The past haunts and deeply impacts many people, especially those who were directly involved in violence. It can torment and consume their lives. How do they move on?
This summer I worked with an organization of women in Bosnia that formed during the war in the 1990s to combat the reality of losing their families and to have a space in which they could share their own experiences.
I learnt that on the eleventh of every month, in order to commemorate the victims of the July 11th 1995 massacre, women gather silently in Tuzla, Bosnia. In one of the commemoration ceremonies I witnessed, the women held pictures of those who were killed and those who are still missing. They pray and then disperse, and life goes on until they meet again next month.
Many of the women I met defined themselves through the war and the men they lost which in turn means that they placed themselves in a very small box without much hope of ever escaping. Women have allowed the past to surround and define their lives. I strongly believe that the minute the past is a significant and descriptive part of an individual in such an encompassing and indicative manner, it is no longer constructive and eradicates a hope of a viable future.
Bosnia was ravaged by the horrors of the war and the people have certainly been left with the damage. As a country, Bosnia has done nothing to address the problems of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues stemming from the aftershock of living through a horrific war. Therefore, women (who have been proven to suffer at higher rates than men) are left to remember what was once there and what no longer is. Their identity is shaped almost solely by the past.
With the foundation of their lives built on the memory of the past, there is little hope to move out from under the label of “war widow” or “victim”. In order to move on, these women must allow themselves to be a part of the present and a part of society as an individual and not simply as the aftermath of the war.
The women of Bosnia must assess how they incorporate the war and how they can move forward. There is no solution that will work for everyone. However, one thing is certain: they are not able to be present in life with the past looming as an unchecked demon.