Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Mai 2006

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Fatima Festic (Los Angeles) 

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

When We Dead Awaken... Srebrenica’s victims versus rhetoric

Fatima Festic (UCLA, USA)



In the essay I will look for patterns of a cross-cultural understanding of the referent of the term victim and of producing of the complex and conflicting body of victimization, its denial and its integration into the courses of everyday life.

I will specifically refer to different angles in approaching and mediums in representing of the Srebrenica exodusand its massacres along with the mass exhumations (that have been going on on daily basis for several years already), as well as to different public, judicial and cultural responses to its narrative and visual representations which consequently load its memorials, and also the societal undertakings, with ambiguous functions.

My intention hints at the project of de-ideologization, not of the victimization theme, but of the sign-processing within the theme, exploring its critical dimension and dramatizing and subverting its own representational logic. Considering Srebrenica as the culmination of the recent Bosnian cataclysm (recurring for the third time in the 20th century) and its multifaceted incorporation into the European and the world heritage of mass exterminations and their commemoratives as well as of war-crimes trials, I will argue that the construction of the victimization consciousness itself entails the processes of pre-victimization, victimization and post-victimization, reverses them, reactivates and even multiplies, precisely through the rhetorical and political mediation of a dominant imagery. I will exemplify how the real of the actual experiences of being victimized is viciously too often betrayed or traded not only by the mythically induced languages of self-defensiveness of victimizers, but also by resistant or inept institutional structures, by often-lacking-in-knowledge-and-empathy analysts of the crimes, and by disabled or incapacitated narratives or acts of the survivors’ further, often forceful, self-victimization. A much needed public endorsement of supplementary narratives of deconstructed victimhood though should appear as a function only of the symptomatic return of the repressed real of the victims.


When We Dead Awaken... Srebrenica’s victims versus rhetoric

Public for private...

As the starting point in a contemporary reflection on models and processes of victimization one might take an often deliberate and purposeful mixing up of the categories of victimization and victimhood. Within the frame of this text the two might stand for two recent representations of Srebrenica cataclysm. One is the past June’s release(1) all over the globe of the video, showing the murdering of six boys and young man which took place ten years ago. The other is the artwork project that refers to identification of several thousands of already exhumed bodies of Srebrenica’s men, the project exhibited at major places and streets in Bosnian towns - consisting of placards showing the enlarged photographed pieces of garment found on the remains of Srebrenica’s victims - jeans, jackets, shirts, shoes, and watches. The first representation renders the ubiquitous application and repetitively murderous consequences of the crime. The second representation renders the life’s intervention into it.

What the TV spectatorship gets with the 120 minutes long video with physical and psychological tortures and then murdering of men already previously tortured to death, the video shot ten years ago by the one of the torturers and then copied and distributed to video stores in Serbia to be available to borrowers there for all these years (and by implication also to domestic and international analytic and judicial instances who themselves, at last, released this video, which is surely only one of thousands alike shot in the war - the tape came to public broadcasting from the The Hague’s Tribunal) - what then the spectatorship gets with it, even if followed with their repugnance, is merely their own jouissance in the idiotic core of our contemporary culture. We may recall here Frederic Jameson’s essay "Reading without Interpretation: postmodernism and video-text", which sees the thematic moments as "just moments of interruption, of a kind of blockage in this process: at such points a provisional ‘narrativisation’ (...) quickly spreads out over the sequence like a burn spot on the film, at that point ‘held’ long enough to generate and emit a thematic message quite inconsistent with the textual logic of the Thing itself." (1987: 218).

And the remaining survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, the female "excess" of the Muslim population of Eastern Bosnia, now dispersed throughout the country and the world, all of a sudden, ten years after the actual execution, faced the triple murder of their "missing" sons, brothers, husbands, or fathers on the TV: first the physical shooting at these men, second the camera’s shooting by the killers’ companion whose words to killers we also hear: "the camera’s battery is leaking, wait until I change it", and third - the criminal perversity of releasing this shooting to the eye of the public - by the highest legal instance in the world. And the fourth, forthcoming in the next months, will be the repeated murdering of the survived women, who were called to bear witness to Serbian Courts in trials to these men, thus protecting the elusiveness of the key fugitives who symbolically reinforce the generative myth of "the ever invincible people of Serbia", even if the Serbian people have themselves faced the crash of the myth.

