Political Action and Generations Part III: Emergent Conversation 12

From the 2014 event Mapping the Crisis, two posts by anonymous youth that read “Fuck the System” and ‘‘It is sad that we live in a country in which the biggest success is to leave it.”

As mass demonstrations mobilized against racial injustice in the U.S. and globally, Nataša Garić-Humphrey, Andrew Gilbert, Azra Hromadžić, and Larisa Kurtović took part in a virtual discussion of political and social movements, drawing from their extensive ethnographic research in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their discussion explores the complex interplay of history, social movements, and generational change, and how anthropological theory engages with these phenomena. This discussion was moderated by PoLAR Associate Editor Jennifer Curtis. Nataša Garić-Humphrey’s article “Negotiating “True” Politics: Intergenerational Dynamics During Social Uprising in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina” appeared in the May 2020 issue of PoLAR; Larisa Kurtović’s article “When All That Is Solid Does Not Melt into Air: Labor, Politics and Materiality in a Bosnian Detergent Factory” appeared in the November 2020 issue of PoLAR.

I want to return to generation, and how generational experiences shape futurity in Bosnia Herzegovina. In post-conflict settings, differences in generational subjectivities can be more apparent, refracted through periods of conflict, negotiation, and settlement. (Sometimes in interminable cycles!). Nataša’s article made me think about generational cohorts in my Northern Ireland fieldwork, where violence, peace, politics, and economy have also been fraught and complicated, and shaped distinctive generational subjectivities over time. That then made me reflect on how different generational cohorts conceive of a desirable future and choose actions to achieve it. Desires for a different future can be a driver of conflict, revolutions even, as well as settlements. How do your research participants envision the future and the role of protest in shaping it? In your fieldwork, how have you seen generational subjectivities translated into both aspirations for the future and actions to pursue different futures?

Poster for an event organized by the student union in 2017, called “We want to know how we can stay in this country?”

Larisa Kurtović: Thanks, Jennifer, for posing, once again, such a powerful question—one that means a lot to me personally, because I have been thinking about futurity for a really long time.  Indeed, as the Bosnian present is nested within a wreckage of multiple failed utopian projects, be they communist, nationalist or liberal-democratic, I would say that futurity asserts itself as one of the key “problem-spaces” of political life at large (Scott 2004). You see it everywhere, from new and ongoing mobilizations among river guardians, struggles around ethnically divided schools, to the panic about the steep decline of the population due to poor natality rates and emigration.

Of course, as Reinhart Koselleck (1985) long observed, our visions of the future are shaped as much by the space of experience, which is rooted in a certain history, as by the horizons of expectations, that is, our aspirations about what is to come. This duality of the future as simultaneously anchored to the past, and yet also somehow unknown and open, plays a key role in so many political struggles today. The sense that we come from a place, and from a history, perhaps paradoxically also shapes our conviction that we have a claim on and must fight for a certain kind of a tomorrow.

We know that socialist projects have historically cultivated a special kind of a relationship to the future, not just because of their constitutive orientation towards the revolution, but also because they conceived of the future as the horizon upon which human potential would be fully realized (Buck-Morss 2002). Like other post-socialist countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina remains haunted by this distinctly modernist promise of the future as that which brings about more desirable forms of social and political life.

Generation is such a useful heuristic device for tracking this dynamic in political work, in part because each new cohort inherits not just the world but the unfulfilled potentials and unrealized dreams of their parents’ generations. Perhaps this is what Walter Benjamin meant when he wrote of a secret agreement between the past generation and the present one, which cannot be settled cheaply (1968, 254). In Bosnia, this generational inheritance is heavy, not only because so much has happened in the course of the long 20th century, but also because there are still profound disagreements about what those events mean and how they ought to be interpreted. While nationalist divisions certainty present themselves as the most important source of difference, in truth, the divergences are many, and neither the activists nor the anthropologists that accompany them have a full grasp on all that complexity.

