.