32 Balkan Nights

I’m writing this last post not in Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka or Belgrade, but at the other far end of Europe, under the glittering night skies of Paris. It’s a city a world away from the mosques and rolling hills of Sarajevo, the hectic, beautifully imperfect chaos of Belgrade. Beautiful, too (It’s Paris!), but more refined, its streets less winding and aimless, its people speaking with a distinct flair that lacks the wonderful directness of Serbo-Croatian. It’s lovely, romantic, spectacular, but in a way even Paris- the gem of Europe- lacks a certain rugged quality that the Balkans have. Already, I miss the tall, dark Serbian men smoking in kafanas, the calls to prayer every day in Sarajevo, the way dusk falls onto Bosnia with an orange haze that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

So too do I miss the people of the Balkans- the Serbs, the Croats, the Bosniaks, the Albanians, the Macedonians and Slovenians- peoples often eclipsed by the shadows of the Germans and French and British yet regardless beautiful in their own way, each with their own prides and failings and memories of a time of war that was not so long ago. They are, above all, a people still healing from the crimes and trials of the fall of Yugoslavia, with names like Krajina, Srebrenica, Višegrad, Kosovo symbolizing gaping wounds that, even twenty years later, have only just begun to heal.

I’ve said much of what I’ve wanted to say on the Balkans in the past few weeks, so I won’t make this too long. So much of what we’ve learned about over the last 32 days has been focused on politics, on Serbia and the E.U or Bosnia and the Dayton Accords, that some of the more human aspects of this region and its peoples have, in a way, fallen through the cracks. Politics are important- they shape countries after all, guide history, can prevent or encourage conflict or poverty or suffering- yet, at the end of the day, it is the people of Bosnia, of Serbia that matter, their little struggles and personal victories and defeats that, collectively, make the stories of peoples and nations. I think we forget that sometimes- so focused on the big picture, on geopolitics and globalization and other weighty terms. So let me say this:

Despite the conflict, despite the crimes of the past wars- the genocide of Srebrenica, the ethnic cleansing of Krajina- the people of the Balkans are not less civilized, no more evil, no less prone to compassion and love and kindness than the rest of us. It’s easy to look at the Serbs and think of them less for the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks or the Croats for the genocide of the Ustashe- and don’t get me wrong, there is a responsibility demanded for these crimes that is often not respected- but, in the end, their actions, as horrible and condemnable as they may be, don’t represent the inherent evilness of a people.

Rather, they represent just how easily we can succumb to fear, to hatred, even against people who we’ve lived as neighbors for generations. The wars of the Balkans, and the genocides and crimes against humanity that occurred in them, were not the result of centuries of hatred but of a few, powerful, and yes evil, people who manipulated fear, ethnic and national pride, and concern for the safety of your family and community into hatred, violence, and ethnic cleansing.

The Balkans should not be a lesson for just how vicious an “uncivilized” people can be when all rules break apart- instead, see them as a lesson for how all of us can, through fear- for our safety, for our families, for our nation or people- become hateful, violent, and perform actions that can only be described as evil. Few of us, as “civilized” or “western” as we may be, are above this, as history has shown time and time again- with the Germans during the second world war, with Rwanda, with America’s own treatment of Arabs after 9/11. We are all susceptible to falling into the trap that the people of the Balkans found themselves in, and continue to suffer the wounds and guilt of today.

There are bad people in Bosnia and Serbia and the Balkans at large- people who, still, take advantage of others, put their personal gain over that of their nation or people, who still perform acts born of simple hatred. Yet there are also so many people in possession of so much goodness, kindness, and love for others that it makes up for it.

Finally, if you are reading this blog, do me a favor: don’t think of the Balkans only be the images of war that you may find on Wikipedia. Remember it by the photos here: the hills of Sarajevo, the bustle of Belgrade, the beauty of the Bosnian countryside. Remember it for its good parts, and let it grow past its mistakes. The Balkans still have their own struggles- and I’ve written about them here- but one of the best things we can do to support their growth into the future is not to judge them, not to define them for only one part of their centuries of history, and instead accept them for their imperfections, while still demanding responsibility for things which must be held responsible for.

And, if you ever get the chance, go to Belgrade, go to Sarajevo or Mostar. Be a tourist, yes, but also take a step back and listen to the people there, their stories and day-to-day struggles. Only then will you be able to understand the Balkans, in whatever small way that may be.

And, finally, some final photos of the Balkans to remember it by:

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Art as Resistance to Fascism: The Art of Titoist Yugoslavia

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Not a long post, but one that I think carries a lot of importance. So much of what we’ve done here has focused on the politics of the Balkans- the governmental structure of Bosnia, the accession of Serbia into the European Union- and though all of this is important (it is, after all, what we came here to study), the culture of these countries is just as important for understanding them, and unfortunately that’s something that sometimes gets lost in the chaos of the dialogue.

