The “Social History of Banja Luka” project deals with the war with a focus on life in the city between the 1980s, and the fates of people who were in or expelled from Banja Luka during the war. When social history in Banja Luka is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the story of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslavia. And that is understandable. When a violent event happens, it is very difficult to talk about other things. The authors of the project offer social history as an alternative way of looking at events from the past. This approach contributes to broadening the understanding of the past in parallel with the interpretations produced by historical science, the culture of memory in the city, or stories and narratives in the community itself.

When we study history at school, we talk about battles, states, rulers, then we talk about what scientists understand as political history. Social history is not necessarily related to the state, its destruction and the creation of new ones, but focuses on the processes that take place in parallel in society. Istrians themselves do not deal exclusively with battles, states and rulers, but within science there are disciplines that focus on periods, geographical regions, but also issues of culture, economy, religion, social movements, gender, technology, and many others. Not only historians deal with the past, but also researchers from other social sciences: sociology, historical anthropology, art history, historical geography or economics. British historian Paul Thompson, one of the pioneers of the newer method of oral history (see methodology), argues that social history introduces complexity and focuses on topics that have no place in (political) history. History as a science and research of the past can be the history of factories, the history of bridges, the history of cuisine, the history of musical directions. The advantage of social history is that it provides new and different insights into known events from the past, but it can also be used for conversations between different scientific disciplines, with the general public, with interested individuals and social groups.

Political history provides significant insight into the political processes that took place, but relying solely on battles, years, heroes, or political officials is in danger of reducing the understanding of the past to a catalog of events. The point of dealing with social history, as well as political history, is a better understanding of social processes, rather than events. As a branch of historical science, social history is more affirmed in the larger European academic traditions. In English historiography it is New Social History and Labor History, in France it is the École des Annales, while in German it is the History of Society (Gesellschaftsgeschichte) and the History of Everyday Life (Alltagsgeschichte). .

In our country, in Banja Luka, as well as in the wider region of the former Yugoslavia, these schools and currents are in the shadow of political and intellectual history. However, although less present studies of social history exist, such as Sustainability and Change: The Social History of Socialist and Post-Socialist Everyday Life in Yugoslavia and Serbia (Marković, 2007). Focusing on society and social processes, oral histories, microhistories, and the local context opens up space for understanding the circumstances in which some events occurred, as well as the conditions that enabled them.

Moving away from understanding the past exclusively through states or catalogs of events to be enumerated and arranged, and influencing individual social contexts gives a better understanding of the complexities of life and social reality. Science, as a methodical collection and understanding of facts, is the surest way to research the issues that interest us, but science is not omnipotent and cannot comprehensively and definitively explain things. This is how science differs from ideology. The life and realities we live are often more complex than we can explore and understand. The point of social history is to bring complexity to the understanding of scientific issues, in this particular case the past.

Social history often captures questions from above, but it also captures questions that are asked from below. History from above includes issues such as how government, ideologies, and structures affect society, while bottom-up approaches are understood as individual stories, people from our immediate environment, changing everyday life, or life-shaping inventions. The easy points of understanding the social history of Banja Luka in the war are the emigration and immigration of people to the city. In the period from 1990 to 1995, between 50,000 and 100,000 people emigrated from Banja Luka and the suburbs. These people were mostly non-Serbs, who were seen as “undesirable” by the city’s elites at the time, according to historian Armina Galijas, author of One Bosnian City at War: Ethnopolitics and Everyday Life in Banja Luka (1990-1995). Dealing with social history means asking questions: What conditions influenced these events? How did that process go? How did the buses go? Where did people move to? What are the economic consequences of that departure? How were jobs abandoned and the composition, culture and economy of the city reorganized? How did people change houses? How did that experience mark their lives? What did the city lose with their departure, after the war ended, and what do they have to do with the city today?

The war in the former Yugoslavia is a central event around which interpretations of the past are formed and this perspective is embedded at all levels. But observing the past through the war is a narrowing of both experience and reality, because there is a lot that has been erased and neglected by this focus. This project is based on the realization that social history is broader and more complex than how we talk about war today, as well as the time before and after the war.

Another obvious example of social history that has taken place to some extent in parallel with the war is the recent history of post-socialist transformation that took place during the war. We can trace it through the history of city factories. It is self-evident that factories were in a difficult position during the war, with no or reduced production, reduced number of workers and a non-existent market. What social history can offer is an insight into the questions of how factories functioned in the war? How did the process of reducing production and reorganizing after the war go? How are they privatized and re-privatized? Who became the new owners? What happened to their workers and the wider community that built them and depended on them? Social history encompasses many other issues and directions, but the point is that it allows us insight into less visible aspects and topics, while opening questions when it is not in the memories or whose experiences are not visible. This is usually the answer to the question of who are the groups that are marginalized: whether they are non-Serbs, factory workers, women, social minorities or others.

By limiting the focus to political history as an interpretation of the past, marginalized groups are those whose experience is erased. Marginalized groups do not necessarily have to be political or social minorities. They are recognized by a deleted experience. In a similar period (1990-1995), between 50,000 and 100,000 people immigrated to Banja Luka, who were recognized as Serbs in the areas in which they lived, in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and therefore unwelcome (Galijaš, 2011, 19). . Unfortunately, little is known about them and their experience. Social history allows us to examine not only because of what policies these people came from, but also how they came? Where did they settle? What jobs did they do, and how did they survive? How did they drown in this environment and give their contribution to it? The points of experience of people from these groups are the points from which researchers give new insights into historical processes.

The idea of ​​the leader of the project “Social History of Banja Luka” is to look at past events through other approaches in history, primarily through social history. Social history aims to introduce complexity, and contextualize events from the past. This approach also includes looking down on the past from life and community, not just history from above through new and old states, battles and famous people. The emphasis in the approach is on moving the issues behind phenomenology (listing events) and observing social processes and the context in which historical events take place.


Someone said a long time ago that in order to be happy, a person needs to have a good memory and a bad memory. In the 1980s, Gabi Novak sang in Yugoslavia:

I only remember happy days

The water was growing around us.

