New Report – ““They are not the ones facing a life changing choice”:Public Attitudes to AntiReproductive Choice (“Pro-Life”) Protests”

New Report – ““They are not the ones facing a life changing choice”:Public Attitudes to AntiReproductive Choice (“Pro-Life”) Protests”

We’ve finally finished working on some data gathered in 2016 about reproductive choice protests in the UK.  Based on the results from an online survey, some of the findings are that:

  • Pro-Life protests are viewed significantly more negatively compared to other protests by the general public.
  • Buffer zones were supported by 84% of respondents including 60.9% of those who favoured no restrictions on the freedom to protest.
  • For respondents to this study, attitudes to restricting Pro-Life protests were not, in general, one of limiting freedom to protest but rather of enforcing appropriate responsibility in selecting sites for protest for this issue.

There’s much more in the report itself which will soon be available from the University of Gloucestershire Research Repository but in the meantime is here.  The report is just in time to be submitted to the Home Office Call for Evidence on Abortion Clinic protests so it’s headed off to that too!Abortion Report

Women under Conflict NUS Panel Talk 30/03/2017

Women under Conflict NUS Panel Talk 30/03/2017

Having been asked to talk about gender and genocide in the Bosnian genocide at NUS Women’s Conference I realised I have shied away from writing a post about sexual violence in Bosnia.  There are various reasons for this which I will muse on in another post, whilst also writing that post.  However the text below is an attempt to write up the notes for the above talk so there will be differences between what I said and what I’ve written, (sorry).  Links for action at the end….

Content Note – contains descriptions of sexual violence, misogyny, genocide, crimes against humanity, Islamophobia and racism.

The events in Bosnia in the 1990s are most known for in terms of the massacres of men and boys and especially the massacre of over 8,000 men and boys from Srebrenica over a few days in July 1995.  However the true extent of what happened in Bosnia is more complex than this and there are names which we should be just as familiar with and we aren’t – names like Ormarska, Uzamnica, Foča, Keraterm, Vojno, Zvornik and Kalinovik.  This latter site, Kalinovik saw the abduction and rape of over 100 women and girls.  During the whole break-up of the former Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia saw rape being used as an act of war mostly by Bosnian Serbs but also by Croat, Kosovan and Macedonian forces and yet we know almost nothing in the UK about this part of the Bosnian genocide.  In total it is estimated that 20,000-50,000 women were raped in Bosnia alone during this time.

Raphael Lemkin’s definition of genocide focuses on the systematic destruction of a people and includes killing; bodily and mental harm; conditions of life designed to bring about destruction; preventing births within a group and forcible transfer of children out of a group.  But we have to bear in mind that all the definitions of genocide are written in the aftermath of particular historical moments, Lemkin was writing after the Holocaust for example, and all have been written by men and I would argue relate very much to men’s experiences of conflict.  The focus tends to be on deaths and destruction of culturally significant sights and buildings.  And these are important.  But the idea of the destruction of the people must be broader if it is to encompass women and girl’s experiences in conflicts.

In Bosnia we saw:

  • the systematic, often public, rape of women and girls as a tool of control, humiliation and punishment which is designed to expel women and girls from their families and communities.
  • the systematic rape of women and girls as the “spoils of war”, that is as the reward for loyal service to the Republika Srpska and the greater Serbian cause.
  • the systematic forcible rape of women prisoners by soldiers and by male prisoners, often forcing family members to commit rape including sons raping mothers, uncles raping nieces etc.  Forcing prisoners to rape other men and boys also happened.
  • systematic impregnation by soliders and enforced pregnancy based on the idea that nationality is passed down patrilinealy (down the father’s line) and therefore a Bosnian Muslim woman forced to bear a Bosnian Serb man’s child is considered to be a Bosnian Muslim woman forced to bear a Bosnian Serb child.  The focus is entirely on the identity of the male progenitor and not on the family or community into which the child is born.  There were 1,000s of such “war babies” born in the aftermath of the genocide which Balkan media still often refer to as “shame babies” or “genocidal babies” with the implication that the most important part of that child’s identity is the nationality of the sperm which created them.

Niall Ferguson argued that the sexual violence in Bosnia was co/incidental to pursuit of Serbian nationalism.  It is worth noting here that what happened in Bosnia has been described as an “ethnic war” but was actually all about nationalism and nationalist expansion.  Contrary to Ferguson, Pierre Bayard has argued that the sexual violence was the “result of a concerted policy of cultural eradication” and the UN has acknowledged that the rapes “cannot be seen as incidental” because they served the same “strategic purpose in itself”.  We have to acknowledge that the campaign of rape and sexual violence was designed to eradicate the Bosnian Muslim identity.  It was the stated aim of Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serb political commander, was to make life intolerable or unbearable for Bosnian Muslim populations.  If we make the link between how women are seen as the bearers and the protective guardians of ways of life.  In making life intolerable, this was absolutely about women as well as men.  Ratko Mladić explicitly talked about killing all (Bosnian Muslim) men but letting the women go free so they could suffer.  This links directly to by Cynthia Cockburn about women in conflict experiencing, amongst other things, “identity hurt” in which the losses they experience (the missing, the dead, their homes, livelihoods and communities), their own experiences (of violence and sexual violence) and dislocations (forcible displacements, loss of role etc) come together.


The loss of family and friends can be marked and memorialised by burial where bodies have been located and identified (still an ongoing process – the picture above is of the Srebrenica cemetery and memorial at Potočari) but how does one mark the sexual violence inflicted particularly in a culture where such discussion is still stigmatised and silenced?

So it is fundamental that we understand acts of genocide to be deeply gendered along pre-existing gendered fault lines.  We see this time and again.  Sexual violence in conflict follows these fault lines because it follows the pre-existing formations of masculinity, femininity and gender roles within societies.  We see this not only within conflicts, but post-conflict to with the involvement of, for example, UN peace-keepers in rape and in trafficking inside and across country borders.  It is also evident in the fact that Bosnia is now one of the worst places to be a woman in Europe on a variety of measures including health, rights and political participation.

