- Collective Rape and Postmemory in Bosnia
Talking about postmemory in connection with the Bosnian War presents problems similar to those in talking about Rwanda. The events in question are relatively recent—the early nineties—and the generation following that of the direct victims is still relatively young. Consequently, it is difficult to find second-generation creators whose work has been marked by the trauma inflicted on the previous generation. The film I will take as my example, Grbavica, made in 2005 by Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, is not the work of a second-generation artist since the director herself, who was born in Sarajevo in 1974, actually lived through the conflict. Yet the film has a twofold link to the issue of postmemory, first through the story it tells and second through the impact of its reception in Bosnia. In this sense it can be considered both an account and also a vehicle for postmemory.
The story is set in Sarajevo approximately fifteen years after the end of the war. The main character, Esma, a woman in her early forties, lives alone with her teenage daughter Sara. The plot begins with an apparently trivial event. One of Sara’s teachers has decided to organize a coach trip for the entire class. The cost for parents is quite steep, particularly in a society marked by unemployment, and Esma struggles to find the money, so much so that she takes a job as a waitress in a nightclub. However, Sara learns that the children of war heroes, in other words, Bosnian soldiers killed in action, are entitled to a discount. Having been raised to believe [End Page 115] her father died in combat, she asks her mother for the certificate given to families of the war dead. At first Esma claims that she cannot find the document, then that she must go and collect it from city hall, and in the meantime she manages to find the money thanks to a collection organized by one of her friends at the factory where she works.
Although she is able to go on the trip, Sara is intrigued by her mother’s inability to produce the document proving her father’s heroism and becomes increasingly insistent. She is further fueled by the fact that some of her classmates, with whom she has fallen out, begin to publicly doubt the family legend, which the young girl had hitherto believed. The issue has even greater importance for Sara because she has made friends with Samir, a boy her own age who also lost his father but who, unlike her, has the documents to prove his father’s heroic conduct during the war. Samir has also inherited his father’s pistol, which he carries with him constantly, like a relic, and teaches Sara how to use.
Tirelessly questioned by Sara, who threatens her with Samir’s gun, Esma is finally forced to admit that Sara is not the daughter of a war hero but rather the product of a rape committed during the war in the prison camp where she was being held. As she reveals the truth to Sara, Esma has a kind of breakdown and attacks her daughter, calling her a “Chetnik bastard” and hitting her violently. In the final scenes the film shows the consequences of this revelation on the two women. Esma, who had regularly attended a support group for rape victims but had always refused to talk about the past and only came for the money given to victims, begins to tell her story while crying. She describes how she tried to get rid of her daughter when she found out that she was pregnant, then rejected her when she was born, before being overcome with emotion at the sight of the baby and finally accepting her. Sara, for her part, reacts by shaving off her hair. The meaning of the scene becomes clear when we know that one day, when the young girl was asking her mother about her resemblance to her father, Esma replied that there was none, before changing her mind and saying that they had the same hair color, information that Sara received with obvious...