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TitleThe Differential Impact of War and Trauma on Kosovar Albanian Women Living in Post-War Kosova
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The Differential Impact of War and Trauma on

Kosovar Albanian Women Living in Post-War


Hanna Kienzler

Department of Anthropology

McGill University, Montreal

June 2010

A thesis submitted to McGill University in partial fulfilment of the

requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

© 2010 Hanna Kienzler

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The war in Kosova had a profound impact on the lives of the civilian population

and was a major cause of material destruction, disintegration of social fabrics and

ill health. Throughout 1998 and 1999, the number of killings is estimated to be

10,000 with the majority of the victims being Kosovar Albanian killed by Serbian

forces. An additional 863,000 civilians sought or were forced into refuge outside

Kosova and 590,000 were internally displaced. Moreover, rape and torture,

looting, pillaging and extortion were committed. The aim of my dissertation is to

rewrite aspects of the recent belligerent history of Kosova with a focus on how

history is created and transformed through bodily expressions of distress. The

ethnographic study was conducted in two Kosovar villages that were hit especially

hard during the war. In both villages, my research was based on participant

observation which allowed me to immerse myself in Kosovar culture and the daily

activities of the people under study. The dissertation is divided into four

interrelated parts.The first part is based on published accounts describing how

various external power regimes affected local Kosovar culture, and how the latter

was continuously transformed by the local population throughout history. The

second part focuses on collective memories and explores how villagers construct


of political and economic upheaval. The third part looks at how women create,

change and, thereby, influence collective memories through bodily expressions of

distress. Finally, the fourth part makes apparent how through clinical practice and

traditional healing, history, collective memories and traumatic memories are

negotiated and invested with new meanings and attributions. The dissertation

concludes with a focus on the interrelation of collective and traumatic memories

which generate and justify w . In this context, it is argued

that patient-practitioner interaction should be perceived as an opportunity to build

ethical relationships which go beyond the relatively narrow medical mandate by

social spaces in which they can live and

commemorate in a healthy way.

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she explained that she had given an interview to Polish humanitarian aid workers

the day before that had reminded her of past hardships.

Kosova for only four days and try to talk to as many women as possible. The

interview lasted for two hours and was all about the war and the way I coped


Another example in a completely different context was when Shkurta

entered her niece small beauty shop and dropped into the empty plastic chair

next to me. She muttered that she felt exhausted and suffered from a migraine

since she was mërzitna. When I looked at her questioningly, she explained that her

husband had decided to take her oldest son along on his trip to Germany in order

to find work.


everything on my own In

addition to losing her son, she had learned that a German woman had offered to

our men marry women abroad. I mean, first they leave us behind and treat us

Discourses on the notion of feeling worried were usually very

wellbeing. In so doing, they accentuated a positive image of themselves by talking

about their psychic and somatic symptoms within the context of their deeper

concern for family members. For example, Makfire said that she experienced

strong headaches due to the fact that she was mërzitna

suffered from cancer; Arieta felt weak and nauseated worrying for her son who

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had injured himself on his construction job in Italy; and Flora suffered from

undefined pain due to the fact that her daughter was going through a complicated

pregnancy. In other cases, women worried about their economic situation and

whether they would be able to support their families, send their children to school

and pay the bills. Often they felt helpless due to the falling market prices, crop

failure and the forces of nature that kept them from selling their produce. While

working in the garden, Advije turned to me sighing, “It‟s hard enough that my

husband died. But, if my economic conditions were better, I would feel less tired

and mërzitna. Mërzitna breaks you and makes you look older.” Several days later,

I sat, tired, on Makfire‟s couch after we had tried to secure her greenhouses during

a storm in the middle of the night. When her daughter started crying from

exhaustion, Makfire yelled unnerved, “You dumb head, what are you scared of?

You mustn‟t be scared! If this is what God wants, we cannot do anything about

it!” Then she turned to me, now crying herself, “This is how we live: we worry!

I‟m not getting anything done. We invested 500 euros into equipment to build the

greenhouses. We borrowed the money from neighbours and friends! I have

headaches because I am mërzitna!”

Both, nervoz and mërzitna alluded to powerful emotions capable of

causing a great deal of psychic and physical pain. Interestingly, they are

characterized by the same symptoms, and can only be distinguished from one

another depending on the emotions involved and, related to this, the social context

in which they manifest. Yet, nervoz and mërzitna are not the only idioms that fit

the combinations of symptoms and multiple etiologies. In certain contexts, they

may also allude to magical idioms such as msysh (evil eye) and t’bone (spell).

Msysh and

That the same combinations of symptoms can possibly refer to an illness

and/or magic became clear to me during a conversation with Shkurta about faith

and health. When I asked her whether her faith helped her in coming to terms with

her health problems, she gave me the following somewhat erratic answer:

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