However, there were, and there are, some pinpricks of hope from Bosnia.  First, it was in the aftermath of the Bosnian genocide that the International Criminal Tribunals first convicted people for rape used as a systematic weapon of war as a crime against humanity (but you will note, not as genocide).  This followed the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to recognise rape in conflict as a crime against humanity.  However there was a prevailing (racist) assumption that this would not happen in a European context – until it did.  Dragoljub Kunarac was sentenced to 28 years for ordering a variety of crimes against humanity including the gang-rape, torture and enslavement of Bosnian Muslim women and girls in Foča and elsewhere between April 1992 and February 1993.  Second, we can acknowledge and illustrate that women are not passive during or after conflict situations and we can see this through examples such as the Bosnian Serb women who stormed a bus forcibly displacing Bosnian Muslim women and children demanding their release from the armed driver and guards.  We can see this from the continued pressure of the Mothers of Srebrenica (and elsewhere) and Women in Black (which started in Belgrade, Serbia to oppose the Serbian nationalist project in Bosnia and elsewhere) which led to the formation of the International Commission for Missing Persons in Bosnia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The same organisations set up the Women’s Courts which sought to fill the gap left by the ICTY not having a truth and reconciliation process embedded within it.  We see it in the work of organisations like Snaga Zene which works to help women affected by the Bosnian genocide to get back to mental, physical, economic and social health.  We see it in the resistance to the post-war pro-natalist policies on all sides which argued that a woman’s highest duty post-genocide was to repopulate their communities numbers.  As Catherine Hall has warned, however, we cannot assume that women are “naturally” peace makers as there were and remained active involvement of women in the physical and sexual violence against men, women and children in the Bosnian conflict.

So, to close up, what can we do….

  • remember that, as di Giovanni 2004 argued “academics should know better” but the majority of Serbian and Bosnian Serbian leaders were intellectuals and this includes:
    • Slobodan Milošević’s wife, Mirjana taught Sociology at the University of Belgrade.
    • Radovan Karadžić was a psychiatrist who trained at the University of Sarajevo and Columbia Medical School in the USA.
    • Biljana Plavšić was Professor of Biology at University of Sarajevo.

(For more on the role of intellectuals, see here). We need to remain aware that our institutions are not, by far, perfect and that they embody particular forms of intersecting political and social powers which mean that we must remain focused on what is happening on campus as well as looking outward.

  • the 10th step of genocide in Gerald Stanton’s work is denial.  Bearing witness to genocides  is the biggest thing we can do to combat denial.
    • We must bear witness to those genocides that have happened including Srebrenica Memorial Day (11th July), Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January) and Hate Crimes Awareness Week (2017 – 14-21st October).
    • Given that Srebrenica Memorial Day falls outside of most University term time, then there is a network of Community Champions and Regional Boards across the country who would welcome help – organise an event, a talk, a workshop (using the materials for this year’s theme of “Gender and Genocide” available soon).
    • Support those groups who have experienced genocide, for example by fundraising for organisations like Snaga Zene in Bosnia and others, and by supporting those who are or are on the verge of experiencing genocide including Palestine, South Sudan, Rohinga Muslims, Yazidi Christians and the list could go on.
  • If you are local to the West Midlands or the South West, come to hear a Bosnian genocide survivor talk about the experience at the University of Gloucestershire on 26th April (link to follow shortly).
  • If you are not local to those areas then use the resources (videos, teaching packs etc) provided by Remembering Srebrenica including the video by Janine Natalya Clark on sexual violence in Bosnia and the book and video being produced to mark this year’s theme.  Also use the materials from Holocaust Memorial Trust and other groups to mark and and bear witness at all opportunities available to you.

Finally thank-you to NUS Women’s Campaign for putting on this amazing panel and for inviting me as both a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at University of Gloucestershire who researches sexual violence and victim/survivor voices and as a Remembering Srebrenica Community Champion.

Intelligensia and Genocide

Intelligensia and Genocide

It’s a common myth that political outcomes which are disliked must be because of a disaffected working class, they are the scapegoat to which all seem to turn as an explanation.  We saw these claims after the Brexit vote, they are being made now about the US election results.  These claims are made in response to any unwanted nationalistic outpouring and they are the basis that some tabloids work on, the idea that the working classes are more easily swayed by prejudice, demagoguery and, ultimately, hatred.  But the trust we have to remember is that the disaffected working class don’t have the power to create these platforms, merely to respond to then, in terms of understanding how these agendas are shaped, we have to look at a far more complicated situation.  And for the Bosnian genocides and the war itself, as with events now, the role of academics and Universities deserves much greater attention.

A quick run down of people’s biographies

Academics should know better […] but in fact the core if the Pale mafia [those who planned, ordered and conducted the genocide] were brilliant intellectuals (di Giovanni, 2004, p.250)

  • First Prime Minister of post-Tito Yugoslavia was Dobrica Ćosić, a political theorist who was posthumously awarded the 2010 Pushkin Medal by Russia for arts and culture, education, humanities and literature.  He argued that Serbs were the 20th century equivalent of the Jews in 1930s Europe and that ‘outside forces’ were determined to subordinate Serbian people “to Muslim hegemony”.  He also continuously supported Ratko Mladić’s actions during the Bosnian war. He encouraged the writing of the 1986 SANU Memorandum which declared that Serbs were victims of widespread discrimination and genocide and that the ‘Serbian question’ wouldn’t be solved until there was recognition of national and cultural unity of Serb peoples without reference to where their lived (i.e. Serbian soveriengty existed wherever Serbians lived, a point echoed later in Milošević’s politics).
  • A signatory to the SANU Memorandum was Mihailo Marković who was later to be vice-president of the Slobodan Milošević’s Socialist Party of Serbia.  He was a Philosophy Lecturer at the University of Belgrade for most of his career.
  • Similarly, Vasilije Krestić co-wrote the SANU memorandum and continued to defend it’s sentiments even giving evidence in defence of Slobodan Milošević before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  He was a Historian at University of Belgrade.
  • Slobodan Milošević studied law at the University of Belgrade and his wife had been a fellow student studying Sociology, she continued to teach at University of Belgrade as Milošević progressed his political career.
  • Radovan Karadžić was a psychiatrist.
  • Karadžić’s Vice-President was an English Literature Professor and Shakespearean expert at the University of Sarajevo, Nikola Koljević .  He was responsible for the burning of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which was rebuilt after the end of the war, picture below). This was one of the most egregious acts of vandalism, designed to act as the cultural and intellectual arm of the genocide in Bosnia and whose roots lie very much in the book burnings of Nazi Germany. 


