Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"From Enemy Territory" by Mladen Vuksanovic [4]

Recollections of Jadranka Vuksanovic
Vuksanovic's wife Jadranka left for the city on April 29th for what was supposed to be a two-day trip to visit their daughter and bring their son his papers so that he could leave the city. As noted already, those plans didn't work out as the bridge in Brcko--the last way out of the city--was destroyed the next day. In the end, Jadranka's two-day stay turned into a stay of over two weeks. This brief section is her "recollections" of that stay. Although written as a diary, with almost daily entries, it's not clear whether she actually kept this diary live or wrote it upon returning to Pale at the request of her husband. At any rate, if it is the latter she must have done so almost immediately; this section certainly has the feel for mundane day-to-day details that a more polished memoir might lack.

Mladen Vuksanovic's diary is written entirely from Pale and the perspective of being behind the Bosnian Serb lines; the terror being inflicted on Sarajevo can only be surmised. Therefore, the decision to insert Jadranka's recollections in the heart of the text is more than a desire to share his wife's experiences or to keep her "with him" in the narrative. Her experience of being jumpy from incoming sniper fire, hiding from bombardment in basements, growing quickly all-too used to the experience of hearing exploding ordnance all serve as a sharp contrast to the creeping horror that his diary recounts. This is more elemental stuff--underscored by the degree to which her account becomes a record of the efforts taken to acquire bread. Some days, the only "news" she has is "bought bread."

She also notes the sadistic nature of the bombing, which occurs at irregular frequencies seemingly designed to taunt the residents of Sarajevo; sometimes at predictable intervals, otherwise oddly quiet when one has grown to expect shelling. She witnesses an ambush of retreating soldiers. She sees an incident which might have been a settling of an old feud with the war as an excuse. And there is the surreal experience of being able to come and go because of her Serb surname--at the end, she is able to leave the city and rides back into Pale with her daughter (the son was left behind, waiting for the Jewish Community to arrange for a excavation) on a truck loaded with young Serb soldiers. Another reminder of how fratricidal and bizarrely intimate the war was.

They return to Pale on May 16. Now that his wife's narrative has rejoined his, Mladen Vuksanovic picks up from there

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"From Enemy Territory" by Mladen Vuksanovic [3]

Pale Diary - 5 April to 16 May 1992

This first section of the diary covers the period from the beginning of Vuksanovic's confinement to Pale and increasingly to his house, to the reunion with his wife (who left for Sarajevo on April 29 in order to help their children--still stuck in the city--get out) on May 16. The text of the diary is largely unedited and only annotated with occasional footnotes to explain references in the original which would not be clear to the general reader.

As a result, the text is somewhat impressionistic, referring to immediate circumstances, events, observations and conversations; sometimes giving a reaction, sometimes not. Vuksanovic never dwells on any one incident or observation for more than a paragraph. I suspect this is partially because the slow-motion horror is too much to bear.

Several motifs develop over these fifty-plus pages. The craven and criminal nature of the local authorities of Pale in action; whatever their rhetoric, and whatever is actually going on on the "front lines" (Vuksanovic reminds the reader how absurd the very idea of a "front line" in a multi-ethnic city suddenly wrenched along crudely nationalist lines), the reality on the streets of Pale are stolen cars without plates and shuttered homes waiting to be looted.

Another motif are the many personal betrayals and friends and colleagues suddenly reveal themselves as arch-nationalists firmly committed to an insane cause; a cause that commits them to destroying their own city and murdering their own friends. It's one thing to study the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in the abstract; Vuksanovic illustrates what is it like to experience that process on the personal level.

I used the phrase "slow-motion horror" above, and that is as close as I can come to explaining the overall feel of this section. Vuksanovic is not in Sarajevo, experiencing the bombing, the snipers, the growing desperation firsthand. Instead, he experiences the war through his radio, through reports from passers-by and neighbors, and most surreal of all through his telephone connection to Sarajevo, which is still working through the entire war. Nothing can illustrate how perverse a reversal of the normal order this war is better than the frequent references to his use of the telephone to call people he knows in the city a few kilometers away; people who are being attacked daily by the same soldiers Vuksanovic can see walking by his house in broad daylight. The Bosnian Serb government is not unaware of this connection--rather than shut down all telephone lines, they subject phone users to a constant barrage of nationalist music and radio broadcasts, so that both parties must listen and talk over this Orwellian audio backdrop.

Vuksanovic does not try to analyze the growing horror or to rationalize it in the larger context of politics and history. He simply expresses disgust and a growing fear that he has damned his family by not acting sooner to get his children out of the Old City. When this section ends, his wife and daughter have finally made it to the family home to join him--the son stayed behind for fear that he would certainly be drafted into military service if he was found. Vuksanovic notes that he has asked his wife to record her impressions of her two weeks in the Old City; those impressions form the next section of the book.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"From Enemy Territory" by Mladen Vuksanovic [2]

"It Began in April" [forward by Joschka Fischer]

Fischer is a German leftist who recognized that the Left in general often failed to recognize the situation in Bosnia for what it was. As a man of the Left, he very clearly feels a responsibility to remind his readers of the need to take a stand against fascism, no matter how petty and sordid its manifestation, no matter how pro-Western its victims. He points the the example of Peter Handke, who somehow twisted the language of the Left to defend overt nationalist expansion.

Fischer also explicitly draws a comparison between Vuksanovic's wartime diary and that of Viktor Klemperer, which was just published as the nightmare in Bosnia was coming to an end in 1995. While Fischer states that the experience of the Holocaust and Nazism were unique, he still notes commonalities between the experience of Klemperer, a German Jew living in Dresden and writing about the madness around him, and of Vuksanovic in Pale. Fischer does not say so, but the then-new eyewitness look at the rise of Nazism was surely a record of a moral burden that could not be shrugged off, even so many decades removed. Surely he understand that Europeans like Handke have no right to deny the Klemperers and Vuksanovics the right to be clearly heard.

Author's Preface

This brief Preface simply gives the context--Vuksanovic explains that he had worked for Sarajevo Television but refused to work for the Bosnian Serb station in Pale once it was established; and due to the fact that his mother had been a Croat he was doubly suspected of not being a loyal Serb. As a result, he lived under de facto house arrest for 110 days, until he was able to make his out--smuggling this diary with him.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peter Lippman's latest Travel Journal

I've been so remiss in keeping this blog up (I'm an avid soccer fan, but haven't even posted about Bosnia's first-ever trip to the World Cup next summer!) that I haven't been posting Peter Lippman's travel journal entries as he sends them out. His latest series, recounting his most recent trip to the region, is up to entry #8. Given that he started sending these out in September, rather than reposting all eight of them now I'm just going to share the link for them at the great Balkan Witness blog:

Peter Lippman: Reports from Kosovo and Bosnia

Thanks as alwasy to Peter for sharing these; I strongly encourage anyone reading this to go to the link above and read all of Peter's excellent reports.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"From Enemy Territory" by Mladen Vuksanovic [1]

For a few months in 1992, author Mladen Vuksanovic was trapped in the Bosnian Serb "capital" of Pale, a victim of his refusal to be a "good Serb" and go along with the implementation of ethnic cleansing and the establishment of a fascist mini-state within Bosnia. During those harrowing weeks, he kept a diary of what he saw, heard, thought, and felt as he watched his fellow Bosnian Serbs dedicate themselves to a project of hatred and madness, and as news of the war that project created trickled in. The diary was published in Zagreb in 1997, and an English translation was published in 2004.

From Enemy Territory: Pale Diary offers an eyewitness account of how society became warped in the process of carrying out a genocidal war, of how fascism is implemented at ground level, and how that subsequently warps social relations and personal psyches. I will begin my review in the next post.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Two Decades On, the Lessons of the Bosnian War Remain Unlearned

When I started this blog several years ago, I had two goals in mind. The first was simply to apply myself to developing a better understanding of the conflict. I had followed the news at the time and had relatively strong opinions on the matter, but I had not made the effort to deepen my understanding. I regretted that, and finally after finishing my first Master's degree in 2005 I had the time to read more widely, and this blog was the tool I used to document that process and provide a framework for systemic reading. Although I am not as involved in that project as I was, I did succeed in making myself more deeply informed about the issues at stake.

The other reason was that I believed then--and now--that the tentative and too-long delayed Western intervention in the conflict was a warning to the West of how not to handle international crises in the post-Cold War world. The Bosnian War was allowed to go on too long because of misguided anti-interventionist beliefs as well as realpolitik concerns that there was nothing at stake. I believed that one way to redeem the suffering of Bosnia would be for the United States and its allies to learn from our mistakes in Bosnia.

I was under no illusions that I had any significant role to play in this process, but I imagined that I would be participating in a broader conversation, and hopefully a productive one. I hoped that as policy makers, scholars, journalists, and the general public studied the sequence of events in the former Yugoslavia, a new consensus about the limits of state sovereignty and a new understanding of the role of international justice would begin to take shape.

Unfortunately, I have concluded that there has been little, if any, progress in that regard. And today, I read this story:
Deal Represents Turn for Syria; Rebels Deflated

The Obama Administration has truly failed the people of Syria, and the cause of international justice in general. But this failure did not occur in a vacuum--the American media have been typically glib, shallow, and reactive in their reporting, giving the already intervention-averse public precious little appetite for even modest intervention in Syria. With the exception of a handful of leaders such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the Republicans were largely content to score political points by playing to the anti-interventionist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and libertarian wings of their party. But ultimately, this is still Obama's failure. He clearly has no appetite for confronting genuine evil, and the way in which he has thrown the opposition under the bus while allowing Putin to score a significant foreign policy victory on behalf of Assad's regime will likely haunt policymakers for years to come.

I will probably continue with this blog, particularly in between semesters, but the optimisim and zest I brought to this project back in 2006 are largely gone.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Just for the sake of getting a post in before the end of August...

As noted before, between graduate school and family matters, I just have not been giving this blog the attention that I used to. I realize that the sun continues to rise in the east, and that nobody turns to "Americans for Bosnia"* for breaking news on Bosnia or expert analysis, but all the same I do know that a handful of people who do care about the issue would turn here from time to time and for that reason alone I feel obligated to keep this blog going. I would hate to feed into any notion that the world has "moved on."

But over the past couple of days, I've had an exchange on the subject of Syria with an acquaintence, and in the course of the discussion I brought up the parallels with the situation in Bosnia in the 1990s. It was immediately clear that his understanding of what happened in the former Yugoslavia is fundamentally different from mine. Specifically; like many well-meaning progressives, he has accepted the narrative that the war was about "ancient hatreds" and that there were no clear distinctions to be made between the different actors.

And so I was I reminded that the battle over the history of the Bosnian conflict is not yet won. There is still work to be done, and for those of us with any investment in the argument over the meaning of the Bosnian war, we really cannot pretend that it's OK to stop talking, writing, reading, and advocating for a rational and fact-based history of the conflict. Allowing the revisionists, apologists, "anti-imperialists", nationalists, and tribalists to have the last word would be a moral abdication. So I apologize for my relative inactivity, and in spite of my busy personal life and current doctoral studies, I will do my best to reengage with the literature and the dialogue around it.

*Truth be told, I wish I could rename the blog. When I first started, I really didn't have an idea exactly what I'd be doing, but I vaguely intended some sort of advocacy and outreach. Now that the blog has morphed into "book reviews from the perspective of a reasonably informed layman", I realize that the name is not only ridiculously overreaching, but also inaccurate. But hey, legacy and all that.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [12]

Chapter 10: A Loser's Peace
With the international reaction to two well-publicized incidents where large numbers of civilians were killed by mortar fire came the beginning of the end of the war in Sarajevo. Under extreme pressure, even from their Russian allies, the Serb nationalist army finally agreed to pull back their heavy weapons and essentially end the siege in exchange for promises that the Bosnian army would not counter-attack.