I only remember happy days

To save our love.

I’m not like you

To remember only evil.

Although both of these examples speak of personal aspirations and experiences, they actually describe the most significant characteristics of the phenomenon of memory in general. No memory is “the past in itself”, but a picture of the past that we build from the present. Unlike memory as “storage of the contents of the past”, memory is “actualization of preserved contents” (Kuljić 2006: 8). It is selective, tendentious and shaped by the needs of today and the vision of the future. This is true for both individual and collective memories. Memory is a reconstruction of the past, shaped by the social context and the historical moment in which that reconstruction takes place. Every memory is, at the same time, a narration and an interpretation. As it tells the story of what happened, it also explains how and why something happened. Through the selection of what will be shown and / or emphasized and the omission of something else, different versions of the same events are organized and constructed. In the words of Todor Kuljić, memory represents “more or less conscious individual, group or collective attitude towards events in the past, when individuals and groups use the past to distinguish themselves from others and build identity” (Ibid: 11). Sharing the past together and the sense of continuity it offers has an integrative function, offering answers to the questions of who we are and who others are.

Memory is inextricably linked to the concept of social identity. Each “I” is part of a wider network of relationships and different mi-groups such as family, neighborhood, professional and friendly groups, generation, society, state, culture … In the memory of each person intersect, overlap, but also conflict individually and different groups memories. Although in the literal, physical sense only individuals remember, what will be remembered far exceeds the fund of their personal experiences and includes the memory of many things that they have not directly experienced (Berk 1999: 83). In that sense, memories do not have to be lived personally, but are also acquired through interaction, communication, learning, identification and harmonization. Social groups are the ones who determine what will be remembered, as well as the way it will be remembered. This kind of memory work is shaped by social identities, divisions in society based on political, religious, national, ethnic or gender affiliation, and power relations that determine what is remembered and forgotten, who remembers, and with what intent (Gillis 1994: 5). At the same time, social groups offer a framework in which personal experiences can be placed. According to one of the most important researchers of collective memory, Alaida Asman (Asman 2006: 19-71), instead of the dichotomy individual – community which is then reflected in the division of individual – collective memory, it makes more sense to talk about different levels or formations of memory:

  • individual, whose bearers are individuals;
  • social, whose bearers are social groups;
  • political [1] whose bearers are political collectives;
  • and cultural, whose bearers are cultures.

These levels are influenced by the different mi-groups to which individuals belong and affect their memory and identity. The identities that emerge on these planes differ in meaning, obligation, and reach. Individual and social memories are maintained, reproduced and reinforced through communication and interaction. They are intergenerational and represent “memory from below”. Unlike them, political and cultural memory are transgenerational and represent “memory from above”. They are mediated by material and symbolic media such as museums, monuments and libraries, holidays and calendars marking important dates, public events, school textbooks and street names. Political and cultural memory is the starting point of the process in which the community gives a solid form to those contents of communicative memory that it considers important for how it defines itself. That is, which he considers valuable to pass on to future generations.

Like history, notions of the past in society are formed through “memory from below” and through “memory from above”. Interpretations of the past are necessarily plural in structure. They are influenced not only by those in power, but also by numerous other individual and group social actors. And collective memory is established not only as a description of the past, but also an area of ​​contention, a symbolic space in which different communities of memory compete to interpret the past (Thelen 1989). An integral part of this process is the effort not only to impose one’s own versions of the past on the public as rational, morally acceptable and, above all, historically accurate depictions of the past, but also to constantly and effectively undermine alternative and rival versions of the past (counter-memories). marginalize and / or discredit their bearers. These conflicting representations of the past reflect different identities, motives, and ideological orientations.

The questions of what society remembers and what they suppress and forget are not just about the past. The needs of the present shape the image (s) of the past, but the image (s) of the past also have a reciprocal effect on the present. Memory builds a bridge between past, present and future. It offers us a frame of reference for interpreting social processes and positions in the present. Its part is implicit beliefs about the world, history, what human nature is and who has a place. It is a process that is neither value nor politically neutral. It determines our actions, the way we will treat ourselves and others and what we can expect in the present and the future. By answering questions about who our ancestors and ancestors were and what heritage is worthy of respect, memory provides us with answers to questions concerning today. In the first place, when it includes and when it excludes “we” with whom we identify and on what values ​​we build the society in which we live. It also offers us answers to what we should strive for in the future and what that future may be like in general.


[1] Due to its vagueness, Asman suggests the term “political memory” instead of “collective memory”. In her words: “In a narrower sense, ‘collective’ can be called only that formation of memory which, together with strong ties of loyalty, also produces a strong unique mi-identity. This is especially true of ‘national’ memory which is a form of ‘official’ or ‘political’ memory (ibid 38).


“Let’s not forget …” From the last decade of the twentieth century until today, researchers of memory have thematized the culture of memory. For some authors, such as the already mentioned Kuljić, the culture of memory is one of the three main mediators of historical memory, with primary experience and historical science as the other two. For Kuljić, the culture of memory means in terms of personal and collective memory “a more or less thoughtful attitude towards the past and a constructive attitude towards past experiences with regard to the present and the future.” Or as Jan Assmann, co-creator of the theory of cultural and communicative memory, explains , the culture of remembrance is exactly what we mean by “What must we not forget?”.

The culture of remembrance is mediated by museums, monuments, cemeteries, street names, calendars, anniversaries, commemorations, holidays and other elements of life. When we erect a monument to the community, we are saying what is important to remember. When groups gather for rituals such as anniversaries or holidays, their members share their interpretations of the past and solidify their collective memory. The way the community nurtures these elements is a culture of remembrance. In a critical approach to the culture of memory, it is necessary to observe why individuals and groups remember in a certain way in a certain form. Aleida Assmann suggests four questions for this: “Who do you remember? What does he remember? How does he remember? Who remembers? ”

The culture of remembrance is often recognized in bypassing institutionalized and alternative practices of remembrance. An institutionalized culture of remembrance is supported or led by the state (see political remembrance). At the same time, we can see alternative memories in society and the community. Sometimes there are personal initiatives, but alternative practices often have less reach than institutionalized ones because government initiatives bring together large numbers of people and involve significant funding. Aleida and Jan Assmann here distinguish between cultural memory and communicative memory, as the latter is based on communication and informal forms between generations. It is so important to observe how the state and the government choose and advocate to remember.