  • After Karadžić, the next Republika Srpska President was Biljana Plavšić, who was Head of Biology at University of Sarajevo. She repeated made claims about the biological degeneracy of the Bosnian Muslims and that “ethnic cleansing” (a term constructed solely for the Bosnian genocides, the Nazi’s used to call the same thing “liquidation” of populations) was a “natural phenomenon”.  She is described as “often goading Mladić into pressing his men further” in their conduct of the genocide (di Giovanni 2004 p,252) and post-war was supported by Madeliene Albright, Tony Blair and Robin Cook because “her style – straightforward, intelligent – was more acceptable to Western leaders than Karadžić’s. “They felt she could be trusted more than Karadžić to implement the Dayton Accord, event if she had championed the siege of Sarajevo and urged on Mladić and Karadžić” (ibid p.253).

    Ratko Mladić studied in the Military Academy and was a regional Head of Education before the War started.

  • Dr Milomir Stakić was a medical doctor who founded the Omarska concentration and death camp during the Bosnian war.

The list could continue, but hopefully you get the idea….

So what?

My point here is two-fold. First it is simply wrong to attribution violent nationalism to some kind of “feral underclass” (as Cameron described parts of the UK).  Instead violent nationalism is often incited and led by those who are comfortably ensconced in privilege and too often in employment deemed to be “intellectual”.  If we look closer to home at those who are spreading divisive ideas about threats to the UK’s national identity (in the name of protecting “Britishness” or “British values” and UK national identity in the singular because that’s how they see it) we same educational elitism is apparent.  (Note, I am not drawing a direct parallel between their actions and those of leaders in the Bosnian War – I’m saying we need to examine underlying processes which share characteristics):

  • Nigel Farage, for example, who uses an almost comedic representation of the “common man down the pub” as his public persona was educated at the  eye-wateringly expensive Dulwich College (fees now around £40,000 per year).
  • Moving into even further nationalist extremes Alan Ayling, allegedly the financial backer of the English Defence League (although denied by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson) was Director of a capital investment management company.  He was interviewed by British Police at the request of Norwegian investigations about links to the far-right murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
  • Andrew Brons, previously a British National Party MEP and formerly member of the National Front, is a graduate of York University and a Further Education Lecturer in Politics.
  • Nick Griffin, former BNP front man, was partly educated at Saint Felix School which charges £27,000 per year fees and at Downing College, Cambridge.
  • 48% of the current cabinet was educated at Oxford or Cambridge Universities, admittedly down on the 64% in Cameron’s cabinet.  Most of the others are alumni of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Warwick, St Andrews, Southampton, Keele, Exeter and Imperial College – all ‘elite’ institutions.  Only one did not attend University and two did not attend ‘elite’ institutions (Bradford and Wales at Newport).

In short, I think we have to ask very serious questions about the role of “elite” educational institutions and the creation of nationalist politics, here and abroad.  Before anyone starts to cite Donald Trump as an exception to this, I’d remind them that under the buffoon-exterior Trump was educated at Fordham and Wharton and that his victory is already being discussed as paving the way for success for Marine Le Pen of the French Front Nationale who herself was educated at Pantheon-Assas which is basically the Sorbonne’s law school. In short, just as if you begin to unpick the higher education trajectories of the leaders of the genocide in the Balkans you begin to see the involvement of ‘elite’ educational institutions, then the same happens if you begin to follow the the threads of the education of the UK and Europe’s nationalistic leaders, and those who allow it to happen (about whom more in a later post).  Owen Jones argues that we need to pay attention to The Establishment and what they can get away with, but within that we need to think seriously about not just their business links but also their educational links because Universities, like all educational institutions, act as a formative part of attendee’s socialisation; put simply, they encourage a particular set of perspectives about the world and about an individual’s role within it (see here for how this sort of shared perspective grew the Serbian nationalist discourse over the twenty years that led to the Serbian actions during the dissolution of Yugoslavia).  Policy makers accept this about schools and, indeed, schools have become one of the forefronts of racist policies at the current time in which Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students are considered in need of education on how to ‘integrate’, ‘British values’ and ‘radicalisation’ whilst white, British students are considered uncontentiously OK despite evidence that the lack of integration is driven largely by white populations and one of the major aspects of radicalisation at the current time is the lurch to a hyper-nationalist, right wing way of thinking.  If, as Brecht says, war is like love and always find a way, then we have to start to ask how institutions play a role in making that happen.

My second point is mostly for academics

Following from this, we have to think, as academics, about what our role is in both engaging in public discourse and in challenging colleagues.  Some things do set the UK higher education sector apart from the 1990s Yugoslav one, for example the UK has more educational institutions.  But it is a highly divided sector with some parts considering themselves elite amongst institutions (measured in highly subjective and highly privileged ways such as student entry grades (which has nothing to do with the relative value of what the higher education institution itself does); research grants (which are heavily skewed by subject areas) and endowments which at least partially are a comment on the monied backgrounds of students coming into the institution rather than an forecast of potential earnings on leaving and which are again skewed by subject area).

My experience is that within those self-proclaimed ‘elite’ institutions and many of those institutions the “elite” would look down upon, there is a very sheltered and sheltering idea of academic community which protects students and staff alike from the real consequences of racism, homophobia, misogyny and classism/elitism.  Just as, generously, contemporary higher education across the former Yugoslavia could be described as strangely sheltered from the meaning of their actions, as when earlier this year, a student dorm in Republica Srpska (one of the two areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina was officially named after Radovan Karadžić, just days before his verdict was handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.  In the UK there has been some discussion of the historical legacy of racism within University environment (for example through Rhodes Must Fall and calls for Universities to acknowledge their colonially involved pasts) but generally speaking Universities remain bastions of white privilege racism and misogyny.

