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Why you shouldn’t go fishing


Som en del av kursen ”History as social therapy and trauma recovery”, på Karlstads Universitet, skrev jag denna tidningsartikel om Bosnien. Den gör sig bättre i ”tidningsformat” med faktarutor och spalter, men håll tillgodo. Jag har många projekt igång samtidigt just nu!

“The Balkans is a region with a war-torn past marked by conflict, disagreement and division.
Can we create healing and a lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if we learn
from the past and weave the history together with modern trauma processing?”

Forget and move on?

Some years ago I worked in Bosnia and
Herzegovina. When I walked the streets of Sarajevo
there was still granade holes in the fasades of
the buildings and in some places the ground was
painted red, where people had died in bombings.
In the countryside, deserted houses still waited for
someone to come home. Many of the houses were
partially burnt down. Twenty years had passed
since the war.
During the stay I learned to know some new
friends. I asked a Bosnian-Serb officer, who worked
at the Signal Battalion in Pale, how he was
coping with the trauma that he went through
during the Balkan wars. He looked at me and said
“I go fishing, I don’t want to think about the war
or talk about it, I don’t want to connect with my
memories of what I have done.”

A short introduction
History of the Balkans
• The Balkans is located in the intersection of the east and the west, a hot zone for conflicts
• The Balkans has been torn into pieces by different rulers, religions, and ethnic differences through history
• Josip Broz Tito took power in 1945 and brought the people together in the nation called Yugoslavia (1)

Suppressed memories bring instability to future generations

There are historical conflicts that we can learn
from to create stability and a secure future in
Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other conflict-affected areas.
Modern trauma treatment can
provide solutions to heal historical trauma and
create peace in waraffected areas.
Without dealing with a trauma, new conflicts
can arise and a country’s development can also
slow down. It is important that individuals who
have experienced trauma, are given the opportunity
to talk about what they have been through so
that they can heal and move on. (6) Studies have
been done to see how children are affected by
living with parents who have experienced major
trauma. The study involved children whose
parents were victims of the Rwanda conflict and
children whose parents survived the Holocaust.
Unexpectedly, the trauma was passed on through
generations, even grandchildren felt pressure to
carry on the history of their relatives.
The children of trauma survivors can repress
their own feelings and can become depressed. (7)
The studies show that having two traumatised
parents resulted in an even greater degree of mental
problems for a child. Conversely there are still too
few studies to be able to give a clear picture of what
increases children’s resilience to be able to live a
fully successful life despite the parent’s trauma. (8)
Many years have past since the last war in the Balkans. The
children in Bosnia and Herzegovina who experienced the
atrocities of war have now grown up and have
children of their own. These children often
grow up with two traumatized parents.
It is important to actively intervene in this situation if
we want to to create a better future for the
coming generations and minimize the risks of new
conflicts. Few efforts have been made to promote
national healing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Can ethnic conflicts be solved?

