The Science of HatredWhat makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?
The former battery factory on the outskirts of Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia, has become a grim tourist attraction. Vans full of sightseers, mostly from other countries, arrive here daily to see the crumbling industrial structure, which once served as a makeshift United Nations outpost and temporary haven for Muslims under assault by Serb forces determined to seize the town and round up its residents. In July 1995 more than 8,000 Muslim men, from teenagers to the elderly, were murdered in and around Srebrenica, lined up behind houses, gunned down in soccer fields, hunted through the forest.
The factory is now a low-budget museum where you can watch a short film about the genocide and meet a survivor, a soft-spoken man in his mid-30s who has repeated the story of his escape and the death of his father and brother nearly every day here for the past five years. Visitors are then led to a cavernous room with display cases containing the personal effects of victims—a comb, two marbles, a handkerchief, a house key, a wedding ring, a pocket watch with a bullet hole—alongside water-stained photographs of the atrocity hung on cracked concrete walls. The English translations of the captions make for a kind of accidental poetry. “Frightened mothers with weeping children: where and how to go on … ?” reads one. “Endless sorrow for the dearest,” says another.
Across the street from the museum is a memorial bearing the names of the known victims, flanked by rows and rows of graves, each with an identical white marker. Nearby an old woman runs a tiny souvenir shop selling, among other items, baseball caps with the message “Srebrenica: Never Forget.”
This place is a symbol of the 1995 massacre, which, in turn, is a symbol of the entire conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. The killings here were a fraction of the total body count; The Bosnian Book of the Dead, published early this year, lists 96,000 who perished, though there were thousands more. It was the efficient brutality in Srebrenica that prompted the international community, after years of dithering and half measures, to take significant military action.
While that action ended the bloodshed, the reckoning is far from finished. Fragments of bone are still being sifted from the soil, sent for DNA analysis, and returned to families for burial. The general who led the campaign, Ratko Mladic, is on trial in The Hague after years on the run. In a recent proceeding, Mladic stared at a group of Srebrenica survivors in the gallery and drew a single finger across his throat. Around the same time, the president of Serbia issued a nonapology apology for the massacre, neglecting to call it genocide and using language so vague it seemed more insult than olive branch.
Standing near the memorial, surrounded by the dead, the driver of one of those tourist-filled vans, a Muslim who helped defend Sarajevo during a nearly four-year siege, briefly drops his sunny, professional demeanor. “How can you forgive when they say it didn’t happen?” he says. “The Nazis, they killed millions. They say, ‘OK, we are sorry.’ But the Serbs don’t do that.”
Some Serbs do acknowledge the genocide. According to a 2010 survey, though, most Serbs believe that whatever happened at Srebrenica has been exaggerated, despite being among the most scientifically documented mass killings in history. They shrug it off as a byproduct of war or cling to conspiracy theories or complain about being portrayed as villains. The facts disappear in a swirl of doubts and denial.
A new Bosnian film explores how that refusal to face the truth can become bizarre, like a hallucination. In the film, one actress plays multiple characters, each a different Serbian woman with a different reaction to Srebrenica. One character, a fast talker in a white blazer, suggests the story has been manufactured. Another, wearing hoop earrings and an animal-print blouse, doesn’t deny the killings occurred but won’t discuss them either. “Money, how you live, where you vacation, that’s what we should worry about,” she says. Yet another character—again, the same actress, this time with chopped blond hair—seems weirdly pleased to broach the morbid topic. “I don’t often get the opportunity to talk about guilt,” she says.
Listening to those women is an actor playing a Srebrenica survivor, who gently prompts them to move past their superficial banter. At one point, late in the film, he reveals his own obsession: “I often think about a particular moment, a situation. When mass killings are happening and you are tied up, and when they are taking you to the pit where they throw in the dead bodies, and when you see them killing people and you know it’s your turn next, at that second, that moment right before you are killed, what do you think about?”