But while the shooting, shelling, and killing were over, it would be very wrong to say that life was "returning to normal." What had been normal in prewar Sarajevo was gone. The city, like Oslobodjenje, had survived, but the cost had been high. Many residents had trouble adjusting to postwar life, including the radical reworking of social relations. The rise of the military as an important institution, the replacement of many former residents by conservative rural refugees, and the increasing power of Muslim nationalism and the SDA all contributed to a new social order in which angry teenage gangs roamed the streets and Serbs who had remained loyal to the Bosnian state found themselves being ostracized simply for not being Muslim.

Oslobodjenje continued publication, now increasingly as an opponent of the government rather than a supporter. Ethnic cleansing continued in Serb-held parts of Bosnia. Ethnic separation would not go away once the war ended. Sarajevo, and Oslobodjenje, survived, but the values both had embodied were not so certain to return.


This is the end of the book. There is no epilogue or conclusion, and since the book was published in 1995 it ends before the war--and the final orgy of genocide in eastern Bosnia--did. I regret that this review took so long--the book is actually a brisk and enjoyable read; it's only my own distraction with graduate school and family life which has dragged this out so far. I highly recommend this book to people interested in either life in Sarajevo during the war, or the role of a free press in wartime or when democracy and secular freedom are under attack.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [11]

Chapter 9: The Wounded City
By 1993, the more than the physical infrastructure of Sarajevo was damaged. The fragile, multicultural unity of the city was also deeply wounded. For that matter, so was the will and the morale of thousands of Sarajevo residents, including the staff of Oslobodjenje. The continuation of the war and the validation of ethnic division by the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan had the effect of strengthening Muslim nationalism, which could   only further undermine what remained of Sarajevo's prewar cosmopolitanism.

Izetbegovic refused to support the plan but felt that he needed to present it; because it was for a Muslim state he called a special Muslim-only assembly to vote on the measure before it was passed on to the National Assembly. The forces of Muslim nationalism seemed to be on the rise; Mustafa Ceric became outspokenly so. In the meantime, the staff of the paper kept a low profile and focused on the goal of surviving to the newspapers' 50th anniversary.

Ultimately, the measure was defeated--even among the Muslim majority, believers in inclusive secularism still held the upper hand. Oslobodjenje managed to publish a special 50th anniversary edition. And while the staff bickered more and more, and disagreements increased in frequency, they never broke down along ethnic lines. A new government formed in the wake of the defeat of Muslim nationalism, and it quickly cracked down on the gangsters who used their position in the military to exploit the population, leading to an outpouring of public support and overt expressions of approval from the paper.

But while these were welcome developments, things were not good. The paper still struggled. Kurspahic moved himself and his family to New York City to raise funds for the paper, leaving some staff angry and an overwhelmed Gordana Knezevic in charge. Electricity became harder and harder to come by. A promised Sarajevo film festival was completely undermined by United Nations refusal to cooperate and Serb shelling. Residents found themselves wearying of the everyday struggle to meet basic needs while avoiding death.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Sudden Nationhood" by Max Bergholz

The latest issue of The American Historical Review--the quarterly publication of the American Historical Association--includes an article by Max Bergholz, an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. The article is entitled "Sudden Nationhood: The Microdynamics of Intercommunal Relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina after World War II". The article approaches the subject of nationalism at the local level, specifically the Kulen Vakuf region in northwestern Bosnia during the 1950s and early 1960s. This was an area of mostly Serbs and Muslims, with a small Croat minority, which had been scarred by violence and atrocities during World War II. First, a number of local Serbs had been murdered by a group of Muslims who had joined the Ustasa. According to Bergholz it seems most of these killings were carried out for personal rather than ideological or racial reasons. This led to wider-scale retaliatory killings by Serbs even as the Partisans tried to build multi-ethnic solidarity in the region. This is a familiar story throughout Bosnia in World War, but the context is important because the author is arguing that the wartime experience of particular individuals heavily influenced the way in which they, and their immediate descendants, would conceptualized these "nationalist" incidents in the immediate post-war era.

Bergholz utilizes source documents from League of Communists reports about incidents of "national chauvinism" and inter-ethnic violence to determine patterns of ethnic violence between individuals or groups in the region. The article is a micro-level examination of how nationalism "happens."

The idea of nationalism as a process which happens rather than a fixed identity is crucial here; the incidents Bergholz studies describe situations in which often petty (and sometimes violent) incidents involving individuals are conceptualized as conflicts between national groups either by the participants or members of the surrounding community. Yet these conceptions often do not dictate day-to-day interactions within those communities. Rather, conflict triggers an automatic and seemingly unconscious configuration of a particular conflict into generalized, national-group defined terms. National identities, at least in terms of defining relations between groups and between individuals of different ethnicity were not fixed, nor were they the determining factor in communal relations. Rather, incidents of violence or conflict would sometimes trigger this "sudden nationalism."

Also of note--the author's contention that contrary to conventional wisdom (heard all too often from Western observers during the Bosnian War), it is not true that ethnic violence is the product of antagonistic national identities. Rather, incidents of violence create those opposed national identities; and that individuals will sometimes revert to those identities in times of conflict or strife. Bergholz also suggests that the Titoist focus on national coexistence might have had the counter-productive effect of encouraging Yugoslavs to conceptualize personal, social, and political disagreements in nationalist terms.

It's a well-researched and well-reasoned article, and I recommend it to anybody who has an interest in Bosnia, or in the development of nationalism and national identity in general. The citation is below:

Max Berghoz, "Sudden Nationhood: The Microdynamics of Intercommunal Relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina after World War II". The American Historical Review, 118, no. 3, June 2013, pp. 679-707.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [10]

Chapter 8: War, Oslobodjenje, and Democracy
Oslobodjenje's record as a staunch defender of independent journalism and a free press during the fall of the Communist regime and one-party rule was truly inspirational, and earned the paper plenty of international plaudits. Its record during the war was decidedly more mixed.

By Spring 193, Bosnia was fighting for its life while the international community did little more than wait for its government to accept ethnic partition as the price of peace. In this environment, the staff--who had come of age personally and professionally under Communism, when the role of the press was to faithfully "report" the party line--found themselves torn between their professional, civic, and patriotic duties. The compromises weren't always neatly defined, and they were often quite understandable given the circumstances, but they were compromises all the same, and the idealism the paper inspired in the early days became quite tempered and muted, if never completely muzzled.

While the paper no longer followed an official party line handed down from the state, old habits of following some overriding editorial approach died hard. Many members of the staff expected the editorial board to set a "party line" for the newspaper to follow. And in effect, this happened to large degree--as the war progressed, it became more and more evident that unlike some other independent media outlets in Sarajevo, Oslobodjenje was not inclined to criticize the government or even to report news which might undermine the war effort. Even when a couple of reporters from the paper were forced under threats to spend several days digging front-line trenches under the orders of some of the gangsters-turned-military leaders who operated as de facto warlords in their parts of Sarajevo. These gangsters were abusing the rights and freedom of Sarajevo residents and lining their pockets with extortion and the control of the black market; but still, Oslobodjenje said nothing.

At the same time, the paper was not the official organ of the government, and often found itself getting the cold shoulder for refusing to completely report the "news" the way the SDA-led government would have preferred. This left the paper in a no man's land where it was simultaneously punished for the very independence it was often criticized for not having enough of.

Some staff members were torn; others, accustomed to life under Communism, saw nothing wrong. Gordana Knezevic was unapologetic for putting patriotism ahead of professional ethics. The Bosnian state had to be saved; that was more important than doing first-rate journalism. As a Serb, she had an existential reason for saving multi-ethnic Bosnia. As a mother who had sent her children away, she had a personal one--she wanted there to be a country for them to be from, even if she ended up being buried there.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [9]

Chapter 7: Winter
The opening sentence of this chapter is something of a shock:

"I returned to Sarajevo in January 1993 after a six-month absence and was astonished at how wretched a place it had become."

All of the earlier scenes of struggle and survival, the reader is reminded, were from the earliest months of the war. At that point, Sarajevo had yet to experience the deprivations of winter. In this chapter, we see how the grinding, relentless struggle to survive in a city under siege was wearing people down, and eroding the sense of community in the process. Society wasn't fracturing on ethnic lines, but rather atomizing into a collection of  families and households, each able to do little more than look after their own.

The cold, the darkness, the lack of adequate food, the constant work involved merely in acquiring water, the loneliness, the isolation...the nobility and spirit of Sarajevo was being reduced to grim day to day scramble for firewood, rations, shelter from sniper and mortar fire, favorable relations with the inconsistent UN officials who were the only conduit to the outside world.

Ivo and Gordana's son lost his only friend, an older neighbor boy who shared his love of hard rock, when that neighbor--serving as a soldier in the army--was killed. On average, Oslobodjenje gave over a quarter of each issue to obituaries, which now served not only ceremonial purpose but also informational, as people around the city often had no other way to learn of the fate of family members, coworkers, and acquaintances around the city.

The Cyrus-Vance plan legitimized the ethnic division of the country, scoring a victory for Bosnian Serb propaganda and triggering the Muslim-Croat civil war of 1993. The war in Bosnia took a step closer to being a self-fulfilling prophecy, the three-way war between "nations" that Karadzic and company always claimed it to be.

Gordana was able to travel to New York City for a few days to receive an award. The guilt at her temporary escape coexisted with the sense that if she allowed herself to get used to the comforts of life in a city not at war, her return to Sarajevo would be unbearable. And indeed, when she returns, she finds that the cold was worse than anyone expected; her bathroom shelves are gone, having been used as firewood.

It is only January.

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.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [7]

Chapter 5: Hatred

Hatred of the other has to be learned. And even once learned, it needs constant reinforcement. Hatred is a powerful motivating tool if you are willing to accept the consequences, or remain blind to them.

The leadership of the Bosnian Serb separatists desperately needed the outside world to believe that Bosnia was a land riven with ancient, immutable hatreds. To believe so made the war seem inevitable and beyond the scope of international concern. It also legitimized ethnic partition. Many in the international community were willing to oblige; none more enthusiastically than Lewis MacKenzie, who mocked any possibility of a peaceful solution and seems to have arrived in Bosnia with his mind already made up. It is worth noting that Gjelten makes note of the fact that MacKenzie was offered financial compensation by the American advocacy group SerbNet to give two speeches propagating such views to the American public. This book was published in 1995. The only people who ever took MacKenzie at his word on Bosnia in the years since he was there were people who were clearly not paying attention.

The Bosnian government, and the Muslim plurality, just as desperately needed the world to believe that there was a long tradition of coexistence and tolerance in Bosnia. Not a strife-free, utopian paradise like MacKenzie so contemptuously accused those who differed with his "they all hate each other" condemnations, but a land of long-standing intermixing and cultural sharing. It was an argument grounded in both history, and demographic facts--particularly in Sarajevo. It was a compelling argument, and an inspiring one. It should have carried more weight with the Western democracies. But the Bosnian Serbs had tanks, and heavy artillery, and an overwhelming military advantage. If they couldn't find hatred already existing, they would will it into existence with propaganda and violence.