The art here- on display at the Tito Museum in Belgrade- belong to a time that, now, seems a lifetime ago (and for myself, it is), but was reality just over 25 years ago- a mere blink in the eye of history. That time was the era of Yugoslavism, of the sometimes benevolent, sometimes tyrannical dictatorship of Josip Tito that brought together all of these groups of people that today seem so divided under one identity, one national future.

Learning about the Bosnian Wars, about Kosovo, about Krajina and Operation Storm, it’s hard to realize that there was a time not so long ago where Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs, Slovenes, Kosovo Albanians, Montenegrins, and Macedonians all believed themselves to be Yugoslav first, with a shared history and a shared future that is reflected in this art.

Most of this art was made in the post-World War II years of Yugoslavia, and showcases the struggles that lead to the birth of the Communist Yugoslav state: the battles and trials of the partisan communist forces against the occupying Nazis and Ustashi. Today, remembrance of this time highlights the differences between groups- the Ustashi genocide of Serbs, the sometimes-communist sometimes-fascist nature of the Bosniaks- but during the time when these pieces of art were made, these events were rather seen as the defining moments that brought the people of Yugoslavia together under one banner- the banner of Tito.

The partition of Yugoslavia amongst fascist states. Yellow is the Ustashi Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state
The partition of Yugoslavia amongst fascist states. Yellow is the Ustashi Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state. Red is German occupation, while the rest is occupied by Nazi allies Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary and Italy.
A partisan soldier
A partisan soldier
A painting showing the retreat of the partisan forces over the Albanian mountains
A painting showing the retreat of the partisan forces over the Albanian mountains
Statue of a partisan soldier
Statue of a partisan soldier

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A later, more
A later, more “modern” painting created in 1981 about the genocides of WW2
A sketch illustrating the practice of hanging those who resisted the Nazi regime on the main Belgrade boulevard during WW2
A sketch illustrating the practice of hanging those who resisted the Nazi regime on the main Belgrade boulevard during WW2
An illustration of the Ustashi crimes during the war
An illustration of the Ustashi crimes during the war
Refugees during WW2
Refugees during WW2

Serbia, the European Union, and the Kosovo Problem

Although by far a more functional country than Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia has its own share of problems: corruption, both in the government and in the police force, healthcare and education systems, high unemployment, economic stagnation and its own dispute on the sovereignty of Kosovo. All of these together cumulate into one pervasive political issue: the integration of Serbia into the European Union.

Part of the reason I’ve had such a drought of blog posts in Belgrade is because nearly every meeting we’ve had in this city- with representatives of the Serbian government, NGOs, think tanks, and the EU delegation itself- has had something to do with this problem. Only now, with both our time in Belgrade and the dialogue at large coming to a close, has the scope of the issue become clear enough to write a blog post on.

First off, a look at the state of the European Union today:

European_Union.svgAs you can see, with a few exceptions (Norway for example), nearly all of the European countries not in far eastern Europe that have not joined the EU belong to the former Yugoslavia. Previous blog posts have touched on why its so hard for Bosnia to join, but Montenegro, Macedonia (or “The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia”), and Serbia have also yet to become part of the Union. Unlike Bosnia, however, Serbia is officially a candidate country, and has been since 2004. Technically, and EU delegation- the largest in any country that isn’t Russia or the U.S- and Serbia are currently involved in negotiations that would result in Serbia joining the E.U in 2021- however, as you can guess, the reality of the situation is a bit different.

For one, there is the term “negotiations”, which, though used by both the EU and Serbia for the process, is a bit of a misnomer. For a country to join the EU, it must open 34 chapters- 35 for Serbia (more on that later)- with the EU delegation that address everything from adequate free markets to freedom of speech and press to corruption in government to the presence effective judiciary. Each of these chapters has multiple subchapters, each of which needs to be fulfilled for a country to move onto the next. In this way, the “negotiations” are less a compromise between the E.U and the candidate country, and more of the country proving to the E.U that it has fulfilled, or is making progress towards fulfilling, the rigid rules set up in each of the chapters.

To Serbia’s credit, it has actually fulfilled many of these areas to a greater extent than some E.U countries- notably Romania and Bulgaria, whose integrations many Serbians believe were a political move that ignored the actual readiness of their  respective economies and government for admittance into the Union. To Serbians, should they have been held to the same standards as Romania and Bulgaria, they would have already been part of the E.U, yet the bar for integration has since been set higher, making it harder for Serbia to meet the set standards.

