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.