Bystanders in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Conflict in the 1990s

Iva Lučić ; Department of History, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

Fulltext: pdf (314 KB), English, Pages 29 – 53

Research on the Holocaust introduced the concept of bystander in order to describe
the civilian population passively tolerating atrocities committed against
the Jewish population, which was actively encouraged by the German national
socialist propaganda. Subsequently, a more general approach to this
concept has been employed to integrate it in a wider range of armed conflicts.
This article discusses the applicability of the bystander concept in the context
of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1990s. In our case
study, the media, in particular in the United States, ascribed the role of the bystander
to the U.S. government, thus calling for its military action. Based on
witness accounts, as well as reports from legal records from the International
Crime Tribunal for Yugoslavia and other sources, the author emphasizes
key differences in the constellation of the conflict between the Holocaust and
the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Propaganda by the local media first
cast individuals in ethnic terms, and then actively mobilized the population to
take active roles in the conflict. Moreover, systematic traumatization was a
commonly used means to further polarize the civilian population along ethnic
lines, eliminating any space for passive observers. Thus, the applicability of
the concept of bystander on the local population in Bosnia and Herzegovina
is called into question.

Bystanders; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Military Intervention; Ethnic Mobilization; Security Dilemma