Couple of years ago I wrote my diploma thesis about the narration of trauma after mass rapes. The events from Bosnia and Herzegovina were discussed frequently in the academic world, so I thought this could make an excellent example. Finding literature was not a problem, but figures and data that would weigh as evidence were scarce.
How many women were raped during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Government in Sarajevo has claimed 50,000-60,000 rape victims, EU 20,000 and AI was stating that the real figure lies between 20,000 and 50,000. However, no one was referring to a specific period. It seemed that all the data was gathered in 1992 alone and that in the later years data on sexual violence was never assessed.
In 2005/06 a Bosnian movie Grbavica (awarded with a Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival) opened the discussion about the life after the rape, the trauma and the ‘rape children’. The story of protagonist Esma, a single mother not revealing the identity of her daughter’s father, is a narration of trauma of many women in Bosnia. However, do we know how many?
I came across an article quoting a UNICEF’s survey on the war born children, but I never found the survey. Apparently, it was removed from the eyes of the public on the request of the Bosnian Government. One of the arguments was that the figures would raise too many questions and obstruct reconciliation. Moreover, it would also unleash questions about the destiny of born-out-of-rape children in Bosnia. In particularly, UNICEF’s survey would open the Pandora’s Box and unleash stories of infanticide, waifs, abused and trafficked children.
Post-conflict societies are notorious for the thirst for revenge that manifests itself in post-conflict ‘cleansings’. As Johan Galtung explains, practices normalized in the conflict transfer into the social tissue after the conflict: “the relief that violence is over may make people blind to the invisible, long-lasting consequences of violence (such as traumas and desire for more glory and revenge), and blind to how cultures, structures and actors may have become more violent”.
Apart from NGOs and some scholars, the movie Grbavica remains a lonely advocate for war children’s rights. Thanks to the ability of the moving pictures to narrate trauma, Grbavica gave a voice to mothers that had to hide their children’s identity in order to protect them from a society gone violent.