Because they didn't just need to convince the outside world. They needed to convince the people of Bosnia, Serbs and non-Serbs alike. It wasn't enough to win territory; the Muslims needed to leave and never come back. The culture of this new Bosnia--a Bosnia devoid of that special ethnic and religious mix which made the country what it was--needed to be cleansed just as thoroughly as the demographic map needed to be. Mosques needed to be dynamited and bulldozed from memory. Orthodox priests needed to sanctify racial violence and ethnic segregation. Bosnia's Nobel-Prize winning author Ivo Andric needed to be remembered for the violence he wrote about, but not the historical continuities which framed that violence. Remember the hatreds he described, but forget that the Bridge over the Drina was, indeed, a bridge that connected people to each other.

Keep teaching that hatred, because otherwise ordinary Serbs might forget it and make the unforgivable error of thinking that they can trust their neighbors and stand by their fellow Bosnians. Oslobodjenje was targeting because it was a symbol of the cosmopolitan tolerance which Sarajevo represented; both needed to be destroyed. The Serbs who stayed in Sarajevo, the Serb reporters who continued writing for its beloved newspaper, were obviously failed Serbs. How could they be otherwise? They had failed to learn to hate.

Perhaps the Bosnian Serb leadership got to them too late. That mistake was not repeated with at least one 12 year-old Serb boy in the newly-cleansed town of Hadzici. Echoing the same sentiments of thousands of Bosnian Serbs who had learned how to hate, he told a reporter "I do not miss my Muslim classmates one bit. It has been explained to me that while we were playing together, they were actually plotting behind my back."

Gjelten lets that boy have the last word in this chapter on "Hatred." And so shall I.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bosnia vs. Greece in Crucial World Cup Qualifier Today

While it's true that I let graduate school keep me from blogging as much as I'd like, its takes more than research papers and comprehensive reading courses to keep me from following the beautiful a whole lot more than I can honestly justify. And being that today begins a five-day stretch of official FIFA international dates, and that means World Cup qualifiers all over the globe. The USA has a home match against Costa Rica tonight, but the match that matters as far as this blog is Bosnia's home leg versus Greece.

This is a big match--Bosnia and Greece are tied at the top of Group Seven with 10 points apiece, with Bosnia holding the tie-breaker right now on goal differential (+13 for Bosnia to +4 for Greece; a very comfortable cushion at this point). The first leg, in Greece, was played on October 12 last fall, and ended in a 0-0 draw. That's a crucial road point; if Bosnia can now win their home leg in the series that could potentially decide first place in the group, qualifying Bosnia for the World Cup outright and sparing them the second-place playoff which has led to so much  heartbreak in recent World Cup and Euro Cup qualifying campaigns.

If Bosnia wins today, the battle is hardly over--Bosnia is no footballing giant, and can't afford to take any opponent for granted. Greece has already won their away leg versus Slovakia, the country nipping at the co-leaders' heels with 7 points and one Bosnia has yet to face in this campaign. And over half of that impressive goal differential was due to an 8-1 thrashing of poor Liechtenstein, whom Greece have yet to face. Still, if they manage 3 points tonight the prospect of seeing Bosnia in an international tournament for the first time will be much brighter.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [6]

Chapter 4: Humiliation
This chapter opens in the suburb of Dobrinja on May 2, 1992. Young Oslobodjenje reporter Senka Kurtovic is huddling in a bedroom with several of her neighbors as they comfort each other singing Bosnian folk songs while the entire neighborhood was subjected to one of the most intense Serb artillery bombardments yet. Senka lives in an apartment in this newish suburb, in a small apartment her parents bought her. The neighborhood is on the front line of Serb efforts to cut Sarajevo in half in order to achieve permanent ethnic partition. 

The title of this chapter is apt--cruelly so. Mixed in with the violence, the hatred, and the physical hazards of Sarajevo under siege, were endless humiliations little and big. The humiliation of living without running water. The humiliation of hoping that your ex-boyfriend the Serbian nationalist might be able to help you get permission to walk from your home to your workplace without being killed. The humiliation of being forced to crawl on your belly through tall grass because of snipers. The humiliation of standing in line to receive an inadequate quantity of basic foodstuffs from the very United Nations which treats you like a prisoner in your own country. The humiliation of having to kiss up to that same arrogant United Nations because it decides what basic supplies--such as newsprint--will be allowed to enter your own city.

The story of Oslobodjenje is the story of Sarajevo, and Bosnia, writ small; but it is also a reminder that a "genocide" is made up of thousands of individual atrocities and outrages. While a genocide is an effort to destroy, in whole or in part, a people defined by race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, it is still experienced by individuals.

The multiple humiliations suffered by the staff begin to add up in numbing detail. They become a demoralizing "new normal" as the idea that one must dodge sniper fire in order to travel from one's home to one's place of employment becomes accepted by the international community standing by watching as if this all is some grotesque freak show carried out by some exotic species rather than fellow human beings being subjected to cruelties not of their own making. Gordana Knezevic interviews General Lewis MacKenzie, who Gjelten portrays as a glib, arrogant man who brings his preconceptions about the nature of the war with him and never lets facts or the realities on the ground shake any of them. (Keep in mind this book was published in 1995; MacKenzie's career as a craven Serb nationalist apologist-for-hire is in the future). He is as ungracious (scheduling the interview at a time when it will be especially dangerous for Gordana to travel) and amoral as he would later prove to be.(he not only refuses a request about the aforementioned newsprint, he also refused a personal request for a mere two liters of petrol for her car--all in the name of strict neutrality, of course).

In the end, all this humiliation--all this sustained, deliberate, targeted dehumanization of the "other"--can only lead to one inevitable result. Death and suffering stalk the staff of Oslobodjenje just as it does the rest of Sarajevo's population. The final section of this chapter is simply entitled "Some Who Died."
Zeljka Memic, the wife of editor Fahro Memic, is killed by a shell. Senka Kurtovic's mother suffered the same fate. Kemal Kurspahic is seriously injured in a car crash while racing through the unregulated streets of Sarajevo, trying as always to avoid the snipers. The humiliations continue.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bosnian Independence Day

A very belated, late-in-the-day recognition that today is the 21st anniversary of Bosnia's independence.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Peter Lippman Bosnia Travel Journal: Entry # 13

[My apologies: I received this final entry from Peter Lippman two weeks ago and completely forgot to post it. Here it is; as always, it's worth your time.]

A Visit to Germany

January 30, 2013
Hello friends,

Here is my last report of my series covering my travels and interviews between mid-September and late November. All thirteen of the reports are now posted at With the help of my brother Roger, I have also uploaded a good number of photographs to accompany the reports. Please take a look - and feel free to be in touch.




In mid-November I traveled from Kosovo to Göttingen, Germany. I had not visited Germany in 21 years. I was invited to Göttingen to give a talk for the Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker - see The Society, several decades old, is an admirable human rights institution, and it stood up for the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, against atrocities, when the going was very rough. It still does so. So I was honored to be invited - and the flight from Prishtina to Frankfurt was quite convenient.

Göttingen is a charming university town. Around a thousand years old, it has an impressive history as a center of intellectual achievement, especially in science and philosophy. Max Planck, Heinrich Heine, Max Weber, and Arthur Schopenhauer all lived there; so did the Brothers Grimm.

Coming from southeastern Europe, you can't help but be struck by the clean streets, the orderliness, and the atmosphere of comfort reminiscent of an affluent suburb. In a posting on Facebook, I remarked that:

--The trains are as clean as people's living rooms.

--There are street signs bearing the name of each street.

--There is toilet paper available in every restroom.

--Old things are well-preserved.

I was given a tour of this most pleasant town by Jasna and Laure, friendly and helpful staff of the Society for Threatened Peoples. Buildings made of stone, and others with exposed-beam construction, along with a Gothic church or two, lined a circular pattern of roads on the inner part of the old town. I was shown into a public hall built in 1270, adorned on the inside with murals of peasants with scythes and dancing gentry. In the center of this neighborhood stood a fountain with a statue of a girl, the "Gänseliesel" holding a pet goose and a basket of flowers. Postgraduate students, upon finishing their doctorates, traditionally come to the square and kiss the Gänseliesel. This supposedly makes her the most kisséd girl in the world (because there are so many PhDs in Göttingen, I suppose).

Göttingen's history goes back to feudal times when rulers like Otto the Child, Otto the Mild, and Otto the Evil, took turns with the likes of Albert II the Fat and Otto the One-Eyed to build fortifications around the town and to do battle with other cities for regional power.

During World War II Göttingen suffered much less damage from bombing than many German cities; apparently the Allies and Germany had an informal understanding that the Allies would not bomb Heidelberg and Göttingen, in return for German bombers steering clear of Cambridge and Oxford.

Jasna and Laure guided me to the home of the Society for Threatened Peoples, where they showed me around the two-story building and its numerous area offices. I met an Iraqi Kurd who was working with a Kosovar Albanian in the Middle East section, a room stacked with books and magazines. The hallway walls were lined with artwork and photos from situations worldwide where human rights campaigns are ongoing. One wall displayed several dozen issues of the Society's periodical, "Pogrom." I also met several staff and friends who were, like Jasna, from Bosnia. I rested up and prepared for my talk the next day.

The talk went well. Around forty people showed up, and I'd guess that half of them were from the former Yugoslavia. Most were former refugees from Bosnia now long since settled in Germany - some living there twenty years already. There were also Roma and Bosniaks from Kosovo, Bosniaks from the Sandžak, and a Torbeš from Debar, Macedonia.

Having just spent a couple of months in Bosnia, that's what I discussed the most, and the content of my talk was similar to that of my recent series of reports. After an overview of the political situation (describing the Dayton straitjacket) and a description of the economic situation, I talked about the domestic politicians and the role of the international community. RS President Dodik says "Bosnia-Herzegovina makes me sick." The "anti-nationalist," "social-democrat," and above all autocrat Zlatko Lagumdžija makes historic deals with reactionaries, profiteers, and separatists. And the international officials have pretty much - effectively, if not rhetorically - turned their backs on Bosnia for a half-dozen years. Meanwhile, large foreign companies are moving in and plundering the country.

I discussed the activist movement, touching on five or six local organizations with whom I had met and which I felt were positive actors on the scene. Asked by the organizers to address routes for change, I advocated some obvious things: simplify the Bosnian government; remove corrupt officials; ban war criminals in politics; ban hate speech; pressure the Bosnian government to cooperate with the international community; and promote a change of the Dayton constitution.

What's less obvious is how to bring about these desired changes. For my taste part of the answer, as always, lies in support of the grassroots movement for change in Bosnia. In my recent reports I introduced a number of organizations and described their campaigns and struggles. Even in the period since I was in Bosnia, and even though it is winter, these campaigns have picked up. I have more recently mentioned the March 1st Coalition,* and I was glad to be able to talk about this campaign with people in Germany, as a concrete campaign in which they could participate. And among other things, I noted that the entire catalogue of changes needed has to be considered a long-term struggle, with no easy fixes on the horizon. *(for example, in my tenth report - see

My presentation was being translated into German, but as much as anything else, I was talking to what I felt was a representative group from the Bosnian diaspora in Germany. These are the people who activists from Prijedor, for example, reach out to, who could offer critical assistance in making change happen in Bosnia. My impression is that people want to help, that they care with all their soul; indeed many people in the diaspora have already been helping and participating in crucial ways. I hope that the time is coming when they can make an even greater difference.

Afterwards we had an informal gathering and I met some of the local Bosnians. There was a family from near Banja Luka with their daughter, 18, who was born in Germany. She spoke better English than Bosnian, and told me that once, when she entered into a math class, she encountered a teacher who had been in the army in Prizren, Kosovo. He said to her, "You have no business being here. Why don't you and your family go back home and solve your own problems, instead of coming here and taking our jobs and our money?" Later, when he saw that she was an excellent student, he changed his mind about her.

