The field trip to Mostar, Sarajevo and Srebrenica that I have undertaken with other participants of GHI summer school wasn’t my first trip to Bosnia. First couple of times, I went there as a high school kid spending Christmas holidays with my father who owned and operated a small lumber mill near Brčko. Sometime afterwards I went to Sarajevo as a tourist, enjoying springtime walks over the numerous bridges that spanned Miljacka River and enjoying the vibrant nightlife of the city. This trip was the first one that made me confront the horrors of the bloodiest part of Yugoslav wars that were until now only a blurry figment of memory for me. As our young tour guide took as through streets of Sarajevo, and later as I was wandering through Potočari Memorial Center, feeling oppressive presence of extinguished lives I remembered Izet Sarajlić, one of my favorite poets. I remembered reading about him staying with his wife and two sisters through the siege of Sarajevo, writing some of his saddest poems that mourned the death of the world he once knew. Sarajlić, who as a brilliant young poet inspired by Whitman and Prevert, in the 1970’s dedicated one of his poems to Radovan Karadžić his friend from literary circles. Twenty years later, Sarajlić was wounded when a mortar shell fired from the positions held by soldiers under Karadžić’s command hit his house. While reading his wartime poems through first years of college I was shocked by the matter-of-factness with which the aged poet reported on great human tragedy of Sarajevo. His verses came back to me with surprising clarity as I went through the inner struggle to observe the traces of that tragedy from critical distance required by historians:
The theory of maintaining distance
was discovered by writers of post-scripts,
those who don’t want to risk anything.
I myself belong among those who believe
that on Monday you have to talk about Monday,
because by Tuesday it might be too late.
It’s hard, of course,
to write poems in the cellar,
when mortars are exploding above your head.
Only it’s harder not to write poems.
When I returned to Dubrovnik and had to prepare my part of group presentation the final day Sarajlić was speaking in the back of my mind all the time. Sadly, as a historian, I made writing about Mondays on Tuesdays my calling. So I talked about the saddest post-script I could think of then: the fact that Markale, Potočari and Keraterm, former symbols of modernity served as stages of atrocity, places where Yugoslav narratives of brotherhood, unity and solidarity were drowned in blood of the innocent. Now when I reflect on our field trip I constantly dwell upon the impossibility of distance when thinking about that road that the society of Yugoslavia had taken: from Sarajlić inspired by Whitman, to Karadžić inspired by Njegoš, from Yugoslav modernity to Yugoslav wars. In short, from poems to post-scriptums.
Vinko Drača, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb. The title of Drača’s future PhD thesis is “Psychiatric discourse and society in the fin de siecle Croatia.” In his dissertation, he will try to show the influence of emotional regime of upper middle class on 19th century psychiatry and how had dissemination of psychiatric discourse in the public sphere influenced conceptions of Self, emotions and gender. In his research he uses medical journals and patient files of the Royal and Land Asylum for the Insane in Stenjevec which was the largest psychiatric institution in Austo-Hungarian Croatia. Those patient files are extremely important because they can give us insight into the interpersonal relations of patients and doctors and they enable us to see the way in which psychiatric diagnostics and perception of mental illness was formed. Also, the presence of mediated voice of the asylum inmates (most of them were illiterate men and women of rural origin) in-patient files enables us to witness the traumatic impact of modernizing processes on patients and the way their reaction to those processes was interpreted by psychiatrists.