The script for the movie, titled Inside, was written in collaboration with Sabina Cehajic-Clancy, a Bosnian social psychologist who studies intergroup conflict, a field that seeks to understand prejudice and violence, guilt and forgiveness. She and the filmmaker, Namik Kabil, emailed back and forth, tweaking the dialogue, shaping the characters, marrying cinema and science. Sections of the film were shown to Bosnian Muslims to get their reactions to the partial acknowledgment, the outright denial, the admission of guilt. They didn’t like the denier or the conspiracy crank, of course, but they also didn’t like the character who seemed overly eager to unburden herself. Confession shouldn’t be merely catharsis. They wanted Serbs to feel guilty but also to move toward action, to actually do something. Feeling bad is only a first step.
Studying conflict can be a draining, thankless endeavor. Government officials rarely turn to social psychologists for advice on how to end war or cool simmering tensions. Within psychology, research on intergroup conflict is not a speedy route to professional acclaim. The fieldwork can be arduous and expensive. Funds are hard to come by, and so is publication in top journals. You’d be better off surveying undergraduates about their dating preferences or dietary habits. As a result, those who choose the field often do so because conflict has somehow shaped their own lives. For Cehajic-Clancy, it all began on an otherwise-normal Friday when she was 12 years old. Her mother told her to grab whatever she needed—a toothbrush, a hairbrush, pajamas—and throw it in a bag. They needed to go, and they needed to go now.
They had a cousin who worked at the airport. He was their connection. This was June of 1992, just as the siege of Sarajevo was beginning, before the city was surrounded and effectively sealed off, back when it was still possible to slip out. Easy, no, but possible.
Cehajic-Clancy’s parents told her and her younger brother not to say their names out loud. Serbs controlled the country’s transportation system, and if an official realized they were Muslim, they might be detained. Their father stayed behind to work. The family thought their separation might last a couple of weeks, a month at most, until the trouble had passed. Everyone thought so. They didn’t know that it would be two and a half years before they would be reunited, or that their apartment would be stolen by Serbs, that the city would be shot up and shelled beyond recognition, that thousands would perish. They didn’t know their father would be forced to scrounge for food and clean water while hiding from snipers.
Not that they were naïve. Amid the fall of Yugoslavia, Serbs, who controlled the military, embraced the vision of Slobodan Milosevic to carve out a Serbian homeland. The war Serbs started was largely about land, but it was fueled by religion and age-old, trumped-up grudges. The strategy was to encircle and choke Muslim towns, cutting off food and medical supplies while bombing residents into submission. Muslims crowded into schools and other public buildings for protection. Doctors performed surgery on the injured using plum brandy as an anesthetic. Leaving the house to look for food might end with a bullet in the head. When images and stories of the horror leaked out, Muslims felt certain that the conflict would be seen for what it was: not a civil war but a lopsided war of aggression.
Matt Lutton for the Chronicle Review
Ms. Cehajic's Letter
Dear President Mr Clinton
This is now happening to me, but tommorow who knows to whom. It is late to do what should have been done earlier, bur it is not TOO LATE. I am writting to You,
As MOTHER of two children whose childhood is forcefully interupted. Instead of game they rather listen the news. They 'll never be children again. They've grown up in one day.
As a REFUGEE forced to leave home, town, with habits of nice and comfortable life, forced to live refugee's humilativ life.
As a WOMAN whose husband has honounable stayed in Bosnia and a woman who is asking herself in each moment „Is he alive“. A woman who is afraid of meeting him again, because she doesn't know if they'll recognize each other. A year has passed by.
As a DAUGHTER of the old and sick parents, who proudly, look after that what they have honestly earned. The Second World's War once had already took them everything. To whom they have to pay such price?
As a PROFFESSOR who destinguished her students after their knowledge, but today we destinguish each other after national belonging. Shall we ever again be able to face each other?
As a HOMELESS PERSON who lost everything money can buy, but who has lost all beautifull illusions that make life more beautifull.