The gathering lasted congenially into the late evening; at one point some of us even sang some Bosnian sevdalinke.


Backing up a bit, here's something that happened when I arrived in Göttingen. Landing at the train station from Frankfurt, I was met by Jasna and Laure, and they immediately took me to a pleasant restaurant by a lake in the countryside. There we had a fish dinner, together Tilman Zülch, general secretary of the Society for Threatened Peoples.

In the late 1960s Tilman, a human rights activist, founded an advocacy group to call attention to the genocide taking place in Biafra at that time. In 1970 he founded the Society for Threatened Peoples. Since then, the Society has focused on the defense of minority and indigenous rights. It holds consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council, as well as participatory status in the Council of Europe.

In the 1990s the Society devoted much attention to Bosnia and later to Kosovo. Other concerns of the Society are the Kurds and the Roma - it sent Paul Polansky (whom I quoted in my last posting) to Kosovo to research and advocate for that country's Roma population. The Society has offices in Germany, one in the Kurdish area of Iraq, one in Bosnia, and several in other parts of Europe.

As we were talking about Bosnia and various other human rights problems, Tilman used the word "Vergangenheitsbewältigung," and checked to see if I knew what it meant. I didn't, and I asked Jasna to write down the eight-syllable word so that I could study and comprehend it.

Vergangenheitsbewältigung means "coming to terms with (bewältigung) the past (Vergangenheit)." I hadn't known the word, but to a significant extent, the meaning is something that I have been focusing on in Bosnia and in my reports, especially in this recent visit. That is why it was "love at first sight" for me when I learned the word.

When I talk about "memory" - in the context of Bosnia, the US, or anywhere else - I see the process of coming to terms with the past as an integral part of justice. Protecting and calling upon memory in the service of justice involves satisfaction of the following needs: to acknowledge war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed; to apprehend and legally process the perpetrators; to establish restitution for the crimes; and, one hopes, to hear a sincere apology from the perpetrators.

These are some components of justice. Add to that, in the case of Bosnia, the need for detailed descriptions of the crimes to the extent of the location of mass graves, leading to the discovery and identification of the missing. And just as important in the Bosnian struggle for justice is the ongoing struggle to refute the war atrocity deniers, as well as the freedom, in Bosnia, to remember those crimes at the places they were committed.

There's more to Vergangenheitsbewältigung. For the Germans it has meant coming to terms with the past collectively. That collective response to the past implies recognition of a nation's participation in the past. Germany has done much work in this regard.

During my stay in Bosnia, Hikmet Karčić called my attention to the writings of Karl Jaspers, the prominent 20th-century German psychiatrist and philosopher. Shortly after World War II, in his book The Question of German Guilt, Jaspers addressed the responsibility of Germany as a nation for the war crimes and atrocities that had been committed. In examining the question of guilt, he identified "criminal guilt" as distinguished from "political guilt," the latter being the more widespread phenomenon, in which people are implicated by virtue of being citizens. Jaspers considered that all citizens of a state are in some way involved in the political conduct of that state, and given that, all citizens somehow experience the consequences of that state's policies.

In principle, the response to the commission of a crime is punishment. But that axiom does not work in the case of collective political responsibility for massive crimes, because collective punishment is not only wrong; it is another crime.

But once the crimes have been committed, and to the extent that there has been collective involvement in the crimes, then that population has the moral obligation to own up to its participation in the crimes and to participate in rectification of the damage done. As Americans we all have this responsibility after the genocide of the Native Americans and after slavery, just to name two items from the long list of US-sponsored crimes against humanity.

In this vein, an American friend commented to me that the Germans have done better with these things than the Americans, at least to the extent that you see anti-racism posters mounted prominently in some parts of Germany. People who go around in the US wearing t-shirts with anti-racist messages tend to be looked on as oddballs.

This discussion came about after I posted on Facebook a photo I had taken of such an anti-racist poster in Göttingen. This posting prompted quite a correspondence, starting with a clarification of the meaning of "Vergangenheitsbewältigung." I had interpreted it as "confronting the past," a direct translation of the corresponding Bosnian phrase (suočavanje s prošlošću). I was quickly corrected by several people who made it clear to me that in the German expression, it's a matter of "dealing with the past," "coming to terms with the past," or "coping with the past." That's a more accurate translation, but I'm still partial to the Bosnian phrase, because of the connotation of the process as nothing less than a struggle.

This is a struggle that people in all the former republics of Yugoslavia must go through to the extent that any of them were responsible for war crimes; and it's clear that that's a large extent.

Here's an excerpt from the Facebook discussion of "Vergangenheitsbewältigung."

--Holger: "'Coping with the past' or 'process of coming to terms with the past' are two more possible translations. There is a lot of past to cope with in Germany, so a special word is required to describe it."

--Jeff: ".even though (or perhaps because) the Germans have a more spectacular recent past in that regard than we do, in many ways they are much more actively engaged in an open discussion calling Neo-Nazi exactly what they are and are trying to figure out how to raise their kids so that it is addressed on a societal level. We seem to have resigned ourselves to enduring these nonsensical terms that equate the exact same thing with patriotism and then have to hear about 'post-racial society' which we clearly aren't."

PL: "In Germany, there's been a real confrontation with the past (ok, somehow that phrase still feels right). . .and we haven't had that in the US. We learn about the genocide of the Native Americans even in elementary school, and about the slavery too - but we haven't really confronted it. No apology, no reparations, no real self-examination on a national scale. Only the occasional Clintonesque apology (Guatemala, Japanese internment). If that confrontation were to happen, I bet it would bring a halt to our ongoing exportation of mass murder, our addiction to violence, our militarism."

Holger: "The real confrontation with the past happened in West-Germany in the late 60s, when the generation born in the 40s really wanted to know what their parents involvement was with the Nazi system. Why didn't they act against it? Why couldn't they? Or could they? This was a painful process happening in many families. It has led to a situation where nothing that happened in the past is glorified anymore in Germany. The crimes of the Nazis have just overshadowed everything.Patriotism has become a negative word in the German language. A politician publicly announcing to be proud to be German would have to resign (as has happened). Yes, Germans are very sensitive about this.

"And here is an example of what Germans mean when they talk about 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung'. There used to be a myth that the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, was fighting a clean war like any other army and that the war crimes were only committed by the SS and other Nazi special forces. This was a very convenient excuse for the generation of ex-Wehrmacht soldiers. This myth was destroyed by this exhibition: [Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation, 1941-1944]. The introductory text says it all."

Hessie, whom I quoted in an earlier report,* touched on the relationship between war trauma and examining the past: "Wherever it has happened, all those traumas will not just disappear, neither in the consequences for those persons themselves nor will they disappear with their death; they will affect the next generation and even more generations. And in a perverse way this will lead some to switch from being victims to persecutors, as [trauma] nourishes revenge, as long as the role of victims is not changed by themselves actively taking control of the consequences of what happened to them. *(see my seventh report:

"I mention that we managed to function; that doesn't mean to live really, as part of our energy is bound up on keeping those traumas from disturbing our functioning. The effects of those more-or-less hidden traumas on our health are visible on many levels as well, through psychosomatic influences, not to mention through the widespread, so-called illnesses of civilization.

"For me dealing with the past is not the same as facing it or confronting it. First you develop some way that you are no longer disturbed by it. Facing it is the next step, if you can manage to do so. You cannot force someone to do it, as there is a risk of a total destruction. I remember the effect on one person of my generation who couldn't cope with life when she was forced to face the fact that her father had been an architect of the concentration camps. She committed suicide. Confronting the past is the next step, wherein you make changes to actively do something about the consequences of past history."


At a certain point during our lunch, with no preface, Tilman began to talk about his own traumatic childhood experience. He described his family's flight from the Sudetenland in 1945, as Soviet troops were advancing upon that part of Czechoslovakia. Tilman's family was part of the ethnic German population of that country, inhabiting the western perimeters that bordered along Germany and Austria. They, along with well over three million other Sudeten Germans, were expelled from Czechoslovakia and driven into Germany.

[note - it has been pointed out to me that it is accurate to say "Soviet troops" rather than "Russians," as there were many nations gathered in that political and military alliance, not just the Russians. I have left "Russians" in place where it is a quotation.]

Tilman was about seven years old at that time. He said, "There were nine people in a wagon, it could hold no more. Thousands of people were fleeing in the snow and they had 850 kilometers to go. There were cannons booming in the background, as the Russians were catching up. There was a man carting an older woman in a wheelbarrow."

Tilman spoke with grim irony about the specter of the man and the wheelbarrow, which I experienced as a metaphor for the slim hope of the fleeing refugees for arriving alive in dreadful conditions. At one point the coach bearing Tilman's family turned off the main road in order to escape the oncoming troops. They came to a crossroad where they encountered a couple of wounded soldiers, who informed them that they were heading straight for the front line. They turned back. In the end, Tilman said, only about 40% of the people in this column of refugees made it to Germany alive. And along the way, some 240 women were raped by the Russians.

I have long been aware that millions of Germans were displaced after the war. I had heard the figure of twelve million driven out of Poland, Czechoslovakia, northern Yugoslavia including Vojvodina, Hungary, Romania, and other parts of Eastern Europe. A number of German friends and acquaintances of mine were descended from people who had been expelled the east after the war. But I had not thought about the ramifications of this expulsion in human terms. Tilman's words began to bring this home to me.

Tilman mentioned that "fourteen million people were expelled from eastern Germany." I was confused. I asked him about this. He said, "You're confusing eastern Germany with central Germany." He meant that what we knew of until 1989 as East Germany had, before World War II, been the central part of Germany, which also encompassed a significant amount of territory that was taken over by Poland after the war. So there were Germans who lived in eastern Germany (now part of Poland) who were German citizens, and then there were ethnic Germans who were citizens of other countries in Eastern Europe. Most of these populations were expelled.

In the course of the conversation and afterwards I was rather shocked by all this as I learned more details about the starvation, rape, and massacres that were perpetrated upon the displaced Germans. In the Baltic Sea the Soviets torpedoed and sank two ships bearing escaping Germans. In that attack at least ten thousand people, including thousands of civilians, were killed. The British Air Force likewise bombed and strafed ships carrying fleeing Germans, along the way mistakenly bombing two ships that the Germans had loaded with Jewish concentration camp prisoners.

Chaos reigned in larges swaths of Eastern Europe after the war. Figures on displaced and expelled Germans vary between twelve and fourteen million, and the expulsion is characterized as the largest European population movement in modern times. The displacement took place in phases, first with flight organized by the Nazis where they were still in control, but aware of imminent defeat. After the defeat, many local Germans were placed in provisional internment camps. More Germans then fled out of fear, during a time when unorganized revenge attacks were widespread. Thousands of Germans were killed in these attacks, and hundreds of thousands more fled.

Finally, there was a period lasting until 1950, in which organized expulsions took place, including Saxon communities dating back many centuries. German communities were driven out in expulsions planned by the "host" countries, with the approval of the victorious Allies. And one of the most dreadful parts of this story is that of the children, thousands of whom were orphans or were separated from their families in the chaos. Large numbers of these children died before having the chance to arrive to a place of refuge.

Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin agreed that the borders of Poland would be moved to the west, giving the eastern portion of Poland to the Ukraine (and thus to the Soviet Union), and the eastern portion of Germany to Poland. In a speech before the British House of Commons in late 1944, referring to the removal of the Germans, he said, "For expulsion is the method which, insofar as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble as in Alsace-Lorraine. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed at the prospect of the disentanglement of population, nor am I alarmed by these large transferences, which are more possible than they were before through modern conditions." (quote from p. 110 of Fires of Hatred; Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, by Norman N. Naimark.)

I hate to think what measure of uprooting, murder, rape, and torment it would have taken to alarm Winston Churchill.

Karl Jaspers is described as having "opposed totalitarian despotism. . .or a regime that regarded humans as mere instruments of science or ideological goals." We know about Stalin; it seems that Churchill too regarded humans as mere instruments.


I recalled what my friend Hessie had told me back in Sarajevo: After World War II, "in world opinion, it was not permissible to acknowledge that Germans, not even those who were children, had suffered, and to some extent that is still the case." For a few weeks, again on the Internet, I corresponded with some friends about these issues. I will share here some of the information I received.

Hessie: "I heard a lot about the tragedy of those expelled Germans after WWII and I met many of them.This matter of the expelled is a story more or less little spoken of. There were many children on this terrible route to the western areas; they were placed in centres to protect them from bombing in the cities. Many got killed or lost on the way; many very young children did not even know their names when they arrived, and not all of their identities could determined. There were hours and hours of broadcasting in the years after WWII in Germany, with people asking if anyone had seen or met a person they were missing. You could see flyers all over as well with such questions about missing soldiers, especially those who had been war prisoners of the Russians.

"To me it was a trick of the writing of history that the DDR [East Germany], which before WWII had been central Germany, came to be called East Germany. I had the impression that somehow this was to make people forget the former eastern part of Germany.

"I think that relinquishing those territories to other countries was justified - but in doing so, those who were expelled not only physically lost their homelands but as far as I can see, in the memories of the younger generation this switch also worked successfully. Those who were expelled, if ever they speak about it, constantly face this misinterpretation, and somehow this creates another obstacle to speaking about what happened.

"[Regarding the numbers of expelled Germans], there are many different numbers and it depends which countries were included that decided to expel Germans, how many were killed before leaving, how many arrived in the western or DDR part of Germany. There was so much chaos that I doubt it is possible to have really reliable numbers. Some of those who left didn't arrive, but some children survived, joining up with families they met on their way. There is a case that if I remember well, two brothers met for the first time again in the nineties, as one of them had been brought up by a Polish family.

"One thing is clear: there was an enormous mass of people hungry, freezing, exhausted wandering from east to west, without any organisation or help; those who were expelled were even being attacked by airplanes, and many died in the bombing of Dresden. Some survived the way one of my classmates did, under a heap of dead people, thus protected from the burning phosphor.

"[Regarding the subsequent recording of these events] I don't know that this was really done in Western Germany. Even in the books now on the market about those first bad years after WWII, those who were expelled are simply not mentioned. Somehow everybody seems to remember only the time when it started to become better, the Wirtschaftswunder. The time in between seems to be a time of collective forgetting. The expelled hadn't been welcome at all. Arriving with just the clothes they were wearing, they had to use everything from those who were required to take them into their houses.

"I guess this topic of the expelled ones wasn't that interesting for our writers; they wrote a lot about other topics, all the atrocities against the Jews, and about soldiers who returned but did not find their families, or learned that they [the soldiers] had been declared dead and their wives had married again. I never saw a serious book about the expelled. In my opinion the problem was, and may still be, that this tragedy had been deemed to be accepted because of all the atrocities done by Germans during Nazi time, and writing about this would show suffering and we had no right to have suffered."

Holger: "What you describe happened to most families in eastern Germany. My mom's family fled from [.] before the Red Army got there. She then endured the battle of Berlin in a basement, witnessing the arrival of the Soviet troops. This is not the right place to tell you what happened in those days, but for the next two years after the war there was no food. My mom never spent much time in school.

"Why is it not politically correct to talk about this trauma? Because at the same time, it was the end of fascism. Officially Germany was liberated by the Allies, including the Soviets. It ended a period that was much worse than the suffering of the German population at the end of the war. That my mom and my grandmother didn't feel liberated is a sticky issue.

"It is also not politically correct to feel sad about the homeland that was lost. These thoughts had to be swept under the carpet to be accepted again as a nation and also as a pre-condition for German reunification in 1990. Germany has committed to maintain all Soviet war memorials in the country. What happened to the civilians in those days remains private."


The office complex inhabited by the Society for Threatened Peoples is located in a building named after Victor Gollancz, a British Jew who was a leftist before World War II, a publisher, and a human rights activist. Early in the war he became very distressed about the fate of the Jews under the Nazi regime, and he was one of the first to predict the eventual murder of six million Jews. A prolific commentator, he wrote about German guilt in a pamphlet titled "What Buchenwald Really Means." There, he concluded that not all Germans were guilty, recalling the thousands who had been persecuted because of their opposition to Nazism, and thousands more who were simply terrorized into compliance or inaction. In the early postwar period he advocated for the humane treatment of German civilians, a cause for which he actively campaigned for several years.

Meanwhile, during the war Gollancz had become a promoter of the Zionist colonization of Palestine as well. But during the 1948 war that resulted in the creation of Israel, he campaigned to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians who were under fierce attack.

Gollancz, then, took positions according to his principle of defending the underdog, regardless of whether his positions were going to make him popular. I see how this characteristic resonates with Tilman Zülch and the Society for Threatened Peoples, many of whose staff are, like Tilman, themselves personally familiar with displacement.


So why am I going on about Germany and things German, long ago and far from Bosnia?
It's not that I have more sympathy for the Germans than for anyone else. I have brought up this history of their massive expulsion because I see it as yet another crime unaddressed. The expulsion strikes me as a form of collective punishment against the Germans, and there were few like Gollancz to speak out against it. Now that history is buried - not forgotten by the survivors and their descendants, but hidden to the world. I marvel at the strength of the survivors to have picked up and carried on without turning their injuries into a grievance that caused further great damage, as generally happens.

I bring up the case of the German expulsion because it reminds me of similar situations. Half the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, more two million people, were displaced. Nearly a million Albanians were displaced in Kosovo, as were most of the Roma and a large part of the Kosovo Serb community as well.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) uses the words of Euripides, 431 BCE, to describe the state of being a refugee or asylum-seeker: "There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land."

So I have written of these things out of an impulse to revolt against the practice of expulsion regardless of when and where it happens; no population should be subjected to uprooting. Such treatment is objectionable regardless of what crimes may be pinned on a population or on its leaders. Pretty much everyone in former Yugoslavia has had bad leaders in recent decades, but that does not justify the mistreatment that so many civilians have experienced.

Meanwhile, it is normal for people to be obsessed with their own victimization as something that is dearer than that of anyone else. For these people it is difficult to acknowledge the suffering of their "enemy," and equally difficult to avoid equating revenge with justice.

It was Hessie who said to me, back in Sarajevo, that "being a perpetual victim means that you will always be expecting to receive something from someone." She elaborated by saying that a person who remains stuck in the role of the victim is not only disempowered, but also runs the risk of being transformed into a persecutor. Fixation on one's victimhood tends to justify any behavior; it is not uncommon for victims to squander their "moral capital." Hessie further pointed out that a person who has been victimized and overcomes her feeling of victimization is particularly well-placed to empathize with other victims and to help them through their recovery from trauma.

Given the calamity that befell some of my ancestors in World War II, I have been lucky to escape that trap myself. I don't advocate forgetting history by any means, nor forgiveness, particularly; that is entirely a personal matter. But it is ultimately the duty of the victim to reach beyond his or her individual story in order to recognize the suffering of other people on all sides. Many people I know in Bosnia-Herzegovina, intelligent activists and others, have done so. They are waiting for their gestures to be reciprocated. While one must never cease to demand justice, those who are not prepared to acknowledge the humanity in others remain susceptible to manipulation by the same demagogues who led them into the destruction of their country in the first place.

Thus another side of Vergangenheitsbewältigung can see erstwhile victims coming to terms with their history and renouncing revenge. Anger at one's mistreatment is justified; transforming that anger into productive work is urgent.

All this is not to imply that everyone is equal in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Kosovo, in former Yugoslavia, or elsewhere. I am comfortable with the term "aggression" as it is used to describe the initiation and prosecution of the conflicts, and the balance of force was at times so unequal that said conflicts could not be accurately termed a "war." But when the smoke clears and the dust settles, still it is necessary to take leave of recriminations at some point, enough to take the side of the next group that is being persecuted, a la Gollancz and, one hopes, to cut short the cycle of retribution.

I wish to believe that most of the activists with whom I've been in contact in the former Yugoslavia have assimilated this lesson. So I don't worry too much about their opinion, nor that of anyone else, when I take the side of the Roma or Serbs if they are being mistreated by the Albanians in Kosovo, or when I take the side of the Croats or Serbs if they are being mistreated by Bosniaks in Bosnia. Any position that falls short of this is simply irresponsible.

It happens that it is the consideration anew of the story of the expelled Germans that brings this position into new clarity for me.

When I consider the torments visited upon those millions of Germans, and more recently upon the Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, and Roma, I have an overwhelming feeling that humans are just fodder for some historical meat grinder. What pulls me out of that depressing thought is my acquaintance with those people who, to the best of their ability, continue to struggle for justice against the odds. They not only know right from wrong; they believe that things can be made better through that struggle.

So here, finally winding up this series of reports, I remember and thank a few of those brave activists for their fight and for what they have taught me and what they have shared with me, and I wish them all power and strength in their continued work:

Damir Arsenijević, Danijel Senkić, Darjan Bilić, Dražana Lepir, Dražen Crnomat, Džafer Buzoli, Edin Ramulić, Emin Mahmutović, Emir Hodžić, Emir Suljagić, Emsuda Mujagić, Erëblir Kadriu, Ervin Blažević Švabo, Fadil Banjanović Bracika, Gordan Isabegović, Hasan Hadžić, Hasan Nuhanović, Hikmet Karčić, Mirsad Duratović, Nedim Jahić, Nerin Dizdar, Reuf Bajrović, Satko Mujagić, Senad Subašić, Staša Zajović, Sudbin Musić, Šani Rifati, Vahid Kanlić, Zulfo Salihović.

(This list is, of course, far from complete and I apologize to those I have omitted.)

I also thank Roger Lippman for patiently proofreading all my texts.

And thank you for reading them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [5]

Chapter 3: For or Against Bosnia

The title of the chapter accurately describes the existential choice that members of the staff of Oslobodjenje (and all Bosnians) faced as the country slowly, agonizingly slipped into war during the period of 1991-1992. Many accounts of the war stress how, during the the war in Croatia, many Bosnians were deeply in denial about the danger their own republic faced; and how even after fighting and ethnic violence broke out in Bosnia residents of Sarajevo continued to carry on as if it had nothing to do with them. This chapter reinforces that impression--when Ljiljana Smajlovic left her job as politics editor, Kemal Kurspahic appointed Gordana Knezevic (recently returned to Sarajevo after four year in Cairo) as her replacement. Not that Knezevic was not qualified for the job, but it was no accident that Kurspahic replaced a Serb with another Serb. He was determined to demonstrate the inclusiveness and balance he believed the newspaper--and Bosnia itself--stood for.

That said, there was no doubt that she was right for the job. A tough woman of intellectual honesty and moral courage, she had no use for the virulent nationalism that infected so many of her fellow Serbs and she spoke out against it in column after column. She also rejected making false equivalencies in the name of balance; she refused to pretend that there were no substantive differences between the three ethnic parties. Specifically, she recognized that the SDS represented a threat to the inclusive, democratic values the paper claimed to uphold, and that it was necessary to say so.