In contrast to Azra, whose earlier work has focused on youth, or Nataša’s article, that seeks to make space for those in their late middle age, I am going to think here for a moment about my own generation, those of us who were children or adolescents when the Bosnian war began and are now approaching or are well into our forties. Many, though not all, of my long-term ethnographic interlocutors, belong to this generation whose lived experience was structured by the war as the fundamental, ontological break. Some of my interlocutors spoke of this positioning as a privileged vantagepoint, because being in the prime of our lives, we were not yet ubijeni u pojam (trapped by middle-age malaise and exhaustion), and yet had retained a sufficient amount of social memory of prewar period to know that things could be different. Thanks to this awareness, those of us who grew up in urban environments remained rooted in a certain kind of vernacular antinationalist tradition that stands in sharp contrast to ethnonationalist social discipline of the post-war era. I think we could say the same about the basic egalitarian disposition nurtured during socialism, which is today being violently displaced by new forms of social stratification, and new ideologies legitimating that shift.

But there are important ways in which my generation’s relationship to the prewar past is also different than that of our parents. Whereas our parents’ largely liberal, Western-oriented consumerist desires had emerged out of their frustrations with “actually existing” socialism, the disillusionment of many in our generation lay both with the West and with liberalism writ large. So there was reason to look for hope in this gap, and believe that an alternative vision, one based on a partial recuperation of that earlier potential could be made. I wrote about this in my piece on activist archives, where I gave an account of the documentary projects that were seeking to recuperate ideational and political heritage of Yugoslav socialism as a blueprint for ongoing struggles (Kurtović 2019).

More recently, after decades of economic insecurity, amidst increased emigration, and the resurgence of the worst kinds of right-wing populism, I am also seeing new kinds of soul-searching emerging among Bosnian activists with whom I am engaged in a conversation. Recently, Svjetlana Nedimović, a right-to-the city activist and independent scholar based in Sarajevo, published a book that calls upon the Bosnian left to let go of the past, so to speak, and return back to the present. Nedimović recounts in sheer horror how she came to a realization, after a decade of activist work, that we—our generation—are “not the future of our glorious past” (Nedimović 2019, 11). The book is a very lucid yet devastating read on the trap of left melancholia, born out of our collective desire to defend and preserve the socialist past that was condemned to the dustbin of history by both the nationalists and the international reformers. I understand her argument as an exercise in self-criticism that theorizes the Left’s attachment to the revolutionary antifascism of the World War II generation as a form of “cruel optimism”—an attachment to an object of desire that impedes one’s flourishing (Berlant 2011). Instead, Nedimović urges her readers to begin valuing real political effort that takes part in the present, even when and if those efforts are neither glorious nor bring victory.

In my reading, Nedimović’s critique seems especially important given the uneven nature of mobilizations that have been taking place in 2020. In May, there was a huge protest in Sarajevo in response to the decision of the Catholic Church in Bosnia to hold a commemorative mass for the Croatian Nazi-aligned soldiers (and the civilians who accompanied them) that were executed by the Yugoslav partisans in Bleiberg, Austria, at the end of World War II. The Sarajevan public, rightfully so in my view, interpreted this program as an attempt to rehabilitate fascist forces and bring the spirit of contemporary neo-fascist revisionism to the city that has fought hard to preserve its anti-fascist history. And yet, as many pointed out, the protesting masses stayed silent on the new forms of homegrown fascism, particularly as it is related to the treatment of Middle Eastern and North African migrants and refugees in Bosnia-proper. Over the summer, we have seen the rise of violence against migrants, particularly in Western Bosnia, where self-organized groups of local men have been beating and abusing groups of people on the move. Of course, there is more to this story, as the resentment and frustration of local residents are exploding precisely because they have been left to fend for themselves in this unprecedented crisis,  something about which Azra herself has recently written (Hromadžić 2020). But this is simply to say that Bosnians find themselves caught in a web of new crises, most of which are not of their own making. To speak of the future as a national or a local problem seems grossly inadequate. In many ways, for Bosnians today, the future is an object that has been unmoored, swaying amidst multiple currents that each brings a new set of challenges (see Kurtović and Vučetić 2020).

Photo from the 2015 “We will not give up Una” protests.

