Introducing Migration, Mobility and Social Diversity Lead Researcher: Assoc. Prof. Hariz Halilovich

Missing People, Missing Stories and the Creation of Cyber Villages After the Bosnian Genocide

Assoc. Prof. Hariz Halilovich’s research focuses on the stories of missing people in Bosnia and Herzegovina after genocide. As an Anthropologist, Hariz goes into the field to create relationships with the families of these people in order to tell their stories. This is called the ethnographic method.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina war took place between 1992 and 1995. It resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. A further 2.5 million were displaced in the violent ethnic cleansing and efforts were made to erase all evidence of those who were ethnically cleansed ever existed. This included wide spread destruction of libraries, archives and official records at local and state government institutions.

Hariz’s work focuses on how everyday people have survived the war and been able to re-construct their identities both in the real world and in real-time in cyberspace.

One of his ethnographies or stories tells of Fatima, who was forced to “marry” her dead husband who never came “out of the woods”. She had to do this in order to claim a war widow’s pension in the United States where she relocated with her two surviving children. None of her husband or sons remains were found so the only records they have are Fatima’s stories which were then used by the International Commission on Missing Persons to create post-war records of her family and allow her migration to the United States.

Another facet of Hariz’s research focuses on how some of the places destroyed in the war now only exist in cyberspace. These are called “cyber villages” and they’re flourishing. In particular, Hariz focuses on a village called Zepa which no longer exists in Bosnia but did, at least until recently, exist online at zepa-online.com and still exists as a Facebook page.

The website offered a walk through Zepa in remaining pictures, a history of the village and a lively discussion forum that gave off the impression of it being a beautiful and lively place to visit, if only in cyberspace. This creation of space outside of the place Zepa actually existed in is called translocalism. It is the recognition of the breakdown of nationality or nation-states when it comes to refugees or migrants and the need for another term that encompasses this home and identity building in often faraway places.

This powerful re-telling of stories allows for the creation of community, identity and history in ways that allow the people and the families they leave behind to live beyond space and time. Most importantly, it creates a space for healing. And a place to call home.

Listen to Hariz talk about the impact of missing persons, memory and the creation of identities beyond war torn nation-states on ABC’s Big Ideas.

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