Take for example historian David Starkey who during the 2011 unrest in major urban cities, sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, declared that “a substantial amount of the chavs have become black” (a statement which manages to combine a virulent sort of elitism with a similarly virulent racism).  Last year University of Cambridge, where Starkey was an undergraduate (before transferring to London School of Economics), asked Starkey to front a video appealing for funds, which he duly did.  When a body of academics and students challenged the University on this, Starkey responded by daubing anyone who opposed him as anti-free speech.

It raises any question about the nature of academic inquiry and academic freedom, I shall reserve the right to comment freely but without recrimination. – David Starkey

This is a frequent response I’ve seen, that any challenge to the content of what is said by a privileged, white, institutionally embedded person speaking on any topic becomes rewritten as a challenge to free speech.  Here Starkey absolutely defends his absolute right to say what he wants despite the fact that as a Tudor period constitutional historian his knowledge of contemporary classed and raced urban existence might be considered somewhat minimal.  Remember Mihailo Marković was a Philosophy Lecturer and Nikola Koljević was a Shakespeare studies academic and yet both used their platforms to spread a particular form of Serbian nationalism unchallenged.

This claim by some UK academics that it is imperative that we have some sort of right to absolute freedom of speech without responsibility for what we and without expecting recrimination or challenge for what we say is deeply troubling.  For one, it ignores that challenges to the existing power relationships by academics are frequently hostilely questioned. Second, any remaining challenge of racism, elitism or misogyny (etc) frequently becomes mischaracterised as being thin-skinned, lacking moral fibre or being unwilling to hear ‘difficult’ viewpoints.  What is scary and reductive about these comments are the ways in which they ignore the realities life in racist, misogynistic society.  Young women who oppose being told that rape isn’t the worst thing that could happen to them will often be young women who daily run the gauntlet of misogynistic sexual violence in which rape is used as the absolute pinnacle of threat and of force, they will also, sadly, be the young women who are raped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed at our Universities.  Young Black, Asian and minority ethnic people who are told that no-platforming racists or far-right nationalists is an act of cowardice and they should be ashamed of their lack of engagement  in debate are the same young people who have grown up being disproportionately stopped-and-searched, witnessed marches (allowed and illegal) targeting their home areas and who have been spat at, insulted and physically attacked just for who they are.  In short, what the entrenched, privileged speakers don’t seem to grasp is that we don’t have a level playing field from which we can ‘politely’ and ‘cultivatedly’ discuss things in dispassionate ways, because whilst they are sheltered in institutions, others are embedded in the everyday logics and practices of racism, misogyny, homophobia and disablism.

This fake notion of the level playing field also appeared in the Bosnian war, as a justification for British non-intervention when Douglas Hurd argued that lifting the arms embargo so that the Free Bosnian Army could fight would have only created a level playing field for the war.  In this instance Hurd recognised that the playing field wasn’t level, but argued that it’s very inequality would be the groundwork for ending the war.  As Simm later characterised it, Hurd’s insistence that “The civilians have an effect on the combatants, Their interests put pressure on the warring factions to treat for peace.” needs you to “read this disgraceful passage several times before you realise that Hurd was denying sanctuary to the victims of the Serbs (and of his diplomacy) so he could use their misery to force Bosnia to cut a deal with the ethnic cleansers” (Cohen 2001).  So this isn’t just about lone wolf style academics who model themselves on some notion of the wild-card, challenging individual (like Starkey, Žižek and Fox), it’s systemic.  Universities are as much sites of segregation and racism as the sheltered upper echelons of all our social institutions.  And right wing nationalists have no problem using any form of safety measure we put in place to challenge such systems of prejudice for their own ends, Starkey and other racists call for their voices to be included because otherwise they are being no-platformed and that is unjust.  In the US, new right wing groups under the broad coalition of Alt Right, are demanding “right-wing safe spaces” be established on College campuses as if calls for non-racist practice threatens a pre-established legitimacy and access for their viewpoints.  In the 1980s and 1990s the already dominant and powerful Serbian nationalists demanded that all Serbians be considered united and allowed historic rights of Greater Serbian interests irrespective of the country in which they lived whilst Bosnian nationalist academics propagating the view that all Serbs were being persecuted in their (non-Serbia) home countries.  In the global North we see similar such provocations being made by the already powerful, dominant white elite.  Serbian nationalists used this as the basis to use state and non-state institutions (such at the military and the media) against these other groups they blamed for undermining and suppressing Serbian interests.  In the global North at the current time right-wing nationalists  are using their “persecution” as the basis to use state and non-state institutions (such as the Police and the media) against these other groups (immigrants, for example, Europeans and some vague notion of ‘social justice warriors’) that they blame for undermining and suppressing their interests.

Overly pessimistic dystopianism?  Perhaps, actually in some ways I really hope it is.  But as Primo Levi said about the Nazi Holocaust, “we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere”.  His call to listen to survivors of the Holocaust must be entrenched in the ways in which we think about the testimonies of those who survived the genocide in Bosnia – Levi said “we must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience” – but similarly we must not only listen but question what this means for us, for our society and those within it.  And that include those of us in the sheltering institutions of academia.



Cohen, N (2001) “Balkans Betrayed” in The Guardian available here

di Giovanni, J (2004) Madness Visible London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Primoratz, I (1999) “Serbian Intellectuals and the War in the Balkans” in Sociological Imagination V36 N2/3 p.143-153


The Sarajevo story & the genocide story

The Sarajevo story & the genocide story

I will be continuing to blog my experiences from the Remembering Srebrenica delegation over the coming few days… here’s part 3 prompted by visits to the Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope and Potoćari both of which I will talk about more in later posts

The Sarajevo Story

Imagine this… you live in a block of flats, much like the ones on the left hand side of this picture, about two thirds of the way up. You’ve shared life experiences with these neighbours, your kids have grown up together, you’ve had fun times and sad times together as neighbours.


You wake up one day to discover a bunch of your neighbours aren’t there any more.  What do you do?  What do you do when you begin to realise all the ones who are missing are also all your neighbours who share a common background?  What do you do when you realise that their background meant that they were given a chance to escape?  They were told to get up, pack up, quietly remove themselves and, most of all, to not tell you or the others like you that there was a chance to get out.  What do you do?