What one can read in Tribunal’s release of the video to the public as very transparently intended and achieved is - apart from the "scandalous fascination" aimed at dissolving the border between private and public - the informal acquitting of the indicted key criminals who could have been easily captured from the first moment of their indictment, ten years ago, if only the international political and judicial structures had allowed it: one is the commander-in-chief and the other a faked lunatic who helped sketching the Bosnian Holocaust(2). The "acquitting" took form of a simple strategic step: release one of the old video tapes, "shock" the world public, identify and arrest a couple of brutes who were seen on the tape as torturing and killing, show the world that Serbia and Monte-Negro functions as a "legal state" and allow it to enter the talks on joining the European Union, without capturing the figures responsible for turning Bosnia into a factory of death, because in the scheme of the international politics the "Hell-creators" Serbs should remain free, even if hiding, and thus the masses who still support them under control.

I juxtapose to the release of this video the second representation of Srebrenica - the artwork project of identification recently located on Bosnian streets and gathering places. I might have even classified this project as some "miraculous" posthumous self-representation of the murdered, if only I hadn’t paid due respect to the Muslim tradition and religion which does not include resurrection narratives. So I rather see it as a genial artistic achievement which accomplishes a manifold social function and through a layered emphatic transference literally brings back into life the claim for retrieving of annulled and destroyed identities of the murdered. Those who were deprived of all documents, killed, thrown into mass-graves, then replaced to secondary or tertiary ones - with the aim of total erasure of not only all identities but all traces of their previous existence. These placards, however, depict the found and photographed items strikingly vivid against the white surface. Through simplest semiotic means they convey the whole narrative of the crime as well as the temporal dimension of its incorporation into the course of the public life, the temporal dimension contained already in the traces of decay of the still well preserved personal items, emphasizing the project’s message and function and reinforcing its societal engagement. The sequence of joined undertakings: searching for and discovering the graves, digging out the corpses, removing them, classifying them, forensically analyzing them, photographing them and the remaining items, and finally producing the artistic placards and putting them on relevant places in search for the survived recipients who will recognize the items and help in identifying the victims as well as the recipients in the mass public who will therefore rather incorporate the message of life and not death, to my interpretation stand for the very speech of the murdered. Those who were killed and those who are now engaged in their identification, at least in the desire of the survivors seem to emit the sign of continuity.

These two examples put to the front the issue of the purpose of the representation of victimization and a major question for today’s scholarship on victimization: the abuse of the narrative of victimization, in speaking on behalf of the factual victims for the sake of constructing or maintaining the "speakers’" positions. And further, the confrontation between the act of theorizing of the issues of victimization from one side and from another the claims of victims, who were denied any access to making public and conceptualizing their particular historical experiences.


As it happened...