Knezevic had been gone for four years, and she had missed out on many changes. Her and her husband Ivo were soon painfully brought up to speed, as she received numerous threats from Serbs about the strong anti-nationalist positions she expressed. Ultimately, her and Ivo decided to send their six year old daughter Olga (there had been threats to kidnap her) and fifteen year-old son Igor out of the city; the middle child, Boris, stayed. Olga and Igor took the last bus out of Sarajevo; almost immediately after it left open warfare broke out, and the siege of Sarajevo become total.

Gordana also clashed with some Serb members of the Oslobodjenje staff. When Ljiljana briefly returned to Sarajevo from Brussels (before moving permentantly to Belgrade), the two women found themselves on opposite sides of the debate over the future of Bosnia. Ljiljana would later tell author Tom Gjelten that because she spent the years 1988-1992 in Cairo, Gordana not only missed the crumbling of the ruling League of Communists and the transition of Oslobodjenje from staid party organ to independent newspaper, she also failed to realize that things had changed as far as the importance--if not the centrality--of ethnic identity. Gordana told Gjelten that it was actually Ljiljana who was clueless, as she had been in Brussels while the SDS became ever more extreme and the reality of Serb nationalism became clearer.
That was May 2, 1992. By that point, nobody in Sarajevo should have had any illusions left. Bosnia had declared independence, the SDS had declared war on Bosnia, and the Federal Army had dropped any pretense of neutrality and had been transformed into a Bosnian Serb army under Ratko Mladic. Izetbegovic belatedly realized that he was leading a country being pulled into a war it was ill-prepared to fight. Many Serbs in Sarajevo chose to stay in the city, but many others had chosen to leave, including several members of the Oslobodjenje staff. The paper finally dropped the policy of providing space for all sides and reporting the SDS side of events; the decision to throw in their lot with the SDA-led government and openly side with the Bosnian state was being thrust upon Kurspahic and his paper.

During this period of increased tensions, the paper lost one of its own--Muslim reporter Kjasif Smajlovic (no relation to Ljiljana) was murdered by Serb forces while covering the fall of Zvornik. And in late May, the Belgrade offices of Oslobodjenje were taken over by SDS officials in a move later validated by a ruling of the Serbian court system.

[I hope it is clear that I am choosing to discuss the events in the chapter specific to the story; Gjelten does a good job also relating the story of the war but as I assume most readers of this blog know the basic outline of events, I am chosing to leave the political and military events implied in the interests of time and space.]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [4]

Chapter 2: A Time of Change

This chapter explains the changes at Oslobodjenje as it morphed from a party-line Communist party mouthpiece to a genuine, independent news organization which was the most respected paper in Yugoslavia (according to a poll of fellow journalists), and the third-most popular in the country as well. When the war broke out in Sarajevo in April of 1992, the paper had not only broken free of party control, it had also set itself up as independent of all three nationalist parties in the republic when elections were held.

Much of the background in this chapter is familiar, but interwoven in the context of the decline of Communism, the development of nationalist politics in the republics, the rise of Slobodan Milosevic, the increasing radicalization of Serbia and ethnic Serbs, and the outbreak of hostilities in Croatia we are also introduced to head editor Kemal Kurspahic, assistant editor Ljiljana Smajlovic, and reporter Vlado Mrkic. Kurspahic, a secular Muslim, had risen up to the top of the paper, and had led the move away from being a party organ to a professional, objective newspaper modeled on the American papers he had encountered while stationed in New York. Mrkic, an ethnic Serb, is a reporter's reporter--he abandoned a presumably more prestigious or lucrative job as editor because it didn't suit him and had returned to doing what he did best--going out after a story on his own.

Smajlovic, who like the other two was a product of the old system but relished the opportunity to do "real journalism" once it became possible, ultimately chose to leave Sarajevo when she found she couldn't be fully objective; while she didn't support the nationalist program, she found that she also could not stomach the idea of leading a struggle against "her" people--the Bosnian Serbs. Her parents had been devout Communists, but her mother turned around and embraced the Serb nationalist program. Ljiljana couldn't go that far; but she also couldn't bear to stay at Oslobodjenje. The moment of truth came in Croatia, when she was investigating Croat reports that Serbs had burned a local village. She was sure that the story was propaganda. When she discovered that the story was true, she found that she simply couldn't report the truth. Caught between her genuine disdain for ethnic violence and her new found ethnic loyalties, she left. Surely, many other Serbs who fled Sarajevo, or otherwise  implicitly sided with "their" people experienced a similar dynamic.

The chapter ends with Ljiljana explaining that she realized that she was in the war, not outside of it; this statement parallels Gjelten's own observations earlier in the chapter that people in Sarajevo felt that the turmoil in Kosovo and the war in Croatia didn't really concern them directly. Just as Ljiljana discovered that nationalism could shatter her sense of remove, so would  the people of Sarajevo learn that their proud heritage of cosmopolitan tolerance was vulnerable.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [3]

[Note: Because I'm so busy with graduate school, I'm going to be realistic about how much time I can devote to this blog on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, I'm going to continue this review as I can; sometimes I may only summarize part of a chapter just to keep things moving. I hope my readers will understand.]
Chapter 1: Bloodlines
The chapter opens with Oslobodjenje reporter Senka Kurtovic--a "Croat" who was ethnically half-Muslim, quarter-Croat, and quarter-Jewish, and whom had identified herself as "Dutch" in the last Yugoslav census to protest the requirement to declare a nationality--meeting with her Serb boyfriend, a radio announcer, the night before the now-infamous peace march of April 5, 1992, when gunmen with the SDS fired on peaceful protesters, symbolically beginning the war in Sarajevo. Senka notices that her boyfriend is distant, and when he tells her that she needs to go home, she becomes frustrated that he won't explain himself. He drops her off, and they never speak to each other again.

The rest of the chapter explains how and why religious identity is so closely identified with ethnic identity in a country where almost everybody is Slavic and few are devoutly religious. The explanation is a reasonably brisk and accurate history of Bosnia and the South Slavs (Gjelten, writing in 1996, accepted the argument that the Bosnian church was Bogomil, although I accept Noel Malcolm's argument on this point) from the early Middle Ages to the present day; his account won't contain anything new to readers of this blog and therefore I won't analyze it in depth. Suffice it to say, Gjelten understands the basic dynamic of Serb, Croat, and Muslim national identities and the historical context in which they were developed. This book was published in 1995 for a general readership--this is necessary context for the audience, and I'm pleased both that Gjelten includes it, and that he gets it right.

The chapter concludes by noting that the gunmen were arrested, and then released as part of a deal. Karadzic already comes across as the bombastic, racist terrorist he would soon prove to be. And Sanka's boyfriend? It would turn out that he had been collaborating with the SDS for some time; and he would go on to work for Bosnian Serb television in Pale. Two days after the attack, she would see him on TV, working as a news announcer and beginning his broadcast by greeting "Good evening, my dear Serb people."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Peter Lippman Bosnia Travel Journal: Entry # 12

Hello folks,

In mid-November, while in Kosovo, I had the chance to meet with Džafer Buzoli, local activist for the rights of the Roma of Kosovo. It happened that I was on my way to Germany to speak for the Society for Threatened Peoples (see Since I was stopping in Kosovo, the Society recommended that I meet with Džafer, who represents that organization in Kosovo. There, he monitors conditions for the beleaguered Roma population, most of which was displaced during and after the 1998-99 war.

It was good to meet Džafer and talk to him, and I will share his thoughts here. Our meeting inspired me to compile this report, starting with some background about the Roma in Europe, as follows: some general history; what happened in Kosovo in the late 1990s and the expulsion of the Roma from there; the treatment of displaced Roma; and conditions for the Roma back in Kosovo today.


Where human rights and standard of living are concerned, the Roma are at or near the bottom of society in every country where they reside in Europe. Discrimination against the Roma populations and the forced migration of their communities have been as common in the last couple of decades as they ever were. Compounding these injuries is the widespread racism against Roma, something I would compare to the racism against African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos that exists in the United States. That is, that racism is both an attitude and a systemic problem.

The image of the Roma, so often tied up with the word "Gypsy," is something that is romanticized and trivialized. If the essence of racism as an attitude is to generalize a given population as less human than oneself, then evoking the Roma as "wanderers," "exotic," and a host of other insulting categories is just as racist a practice as any other.

ani Rifati, Kosovo Rom and activist leader of the organization Voice of Roma, says it better:

"I won't play you a sad song on my violin. I do not have a bandana. I do not have a golden tooth. I do not have long hair or a golden hoop in my ear. I am just trying to speak up for my people:
to tell you about their suffering and the persecution they've endured throughout the centuries
to ask you to fight against ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes
Simply put, as a place to start: please call me Rom."
(See and
So, for starters, I propose that we recognize that the word "Gypsy" is an insensitive word, and that we avoid it - or if it must be used, that we put it in quotation marks. I also suggest that we let people who name their stores, bands, or other outfits using the word "Gypsy" know that they are employing a denigrating term that calls up a caricature of a people who have just the same hopes, needs, and ambitions as everyone else.

Here's more on this from Šani: "The first basic step in separating myths and stereotypes from facts and authenticity is in the use of our terminology. Rom means a human being, person or man in the Romani language. The Roma do not call themselves Gypsies. Historically, the term 'Gypsy' came from the mistaken assumption on the part of Anglo-Europeans that Roma originated in Egypt. In fact, the Roma are a distinct ethnic minority, distinguished at least by Rom blood and the Romani, or Romanes, language, whose origins began in the Punjab region of India. Their migration began in the 2nd century, when they traveled through the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and Turkey, eventually spreading all over Europe. While Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, they remain the least integrated and the most persecuted people of Europe today. .Using the word "Gypsy" is not only inaccurate but perpetuates the continuation of stereotypes that portray Roma as beggars, swindlers, and thieves."

In any discussion of the Roma, a number of different names of Romani communities come up: Sinti, Ashkali, "Egyptians," and many more. Some of these names came from the outside, either as a result of political manipulation or ignorance. Others arose organically over the generations because they are what people call themselves. Some Roma do not call themselves Roma, but are looked upon as such by outsiders. Some Western bureaucrats and other outside commentators have referred to the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians of Kosovo as "RAE." While hoping to be fair, I will stick with the name "Roma."

It should be noted that, contrary to the stereotype, the vast majority of European Roma have lived in settled communities for many generations. And there are communities of Roma who have for the most part ceased speaking the Romani language, but they still hold to Romani traditions. There are others who have partially assimilated - for example, some Roma in Kosovo have gravitated towards an Albanian identity.


Any discussion of Roma history in Europe should note that the biggest disaster in that history was the World War II Holocaust, in which the Jews were not the only victims. This history, as so much with the Roma, is usually forgotten. Genocide was committed against the Roma as well; Roma communities throughout the lands occupied by the Nazis were forced into ghettoes, and many of these people were sent to concentration camps or simply murdered where they had lived. Others were subjected to long imprisonment. It is difficult to cite accurate figures, but one report holds that of Europe's pre-war Roma population of one million, approximately twenty percent, or around 220,000, perished. (See
Since World War II Roma have struggled to integrate themselves into the economies of the countries in which they live, while proudly upholding their traditional cultures. This has been an uphill battle. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, an estimated 50,000 Roma live at the margins; in any given municipality it is common to hear that perhaps one percent of the Roma population holds a steady job. Bosnians do not generally openly admit racism towards the Roma, but neither do they bother to hide it. Once, in 2000, I had been in contact with a Romani organization in Sarajevo, and I mentioned their struggle to improve their conditions to a human rights activist in a completely different field, off in central Bosnia. He commented to me, "You know, they don't really even care whether they have toilets in their homes."