Now imagine yourself on the other side of that.  Because of some common background, in the early days of military action against your city, you are told you can get out. The condition?  You cannot tell your neighbours about the chance to go, you must abandon them to military action against them, conducted by other people who share your common background.  Your neighbours, your children’s friends, your friends.  Could you?  Would you take that chance knowing it means death for those people with whom you’ve shared so much in the past?

This is one of the real human questions of the Sarajevan siege.  Bosnian Serbs were, by word of mouth, given the chance to escape the city, to leave their Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat (mostly Catholic) friends to the continuing attack of the Army of the Republika Srpska, under the control of Ratko Mladić (we’ll return to Mladić later).  I can’t post any pictures here of Sarajevo during or immediately after the war because, unsurprisingly, they were taken by professional photographers and are all pay-for-use – but google them, you can see them on other sites for free.  This is also the story told by one of our country hosts of what happened to him as a 19 year old young man.

Understanding the Divisions

The Wars which took place in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia relate to various factors including the previous regime and perceptions of ethnicity.  Tito’s Yugoslavia had ruled over a diverse country of some 22.5 million people (in 1981) stretching from Slovenia in the north to Macedonia in the south. The population included at least 24 recognised ethnic grounds including Slovenes, Albanians, Romani (who I’ll return to later), Turks, Bulgarians, Vlachs, Ruthenians and others.  There were also populations who identified only as Bosnians too.

The three largest groups, by percentage of population in the former Yugoslavia were Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslins) who together accounted for 64.9% of the whole population in 1981.  However intermarriage was common so these ethnicities were co-mingled rather than obsessively preserved.  With Tito’s death and the break up of the vast country, many groups stated claims to lands for their group to re-create what Anderson might call “imaginary homelands” which either had historical precedent or which groups felt had historical precedent (remember that the area we’re talking about had seen successive empires lay claim to it, nothing was historically particularly clear.  After the break-up of the Yugoslav state, Republic of Serbia President Milošević attempted to assume the mantle of Tito’s Yugoslavia and retain control over the disparate states.  Predictably this didn’t go down well, particularly as there had been tensions within Yugoslavia long before Tito’s death about Serbian dominance within the Federation and Tito had taken successive measures to try and counteract that.

The Wars which ensued were, then, driven by ideas of ethnicity, territory and by mythical shining histories of great and good prior states.  With Milošević in charge in the Republic of Serbia, Radovan Karadžić, who was President of the Republika Srpska announced six ‘strategic objectives’ for the Bosnian Serb state in 1992:

  1. Creating state borders to separate Bosnian Serb peoples from Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
  2. Establish a Republika Srpska land corridor between Semberija and Krajina.
  3. Have lands which meant that the river Drina no longer acted as a border between the Republic of Serbia and Bosnian Serb lands
  4. Establish borders for Bosnian Serb lands using the rivers Una and Neretva.
  5. Divide Sarajevo Cold War Berlin-style between Serbian populations and the other populations with independent state authorities.
  6. Ensure sea access for Bosnian Serbia.

Karadžić wanted a distinctly Bosnian Serb homeland, co-operative with and connected two the larger Republic of Serbia but with autonomy.  The rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, were trying to hold together and reform a country which still embodied the multi-ethnic existence it had long known.

Back to Srebenica – Opstati ili Nestati

Mladić is reported to have repeatedly told Srebenica’s remaining population that their choice was “opstati ili nestati” – survive or vanish – in other words be forcibly displaced (and survive) or to die (vanish).  Mladić’s command was responsible for both the Sarajevan siege and the Srebrenica genocide (amongst many other acts).  Srebrenica had also been under siege, the greater Srebrenica area had been declared a UN safe area in 1993 but this hadn’t stopped Mladić and his army from continuing military action under orders from Karadžić to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica”.  But these histories of military actions have been written previously by better historians than me.

Imagine having lived in a town for your whole life (the town in the pictures above for example), alongside people with you’ve shared good times and bad times, celebrated and commiserated.  Now imagine being told you must leave your house, your town by some of those people with whom you’ve shared everything. Imagine them telling you that you aren’t entitled to be there because of a social characteristic.  Imagine being told by their paramilitary leader that your choice is “opstati ili nestati”.  Imagine after a time, having stayed, that military action becomes so severe that even the option of leaving is too dangerous, although some people, mostly men and boys, still attempt it in the hope that leaving a town of women, young children and old people might alleviate some of the military action.

Now imagine that the international force which is meant to be keeping you safe (who have declared you town a “safe zone” repeatedly back off from any action to quell the fighting on any side.  In fact imagine what the public facing experience of a peace keeping force who, in the privacy of their own barracks, graffiti these sorts of things on the walls:


Imagine you are reliant on these people for your survival, you have to pin your hopes on them, your only other option is “opstati ili nestati”.

These very human questions are what should be at the heart of our understanding of what inhumanity and genocide is.  What is important is that everyone affected (and populations of all three (and more) major ethnicities were forcibly displaced and were killed during the Wars but not in proportion to population size), everyone has a story about what happened.  21 years on it is only the youngest in society who don’t have direct stories, but they too have the stories of loss because of the relatives they never knew, the gaps in family histories and the grieving of the people who still remain.  Our shared humanity must be at the centre of what we understand from the Bosnian genocide.

Which is what makes it feel so strange and, if I’m honest, frightening to be in a country where national newspapers are declaring state institutions invalid and members of those institutions traitors to the state.  And where government ministers refuse to reprimand the press for this and which itself engages in rhetorical which emphasises divisions and divisiveness under the guise of what unites us.  If there was any real sense of British values, impartial judicial process would be part of it (even with the massive flaws in the current system, the largely impartial nature of it from government and from religion is important).  It’s a long cited geek thing that the first person to make a comparison with the Nazi’s in a debate has lost (Godwin’s Law), but what happens when the comparison makes itself?  And what does it mean when we can see that the steps currently being taken may lead us closer to the pre-conditions in Bosnia in the early 1990s than we’d really like to contemplate.