As a MUSLIM who has naivly belived her Serbs friends, neighbours, coleegues and now Muslim with a hole in heart because it will never be like that.
As a HUMAN endlesly humiliated by the fact that humans are called those who slaughter and rape us, who forced us to run away and those who calmly wach all this.
As a HOPE who begs You to do at last, what You should have done before. If You are powerfull and honurable with honest intentions to help the suffesing citizens of the recognized country, then don't waste time. Only a force can answer to the force. We don't have such force, because we were not preparing for the war. To You will be gratefull an unborn child, as an old man who'll be able to die in peace. Minutes are the eternity for us. Do belive.
Cehajic-Clancy and her family fled first to Croatia and then to Germany. As the weeks grew into months and the months into years, they longed to return but resigned themselves to building new lives in exile. She learned to speak German, and her mother enrolled her in a Roman Catholic school because it was the best school around. For her family, as for many other Bosnian families, being Muslim was more about cultural identification than anything else. The Catholic school, after some internal debate, decided to admit her, and she quickly became its top student. “I didn’t want to be a problem,” she remembers.
Her teenage life appeared normal enough. She used the money she made selling ice cream and delivering newspapers to buy Levi’s and contact lenses. But her father was always in her thoughts. She and her family members held their breath every time there was news of a shelling, and they calculated how close he would have been to the explosions (he was injured twice). They sent him care packages, though half the time they didn’t arrive. Weeks would pass without hearing from him. When he was able to call, they asked first if he was hurt and second if he was hungry.
When the war ended, in 1995, Cehajic-Clancy returned to attend the University of Sarajevo, where an introductory class in psychology turned out to be a revelation. “As soon as I took the first course, I found myself,” she says. She went on to graduate school at the University of Sussex, in Britain, and was drawn, naturally, to the study of intergroup relations. Her master’s thesis led to two published papers—a feat that impressed Rupert Brown, a professor of social psychology at Sussex, her mentor from the start and now a frequent collaborator.
“She is much more closely involved, and I think that gives her considerable insight into the processes that underpin the phenomena,” says Brown. “She has a high degree of motivation to do something about it.”
After completing her Ph.D., she turned down multiple offers, including a research position at the New School in New York, to take a job at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. That decision meant less money, less prestige, and no colleagues in psychology. But it also meant being close to the people she wanted to study, living among those who had survived the conflict and were still coming to terms with its legacy. “I feel like I have a bigger purpose here than if I’m in New York,” she says. “In New York I would be one of many. Here I feel like my existence matters more.”
There was a personal reason too. Her husband, Tim Clancy, didn’t want to leave Bosnia. Clancy is an American who came to Bosnia in the early 1990s as a volunteer for a nonprofit group and never left. During the war, he helped start a hospital, worked in refugee camps, and once smuggled a firetruck past military checkpoints. Later he became a travel writer—his book on Bosnia is the tourist’s bible—and he writes a widely read blog called TheBosniaGuy.
Matt Lutton for the Chronicle Review
The story of how they met is an indie screenplay waiting to be written. Mutual friends set them up on a date of sorts. The red-headed Yank with a dry wit and the bright-eyed Bosniak with a million ideas. She was 20, he was 30. The conversation got around to the war, as it often does in Bosnia, and she mentioned she had spent time in a refugee camp. They pieced it together and realized that they weren’t strangers at all. She had been assigned to Clancy’s group, and he had kept in touch with her mother for a while after they left. A renewed friendship began, then a romance and marriage. They have a 3-year-old son, Noah.
Everyone in Sarajevo knows the couple. One is rarely mentioned without the other. They show up on television a lot, she explaining that gay and lesbian people face extreme bias in Bosnia, or he giving a tour of the environmentally friendly house they’re building at the edge of Sarajevo.
But for now, the family lives in the apartment where Cehajic-Clancy grew up, the one she was forced to flee at 12. After the war the apartments in her building were returned to their rightful owners. The couple bought the place from her parents, in part because she didn’t like the thought of losing it a second time.
