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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Civil War or Religious Conflict and the Role of Women Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2019

Abstract

Many cases of violence against women during times of war have been reported. Nowadays, rape has also been listed as one of the numerous types of sexual violence on women. For a long time, war rape has been misinterpreted as an action of the oppressor on their victims other than a deliberate act by the aggressor on the victim.

However, over the past few years, many people have showed interest in ‘asymmetric’ warfare, as well as other phenomena like hostage taking, terrorism, and guerrilla tactics among other aspects of war including use of identity such as war rape and ethnic cleansing.

One of the clearest examples of the use of an asymmetric strategy during conflicts is war rape. In such wars, soldiers attack civilians and women aiming to hold a territory. Usually, such a strategy is used as a source of trauma and to break any existing family ties, as well as solidarity among different groups in the camp of enemies. This paper showed that rape can be used as weapon of war.

Introduction

Bosnia is known for being the home of people of diverse origin, religions and customs. Presently, the country is divided on ethnic lines comprising of the Eastern Orthodox Serbs, Muslims Bosniaks, and the Catholic Croats. For a long time Bosnia-Herzegovina had been a united province despite the fact that it was composed of people from different religious backgrounds (Bougarel, 2006).

However, following the disintegration of the communist bloc, a warfare that was ethnically based broke between the religious groups in the Republic of Yugoslavia. This paper therefore, provides an historical overview of the conflict witnessed in Bosnia between the Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks, the role of women in this conflict, and an analysis of the role of both national and religious identities.

History of the religious conflict

The province of Yugoslavia had been ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. However, with time the Catholic Austrian Habsburgs took over the role (Bougarel, 2006). During this period, Bosnia was occupied by people of different religion including Muslims, Catholics and Serbs.

The conflict was fueled by ethnic and political reasons. For example, a conflict broke between the different religious groups in Bosnia (the Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians). Serbia had the intentions of keeping together the former Yugoslavia, by creating a larger Serbian Empire. However, the Albanians, Slovenians and the Croats were looking for a state of independence. On the other hand, United States of America and Europe did not want any form of ethnic conflict in Europe (Darvin, 2009).

A historical overview of Bosnia showed that the emergence of this conflict occurred after the consequences of Western Allies’ victory in the First World War (Darvin, 2009). Fisher (2011) noted that following the introduction of World War II, the Nazi Germany invaded and subdivided Yugoslavia, despite this action experiencing a lot of resistance from people in Yugoslavia such as Josip Tito. In the end, Josip united Yugoslavia back after defeating the Germans.

As such, he ensured that there was peace and harmony among the people of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia, and Vojvodina. The success of Josip’s leadership was attributed to the fact that he had established ties with U.S and the Soviet Union, and used them for aid and financial assistance. However, when Josip died in around 1980, economic and political chaos was experienced in Yugoslavia.

The successor of Josip was Slobodan, a Serbian, who used religious hatred and nationalism as means to ascend to power (Bougarel, 2006). Upon accession to power, Slobodan revived a long-standing tension that had existed between the Muslims and the Serbs occupying Kosovo. The Serbs who were residents of Kosovo had expressed concerns of mistreatment by one of the dominant groups in Kosovo. This resulted to a political unrest and later loss of Serbian’s independence to Slobodan.

On the other hand, Croatia and Slovenia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991, a move that led to a civil war in Yugoslavia (Darvin, 2009). Even though there were hopes of international community intervention, its response was limited with the United States of America choosing to stay away from the conflict militarily (Fisher, 2011).

However, the United Nations banned all residents of Bosnia and its neighbors from possessing any form of arms but the Serbs were not affected so much given that they enjoyed a military advantage since their armed force was the best in the region.

In 1992, after the declaration that Bosnia was independent, Slobodan attacked the capital city of Bosnia, Sarajevo killing more than 3,500 children. The Serbs outgunned the Muslims in Bosnia, and conducted mass shootings, forcefully repopulated all the towns, and confined men and boys in make-shift camps. In addition, numerous girls as well as women of Muslim origin were raped by the Serbs, as a means to instill fear and humiliate the Muslim families living in Bosnia.

Even before the start of the war, many Bosniaks had become unemployed following forced removal from office. This had been done in order to ensure that they were ostracized, as well as their movement curtailed such that they could not move from one place to the other. At the start of the conflict, forces of Serb origin targeted civilian population of their enemies. Even though at one point most of the regions around Bosnia became secured, continuous attacks were still rampant.

Rape as a Weapon of Conflict/Role of Women in Bosnia Conflict

Overview of Rape as a Weapon of War

For many years, organized rape has formed an integral part during conflicts and war (Bourke, 2014). In spite of this, the aspect of rape has been entirely present among war classics which have received a lot of focus with regard to the regular aspect of war whereby different armies engage one another in a fight with aims of defending their territories or conquering new ones.

