Individuals’ complicity in collective violence during the Bosnian war (1992-1995)
My proposed research will build upon my MPhil research in examining individuals’ complicity in collective violence at the grassroots level during the Bosnian war (1992-1995). It addresses a broad, fundamental question — what motivated individuals to participate in collective violence, ethnic cleansing and war crimes in Bosnia, when they had previously been law-abiding, peaceful and ordinary people? — by looking at several constituent issues that have not been adequately addressed in the historiography of the conflict.
First, I will examine to what extent collective violence during the Bosnian war was driven by grassroots perpetrators, rather than by elites, and whether this changed over the course of the conflict. I aim to identify where the objectives of the elites and those at the bottom intersected regarding war crimes in Bosnia. Second, my research will assess how much autonomy perpetrators of atrocities had against how much choice these individuals at the bottom believed they had over whether to participate in war crimes. Third, my research aims to evaluate how aware perpetrators were of their committing ‘war crimes’, and to what extent awareness affected behaviour and decision-making. Finally, I will assess what the answers to these questions tell us about Bosnian war violence, and more generally about the origins of violence in history.
Historical research on the Bosnian war has predominantly focused on the role played by elites and has taken top-down approaches; yet, very few works have concentrated on the role played by grassroots perpetrators of collective violence. I aim to supplement top-down studies of the Bosnian war with a focus on the perpetrators who were actively complicit in atrocities to greatly further our understanding of the conflict’s brutal violence.
My proposed methodology is a close, qualitative examination of published transcripts and accounts of victims and perpetrators from the extensive archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). ICTY transcripts are extremely rich in details of individuals’ wartime experiences, especially in relation to documenting collective violence, and give unique insights into interactions between victims and perpetrators of the conflict. Yet, given their wealth of information, surprisingly little research has used them as an historical source. Nevertheless, when used in tandem with other witness testimonies, they help to provide a more complete understanding of Bosnian war violence.