Propaganda in the Bosnian and Rwandan Genocides

Curatorial Statement

In 1992, Serbian military forces started an offensive in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that would later become known as the Bosnian War, with the intent to exterminate Bosnian Croats and Muslims and quell the Bosnian movement for independence. Independence for Bosnia and Herzegovina as a movement was a reaction to the previous struggles for independence of Slovenia and Croatia. The Bosnian government passed a referendum on independence, but the Serbian government did not recognize it as a sovereign state, and teamed up with local Bosnian Serb forces to create the Bosnian Serb Army. They quickly took over most of Bosnia and imposed harsh living conditions upon the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, including mass murders and rapes, beatings, curfews, and other dehumanizing laws. Many Bosnians were presented with evidence of the atrocities but did not leave or fight back, due to wishful thinking, conditions imposed by Serbians, or their own attachment to their home. Many Bosnians did not believe that the Serbian forces would do what they did, because of their cultural similarities. In addition, the Serbian government imposed “exit taxes” on Bosnians, and made it very difficult to leave their homes.


In 1994, the Rwandan Hutu peoples slaughtered up to 1,000,000 Tutsis. Up until the rebellion in 1959, the Hutu majority had been oppressed by the Tutsi minority. After coming to power, the Hutu people still held animosity toward the Tutsis, which contributed to the overwhelming willingness to kill during the later genocide. The genocide began with the Assassination of President Habyarimana. The perpetrators were believed to belong to the Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. In retaliation, Hutus began massacring Tutsis, pillaging village after village. Because access to weaponry was limited, the most common weapon used to slaughter Tutsis was the machete. The widespread, systematic murders carried on until mid July, when the Ugandan branch of the Rwandan Patriotic Front intervened.

Propaganda has played a crucial role in all genocides. Before those in power begin to kill the undesirable group, they gather support by building off of rising hatred or preconceptions about those they wish to murder. In the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides, Serbs and Hutus were influenced greatly by the voices of the perpetrators and through dehumanization of Bosnian Muslims and Tutsis in the media. In the Rwandan Genocide, the main source of anti-Tutsi propaganda was the radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines. When President Habyarimana was shot, the station called for the extermination of the “cockroaches,” referring to the Tutsis. They broadcasted which people to kill and where to find them.

In the Bosnian genocide, Serbian controlled media sources such as Radio Television Belgrade ruled the airwaves, victimizing the Serbs and demonizing Bosnians. Reports of NATO troops bombing, shooting, and gassing Serbs were the only reports on television and radio. These messages built on preconceived ethnic hatred and led to more and more acceptance and support of the genocide amongst the people.

The memorial depicts a man covering his ears while Bosnian and Rwandan propaganda play on both sides of him. The covering of the ears parallels the symbolic “see no evil” monkey, and depicts the importance of not just blocking out, but recognizing evil when it infiltrates your mind through the media. Playing both propaganda recordings simultaneously depicts how hate speech, when heard over and over again, can become white noise in that the impact and significance of the words dilute and spiteful rhetoric becomes normalized for the listener. In order for the viewer of the memorial to hear and comprehend a single recording, he/she has to listen extremely closely and scrutinize the audio. This approach to listening, if applied to all media, could prevent the brainwashing effect of propaganda in genocide. Its purpose is to display the propaganda used to instigate genocide, with the hope that by solidifying the memory of the propaganda, people will be able to recognize it in the future. We wish that all citizens of the world will be equally impacted by this memorial, and empowered to prevent acts of hate in their communities.


British Broadcasting Corporation. “The impact of hate media in Rwanda.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 2 May 2013. <;.

“Hate radio prepared the Rwandan people for genocide by demonising the Tutsi.”Rwanda Stories. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 20

Position Statement: Propaganda in Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides

Currently, a number of memorials already exist for both genocides. The Kigali Memorial Center is a building in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, dedicated to the memory of those killed in the genocide. The Centre contains the graves of 250,000 victims, as well as educational exhibits to teach visitors about the genocide. The Srebrenica Genocide Memorial is a large cemetery located in Bosnia. The cemetery was established in 2003, and it contains the graves of 5,657 Bosnian Muslim and Croat victims. Both of these memorials focus mainly on the lives lost during the genocide, and less on the methods used to organize the mass killing. Our memorial will focus on the propaganda used to instigate genocide, with the hope that by solidifying the memory of the propaganda, people will be able to recognize it in the future. We wish that all citizens of the world will be equally impacted by this memorial, and empowered to prevent acts of hate in their communities.

Making the Memorial: Step by Step

Step 1: We firmly pressed a volunteer’s face into  a soft block of clay, creating a facial imprint.IMAG0152

Step 2: We melted down candles on a stove to obtain molten wax.


Step 3: We poured the liquid wax into the facial imprint and let it dry, creating a wax face.


Step 4: We poured liquid wax into latex gloves and let it dry, creating wax hands.

wax hand

Step 5: We mounted the hands and face on a board.

Step 6: We downloaded Bosnian/ Rwandan propaganda onto two iPods and connected each to  a speaker.


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