The situation is worse in central Europe, in such places as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania, where the Romani population is much larger. In those countries discrimination is at times organized, and there are periodic incidents of violence against the Roma. Just last August a thousand neo-Nazis descended upon a mixed Romani and Hungarian village in western Hungary, shouting at Romani inhabitants, "You are going to die here." ( In the same country, in the northern village of Rimóc, it was determined last month that nearly all of the people who were being fined for bicycling infractions were Roma. (See "Fined for being Roma."
A particularly notorious violation of Roma rights took place in France in 2010, when President Sarkozy ordered Roma from Bulgaria and Romania - that is, fellow EU citizens - to leave the country. Repeated police raids on Roma communities resulted in the eviction and expulsion of nearly fifteen thousand Roma from France in 2010 and 2011. Sarkozy's law permitted French authorities to expel people from the country if they were suspected of immigration simply for the purpose of "benefiting from the social assistance system" (See Last year, after Sarkozy was replaced, the French government took steps to ameliorate the abuses against the Roma, but much damage had been done.

While human rights abuses against the Roma occur on a wide scale in various parts of Europe, the EU itself has taken a stance in favor of the rights of the Roma, and has attempted to promote more favorable policies. An article by the Roma Education Fund reports that the European Commission is working to help with integration of the Roma thus: "The social and economic inclusion of Roma is a priority for the EU and needs the commitment and joint efforts of national and local authorities, civil society and EU institutions. The European Commission is committed to taking the necessary steps to improve the situation of Roma people and their social and economic integration in society. On 7 April 2010 the Commission adopted a Communication on the social and economic integration of Roma in Europe (IP/10/407; MEMO/10/121) - the first ever policy document dedicated specifically to Roma. It outlines an ambitious programme to help making policies for Roma inclusion more effective and defines the main challenges ahead." 

This same article notes, "There are between 10 million and 12 million Roma in the EU, in candidate countries and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans. Roma people living in the European Union are EU citizens and have the same rights as any other EU citizen. A significant number of Roma live in extreme marginalisation in both rural and urban areas and in very poor social-economic conditions. They are disproportionally affected by discrimination, violence, unemployment, poverty, bad housing and poor health standards." (See

In early 2005, eight European governments (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Slovak Republic) launched the "Decade of Roma Inclusion," in a bid to promote national action plans that would help end discrimination against the Roma populations in their respective countries. However, in the same period, evictions of Roma were ongoing in the UK, Lithuania, Albania, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo, and Italy. (See "Roma Evictions Erupt Across Europe."


Over the last century Kosovo has been marked by periodic conflict between the (erstwhile) Serbian regime and the majority Albanian population, with Serbia holding the upper hand until the regime's defeat and expulsion at the hands of NATO in 1999.
And as in the rest of Europe, over the decades the Roma in Kosovo were at the bottom of society, subject to discrimination from both directions. Many Roma adopted the Albanian language and gravitated towards the Albanian culture, sometimes taking on Albanian surnames. To some extent the fact that in this region the two populations shared a common religion, Islam, facilitated this assimilation.

In the 1990s, under the increasingly harsh Milošević regime, many Roma tended to identify with the Albanians in their struggle for independence. However, to their great misfortune during and after the 1998-99 war, Roma were caught between two parties in a fight that was not really theirs. Romani men were sometimes abused, and sometimes drafted to fight, both by the Serbian side and by the Kosovar Albanian side. It happened that relatives even found themselves looking through their gun sights at each other.

In 1998 and during the 78-day NATO intervention in the spring of 1999, as many as 800,000 Albanians were driven out of Kosovo. In an attempt to rid Kosovo - then a province of Serbia - of a large proportion of the Albanian population, Serbian forces destroyed hundreds of their villages, and killed at least 10,000 Albanians. 

It was the disaster of the Kosovo Roma community that its members were caught in an impossible position, not only during the war, but afterwards as well. Immediately upon the end of the NATO intervention, hundreds of thousands of Albanians came streaming back from exile to their (often destroyed) homes. For the first time since Serbia took over the province upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Albanians had relative freedom and self-determination in Kosovo, and they were bound to use that self-determination to set up a new state that was free of Serbian domination. Unfortunately, there were Albanians who wished to take revenge for their brush with genocide, and these people were not particular about their targets. Those Serbs, Roma, and other minorities who did not flee Kosovo immediately were at risk.

Revenge attacks by Albanians were widespread. It is hard for me to know whether the attacks that occurred were the result of a policy by Albanian leaders, or simply the actions of criminals who had no regard for law, order, or the rights of the minorities. It was my impression at the time that the latter was the case - that a criminal element took advantage of the chaos to make profit. I personally witnessed Albanian gangsters taking over apartments owned by non-Albanians in order to rent or sell them. I heard that they were even taking over apartments owned by Albanians who had not yet returned. As possible motivations, presumably a mixture of revenge and profiteering played into the attacks on the Roma. 

I personally found a near-unanimous belief among Albanians that Roma had collaborated with Serbian forces during the war. This belief apparently contributed to the subsequent mistreatment of the Roma. On the other hand, I believe - based on what I saw and heard - that, while Albanians may have held enduring prejudices against the Roma, most Albanians, having survived a brutal war, just wanted to move ahead peacefully and get on with their lives. 

In 2010 Human Rights Watch reported, "The armed confrontation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) with Yugoslav government forces and Serbian police and paramilitary units, the subsequent NATO bombing and mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav and Serb forces, and the wave of retaliatory ethnic violence by Albanians at the start of international rule in Kosovo in 1999, resulted in large numbers of RAE [Roma, Ashkali, and "Egyptians"] fleeing and being forcibly expelled from Kosovo. Many fled to elsewhere in the Balkans, mostly to Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Others went to Western Europe, while some were displaced within Kosovo. [.]Roma have historically been perceived by some Albanians as 'Serb collaborators,' and were targets of retaliatory violence in the aftermath of the war.

"[.] According to UNHCR estimates, in 2010 around 22,000 RAE displaced persons remain in Serbia, around 4,000 in Montenegro, around 1,700 in Macedonia, and around 130 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are no reliable estimates for the number of RAE from Kosovo living in Western Europe, or for the numbers of RAE displaced inside Kosovo." (See "Rights Displaced - Forced Returns of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from Western Europe to Kosovo." Human Rights Watch 2010,

I was in Kosovo at the beginning of the war in the spring of 1998, and I returned immediately upon the end of the NATO intervention in July of 1999. Here is an excerpt from a report that I wrote at that time:

I went to a collective center for displaced Roma at Kosovo Polje, on the outskirts of Prishtina. Approximately 8,000 Roma moved into a high school in this town in late June when they left Prishtina and other nearby localities under pressure from returning Albanians. The Roma were about to be moved from the school to a nearby tent camp set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some UNHCR moving vans and some KFOR soldiers were placed at the entrance. There were around two hundred Roma sitting outside the school building, with piles of bedding, cradles, and other belongings waiting to be loaded. The women and children had already left.

As I walked onto the school grounds, a Romani man was telling a KFOR soldier that two Albanian youths had just come up behind a fence and thrown rocks at the school windows. The KFOR soldier promised to look for them. I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the Roma and ask for an interview. We took two chairs and sat against a wall, and immediately there were a dozen curious Roma gathered around to participate in the interview. Two men explained to me why they and their families had left Prishtina:

"We came to Kosovo Polje because Albanians started threatening us as soon as they came back from Macedonia. They were entering our houses, stealing from us, and beating us. Their goal is the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, nothing else. We were driven out of our houses. We arrived in Kosovo Polje on foot in columns, on June 20th. Along the way we were mistreated and stoned by Albanians. Then people arrived from all over this part of Kosovo. There were around 8,000 people. Now about half of those have left for Macedonia, Montenegro, or countries in Europe."

One man described his experiences in Prishtina during the NATO bombing. He said, "We weren't able to go outside during the bombing. It was a big problem for those of us whose main language is Albanian. The Serbian police would ask us, 'What are you?' I would say, 'I'm a Rom, and my mother tongue is Albanian.' Then the police would say, 'No, you are Albanian, and you must have a green card' (identification card for Albanians). They treated us like Albanians.

"This conflict is between the Serbs and the Albanians," continued another man. "We are in the middle, the victims of both sides. The KLA has kidnapped Roma after the return of the Albanian refugees. Now we are moving to a new camp. There is dust there, and it is unhealthy for the children. We have told the UNHCR that we feel there is no future for us in Kosovo, and that we want to leave for a third country. We have received no answer from them about this. We are to live in the new camp for four weeks. What will happen after that, I don't know. Others will decide that."

I was asked for whom I was writing. One man said to me, "Many people have come and written different things from what they actually saw. They wrote that we were thieves. Deutsche Welle said in a broadcast that we are used to this kind of life. That's not true. We are used to living in houses. You should see the houses we used to live in, where we came from." (end of excerpt)

Local Albanians, in my conversations with them at this time, were nearly unanimous in their accusations of Roma involvement in various crimes. I would not be able to sort that out here, but it is clear that at this point, during and after the war, the Roma of Kosovo were in a dire position. Thousands of Roma left Kosovo along with the fleeing Serbs; in some cases they fled under attack. In Prishtina, I personally witnessed the burning of houses owned by Roma. There were reports of the abduction and murder of Roma in this period.


As the international protectorate was established, several camps for displaced persons were set up to receive those Roma who had not left Kosovo. A large number of Roma found themselves in four camps near Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo. They were out of the frying pan, but into the fire; these camps were terribly polluted by contamination from a former lead smelter. Tests in 2005 revealed that residents of the camps were subject to lead concentration levels upwards of twenty times the recommended tolerance, and for some children, exposure was far higher. (See "Kosovo: The last lead contaminated refugee camp was closed,"

People in the camps were dying from lead poisoning, according to a report by Paul Polansky for the Society for Threatened Peoples (see link below). Women were suffering spontaneous abortions. The report states, "Despite repeated appeals to help the Gypsies [sic], especially those living in the three camps in the area of north Mitrovica, the UN did just the opposite. All food aid was suspended in 2002 saying it was time for the Gypsies to find their own supplies. In the Žitkovac camp the running water was cut off for up to six months at a time because the camp administer, Churches Working Together, felt the Gypsies were using too much water. In the end, the Žitkovac Gypsies had to walk four kilometers twice a day to get their drinking water. In all three camps, most of the Gypsies had to go through the local garbage cans to find their food.

"In the summer of 2004, WHO made a special investigation of lead poisoning in the three camps after Jenita Mehmeti, a four-year-old girl, died of lead poisoning. She was not the first. Up to that point 28 people (mainly children and young adults) had died in the three camps, but Jenita was the first one to be treated for lead poisoning before she died. New blood samples taken by WHO showed that many children, the most vulnerable to lead poisoning, had lead levels higher than the WHO analyzer could register." (See "Roma Children Dying of Lead Poisoning," by Paul Polansky,
The camps were maintained for a decade, with one shut down in 2010, and another only in late 2012. Residents were moved to newly-constructed houses near Mitrovica.

Estimates of the Roma population in Kosovo vary wildly; I have seen figures ranging from 100,000 to 300,000. A more realistic estimate may be somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000. The Human Rights Watch report cited above estimated that the population of Roma remaining in Kosovo by 2010 was approximately 38,000. Meanwhile, compounding the many injuries to what was left of the Roma community in Kosovo, in 2004 widespread riots broke out among the Albanians, who were attacking remnants of the Serbian population, and targeting some Roma as well. More Roma left Kosovo at this time.