Remembering Srebrenica Day 2 – Understanding Bosnia, understanding systemic prejudice

Remembering Srebrenica Day 2 – Understanding Bosnia, understanding systemic prejudice

Understanding Bosnia

Today was all about experiencing Sarajevo… and now I do completely see what people meant when they said it was a place that needed to be seen.  It’s a stunning city which marries the histories of empires with that of the peoples at the forefront of conflict.  So quick run down, Sarajevo has been occupied by Romans, Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarian empire and has lived under communist rule.  It’s the place where different empires have played out their power games from the burning of Sarajevo by Prince Eugene of Savoy for the Papal Roman Empire to the shooting of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand (I’m avoiding the later history at the moment as that will be the subject of later posts).


It’s a place where for most of it’s history Christians, Jews and Muslim’s have co-existed peacefully – within 200m walk you take in the oldest mosque, the oldest Orthodox Church and the oldest Synagogue in the city.

The day started with our journey into Sarajevo from the hotel which was basically a reverse historical journey from the communist era hotels of the Ilidza spa resort through the communist working class accommodation areas (described by our guide as looking like the Peckham of Sarajevo) to the Austro-Hungarian boulevards reminiscent of many European cities and into the Ottoman old town and included being driven down what was once known as Snipers Alley.  From there we headed up to the old hilltop fort (where I took the above panorama and the photos below) to get a literal overview of the city.

Sarajevo sits in a geographical basin and Serbian forces commandeered and held many of the hill tops surrounding the city.  You can basically see a hilltop from every street; it makes for an amazingly scenic setting, and for a deadly one when the invading forces are on hilltops with high-power snipers rifles.

Most of the post-war housing built to accommodate factory workers and which sits behind the road known as Snipers Alley bears the pockmarks of sniper’s bullets, as does much of the rest the city. During the Synagogue visit, the group identified that bullet marks in the solid iron gates could only have been fired from the hilltop about 1.5 miles away because there were no rooftops with a sight-line into the courtyard.  Because of this, during the siege of Sarajevo everything was done under the invisible, persistent and deadly threat of enemy fire by snipers and mortars  – buying food, seeking medical attention, even burying the dead.

Bullets as souvenirs

Which makes it all the more jarring to see bullet casings being sold as novelty souvenirs. Bullet casings fashioned into pens, key fobs, bullet casings glued together to make model tanks and model airplanes.  There is something surreal about being in a city which experienced such a devastating siege and seeing so many spent bullet casings being sold as tourist souvenirs.  One of our party even spotted a plastic sweet jar (filled with sweets) in the shape of  a hand grendade.  The difference between these items and the well-known WW1 mortar casing engraving (see example below) is that the latter was produced as a way of dealing with the uncertainty in the trenches with what materials were to hand.


Picture courtesy of

The Sarajevan examples, however, are being used differently, as a post-holiday extension of  “dark tourism” perhaps (my thinking here in indebted to Naef 2013).  I question what this means for the tourist visiting Bosnia today, when the term “souvenir” literally relates to objects acquired because of the memories associated with it for the owner/purchaser. Symbolically, what does it mean for a non-Bosniak tourist to purchase a spent bullet possibly from the siege of Sarajevo?  What memory is it the owner/purchaser is trying to recall (souvenir being from the French meaning to bring to mind or remember)? Is the tourist simply recalling their pleasant visit to Sarajevo (in which case a fridge magnet might seem a more obvious choice than a spent military weapon)?  What is the meaning of one who has visited Sarajevo using a spent bullet to sign their name on their Christmas cards?  The amalgamation of the banal (a pen, a keyfob, an ornament, a jar of sweets; drawing on the work of Peters 2011 and Lisle 2000) with the discarded remnants of military action can only, surely, make us ask questions about what it is being represented here – what is the nature of our desire to performatively consume and display our tourist visits and what does it mean to actively buy the remains of war to fulfil that.

But more than that, what is the role of such banal tourist souvenirs in terms of the remembering and commemorating of the siege for Sarajevans? What does it mean for their experiences to be reduced and resold as shelf ornaments for the wealthy tourist visitors to the city?  Their shaping into novelty items denies any claim that they are part of commemorating or memorialising the events. There are layers of questions here about acting as witness to what was done in Bosnia and what is being done in Bosnia which aren’t easy to unpick in such a short space.


Part of the role of witnessing, about which I will write more in relation to sexual violence another time, is that it must cause us to reflect on what it is we are seeing.  Witnessing cannot happen without reflection, some putting what we’re seeing into our world view, some consideration of what it means, otherwise it’s merely observing.  So I found it surprising today that a discussion started in the delegation group, within minutes of discussing the Bosnian genocides, in which some group members began to use discriminatory language against Roma and Traveller peoples including dehumanising them. For me, the links between the routine rhetorical dehumanisation of Bosniaks by the Serbs and the routine rhetorical dehumanisation of Roma and Traveller peoples are clear and straightforward.  Language which would be frowned upon, or at least recognised as racist, when used to describe any other ethnic group, still seems to be accepted, or indeed encouraged, when applied to Roma and Travellers.

Every vilified people has had the same denigrations used against them for centuries mostly relying on assertions of dirtiness, damage, difference, dissapation and danger.  The Jews were blamed for the Black Death in medieval Europe, for example; West Indian and Asian immigrant families were described creating not just unfamiliar but unhygienic smells with their cooking; Syrians refugees are portrayed as sexual predators and terrorist threats.  Roma and Traveller communities have fared no differently over the centuries and in contemporary Europe are vilified for their lack of fit with majority cultural norms, that is for their very distinctiveness, and that vilification takes no account of the forced assimilation and attempts at cultural genocide of these groups.

Yet even a group travelling to learn and hear more about how this same set of processes led to genocide here in the Balkans replicated some of these early prejudicial steps that establish the pathway to such violences – and yet we try to convince ourselves that such things could never happen again.*  As Mike Doherty has written, it is rightly time to end the accepted racism against Gypsies and Travellers.

*For clarity I am not saying these views were common across the group nor that they were allowed to pass without challenge.