Many Serbians that we’ve talked to believe that this may actually be for the benefit of the country- encouraging it to strive to be a better, more functional state- but it’s nevertheless frustrating, and is one of the many reasons that common Serb support for joining the E.U has wained over the last couple of years. The Greek debt crisis- which helped shatter the view that joining the E.U would lead to guaranteed economic growth and prosperity- has done it own share to damage faith in the E.U, as has the fact that many countries in the Union were anti-Serb during the ’90s and help support the NATO bombings against Serbia in 1999. The latter of these in particular has caused Russia to jump on board and begin to offer Serbia a kind of economic and political alliance to serve as an alternative to the E.U, NATO and the west (although Serbs that have spoken to us say that most Serbians would prefer joining the E.U to alliance with Russia, and that the current closeness to Putin and the Kremlin is born more out of an admiration for its tough stance on NATO and the U.S than out of an actual desire to “buddy-up” to the country).

Put all of this together, and though “negotiations” have technically been ongoing since 2004, not a single chapter has been opened in the talks between the E.U and Serbia, which is now lagging behind the likes of Montenegro, which only became an independent nation in 2006.

And then there is the problem of Kosovo.

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Kosovo in relation to the rest of the Balkans

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and has since been recognized as an independent country by many nations around the world- including the U.S and all but 5 European Union countries. Giving the history between Kosovo and Serbia, Serbia still considers it part of its own state, at best an “autonomous province”, and all people living in Kosovo to be Serbian.

Kosovans, however, are by and large not Serbs- rather, they are an ethnic minority of Albanians whose own secessionist movement in the ’90s, and Serbia’s repression of it, lead to the NATO bombings of ’99. A minority of Serbs live in some four municipalities in the northern part of the entity (less than a million), but for all intents and purposes Kosovans believe themselves to have their own national identity separate from that of Serbia’s.

And so we come to Chapter 35- the “normalization” of relations with Kosovo. Learning their lesson from the integration of Cyprus into the E.U, in which the questionable sovereignty of northern Cyprus gave issue to how much of the nation was actually in the Union, the E.U delegation mandates that issue of Kosovo be resolved before integration. As some of the E.U countries don’t themselves recognize Kosovo- ones with their own secessionist movements for the most part, such as Spain and Cyprus- chapter 35 doesn’t require Serbia to recognize Kosovo, but to allow it to function as its own entity apart from Serbia, regardless of how Serbia defines its status.

This means removing Serbian police active in the northern provinces, allowing freedom of movement between Kosovo and Serbia, giving autonomy to the Kosovo government and government institutions, and removing Serbian institutions from Kosovo that are still active. As you might imagine, this is a long, drawn-out process that is half the reason Serbia has yet to open its “negotiation” chapters. It also has created a bit of a divide in Serbian politics, between people who value joining the European Union over the status of Kosovo and those who believe Kosovo represents a integral part of the Serbian national identity and is more valuable than any international institution.

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Technically, the date in which Serbia should join the E.U is 2021- when the next financial cycle starts, a time when most integrations take place to take best advantage of the assimilation process. Yet, with all of these issues, there are those who doubt that Serbia will ever actually join the E.U- or whether it will instead, like Bosnia, exist in a constant flux between being available to join and actually joining.

With the current Greek debt crisis threatening to cause Greece to leave the Eurozone possibility spilling out to other countries, such as Portugal, the future of Serbia entering the E.U seems even more in doubt that ever. What this means for the country I don’t know- as I said, corruption, unemployment, and other problems still plague the country, and it seems that E.U integration is the driving force for the country to fix these problems. Should Serbia decide to forgo joining the Union, perhaps it will just become stagnate- or, then again, perhaps it can carve out its own place in the European community that stands between Russia in the east and the E.U and NATO in the west, much like Yugoslavia did during the Cold War.

In seeing Serbia and Bosnia, it seems that we’re only seeing 2 parts out of 7 of the situation in the Balkans. So far we’ve seen the perspective of the war in Bosnia and the perspective in Serbia, and likewise the modern political situations of both countries and the problems still facing them, but Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo each have their own sides to these stories. I want to know about the Yugoslav invasion of Slovenia from the Slovene perspective, or learn about Kraijina from a Croatian. So too do I want to know about Kosovo and the struggles it has face, of Macedonia’s own war in 2001 and its current debate on national identity with Greece, or the reasons behind Montenegro’s split from Serbia.

And that’s just the countries of the former Yugoslavia- not even the entire Balkans, which consists too of Albania, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, each with their own histories and goals and identity, indignations and problems they struggle to face. As the dialogue winds down, I’ve only come to learn how much I don’t know- and how much, then, I want to know.

More blog posts coming soon in these last few days.

Nonviolent Resistance in Serbia: “CANVAS” and “Otpor!”

The Serbian people have never been one to be passive in the face of tyranny- at least not for long, if history is any proof. From “Black George” and his struggle against the Ottomans in 1835 to Gregory Princip and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 to Tito’s resistance against the Nazis in 1941, the Serbs have always shown an inclination towards revolution and rebellion against those who would seek to oppress them and their nation- even if history would later label them as terrorists for their historically violent methods. Simply walk through the streets of Belgrade today, and you’ll still find yourself passing cafes and kafanas in which the revolutionary leaders of Serbia’s history once met and planned rebellions.

