Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mostar, Bosnia, and the Scars of Balkanization: "When Will We Ever Learn?"

The Balkans: So many scars of war under such beauty.  The Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar, Bosnia,a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, it was destroyed during the  vicious 1990s Bosnian War and recently restored. Yahoo image.
My friend Jud (we were Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine together) just completed a Peace Corps Response tour of duty in Macedonia and is now on what he calls a "Balkan Odyssey."  He is visiting a historic part of southeastern Europe that was formerly the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFEY). He sends fascinating blogs with lots of stories (http://juddolphin.blogspot.com), then I run to learn more online.

Put together after World War II, Yugoslavia included six socialist republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. In addition, it included two autonomous provinces within Serbia: Kosova and Vojvodina. Orthodox Bosnian Serbs, Muslim Bosniacs, and Catholic Croats were thus brought together under one roof. The spoils of war.  This melange of ethnic cultures and religions was governed by Joseph Tito, who initially sided with Russia, then broke with Stalin and pursued a policy of neutrality. Somehow or another, under Tito's dictatorship, the various ethnic groups hung together in a precarious but workable balance.

After Tito died, all hell broke loose.  Virulent ethnic nationalism reared its ugly head, and Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia deliberately aimed to destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. A vicious war followed, shocking the world with ethnic cleansing, brutal civilian murders, and the systematic mass rape of women.  I remember being baffled and horrified at the time.

Mostar was a battlefield. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the scene of unfathomable tragedy, which we watched on TV in horror, like a reality show. "Sarajevo was inexplicable: a medieval-like seige in late 20th century Europe, its citizens locked in as Serbs fired cannons at schools, libraries and hospitals, while snipers took aim at people gathering water or attending funerals. Over 44 months, more than 11,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded." So NPR reported 20 years after the war, in remembrance, the shock as vivid as if it were yesterday.

On top of Sarajevo, there was Srebrenica, a supposedly UN-protected enclave, where the Serbs, under Zdranko Tolimir, slaughtered over 8,300 mostly Bosnian Muslim men a nd boys, and systematically abused and raped thousands of women, children and the elderly. Unspeakable horror.  The worst genocide since WWII.

Thus did a "violent fragmentation" transform the Balkans again from 1991-1995. The term "balkanization," its origin during WWI, took on heightened meaning, and more tragedy.

A bullet-riddled Mostar building,
Getty image. 
The genocide of the Muslims, the mass murders, the mass graves, and the deportation of more than 2 million people eventually led to war crime tribunals in the Hague that brought some Serbs to trial and prison. The scars of genocide and humanitarian disaster, however, run deep and everlasting, like Stalin's enforced deportation of the Tatars from Crimea in 1944, embodied recently in Jamala's award-winning Eurovision song.

Is the end in sight? The vicious nationalism that brought insane "balkanization" and insane catastrophe beyond human understanding in the late 20th century and into the 21st century? With the same damned predictable outcome of all such wars everywhere up to the present since time immemorial?

Nope. No end in sight.  Old wounds are raw, new wounds are exposed, tragedy hovers. The Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, Europe, even here in the US.

Memories of 38,200 civilian casualties, mostly from the Bosnian Muslim ethnic group, and the deaths of some 58,000 soldiers, don't just go away. Gruesome images from Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Mostar, still haunt us, like Jud's photos of bullet-ridden buildings, the graveyards, the reminder from Mostar: "Don't Forget."  But people do forget, and the powerful images and memories don't stop the violence.

That's why it was so disturbing to read that the explosive aftermath of the Balkan war erupted again this weekend, May 14, 2016, in Banja Luka, a Serb enclave in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The enclave is one of those hybrid creations forged in the Dayton, Ohio, peace treaty that ended the war. The treaty was signed in Paris in 1995, but it seems the necessary compromises to stop the violence did not end Serbian nationalism or the rage and hatred that spell the Balkans.

Milorad Dodik, the macho president of the Bosnia Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), wants "independence" from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he has his followers. Most Serbs of Banja Luka , however, joined by their Bosnian neighbors, are content to leave well enough alone. No more war. No more ethnic cleansing.  Both sides of the Serbian population came out to protest on May 14. Only a strong military presence prevented bloodshed.

The inhumane, stupid divisions, the senseless violence, the "balkanization" of states into smaller and insecure ethnic enclaves that hate each other, goes on and on.  When will human beings, who are the same everywhere, whose similarities are vastly greater than their differences, learn to get along? When will we ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone 
     by Pete Seeger, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary (1962)


Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the husbands gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Some articles
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/bosnian-serbs-rally-for-and-against-government-in-banja-luka/2016/05/14/b6eb2b86-19c3-11e6-971a-dadf9ab18869_story.html?postshare=3291463231937343&tid=ss_fb

Ivo Banac, Branka Magae, Bojan Bujiic, and V Domany Hardy, "The Bosnian Catastrophe," NY Review of Books, August 1993.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sarajevo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_genocide

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bosnia-w
ar-crimes-the-rapes-went-on-day-and-night-robert-fisk-in-mostar-gathers-detailed-evidence-of-1471656.html

http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/the-bosnian-war-and-srebrenica-genocide/

http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/07/20-years-since-the-srebrenica-massacre/398135/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/europe/radovan-karadzic-verdict.html?_r=0

http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/balkans/  The start of it all, the years leading up to WWI and its aftermath, leading to WWII.

http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/balkan/20_260_1.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_Slobodan_Milo%C5%A1evi%C4%87








Post a Comment