The interesting thing about the culture of remembrance is that it is defined by our social views of the world. As in our societies these views are defined by the experience of war and ethno-national identity, so the culture of memory can be seen through collectivities. But wondering what Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, or other people now remember is an easy question. It is important to think whether in a certain practice of the culture of remembrance, the elites are remembered, are the marginalized remembered, or are those who do not belong to the elite, but are not marginalized, remembered? That is, who cares if we remember something? The war and the necessary confrontation with the past are the result of thirty years of ethnic prism. But they are not a confirmation that it will remain so in the future.

In our country, the story of culture is often forgotten. Memory and forgetfulness are not inseparable processes and selectivity is a very important criterion in the culture of memory (Asman: Forms of forgetfulness). In addition to containing a version of the past, memory involves forgetting potentially unpleasant or inconvenient aspects of the past, undermining the credibility of alternative viewers, and presenting one’s own vision of the past as an irrefutable aspect of empirical reality and a collection of “historical facts.” The question of what remembers a lot more talk about what was forgotten and why? For what reason was something deleted or annulled? Narratives (stories and tales of the past) are available to key actors in the process of remembering and forgetting.

The relationship between memory and forgetfulness is easy to spot in the ways our societies remember war. In Banja Luka, we remember “Twelve Babies”, the expulsion of people from Croatia 91-92, and then Storm 95, we even remember Jasenovac, although it happened much earlier. But we do not remember the events that took place in the city, but the mentioned exodus of the non-Serb population, the murder of the police inspector Miodrag Šušnica, or the overthrow of Ferhadija. We do not remember the people who died in the city because the state no longer wanted to protect them, and the people who spoke out against that regime, such as Professor Mićo Carević. This situation is specific, but not isolated. In a similar way, Osijek does not remember the murder of police chief and peacemaker Josip Reihl-Kir, just as Sarajevo does not remember the murders of its Serb citizens in Kazan.

However, an even easier example of the dynamics of memory and oblivion is the use of Yugoslav anti-fascist monuments. The authorities of the Republika Srpska use the monument to the Revolution on Kozara and the memorial area of ​​Donja Gradina for the culture of remembering the suffering of Serbs in the Second World War, bypassing Yugoslavia itself. Remembering the victims, and claiming that the “Serbian people are anti-fascist”, politicians from the Republika Srpska are removing the anti-fascist heritage of Yugoslavia from their memory. Monuments commemorating this struggle were created because the state of Yugoslavia had an anti-fascist policy, and because of it there are places of remembrance. That knowledge exists on an implicit level, but it is skipped. If we remember that the successor states are ethnically defined and focused on the free (neoliberal) market, and that Yugoslavia was defined by brotherhood and unity and the pursuit of social justice, then we can conclude that the intensity of the local authorities’ reckoning with Yugoslavia these social issues.

The culture of remembrance is not just a matter of collectivity. Individuals and social groups are also its bearers. And therefore the culture of remembrance does not necessarily imitate or follow institutionalized forms. Museums can be public or private, monuments are erected by artists without the financial support of the government, and gatherings and memories only require a desire not to be forgotten, as is the case with gatherings and actions of the Justice for David movement. Therefore, as Kuljic says, the culture of memory “studies the mechanisms of social transmission, shaping, maintenance and processing of the past and develops approaches to study the collective and individual images of the past that people and groups create in certain situations to interpret the present and created a vision of future development ”(Todor Kuljić“ Culture of Memory ”, 11).


[1] Assmann J. (2011) Memory Culture. In Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination (pp. 15-69). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017 / CBO9780511996306.005


The politics of memory are inseparable from the politics of identity and are most often linked to national or political memory. The primary function of political memory is the construction of national identity, and a certain imaginary construction of a common past is essential for creating national cohesion, that is, for “imagining a nation” (Anderson 1998). The selection and interpretation of significant events from the past are in the function of strengthening a positive image of one’s own collectivity and an inspiration or reminder for the present and the future. In this way, shared memory becomes a link for the internal connection of the community and a framework of general values ​​and perceptions (Halbwachs 1992; Nora 2006: 21-45). What is an important feature of political memory is simplification in which events are seen from an interested perspective that does not tolerate ambiguity and where events are often reduced to mythical schemes of absolute good and evil, martyrs and heroes.

Political memory thus offers points of narrative that build identity and offer answers to questions of where we come from, what are the significant moments in our history, who are our heroes, what values ​​do we stand for, who are we. These are stories about national origins and founding fathers, genealogies of great people, heroes, victories and fame. Also, the memory of defeat or collectively suffered injustices due to their affective charge can play an even more pronounced role in building group cohesion. Especially in cases where group identity is constituted around the role of the victim where the narrative of victimization becomes a means of legitimizing pretensions in the present. Precisely because it is based on real suffering and the shared experience of marginalization (Brown 1995), when victimization in the past becomes a central theme of chauvinistic narratives of national martyrdom, it can serve to perpetuate and perpetuate fear, resentment and hatred. In the end, both narratives of triumph and glory, defeat and sacrifice can coexist. What they have in common is that they suppress all events that could be related to discomfort, shame and feelings of guilt. In looking at the past, their consequences are often simplistic black-and-white explanations, the invisibility of victims belonging to a party labeled as bad and the invisibility of perpetrators belonging to a party labeled as good, and the decontextualization of conflict.