Azra Hromadžić: My early research focused on a related question: how do youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina understand and negotiate peace-building and state-making practices that were imposed on them, and how do these experiences either help or hinder them in imagining their futures? Building on 9 months of ethnographic research at the first ethnically “reunified” school in Bosnia, the Mostar Gymnasium, in the southern Herzegovinian city of Mostar, I learned that many of the youth I befriended engaged in a powerful protest—a stance of anti-citizenship and detachment from what they experience as a “corrupt, ethnicized, empty, externally designed and regulated state” that, as one youth said, “steals our dreams” (see Hromadžić 2015).

Youth framed this phenomenon of “an empty yet cannibalistic state” (see Kurtović and Hromadžić 2017) that steals their dreams, as a particular feature of Bosnian life that transforms the rest of the world into a place open to imagination and hope for a better life and alternative modernity and democracy. This creates a sharp distinction between “here,” seen as corrupt Bosnian democratization and state-making, where one has to withdraw from the state and its dirty politics in order to survive, and “there,” imagined as a site where moral rules are more or less in place and where a person can choose not to engage in corrupt behavior and still be a recognized, respected citizen. This stimulates the desire for youth to leave their country for a better place and creates a further gap between Bosnia-Herzegovina and “Europe,” and between the youth and the state. My ethnographic study revealed that as a consequence of this detachment, youth adopted an active stance of anti-citizenship—political “hibernation” in the “contaminated” present—which includes waiting for better times to arrive and a related aspiration to leave the state under any circumstance. This detachment and anti-citizenship are understood by numerous international staff and researchers as a sign of youth’s apathy and lethargy. However, nonparticipation can also be understood, as I claim here, as a site of agency, calculated choice, and political and moral preservation. In other words, through indifference, apathy, humor, irony, and scorn, youth avoid participation in the current political establishment in favor of their own practical needs (Fox 2004; Greenberg 2014).

During my time as a Fulbright scholar in Bosnia in the spring 2017, I taught students at the University of Bihać and I engaged in long and challenging discussions with my students about their future in Bosnia and beyond. During one of our many deliberations, Selma (pseudonym), a sophomore in the Department of English at the University of Bihać, said: “Professor, I will try to stay [in Bihać/Bosnia].” This statement beautifully captured the overwhelming sentiment among the students I befriended. In the context where extreme unemployment is a structural condition that stretches across generations, the politics of distribution and remittances from abroad that circulate among family and friends primarily keep people fed and alive. This calamitous present generates youth’s perpetual, visceral disappointment in the country and its future. Consequently, for many Bosnian youth staying in their country presents a challenge, an impossibility, and planning to leave the country becomes a naturalized, habitual expectation of the self and others. And young Bosnians are leaving their state in massive numbers. One interlocutor recently called it an “epidemic,” where all over Bosnia classroom sizes are shrinking, schools are closing, and teachers are losing jobs because there are no children to teach. In this way, through complicated, long-term effects of converging postwar and postsocialist forces, the Bosnian state continues to be emptied of its citizens, “normal people made of flesh and blood” (Mujkić 2014). Many of these young people would like to try to stay in Bosnia, but they, just like Selma, do not know how.

While what I described above—youth leaving the country or planning to leave it in the near future—is the most dominant form of socio-political protest in the country today, here I want to quickly hint at two more recent phenomena that suggest that some forms of re-settlement, re-engagement, re-investment, and re-attachment to the official “local” politics might be emerging. The first set of phenomena is ecological, more specifically intergenerational trans-ethnic and transnational collaborations around the protection of the Balkan and Bosnian rivers. In my most recent work, I document the historical formations and present articulations of these social and political practices that I call “riverine citizenship” that emerged from the struggles for water in Bosnia. I first became interested in Bosnia’s “water issues” in June 2015 when the town of Bihać was enveloped in a political protest. Thousands of people got together—mostly digitally but also directly—to object to the city’s recent decision that gave concession to a joint Russian and Bosnian Energy Company to build a dam on the city’s river, Una. The Una River frames the Bosnian northwestern border with Croatia, and is famous for its beauty, fast currents, emerald color, water quality, tourist potential, and for keeping Bihać’s population sane and safe during the 1990’s war. Armed with love for the river and the political agency this emotion generated, the 2015 protest led to a politically significant outcome—pressured by the people, the city’s government reversed its decision to grant the concession. This was the only reversal of a city government’s decision, on any matter, in its postwar history. My new project emerged from this moment when the political rule stumbled, to examine water as a site of “vital politics” (Muehlebach 2017), intergenerational riverine citizenship, and emerging yet historically inspired political imaginations.