Yet of all of these outside empires that sought to keep Serbia under their fist- the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Nazis- one of the most oppressive tyrants in Serbia’s history (aside from the Nazis, mind you) comes from within Serbia itself: Slobodan Milošovič, the dictatorial president of Serbia and later the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (better known as “Serbia and Montenegro”). During the ’90s, Miloševič was largely responsible for the breakup of Yugoslavia and the myriad of wars that came from it: Slovakia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo and of course Bosnia. It was Miloševič who supported the Bosnian Serbs in the Republika Srpska and the Croatian Serbs in Krajina and Slavonia in their methods of ethnic cleansing, ultimately resulting in such events as the massacres of Višigrad and Srebrenica and the Siege of Sarajevo. Nor was he a saint to the Serbian people, either. His actions resulted in a ten-year economic embargo by the UN on Serbia, which brought economic hardship on millions of Serbs, and rigged elections to keep himself in power even as many Serbs continuously attempted to vote him out of office.

In 1999, after the NATO bombings of Belgrade following the events in Kosovo, the people of Serbia had finally reached a breaking point. In the tradition of Serbian history, 11 young students met in a cafe in Belgrade to find a way to remove Milošević from power and allow Serbia to build a new future independent of his tyrannical shadow. Yet, unlike Princip, Tito, or Black George, they decide to pursue their campaign entirely through nonviolence, in the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement in the states or Ghandi in India.

Their movement became known as “Otpor!”- resist- and over the course of two years, they grew from a small group of 11 students to a force of activists 70,000 strong, all determined to oust Miloševič from power by any means necessary- provided, of course, that those means were completely nonviolent.

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In 2000, they succeeded, uniting a political opposition against Miloševič, observing elections for  election fraud, and ultimately succeeding in pushing Miloševič from power completely through legal, peaceful means, despite the best efforts of the government to sabotage their campaign. Today their movement is seen as one of the most successful nonviolent movements in modern history, one whose methods- and symbol of a clenched fist- has been adopted around the world.

While Otpor! disbanded after Milosevič’s downfall, their goal completed, many members of the organization went on to form a new group, known as the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies- “CANVAS”. Taking the lessons and methods they used during the Otpor! movement, their goal is to teach other groups around the world the art of nonviolent revolution and resistance. Their organization has trained activists in Egypt, Zimbabwe, Georgia, Ukraine, the United States, Sudan, and several other nations around the world, in doing so giving activists in these countries the tools to enact such successful movements as Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (as well as some unsuccessful ones, such as Zimbabwe’s own campaign against election fraud). CANVAS doesn’t actually take part in any of these movements- rather, they let activist come to them for training, and give them the skills that will hopefully result in a successful, nonviolent movement of their own.

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It was with CANVAS that we spent much of the last week working with, as one of their members gave us a “crash course” on nonviolent resistance- a shorter version of the often week-long workshops that they give activists who come to them for training. Taking an issue in the United States of our own (in the case of my own group, the decriminalization of hard drugs, which would favor rehabilitation over incarceration for hard drug users), we were taught how to establish the goals of our movement, how to effectively plan protests and “dilemma actions”, even with resistance from the government’s police force and/or army, and above all how to maintain nonviolence throughout all of this, and how to prevent violence from erupting by people who may want to hijack the movement.

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The CANVAS handbook for nonviolent resistance, available for free online

It was a long, tiring few days- six hours of training each day- but, if anything, it helped to give perspective of other movements around the world, from the Arab Spring to the Black Lives Matter Movement to Occupy Wallstreet. Often we wonder why some of these movements succeed while others fizzle out, fail to fulfill their goals, or even worse, erupt into violence. From what I’ve gathered over CANVAS training, there are couple of main reasons why so many campaigns fail in their goals:

– Failure to maintain momentum. Especially in America, the media is fickle in its coverage- if a movement can’t keep in the public’s eye, then it will slowly starve out. In the words of our CANVAS trainer, “Nonviolent movements are like a shark- if they stop moving, they die”.

– Failure to continue nonviolence. CANVAS makes a good case for why nonviolence is preferable over violent resistance: for the government, its strength comes in fighting against violence, in the police force and army. Using nonviolence attacks it where it is weakest- the loyalty of the people that prop up any regime. Should a nonviolent movement be hijacked by violent forces, it both looses credibility and looses its edge over the government.

– Failure to have clear and attainable demands. For CANVAS, these demands should come across in a “Vision of Tomorrow”- an idea for what the country should look like after the nonviolent campaign is complete, and concrete goals for how this can happen. This may be the removal of a dictator from power, fair and transparent elections, or a reform of the police force to combat police brutality. If a movement doesn’t have these goals that they can clearly articulate, it dies out no matter how many people may support it- just look at the Occupy movement.