Political memory is rooted in political institutions and always implies a certain politics of history. In fact, one can talk about the (mis) use of history as a “means for maintaining or acquiring political power, for its legitimization, as well as for the political mobilization of the population” (Subotić, 2019: 12). As Asman states: “Where history stands in the service of identity building, where citizens adopt it, and politicians call for it, one can speak of‘ political ’or‘ national memory ’(Asman, 2011: 40). The political use of history is primarily guided by the search for a “usable past”, ie. for an interpretation of the past that can be used for goals articulated by political actors. Remembrance policies are “a set of measures and activities taken by political elites to create new or renew old notions of the past that are in line with their current political interests and ideological goals” (Subotić, 2019: 12). Political memory thus materializes in various forms: in history books and school textbooks, museum exhibits, monuments and representative buildings, street names and holidays, ceremonies, regulating rituals and the use of symbols that make the past present in the present.


While it is true to debate whether it is one or only in the eye of the beholder and that it is subject to interpretation and that it requires more agreement, facts are considered a reliable source of knowledge. In the context of the past, facts are what is remembered, narrative is the way to remember while truth is somewhere between facts and narrative. The fact is that 97,207 people died in the war in B&H. The fact is that 40 percent of the victims were civilians. Whether the war in B&H was national, civil, defense-patriotic, or aggression, is a matter of narrative. However, through research on the project, as well as through this glossary, we will show that this difference is not so simple, nor so clear.

Facts are considered information contrary to fiction. They correspond to reality, they are real, so they are considered reliable and true. The fact is that medieval Bosnia was ruled by kings, not dragons. The problem arises when we wonder who these kings were, or even more complicated whose. The facts are easiest to think of as bare, those around which more observers agree. But agreement alone does not necessarily mean that the experience is true. Precisely because of this agreement, there is no guarantee that some myths will not be accepted as facts. That is why we leave the construction of facts, ie their knowledge, to science and scientific methods. In this way, we accept the possibility that both scientists are just people who establish facts by procedures, and we accept the results. However, the data from the results are not automatically facts, and in order to become that, we include them in the process that Kuljić calls historical storytelling. The fact is that this and that happened. With this linguistic process, we turn the data into fact and give it significance, but we also make it part of the interpretation. Facts are being built.

It is not only important how we see a fact, but whether we see it at all, whether we put it in the foreground or on the margins, and how much weight we give it. In the context of post-war B&H, as well as Banja Luka, we are witnesses that the same facts do not have the same weight within the same national collectives, ie. that different collectives and their bearers (political and intellectual elites) choose to focus on different facts in public memory. For Serbs, twelve babies who died in 1992 in the city hospital Paprikovac, due to lack of oxygen, are a much more important and frequently mentioned fact than the victims of non-Serb and Serbian citizens who were against the regime. For Croats in Banja Luka, the expulsion and return of Croats from the city is a much more important fact than the arrival of Serb refugees expelled from Croatia. Historical facts are also constructed and understood within the culture of memory. They become historical only when they are interpreted together with other facts. Precisely because of the connection between national affiliation, culture of memory and understanding of facts, there is a problem between national affiliation and understanding of the work of scientists, that objective approach in the construction of facts. We have often witnessed that the scientific works of scientists from other ethnic groups are taken as irrelevant or even untrue, because they do not deal with ours but their victims. British historian and lawyer Janine Natalya Clarke cites the example of her work on establishing crimes in BiH, in the municipality of Gornji Vakuf / Uskoplje, and the resistance of the Croat population due to doubts about its objectivity and desire to deal with crimes against Bosniaks in that community.

There is no guarantee that the myth cannot become a fact. The facts themselves are not a guarantee of understanding things, nor a guarantee of objectivity. Facts that do not fit into the ruling order are suppressed from public memory. That is why it is so difficult to talk about people who were against the war, or actively worked to protect their neighbors. In politics after Donald Trump’s presidency, it has become clear how flexible the truth is and the facts changeable. However, this understanding does not absolve us from the responsibility to deal with the facts, the 8372 men and boys killed in Srebrenica is a harsh fact. The missing and killed citizens of Banja Luka are one fact. Forgetting and relativizing crimes should be fought with facts.


Our narratives, stories, or statements about the past and events and experiences are narratives. In the approaches of the past, especially the herbal one, the narratives are diverse, and thus dominant, conflicting, alternative and the like. What it means? So, the way our grandmother, our neighbors, or our fellow citizens talk and relate to the past can be very different. If their stories overlap, we can talk about dominant narratives. If they are in contradiction, then they are conflicting narratives, while alternative narratives are related to less accepted and listened to narratives.

For something to be a narrative or our statement of events and experiences it must have at least two events involved in the story. “At the beginning of the war, we left the city” is a statement that could be understood as a narrative. The event of the war is related to the event of abandonment. Narratives are the way we remember events and experiences from the past. To that extent, narratives differ from facts, which signify what we remember. Because of their diversity, historical narratives are more easily seen as subjective and relative, but that does not mean that they are not true. Narratives are not necessarily true or fictional. Myths are narrative in structure, connecting two events into one story. Marko Kraljevic plows the roads after his mother Jevrosima asked him to stop chatting, but that does not suit the Turks who use those roads for travel, so they clash and lose with Marko. Or, as Ana Antic analyzed it in its modern form, Serbs do not share similarities with close nations, but Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bosniaks and Croats come from Serbs, their non-acceptance of this truth is part of a foreign conspiracy. Myths also always happen to someone else, but with whom we can connect, while narratives can be collective or individual, specific or general. The narratives we build about traumatic events may have happened to someone else, but we usually share belonging with them.

Narratives not only shape the memory of past events; they also shape the frameworks through which we will remember other things. Narratives provide models for memory. “It is about summarizing, rewriting, interpreting and condensing life experience, which, as a rule, distorts the connection of individual episodes, in order to build a harmonious narrative and an acceptable meaning of personal past. That is why it is difficult to recognize other people’s victims and that is why it is difficult to listen with compassion for Srebrenica without the need to automatically mention Jasenovac.