At least 100,000 Roma were exiled from Kosovo to the surrounding former republics of Yugoslavia, especially to neighboring Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia; many also ended up in central Europe, especially Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Scandinavia. Their living conditions in those places of refuge were sub-standard. They lacked employment and often ended up living at the poorest margins of the cities, sometimes on or near landfill. Many people lacked basic identification, and as such were not registered as refugees. A 2011 report for the institution of the "Decade of Roma Inclusion" noted that most displaced Romani children did not attend school. Most of the Roma are unemployed; if they have any work, it is off the books. (See "Blindspot: Kosovo Roma and the Decade", by Mensur Haliti, January 2011, at

Camps where Roma were settled often lacked medical assistance, hygiene, restrooms, and sufficient food supplies. Added to these ills has been the constant threat of eviction of Romani refugees in their "host" countries. Similar to the case of France mentioned above, host governments seem to have made a conscious policy of tormenting the displaced Kosovo Roma by forcing them to uproot regularly. The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center protested evictions of Roma in Montenegro in 2003 and 2004. In 2006 advocates sued the Danish government for requiring whole families of displaced Roma to live in one-room shelters. And between 2009 to 2012, Roma faced repeated evictions from their temporary settlements in Belgrade.
(See, and
Besides the difficult conditions facing Roma refugees wherever they have arrived, another grave problem is the ongoing threat of forced deportation and return to Kosovo. Some tens of thousands of Roma live in Germany, and many only have "tolerated" status. This means that they are not accorded the civil rights of legitimized residents, and can be subject to deportation at any time. Roma have been reluctant to return to Kosovo because of the discrimination and violence mentioned above, and the fact that, most likely, unemployment and poverty await them if they do return.

The compulsive return of Roma to Kosovo against their will has become a widespread practice in several countries in central and northern Europe. The 2010 Human Rights Watch report estimated that between 1999 and 2010, over 50,000 Roma had been deported to Kosovo. It gave a figure of 12,000 holders of the "toleration permit" in Germany.

The same report noted that deported Roma arriving in Kosovo face serious problems of integration. Often their children, born and raised in another country, do not speak a local language. Families arrive without citizenship documentation enabling them to receive social assistance. Husbands or wives arrive without a spouse or separated from their children who have not been deported. It has been difficult for Roma to repossess property that they owned in Kosovo before the war or to reclaim employment that they previously had. Health care has often been unavailable to returnees. Some returning Roma have experienced threats or violence from Albanians, and have left Kosovo a second time.

Given these conditions, international human rights organizations have called upon the governments of Europe to refrain from deporting the displaced Roma, and to afford them decent living conditions. The response to this call so far has been poor, and abusive deportation practices have continued. For example, nighttime raids have been practiced in Germany, pulling Roma out of their homes without warning and sending them to the airport with one-way tickets. This treatment is much harsher than what Bosnian refugees in Germany received in the mid- to late-1990s.

I will leave other details about this distressing situation to Džafer's words below. But for people interested in the problem of deportation, I recommend the film "Uprooted - RAE communities' perspectives on Western Europe's Repatriation Policies,"

Not all is hopeless. While the displaced Roma struggle in their host countries or, deported, try to adjust to changed circumstances back home, there are initiatives and organizations trying to help. The Kosovo Foundation for Open Society advocates in the EU for the rights of minorities in Kosovo. RomaReact fights stereotypes about the Roma. The Roma Education Fund promotes education in Romani communities. The Society for Threatened Peoples monitors the state of human rights for the Roma in Kosovo. And Voice of Roma, based in California, works to educate the public about the rights of the Roma, and presents Romani culture and traditions in order to fight stereotypes. See below for some pertinent links.


Džafer Buzoli lives in Kosovo and works there for the Society for Threatened Peoples. He monitors and reports on the state of human rights for the Roma in Kosovo, and advocates for their improvement. I met with him in mid-November and he brought me up to date on the situation of the Roma.

Džafer told me, "At the end of the NATO intervention, there were some 8,000 Roma who found themselves in the area of Mitrovica. [During and after the war, Mitrovica became a divide city, with the northern part controlled by Serbs, and the southern part controlled by Albanians.] At that time, the UN established four camps for the displaced Roma in lead-polluted areas, in North Mitrovica. There was lead dust in the soil and the water. People lived there for ten years, until 2008 and 2009. Then they were removed to a French NATO base. But it was not clean.

"In ten years, around 90 Roma died from lead poisoning. Now some Roma have returned to the south Mahala [traditional Roma neighborhood in the section of Mitrovica controlled by Kosovo Albanians]. Most of the others fled to Macedonia, Germany, or Switzerland. The Roma in Kosovo are no longer living in the polluted camps, but in that area where they now live, there is still lead dust in the air."

Q: What is the population of Roma in Kosovo?
A: "In the 1991 census it was around 220,000. Now it is around 33,000.

"There is an agreement with the EU, whereby Kosovo is willing to receive all its citizens back. But, unfortunately, this is equivalent to a green light to deport them from their host countries. Roma are being sent back to Kosovo without support. They are being expelled from Germany and other countries."

Q: What obstacles are there to return for the Roma?
A: "It is difficult. If they are coming back from Macedonia, Serbia, or Montenegro, then there is a support package for their return. But if they are coming back from Europe, there is no support. And it is a problem when the children do not know the local language.

"In Germany, in advance of sending Roma back to Kosovo, the German government does not undertake any research, for example, as to whether the people being returned even have a place to live; whether they have a family or other people to receive them; whether there is health coverage for them in Kosovo; and what kind of treatment generally they will receive in Kosovo. Conditions in Kosovo for returning Roma are such that some come back, and then they leave again after two or three weeks.

"In the period after 1999, many Roma left Kosovo and this became a 'role model' for others. So people were selling their houses. Then, if they were returned from Germany or elsewhere, they would find themselves without a place to live. For example, there is a returned family in Shtime near Suha Reka, that is literally without a roof over their heads."

Q: What is the situation for Roma children in school?
A: "There has been a kind of segregation. The Roma children are placed in the back of the classroom. However, now that situation has been improving as a result of the state's educational strategy."

Q: How is the process of return to Mahala South developing? 
A: "The way that return management is taking place is not good. People are being returned to apartments where, before, they lived in houses. The people do not like the apartments, even though they are new and decently built. And there were only a few houses built, just a symbolic number.

"We want to make sure that everyone, all the Roma in Germany who are potential targets of deportation, are informed about the possible scheduling of their return. To date, this has not been happening. For example, there was one man who had been in Germany since he was six months old, and he lived there until he was twenty. Then he was deported to Kosovo.

"There is a lawyer working for the displaced Roma in Germany, but he does not have the necessary information about potential deportations. People simply do not have advance notice about their deportations. If they had this, it would help them to avoid bad treatment by the police. There are times when the deportations happen and people are not even allowed to collect their belongings. Recently there was a girl, about sixteen, who arrived in Kosovo with her family. She was still wearing her pajamas, and she was obviously traumatized by an eviction in the middle of the night.

"There is no economic development taking place in Kosovo, and there is little or no work here for the Roma. Some of them collect scraps. It is easier for the people who live in villages (there are mixed villages of Roma/Albanians), where at least they can plant a garden.

"As to our work here, we collaborate in advocacy with the respected people in the local communities. Those respected people are rich, but they are passive. We are working to train the youth to be more active. We have written letters of protest about local conditions, but there has been no response."

Referring to the present international force in Kosovo, Džafer said, "KFOR is now composed of 15,000 troops, and it has been reducing its number. If KFOR were to leave, then many remaining members of the minorities would leave. The ICO [International Civilian Office] has left, and that was the only body that was advocating for the minorities.

"We have to be optimistic - but not too optimistic."


Amnesty International: (enter "Roma")

European Roma Rights Centre - International legal advocacy center:

Human Rights Watch: (enter "Roma")

Kosovo Foundation for Open Society - Prishtina-based minority advocacy organization:

Rroma Foundation - history, book reviews, links, reports:

RomaReact - Interactive multimedia site for news and advocacy:
I strongly recommend the flash mob video at the front of this site!

Roma Education Fund - Hungary-based educational foundation:

Society for Threatened Peoples:
Humanitarian project:
Press releases:
--"Germany must ensure detox measures for Roma refugees from camp 'Osterode'"
--"[Berlin memorial] must be an initial step to establish a European integration project for Romani peoples
--The Society's work in Kosovo:
"Empowering Roma Youth in Kosovo" (Includes footage from Kosovo. In German)

Voice of Roma, California-based advocacy and cultural association:
Facebook page:

"Silent Harm," Verena Knaus et al. Silent Harm - A UNICEF-sponsored report assessing the situation of the psycho-social health of children repatriated to Kosovo. In cooperation with the Kosovo Health Foundation, 2012.

"Dossier of Evidence: Lead contaminated camps of internally displaced Roma, Ashkali and Kosovan-Egyptian families in North Mitrovica, Kosovo"
Society for Threatened Peoples, July, 2009 

Memorandum of the Society for Threatened People: Lead Poisoning of Roma in IDP Camps in Kosovo

"Until the Very Last Gipsy Has Fled the Country: The Mass Expulsion of Roma and Ashkali from Kosovo"
Society for Threatened Peoples International 
Human Rights Report No. 21 September 1999 

Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora
Oxford University Press, 2012
by Carol Silverman, Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Folklore at the University of Oregon.
"Romani Routes provides a timely and insightful view into Romani communities both in their home countries and in the diaspora."
--Companion site for book:
--Article: "University professor shows folklore is more than just fairy tales"


In recent months I have covered the campaign of the "Glasaću za Srebrenicu" organization and its political heir, the March 1st Coalition, introduced in my last report on Bosnia. (See In the last few weeks, the Dodik regime in the Republika Srpska has responded aggressively to its delayed defeat in the Srebrenica municipal elections and to the perceived threat of the March 1st Coalition. In Srebrenica, the District Prosecutor (based in Bijeljina) has been hauling activists to the police station for interrogation, and conducting some night-time raids in search of other activists. 

The Prosecutor and other RS officials, all the way up to President Dodik, have alleged that the activists had pressured those who voted for Mayor Ćamil Duraković to register their residence in Srebrenica and to vote there; there have been insinuations that the campaign paid people to do so. In the course of all this repression, there has been no mention of the real electoral engineering and malversation, which I witnessed, of people being brought in from Serbia to vote against Duraković, using very flimsy identification papers or none at all.

As part of this campaign of repression, RS inspectors have informed a Srebrenica student association that it will be subject to a tax inspection.
Meanwhile, in recent days Dodik and other high RS officials have repeatedly announced that the March 1st Coalition shall not be allowed to do on the scale of the RS what it did in Srebrenica municipality - that is, to assist the displaced former inhabitants of that territory in returning and voting where they please. The right to do these things is guaranteed in Annex 7 of the Dayton Constitution, but Dodik et al, who swear by Dayton, also effectively swear against its full implementation. On top of everything else, Dodik recently accused unspecified "foreign sources" of financing a rebellion meant to destroy the RS.

As I wrote before, the March 1st Coalition is a campaign to watch and to support. For those who read Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, the Coalition recently opened up its web site: 

And while I'm mentioning web sites, see also the web site of Hikmet Karčić's organization, Ćuprija (mentioned in an earlier posting - see The web site is here: and Ćuprija's Facebook page is here: