Today, eleven years after the end of the war, Vukovar remains a ravaged and ethnically divided city. Indeed, when Croats and Serbs talk about the 1991 war within their own ethnic group, they invariably ask: “How could we have trusted them?” That such deep feelings of distrust and suspicion can exist in Vukovar, a city that once boasted one of the highest interethnic marriage rates in the former Yugoslavia, seems hard to fathom. So what happened? What caused neighbor to turn against neighbor? How could feelings of betrayal and distrust spread through a once harmonious community like a virulent cancer? And will it ever be possible for the residents of Vukovar to overcome a basic lack of trust and reconcile their differences?
In 2002, we set out to find answers to these questions through an interview study of forty-eight Croat and Serb residents of the city. We approached potential participants through two local recruiters who solicited participation on the basis of recommendations from one person to another, a recruiting process known as “snowball sampling.” Participants had to meet the following criteria: first, they must have lived in Vukovar for at least fifteen years prior to the outbreak of war in 1991. Second, during this time, they must have had close friends from the other ethnic group. Third, this relationship must have been severed or seriously threatened since 1991. The final sample consisted of an equal number of Serbs and Croats, from three age categories and three levels of education.
Throughout history, governments of all political stripes have used history and literature curricula to reinforce national ideologies and identities. The promulgation of official memory through the school system can be an effective form of propaganda. The educational setting can become a conduit for the government or leaders' views, presenting political ideas and beliefs as either “correct” or “incorrect.” Textbooks and curricula can be used to justify or deny past state crimes, create revisionist history, present on-going injustices as natural, or perpetuate attitudes that replicate the conditions under which injustices are committed. Where school systems remain segregated and unequal, education can be manipulated to perpetuate inequalities that are a legacy of past conflicts, dispossession, or repression.
If public education can function to inflame hatreds, mobilize for war, and teach acceptance of injustice, it can be used also as a powerful tool for the cultivation of peace, democratic change, and respect for others. This premise has been a prominent focus of the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), as well as numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout the Balkans and in conflict zones around the world. If children living in divided societies can come together in the schools, this contact can be used to help them question the prejudices and stereotypes in their surrounding environment.
In this chapter, we examine the factors that may contribute to or prevent the rebuilding of war-torn societies based on two surveys of attitudes and beliefs of the inhabitants of three cities – Vukovar, Mostar, and Prijedor – in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 2000 and 2001. Prior to the war, these three cities were integrated societies where different nationalities had intermarried and lived together in relative harmony for centuries. Since the end of hostilities in 1995, the cities have remained fairly peaceful, although conflicts between national and civic identity still continue among the three principal national groups. While the war experience of these cities may have been unique in its ferocity, it also is true that the manifestations of enmity that persist can be found in similar towns and villages throughout BiH and Croatia.
The principal goals of our survey were: to investigate some of the underlying attitudes and beliefs of the population of Mostar, Prijedor, and Vukovar toward the (re)building of community; to investigate attitudes toward reconciliation and members of other national groups; and finally, to investigate attitudes toward war crimes, war crimes trials and, specifically, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Psychological and social origins
The 1991–1995 wars in the former Yugoslavia will be remembered for their cruelty, including widespread war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
How can survivors of wars inflamed by ethnic hatred rebuild their lives? How do they describe their former enemies, now their neighbors? What role does justice play in the process of rebuilding communities? And what will it take to re-establish trust among former neighbors torn apart by communal violence?
In the summer of 2000, we set out to answer those questions through a series of long-term studies in three war-ravaged cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Mostar and Prijedor) and Croatia (Vukovar). As Weinstein and Stover have noted in the Introduction to this volume, these cities, once vibrant and thriving urban centers, are now deeply divided along ethnic lines. While the “ethnic divide” in Mostar is facilitated by the River Neretva, with Bosniaks living on the east bank and Croats living on the west bank, neither Vukovar nor Prijedor has such a physical demarcation. Instead, a “psychological wall” exists in both these cities, separating Croats from Serbs in Vukovar, and Bosniaks from Serbs in Prijedor. In all three cities, people from opposing ethnic groups who once lived together peacefully now harbor deep-seated resentments and suspicions of one another, making it difficult to renew social relationships or to form new ones.
Our studies examined the views of residents in these three cities regarding war, justice, and the prospects for reconciliation. In Mostar and Vukovar, we studied the daily lives of residents over a two-year period.
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