Narratives are exchanged, told, listened to and retold even when it does not seem so, and therefore they are much more part of the collective than strictly personal experience. They are consolidated, adapted and interpreted in the collective. According to Kuljić, the past presented in the form of a story does not describe what happened and why it happened, but explains what happened and why it had to happen. Through the narrative, the past fits into an acceptable version, which is set logically and meaningfully. In this way, the narrative corresponds to identity, that is, how subjects see themselves and valid values. A narrative that is consistent with dominant values ​​in this way justifies and explains the existing system, while alternative or marginal narratives question dominant values. It is therefore not uncommon for narratives to be contradictory, and it is necessary to understand the diversity of narratives. In particular, in Banja Luka, Serbs and non-Serbs have almost opposite narratives about the recent past, as is the case with citizens of any nationality who were against the war, Roma and other national minorities, sexual and gender minorities. By establishing a dominant narrative of the nation-state, or in our case nationalist elites produce a version of the past that is then taught in the subject of history, recounted at commemorative events, or the media as a kind of national autobiography.

Family narratives – a field of personal experience to which collective memory is attached and gives a personal interpretation of events. The fact that someone’s grandparents were involved in the war events, or a parent, or a cousin, gives only a fraction of the events, but has the weight of understanding things. Family narratives are key to maintaining collective narratives, because only those collective narratives that have their rearticulation in the family manage to survive and thus become more natural.


Traditionally, monuments are material artifacts (objects or buildings) that serve to mark a place of remembrance. In these places, heirs or survivors can remember the past, go back and think about what happened. This is how monuments learn about what happened, because they speak directly about past events, but they also reduce the versions that exist about these events to one, which is inscribed in their visual language and inscriptions. They are an attempt to concretize and make a unique version of the past more permanent. That is why monuments are usually referred to as “immortal”, although experience from our communities teaches that monuments are not eternal, not in the least. Modern monuments commemorating wars, battles, heroes and victims date back to Napoleon and the mass production of war monuments in French cities. Even those religious monuments (temples and cemeteries) usually do not date longer than the communities that hold them relevant and cannot be considered eternal. Behind the immortality of the monument lies the function of transmitting concrete versions of the past to new generations.

One version of the past is key to approaching the understanding of monuments. As we have stated in previous terms, the past is too complicated to be reduced to one version, however these simplifications are necessary for its use in the present. In large, national and grand monuments, one version of the past is simplified and refined. Heroes and victims are brought to the fore, and enemies are condemned, while all those who are not important for this side of the story are deleted. Monuments can be real or mythical in nature and in various formats such as sculptures, buildings, or books. They mark a broader framework of places of remembrance in which visitors engage with the past through symbolic or explicit language. Thus, the monument can be a bust of Vahida Maglajlić on the Square of Fighters of the National Liberation War in Banja Luka, as well as the Square of Fighters, as well as virtual places of remembrance in books and websites that talk about her work, activities in World War II and tragic death . Kulić states that the quality of material objectivity is crucial for a monument when they move from stories to material reality, and symbolic functions.

Symbols that are included in the language of the monument, whether artistic or spoken, are strengthened by meeting the monument, listening to a specific version of events, and emotionally reacting to the past. Through their empowerment, the empowerment of the identity that is celebrated in the monument is also happening. Young states that the permanence of memory and commemoration depends on the possibility of adapting the chosen past to new times, ie. from the evolution of their meaning in a new historical context. This means that monuments do not mark memory but shape it, and make a connection between individual and private versions of events with those that are promoted as collective and dominant. Behind the unique version of the past that monuments offer are the creators and sponsors of monuments, states or dominant groups in society who promote this version as their own, “ours”, and the only necessary one. Although monuments are often contrasted with holidays as instruments of contact with the past where holidays change and monuments do not, they are subject to change. The meaning in monuments, although “petrified”, is refined, abandoned, or changed to adapt to new times.

Greater interventions include not only vandalism, but also interventions where elements are included or removed, thus changing the message of the monument and adapting the version of the past that the monuments provide. This adaptability is particularly evident in the desire to discover the “true” or “original” meaning of the monument. Modern monuments usually carry quite clear and banal messages about the past that are complicated by symbolic language. The desire to discover and decipher the true meaning opens up the possibility of changing simple messages and thus adapting to the current political context. The easiest example of such an intervention is the Monument to the Revolution in the Kozara National Park by Dušan Džamonja (1972), where an Orthodox cross was added at the entrance to the memorial zone after the war. In this way, the abstract sculpture and memorial park dedicated to the suffering and struggle of the people of Kozara against the Nazi occupier was additionally marked as Orthodox and implicitly Serbian. This addition is not true, because the victims of Kozara and the fighters against the Nazi occupier were not exclusively Orthodox, nor only Serbs, but in this way the context of World War II is adjusted to the current needs of ethnonationalist post-war policy in BiH. Monuments, as well as other places of remembrance (holidays, textbooks, museums) are subject to constant adaptation of material and symbolic language, which regulates the presence of the past in the present. The other extreme of adapting monuments to the needs of the present is demolition and general negligence that leads to damage. In the post-socialist period, we have witnessed such interventions throughout the country and the wider Yugoslavia, where monuments from the People’s Liberation Struggle were either directly destroyed or destroyed because they did not offer a useful version of the past that could be linked to recent events and current political context. , and this process is accompanied by a pronounced interest in pre-socialist or anti-socialist elements of the past.

However, monuments do not have to be material or made on the initiative of the state to be real. They are an expression of the relationship to the past, and an opportunity to understand its complexity. Projects such as “Four Faces of Omarska Memorial as a Social Sculpture – A Work of Art as a Common Good”, opened a space for discussion and reflection on the ambiguity of monuments and conflicting versions of the past that are articulated through them. Dealing with oral histories and collecting testimonies about the social history of Banja Luka also go in that direction. The testimonies of our fellow citizens about the events in Banja Luka are aimed at marking those elements of the past that are not recognized and represented in the official policies of remembrance of the city and the Republika Srpska. The project website, audio recordings and transcripts of interviews are thus offered as digital artifacts on the site as a place of remembrance that aims to present personal, and often complex and conflicting experiences of what happened in the city.