Lisle, D (2000) “Consuming Danger: Reimagining the War/Tourism Divide”in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political V25 N1

Naef, P (2013) “‘Souvenirs’ from Vukovar: Tourism and Memory within the Post-Yugoslav Region” in Via@ V1 N3 available at

Peters, K (2011) “Negotiating the ‘Place’ and ‘Placement’ of Banal Tourist Souvenirs in the home” in Tourism Geographies V13 N2

Remembering Srebrenica

Remembering Srebrenica

Content Warning: Discusses genocide, sexual violence and acts of war.

A city councillor, refugee specialist, three sexual violence specialists and five activists walk into a restaurant, sit down and start talking.  It’s not the start of a bad joke but rather the start of an extraordinary learning experience focusing on war crimes in Bosnia led by Remembering Srebrenica  and what they mean for us thinking about hate crimes.  Some of these ideas are based on Stanton’s work on the ten steps to genocide and the way that there is a link between the sadly mundane experiences of prejudice and discrimination and a predictable, but not inevitable, progression to genocide.

The last time I visited the former Yugoslav states was in 1994 when, against all popular opinion, I was taken to Croatia and Slovenia as a final family holiday before going to University….  I am fairly sure we had no idea at the time just how horrific the war being conducted was.  Slovenia rather cushioned us against the realities of the war, it had experienced what they call the ten day way (desetdnevna vojna) or the weekend war (vikend-vojna) and one tour guide joked with us that every man in Slovenia was a war hero in a largely bloodless independence revolution.  Of course the independence was wasn’t bloodless but it was short lived and by 1994 had been over for three years.  The story for other parts of the former Yugoslav empire was very different.

Thinking back to visiting northern Croatia all those years ago I am struck by how little we really comprehended what was happening.  Landing at Pula airport, there were bullet holes in the buildings but other than that little seemed unusual.  We were, obviously, far away (about 400 miles, for the distance from London to Carlisle) from the active Croatian War (Domovinski rat) and the Croatian/Bosnian war had ended earlier in 1994.  

Looking back my naivety is amazing and kind of stunning, the men and women working in the hotels, shops and cafes would have had family members, friends and acquaintances fighting in the conflict.  But, even more than this, the situation in Bosnia hadn’t really crossed our consciousness.  And yet, Croatia had received 500,00 Bosnian refugees by the time we arrived in 1994, the UN was actively engaged in Bosnia and a few weeks after we left a no-fly zone was ordered by the UN over the city in which I am now writing this (Sarajevo).   More than one local said with some wistfulness, “If you think this town is beautiful, you should have seen Sarajevo and Dubrovnik”.  Sarajevo by 1994 had been besieged for two years, and it would be another 18 months until that siege ended, the siege would kill over 10,000 people and injury over 55,000 more.  Within the following year, Serbian forces committed acts of genocide in Srebenica and massacres across the country including in Tuzla (where we landed earlier today – see here for more information).  The UN forced failed to protect either the men and boys, who were largely killed, and the girls and women who were forcibly expelled from their homes, raped* and some killed.  I do remember it was described as the worst atrocities on European soil since the second world war and we still don’t know how many people were killed nor, in many cases, where their bodies are.  But however shaky the statistics are about the numbers killed or disappeared, but they don’t even really begin to try and understand the numbers of women, girls and men who were raped as a systematic act of war. Although the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was amongst the first attempts to try and conceptualise sexual violence as an act of war (following a prior ruling from the UN ICT for Rwanda) and although about a third of convictions have included sexual violence (see here for more on this), this still doesn’t begin to address the extent of what happened here or the impact it has had.

I also remember that I fell in love with Slovenia and Croatia and with it’s people (trite, I know, but I genuinely remember them as some of the most friendly people I ever met). So this is the context to my next few days the itinerary of which will include visiting the International Commission for Missing Persons, Srebrenica, Potocari, Podrinje Identification Project and Women’s Association in Tuzla.

*Some men were also raped.

There are more videos from Remembering Srebrenica which give some context to the genocide and information on the aftermath.

Opening Comments for “Let’s Talk Honour” event, 26th October 2016

Opening Comments for “Let’s Talk Honour” event, 26th October 2016


I would like to welcome you all to this important event and thank Sadia (Hameed) for giving the University the opportunity to help by hosting this event.  Anyone who was reading the Guardian online on Sunday would have read the piece about University’s lack of action in both tackling racism and decolonising its own work, thinking and actions.  As Kehinde Andrews, the UKs first Black Studies Assistant Professor, says “Universities produce racism, it’s only since the 1960s there have any black or Asian people – or women – at all”.  And that sums up for me why it is important for the University to offer up its resources, without expectation of reward, to such events because they centre the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic women within a generally everyday, racist and white supremacist social context.

That said you may have noted that I am probably the singularly most unlikely person to introduce and facilitate this event, given that I am routinely identified as racially white and have all the social power that comes with that and with working as an academic.  I’ll fully and humbly admit I am the singularly least qualified person on this issue at this table so I intend to keep my comments to a minimum.  All I want to do is briefly outline why I think this is such an important event and some of the intersecting issues of power that I think it represents.

So I grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s in a predominantly white, working class town in Lancashire.  As with most cotton towns, the 1950s and 1960s had seen an influx of skills workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the school I went to was about 55% white and 45% BAME, mostly second and third generation Indian and Bangladeshi young people.  The town represented the legacies of Britain’s colonial history and because of that I made amazing friends from the Bangladeshi and North Indian diasporas.  But with those friends I saw the way in which the focus was constantly made to be about the difference between them and me and what a “wonderful example” we set.  My friends were made out to be “exotic” additions to a normatively white society and I was often talked about as some sort of integrating multicultural paragon of virtue, they however weren’t – as if me being friends with them meant more than their being friends with me in the eyes of others.

