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TALK | The socio-psychological processes of inter-group reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group meeting, socio-psychological processes

February 4, 2015

By Rachel Elizabeth Brown

What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers, from “The Science of Hatred,” Tom Bartlett’s fascinating article about Sabina Čehajić-Clancy’s work.


On January 22nd, the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies hosted Bosnian visiting scholar Sabina Čehajić-Clancy, of the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology

Čehajić-Clancy is a Bosnian psychologist working on inter-group reconciliation and her research seeks to understand how people come to terms with a past marked by collective and gross human rights violations. She is particularly interested in identifying socio-psychological processes and conditions which can be used to facilitate sustainable inter-group reconciliation.

Her highly anticipated talk was well attended and students had many questions about her work. Čehajić-Clancy mentioned that originally her research was focused on the perspective of the perpetrator group and that during this process she began to recognize a need for socio-psychological processes which could facilitate an increase in acknowledging in-group responsibility as an important pillar of sustainable inter-group reconciliation. As a result, her current research has shifted to the victim group perspective. She is currently examining victim group responses to different reactions by the perpetrator group such as denial, acknowledgment, emotions of guilt and shame, reparation and/or apology offers etc, in an effort to collect quantifiable evidence which would help create lasting reconciliation.


No stranger to the conflict she studies, Čehajić-Clancy escaped Bosnia in 1992 during the Siege of Sarajevo as a 12 year old, fleeing to Croatia and then Germany with her mother and younger brother. Returning in 1995 to enroll in the University of Sarajevo, an introductory class in psychology set her on her course. She feels that Bosnia and Herzegovina have faced many challenges while trying to deal with the burden and legacy of the past. The biggest of which she considers to be how to re-build inter-group trust, something she is incredibly passionate about, and which she believes would in turn lead to more cooperative and common-goal oriented behavior. Inter-group trust for Čehajić-Clancy is important in any multi-ethnic state and imperative in post-conflict contexts.


As part of her research Čehajić-Clancy teamed up with filmmaker Namik Kabil to create six short films each with the same actor expressing different reactions to the same event which she then used in order to research the effects of different emotional responses to in-group atrocities on reconciliation processes.” Over time the films became the foundation of a longer movie, Unutra.  Čehajić-Clancy is currently a visting Fullbright scholar at Stanford University.


A great overview of her work is available here from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a list of academic articles by Sabina Čehajić-Clancy is available here .

In this video you can watch her lead a breakout session at the Third Annual Humanity in Action International Conference in Sarajevo. In this breakout, she presents and analyzes findings from a psychological study of post-war reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Perspectives from Social Psychology from Humanity in Action on Vimeo.

And here is the movie she produced with Namik Kabil.

UNUTRA/INSIDE by Namik Kabil from proba on Vimeo.