In November, 2016 I attended the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies annual convention, held in Washington DC. This conference is the premier North American conference for scholars of language, literature, and culture of the East European and Eurasian regions. I have regularly participated in this conference since 2009. Engaging with other area studies scholars at ASEEES always renews my enthusiasm for my own research and teaching of the languages and literatures of the modern Balkans.
At this year’s conference, I delivered a paper entitled, “To Wait, To Bury, and to Die: Belvedere’s Mothers and the Work of Mourning in Post-Genocide Srebrenica.” This paper investigates Bosnian director Ahmed Imamović’s 2010 film Belvedere as a lens that narratively and visually reflects and refracts dominant themes of post-genocide motherhood in Srebrenica, both reproducing dominant tropes of representing survival after genocide. My argument is that Imamović’s film exists alongside and works in tandem with both recent scholarship on gender, survival, and victimhood after the war in Bosnia – as well as other literary and filmic work produced since the war that engage with Bosnian postwar realities. In its nascent addition of ethical and political dimensions to mourning practices, the film highlights in striking detail the contours of daily existence and systems of value held by many Srebrenica mothers. My paper investigated how the film’s visual characteristics (color, setting, and sequencing) interact with its soundscape (both diegetic and extra-diegetic). Overall, I maintain that these visual and audio elements give the viewer the sense that women – and, in particular, mothers – in post-genocide Srebrenica are caught in an endless cycle, deprived of certain types of agency, and ultimately cut off from both the past of their murdered relatives and the future of their living children.
My paper was part of an interdisciplinary panel interrogating contemporary formations of gender in the late-20th and early-21st century Balkans. It looked at representations of gender in the Balkans in diverse media (film, literature, art, and other modes of popular culture) so as to better understand contemporary constructions of gendered subjectivity of the past two decades. The panel explored how the consequences of the region’s turbulent history—experience and trauma of war to socio-economic hardship of the region’s transition to capitalism—have transformed and influenced gender roles. The other papers on the panel looked at contributions by Bosnian female filmmakers to the cinema of trauma and young women’s fantasies of empowerment and idealization as experienced through going out and clubbing. All three papers touched upon how new technologies (from smart phones to the internet) have provided a platform for gendered self-definition and invention.
Since gender studies in the former Yugoslavia is a new avenue of research for me, participating in such a panel and discussing salient issues of gender with colleagues was extremely beneficial at this stage in my research. Moreover, attending the ASEEES convention gave me the opportunity to attend a number of panels addressing strategies for teaching the language, literature, and culture of the Balkans. One of these, devoted to teaching the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, was of particular relevance for my own teaching. Hearing the opinions and advice of colleagues gave me new insights for dealing with the often fraught topic of the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia – insights that I plan to include in my future BCS language and Slavic literature courses here at Berkeley.