Accepted paper:

Searching for evidence: the identifications and reburials of missing persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina


Laura Huttunen (University of Tampere)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, I read the question of the missing persons and the practices of reburial and remembrance of the identified in Bosnia through the concept of liminality, suggesting that gaining evidence of death allows for ritual closure for families and rites of status reversal in the public realm.

Paper long abstract:

The war in Bosnia- Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 created a great number of dead victims of violence, but also a peculiar group: 30 000 missing persons, whose whereabouts and destiny were not known as the war ended. In many cases, there was no 'evidence' of death even if, as time went by, there was a growing certainty that the majority of those missing would be dead. The finding of mass graves in Northern and Eastern Bosnia and the process of identification of the victims produced 'evidence' of death, and subsequently, turned missing persons into dead citizens. At the same time, this particular kind of evidence of death and this intensive presence of the dead are feeding into the lives of the living in many ways. In this presentation, I read the missing and the identified dead victims in Bosnia through the concept of liminality. For family members, such evidence gained through identification creates possibilities for closing the ritual cycle and ending the threatening liminality. In the public rituals of reburial and remembrance in Bosnia, the horrible liminality and lack of evidence of individual identity in mass graves is translated into another kind of liminality - a liminality that allows for status reversal of the dead victims in the political discourses of post-war Bosnia. There is, however, a tension between the individual or familial understanding of the 'evidence' of death and the public and politicized uses of the same evidence.

panel P16
The 'evidence' of death: necrographic accounts on death perspectives