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Bosnians in St. Louis struggle over identity, provide lesson on 'tragic optimism'

Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

For young Bosnians in St. Louis, trying to make sense of their identity can be a complex task.

Laura Kromják, an International Visiting Fellow at Saint Louis University, says the younger generation of the St. Louis’ Bosnian community is trying to understand themselves as both Bosnian and American.

Kromják, who attends the University of Graz in Austria, is visiting St. Louis to research the impact of trans-generational trauma on the Bosnian community in St. Louis.  

“On the one hand it seems that the younger generations, the younger Bosnians Americans, are caught in the chasm of inherited memories of war and trauma,” Kromják said. “The memories of their parents and grandparents. On the other side they are also grappling with questions about their own emerging sense of Americaness.”

Kromják says it can be difficult  for Bosnians impacted by the war to  open up about their traumatic experiences. But it’s important that they do and that the community engages in dialogue.

“If we keep silent over these issues, we help the perpetrators of war crimes,” Kromják said. “Because silence is the purpose of the perpetrators of war crimes, so we have to fight this silence.”

Kromják, gave a lecture on her work at Saint Louis University Wednesday. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio's Emanuele Berry, she talked about trans-generational trauma and the importance of sharing stories.  

During the Interview, Kromják said:

  • Struggle with identity construction can cause emotional harm. She said it can be difficult for younger Bosnians to answer questions we might consider simple, for example, questions  about “ your personality, from where you come, who you are, what is your place or position in the world.”  
  • One component that “exasperates"  trans-generational trauma is language. While English is easier for younger Bosnians, some older Bosnians have struggled with mastering the language. At the same time, it’s difficult for younger Bosnians to connect with their heritage through the Bosnian language.
  • We can learn a lot from the Bosnians community Kromják said, such as “how life can be reconstructed in the aftermath of terror,” she said. She adds survivors in the Bosnians community can also offer a lesson on tragic optimism.

Kromjak will present again on April 29th from noon to 1pm at Morrissey Hall at Saint Louis University.