Since social history as a discipline, and oral history as a methodology are not represented in historical and social research in our country, and even less known to the public, we needed to clarify our choices in building this research through explanations of approach, choice of methodology, respondents, and presentation of information. As mentioned in the section on social history, we felt that political or military history was not enough to explain what was happening in the city at the end of socialism, during and after the war. Microhistories, and individual destinies, were often inconsistent with processes at the top of the state or on the lines of armed conflict, and were lost in the postwar period as less significant. It was also important for us to show the destinies of people who were expelled from the city because of their ethnic or political affiliation, and to go through these processes to increase the complexity of our understanding of the recent past, which is relentlessly forgotten. To that extent, our next steps will include new aspects of the recent past, such as the demolition and long process of rebuilding Ferhadija, the arrival of Serb refugees in the city, and everyday life in the war.

To that extent, the choice of research methodology was focused on oral histories. These issues are poorly represented in conventional sources of historical research, such as official documents of local and state authorities, media, archives of social and economic institutions and the like. Although rich, such sources may lack content that is uncomfortable for their authors. To that extent, in times of great turmoil such as exoduses or wars, they are often poor in key information. Also, in the post-war period, access to these sources is negotiated and established in accordance with the new interests of the post-war authorities, which in this case means the inability to know the context and details during the war. Giving space to personal testimonies, understanding life paths, and different views on personal and social events of individuals involved in research, provides greater insight into the diversity of individual destinies and limited perspectives focused on strictly political elites. As the past never exists outside the present, oral histories tell us which versions of the past are current and important for our interlocutors today.

Oral histories in the research were collected through interviews with interlocutors. There were 16 interviews lasting from 45 minutes to two hours. During the interview, the interlocutors received information about the goals and course of the research, and gave their testimonies to the researchers about past events. The interlocutors were not chosen by chance, but were contacted through networks of acquaintances of researchers and prominent people involved in the life of the city. Yet even within informal social networks, researchers made choices by contacting and interviewing people they believed their stories were essential to understanding the complexities of the past. This approach is called qualitative research. It does not aim at statistical representativeness of the sample of respondents, as is the case with quantitative research (mass surveys, demographic surveys), but with a smaller number of interlocutors seeks to achieve deeper interaction through additional or repeated questions, and jointly address topics provided by researchers and respondents importance. In this way, oral histories and human stories woven into them serve as oral books or monuments, and only research as a human library in gathering knowledge and understanding of the past. We hope that with new waves of research, this library will expand, and our common understanding of the past will become more complex and broader.


The central place in writing history until the twentieth century was occupied by politics – the struggle for power and authority, dynastic struggles and changes of rulers and much less often, rulers, wars, military victories and defeats and so on. In this context, the reconstruction of past events was most often closely linked to the perspective of the victorious side. The phrase that history is written by the victors strikes at the core of this aspect of the mechanism (s) of transmitting the past. There was also not much room for the everyday life and experiences of ordinary people, especially the oppressed and deprived. This is not unexpected if we remember that throughout history, both historians and historians have largely come from privileged classes and / or governing structures. This is partly related to the lack of recognition of the importance of these dimensions of human and social existence, but also to the understanding of what are the historical sources and relevant material on which historical research primarily relies. As Paul Thomson, a British sociologist and historian, says: “But even if they wanted to write a different history, it would not be easy because the basic materials for writing history – documents, were kept or destroyed by people who had the same priorities. The more personal, local or unofficial a document was, the less likely it was to be preserved. The very structures of power acted like a great machine for historical records that shaped the past towards themselves” (Thomson, 2012: 18).

One of the possible ways to fill the gaps in the knowledge of the past and to include neglected perspectives is oral history. The term itself is not easy to define precisely due to the breadth of the concept, its affinity with the concept of oral tradition and interdisciplinarity of interview methods as a basic methodological tool in various social sciences (sociology, anthropology, ethnology, folklore, psychology, linguistics and so on). From pioneers of anthropology such as Bernardine de Sagun who interviewed twelve Aztec elders in the 14th century about history, folklore and customs, through the romantic “discovery of the people” in the 8th century and the recording of folklore and folklore across Europe and the Chicago School of Sociology in the 1930s. and collecting oral material from workers, settlers, ex-slaves, fieldwork was not so rare. On the other hand, oral history has long remained outside the boundaries of historical science. Historians’ distrust of the importance of oral testimonies came largely from skepticism about their reliability. That changed after World War II and the Holocaust. In a situation where indirect scientific explanations seemed powerless to explain the scale of the horrors that marked it, the focus was on the memories of survivors, participants and eyewitnesses. As a voice of the past, each of these statements carried with it a unique experience of the world, its emotions, attitudes and experiences, illuminating how great historical events have affected the lives of specific people. The shift in the focus of research was also influenced by changes in the perception of the relationship between the so-called “big” and “small” history, history “from above” and “from below”, which we owe to the historians of the French school Annals. Rejecting the style of traditional historiography, they turn to structures and processes of another duration, the research of everyday life, social and economic history. In the process, oral history provided an insight into less explored aspects of everyday life such as childhood, family relationships, the position of women, education, leisure, mental and incurable diseases, disability, death, and so on. It also opened the space for voting for socially marginal groups, all those who have been inaudible, silent or inadequately described in previous histories.

Oral history after the Second World War developed in parallel as a collection of oral material and as its interpretation and analysis. Today, oral history is most often defined as a method of audio or video field recording of stories about events and life experiences of persons or communities in the form of interviews (Perk, Thomson, 2003: ix). The term itself is used in two ways: to denote the material obtained in the interview and to denote the methods (Abrams, 2010, 2). On the one hand, oral history is a type of narration of past events in which the interlocutor has participated or testified to them in a way in which he / she presents his / her experiences, feelings and attitudes. Through a personal, individual perspective, oral history often offers information about neglected and / or unrecorded historical events and, more often, testifies to what certain historical events meant to people and how they experienced them. At the same time, individual experience is inevitably partial, and human memory selective, unreliable, and changeable. The organization of memory depends on many factors: age, previous repetitions of content and narrative abilities, attitudes towards the topic, researcher and authority (s), broader changes in social and historical context, imagination. However, the truth in orally told histories is not always in its factual accuracy, but should be sought in values, understandings, feelings, as well as in exaggerations, distortions and contradictions. It provides a subjective, original view of things and the inner experience of a particular phenomenon. Through oral history we can learn how people design their past, how individual experience and social context are connected, how the past becomes part of the present and how people use it to explain their lives and the world around them (Frisch, 1990: 188).