The second phenomenon of political re-engagement—both a sign of acceptance/settlement and radical potential—is the (re)entering of numerous Bihać “youth” who participated in the February 2014 protests (explained in Nataša’s article) into the official local political sphere. Some of the youth activists who were devastated by the outcomes of the 2014 protests and who consequently withdrew from politics in general (including the main face of the Bihać protest, Aida Sejdić, who left the city and moved to a farm in order to recover from exhaustion and disappointment) are now reentering local politics in significant numbers. Some of them, such as Sejdić, are joining progressive, non-ethnic political parties hoping to enter the city council and engage in direct forms of democracy. Their political concerns include historically shaped and sociologically palpable forms of love for the river, riverine citizenship, organic and sustainable farming, and eco-tourism that includes local formations of interspecies conviviality. While these individuals are not “youth” per se anymore, their reentrance into official politics and the themes that preoccupy them, reveal forms of intergenerational engagement and reenergized ways of imagining and encountering (more-than-just-human) political futures.

Still photos from YouTube videos by: Rap Skillz – Rap Battle – Arot VS Random; Sassja – I Dalje; Stay Positive & Brčko Beatz – Djeca 21. stoljeća; Sassja – Clash; Cap One – Dok liju kiše; King Mire ft. Edo Maajka, Frenkie, Brčkobeatz & Stay Positive – #ImamoProblem

Andrew Gilbert: I am glad to return to the question of generational political subjectivities, something I first looked into when doing research on the Tuzla protests of 2014. I became interested in the youth—particularly young men, many of them Ultra fans of the city’s football (soccer) team—who played a significant role in the protestors’ confrontation with police forces. Many of these young men exhibited a more or less critical and oppositional political consciousness, and I wondered where and how it developed. Certainly, some of it was shaped intergenerationally within families; recall the young man I referred to earlier who, when asked why he was ransacking the government building during the protest replied that he was acting to ensure “that tomorrow these politicians don’t have a job to come to just like my father has had no job for the past ten years.”  But this young man was not only an Ultra football fan, he was also a budding hip-hop artist, and it struck me that these two subcultures—football fandom and hip-hop—were shaping youth political subjectivity in ways quite different from the middle-aged workers with whom they shared the protest streets. Indeed, both football fandom and hip-hop are urban phenomena in which the city is the site and the substance of youth self-fashioning: both are intensely localized place-based articulations of attachment and distinctiveness, as well as forms of identification through which younger generations observe, respond to, and participate in the global via a robust economy of citation and borrowing. In the article that came out of this research (parts of which I draw upon and adapt here), I described how Ultra fandom shaped young male political subjectivity and influenced specific protest actions (Gilbert 2018). More broadly, it seemed to me that the participation of Ultra fans in the 2014 uprising was a historically specific and gendered claim to social incorporation and a right to the city in an era of mass youth unemployment and postsocialist de-industrialization. In the rest of my remarks here I want to bracket Ultra fandom and focus instead on the kind of political subjectivity produced in the world of hip-hop.

Tuzla is an epicenter of a thriving hip-hop scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina, centered around the production houses FMJAM and Salt and Flow. Hip-hop lyrics emanating from Tuzla-based artists portray contemporary Bosnia as a society in which no honest person can survive with dignity amid the corrosive effects of political corruption, ethnic nationalism, and the political parties which live off and perpetuate these social ills (see Kadich 2019, Mujanović 2017). In fact, three songs by FMJAM artist Frenkie released years before the 2014 protests—entitled “Gori” (“Burn”), “Hajmo ih rušit” (“Let’s destroy it all”), and “Mr. Policeman”—seemed to anticipate the uprising in its political-economic critique, its form, and its targets. Indeed, the link between public dissent and hip-hop was evident just the year before during the so-called Babylution protests (Kurtović 2018), when Frenkie performed these songs in a concert organized to support the protestors in Tuzla. It is thus not surprising that amateur videos blending images from the 2014 protests with the music from these songs were uploaded to YouTube after the first and second days of the uprising, suggesting that their lyrics were being used to make sense of and justify the protests—and indeed, may have helped catalyse the crowd that overwhelmed police on the uprising’s third and final day.