For those who are not informed, the factual background of Srebrenica cataclysm, the worst atrocity in Europe after WWII, is as follows: it was July 1995, the fourth year of the Serbian aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina and consequent war there. Heavily armed Serbian troops rounded up the area of the town which was an enclave supposedly protected by the Dutch Battalion of UNPROFOR and by NATO planes monitoring the area from the air. The battalion refused to shelter almost 52.000 armless people who asked for help (their role, they claimed, was only of monitors). On the 11 th of July, like they did in other places, Serbs separated men and boys from the women who were forced to leave on foot the area of dozens of kilometers; some of them were previously tortured and raped. The same and the following day, on the 11 th and 12 th, all men were subject to the order given to Serbian soldiers by the No. 1 The Hague’s wanted: "Shoot dead all living flesh." In an empty factory, one by one, several thousands of civilian men were shot dead. The rest were taken to different locations and also murdered. The today’s figure of the identified exhumed corpses from the slaughter of Srebrenica’s men is 2720, what with the rest of the not yet identified or still missing corpses, gives the figure of 8700 - shot dead in two days. After the slaughter, the town of Srebrenica was populated by Serbs with an ideogram-slogan in the shape of a cross: Noz, zica - Srebrenica or "with knife and wire, Silver-town is ours"; it is now a key stronghold of the self-proclaimed "Serbian Republic" in Eastern Bosnia, which became one of two constitutive parts of the country, the other part consisting of a loose federation of two other constitutive peoples. The same slogan keeps circulating publicly, even at some formal international events. The four-years-long-terrorism of the "neighbours" achieved its goal and was rewarded with the "state" within a state of Bosnia, mostly owing to American Richard Holbrooke’s "Peace" Agreement, who this past November received for it the highest American order and in his speech referred to it as his effective, necessary preventing of Bosnia to turn into "a large Islamic terrorist training camp like Afghanistan", without mentioning that with his signature and in his own (terrorist) perlocutionary act he legalized the destruction of the 1200 years old statehood of Bosnia, which also happened to include the last 550 years of history of Muslim tradition and culture there. Ten years after, this past July, at the site of the crime, now the "Serbian" territory, the Memorial Centar "Potocari" was opened, with the help of the International Community, the very one who closed eyes to the massacre and, by implication, fully approved it. Two days before the opening, acting out the ways of the peace-makers, the Serbian police "discovered" in an empty storage close to the Memorial Centre "some explosive" which allegedly "Islamic terrorists" planned to plant at its opening. They arrested several nearby Muslims who were burying that day their exhumed family members on the site. After they were released, nobody ever mentioned the explosive any longer. At the opening, the list of 2390 names of the already exhumed was read by the victims’ children and the grandeous oratorio of their choir was confronting the foreign dignitaries.

In this case, both Lyotard’s 1975 celebration of "petit récits" at the cost of "grand récits", and Ihab Hassan’s criticism of it as "sentimentalizing of terrorism in discourse" found application some decades after, in the context of arranging the terrain for erasure of the undesirable element of one nation, here the Bosnian Muslims, who were simply sacrificed to multiple, both "master" and "small", narratives. Not only to the récit of the mythomanic neighbouring population, the récit of the international power politics, and récits of the whole army of foreign mediators, journalists, writers, so-called historians and humanitarian workers, but also to their subsuming of them, as a nation, to the grand récit of the Islamic religion, which centuries ago generated their tradition that in Bosnia, however, to a considerable extent remained secular. It is necessary to say that, in the case of Srebrenica, the scapegoat model, paradoxically, was grounded precisely in the absence of the people’s national and religious unification. The starved and horrified people were for almost a year preceding the tragedy wandering the area in search for some food and were even cut off from any connection with the formal body of their new state and national representatives in the Bosnian Capital. Thus they were alienated both from their very being and from the means to save their lives, first discursively, then existentially; they were sketched to empty out the native territory in the program of ethnic cleansing and vanish in a symptomatically recurring holocaust. The scheme for it came from what its very creators called "the resulting madness" of the "some-time-ago by-somebody-else victimized in history" Serbian people. This rhetorical distortion of the physical and historical facts that indeed looked for a way around the history and beyond the history in order to construct a "new history", and whose phantasm of conquering skillfully turned into the phantasm of victims-to-become, exercised itself in a genocidal destruction of several neighboring nations. That certainly matched the receptive "Western" fear of the graphem of its own "differand", which was laid bare all of a sudden in the middle of Europe. Since every society has its structural unconscious along its conscious frames and rational foundations, the West’s "unconscious" freely traversed its conscious, its reason and material facts "over the dead body" of its other. In Bosnia, a very specific genocidal crime (recurring for three times in the 20th. century), committed by very specific, fully identifiable and identified acters, was subject to re-inscriptions by being subsumed to larger narratives of "history" and thus of equalizing the sides of the victimizers and the victims. As it was given in their official statements, the threat of importing Islam into Europe "provoked" Serbian atrocities, while the Bosnian Muslims, the most secular Muslim population in the world, and also originating from the people who inhabited the territory of Bosnia even from the pre-Roman times, have been, physically and materially, the world’s biggest victims both of some negative applications of Islamic "threat" and of the paranoia of its Western interpretations, so discursively and physically the victims of both sides, estranged from their nationhood and from the very possibility of its foregrounding. Since the "West" could not really grasp its own re-emerging uncanny by its conscious, it was led to its "unconscious" denial of it.