– Failure to be proactive, instead of reactive. Like the first point, a movement’s strength comes from keeping the government on the defensive, forcing it into loose-loose situations which undermines its credibility and brings more and more people to the movement’s side. If the government succeeds in turning the tables and putting the campaign on the reactive defensive, it’s as good as finished.

There are many more points in which a movement can succeed or fail, but if anything, CANVAS has shown just how fine of a line a nonviolent movement must walk in order to succeed. For every Otpor, every Civil Rights Movement, there is half a dozen Tianamen Squares, Syrias, Occupy Wallstreets or Zimbabwes. No resistance is easy, but nonviolent ones are particularly difficult- yet all the more powerful for it. I stand by the idea that, to combat violence, oppression, and tyranny, the greatest thing we can ever do is take the moral high ground and refuse to stoop to the levels of those who abuse power, even if it sometimes seems easier to do so. Resorting to violence doesn’t just undermine the credibility of a movement, but also the integrity of the people in it.

There are always things fighting for- but those fights don’t have to involve bloodshed. For that reason, Otpor! and CANVAS are admirable in their goals and methods- if not always successful in the case of the latter, than still valuable in the message they send through their activism.

Introduction to Belgrade

Not a lot of writing on this post, but lots of pictures. We entered Belgrade (“Beograd”) two days ago, after a long seven hour drive that consisted of two border crossings as we left Bosnia through Croatia and then again left Croatia for Serbia. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend any time in that third Balkan nation (aside from staring out the window at the endless, unchanging plains of this part of the world), but at long last we have made it to our final destination: the former capital of Yugoslavia, and today’s heart of the Republic of Serbia.

Belgrade is different from anything in Bosnia- different from Sarajevo, different from Mostar, different even from the Republika Srpska’s Banja Luka. It’s not a pretty city, not in the way say Paris or Prague is- rather, it’s a hectic mess of Austro-Hungarian structures dating back to the 19th century stacked beside Soviet-era apartments stacked beside modern glass offices. Yet at the same time, despite Belgrade’s outward messiness (or perhaps because of it) it’s an absolutely incredible city filled with life, its streets crammed full little cafes and beer gardens, burrito shops cool enough to make a Brooklyn hipster drool, and more than its own share of jazz dens, bars, and night clubs. In a sense, it’s many different cities in one- a hipster’s haven rivaling Greenwich village, a small town filled with neighbors who run into each other daily on their way to work, a national center government and culture, a bustling economic heart for the entire Balkans- and in doing so, manages to be a city unlike anywhere I’ve ever have been before, and likely ever will be.

I love it. And yet, just like the rest of the Balkans, it carrie its own share of the burden of history. Buildings torn apart from the NATO bombings just 15 years ago still stand vacant, a testament to the strained relationships between America and Serbia that still exist today.  So too are the tensions left over from the wars, seemingly dissolved in day-to-day life on the streets, still very must present under the surface. For Belgrade, the conflict is even more recent than in Bosnia, and though the city and country may seem to have moved on, it would be naïve to assume that every scar has healed.

It’s hard not be a tourist here- taking pictures of every building, pointing out everything new and different- but, just as in Bosnia, it’s often better to take a step back, put away the phone, and at least try to put thought towards the depth and extent of history this city and its people have experienced. With the number of pictures shown below, I’ve obviously done my own share of indulging in my inner American tourist (its a new and exciting place, and its borderline painful not to snap photos of everything), but perhaps that’s to the benefit of the rest of you reading this blog.

Without further ado, here is Belgrade, the beating heart of Serbia.

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Downtown Belgrade
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Downtown Belgrade
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The “Kalemegdan’ fortress in Belgrade
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Another part of the fortress
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Lunch at Vapiano’s
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The national library in Belgrade
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The Church of Saint Sava
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Government center in Belgrade
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View of the intersection of the Danube and Sava from the fortress

More to come soon.

On Genocide: Banja Luka and the Republika Srpska

Departing from Mostar, it took some four hours of driving across the breadth of the country to arrive at the other half of the picture that is Bosnia i Herzegovina: the Republika Srpska, and at its heart, the city of Banja Luka. Besides a brief, half-day foray into Eastern Sarajevo, this was our first time into the entity that makes up some 49% of Bosnia- and though we only managed to spend two nights in its capital, it quickly proved to be a world away from the likes of Sarajevo and Mostar.