The building sits right on the border between Sarajevo and East Sarajevo, which is in the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska. There are no signs or gates at the border, no uniformed guards. But the division is real. When Cehajic-Clancy drives to and from work, she passes briefly over the line into Serb territory, an entity created in the wake of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. If not for the mass killing, there would be no line. “In the beginning, I had to break the barrier of, like, ‘I don’t feel comfortable,’” she says. “It’s not like there’s a realistic threat. There’s not. It’s more like, ‘I don’t want to go through there.’” Now it has become, if not exactly normal, then at least routine.
Cehajic-Clancy began her research by trying to get inside the heads of Serbs, to get them to talk about collective guilt and responsibility. She asked permission to conduct studies in Serbian high schools and elsewhere, to hand out questionnaires to Serbs who hadn’t personally participated in any wrongdoing but may have known something about what had gone on. Often her requests were turned down, so she made phone calls to people she knew, people her parents and friends knew, in a bid to gain access.
When she did get permission to carry out the studies, the answers she received were mostly disappointing. In one study, she interviewed Serbs about what, if anything, could be done for the Muslim victims of the conflict. Some subjects talked about guilt and shame, how Serbs needed to acknowledge the “black mark” on Serbian history. Many more were evasive or hostile. “The best thing would be to forget everything,” one subject replied. Another seconded that sentiment: “Although I think that we will never be able to forget the past, I think we should.” A 28-year-old woman said she got “very annoyed” when Muslims “start with their innocence and victimhood. Like ‘poor us.’ It makes me outraged.”
One of Cehajic-Clancy’s papers concluded that “people in general are not ready or willing to come to terms with collective atrocities.”
Archives of the History of Psychology, U of Akron
In June 1954, a busload of 11-year-olds arrived at a state park in Oklahoma. They pitched their own tents, cooked their own food, dug their own latrines. They named themselves the Eagles. Nearby, another group of 11-year-olds called themselves the Rattlers. After a few days, a conflict began to brew between the two groups, with each blaming the other for offenses real and imagined. Flags were burned, comic books stolen.
The boys didn’t know they were subjects in an ambitious psychological experiment, one that would have little hope of sneaking by an institutional review board these days. The researchers, led by Muzafer Sherif, a pioneering social psychologist at the University of Oklahoma who later moved to Yale, were attempting to understand, less than a decade after World War II, how conflicts start and how they can be resolved, why loyalty to our comrades can override empathy for others. The experiment, known as Robbers Cave after the park where it took place, is a classic and remains perhaps the purest demonstration of the phenomenon researchers like Cehajic-Clancy still struggle to dissect.
One theory that might explain why well-adjusted preadolescent boys turn vicious so readily is the male-warrior hypothesis, the idea that men evolved a capacity to dehumanize and slaughter members of other groups. It makes a sort of cruel sense. Wiping out competing tribes protects your women and therefore your current and future offspring, gives you access to more resources, increases your safety. Dead men don’t raid villages. Altruism benefits members of the same community, as numerous studies and books describe, but altruism may prove a detriment when dealing with so-called out-groups.
A 2009 paper published in Science cited archaeological evidence of violent clashes between hunter-gatherer groups more than 10,000 years ago. That combative bent may extend even further back. A recent study of rhesus macaques found that they display “greater vigilance toward out-group members” and that male monkeys, in particular, “show positive attitudes toward those in their in-group and negative attitudes toward those in their out-group.” If men really did evolve to band together and battle outsiders, then every conflict is about more than the details of that dispute.
“I don’t have that emotional distance to my own findings. Of course it gets to me.”
Maybe that’s good news. If there is an underlying cause of warfare and prejudice, if hate is part of our evolutionary heritage, then perhaps there are paths toward peace that apply universally. Not a secret formula. Not an instant fix. But methods that take into account our deep flaws, that adjust for our proclivities.
