Tales about water abound in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. National space, real and imagined, is intertwined with its many rivers, centuries-old water supply infrastructure, renowned mineral springs, and thermal waters first used for medicinal purposes during the Roman Empire. Yet amidst these longstanding mythologies and no shortage of new water-centered development schemes (linked, for example, to bottled water export, ecotourism, and hydropower), over the last three years, the Bosnian capital Sarajevo has been experiencing frequent cutoffs in the water supply. Despite being a part of an effort to repair the city’s troubled and still state-owned waterworks, these shortages engendered bitter complaints and protests among residents of Sarajevo, many of whom remember well the water cutoffs that ordered life during 1992-5 Bosnian War. The disaffected citizens perceived these interruptions as nothing less than a form of everyday “terror”—suggesting that the crisis of water provisioning is, at the same time, a profound moment of reckoning with the troubled Bosnian postwar state.
To understand the dense affective response generated by infrastructural breakdown, in this presentation, Dr. Larisa Kurtović draws on archival and ethnographic research focused on water procuring practices that punctuated everyday life during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo, and the ways in which memories of this suffering generate new political effects. As she parses through the conceptions of historical injury and cosmic justice that are mobilized through this new politics of indignation, she shows how Sarajevo’s troubled water supply system has become a powerful analogy for the disappointed dreams of a new future.
Dr. Larisa Kurtović is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Ottawa. She is a political anthropologist who conducts research on activist politics, postsocialist transformation and the aftermath of international intervention in postwar Bosnia. Her ethnographic analyses of popular mobilizations, political satire and nationalist politics, have appeared on the pages of the American Ethnologist, Focaal, History and Anthropology and Critique of Anthropology among others. She is currently writing a book entitled Future as Predicament: Political Life After Catastrophe based on her long-term research in postwar-Bosnia, as well as working on a future graphic ethnography about syndical struggle and political possibilities with anthropologist Andrew Gilbert and graphic artist Boris Stapić. She is a Spring 2021 Virtual Open Research Laboratory Associate.