Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [8]

[Sorry it's been such a long break--almost two full months--between posts. I couldn't give much free time to anything but graduate school.]

Chapter 6: Fighting Together, Falling Apart
Sarajevo was a cosmopolitan, multicultural city that was a bridge between different worlds--the East and the West; the capitalist world and the communist; Christianity and Islam; Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The population was mixed, and during the Yugoslav period the city had a very high percentage of mixed marriages between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. The demographics of the city were very mixed. Therefore, the fact of Sarajevo presented a challenge to the Serb nationalists which was both pragmatic and existential. They wanted to divide this thoroughly mixed Sarajevo on ethnic lines for military reasons; they needed to divide the people of Sarajevo against each other in order to validate their own ideology.

Therefore, the siege of Sarajevo had a dimension beyond the military, because the Bosnian Serb Army wasn't merely trying to conquer the city but to destroy its social fabric. And as the war dragged on, the bonds which connected people across ethnic lines were tested frequently. Many thousands of Serbs stayed loyal to Bosnia and suffered along with their fellow Bosnians--and one absolutely cannot assume that a decision by all Serbs was a sign of support for the nationalist cause. Many, Ljiljana Smajlovic, had complex feelings about their Serb identity but did not join the nationalist cause. And human nature being what it is, many simply took advantage of the opportunity to escape. And some, it must be said, probably left because life as a Serb in besieged Sarajevo was not easy.

It was not easy for anyone, of course. But for Serbs who stayed, it was hard to escape suspicion, as some of their fellow Serbs had indeed betrayed friends, family, and neighbors to join the forces tormenting their own hometown. Senka Kurtovic wrote a piece for Oslobodjenje, an open letter to her ex-boyfriend turned Serb nationalist Dragan Aloric, which touched a nerve because so many in Sarajevo had felt the same betrayal. At the same time, in the early days of the war the militias which defended the city never shed their origins in the criminal underworld, and it was much easier to justify preying on "suspicious" Serbs when the inclination to loot and otherwise "acquire" goods took hold.

Many resisted the temptation to give in to sectarian fear and hostility. But as the siege dragged on, old loyalties continued to wither in the face of paranoia and suspicion fueled by nationalist propaganda and accentuated by every sniper's bullet, every mortar shell.

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