This Was Not Our War

Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace

This Was Not Our War

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 32 color photos, 2 maps Published: November 2004

Author: Swanee Hunt

Contributor: William Jefferson Clinton

European Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History

"Replacing tyranny with justice, healing deep scars, exchanging hatred for hope . . . the women in This Was Not Our War teach us how."—William Jefferson Clinton

This Was Not Our War shares amazing first-person accounts of twenty-six Bosnian women who are reconstructing their society following years of devastating warfare. A university student working to resettle refugees, a paramedic who founded a veterans’ aid group, a fashion designer running two nonprofit organizations, a government minister and professor who survived Auschwitz—these women are advocates, politicians, farmers, journalists, students, doctors, businesswomen, engineers, wives, and mothers. They are from all parts of Bosnia and represent the full range of ethnic traditions and mixed heritages. Their ages spread across sixty years, and their wealth ranges from expensive jewels to a few chickens. For all their differences, they have this much in common: all survived the war with enough emotional strength to work toward rebuilding their country. Swanee Hunt met these women through her diplomatic and humanitarian work in the 1990s. Over the course of seven years, she conducted multiple interviews with each one. In presenting those interviews here, Hunt provides a narrative framework that connects the women’s stories, allowing them to speak to one another.

The women describe what it was like living in a vibrant multicultural community that suddenly imploded in an onslaught of violence. They relate the chaos; the atrocities, including the rapes of many neighbors and friends; the hurried decisions whether to stay or flee; the extraordinary efforts to care for children and elderly parents and to find food and clean drinking water. Reflecting on the causes of the war, they vehemently reject the idea that age-old ethnic hatreds made the war inevitable. The women share their reactions to the Dayton Accords, the end of hostilities, and international relief efforts. While they are candid about the difficulties they face, they are committed to rebuilding Bosnia based on ideals of truth, justice, and a common humanity encompassing those of all faiths and ethnicities. Their wisdom is instructive, their courage and fortitude inspirational.


“An important and well-written book that is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the Balkans, anthropology of conflict, and international affairs.” — Aleksandra Sasha Milicevic, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“With lessons for virtually all societies struggling with civil strife or tensions arising of unsettled histories of violence and injury, the women, mediated by Swanee Hunt’s perceptive and empathetic ear, tell us that reconciliation will require three things: telling the truth, imposing justice, and remembering that the perpetrators are human.” — Franke Wilmer, Peace & Change

“Each story is simultaneously unique and universal—discussing unrelenting fear, fierce protectiveness of family, and the strength and ingenuity of women in extraordinary circumstances. Hunt gives order to the chaotic memories of a chaotic time by providing a thematic structure.” — Debra Hoover, NWSA Journal

“Hunt brilliantly and insightfully succeeds in relating the voices of the women whom she calls her friends and who, in turn, become familiar to the reader through the sharing of their own personal experiences.” — Stephanie Anne-Gaelle Vieille, Millennium

"This Was Not Our War is replete with quotes from scores of Yugoslavian women-Christians, Muslims, Jews-and is a fine example of oral history. It is pertinent and ought to be acquired by all libraries of schools teaching twentieth century history, women's studies, religious studies, or multiculturalism." — Edward Grosek, Catholic Library World

"[A] compelling case for the inclusion of women at the world's decision-making tables. . . . [A] fluid narrative that provides an intimate, less blustery perspective on the Bosnian conflict. . . . If the 26 women [Hunt] profiles are any indication, the women of Bosnia have the requisite ideas, energy and determination and are particularly well-suited to the sensitive work of leading their country toward recovery." — Rob Mitchell, Boston Herald

"[Hunt] provides a narrative framework for the women's stories that ties them together to make an instructive and inspirational whole." — Foreign Service Journal

"[Hunt] succeeds in offering a historically detailed account of the war and the women's experiences. Her narrative is heart-rending and filled with revealing pictures of the women's strength, courage and leadership." — Verna Noel Jones, Rocky Mountain News

"Very personal, deeply moving stories. . . . [Hunt's] book paints a compelling picture of Bosnia's political climate from the height of the conflict through the peace process and post-war period." — Carnegie Reporter

"Hunt deftly creates a coherent and compelling narrative offering a valuable contribution to the scholarship reflecting the call in Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) for the full participation of women in peace processes. Highly recommended. All levels." — N. N. Haanstad, Choice

"Hunt's written conversations with the Bosnian women reveal their need to rebuild and recapture what they once knew to be home. Photos by Tarik Samarah of the twenty six women end the book, adding to the incredible visual the reader has already received from Hunt's writing."
— Linda Kozlowski, Altar Magazine