A major problem regarding the Balkan conflict of ’92, is that no one
is earnestly seeking a solution. Each group wants
to dictate the conditions for peace, without giving in to
the needs of other parts.
The peace treaty in 1995 ended in a situation
reminiscent of placing kids in separated corners of
a room for eternity: like a punishment, that never
ends. Even if the treaty is what the parties of the
conflict agreed was the best way to deal with their
differences, it is likely not a long-lasting solution.
During the post-war period, especially after the
Cold War, there has been an increase in conflicts
around the world. Conflicts today have often been
characterized by causes linked to economic interests
and not by disagreements between states.
Conflicts today are also often fought
between different groups within a state
and are based on differences regarding
ethnicity or identity. This makes it difficult
to distinguish fronts in the war.
The conflict in the Balkans in  the 1990’s is an example
of such a conflict, and thus makes the conflict very
hard to solve. (10)
There are two common ways of looking at
ethnic conflicts. One is that they arise as a result
of how the institutions of a country are organized
(as you can see during apartheid in South africa),
and the other is that ethnic conflicts are based on
politics and not on ethnicity (as you kan see on the
Balkans). The Balkans are a multicultural area,
but the ethnic differenses do not have to be a
reason for division. In the former Yugoslavia,
both Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman used media
to spread strong nationalist rhetoric and bring
historical nationalist memories to life. These rulers
made great efforts to split the new Yugoslav
identity that had emerged, which had resulted in
mixed marriages and cosmopolitan cities. The new
countries’ constitutions only recognized ”pure”
ethnic identities. Many were forced to acknowledge their
ethnic identity under gun threat. (11)
Studies show that in order for an ethnic
conflict to arise in a country, it does not seem to
depend primarily on whether or not there are
major ethnic differences, but on if and how these
are used for political purposes.(12)
From an economic perspective, research shows
that diversity is enriching. Among other things, it
benefits trade, as cultural barriers are overcome;
and it contributes to growth because people with
different backgrounds also have different skills.
But for these benefits to come into play, national
policies need to be designed to stimulate
The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina today
divides the ethnic groups and there are no natural
meeting places to come together to create
community over etnical borders.
However it is not impossible to create peaceful
divisions and agreements over ethnic and regional
borders. There are countries that have emerged
through peaceful separation. Examples include
Norway / Sweden, Serbia / Montenegro, and
Slovakia / Czech Republic. (13)

A short introduction Balkan War 1992
• Nationalism started to grow after Titos death 1980
• Historical armed conflicts were cited as reasons for division. Individuals’ eagerness to do anything for power and money, fueled the troubled situation
• In April 1992, war broke out between Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats, who were on one side, and the Bosnian Serbs on the other side
• In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces took over the UN-protected ”safe area” of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and massacred up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys
• On November 21, 1995, following three weeks of talks in the US city of Dayton, Ohio, the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia agreed to a peace deal
• In December 1995, a NATO peacekeeping force was deployed in Bosnia, which had been divided into a Muslim-Croat Federation, covering 51% of the territory, and a Serb entity, the Republika Srpska (2)

History provides new opportunities for the future

Are there countries with difficult pasts that we can
learn from, in order to heal conflicts such as in
those in Bosnia and Herzegovina today?
The civil war in Finland between the “reds” and
the “whites” in 1918 became a national trauma,
that has affected generations. No one really
wanted to talk about the executions and concentration
camps organized on the white side.
For a long time it was only the white side – the
winning side – which wrote the history of the war
and in whose honor monuments were built. Many
tragic situations of the war and the red side’s
memories, were ignored. Sadly, it was a new war
that brought the nation together: the Winter War
of 1939. The external threat from other countries
during World War II brought large parts of the
Finnish society together and led to wide-spread
reconciliation .
It took a long time to update the history books
in school, but in time, the name “War of freedom”
was changed to “Civil war” and a new view of the
past was generally acknowledged. The new
perspectives led to healing for the red side’s families
and relatives, and gave them opportunity to
process the trauma from the past and finally move
on. (14)
Although it is well known that a common enemy
makes us come together, a new war is still not a
good solution for dealing with difficult situations,
such as the one in the Bosnia and Herzegovina or
other future conflicts.
In countries such as former Yugoslavia and
Rwanda, war crime tribunals were set up by the
UN Security Council to deal with large-scale crimes
committed and to come to terms with what happened during
the conflicts. In South Africa, no such
tribunal was ever established, but instead a “Truth
and Reconciliation Commission” was established
by the country itself.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s
mandate was to paint as clear a picture as possible
of the causes, background and extent of the serious
crimes committed during apartheid. The Commission
documented human rights violations, identifying the
victims and made decisions on amnesty
of perpetrators.
The Commission of Truth and Reconciliation
offered amnesty to those who made a full account
of all the relevant facts concerning the acts
committed in connection with apartheid. The result
has been positive. The Commission has held a
number of public hearings where witnesses have
had the opportunity to share their
experiences. (15)

How can you move on, when you don’t want to deal with the past?

