The horror of that (and those) left behind: Valences of emptiness in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina
(University of Ottawa)
Paper short abstract:
Set in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this paper chronicles wartime and postwar histories of "emptying out" of social spaces and analyzes the political concerns these processes render both visible and describable. I argue that emptiness is itself filled with presences, some of which are utterly horrifying.
Paper long abstract:
Between 1992-95, half of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina became displaced through the now infamous and tragic campaigns of wartime ethnic cleansing. Twenty-three years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, many homes that were burned-down or otherwise devastated during the war remain empty, even when they have been fully reconstructed. However, recently, another kind of emptying out has been taking place in Bosnia, prompted by massive outmigration of people who are leaving in search of work and more viable futures for their families. This paper traces these distinct but related processes of "emptying out," focused on material things and human communities, and the political concerns they render both visible and describable. One of those concerns, my interlocutors suggest, is not who is leaving but who is staying behind. Remaining attuned to my companions' readings of the political present, I argue that emptiness, in fact, is not a negative, austere space, but is itself filled with presences, which other absences bring into relief. Through three ethnographic scenes, one focused on the period of war, and another two on the postwar disappearance of people and life-nourishing substances, such as water, this paper suggests that the eeriness of emptiness comes from its ability to reveal other horrifying presences.
Faces of emptiness