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“Nothing is Going to be Named After You”: Ethical Citizenship Among Citizen Activists in Bosnia-Herzegovina


Twenty-three years after the end of the war many Bosnians feel they have been stuck in an endless post-war transition, yearning for a better life for so long that an idea of a brighter future is almost unimaginable. While the political elites are focusing their attention on ethnic divisions, the rest of the country is falling deeper into economic regression with high unemployment rates and widespread corruption in politics and business.

This dissertation is an ethnography of contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina that examines the ways citizen activists are widening the cracks between ethnic territories and in that space practicing the kind of belonging that turns residents who are merely sharing a certain space as subjects of ethnic collectivities, to citizens who are members of a shared community going beyond the primacy of ethnic identification. This way, citizen activists are creating an alternative to widespread political focus on identitarian politics by concentrating on social justice for all, positioned against the backdrop of pervasive and institutionalized ethnicization of everyday life and politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thus, citizen activists are experiencing citizenship differently, not as a legal membership that ties one to the respective ethnic group but as a belonging that ties one to a community of people who have been disenfranchised and who, regardless of the precarious situation they find themselves in, put their bodies to work to create lives worth living by engaging in citizen activism. However, citizen activists are not only rejecting identitarian politics but also positioning themselves as discontent with neoliberalism, where the beneficiaries of political party-family infrastructure are the ones reaping the benefits of an unequal system and accumulation by dispossession.

I call this form of alternative citizenship emerging among citizen activists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, ethical citizenship, where the ethics is located in the bodily acts of resistance to the mainstream politics of consensus and part-taking in something one is excluded from. The ethics is also located in the very process of people working on their selves and transforming themselves through self-care and self-reflection, in order to obtain a state of normality in their lives. This normality is often lodged in those moments of indignation where citizen activists get to experience, practice, and exercise a sense of control over their lives such as demanding a solution to a problem by trapping public officials in the Parliament, as well as day-to-day, subtler acts of refusal or resistance. These ethical acts of citizenship are creative endeavors where people are rejecting the way they are supposed to act and responding to a crisis with invention and creativity by building alternative forms of direct citizen action.

This dissertation is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork working with citizen activists primarily in Sarajevo, with frequent visits to other cities such as Mostar, Tuzla, Banja Luka, and Prijedor.

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