The content of oral histories, ie narration of past events and their method, the way of conducting interviews to obtain information about the past, are complementary and are part of the same process – they are the result of cooperation and exchange of interviewees, researchers and interviewees. For historical research, oral history is a unique method of qualitative interview close to in-depth, while in other social sciences it is not necessarily singled out as special, but falls into the category of different qualitative interviews (life story interview, narrative, semi-structured, in-depth and ethnographic interviews). In order for the wealth of material that can be obtained through oral history to really serve a more complex understanding of history, it is necessary to approach oral history in a systematic way. In methodological terms, this means thoroughly researching the literature on a given historical period and making a research plan in which special emphasis is placed on careful preparation and conduct of interviews, as well as respect for ethical protocol during the interview.


  • Lynn, Abrams. 2010. Oral History Theory. Routledge: London, New York.
  • Michael, Frisch. 1990. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. SUNY Press: Albany.
  • Paul, Thomson. 2012. Voice of the Past – Oral History. Clio: Belgrade.
  • Robert, Perk, Alistair, Thomson. 2003. “Introduction”, The Oral History Reader ed. R. Perks, A. Thomson, Taylor & Francis, ix-xiii


Victim is one of the words that can often be heard in everyday speech. However, even an authoritative look at the ways in which it is used and the contexts in which it is used, indicate that its meaning is not always self-evident. Sometimes the term “victim” means a person or group whose suffering is the result of direct violence such as crime and war, or structural violence – the injustice of social and state institutions. In some other situations, he describes unjust suffering or acts of voluntary renunciation and selflessness. He can be a victim of “bad luck”, natural disasters or diseases. Even within victimology as a science of victims, there are differences and disputes in terms of defining terms. The broadest definition of a victim is one that includes all persons who have been killed, injured, damaged or endangered, regardless of the cause of suffering. The term understood in this way includes “individual” and collective victims (natural and legal persons, social groups and society as a whole), regardless of who caused the suffering and, if it is a criminal offense, regardless of whether it has been reported and whether the perpetrator is known” (Nikolić-Ristanović, 2019: 90). The process by which an individual or group becomes a victim of some form of violence is called victimization. In the victimology literature, a distinction is made between direct and indirect victims. Direct (primary) victims are those who have been directly exposed to violence, while indirect victims are all those affected by it, whether as witnesses, family members, helpers (secondary victims) or members in general. wider social communities (tertiary victims). In particular, large-scale violence such as war, expulsion, mass rape and war crimes, has deep and long-lasting traumatic consequences for wider social groups and society as a whole. When persons are killed or injured precisely because of their actual or attributed affiliation to a social group (religious, ethnic, racial, political), we can speak about collective victims. Although the victims are always individuals, then in addition to the direct ones, as a rule, there are also indirect victims – a certain social group and society as a whole.

In reality, everything is even more complex. The process of social recognition of victims is not linear, but is conditioned by a complex interaction of historical, social, cultural and political factors that include cutting prejudices and stereotypes related to ethnic, religious, gender, class and other affiliations. Often, social recognition of victims and recognition of their suffering is limited by ingrained notions of who the victim may be, what the “real” victim should be, and / or how he or she should behave. A distinction is often made between the “ideal” victim, which is the opposite of the “ideal” perpetrator of the crime (evil, brutal, heartless). In such a picture, the victim is associated with helplessness, purity and innocence. It goes without saying that she did not contribute to her suffering in any way, and the history of her suffering gives her absolute moral integrity. Victims who do not meet these criteria are those who are considered to have deserved victimization in some way, and are often considered less victims than the “ideal” victim or whose victim status is denied. The effect of this mechanism can be seen both in challenging the victim status of women who killed their abusive partners and in, say, the treatment of war victims belonging to a nation considered more responsible than others for crimes committed (for example: German victims in the Second World War). world war, or Serb victims in the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s). Regardless of the fact that the experiences of suffering are always individual, the recognition of suffering is an essential social act and it will most often be determined by its social functions.

On the other hand, a history of suffering in the past can be a powerful link to connect the collective. When a collective identity is constructed around the role of victim where the narrative of victimization becomes a means of justifying the violence perpetrated by “victims” and legitimizing pretensions in the present, we can speak of the ideology of victimization. The ideology of victimization is based on the belief in one’s own absolute justice, on oneself as the only victim of cruelty and injustice, and on the dehumanization of one’s opponents by attributing intimidating traits and behaviors to all members of the group. The innocence and absolute moral integrity of the victim are transmitted to entire collectives through what Vetlesen calls the “logic of principled attribution.” It has two aspects: each individual is reduced exclusively to a member of the group and each member of the group is responsible for all the above acts committed by all other presumed members of the group, not only in the present but and in the distant past (Vetlesen, 2005: 158). Discursive strategies of representing oneself and others are in the function of sharper demarcation of groups, among other things, by establishing or disputing the possibility that “someone” (that someone is always a collective) has the right to the stratus of the victim. In the first case, purity and moral integrity attributed to all members of the group arise from belonging to a particular group, in the second, from belonging to a particular group arises malice and moral inferiority of each of its members. The consequence of that in the first case is the omission from the view of a specific room for maneuver for action, the issue of personal responsibility and choice in the context of specific historical events. In the second case, the distinction between responsibility and guilt is blurred and through the demand for (unattainable) absolute moral integrity as a precondition for someone to be recognized as a victim, an explicit and more frequent, implicit rejection of acknowledging any experience of suffering is performed. In that constellation, the categories of victims and perpetrators are established in such a way as to achieve the greatest possible sharpness in their separation. This is achieved, among other things, by uniting victims, victims and perpetrators of crimes, where in the case of their own collective there are only victims, while in the case of others there are only perpetrators of crimes. It should be borne in mind here that the mere fact of death does not put on the same level those who suffered in the war and the events that followed as a result. Within the Istrian victimology, the victims are defined as civilians who did not actively participate in the conflict, while the victims are active participants in the conflict who have their responsibility in that. This is the most general distinction that is the basis for more detailed classifications (Graovac, 2002: 429-443). Rigid classification creates a framework in which erasures and denials are produced, while contradictions, dilemmas, ambivalences are not possible. What is destructive and general to all victimizing narratives about their own victims is not the demand for recognition of suffering, which is a matter of justice and elementary human solidarity, but the selection that accompanies it and the functions it has. As a rule, as exclusive, they instrumentalize concrete human suffering to immunize the entire collective from responsibility for injustices inflicted on others on behalf of that collective (state or socio-political group), establishing a clear, difficult bridge between “us” and “them”. This leads not only to the erasure of the suffering of others, but is often accompanied by the erasure of the suffering of those from one’s own collective in the event that it is “inappropriate” by some criteria. It can also lead to the denial of assistance to specific victims, because, as someone wrote a long time ago – “where everyone is a victim, no one is a victim.”


