Antigone in Slovenia: Exhumation and Interment as Transitional Justice

Author: ORCID icon
Barnes, Julia, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia
Weston, Kath, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia
LaViolette, Adria, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia
Biemann, Asher, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines contemporary reconciliationism (sprava) enacted in response to two concurrent wars—World War II (1941-1945) and the Slovenian Civil War (1943-1945)—in the territory that is now the Republic of Slovenia. In the seventy-six years that have passed since these conflicts, truth-seeking commissions, international criminal lawmaking, and symbolic show trials have characterized the quest for justice in societies transitioning from a state of violent conflict, occupation, instability, and/or oppression to an idealized vision of peaceful democracy. In Slovenia, this project for transitional justice is led by the so-called “reconciliationists,” who work under the auspices of the Slovenian government in a quest to heal wounds from the concurrent wars. This movement is helmed by the Slovenian government commission Komisija za reševanje vprašanj prikritih grobišč, or Commission on Concealed Mass Graves (CCMG). My central thesis is that the reconciliationists work to legitimize Slovenia’s transition away from Communism by “Westernizing” the cultural ideal of the right to a “tended” grave. I demonstrate that Slovene reconciliationism prioritizes the human rights of the concealed war dead—Slovenes who died a “Bad Death”—because their killing can be reframed as patriotic martyrdom, furthering the reconciliationist goal of uniting the divided nation. I also show how the reconciliationists frame their ideal of pravica do groba, or “the right to a grave,” as following the moral map laid out in the canonic, democratic “quest of Antigone.” I argue that this project for a reconciliation as transitional justice works on two levels: first, by exhuming the concealed war dead from mass graves, the dead bodies are transformed from anonymous victims of Communism to valued citizens of a democratic republic; second, the project works to establish democracy by bridging the gap between the domestic work of mourning and the political work of a government’s duty to the citizens who died for it. But I also show how the work of “reconciliation” does harm. While the classical tragedy of Antigone instructs that both the “winning” and the “losing” sides of conflicts are equally deserving of rights, the excluded Romani ethnic minority show how the implementation of democratic ideals in Slovenia continues to be hampered by ethno-nationalist aims. This project combines anthropological inquiry into the social life of a transitional justice project with a re-examination of what “reconciliation” really does.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
transitional justice, reconciliation, Slovenia, nationalism, ethno-nationalism, Europe, European history, interment, exhumation, Balkans, ethnic violence, archaeology, World War Two, WWII, Slovenian Civil War, mass grave, concealed mass graves, Roma, Romani, Romany, citizenship, human rights, minority, peacemaking, political economy, testimony, memorialization, collective memory, ars morendi, Post-Socialist, Post-Communist, democracy, Antigone, remembrance, negative methodology
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: