War Through Other Means: Examining the Role of Symbols in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Iva PaukerEmail author
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


Symbols make visible the abstractions of social relationships, and are therefore a useful barometer of inter-ethnic relations. In the post-war period in former Yugoslav states, ethnic conflict is often carried out through symbols which replicate and reinforce ethnic antagonism. During the wars of the 1990s physical destruction was often focused on highly symbolic (non-military) targets such as mosques, churches, museums and libraries in order to erase the symbols of the enemy group while plastering the area with symbols of the victorious group in order to claim the territory, symbolically as well as physically. The post-war situation, particularly in Bosnia–Herzegovina, is fraught with symbolic conflict. The tensions surrounding the flag of Bosnia–Herzegovina is a prominent example where complete disagreement over pre-existing arsenal of symbols resulted in a complete new design with no resonance for anyone. Minarets and churches are erected not so much in an effort to serve their respective religious communities as much as in an effort to symbolically claim contested territory. This chapter will examine how the conflict has continued to be played out in the symbolic sphere in former-Yugoslav society, while also seeking to identify potential for symbols to unite and heal.


Culture Symbols Violence Remembering Healing 


  1. Bose, S. (2002). Bosnia after Dayton: Nationalist partition and international intervention. London: C. Hurst & Co.Google Scholar
  2. Bosnia unveils Bruce Lee bronze. (2005, November). BBC News UK.Google Scholar
  3. Campbell, D. (1998). National deconstruction: Violence, identity, and justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cerulo, K. A. (1995). Identity designs: The sights and sounds of a nation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Christie, D. J. (2006). What is peace psychology the psychology of? Journal of Social Issues, 62(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Christie, D. J., Tint, B. S., Wagner, R. V., & Winter, D. D. (2008). Peace psychology for a peaceful world. American Psychologist, 63(6), 540–552.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cigar, N., Magas, B., & Zanic, I. (2001). Introduction. In I. Zanic & B. Magas (Eds.), The war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1991–1995. Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers. pp. xxxi, 383 p.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, A. (1974). Two-dimensional man: An essay on the anthropology of power and symbolism in complex society. London: Routledge/Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  9. Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Decision U-4/04, Sarajevo. November 18, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hayden, R. M. (2002). Let Dayton be Dayton. In G. T. Dempsey (Ed.), Exiting the Balkan Thicket. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Herscher, A. (1998). Remembering and rebuilding in Bosnia. Transitions, 5(3).
  12. Kampschror, B. (2005). Bosnians Agree: Commemorate Bruce Lee. Christian Science Monitor. November 23, 2005. Newspaper article available online.
  13. Kaufman, S. J. (2001). Modern hatreds: The symbolic politics of ethnic war. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Mach, Z. A. (1993). Symbols, conflict, and identity: Essays in political anthropology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  15. Makas, E. G. (2006). Competing visions of Postwar Mostar. In “Cultural Encounters in Urban Space” European Association for Urban History Conference. Stockholm.Google Scholar
  16. Poels, J. (1998). Bosnia and Herzegovina: A new ‘neutral’ flag. Retrieved August 1, 2006, from Flag Institute:
  17. Raspudic, N. (2005). Relations 2005: De/construction of Monument, Bosnia–Herzegovina. Retrieved March 15, 2006, from
  18. Schroen, M., & Hasanbegovic, N. (2006). Think BIG! – Misli BiH!. Sarajevske Sveske (Sarajevo Notebook), No. 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sells, M. (2003). Crosses of blood: Sacred space, religion, and violence in Bosnia–Herzegovina. Sociology of Religion, 64(3), 309–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Stefansson, A. H. (2006). Homes in the making: Property restitution, refugee return, and sense of belonging in a post-war Bosnian town. International Migration, 44(3), 115–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tismaneanu, V. (1997). Fantasies of salvation: Varieties of nationalism in postcommunist Eastern Europe. In M. D. Kennedy (Ed.), Envisioning Eastern Europe: Postcommunist cultural studies (4th ed., p. 249). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  22. Torsti, P. (2004). History culture and banal nationalism in post-war Bosnia. Southeast European Politics, 5(2–3), 142–157.Google Scholar
  23. Velikonja, M. (2003). In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious symbolism in the Balkan wars 1991–1995. International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 17(1), 25–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Walzer, M. (1967). On the role of symbolism in political thought. Political Science Quarterly, 82(2), 191–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social and Political SciencesThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations