Many of us do not want to hear anything about wartime experience of others. That lack of interest is especially pronounced when it comes to experiences on the other side of the front line. Perhaps that is only human: ordinary people have had enough of their own pain and do not want to listen about the suffering of "mortal enemies".
Most of those who experience war, especially its victims, are profoundly traumatized by it. We can define different measures of wartime trauma. For example, it can be said that someone's wartime experience is traumatic as long as the said individual is unable to accept wartime suffering of others, especially the innocent, let alone empathize with them. The old worn out definition of a trauma is that trauma implies being trapped by one's own suffering, literally being held captive by past experience. Consequently, those who caused such unsurpassable pain, for example the executor who wanted to take our fate in his hands, keep ruling, sometimes forever, our life. Their power has become the power of our own suffering or suffering of those whose fate we have become responsible for. Thus, the executor, dead or alive, frequently neither dead nor alive, haunts the soul of his victim, just like a ghost haunts an abandoned house. The unforgivable sin has shut souls of many in such windowless houses in which specters of murderers still run amok.
There is too much evidence that here whole nations have been traumatized. There are too few signs that people can empathize with the suffering of those they do not consider to be their own kind. Many have been made deaf and blind for the suffering of others. Imprisoned by their own difficult past because of those others, whose crimes they cannot forgive, whole nations are now locked in a deadly embrace, totally separated. The trauma is not in the fact that "our innocent victims", and those victims are above all others, cannot be forgiven, but in the fact that there is still no collective will to open our hearts and empathize with the suffering of "their innocent victims", although it is easy to discern that a lot of suffering is hidden on the other side as well.
Empathy with the suffering of others, although ten years has passed since the end of the war, still mostly follows the war frontlines. In this case we find yet another confirmation that communities of firm and tangible identity, such as ethnic nations, are also communities of emotion. There are points at which the indifference of those overwhelmed by emotion starts, and these points mostly match the separation lines established during the war. We could even draw a sort of a map of traumatic suffering illustrating how it is transferred from an individual to a collective, i.e. how it is politically located and invested. In the public portrayal of unforgivable wartime suffering the most important suffering, and that belief is backed up by the whole epic tradition, is the suffering of mothers who lost their sons in the war. All local ethnic communities come together around the immeasurable suffering of mothers, just the way they come together around their shared origin. Empathy with the suffering of mothers and their children is not only a mandatory social obligation for each individual within a certain community, but also represents the fundamental thread of social interconnectedness. Those who by definition are most social, politicians and other public personalities, must keep expressing and demonstrating their deep compassion for the suffering mothers. Mostly judging by their public expressions of empathy with suffering of the innocents, as well as judging by the media portrayal of those who suffer the most, it can be concluded that post-war communities are actually communities of mourning, which is conducted under close political supervision that converts it into a public obligation and ritual.
Trauma cannot be handled without a community of those who are prepared to share the suffering. In order to get out of its cursed embrace, trauma must be discussed openly; the experience must be shared with others who are prepared to listen with understanding and empathy. It is not easy to talk about something that cannot actually be discussed, because words cannot describe inhuman experience. However, one has to keep trying, persistently keep repeating the part that remains unsaid. We, in this region, know that well: re-telling of wartime stories, in schools, kindergartens, public gatherings, from the political pulpit, on television and radio, in literature and movies, is a social reworking of the wartime trauma. Societies created by wartime trauma are societies of public storytelling that is included in every more important social communication - one never knows where education stops and a heroic epic starts, where political speech stops and wartime story begins...
The post-war Yugoslav society, and modern societies are composed from several ethnic communities, had its integrative foundation not only in the victorious ideology but also in the fact that ethnic communities of mourning, above all of innocent victims, could be brought together into a single community of emotion and empathy. The essential problem of the post-war reintegration of the society in Bosnia-Hercegovina is the fact that it is impossible to establish such a community or that if does not exist. Could it be that innocent victims on the one side have no empathy for innocent victims on the other side? Or is the problem that the public politics of mourning and newly established cult of victimhood prevent that such empathy become public and have social impact?
It seems that social consciousness of post-war communities, which have by now become self-aware nations, has been created on the premise that there are no innocent victims on the other side. Thereby all victims become twice victimized, while wartime, warmongering corporatism (the assumption that we are one natural body), which converted belonging to an ethnic community to a biological, genetic necessity, has been confirmed in the worst possible way. The wartime policy of ethnic cleansing has revealed the madness in the heart of ethnic nationalism: the mythical belief that all individuals are the same, nothing but shoots on the bulky trunk of the collective. The proper name for that madness is tribalism. However, isn't it true that the post-war construction of social links based on the community of those who were struck worst by wartime trauma also leads to a certain sick isolation and separate bodies of painful emotion? No one can deny the justification for this - a community closes ranks around those who have experienced the worst injustice. However, thereby we create a defensive rampart around the impenetrable core. Ethnopolitics today feeds on wartime trauma. Before the nations of Bosnia-Hercegovina were shut into their interpretations of war or in ideologies, they had been shut in the sanctified suffering of their biggest victims. Perhaps the act of [Serbian] actress Mirjana Karanovic, who interpreted a character of a Bosniak Muslim mother, a rape victim, in movie "Grbavica", should be the model of empathy that could shake up the ruling politics of mourning?