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Bosnian Women Focused Trauma NGOs Impact on Subject Formation With Regard to Health and Gender

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The war in Bosnia officially ended in 1995 following outrage over the Srebrenica massacre, in which over 8,000 civilians were slaughtered over only a few days. Twenty years later, long after the foreign aid apparatus had vanished, the only two surviving Non- Governmental Organizations are focused on trauma and resilience of Bosnian women. However ,while their work began with overcoming traumatic events, locally run NGOs find themselves as grassroots organizers and support mechanism for living with austerity and the political manipulation and constant revival of trauma. The state becomes further divorced from power because the triple presidency—a separate government for each of the major ethnicities in the region—tends to cancel each other’s decision. Moreover, the support superstructure --management and funding brought in from the outside to to organizations helping with rebuilding and basic services—that was created by departing foreigners has largely been abandoned. The result is that the remaining grassroots NGOs face the continuing need with fewer or no external resources to help.

The study focuses on two particular NGOs in the region, Bosfam and Medica Zenica. While both are dealing with the same issues outlined above, the communities in which they are embedded make for two very distinct approaches. Tuzla, in which Bosfam is located, has a strong tradition of worker-managed factories, based in Marxist tradition, for which Tuzla has been famous over the past 50 years through the Yugoslav exclusive worker management programs. To this day Tuzla is the least ethnically divided of Bosnia’s larger towns and cities. Zenica, where Medica Zenica operates, had little exposure to warfare: the trauma here is deindustrialization--a loss of 20,000 jobs during the war which were never regained.

As the region tries to recover from the never-ending transition into a democratic civil society, Bosfam uses a return to unity through interethnic traditional female labor within the neoliberal construct of Oxfam, by selling their product and pulling themselves up out of poverty. Departure from the neoliberal model is shown in the way Bosfam conceptualized the effort as communal rather than individual support. Medica Zenica, on the other hand, provides medical and psycho-social support for the more urban community of the previously industrial town of Zenica. Their focus is on domestic violence and the perception of women within the community, courts, and politics. Both of the models tend to exclude young men and non-Srebrenica victims. Their success is seen as an affront to excluded groups and is used by politicians for divisive politics.

In this setting, the NGOs created different types of subjects in dialectical relationship to the circumstances of the communities and populations served. Typically, subject formation is theorized as a top-down imposition or an institutionally created process if seen as bottom-up. The project questioned these formulations and suggests a dialectical process of community-NGO subject formation, with resultant diversity in the kinds of subjectivity created.

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