However, over the past few years, many people have showed interest in ‘asymmetric’ warfare, as well as other phenomena like hostage taking, terrorism, and guerrilla tactics among other aspects of war including the use of identity such as war rape and ethnic cleansing. One of the clearest examples of the use of an asymmetric strategy during conflicts is war rape.

In such wars, soldiers attack civilians and women aiming to hold a territory. Usually, such a strategy is used as a source of trauma and to break any existing family ties, as well as solidarity among different groups in the camp of enemies. In addition, there are cases whereby war rape is not only used as a tool to demoralize enemies but also in ethnic cleansing.

Bourke (2014) asserted that most studies on war tend to ignore the numerous topics that cover issues of war rape. For example, limited studies have been conducted that touch on issues of war rape in the aspect of religion, gender, body and the psyche. As Fisher (2011) pointed out, war rape capitalizes on religious commitments and gender differences to cause trauma not only to the raped women, but also to their immediate families and the community at large.

Therefore, it is important to detach war rape from the aspect of side effects of war in which solders deal with their frustration from war by sexually harassing women. During the Rwandan conflict, as wells as Ugandan civil war, war rape was very common as a systematic strategy. In a similar manner, rape as a weapon of war was witnessed during the Yugoslavian war.

Rape as a weapon of conflict in Bosnia War

The civil war that was witnessed in former Republic of Yugoslavia in the nineties was characterized by sexual violence, which adversely changed the lives of young girls and women in the affected countries (Bourke, 2014). One major characteristic of this conflict was the establishment of make-shift camps that were used as rape camps. In such camps, women and girls of the enemy were sexually violated and tortured severally (Carpenter, 2010).

After the end of the World War II, there were numerous attacks between Serbs, Muslims and Croats in former Republic of Yugoslavia. However, most of the sexual attacks were associated with the Serbs and they targeted women of Muslim and Croat origin. In estimation more than sixty thousand women were sexually abused.

As pointed out by Carpenter (2010), during the start of the war the Southern Bosnia, specifically the town of Foca, was used as a centre where women would be raped by a gang of Serbs soldiers. In addition, Srebrenica was discovered to be another site where rape and mass murder was taking place in 1995.

There are many ways in which rape and other related sexual violence acts are used as weapons of war. Some of the major ways include ethnic cleansing, as a factor of humiliation, to instill fear, gain information, instill peer pressure, as well as an avenue to loot.

For example, a lot of women from Muslim origin testified that the soldiers who raped them were telling them that they were doing it to ensure that they gave birth to children of different ethnic background (Carpenter, 2010). During the Bosnian war, women were also raped as a punishment because they were either of Muslim or Croatian origin. In addition, those women who gave birth were forced by the Serbs soldiers to carry their babies everywhere.

This traumatized both the women and the community that they belonged. According to the definition provided by the United Nations, ethnic cleansing refers to the act of forcing the removal of an ethnic’s civilian population by another group from a given geographical location (Meger, 2011).

Usually, such removal is done through terror-inspiring and violent means. Ethnic cleansing has detrimental effects on the affected individuals, in that the victims can be killed, or their reproduction abilities controlled by the aggressor. However, the rape cases witnessed in Bosnia during the Bosnia-Herzegovina were aimed at bringing up a generation of the oppressors’ origin. The Serbs did this because they wished to have a greater empire.

Secondly, rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina war was intended to humiliate the women and their affected communities. During this conflict numerous women were sexually tortured while their husbands and children watched.

For example, cases of aged women being raped were also rampant during this period with the intention of humiliating them and their families, as in such cases, the soldiers did not have the intention of impregnating elderly women. Nevertheless, rape as an avenue of humiliation was also extended to men who were forced to have sex with their relatives.

Thirdly, the oppressors during the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict used rape as a war weapon because rape incidents instilled fear on their enemies. Cases of public rape were common during the Bosnia conflict, which were intended to frighten the affected communities (Meger, 2011).

Such rape cases were used by the oppressor as an avenue to gain reliable information about the whereabouts of their enemies. In addition, alongside acts of rape was theft. Invaders during the Bosnia-Herzegovina war would invade homes of their enemies; get away with property after torturing and sexually assaulting the occupants of the homes (Gogen, 2010).

Most of the cases involving rape as weapon of war only focus on soldiers as aggressor, and the women as victims. Nevertheless, Gogen (2010) asserted that the Bosnia-Herzegovina rape cases presented a significant picture that was more complex.

For example, women became victims by being subjected to rape, while other members were subjected to mental torture by being forced to watch incidents of rape. On the other hand, it was evident that the aggressors agreed to carry out such acts because it was a form of an initiation rite. As such, the Serbs soldiers were required to rape women from the enemy’s side, and killed or castrated if they disagreed.