The referent enduring...

Considering the contemporary processes of victimization, though, we cannot but notice on the side of the self-constituting body of the survivors two seemingly different ideologies: the one of the "once victim always victim" and the other of the "nunca mas", that at some points coincide and prevent any clear insight into a specific historical perspective and a material possibility of intervening into the victimizers’ "grand" distortion of the facts as well as the possibility of the victims’ integration into the courses of societal life. What within this fused victims’ ideology of "always" and "never again" gets deconstructed is the opposition between fact and fiction - what only serves and reinforces the very pretext of the victimizers’ claim. While the simplest claim of the survived victims might be seen as to get enabled to talk for themselves and thus to reach some form of empowerment towards the abolishing of their victimhood, this is what all "grand narratives" on victimization try to suppress. Instead of the missing self-representations at "the dead points in discourse", the victimizing rhetorical constructions of "mediators" step in.

Taking the abstraction of "the grand narrative of history" for the victimizer and within that their structurally pathological fear of the Other, as the physical victimizers and international mediating instances did in the case of Bosnia and specifically of Srebrenica, proved to be a victimization process par excellence and one of the major justifications for the West’s non-intervention there. The West used all political, media and rhetorical means for its own reversed ideological investment into ignorance about and denial of this victimization. Its assigning of the label of the civil war to the horrific betrayal, aggression and genocide committed by one part of the Bosnian population, backed by neighboring Serbia, over another entirely weapon-less part of it, approved the victimizers’ genocidal claim. Although the element of ethnic and ‘religious’ difference played a crucial role in this deliberate delusion, the whole Western establishment, as well as the fellow citizens-perpetrators well knew that religion was formally banned in former Yugoslavia so the ‘Muslims’ couldn’t really get close to it and that self-representations of their threatened nationhood barely reached further than dozens of texts on already previously experienced genocides and systematic mass rapes, along with few novels and some archive material. The people of Bosnian Muslims themselves balanced with difficulties between the images imposed on it by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Croatian and Serbian neighbors, the German occupation and the socialist-communist system after WWII.

Unlike the Jewish Holocaust, in the context of the Bosnian Holocaust the things were seenand broadcast from the very first day of aggression and besiege. It is not that something was hidden, burned to ashes, and gone to "sky" in order to make the incomprehensible event invisible and utterly proofless. The point that should have been made for the Bosnian Holocaust - and nobody did it on time - is the ideological status of presentability of its subject and the prevailing desire not to see the presented things, which can always be interpreted by spectators as "too complicated" and thus rejected. Also the whole pre-war rhetoric of the media and politics in Bosnia and former Yugoslavia was an ominous theatrical staging of future aggressors and perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide and holocaust as the ‘victims-to-become’ who thus simply ‘took a defensive stance’ ‘on time’ and murdered and raped all that they could among those who were not part of that rhetoric. And the lack of self-consciousness and self-representation on the side of the actual victims that was caused mostly by their civilized, romanticized and benevolent acceptance of the dominant socialist ideology and the state policies which had its roots in their centuries old culture of acceptance of the Other (consequently by the lack of the victims’ own organized power structures, lobby and underground) - unwisely and inevitably turned into their disastrous self-victimization, offering their murderers and "the monitors" immersion into a well-financed enjoyment of their common abjection.

