United Nations Television in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Histories


This network brings together historians, film scholars, museum professionals, migration researchers, peacebuilding experts, journalists, filmmakers, and survivors of displacement and genocide to re-examine the work of United Nations Television (UNTV) in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) during the Yugoslav Wars. The UNTV film unit, active in 1993-5, aimed to provide content for TV broadcasts to support UN peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia, and recorded more than 200 reports about conditions in front-line areas from which refugees had been displaced, plus 'video letters' in which refugees sent messages to separated family members. UNTV's collected films and papers (including these recordings, more than 2000 unedited rushes, and contextual documents such as administrative correspondence, newspaper clippings and interview transcripts) were saved from disposal by the UNTV series producer Roy Head as UN peacekeeping in BiH wound up. IWM acquired this collection in 1996. It now sits alongside other holdings related to audiovisual media, war and conflict, including the NATO Collection of more than 350 hours of film from the 1940s-90s and the British Army Film and Photographic Unit's 'dope sheets' from the Second World War.
The UNTV films differ from other broadcasters' footage because they were recorded to inform displaced survivors and formed part of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping strategy. While the UNTV team viewed the videos as interventions made to further immediate UN objectives during the Bosnian crisis, they have since acquired unforeseen documentary functions of interest to filmmakers, museum curators, and survivors. This network will be investigating UNTV's role in peacebuilding and the meanings of its films today at a time when historians, heritage professionals and refugee support charities are using evidence from 20th-century European refugee history to inform public understandings of migration in the present, including IWM's own Displacement public programming season in 2020. This reassessment takes place after two decades of political and economic stagnation in BiH, which call the record of international peacebuilding there - always overshadowed by the UN's wartime failure to protect civilians from genocide - into question even further. The prominence of EU border and refugee resettlement policies as a factor in today's refugee crisis, which have readily been viewed through postcolonial lenses, meanwhile invites scholars to link this earlier European refugee crisis into the same global framework. In these regards, the under-used UNTV collection offers a valuable prism through which to explore questions about media, peacebuilding, and the aesthetics of testimony and memory.
Across three workshops at IWM London in 2019-20, the network will engage with questions arising not only from the UNTV films' content but also the context of their creation, broadcast, reception, archiving and long-term use:
Workshop 1: UNTV and the Media in Former Yugoslavia (the films' production history, their impact at the time, and the limitations of mass media in peacebuilding)
Workshop 2: Meanings of the UNTV Films Today (the films' value now for communities affected by the wars, and the use of audiovisual testimony in memorialising the wars, including the Srebrenica genocide)
Workshop 3: Europe's 1990s 'Refugee Crisis' in a Global Context (comparisons/contrasts with forced migration from the Global South in the late 20th century and the reception of refugees today)
The network's findings will feed into IWM's Displacement season. A dedicated microsite on the IWM website will host blog posts and videos based on workshop contributions, and public events at IWM London and in Hull will link into the 25th anniversaries of the Srebrenica genocide and the end of the Croatian/Bosnian wars. Together, participants will explore what role the UNTV films could play in peacebuilding and what lenses audiences view them through today.

Planned Impact

The network activities have three layers of beneficiaries: curators and digital engagement professionals at IWM, which after successfully and creatively leading a wealth of events to mark the First World War and Armistice centenaries will be focusing its activities increasingly on contemporary conflict in 2020 and onwards; other museum and heritage professionals dealing with similar themes; other non-academic partners whose representatives will take part in the workshops and/or have input into project management as Advisory Group members. Additionally, the findings will benefit users of the resources which will disseminate the workshops' results to non-academic audiences.
Immediate benefits for IWM professionals will include enriching IWM's Displacement public programming in 2020 and enhancing curators' practice for handling other audiovisual holdings related to contemporary conflict. Perspectives from the reunion of former UNTV staff in Workshop 1 in particular will feed into the organisation of a 'conflict café' at IWM London during the Displacement season. Methodological and ethical considerations identified during Workshop 2, including implications of GDPR and digital ethics, will inform the work of IWM's Head of Film, Matt Lee (an Advisory Group member), in liaising with film archives in conflict-affected countries about extending access to and use of other audiovisual material held by IWM depicting conflict there, and it is hoped that networking activities during the workshops and Advisory Group meetings may identify potential local partners in BiH (likely to be film collections and/or arts organisations) for future collaborations that will address GCRF-eligible challenges by making use of the UNTV collection. IWM's Learning Department, which will be producing an activity programme for schools during the Displacement season, will use recordings and transcripts from the UNTV films plus blog posts generated from the workshops in resources targeting topics on th GCSE and A level syllabus.
Further non-academic partners will also benefit from being invited to consider how the network's findings could impact their practice. The network's examination of first-person video testimony from the Yugoslav wars (especially BiH) and what it has been used and reused to communicate will benefit genocide education and prevention organisations such as Remembering Srebrenica and Protection Approaches, who have been invited to take part in Workshop 2 (in recent years, video testimonies by Bosnian genocide survivors produced for YouTube and social media have been increasingly important to genocide education campaigns in the UK). Organisations dealing with refugees and the families of the missing, including the International Commission for Missing Persons (which led forensic investigations of mass graves in BiH) and the National Children's Bureau, will gain insights into the possibilities and limitations of communicating with refugees and separated family members through video letters and documentary, and the secondary significance such footage can acquire after war's end.
Finally, results of collaboration through the workshops will benefit educators and members of the public with interests in displacement and contemporary conflict. These include users of IWM's Displacement resources for schools, users of digital resources accompanying the Displacement season (including the dedicated UNTV microsite), and visitors to in-person events including the Yugoslav Wars 'conflict café' and a session in the University of Hull's 'OpenCampus' lifelong learning programme (allowing IWM's Displacement programming to reach a region of the UK where IWM has no physical presence). These will have been shaped by input from Bosnian experts, some with first-hand experience of displacement or surviving genocide, thanks to the network's international dimension.


10 25 50
Description Excerpts from five of the UNTV films have been used in IWM's upcoming 'Refugees' exhibition.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Excerpts from 5 UNTV films used in IWM Refugees exhibition
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description First project workshop (13 Sept 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 25 people including an international participant attended the first project workshop, 'UNTV and the Media in Former Yugoslavia: Lessons for Peacebuilders'. Participants included former UNTV producers who engaged in dialogues with researchers about what themes in the collection are of particular interest today, and IWM staff who learned more about the political and organisational contexts in which the films in the UNTV collection had been made.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invitation to research seminar, UEA (5 Feb 2020) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 10 people including postgraduate students attended this invited research seminar, which sparked discussion about the objectives of peacekeeping in Bosnia and the place of UNTV's distribution technology in media history. While on campus I also discussed the research with 1-2 others who could not attend the talk itself.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Modern Conflict Research Symposium (IWM North), 31 Jan 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 50 participants including researchers, postgraduates, heritage professionals and military history enthusiasts attended the presentation. It sparked follow-up discussion about the aims of UNTV.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020