Combating Waste Colonialism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Lecture format: on site + online.
Room: 2R-EG-07 (lecture hall of the Institute for Eastern European History).
Street address: Spitalgasse 2,  Campus of the University of Vienna, Hof 3.

Bosnia and Herzegovina today is poisoned politically, economically, and environmentally. Constant political instability – accelerated by Croatia’s and Serbia’s colonial attitudes and practices – deepening poverty, catalyzed by the wholesale privatization of natural resources, and the increasing number of incidents resulting in ecological damage and disaster: all provide stark evidence of a toxic mode of governance.From the taking hostage of large swathes of land through rendering them inaccessible with landmines; via treating natural resources as war-time spoils; to disposing of the industrial hazardous waste from privatized and demolished factories by hiding it and burying it in unknown locations, there is one constant: a continuation of the logic of war-time.

In this seminar, Prof. Arsenijević will establish and argue for the connection between environmental violence, international finance, and power in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He will suggest that the core concept for the understanding of deindustrialization of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the production of new subjectivities in this process is the practice of wasting. Wasting not only produces people as waste but also diminishes, devalues, and ultimately destroys social relations by producing and circulating toxic narratives of hopelessness and despair.

Examining hazardous waste as a symptom of the never-ending transition of socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina into a so-called capitalist liberal democracy repoliticises the process of ‘wasting’ environments and human lives, revealing it as part and parcel of such transition. There is immense value to privatising companies in the exploitation of the ‘wasting’ environment and to the ‘wasting’ and ‘wasting away’ of social relations precisely to extract profit, in the form of cheap labour. In an already decimated and despoiled landscape: geographically, economically, politically and socially, cheap labour is the ultimate ‘resource’ being ‘extracted’ from those war-traumatized communities that already live in abject poverty.

In the lecture, Prof. Arsenijević will discuss how Bosnian cultural production, created at the intersection of art-activism-academia, challenges depoliticized positions on environmental violence. Three guiding questions are: How does art-activist production resist the ideological foreclosures of the expression of loss, destruction, and forgotten futures due to environmental violence? To what extent does such art-activist production open up access to public spaces, and engage citizens beyond gender, class, and generational divides, to articulate threats posed by the hidden and abandoned toxic waste as environmental violence? What potentially unique resources do these interventions offer to the sociality and politics of life in contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Professor Damir Arsenijević, University of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a cultural theorist and psychoanalyst in training, working at the intersection of academia, activism, and art. His research has focused on how international peacebuilding and transitional justice mechanisms have created political, social, and environmental waste ground out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2019, he set up “Zemlja-Voda-Zrak”, a platform for environmental humanities.

Please note that registration is only required from those guests who wish to participate via ZOOM broadcast.