Transmission of traumatic experiences in the families of war survivors from Bosnia and Herzegovina


This paper explores the process of transmitting war experiences from parents to children in the contemporary Bosnian context. It is informed by studies in psychoanalysis and cultural anthropology. Using in-depth interviews with families, family trees and children’s drawings, I try to understand why and how parents communicate their traumatic memories to their children, and how children respond to their parents’ recollection of the recent past. In brief, I argue that parents avoid the topic of the war and this avoidance derives from the ambiguity of their experiences in war. Second, their reluctance to talk about a certain part of their life results in fragmentation of history and consequently in a fragmented sense of selfhood and belonging in their children. Fragmentation is also reflected in the fact that the war narratives are gender dependent which means that women’s stories of the war differ from those of their husbands. In most cases, men have difficulties in sharing their war experience with their children for three main reasons. First, they are not able to arrive at a clear-cut narrative on their own participation in the warfare. Second, they seem to lack the language to describe an experience which is felt to be unique and sometimes surreal. Finally, their narrative does not always overlap with the official state-recognized version of history.

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