Ana Dević

On Victims and (Not On) Victimhood: Audience Receptions of the Sarajevo MES Festival Ensemble – 20 Years Later

Examples of nationalistic presentation of the genocides in the region of post-Yugoslavia are abundant. In the second week of April this year, as in the previous ones, the leaders of the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic of Serbia proclaimed that the wars of the 1990s cannot be understood without figuring out the apparently continuous reasons behind the genocide of the Serbs, starting from the one in the fascist puppet Independent State of Croatia during WW2. The symbolic repetitions of the reburial of WW2 victims serve to secure the ‘credit’ of victimhood for the recent and possibly future war crimes that ‘our’ side may have or would have committed against the enemy side defined, too, solely by its ethnic background..

There are very few opposed examples in the region – of talking about the suffering and its meanings during the 1992-1995 wars from the perspective of individual victims themselves, not being hijacked by the rationale of the elites and the heavy symbolic paraphernalia of the state and para-state religious institutions. In order to highlight one such significant case, I propose to reexamine the audience receptions of two theatre plays that were initially staged in the besieged Sarajevo – “Silk Drums” and “In the Country of Last Things,” directed by Haris Pasovic .

My initial impulse for writing this proposal comes from my time in Ljubljana in the fall of 1994, when I was a graduate student doing field work there. I was lucky to have been able to get into the theatre where Pasovic‘ plays were performed, since the tickets for the shows coming from the besieged city were sold months in advance. The strongest memory of those evenings is the last moments of the performance of “In the Country of Last Things.” All actors on the stage turned their faces to the spectators and kept still and silent for a minute. As if facing the question: “Why did you abandon us?”, the audiences gasped, and the bodies in the rows close to the stage leaned backwards, as if in awe or being ashamed.

I propose the reexamination of the significance of these plays to take two steps in terms of the methodology. First, I would examine the dominant and alternative narratives about these events in the Slovenian media at the time, in the fall of 1994. Then, I would conduct interviews with theater critics, journalists, and selected viewers, who would talk about their memories of the events, and their meanings twenty years later. In the process, and in order to problematize the concepts of ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ audiences in the post-Yugoslav context, I would also rely on the literature of/on the post-Yugoslav exile, e.g., Dragan Klaic and Dubravka Ugresic.


Ana Dević is a political and cultural sociologist who obtained her Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego, MA from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, and a BA in Economics from the University of Novi Sad. Following posts at the University of Glasgow, Aarhus University, University of Bonn, and Brown University, Ana is now an Associate Professor in Sociology at Fatih University in Istanbul and a Visiting Professor at the University of Bologna. Ana specializes in the sociology and politics of ethnic divisions and nationalism, gender and feminism, migrations, citizenship, social movements, and film as a method of conflict analysis. Ana Devic’s recent publications include: “What Nationalism Has Buried: Powerlessness, Culture, and Discontent in Late Yugoslav Socialism,” in Paul Stubbs, et al., Social Inequalities and Discontent in Yugoslav Socialism (Ashgate, 2015), “Jaws of the Nation and Weak Embraces of the State: The Lines of Division, Indifference and Loyalty in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” in Pal Kolsto, ed., Strategies of Symbolic Nation-building in South Eastern Europe (Ashgate, 2014), and ‘’Open Regionalism’ in the Cinema Production in Yugoslavia’s Successor States,’ in Paul Stubbs and Christophe Solioz, eds. Towards Open Regionalism in South East Europe (Nomos, 2012).