Collective Crimes in Times of War: Explaining Local Violence Against Civilians in Croatia
Mila Dragojevic, Department of Politics, The University of the South
Research Grant, 2014
As a recipient of the Harry Frank Guggenheim research grant, I was able to conduct my fieldwork in Croatia. My research project sought to explain under what conditions mass violence against civilians occurred by examining the sources of the local variation in the level and type of violence in the war in Croatia that lasted from 1991 to 1995. This research addressed the following questions: 1) Why did targeted violence against civilians occur to a greater extent in some communities than in others? 2) Why did such violence occur in some periods more extensively than in others? 3) How could we account for violence even in the same families or among people who used to be neighbors, friends, and colleagues?
The research entailed a subnational comparison of communities with varied levels of violence against civilians including 131 in-depth interviews with residents in selected communities. I complemented this material with documents and additional interviews from NGOs, archives, and libraries across Croatia. Over the course of the fieldwork, I realized that my findings and insights would be more valuable if placed in a cross-national comparative context. That is why I decided to pursue further research in Guatemala and Uganda, two countries with different historical trajectories than Croatia, but with similar patterns of violence against civilians.
Thus, even before mass violence begins, certain communities are transformed into amoral communities, where the definition of crime becomes altered and violence is justified as a form of self-defense by the perpetrators.
Based on the analysis of the interviews and the documents from Croatia, Uganda, and Guatemala, I argue that civilians are targeted in some communities during the war when political ethnicities, defined as new identities linking a political goal and a cultural identity, form on the local level through two complementary processes — the exclusion of moderates and the production of borders. The exclusion of moderates is carried out through violence, in-group policing, and/or social ostracism. The process of the production of borders occurs through barricades, checkpoints, and wartime dividing lines. These complementary forces limit individuals’ freedom of expressing divergent political views, work to prevent the possible defection of the members of an in-group, and facilitate identification of individuals who are represented as a threat. Thus, even before mass violence begins, certain communities are transformed into amoral communities, or communities that I conceptualize as places where the definition of crime becomes altered and violence is justified as a form of self-defense by the perpetrators. This research complements the literature on genocide and civil wars by showing how violence is used as a political strategy, as well as how state-level and micro-level cleavages become linked in local communities through the complementary mechanisms of the exclusion of moderates and the production of borders.
Mila Dragojevic . “Violence and the Production of Borders in Western Slavonia,” Slavic Review, Vol. 75, No. 2: 422-455, Summer 2016.