About two years after the 2014 uprising I spoke with the young hip-hop artist and Ultra football fan who I quoted earlier about his involvement in the protests. He began by saying that those days in February 2014 had created a feeling of possibility and hope that things would change, but by early 2016 he’d concluded that the protests had had little lasting effect, and that Bosnia remained no place for a young person to thrive. This negative assessment was reflected in his song lyrics, the outcome of a critical orientation he said was inherent to hip-hop: “what I see, I critique,” he told me.  At the time of our conversation he was enrolled at the university so that he could get some knowledge (da kupim znanje) and then leave the country to go somewhere where he could prosper (prosperira više).  Such a plan would have placed him on the road traveled by many youth in their exodus out of the country, a road paved by previous generations of Bosnian gastarbejteri (Buden and Dokuzović 2018).

But this young man didn’t depart; he remains in Tuzla, performing and releasing music and video spots on a regular basis. And this points to two additional elements about hip-hop and political subjectivity beyond the art form’s baked-in critical and oppositional stance: it is a means for youth to produce themselves as subjects, and to create and participate in the global without ever leaving the city.

On the first point, I follow scholars who see the city as a site of self-making, where to assert a right to the city is also to assert a right to “change ourselves by changing the city” (Harvey 2008: 23; see also Razsa 2015: 165). Sometimes this assertion is done explicitly in hip-hop lyrics, and sometimes it is done by marking the city via graffiti or occupying urban space with rap battles and other performances. But more often, artists and fans assert a right to the city visually, in hip-hop video spots, in which the city acts as the constitutive setting for the dramas and pleasures of young male life. (In Tuzla, hip-hop production and performance is mostly but not exclusively a male-dominated domain). In song lyrics and videos, any visions of the future are overshadowed by more quotidian concerns of the here-and-now, focused on the tensions of interpersonal relations, the articulation of local pride, the satisfactions and stresses of everyday life, the thrill of performance—all played out on the concrete streets, housing blocs, and rooftops of the city.  If there is a political subjectivity here, it is to be found in those artists and fans who use digital and analog means of cultural production to contest the shape and substance of the city, to collectively define what constitutes “urban life,” and to locate Tuzla within a wider world of global hip-hop.

Indeed, from its very beginning, hip-hop has been an intensely citational and hybrid art form, with artists explicitly drawing upon and referencing others and expecting that others, in turn, will do the same with their art; this is done in lyrics, vocal styles, musical composition, and visually on album covers and in video spots. The advent of relatively inexpensive mobile phones, recording and editing equipment, and social media platforms like YouTube have amplified and intensified this for hip-hop artists and fans like those in Tuzla. Inspired by Deger’s (2018) analysis of mobile phones as a creative force, I would argue that participating in Tuzla’s hip-hop subculture, deliberately and reflexively influenced by styles and genres sought out on YouTube, generates a sense of the global as a shared and emergent space, a means to “simultaneously claim and perform a distinctiveness and commonality” and to create connections that form the basis of new kinds of relationships that extend beyond Tuzla to points and people near and far (131).  Thus while older city-based forms of social inclusion based on work seem increasingly out of reach, and many young people look abroad for the kind of urban future that secure employment used to promise, we might look to those who remain and the ways in which they are asserting a right to the city to detect a new generational politics of the future.

Photo by Andrew Gilbert. A poster created by the Youth Forum of SBB political party (Savez za bolju budućnost; Union for a Better Future) urging youth not to leave the country. On the poster it says: “I want work but don’t want to go to Germany [to find it]. Fight for your country. Use your potential. Get involved in politics because politics is already involved with you. Change politics – get active. If you stay silent, you participate [in the problem].” Photo used with author’s permisison.