Analysis of the National Identity and Religious Identity

One of the significant aspects evident in Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict was the role of national and religious identities. In analyzing the national and religious identities, a lot of focus is given on the name. Hjelm (2013) noted that considering the case of Bosnia, three groups formed the nationality of this country; the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

On the other hand, religious identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina comprised of the Orthodox, Muslims and Catholics. Serbs and Croats have had an enormous impact on the general representation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

To examine the role of national and religious identities with respect to Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, it is important to consider the various categories associated with national and religious identities. Categorization, in this case is viewed from the aspect of the group in which an individual belongs. Based on such categorization, it can be seen that the core concepts in the case of Bosnia are based on kinship, religious and national heritage.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, national identity was based on kinship, which explains the aspect of ethnicity in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Gogen, 2010). Apart from being very instrumental in defining national identity, kinship in Bosnia-Herzegovina was responsible for the different religious affiliations before and during the Bosnian war. As such, the groups in Bosnia inherited their identity from their parents.

Expression in terms of religion was limited at the time of communist regime in the Republic of Yugoslavia (Lauth, 2005). Such limitation in terms of religious expression was aimed at encouraging cohesiveness of national identity. There was a close relationship between ethnic identity and religious identity.

For this reason, religion was considered a drawback during the process of bringing peace and unity in Bosnia, which was attributed to the fact that individuals in Bosnia were not allowed to publicly express their religious affiliation. Such a condition built Bosnia to a more secular society. However, early in the sixties, most of the restrictions on religion were abandoned, with the religious groups in Bosnia gaining a lot of authority (Maiden, 2010). As a result, ethnic nationalism was very vibrant in aspects of political life.

During the Bosnian war, most of the people were divided on ethnic lines. For this reason, the Serbs and the Croats relied on their kin states for nationalism and religious affiliation (Hjelm, 2013).

Such condition complicated the aspect of national and religious identity. As such, at the time of the war, Bosniak nationalism had increased, with each group working towards maintaining their different identities. This led to the conflict between the three religious groups in the former Republic of Yugoslavia based on the fact that each group wanted to protect their independence (Fisher, 2011).

Conclusion

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Bosnia-Herzegovina war had a lot of negative effects on the affected countries. Such effects were felt by both Yugoslavia as a republic and the citizens of Yugoslavia (Lauth, 2005). The eruption of the conflict in Bosnia was as a result of political and ethnic reasons.

Such was attributable to the fact that the Serbs aimed at achieving a bigger Empire by keeping together the former Yugoslavia, while on the other hand, the Albanians, Slovenians and the Croats aimed to be independent (Lauth, 2005). Such differences in interest were very instrumental in the eruption of the conflict.

During this war, a lot of people lost their life, property and dignity. A review of the war showed that women from the conflicting parties were very significant in determining the course of the war (Meger, 2011). This was attributed to the fact that women were used as weapons of war during the entire period of the Bosnia war. They were raped in rape camps and in public. As result of such rapes, the war led to break-up of so many family ties.

As well, the Bosnia-Herzegovina war is one of the numerous historical wars in which war rape was rampant (Darvin, 2009). In most of the rape cases, experienced during this conflict, the primary aim was to use sexual violence as a weapon of war. As such, this was achieved through several ways including instilling peer pressure by the enemies, as a source of information on the whereabouts and war tactics of their enemies, as a factor of humiliation, as well as for ethnic cleansing.

However, even though rape was practiced by both conflicting parties, it was common among the Serbs soldiers targeting women and sometimes men from the enemy’s camp (Lauth, 2005). As such, it was evident that the use of rape in any form of war should not be treated as a consequence of the war but it should be considered a strategy employed by the concerned parties as a weapon of war. As evident in the case of Bosnia, rape was used as an ethnic cleansing.

References

Bougarel, X. (2006). The shadow of heroes: Former combatants in post-war Bosnia- Herzegovina. International Social Science Journal, 58(189), 479-490.

Bourke, J. (2014). Rape as a weapon of war. The Lancet, 383(9934), 19-20.

Carpenter, R. (2010). Forgetting children born of war. New York: Columbia University Press.

Darvin, J. (2009). Make books, not war: Workshops at a summer camp in Bosnia. Literacy, 43(1), 50-59.

Fisher, E. (2011). Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious identity and national socialism. Social Science Journal, 5(1), 1-23.

Gogen, S. (2010). Health effects of sexual violence against woman as a war weapon: Case of Bosnia War. Journal of Social Studies, 119(1), 23-25.

Hjelm, T. (2013). National piety: Religious equality, freedom of religion and national identity in Finnish political discourse. Religion, 44(1), 28-45.

Lauth, M. (2005). Ten years after Dayton: War crimes prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. International Social Science Journal, 16(4), 253-266.

Maiden, J. (2010). English evangelicals and protestant national identity. Journal of Religious History, 34(4), 430-445.

Meger, S. (2011). Rape in contemporary warfare: The role of globalization in wartime sexual violence. African Conflict and Peace Building Review, 1(1), 100-132.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Bosnia and Herzegovina: Civil War or Religious Conflict and the Role of Women." June 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bosnia-and-herzegovina-civil-war-or-religious-conflict-and-the-role-of-women/.

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