In Finland, it took time to open up and be willing
to deal with the past, while in South Africa they
immediately tried to deal with the crimes
committed – through reconciliation. After the conflict in
the Balkans, attempts were made to solve the
the situation through courts and separating the
ethnic groups. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina
is a country, it was ethnically divided indefinitely.
It is not possible to solve a conflict in a healing
way, unless everyone is willing to participate. But
by finding reasons for cooperation, maybe
obstacles can be overcome. These reasons can be
searched for in the past, by exploring the history
and other cultures. However, arguments from
history can also be used to divide us.
It is more difficult to get healing through a court
process, as one part always will come out as the
winner and the other as the loser, which is not
healing in a trauma process for the losing part.
In that way, the forgiveness process is unique
after apartheid in South Africa, where individuals
were not convicted of their crimes. The important
thing in that process was to know what happened,
who did it and why. Not whose fault it was.
This is in line with modern trauma processing,
which does not look for perpetrators to blame.
Todays trauma treatment involves giving the
patient understanding of peoples behavior and
helping the patient with feelings of guilt and
psychological pain. (17)
Everyone is capable of doing the most terrible
things if exposed to different situations that we are
not used to deal with. Studies on the ”lucifer effect” have
shown that even ordinary, well-educated
people can commit atrocities.
Forgiveness has also been shown in studies to
provide the opportunity to move forward in
trauma processing. A victim who sees a perpetrator get punished,
does not feel the same psychological liberation and does not get
the same opportunity to move on, as the one that comes to terms
with the past and finally can forgive and
move on. (18)
As mentioned, children are affected by their
parents’ trauma and the trauma can move on
through generations. Therefore, it is important to
process situations and conflicts that have occurred
as soon as possible. History together with modern
trauma processing can open up new ways of
dealing with the past, but is there any hope for the
situation in Bosnia and Herezegovina?
The consequences of trauma and war have
been known for thousands of years. However, the
development of trauma treatment gained momentum at the
end of the 20th century. Although
referred by different names throughout history,
PTSD is today the common term used to name the
consequences of peoples’mental trauma. (19) New
knowledge in trauma treatment can perhaps open
up opportunities to create new approaches to solve
the strained situation in Bosnia and

Post- traumatic stress disorder
What is PTSD

PTSD can be caused by war, sexual assault, child abuse, torture, accidents, and other stressful
events. Is a chronic, debilitating anxiety disorder. Sufferers often struggle to maintain healthy lives
and relationships. Symptoms: Easily frightened, negative moods, always on guard, avoiding places,
avoiding thinking/talking of the trauma, flashbacks, aggressive behaviour, substance abuse,
sleeping difficulty. (5)