"Hunt, who was President Clinton's ambassador to Austria, has put together interviews with 26 Bosnian women. They come from different backgrounds but share an emotional strength and a generosity of spirit, a dignity and humanity, that together make the case for a greater role for women in the politics of their societies-and make the rest of the world's hesitancy to intervene to defend human rights in Bosnia very had to justify." — Stanley Hoffmann, Foreign Affairs

"Keenly reported, intelligently reasoned, and passionately presented, This Was Not Our War is a must read for policy makers, historians, cultural anthropologists, and peacebuilders." — Ellen Michaud, Friends Journal

"The women whose stories are included in the book represent a wide cross-section of Bosnian society. . . . Their bold, painful and sometimes appalling stories are accompanied by strikingly mournful photographs. . . . This Was Not Our War is not solely a book about the war. It's also a book about dignity, the human spirit, generosity, courage, and even about love." — Eetta Prince Gibson, Jerusalem Post

"US Ambassador Swanee Hunt vividly chronicles the experiences of twenty-six Bosnian women in her book This Was Not Our War. The women share riveting descriptions of their wartime experiences as well as their heartfelt and courageous efforts to repair the wounds inflicted upon their neighbors and their country." — Mimi Moore,

"Women speak wrenchingly and courageously about the fight to save their homes and protect their children; the decision to stay or flee; the attempt to preserve their own bodies and souls; and the ongoing challenge to rebuild their lives and society. . . . Hunt succeeds in capturing, organizing and analyzing the complexities inherent in conversations with 26 very different people during and after an abhorrent war. . . . Readers will be inspired by [these women's] courage. . . ." — Publishers Weekly

This is a heartbreaking book and—I usually don't say this about heartbreaking books—one that should be widely read. . . . Hunt is a superb writer, as mentioned, whose impressive background as both a journalist and ambassador . . . is fully deployed in the construction of this book, whose superb photographs make the women who speak to us from its pages even more real. Her political acumen and inside view of the tragic events that unfolded during, and unfortunately after the shooting war was stopped, would alone make the book valuable reading.” — Michael N. Nagler, International Journal on World Peace

“Here is history watched in its unfolding, then put on record. Women tell an astute listener what they saw, read, and remember even as their careful witness—at once an eloquent and tragic story—is enabled by the knowing attention of a seasoned diplomat and psychologist. This effort advances the kind of history Tolstoy urged be written—a narration of on-the-scene individuals rendered by one herself very much willing to be respectfully among them.” — Robert Coles, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities and former James Agee Professor of Social Ethics, Harvard University

“I met Swanee Hunt as a diplomat in Vienna. I worked beside her as an activist in the Balkans. Now I know her as a writer, addressing a world sorely in need of her message of challenge and hope. Her words resonate with the authenticity of an observer and advocate who has devoted not only attention, time, and position, but also soul.” — Queen Noor of Jordan, humanitarian activist for world peace and justice and best-selling author of Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

“Swanee Hunt is a diplomat, human rights advocate, and teacher. With This Was Not Our War she shows she is also a gifted listener and writer. In these pages, Hunt captures the rationales and rationalizations for war as well as the despair and stirring dignity of twenty-six women who lived through the Bosnian horrors. Hunt lets the women speak for themselves, telling the story of Bosnia’s descent and recovery their way, and, in so doing, she shows just how vital their voices, insights, and talents will be in rebuilding Bosnia and its shattered lives.” — Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Swanee Hunt chairs the Washington-based Institute for Inclusive Security. During her tenure as U.S. ambassador to Austria (1993–97), she hosted negotiations and symposia focused on securing the peace in the neighboring Balkan states. She is a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the president of Hunt Alternatives Fund, and the author of Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for Global Security and Half-Life of a Zealot, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Foreword / William Jefferson Clinton xi

Preface xv


The Balkans xxviii

Key Players xxxiii

Introduction 1

I. Madness 7

1. Hell Breaks Loose 15

2. Love in the Crucible 59

3. Reasons for the War 73

4. The Lie of Intractable Hatred 95

II. To Heal History 115

5. Challenges 119

6. Women Transforming 137

7. The Road to Reconciliation 169

Epilogue: The Courage to Hope 191

Profiles 197

Closing Thoughts 251

Acknowledgments 259

Notes 263

Bibliography 291

Index 297
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2005 L.L. Winship Award for Non-Fiction, PEN/New England Center

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5214-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3355-5