Sarajevo: Material Mediation and Survival Bodies

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Article published in The Funambulist 11 (May-June 2017) Designed Destructions. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

This text is part of a research process about architectural and other materials that analyzes entanglements of war (violent) and un-war (non-violent) spaces during the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996), the bodily adaptations and human relations within, and new codes of knowledge formed on the edge of the military’s reactive activities, in both combat and civilian contexts. It attempts, by using the siege of Sarajevo as an example, to begin to reflect on the possible entanglements of war and un-war spaces by introducing three terms: “material mediation,” “survival body,” and “un-war space.” In relation to the production of space, I observe the two following notions: (1) war as a violent spatial condition and (2) un-war as a non-violent spatial condition, though the two are not in opposition as would the notions of war and peace. On the contrary, the two are interdependent and spatially juxtaposed, as long as the culture, power, and spaces of militarism are produced and utilized.

Pilav Funambulist 1
Detail from the “Survival Map of Sarajevo,” 1992-1996. / FAMA Collection

The proclamation of the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Yugoslavian Federation came as a result of a citizen referendum on March 1, 1992, which has since been considered the reason for different armed and unarmed incidents in Sarajevo during the same month, as well as the impetus for the Bosnian War. A month after the referendum, massive civilian peace demonstrations took place over a course of three days and, on the dawn of the fourth, Serbian snipers targeted the people. Even though the citizens made clear their opposition to the war, Sarajevo was then besieged and, for four years, the city was subjected to constant bombings, gunfire, and attacks by tanks. As written in a report by a United Nations Security Council Commission of Experts (1994), the besieging forces of the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA), successors to the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), started changing the natural landscape of the Bosnian territory. According to Sarajevo: Survival Guide (FAMA, 1993), entrenched along the natural landscape of the surrounding hills and mountains of the city were 260 anks, 120 mortars, and innumerable anti-aircraft cannons, sniper rifles, and other smaller arms. Some parts of the neighborhoods inside the city, such as in Grbavica and Dobrinja, were divided in two, meaning the front line went through and in-between buildings, or engulfed opposing river banks for either waging attacks or defending. As a response, the interim wartime government started to organize Bosnia and Herzegovina’s defense forces. Meanwhile, everyday civilian life changed dramatically for those who didn’t flee, which involved adapting to the new geography of the war. I argue that every city with citizens living in close proximity to military landscapes, who were or are still living through a state of war, belongs to a specific topography. In these locations, spatial and bodily relations take on unique qualities, and are mediated through two elements: weaponry — military vehicles, artillery, and snipers — and the availability of raw materials — land and trees, other people, as well as the rubble of ruined buildings.

Material mediation during the war in the city ///