A peace agreement for the future

No one questioned the post- Holocaust trials. The
picture was clear: an ”evil” side that committed
criminal acts, and an innocent side that were
victims of evil. During apartheid in South Africa
a system had made the inhabitants separate and
treated differently. The aparteid system was already
obsolete when it was put into use.
Many in the population were against the division and
the conditions that aparteid entailed. The ideas of
forgiveness benefit everyone to be able to move on.
Although white population played a crucial role
in oppressing the rights of black population, there
was a desire to see the future together, in a
rainbow nation. (20)
In the Balkans, all sides of the war in 1992 had
committed war crimes, and had put people in
concentration camps and also had been involved
in torture of dissedents and killing of civilians. The
court process have not been able to make justice
after the war. The Serbian part of the population
feels that their crimes have more often been
convicted and prosecuted then other sides of the
war. (21)
To understand history, we must understand that
history does not look the same for everyone. If you
ask a person from Sweden about Gustav II Adolf,
you will surely get a beautiful picture of a fabulous
warrior king. A person from Poland will certainly
not have given the same picture of this king whom,
with his army, abused and burned down Poland.
Using ”history as a court” and trying to ”find a
common picture” that all parties can agree on, and
determine who is right and who is wrong in a conflict,
is probably impossible. Especially in Bosnia
and Herzegovina, where ethnic differences are still
significant. Court as a tool for restoration healing
and moving forward, is probably most appropriate
where one part has been the strongest and has
committed a crime against the weaker part.
During the Finnish Civil War, the white side
was stronger and rewrote history to paint over
their abuses against the red side. Had the white
side’s concentration camps and executions come
out in public immediately after the events, a court
might have had a function. But if you want to
judge crimes in order to heal and avoid historical
trauma, you also must have an outside part who
can judge. The winning side always writes the history.
Had Hitler won World War II, we would not
have had any trials after the concentration camps
and war crimes after the war, and the voices about
the atrocities would have been silenced.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina we have groups
with different stories about what happened
during the war. The trials have not accelerated
the healing, but instead created new divisions and
causing new conflicts. Although war crimes
should be taken to court, more measures must be
taken to deal with the region’s traumatic past. The
effect of a ruling in court leads to situations where
people don’t dare to open up and talk about the
events in which they themselves have been involved and
participated in, in fear of ending up in
court themselvs. Not daring to talk makes it
impossible to heal a trauma, and parts of the regions
history will be lost when the person dies. The
side that is convicted at a trial often doesn’t want
to seek contact with the winning side. This creates
new problems and makes lasting peace difficult
to achieve.

Consequences of the war in 1992
• The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia was established in 1993
• The court’s purpose was to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes during the conflicts
• The peace is still very fragile; the peace agreement has cemented differences between ethnic groups. You vote, live, and get married within your own ethnic group.
• Children from different ethnic groups do not attend the same schools and preschools, and don’t learn the same history about the nation’s past

There are issues crippling the efforts to bring
healing in the Balkans. For example, the
Dayton agreement and the trials have created
obstacles for the nation to heal. Another aggravating
factor is unemployment. In Bosnia and
Herzegovina, youth unemployment can be as high
as 50%, which also leads to conflicts among
ethnic groups, as some are considered better off
than others. (22)
To handle future conflicts , we should take with
us the combined history lessons from the Balkans,
but also of South Africa and Finland in order to
create a future where peoples and generations can
One way to learn from history and use it to treat
trauma to move forward is ”Narrative Brading”.
A process for creating an inclusive story, where the
story from all sides of the conflict are ”braided
together”. The authorities provide a common
picture of the nation’s history that includes all
sides and perspectives.
Another way of treating trauma is called
”Narrative therapy”, a way of learning to see history
in alternative ways to find a solution. Although
this methods are good, they only work if there is an
active desire to find a common healing. (22)
This is difficult in Bosnia and Herzegovina today,
as the groups are actively seeking what separates
them, not what brings them togheter.
Children are the future. It has been said many
times, but there is truth in it. The children Bosnia
and Herzegovina must be allowed to meet and play
together; it is the only possible way to create lasting
peace and heal the nation. What if the peace
agreement had contained a clause prohibiting
schools to be divided according to ethnicity? That
is a lesson learned for future peace agreements.
And if all parts in the conflict opposed it, what if
children could be offered the opportunity to heal
through creative therapy?
Most adults look after the best interests of their
children, and even war lords are parents. Giving
the nations children an opportunity to feel good
and play, and also to be able to develop, may give a
peace agreement a better start.
Creative therapy is a fairly new phenomenon
where trained therapist use dance, drama, poetry
and music to help individuals heal.(24)
If children from all etnical groups can come
together at least once a week to play in an orchestra,
sing, dance, and talk about their parents’
difficult memories, wouldn’t we have come at least
one step closer to a lasting peace and unity?
By investing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and finding
ways to give the new generation a job to go to,
is also important. These are certainly also important
ways of spreading peace in the region.
In South Africa, laws have been created to require
workplaces to employ staff from multiple ethnic
backgrounds. It should be said that this rule has
caused trouble because it can be difficult to get
qualified staff, but at the same time it gives a clear
guideline that everyone should be able to work at
the same place. It will take time to create balance
in the very unequal South Africa, but their system
of trying to include all groups in society is
something that several countries should
be inspired by.(25)
There is still a lot we can do for the Bosnia and
Herzegovina and there is still hope for a secure
peaceful future in the region.