Amongst those friendships we talked, as teenagers are wont to do, about our families’ experiences and expectations.  One of my closest friends talked about what we might now recognise as marriage abandonment, her parents had an arranged marriage and her mother had left her whole social network in Bangladesh to come to England with her new husband who insisted on producing a large family very quickly.  Then, when the youngest of five was only 14 months old, he left the family to move to India and returned about once every two years to remind them of his position and his rights as head of the household.  My friends’ mother, alone in a hostile country with five children (at a time when far right groups were on the rise, as they are now) with almost no support systems, was left reliant on the wider Bangladeshi community in the town which held very traditional views on issues like duty, loyalty, masculinity, women’s roles and honour.  Unable to return home, speaking a minimal amount of English and both closely supervised by and reliant on relatives of her absent husband and community ‘elders’, my friends mother was in an increasingly untenable position, with a large family, little resource and almost no ability to challenge her situation, little “space for action” as Liz Kelly would have put it.  By the time we were 14, my friend began to talk about the arranged marriage her father was planning for her and the ways she was trying to resist it without necessarily outright confronting this man who she had really seen only for a total of a few weeks throughout her whole childhood.  I can now put this in the context of, for example, Christina Julios’s work which highlights that the differences between arranged marriage and forced marriage are not clear cut but rather a shading of greys from one to the other.  We will hear from Mandy [Sanghera] later about the ways that this impacts people with Learning Disabilities for example.

From another friend, whose family was more affluent and culturally privileged, I learnt about the ways that these same power structures and assumptions impact LGBT young people, bearing in mind this was the era of Section 28 and schools being advised to interpret this as not having any discussion about LGBT issues even where it related to the forced marriage of LGBT young people.

I share this personal context because it highlights three threads of the most important issues of power that today’s event is about.  Firstly, mostly obviously perhaps, is the issue of patriarchal and heteronormative traditions.  The rule of the “father”, masculine and heterosexual power and the way these are invoked by women as well as men as a way of justifying violences.  If I were to sum this up, it would be that “It’s Patriarchy, Stupid” but patriarchy which is enculturated and institutionalised in subtle as well as obvious ways.  So, just as I experienced, as a young child, the threat of “wait ‘til your father gets home and hears of this”, my friend heard that same threat, but for her the context was that her perceived infringements were being saved up for her father’s sporadic and infrequent visits home where they would be laid out in full to demonstrate what a poorly behaved daughter she was, just as her mother’s infringements had been back home in her family home in Bangladesh.  This threat of the patriarch issuing punishment is, of course, one of the ways in which women and girls are forced into compliance – the explicit threat of male violence, whether or not it is ever enacted and on the flipside, the promise of male approval.  Saurav [Dutt], will elaborate later on the links between patriarchal privilege, that is the benefits that those who comply with patriarchal demands accrue, and particularly why this means men don’t speak out, even to protect loved sisters, nieces and cousins. But these methods which enforce compliance with forced marriage are also the ones used to enforce female genital mutilation on the basis that marriageability and male honour can only be preserved by forcibly detaching women from their bodies capacity for pleasure and free action.

Added to this patriarchal threat and promise, is the wider context, still present, in which such acts are presented as the routinely exotic existence of populations unlike the dominant white society – where individuals, institutions, policy-makers and pundits have consistently positioned such issues as “it’s just what those people do” with the emphasis on both their difference from us and an inevitably of their actions being unusual but to be tolerated because of that difference.  Tolerance which is based, inevitably, on it being women and girls who disproportionately experience these unusual differences; women and girls who are also devalued in the white supremacist society.  Such focus on “everyday exoticism” has been the justification for non-intervention even in the most heinous of situations, situations which Caroline [Goode], Deeyah [Khan] and Diana [Nammi] will talk about more.  This “everyday exoticism” is not reliant only on the racism of individuals but is an outcome of the neo-colonialist racist agenda perpetrated across society which began by colonial suppression of occupied lands and presenting subjugated peoples as childlike, supersititious and largely incomprehensible to white minds.  And this mindset continues now by maintaining a completely inconsistent approach to honour based violences, if we look at United Kingdom and international policy, we see that at the same time as governments publically play on their abhorrence of honour based violences, they are cutting funding to voluntary sector specialist services which provide an ability to escape and to challenge HBV and cutting public health services which have long pointed out that such violences impact hugely on the ability to provide preventative and reactive healthcare services.  We see the prosecution of medical practitioners acting to save patient’s lives as a test to the boundaries of FGM legislation but no prosecution of those who initiate, obtain, solicit and instruct initial female genital mutilation despite the fact we’ve had laws against FGM for decades.  This same hypocritical ineffectiveness in legal processes is what we pillory foreign nations for whilst also praising countries who pass laws against child marriage, FGM and other violences knowing full well that there is little intention of applying those laws, investigation cases and prosecuting perpetrators.  These issues of white, Western hypocrisy are not highlighted as a call for white Western cultures and governments to be even more colonialist in their efforts to “save” “exotic” women and girls from these acts but for us all to think and act to support grassroots work, led by community members, against such practices.  Which is why I am so keen that the University, and myself as an individual, supports Gloucestershire Sisters, The Sharan Project, IKWRO, Our Girl, Karma Nirvana and other similar organisations in creating opportunities, support networks and spaces in which these issues can be discussed and acted upon.

One final anecdote, my first act on being asked to facilitate this event was to ask some friends whether I should given my privileged position as a racialized as white academic.  Two friends in particular, both formerly students of mine, both high on my list of most amazing people I’ve ever met and both with experience of HBV replied.  Now one of these had asked for help when she was kidnapped by family members who intended to take her abroad for a forced marriage and she subsequently experienced family disownment by the majority of her family for firstly escaping by notifying airport security and secondly for resisting subsequent, less violent attempts, to coerce her into marriage.  The second educated me about issues of love-matches, family “honour” and threats of disownment in the context of domestic abuse and particularly what happens when you leave a love-match marriage which both families had come to terms with on the basis of domestic violence.  Such issues are ones Polly [Harrar] will be talking about with far more experience than I have.  But both these amazing women had one answer for me about facilitating this event –“do this, support this work, be part of this; build this as a movement in which those with the racial, citizenship and resource privilege you have take their lead from those who are directly affected and are excluded from the same positions of power” through issues of class, capital, ethnicity, gender and coercion.

And on that note I’m honoured to pass you back to Sadia Hameed to do exactly that.


Ross, A (2016) “Universities do not challenge racism, says UKs first black studies professor” in The Guardian online 23rd October available at