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Language intermediaries and local agency: peacebuilding, translation/interpreting and political disempowerment in 'mature' post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina

Baker, Catherine


Dr Catherine Baker
Research Coordinator for History and Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History


The peace negotiations that ended the 1992–95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina established a constitutional system of ethnic power-sharing that satisfied its signatories (the presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia) enough for war to cease and provided for international military and civilian peacebuilding to play a significant role in post-conflict Bosnia’s governance and economy. This indefinite peacebuilding mission, still ongoing in a downsized form, depended – like any other form of intervention where foreigners work across linguistic boundaries – on interlinguistic mediation by locally-recruited translators/interpreters, an aspect of knowledge production that even current peace and conflict research into peacebuilding’s micropolitics often neglects. On an individual level, locally-recruited interpreters’ frequently-overlooked agency was integral to peacebuilding practice. Yet theorising their agency must also acknowledge the macrosocial level, where the post-war constitutional system has often been argued to have stripped Bosnians of political agency, since it foreclosed political participation as anything but an ethnic subject corresponding to the three institutionalised ethnic identities (Bosniak, Croat or Serb). The entrenched and growing disconnect between political elites and the public, expressed through social protest in 2014, foregrounds the problem of agency and dis/empowerment in Bosnian society more sharply than research on the politics of translation/interpreting and peacebuilding in Bosnia before 2014 took into account, yet reveals further articulations of how international peacebuilding and domestic political contestation were intertwined.

Journal Article Type Article
Journal Journal of War and Culture Studies
Print ISSN 1752-6272
Electronic ISSN 1752-6280
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Agency; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Dayton Peace Agreement; Ethnopolitical conflict; Interpreting; Peacebuilding; Translation