However, the signifier cannot endlessly fall into the abyss of non-meaning: there is, after all, a referent in the world. While one side derives it from a rhetorical construction, the other derives it from the bodies murdered in genocide. And the temporal element is the key one in determining the actual victims: it prevents the referent of the term "victim" to balance within multiply or falsely interpreted historical "contexts", what only helps the murdering of the victims. It also prevents the survivors’ trauma to take an ideological form, and further alienate them from the demands of their present. Since there are only two final referents that cannot be denied or exhausted by representations in today’s almost omnipotent discursive universe - and these are a) death and b) a particular historical fact, any relevant discourse on victimization is rather to take that into account. And if both of them are denied, then by implication we bear witness to a "resurrection" of the murdered victims, who in the case of Srebrenica are so irrefutable that they can even take over from their victimizers their fundamental cultural paradigm of resurrection, to prove their own victimization. Although the title of my paper came from a play by Ibsen, quite automatically, it summarizes the same issue: the crisis in the function of representation which lays bare in the language the dead pointswhere only the body can speak ("it is first when we dead awaken that we see what is irremediable that we have never really lived"; Ibzen, 1960: 42)(3); when the body remains numb, those dead points are simply grasped by some "’endless textualization’ of different logo- or imago- contents" (Jameson, 1987: 218), which are used for further victimization.


"Language, our enemy"

In her book "The Juridical Unconscious: trials and traumas in the twentieth century", Shoshana Felman claims that "legal meaning and literary meaning necessarily inform and displace each other(...)the complexity of culture often lies in the discrepancy between what culture can articulate as legal justice, and what it articulates as literary justice." (2002: 6) She talks about the hidden link between trials and traumas, both of which have become conceptually articulated since Nuremberg as a new paradigm of trial, with which the international community attempted to restore the world’s balance and recover its meaning by re-establishing the law’s monopoly on violence and by conceiving of justice as a marked symbolic exit from the injuries of a traumatic history: as liberation from violence itself.

In the case of the apocalypse of Bosnia, however, and of the mock-trials of the The Hague’s Tribunal (where a defendant who admits of shooting dead personally, one by one, one hundred and twenty civilians in Srebrenica, gets five years in prison in his status of a "protected witness" and is released after serving only three years to continue his life in the town close to the place of his crime)(4), shouldn’t the international community be the very party to be "summoned to the call" of justice, precisely because of its dispersion of the meaning and significance of the term "justice" and its intelligibility and thus of enacting an assault on the human faith in justice, blocking the development of the "new paradigm of trial", established some decades ago, supposedly to deal with any subsequent recurrence of the mass crimes against humanity? Here is relevant Levinas’ claim that "the whole point of the hour of justice, the institution of justice and the entire discourse of justice is that it is actually required by charity, mercy and kindness of those who are in power to those who are victimized." (1998: 227) Concerning Srebrenica, precisely this is "the cutting edge" where the reason gets subverted and the language discloses a split within itself, a split more complex than Felman discusses in her book. For, there is an unconscious that indeed comes to power and an unconscious that is prevented in it; a literary and a literary, and it is this subdivision that generates the crash of the symbolic into the abyss of the Thing where neither the legal nor the literary can ever work again.

Only for those who are within (the) language everything is in language. In the case of Bosnia, the victims were prevented to name their physical victimizers as well as those who ordered them silence until the moment the victimizers’ indictment became a matter of playfulness of language games within a legislative discourse which was ordered to recognize the political entity won in the crime of genocide, when submitted to the interests of higher narratives of the international politics which fully control The Hague’s Tribunal, disseminate the very act of crime and the purpose of persecuting its acters. So we ask: can a legalized abuse of language, a criminal abuse of language, where legal and criminal coincide - within, I repeat, the highest international legal instances in the world - "unconsciously" block the application and development of legal practices in general, if it starts from the refusal to incorporate the cultural establishment of the "not yet language". And further: have some people then, without any means to speak within the abusive language in the language of those who posses the language, indeed come to the point to say - "Language, our enemy"? This only revives the reflexive closure of the mirror duality, denying the process of history which constantly brings with itself entirely new paradigms of collapses of peoples and cultures, and breaking the communication circle between the "inside" and the "outside", or better between "within" and "without" of some existing social order.


