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Speaker discusses social reconstruction

| Friday, February 28, 2014

Professor Dinka Corkalo Biruski, visiting research fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, presented her research Thursday on social reconstruction in post-war societies in a lecture entitled “When Community Falls Apart: Challenges of Recovery and Social Reconstruction in the Aftermath of War.” 

Social-Reform-Lecture-Annette-Sayre-700x432Annette Sayre | The Observer

Biruski’s research, which started in 2000 and has received support from both the Kroc Institute and Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (ISLA), focused on the process of social reconstruction in the community of Vukovar, Croatia, one of many communities affected by the 1991 Croatian war for independence. Biruski defined the process of social reconstruction as the process a society goes through in order to achieve normalcy after a conflict or mass traumatization.

“We actually talk about two processes,” Biruski said. “The process of individual recovery, and the process of social recovery, where individuals need to deal with their post-traumatic symptoms and the community needs to find ways to deal with painful collective history in relation to narratives of who they are to who in the past war.”

According to Biruski, the community of Vukovar currently faces severe ethnographic division between Serbs and Croats. While pre-war relations among Serbs and Croats were relatively peaceful, post war relationships between Serbs and Croats have been characterized as socially divided, a definition that permeates aspects such as schooling, sports and business relations.

“It’s more than obvious that social metric is not there anymore,” Biruski said. “It means that an important source of social support is lacking, which makes services for reconciliation or recovery much slower.”

According to Biruski, there are four levels of social reconstruction: individual, community, societal and structural. Her research presented these levels as key to understanding and implementing changes in communities affected by war. Biruski emphasized the importance of social context in understanding mass traumatization and social reconstruction.

“The social context where mass traumatization happened has qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from the circumstances where individual violence occurred,” she said.

Biruski said she focused her research in segregated schooling between Serbs and Croats in the region of Vukovar. While schools in Vukovar before the war were integrated and possessed a common Serbo-Croatian dialect, education is now segregated between the two ethnicities and each ethnicity teaches in their respective language. According to Biruski, history is a delicate and poorly-handled subject in both ethnicities.

“We do not claim that school division actually created negative attitudes,” Biruski said. “However we do argue that separate schooling does not help in social reconstruction. By keeping children apart in education, they lack a possibility to meet others.”

Biruski said her research demonstrated that children in Vukovar are less equipped both socially and psychologically to contact or form relationships with people of another ethnicity, while adults, because they have pre-war memories of integrated relationships between Serbs and Croatians, are more equipped to engage in relationships between Croats and Serbs.

“The only reality children have is the reality of a divided community,” Biruski said.

Biruski said another factor that influences social reconstruction is misconceptions of the definition of reconciliation in a divided society.

“We would be able to generalize more on the typical processes and obstacles in social reconstruction when we talk about the aftermath of war,” she said.

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