One such method is called intergroup contact theory. Proposed in the 1950s by Gordon W. Allport, it sounds perfectly obvious: More contact between groups reduces prejudice. But there’s more to it than that. The contact must meet a number of conditions, according to Allport. The status of the groups must be respected as equal. Those in authority must be supportive. The contact must be more than superficial. Allport’s insight remains the foundation for a great deal of conflict research.
A meta-analysis of 515 studies involving a quarter-million subjects concluded that intergroup contact fosters “greater trust and forgiveness for past transgressions.” The effects are evident regardless of gender, age, religion, or ethnicity. They seem to hold even when the contact is indirect—that is, you are less likely to be prejudiced against a certain group if a member of your group is friends with a member of that group. A 2009 study published in American Psychologist found, somewhat incredibly, that simply thinking about positive interactions with a member of another group reduces prejudice. Imaginary contact may be better than none at all.
Cehajic-Clancy didn’t talk to Serbs just once or twice. She returned again and again, beginning in 2005, trying to understand the mind-set, attempting to extract reasons for their refusal to accept the truth. She knew people had a tendency to play down or deny, to bluster or change the topic, but encountering it firsthand was dispiriting.
“I don’t have that emotional distance to my own findings. Of course it gets to me,” she says. “I would say that one finding that -really strikes me over and over again is that people will do anything—I mean, it is unbelievable the extent and amount of creativity that people possess when it comes to denying. It really stuns me. Even though I live there, I am always surprised by the creativity to do everything but to accept and acknowledge.” When she was working on the script for Inside, the film about Srebrenica, she drew on those denials, that creativity, to fashion characters whose words echoed what she had heard in her experiments.
Matt Lutton for the Chronicle Review
Worse than the denials was the outright aggression. When she went to high schools, students would regularly write on questionnaires things like “Karadzic will be back” and “Pity that Mladic didn’t kill all the Turks.” (Radovan Karadzic was president of the Republika Srpska during the war. Like Mladic, he is on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Calling Bosnian Muslims “Turks” is meant to be insulting.)
It wasn’t unusual for students to swear at her or leave the room. Once a Serb senior, an athletic, good-looking boy wearing a tight T-shirt and a silver bracelet, began to shout. “This is ridiculous!” she remembers him saying. “You are assuming we are guilty for everything. Do I have to continue?” Cehajic-Clancy told him he did not, none of them did, but she would prefer it if he wrote down his comments so they could be included in her research. He stood and walked toward her, holding the half-completed questionnaire, as if to return it. Then he changed his mind. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a cigarette lighter, and set the paper on fire.
She was shaken, struck by the rawness of the emotions. “It was just another indicator that they are not ready to face the past, to face the truth. They’re just not. And when you force them, it really hurts; it is so painful that they just can’t bear it.” She would return to her apartment from these trips, a stack of questionnaires tucked under her arm, feeling lost. “OK,” she asked herself, “where do we go from here?”
Her findings haven’t been entirely bleak. In a 2010 study, she found that Serbs who had regular and meaningful interactions with Muslims were more likely to acknowledge that their countrymen were responsible for genocide—more support for Allport’s contact theory.
In perhaps her most intriguing study, Cehajic-Clancy and her co-authors asked Serbian high-school students to rate their level of agreement with statements like “Although I am not personally responsible for what has happened, I am ready to take on the responsibility for the behavior of my group” and “I think that my group should feel responsible for their crimes.” Before they were shown those statements, some subjects were asked by the researchers to write about a personal achievement, while others were asked to write about a group achievement. A third group, the control, received no prompt. Those who had written about a personal achievement were more likely to acknowledge and take responsibility.
It’s an odd result, but it jibes with previous studies suggesting that admitting group failure is a threat to a person’s sense of self-worth. Perhaps reflecting on a personal achievement makes people feel confident enough to view their group in an unflattering light. Meanwhile, reminding people of the pride they take in their group may make them more defensive and less open.