The double mirroring

I will mention here Patrick Imbert’s "Permanent Transition" (which invokes the theory of Karl Popper and Popper invokes his generous "apprentice" George Soros), the book which optimistically contrasts to the discourse of modernity (seen as based on conflicts, leading to the fabrication of histories which forget the victims’ death) the discourse of postmodernism, seen as linked to economic and symbolic competition and to "dynamic paradigms originating in specialized languages and disseminating into public language, transforming the dualistic centre/margins paradigm into a process based on crossing thresholds (1998: 10). I mention it to show that unfortunately the reverse is also going on - the theory and processes of reality take divergent paths. The practices of specialization, dissemination, and dispersion are often used not to introduce "margins" into "centers", but to "enact the plot controlled by the ‘center’", to establish the absolute control over "the dead points within the margins", as it was exercised in Srebrenica and Bosnia and exemplified in the recent The Hague’s release of the discussed "phantom"-video. And when a great achievement of the world’s contemporary documentary art - made by the renowned Bosnian photographer Tarik Samarah who was on his own, for ten years wandering the woods and fields around Srebrenica searching for the scenes of the crime and mass graves, then exhibiting his work, artistically superb, worldwide - when his photographs were displayed in the Hall of the Dutch Parliament in The Hague on the tenth "anniversary" of the Srebrenica tragedy, they were removed from there with a simple official statement that they are "too much upsetting". The same was the fate of their exhibiting on the streets in Serbian towns on the initiative of some progressive youth associations there, under the title "This is for you to see, to know, to keep in memory"; the graffiti that appeared on the placards could compete with the original program and the acts of executions - so the artist made another exhibition, consisting of the photos of the placards filled by the repetitively genocidal graffiti. And the Serbian "state" within the common state of Bosnia is today obstructing the law suit against Serbia and Montenegro to the The Hague’s Tribunal for genocide over Bosnians, where 55 000 thousand girls and women were systematically raped, 250 000 people were killed, and 600 000 ethnically cleansed, while the identified killers are employed in the state and police services, still, and by law, taking self-defensively themselves for potential future "victims-to-become" and, as such, freely participate in the political and judicial life, even on international scale. This is a situation surely based on a "void of a repetitive mimetic drive" (Imbert, 1998: 14) that cannot lead out of the tragedies-bearing hermeneutics.


Humans to humans...

Shall we then accuse, although they are inventions of identifiable humans, "the techniques" that are used to fashion the meaning of this specific victimization in this specific historical and cultural context, in the way the murderers and international power structures accused the "history" (of the Balkans)? Discursive terrorism often bears the weight of performative terrorism, of which the possible subsequent irrational acts of physical terrorism of those turned mad because of the pressure of the letter exercised over them might be read as a reciprocal function. However, in the case of Bosnia, both the terrorized by the "letter" and the exterminated ones were the Bosnian Muslims, and the double terrorists, those who terrorized through discourse and who committed killing or approval of the killing were both the Serbs and the International Community. While the ground for the Bosnian Muslim "non-existing" or denied national identity, sadly but powerfully, has been coming from the amount of the dead bodies and the amount of the trauma that is thus generated in the national unconscious.

Who is then going to be taken to Court, to mark, as Felman writes, "the symbolic exit from the injuries of a traumatic history" (2002: 1), who if not those who authorize or allow re-inscriptions of the lived historical and physical fact of mass crimes? The remaining Dutch government from the time of the catastrophic failure of its peace-keepers in Srebrenica resigned when the scandal was brought to public - fine, but not enough. The United Nations are sending their envoys to the Memorial Center, some of them, I remember a Jewish one, saying a prayer for the murdered in Arabic - fine, but not enough. American universities are sending their students to do research at some internationally established Institutes - fine, but not enough. Were the well-being of the humankind consulted, what they are to be sued for - the international structures that were involved in the events and those in the Bosnian Government who accepted the forced partition of the country commanded by a committed holocaust from the side of the Serbs - is their subversion of the entire human enterprise of communicability, which is not defined only by the means, channels, participants and the message-body in a communicational situation, but also and above all by thehuman faith in transmissibility of a message. Is that demand where, asking for a step further then Felman (because our cause was not recognized as hers was), we might level the literary and the legal, the trauma coming from a particular denial of the right to tell the trauma of a horrific abuse or destruction at one side and at the other the prosecution of all those who caused it? To my knowledge, there is no model of communication, besides some psychoanalytic descriptions of pathological situations, that approves of the circular sender-recipient emission contained within one and the same element. Precisely this has been going on all the time on behalf of those victimized in Srebrenica. And the construction of the victimization consciousness in the survived victims, being fully displaced by the immediate needs of their blasted psychologies and barely regulated existences, again falls prey to mediation of a dominant imagery.