To “go fishing”, and try to repress the
trauma, is to pass on a dark situation to the
next generation. By creating opportunities
to open up and talk about history, we can
heal, and move on into the future.

Sara Trygg
History as social therapy and trauma recovery
Karlstads University

1-2. Ahonen, Sirkka. (2012). Coming to Terms with a
Dark Past. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main; Resic, Sanimir. (2013). Balkans historia: Jugoslaviens uppgång och
fall. Historiska Media, Lund.
3. Zimbardo, Philip. (2008). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random
House Trade.
4. DN, (2018) Segregerade skolor lever kvar i ett uppdelat Bosnien.
https://www.dn.se/nyheter/varlden/segregerade-skolor-lever-kvar-i-ett-uppdelat-bosnien/ (downloaded
2020, 12 December)
5. American psychiatric association, (2020) What Is
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?.
https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/whatis-ptsd (downloaded 2020, 12 December)
6. Columbia River Mental Health Services, (2017) Historical Trauma; How do we heal centuries of
suffering?. https://crmhs.org/historical-trauma-how-do-we-heal-centuries-of-suffering/ (downloaded 2020, 26 December)
7. SVD, (2013) Expert: ”Trauman ärvs genom generationer”. https://www.svd.se/expert-trauman-arvsgenom-generationer (downloaded 2020, 12 December)
8. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, (2019) Intergenerational consequences of the Holocaust on
offspring mental health: a systematic review of associated factors and mechanisms.
PMC6720013/ (downloaded 2020, 12 December)
9. Ahonen, Sirkka. (2012). Coming to Terms with a
Dark Past. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main; Resic, Sanimir. (2013). Balkans historia: Jugoslaviens uppgång och
fall. Historiska Media, Lund.
10-13. Ulrica Schenström, (2016) Etniska konflikter. https://www.migrationsinfo.se/attityder/etniskakonflikter/
(downloaded 2020, 25 December)
14-16. Ahonen, Sirkka. (2012). Coming to Terms with a
Dark Past. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main.
17. Kris- och Traumacentrum, (2009) Behandlingsmetoder. http://krisochtraumacentrum.se/behandlingsmetoder/
(downloaded 2020, 26 December)
18. Zimbardo, Philip. (2008). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random
House Trade.
19. Crocq, Marc-Antoine, Crocq, Louis. (2000) From
shell shock and war neurosis to posttraumatic stress
disorder: a history of psychotraumatology. https://www.
(downloaded 2020, 26 December)
20. Ahonen, Sirkka. (2012). Coming to Terms with a
Dark Past. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main.
21. Ahonen, Sirkka. (2012). Coming to Terms with a
Dark Past. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main; Resic, Sanimir. (2013). Balkans historia: Jugoslaviens uppgång och
fall. Historiska Media, Lund.
22. Sveriges Radio, (2020) Var tredje bosnier utan jobb –
högsta nivån i Europa.
https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/7536911 (downloaded
2020, 26 December)
23.Cobb, Sara. (2013) Narrative Braiding and the Role
of Publi Officials in Transformating the Public Conflicts;
Carr, Alan (1998), Michel Withe´s Narrative Therapy
24. Svenska psykotraumaföreningen, (2020) Om behandling. https://psykotrauma.org/ompsykotrauma/
om-behandling/ (downloaded 2020, 26 December)
25. Landguiden, (2019) Arbetsmarknad. https://www.

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