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Origins of Bosnian humor and its role during the siege of Sarajevo

David Orlov

Abstract: This article presents an ethnographic study of Bosnian humour during the siege of Sarajevo. The siege of Sarajevo, which followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, lasted four years. Despite the atrocities and war crimes committed against the residents of Sarajevo during this period, they are known for the spirit they demonstrated, and humour was a crucial element of this spirit. On the basis of two-month fieldwork in Sarajevo, I demonstrate how Bosnians employed humour to comment on this traumatic event, made sense of it, and coped with the experience. Although humour under extreme conditions is mainly viewed as a coping mechanism, by exploring the origins of Bosnian humour and stereotypes about Bosnians, I demonstrate that a notable humorous response to the traumatic events of the 1990s was more than a coping mechanism or just a response to this particular war. As I argue, a humorous attitude toward life in Bosnia belongs to people’s identity; it has developed historically as a response to the sufferings of a peripheral group in the region and, as a result, has become a cultural artifact belonging to Bosnians’ ethnic consciousness. In their attempt to preserve a sense of normalcy and restore dignity during the siege, Sarajevans continued to engage in their traditional humour, as doing otherwise would mean they had lost control over who they were.
Keywords: siege / Bosnian / Sarajevo / humorous / humour / coping / traumatic / spirit / belonging / extreme

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