“We ought to be able to take a critical view of our own group. Otherwise, we’re in a mess,” Cehajic-Clancy says. “If we only justify our group leaders, if we only justify our group leader’s actions, then we’re in conflict. If we start taking a critical view—‘Yeah, I’m still what I am, but, wait a second, you can’t do what you’re doing, it’s not right’—then there’s hope. That’s what the study shows.”
Eran Halperin was a co-author on that paper. Halperin, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, in Israel, tried the same experiment on Israelis and Palestinians, with the same results. Though he lives 1,200 miles away and studies a different conflict, he and Cehajic-Clancy share a bond. They are both young intergroup-conflict scholars who are themselves products of a conflict. While serving in the Israeli Army, Halperin and several other soldiers were ambushed in Lebanon. Both of his hands were severely injured, and he lost part of a lung. He spent three years in a hospital. Now he has partial use of his right hand; typing is a chore. In Israel, where violence has waxed and waned for generations, where peace will appear within reach and then out of grasp, hoping for reconciliation seems like wishing for a miracle.
Yet after talking to Halperin you feel as if it might be possible. In a study he wrote with Carol S. Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University known for her research on motivation and self-regulation, he asked Israelis whether they would be willing to discuss compromise on contentious issues such as Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem. Before they asked those questions, they gave some subjects articles to read about how people are capable of change. The articles did not mention Israel or Palestine. The point was to plant in their minds the notion that groups don’t necessarily hold fixed traits and perspectives, that their positions can be malleable. How could a few articles accomplish anything when Israelis read about discord every day? Yet Halperin and Dweck found that the subjects who had read the articles were more willing than the control group to discuss compromise.
“If we start taking a critical view … then there’s hope.”
Methods like Halperin’s might create an atmosphere in which the two sides would be prepared to reconcile. Halperin and Dweck tried the identical experiment with Greek and Turkish subjects living on the contested island of Cyprus, and again found that it worked: They became less rigid. Reading, in general, about how people can change seemed to make them more optimistic about their specific conflict.
For Halperin, as for Cehajic-Clancy, his interest in intergroup conflict is not just scholarly. He wants to conduct studies that will lead to broad societal change. Like her, Halperin turned down offers from American universities. And like her, he is raising his children in a culture in conflict. “It’s not just my job,” he says. “I’m much more emotional about what I’m doing.”
His work is rarely embraced by fellow Israelis, who prefer to see the situation in terms of the latest news or policy proposals. Certainly Israel’s government has shown little interest in Halperin’s work. Obtaining funds is a continuous struggle, as is public acceptance of the findings. “You’re telling people who lost the most important things in life that, in a way, it wasn’t necessary, if we could just overcome these psychological barriers,” Halperin says. “When you convey this more complicated message, you become very unpopular.”
Still, what are the chances that we’ll really overcome those psychological barriers? Are scholars like Cehajic-Clancy and Halperin, sincere as they may be, actually moving us toward a more harmonious world? Read intergroup-conflict literature, from the classics to the present day, and it becomes hard to argue that there isn’t a strong evolutionary component to our bellicose behavior. We reliably stigmatize the other. We also reliably respond to certain kinds of information and interventions, our positions soften, we become more open. We’re more predictable than we imagine, less entrenched than we assume.
Granted, those effects are usually measured over short periods of time, and, once people return to their normal environments, there is evidence that old prejudices creep back. It’s not as if a psychological trick or two will magically convert swords into plowshares. But considering what nations spend to arm themselves, and considering the body count from conflict over the last century alone, should we pay a bit more attention to the people who are figuring out why we fight and how to make us stop?
Matt Lutton for the Chronicle Review
Cehajic-Clancy frequents a certain rooftop cafe in Sarajevo because it is one of the few tobacco-free restaurants in a country where nearly half of adults smoke. On this Saturday morning she has already been to yoga with her husband; she’s wearing a gray T-shirt and oversized sunglasses. The girl who fled the country in fear two decades ago is now a respected social psychologist who speaks rapidly, urgently, as if every conversation might lead to a revelation. She seizes an invisible object from the air. She puts her hand over her heart. She leans forward and taps the table for emphasis. She is always in motion, always pressing a point.