  • Arne Johan, Vetlesen. 2005. Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Daniel, Bar-Tal. 1998. “Societal Beliefs in Times of Intractable Conflict: The Israeli Case,” International Journal of Conflict Management, 9/1, 22-50.
  • Igor, Graovac. 2002. “The Dilemma of Victimology: Victims and / or Victims?”, Dialogue of Historians / Historians, 5, Herceg Novi, 2-4. March 2001, Hans-Georg Fleck, Igor Graovac (pr), Zagreb, 429-443.
  • Vesna, Nikolic-Ristanovic. 2019. From Victim to Winner: Victimology as Theory, Practice and Activism. Prometheus: Belgrade.


Testimonies, and especially public testimonies, are a critical part of the process of cultural memorialization. They are a connection between personal experience and public memory. Testimonies contain personal perspectives and versions of what happened in the community and as such provide raw memory or material for the process of collective memorialization. They can be public and formal, organized by state bodies, as part of trials, public events, or commemorations. But it can also be targeted at smaller groups of interested individuals. Also, testimonies can be given live, through speeches, or mediated through letters, interview recordings, or fictionalized works of art based on real events and personalities. And while court testimonies are given under oath, and therefore taken as true under the guarantee of the state and the law, absolute truth is not necessary for understanding testimonies and they should be viewed as pieces of a mosaic that give a more complex picture of what happened.

The difference between testimonies and oral history is primarily the format, the level of formality and the reach of the audience. Evidence is important to the process of transitional justice. Testimonies are organized so that people interested can get directly acquainted with the lived experiences of those who share them, oral histories are there to present a detailed picture and are often much longer. Testimonies are frequently massive and involve the audience, whether directly or indirectly, while oral histories are usually made as a conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee. To that extent, oral histories can be understood as narrower, more formally organized testimonies, so all oral histories are testimonies, but not all testimonies are necessarily oral histories. When an oral history is published on a media, book, public event, television, radio or website, it becomes a testimony.

The testimonies stem from a tendency “not to be forgotten,” which, although vocal in society, is not omnipotent and has limited tools and time available, and which is under constant pressure to return to normalcy without remembering traumatic events. Testimonies provide a variety of perceptions, to better understand the destinies of people who were not necessarily ours. These fates are easy to ignore when there is a political interest that justifies a lack of interest. However, they are very useful in complex circumstances such as ours. The best example of this is the refugee case. Until the right to vote is given to people expelled from the city by war regimes, there is not too much will to listen to people who came to the city because they recognized it as a signature place, because they were expelled from another area.

Public testimonies are also a modern phenomenon. While listening to testimonies can be located in much earlier historical contexts, the ritualized modern form of public testimony is tied to the modern media and the great atrocities of the twentieth century. Early known cases of public testimony are the Nuremberg Trials. During the trial of the Nazi criminals in Nuremberg (1945-1946), court testimonies were transmitted through the media, translated and heard throughout the Western world. However, the full affirmation and inclusion of testimonies in public discourse in modern form came only with the affirmation of commemorative practices during the 1980s[1], when World War II eyewitness survivors died and direct memories became less and less available. In other non-Western contexts, too, testimonies are taking on a modern form, such as the hybrid trials for crimes in Rwanda, established after the 1994 Tutsis genocide.

Combining traditional forms of cooperative justice, these courts included public testimonies of genocide victims as well as testimonies prosecuted criminals, which is certainly interesting to compare, because the genocide in Rwanda took place in parallel with the war (and genocide) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there were no similar practices of merging traditional and modern forms of justice, but the prosecution of specific crimes and testimonies of victims remained within the formal war crimes trials at the B&H Court and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Although a good part of these trials was broadcasted on public television, the question remains as to how useful the process itself was as a testimony to understanding local contexts and microhistories. This does not mean that public testimonies are not organized and public commemorations, events of victims’ associations and works of art are an opportunity to listen to testimonies and understand what happened in our local communities. Unfortunately, when it comes to the events in the city of Banja Luka, and the life stories and traumas of our fellow citizens, and ourselves, these activities were largely absent.

The testimonies are unquestionable for our personal encounter with the past. The significance of testimonies has long been denied in the historical sciences as subjective, however, their necessary objectivity is not crucial to the role of testimonies in collective memory. Listening, discussing, and understanding testimonies builds social memory, and is an unquestionable part of democratic debate in society. Just as in the museum we meet science that is prepared for wider use and not only for scientists but also for the general public, so the testimonies are there to provide an encounter with the past for interested individuals who are not necessarily scientific. To that extent, these sixteen interviews presented on the site, and the interviews that will be placed there in the future, are testimonies left for visitors to get acquainted with what was happening. Each reading of one testimony becomes a new reading of the past.[2]

[1] Pierre Nora. “Reasons for the Current Upsurge in Memory.” Transit 22 (2002, 4 April): 1–8.

[2] Verne Harris, “A Shaft of Darkness: Derrida in the Archive,” in Refiguring the Archive, ed. Carolyn Hamilton et al. (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2002), 61–82.