Although Felman’s books, some of them thoroughly rendering the real of the Jewish Holocaust, helped me most in my years long attempts to conceptualize the horrors in my "native" world, as well as in myself, for me the problem in Felman is - again - her accusation of "history" for genocides, also for the one in Bosnia - because this repeats in the domain of theory what was for us disastrously proclaimed in the domain of "reality". Although Felman is not doing that to reduce the responsibility of the criminals but rather to see them within a larger paradigm, specifically of the history of destruction of Jews, her attempts to theorize what cannot be theorized by a mere representation without repeatedly incurring a damage to victims, can easily contribute to legislative relativizing of the victimizers’ guilt. "In the case of Bosnia, the crime of history consists both in human murder and in gendered murder...- The Hague for the first time puts on trial as a crime against humanity not just ... the genocidal history but also ... the sexualized genocidal history of systematic and collective rape" (2002: 12). I would dare to argue that, in some contexts, precisely because the literary keeps its autonomy and allows abstract terms like "the unconscious", "theory" or "history" to be used as explanations for specific crimes, and consequently as their justifications - the legal gets abolished. In the case of the massacres in Srebrenica, the history consists of the physical facts of violent abuse and terminations of people’s lives on the mass scale for very specific purposes. In the lack of the self-expression of the victims, another "history" was written for them, which, if "put on trial", in Felman’s formulation, only helps acquitting the physical murderers, the masterminds behind them and "monitors"-on-call, thus legalizing the victimizers’ claims, as the The Hague’s trials proved. Such an alchemy of history into theory, thus discharging the history of the particular historical facts that it consists of, and these of the possibility to be considered and treated in their particularity and in their particular responsibility is indeed what is to blame for the apocalypse of Bosnia as well as for its incomprehensible derivatives.

Certainly, once something becomes a theoretical concept, as it is the case with genocide or holocaust, it ceases to determine only one historical context or limit itself to only one frame of reference or one victimized minority, or even majority of population. The theoretical linking of different experiences of mass extermination and the cognitive assimilation of their traumatic cores in the domain of reality is to be understood as the objective of comparative genocide studies, as probably the only way to contribute to immediate notification of some other similar occurrences in the world and open the possibility for their prevention, as well as to break deathly narcissistic closures of those who survived the past "historical misfortunes" and prevent the responsive rhetoric of genocides’ deniers.

Yet theory is what often retracts history. The camps’ tortures and rapes are sometimes in the The Hague’s trials even described as "desired" and "provoked" and in the work of dozens of scholars who analyze the issues fully distorted. Let me mention Slavoj Zizek, my former-Yugoslavian fellow, who even run for the country’s president, a world-renowned Lacanian theorist, whose people and part of the country avoided the aggression and war, who ‘theoretically’ sees the Bosnian mass rapes as fantasized in advance by the obedient and desiring "Muslim" women. Zizek and Badiou even today write and speak worldwide about "the phantom Muslims of Bosnia".(5) Or take the recent Noam Chomsky’s genocidal denial in his review of and support to Diana Johnstone’s revisionist book "Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions" (2002) where she claims that for the plan of genocide "there is no evidence whatsoever" (pp109-118). On the grounds of supporting freedom of speech, Chomsky confirms that genocide did not take place either in Srebrenica or in Bosnia even after it has been established in the international law that it did.(6) Even Tariq Ali joined Chomsky, praising Johnstone’s "outstanding work" with "an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition." So the "Western" academic freedom appears to be a more worthy cause than some "anonymous" Bosnians’ right to human burial. That i s precisely where theory damages history, and where multiple récits on history or multiple re-inscriptions of history subvert the real of an event. Needless to say, genocides are envisioned from such a point.

