From Auschwitz to Bosnia – how can testimonies say something true, when they are at the centre of a political battle?

Mina Wikshåland Skouen

Abstract


Interpreting testimonies has been a field in rapid development since the Second World War. The core of the debate has been how one can testify about something so gruesome as being in Auschwitz. What language could match the experiences of the witnesses and make them comprehensive to the reader? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the only ones that can really testify about survival – deriving from the Latin word superstes: to bear witness to death – were the so called Müselmänner, the living dead. These persons were prisoners that had redrawn from life, all but in their bodily functions. The ultimate witness would be a Müselmann returning to the world of the living. They could communicate what survival was like, because returning to life would also mean the return of language. What could this tell us about recent testimonies of genocide? Few European countries have a political discourse and a storytelling tradition (all textual objects) so dominated by testimonies as Bosnia. Thus would it be natural to approach them with the theoretical tradition from Holocaust studies. But this poses some challenges. Testimonies from the war in Bosnia do not have any common history to rely on. The political discourse is on the contrary dominated by an ethnic battle for dominance over the testimonies. The aim is to prove that their version of history is true, as opposed to the claims of the other groups. It is a battle for dominance over the final historical conclusions from the war. Testimonies from Holocaust have an inevitable truth to rely on, and only due to this is it possible to pose the question of how the victims can ever tell their stories. In Bosnia, the testimonies are contested and repeated time and again –continuously taking on a new significance. My paper will investigate how to deconstruct testimonies that originally have been given to the International criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and then reappear in a literary context, for instance in Slavenka Drakuli?’ books They would never hurt a fly(2004), and As if I was not there(1999). What does this transgression from a courtroom context, to the one of solely telling about one’s own survival do to the dynamics between a political discourse and a literary text?

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