Good researchers take precautions against emotion in order to remain impartial, to stand back from their results. Activism can derail objectivity. It is a potential pitfall Cehajic-Clancy and Rupert Brown, her mentor, have discussed more than once. But, as she sees it, her stake in the future of Bosnia is anything but a handicap.
“I do research on an issue that matters to me, so in that way I am personally involved,” she says. “I really think that’s beautiful because it makes me get up in the morning every day and makes me motivated maybe even more than an ordinary American psychologist. I see purpose to my work, and it gives me strength to continue, despite the data. Deep in my heart, I’m doing this because I want to make the world a better place. I’m not doing this to increase my publication record or pretend to be smart.”
After tea at the cafe, Cehajic-Clancy visits the Sarajevo History Museum. The steps leading to the entrance are broken, and the grounds are unkempt. Next door is the country’s now-shuttered National Museum; it closed after the government couldn’t find the money, a well-publicized embarrassment that highlighted the country’s dysfunction. Among the museum’s exhibits are a brief history of Bosnia, including the conquest by the Ottomans, the Nazi takeover and killing of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, the shift toward socialism, the fall of Yugoslavia. Most of the museum, though, is devoted to recreating life in Sarajevo during the siege. You see photos of a blood-spattered classroom after a Serb shelling. You see a mock-up of a typical kitchen during the war, with a clothesline strung across the fridge and a cot next to the table.
Cehajic-Clancy lingers in front of a photo of a 1994 performance of Mozart’s Requiem by the Sarajevo Philharmonic. Culture flourished here during the worst of circumstances, a testament to human resilience. On her way out, she flips through the guest book to search for Serb names. She doesn’t see any.
The next day Cehajic-Clancy, her husband, her son, and Namik Kabil, the filmmaker who collaborated with her on the Srebrenica movie, take a day trip to the nearby Olympic Mountains. On the drive she and Kabil discuss the film, how they labored over the script for more than two years. All of Kabil’s films in some way touch on the war, whether they are documentaries or fiction. He moved to Los Angeles for a while before realizing that the stories he wanted to tell were back in his home country.
Cehajic-Clancy says her students complain that every film in the theaters seems to be about the war. Why can’t Bosnians make plain old action movies? Or a harmless comedy or two? She explains to them that the country continues to digest the conflict. “If it’s still coming out of you as a script writer, as a film director, as a writer, then let it come out,” she says. Her husband steers their Subaru Outback along the narrow mountain roads, through isolated villages surrounded by snow-topped mountains. They may seem cut off from the modern world, but the conflict did not spare these villages. Houses that had stood for centuries were wiped out by shelling and have since been rebuilt on the cheap, with concrete blocks and scrap-metal roofs.
“Deep in my heart I’m doing this because I want to make the world a better place.”
Cehajic-Clancy frets aloud about the papers she needs to write, the data that have to be analyzed, the commitments she’s made. Lately there has been more work than she can handle. While policy makers have shown little interest in her research, she regularly fields requests from organizations that want to collaborate with her, to tap her expertise. Among them is a research group that will be visiting more than 30 communities throughout the country, including tiny, out-of-the-way villages, bringing along photographs and stories of cross-cultural cooperation, of Serbs helping Muslims and vice versa. The group will also conduct workshops on promoting empathy. Participants will be surveyed before and after the workshops, and Cehajic-Clancy will evaluate their answers to see if the intervention had the intended effect. Getting permission to conduct such workshops in Serb territory is a coup for the group, and, for Cehajic-Clancy, data from these difficult-to-reach locales provide an enormous opportunity.
She is pleased, though it comes at a time when she already feels pulled in too many directions. Not that she would dream of passing it up. “They turn to me because I work on this, and I’m like, ‘Oh God, am I the only one?’ What am I going to say? That I’m busy and can’t do it?” she says. “So I say yes. I say yes and yes and yes and yes.”