A quick run down of the political situation of the Republika Srpska first (for something more in-depth, read last week’s “Politics in Bosnia” post). Bosnia is split into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia, which is largely Bosniak and Croat with a smaller Serb minority, and the Republika Srpska, which is about 90% Serb (although in the past the area was more diverse, the process of ethnic cleansing during the war by the Serbs makes the entity today one of the most ethnically homogenous regions in Bosnia). The two entities operate independently of one another, yet are both beholden to a unifying, federal-level government. Generally, the Serbs of the Republika Srpska desire less government control and more autonomy for their region, while the Bosniaks that dominate the Federation want a stronger federal government that would allow for the entities to serve more like states in the U.S. As you might imagine, this leads to more than a few political tensions.

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Map of the Republika Srpska, found inside the government offices

Yet the divides between the two entities aren’t just political- in almost every way, in fact, the Republika Sprska looks, feels, and behaves like a country entirely separate from Bosnia and Hercegovnia, complete with its own distinct culture, beliefs, and national identity. In Banja Luke in particular, gone are the Ottoman-esque tiled roofs and mosque spires, or the Austro-Hungarian stone houses and cathedrals. Gone are the litte turkish cafes and the calls to prayer that ring out five times a day. In its place are large, rectanguar office buildings, bold concrete structures and signs domianted by Cyrillic script. Even the bars here are different- umbrellas that once advertised Sarajevsko, the national beer of Bosnia, now proclaim Serbia’s national beer, Jelen, or the Republika’s Nektar.

Downtown Banja Luka
Downtown Banja Luka

English is spoken less here than in Sarajevo and Mostar, and foriengers are in turn much less common- tourism, so prevealant in Mostar and growing in Sarajevo, is practically non-existant here. Americans in particular are treated with more reserve, and for good reason- to people here, we have continuously discriminated against the Serbs of Bosnia, first by supporting the Bosniaks and Croats during the war and later by prosecuting Serbs for war crimes more than Bosniaks and Croats, using the powers of the OHR to remove Serb government officials from office and restrict the Republika Srpska’s autonomy in favor of a more centralized, Bosniak-controlled state, and finally by attatching the “genocide” label to the actions of Serbs during the war.

Which, of course, brings us to Srebrenica.

To almost every Serb in the Republika Srpska, Srebrenica- where 8,000 men ages 15-70 and not a few woman and children as well- were masred by Serb soldiers does not count as a genocide. To them, the numbers, especially when compared to the Holocaust, Armenian Genocide and Rwadan Genocide, among others, don’t stack up to the levels seen in other uses of the term. Furthermore, they alledge that because they didn’t target women and children (although many were killed regardless), it wasn’t a true “genocide”- instead, it was merely a horrible crime of war which they claim was but one among many on all sides of the war. To Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks committed just as many crimes as they during the conflict, but aren’t prosecuted or held accountable on the same level as the Serbs due to favoritism by the United States.

To say that the term “genocide” is a matter of controversey, then, between the Serbs of the Republika and the Bosniaks of the Federation doesn’t give the situation justice. To Bosniaks, the refusal of the Serbs to accept the term is one of the chief obstacles in the path of reconcilliation between the two peoples, while to Serbs, the genocide label only serves to further the divide them and the Bosniaks.

 

The government center of Banja Luka
The government center of Banja Luka
Government building in Banja Luka
Government building in Banja Luka

I have my own opinions on the “genocide” label- for me, while the numbers may have not been comparable to the likes of Rwanda and Armenia when looking only at the Srebrenica massacre, the intent of destroying the Bosniak ethnic group in the Republika Srpska was present throughout the war, from rape camps where men attempted to forcibly impregnate women with Serb children, to the killing or forceful expulsion of Bosniaks from their homes in an act described by Serbs in the war as “cleansing”, and finally to massacres such as Srebencia. All of these signs point to a genocide, regardless of the numbers cited and how they compare to other events.

Yet, even though Serbs may be responsible for the genocide of the Bosniak people, they too have suffered immensely during their own genocide during WW2, in which the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia- the “Ustashe”- began the systematic eradication of the Serbian people. Using hammars, knives, and only occasionally guns to carry out their genocide, the Ustashe exhibited a degree of brutality that shocked even the Nazis, who preferred the “efficient” and “scientific” death of poison gas. It was in Serbia that the first death camp was opened in 1941, before even the camps for the jews opened in 1942, and it was in Serbia that the only death camp created soley for children was established.

For all the responsibility we demand for the Bosnian Genocide- and the Serbs are, indeed, responsible- we also have forgotten the terrible suffering of the Serbs themselves. To say that it is wrong to demand justice for one genocide yet in turn forget another doesn’t even begin to describe the depth of the hypocricy involved.

When seen under this light, it makes sense for the Serbs to resent the United States, to feel themselves to be victims of the stigmitation of the international community, to refuse to believe that they themselves have commited genocide. How can you come to believe that your own people have committed one of the worst crimes against humanity when they themselves are the victims of the exact same crime?

