This article presents an ethnographic study of Bosnian humour during the siege of Sarajevo. The siege of Sarajevo, which followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, lasted four years. Despite the atrocities and war crimes committed against the residents of Sarajevo during this period, they are known for the spirit they demonstrated, and humour was a crucial element of this spirit. On the basis of two-month fieldwork in Sarajevo, I demonstrate how Bosnians employed humour to comment on this traumatic event, made sense of it, and coped with the experience. Although humour under extreme conditions is mainly viewed as a coping mechanism, by exploring the origins of Bosnian humour and stereotypes about Bosnians, I demonstrate that a notable humorous response to the traumatic events of the 1990s was more than a coping mechanism or just a response to this particular war. As I argue, a humorous attitude toward life in Bosnia belongs to people’s identity; it has developed historically as a response to the sufferings of a peripheral group in the region and, as a result, has become a cultural artifact belonging to Bosnians’ ethnic consciousness. In their attempt to preserve a sense of normalcy and restore dignity during the siege, Sarajevans continued to engage in their traditional humour, as doing otherwise would mean they had lost control over who they were.
Allport, G.W. (1958). The Nature of Prejudice. Boston: Addison-Wesley.
Archakis, A. & Tsakona, V. (2005). ‘Analysing conversational data in GTVH terms: A new approach to the issue of identity construction via humour’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 18 (1), pp. 41-68.
Berger, A. A. (1993). An Anatomy of Humour. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Carroll, N. (1999). ‘Horror and humour’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57 (2), pp. 145-160.
Chafe, W. (2007). The Importance of Not Being Earnest. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Chapman, A.J. (1983). ‘Humour and laughter in social interaction and some’, in McGhee, P. E. & Goldstein, J. H. (eds.), Handbook of Humour Research, New-York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 135-158.
Critchley, S. (2002). On Humour. London: Routledge.
Daniels, A. K. and Daniels, R. R. (1964). ‘The social functions of the career fool’. Psychiatry 27 (3), pp. 219-229.
Davies, C. (1998). Jokes and Their Relation to Society. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. 4th edition. Boston: Beacon Press.
Freud, S. (1927). ‘Der humour.’ Passage 34, pp. 18-21.
Glenn, P. (2003). Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gregory, D. (1964). Nigger: An Autobiography. New York: Dutton.
Hadžiosmanović, J. (2014). ‘How is culture used as a tool for discussion of conflict and consensus: A case of Sarajevo’. Journal of Transdisciplinary Studies 7 (1), pp. 22-46.
Kebo, O. (2016). Sarajevo. A Beginner’s Guide. Amira Sadiković (tr.), Sarajevo: Šahinpašić.
Kreševljaković, N. (2015). ‘Humour under siege: Mujo, don’t jump around, you’ll get hungry’. Balkans.aljazeera.net. Retrieved March, 8 2020 from http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/humour-under-siege-mujo-dont-jump-around-youll-get-hungry.
Maček, I. (2009). Sarajevo under Siege: Anthropology in Wartime. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
M.C. (2017). ‘Bosnia’s stand-ups jest about genocide’. Economist.com. Retrieved February, 15 2020 from https://www.economist.com/prospero/2017/10/17/bosnias-stand-ups-jest-about-genocide.
Morreall, J. (2009). Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humour. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.
Nevo, O. (1984). ‘Appreciation and production of humour as an expression of aggression: A study of Jews and Arabs in Israel’. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 15 (1), pp. 181-98.
Norrick, R. N. (1993). Conversational Joking. Humour in Everyday Talk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Norrick, R. N. (1994). ‘Involvement and joking in conversation’. Journal of Pragmatics 22 (3/4), pp. 409-430.
Ostrower, C. (2015). ‘Humour as defence mechanism during the Holocaust’. A Journal of Bible and Theology 69 (2), pp. 183-195.
Rappoport, L. (2005). Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humour. Westport: Praeger Publishers.
Savija-Valha, N. (2016). ‘Raja: The ironic subject of everyday life in Sarajevo’, in Jansen, S., Brkovic, C. & Celebisic, V. (eds.), Negotiating Social Relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Semiperipheral Entanglements, New York: Routledge, pp. 163-178.
Sudetić, C. (1993). ‘This can’t be Bosnia, there is too much laughter’. Nytimes.com. Retrieved February, 12 2020 from https://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/06/world/sarajevo-journal-this-can-t-be-bosnia-there-s-too-much-laughing.html.
The Siege (2016). Directed by Remy Ourdan and Patrick Chauvel. Blanche Guichou, Agat Films & Cie.
Üngör, U. & Verkerke, V. (2015). ‘Funny as hell: The functions of humour during and after genocide’. The European Journal of Humour Research 3 (2/3), pp. 80-101.
Vucetic, S. (2004). ‘Identity is a joking matter: Intergroup humour in Bosnia’. Space of Identity 4 (1), pp. 7-34.
Žižek, S. (2014). Žižek’s Jokes. Cambridge: The MIT Press.