Nataša Garić-Humphrey: Bosnia-Herzegovina has long been going through a sort of futurity turmoil that is deeply connected to country’s “stuckedness” (Hage 2009) in perpetual “transitioning.” How does one think or plan for the future, when so much energy is put into day-to-day survival? How does one conceive of the future, when hope is hard to imagine? During my fieldwork in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of my friends, Stjepan (pseudonym), compared himself and other Bosnians to a hamster, endlessly spinning the wheel but moving in place. He said:

… there isn’t any prospect in Bosnia, because they [political elites] have ruined it; they ran it to the ground. The hamster doesn’t have any other choice but to stay alive, because that is its nature. And to spin the wheel. But it is only running in place. It is not moving towards anything better… Do you know how depressing it is when you run, run, run but don’t move forward?

Stjepan is one of the citizen activists I met during my fieldwork in Sarajevo in 2013-2014. In that conversation, he talked about the disregard of the local political oligarchy for everyday citizens’ lives and their purposeful recreation of the status quo for the last 25 years—polarization of people according to ethnic lines—in order to reap the benefits of that division and stay in power. He also talked about the international actors causing more harm than good in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with their misguided political calculations during and after the war. But most of all, Stjepan focused his lament on people spinning the wheel indefinitely, attentive to surviving but not able to live to the fullest due to systemic constraints which are, in many cases, crushing bodies, souls, and visions of the future, especially those connected to life in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As Azra and others mentioned in their responses, the country is experiencing one the of the biggest “human capital flights” since the war. Just recently while talking on the phone with my aunt who lives in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, while sharing news of COVID-19 pandemic, my aunt hinted at her vision of the future. She said:

Young people are finishing medical school in Bosnia, then they move to Germany to complete their residency, and never come back. I don’t blame them… who would want to stay or return without any future prospects. In the meantime, the old folks are dying of COVID and we don’t have enough doctors to weather the crisis. Who will remain after the exodus of the young and the death of the old?

My aunt, along with many older Bosnians, is genuinely concerned about the future of the country which, according to her, has been hijacked by nationalist ideologies that value youth only as ethnic subjects, not as entrepreneurs, bioengineers, microbiologists, doctors, teachers, and so on. Those youth that are able to get out, are building better futures in some other, foreign place, while their home country is suffering from a lack of realistic possibility to move their futures in the positive direction, away from status quo.

When talking about the future we need to be attentive to temporal entanglements or the ways people evoke the past and situate themselves in the present in order to aspire to the future. In other words, our future aspirations are influenced by past and present experiences. When thinking about their aspirations for a “normal life,” Stef Jansen’s research participants from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, evoked the socialist past, yearning for things they used to have but do not have anymore (2015). The citizen activists I worked with the most, many of whom belong to the generation in between the youngest and the oldest cohorts, were, on the other hand, more firmly engaged with the present as each action in the present situated and oriented them toward a horizon of future actions. This does not mean they never evoked the past, but recognizing the paralyzing effects of constrained life in Bosnia-Herzegovina today, they thought lamenting on the past and leaving it at that is counterproductive. Their strategy was to learn from the past but move on, looking, working, orienting towards the future by actively engaging with the “here and now.” They would say that one needs to keep their attention to the present as it is, if one wishes to transform it for a better future. But when I asked them how they envision their futures, many would say, they just want a ‘normal life.’ I argue, this “modesty of desire” (Jansen 2015) might be beneficial for citizen activists in order to keep a healthier emotional balance influenced by their activist performances. Unrealistic hopes in activism, where people often stand against immense structures of power in relatively small numbers or where problems they are trying to address are well underway and seem irreversible, can lead to “all or nothing” endeavors which often end in burnout and great disappointment. This is where hope for a better future can also lead to paralysis, not only in situations where one is “so caught up in one’s hope that one does nothing to prepare for its fulfillment” (Crapanzano 2003, 18), but also when one creates unrealistic dreams which can lead to crippling anxiety (Garić-Humphrey 2018, 156).