Doesn’t it, then, seem that the use of the word “genocide” to be the political manueverings of an anti-Serb west, who have longed desired a scapegoat to intervene in Bosnia? Who choose to forget your own past sufferings, less it make you seem a more sympathetic villain?

Museum of History in Banja Luka
Museum of History in Banja Luka

The world doesn’t work in black and white- not when it comes to the fall of Yugoslavia, not when it comes to the Bosnian civil war, not when it comes even to genocide, as much as we would like it to. I stand by my belief that Serbs are responsible for the Bosnian Genocide- as it was, indeed, a genocide- but to see Serbs as a villain, an evil and inherently brutal people, doesn’t just do injustice to them but to ourselves.

Perhaps, next time we remember the Bosnian genocide, we should take it apon ourselves too to look back just a few years more and remember the genocide against the Serbian people as well.

Herzegovina and Mostar

Another lull in posts- this time due to traveling more than anything. From Sarajevo we traveled through Herzegovina, the southern part of “Bosnia i Herzegovina”- A region known for its beautiful mountains (The Balkan Mountains, which gives the “Balkans” region its name), crystal clear rivers, wine and unique people and culture. Herzegovinians pride themselves on, regardless of ethnicity, being a tough, hard, and sturdy people, stronger than their fellow Croats, Serbs, or Bosniaks in other parts of the country, and as such are one of the few places in Bosnia where regional pride sometimes supersedes ethnic identity- especially when it comes to sports. Unfortunately, this regional pride wasn’t enough to prevent these people too from erupting into inter-ethnic violence during the war.

An interesting note on the name: like Bosnia, Herzegovina takes its identity from an ancient medieval kingdom that existed in the area in pre-Ottoman times, but the “Herzeg” half of “Herzegovina” isn’t Bosnian- it’s German.  During the 15th century, these lands were ruled by a German duke (Herzog), united to the kingdom of Bosnia in name but for all intents and purposes independent. The autonomy of these “dukes lands” (Herzegovina) is why Bosnia today is officially titled “Bosnia and Herzegovina” (Herzegovinians, for  that matter, don’t like being called “Bosnians”- or Bosnia and Hercegovina being called just “Bosnia”).

Some photos from Hercegovina before going forward, including the towns of Konjic, Jajce (where communist Yugoslavia was officially declared in 1941 by Tito), and the Šćit Franscician monastery in Rama:

The Nereteva River by Konjic
The Nereteva River by Konjic
View from 17th century Ottoman bridge in Konjic
View from 17th century Ottoman bridge in Konjic
Jajce, where Communist Yugoslavia was declared and began opposing Nazi occupation
Jajce, where Communist Yugoslavia was declared and began opposing Nazi occupation
The waterfalls at Jajce
The waterfalls at Jajce
Herzegovinian countryside
Herzegovinian countryside
The monastery at Rama
The monastery at Rama
View of Rama from across the lake
View of Rama from across the lake

 

 

Mostar lies at the western edge of Herzegovina, some 50 kilometers from the Croatian border- and for travelers, just a hop, skip and a jump from the towns of Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia that draw thousands of backpackers and tourists every year. Because of its closeness to the traveler-haven of Croatia, and the absolute beauty of the city, Mostar is much more touristy than Sarajevo or most anywhere else in Bosnia. Prices are more expensive, assorted tourist souvenirs line the stalls of the streets, and it’s the only place yet that I’ve seen that accepts both Euros as well as Bosnian Konvertable Marks.

But it sure is incredible.

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When we think about the war in Bosnia, we think of the Serbs and Bosniaks, of Srebrenica, and of the siege of Sarajevo. Hardly, if ever do we think of Mostar- where Bosniaks fought not just Serbs, but Croats, who they would later ally with against the Serbs to form the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina. In fact, Mostar lies at the heart of one of three Croat-dominated Cantons (administrative districts), and is a mostly Croat/Catholic city- something like 47 or 48%. In the narrative of the Bosnian war, we often think of the Bosniaks and Croats being the “good guys” against the “aggressor” Serbs of Serbia/Yugoslavia (under the dictator Miloševič) and the Bosnian Serbs of the Republika Srbska. That the Croats too were trying to carve out their own part of Bosnia- much like the Serbs were doing in the Republika Srpska- is often loss in the telling of the  war. So too is the destruction that occurred in Mostar, one of the most beautiful cities in the entire Balkans, as Bosniaks and Croats shelled each other over control of the town forgotten.

Take, for instance, the destruction of the bridge that spans the river in Mostar, which divides the city roughly in two. Built during Ottoman times, it lasted through World War 1, World War 2, and the Yugoslav invasion of Croatia during the Croatian war for independence in ’91, only to be destroyed by shelling by Bosnian Bosniaks and Croats in the early years of the Bosnian war.