© Fatima Festic (UCLA, USA)


(1) The video showing the execution of these men was released in 2005 from the The Hague’s documentation. Via the Center for the Humanitarian Rights in Belgrade, within a few days it was broadcasted in all parts of former Yugoslavia, and taken by most major TV stations in the world. Although the Center’s director Natasa Kandic was well-intentioned in her attempts to disclose the identities of the murderers this way, the release of the video proved to have multiple disastrous facets.

(2) The most wanted war criminals in hiding - Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

(3) Henrik Ibzen, When We Dead Awaken . Newly translated by Meyer, Michael. New York: Anchor Books.

(4) The case of Drazen Edamovic.

(5) Badiou, Allain (2001). Ethics. Trans. Peter Hallward. Verso. London. New York; Zizek, Slavoj (1994). The Metastases of Enjoyment: six essays on women and causality. New York & London: Verso. I was also present at their lectures numerous times worldwide - particularly relevant are lectures delivered by Zizek at the UCLA and University of South Carolina, Columbia, in early February 2003, and by Badiou at UCI Irvine, April 2005).

(6) Emma Brockes interviewed Noam Chomsky for the Guardian (Oct 31, 2005), focusing on his previous support of Johnstone in the Swedish Left-Wing Magazine Ordfront. The Guardian withdrew the interview on Nov 17 with apologies to Noam Chomsky for publishing along with Chomsky’s open letter to them (Nov 2) the protest letter of Kemal Pervanic, a young surviver of the Serbian concentration camp Omarska. This is the excerpt from the interview, quoted per Marko Attila Hoare, Nov 23, 2005, Brockes: "Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exagerated? Chomsky: "My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough...And it was a nicely written book, serious and important book...A good deal of what Serbs have been charged for has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication." And Johnstone wrote that Muslims "engineered their own killing and exagerated their own death-toll", while in fact "only 199 Muslims were killed."
I am (F.F.) also quoting Chomsky from a satelite interview with the BH TV (February, 2006). To the question of a young man survivor of Srebrenica: "I was there, I witnessed everything, I remember everything - do you believe me or Johnstone?", Chomsky answered with the following words - "when you write everything down and publish it, I will be able to compare the texts and then make a comment. At this point I can speak only on Johnstone’s and support her academic freedom."


1. Attila Hoare, Marco (2005). Chomsky’s genocidal denial. Nov. 23.

2. Felman, Shoshana (2002). Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.

3. Guardian, Oct 31 and Nov 2 and 17, 2005.

4. Hassan, Ihab (1987). The Postmodern Turn: essays in postmodern theory and culture. Columbus: Ohio State UP.

5. Ibzen, Henrik (1960). When We Dead Awaken. Trans. Meyer, Michael. New York: Anchor Books.

6. Imbert, Patrick (1998). The Permanent Transition. Frankfurt, Madrid Vervuert, Iberoamericana.

7. Jameson, Frederic (1987) Reading without Interpretation: postmodernism and video-text in The Linguistics of Writing; arguments between language and literature Ed. by Nigel Fabb...(et all). Manchester: Manchester UP.

8. Johnstone, Diana (2002). Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions".London: Pluto Press 2002.

9. Levinas, Emannuel (1998). The Other, Utopia and Justice (223-235) in Entre Nous: on thinking on the other. Trans. Smith, Michael and Harshav Barbara. New York: Columbia University Press.

10. Lyotard, Jean Francois (1984). The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures

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For quotation purposes:
Fatima Festic (CNES, Bunche Hall/ UCLA, LA, USA): When We Dead Awaken… Srebrenica’s victims versus rhetoric. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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