After the turmoil of the February 2014 social uprising settled down, many participants were left disappointed with its outcomes as they contemplated the future of activism in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The citizens’ discussion continued around the question of whether to create change within or outside of the existing political system; whether to run for office and join the country’s huge and often corrupt political apparatus or to bypass the mainstream politics and institute change from the ground up within communities. And although during the uprising in Sarajevo the generation in between the oldest and the youngest cohorts favored creating change outside the political mainstream and the older generation within it, I do not think I can claim the same pattern continued afterwards as well. Unsatisfied by the outcomes of the uprising, some came to the conclusion that direct democracy is great in theory but inefficient and unsustainable in practice and, therefore, tried to reroute their attention into mainstream politics. Others addressed problems in their communities directly, focusing on the antagonistic relationship between capitalism and labor, and commercialization of public infrastructure such as health care, education, water reductions, and air pollution. Yet others took a break from activism and focused on self-care and self-reflection. However, the energy people put into the uprising was not in vain. The social upheaval was a “good forum for understanding the dynamics of nonrepresentational democracy and a … step [forward] in enacting equality. It signaled an active civil society, focused on change despite stifling crises, a step forward in creating new forms of self and citizenship based on equitable social structures and distribution of power” (Garić-Humphrey 2020, 81-82).

Dr. Nataša Garić-Humphrey is a Lecturer at the Department of Anthropology at Northern Arizona University. She completed her Ph.D. from University of California San Diego in 2018. She works at the intersection of political, psychological, and activist anthropology with a specific focus on political subjectivity where she critically examines the importance of inserting “the moral self” within political theory. Her research takes a closer look at the ways people manage their moral orientations within the context of hegemonic power and (re)make their moral selves to engage in and confront larger political and socioeconomic processes. Dr. Garić-Humphrey currently works with citizen activists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, looking closely at the processes of people working on their selves through self-care and self-reflection in order to obtain a state of normality in an atmosphere of economic struggles, social injustice, and post-war trauma. In her latest piece, published in PoLAR and titled Negotiating “True” Politics: Intergenerational Dynamics During Social Uprising in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dr. Garić-Humphrey investigates social relations during protest activity from an intergenerational perspective and critically engages with Jacques Rancière’s notion of the political.

Dr. Andrew Gilbert is a broadly trained anthropologist with over 20 years of research experience, most of it in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is currently Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Senior Researcher at the University of Toronto Ethnography Lab.  A full description of his research and writing can be found at www.andrewgilbert.com.


Dr. Azra Hromadžić is a cultural anthropologist with research interests in the anthropology of international policy in the context of state-making in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her book, Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-making in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina (University of Pennsylvania Press), is an ethnographic investigation of the internationally directed postwar intervention policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the response of local people, especially youth, to these policy efforts. The book was translated into Serbian in 2017 (Samo Bosne nema: Mladi i građenje države u posleratnoj Bosni i Hercegovini. Beograd: Biblioteka XX Vek).  Several years ago, Azra initiated a new project that ethnographically researches aging, care and social services in the context of postwar and postsocialist Bosnia and Herzegovina. She co- edited (with Monika Palmberger) a volume titled Care Across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration which was published with Berghahn Books in 2018. Hromadžić spent the spring semester of 2017 as a Fulbright Scholar in Bosnia-Herzegovina where she conducted research and taught at the University of Bihać. This experience propelled her to begin a new research project on riverine politics, imagination, tourism and infrastructure in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Azra is the recipient of the 2017 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award for Teaching and Research, the 2017 Excellence in Graduate Education Faculty Recognition Award and the 2014 Meredith Professors’ Teaching Recognition Award.

Dr. Larisa Kurtović is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Ottawa. She is a political anthropologist who conducts research on activist politics, postsocialist transformation and the aftermath of international intervention in postwar Bosnia. Her ethnographic analyses of popular mobilizations, political satire and nationalist politics, have appeared on the pages of the American Ethnologist, FocaalHistory and Anthropology and Critique of Anthropology among others. She is currently writing a book entitled Future as Predicament: Political Life After Catastrophe based on her long-term research in postwar-Bosnia, as well as working on a future graphic ethnography about syndical struggle and political possibilities with anthropologist Andrew Gilbert and graphic artist Boris Stapić.

Works Cited

Benjamin, W. 1968. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations, 253–59. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press.

Buck-Morss, Susan. 2002. Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.

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