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It has since been rebuilt, but allegedly lacks the same beauty as the ancient bridge that lasted up until the 90s. Yet it’s not only the thing that was destroyed during the conflict- walk perhaps ten minutes from the tourist haven of the old town towards the boulevard that divides between the Croat and Bosniak halves, and you’ll find a level of bullet scars and ruined buildings that rivals Sarajevo. Just like Sarajevo, this city suffered immensely during the war- but unlike Sarajevo, we hardly remember it. When Croats and Bosniaks are supposed to be allies in the fight against Miloševič and his militant remnants of Yugoslavia, its hard to realize that each ethnic group is also responsible for conflict, destruction and crimes independent from their fight against the Serbs.

The bridge at night
The bridge at night

Although the war is over, as in the rest of Bosnia scars still remain- although we did meet one NGO, the Nansen Dialogue Center, that is working to heal some of those wounds. Since the end of the war, schools in Bosnia have been incredibly segregated in a system informally known as “One roof, two schools”. In the Federation in particular, Croat children may enter school in the morning, with Croat teachers and a Croat-centric curriculum, while Bosniaks enter school in the afternoon, without any contact with Croat children their own age. This fosters ignorance about other ethnicities, intolerance and nationalism- the very things that get politicians in Bosnia elected, so there is no real push in the government to change the system.

The Nansen Dialogue is a Norwegian-based group (though Bosnian staffed) that works with going to schools in the area around Mostar- and other parts of Bosnia with other branches- and bringing students of different ethnicities together for dialogue and interaction, which they wouldn’t get in a traditional school setting. The theory is that, by bridging the separation between the youth of different ethnic groups, a more tolerant, educated and less nationalistic future may come for Bosnia as the younger generation replaces the old.

So far the results seem mixed. The spokesperson of Nansen that we spoke to talked of both resistance from parents who went through the war and government officials who benefit from nationalism, and also of young people who are rapidly adopting the dialogue offered by Nansen and actively trying to reach out to their Croat, Bosniak or Serb peers. It’s for sure too early to tell if this system of dialogue will really make a lasting change of the country, but its refreshing to see a group actively trying to solve one of the many problems facing this country.

We only spent a day and a half in Mostar- too short to understand the city in any way close to what we did in Sarajevo (which, in turn, was far too short to understand fully even with the time we spent there), but from the limited time we had, it’s an absolutely beautiful and culturally diverse city, with a feeling of its own distinct from the rest of Bosnia and with its own history, scars, and problems leftover from the war that continue to plague it today. The trick is to look past the tourism in which the city is known by today, and peer into the heart of what Mostar really is- no easy task by far, and one I don’t always succeed at, but one necessary to give justice to any place when traveling in this incredible country.

Banja Luka next, and from there, on to Serbia and Belgrade. Will (hopefully) be posting more often in the coming days.

Mostar from above
Mostar from above

Farewell to Sarajevo: Three Stories and a Church

For all of the politics of the past week, there have also been other things- personal stories of those who endured the war, places of culture and religion- that are too worth telling. As time in Sarajevo comes to a close- with Mostar, Banka Luka, and finally Belgrade to come in the coming weeks- here are are three stories and one beautiful church that have stood out over the last couple of days.

The Old Church

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First off, the first Orthodox church of Sarajevo. Tucked into a side street away from the crowds of the Old Town and the Austrian District, its actually larger than it seems in the picture above. Laws of the Ottoman Empire, during which Sarajevo was part of when the church was built, prevented any church from being taller than the city’s mosques- which were mostly smaller than the more monumental mosques we think of today. To get around this, much of the church is actually built underground, expanding under and outwards beneath the walls.

The church, built during the 1500s, actually burned down a hundred years later and was re-built in much the same style as its original design.

The door to the church, from inside. Note the steps leading slightly underground
The door to the church, from inside. Note the steps leading slightly underground

Two important relics to the city of Sarajevo and its Orthodox population lay inside this church, and pilgrims come from all over Bosnia to see them. The first is the hand of a first-century female saint and disciple of saint Peter, which is said to have resisted decomposition for centuries due to some essence “unexplainable to science” that exists only in saints. The hand is kept in an ornate box within the church, the hand itself hidden within.

The other relic has an interesting story behind it. 400 years ago, a child, born from a husband’s first marriage, was killed by his step mother in spite and buried near the church. 200 years later, the body was uncovered by masons working on the church, and they found that (much like the saint’s hand), the corpse hadn’t decomposed. Today the body is shrined in a casket in the upper levels of the church, and is prayed to by mothers for the health of their children and especially for women experiencing difficulties with pregnancies.

Myths and legends, certainly, but when it comes to beliefs in holy miracles, I can’t judge people’s beliefs. Faith is a powerful thing, and beautiful, and an essential part of this city- without it, it wouldn’t be Sarajevo.

The iconographs of the church- Jesus, Mary, and the patron saints St. Gabriel and St. Michael are shown here
The iconographs of the church- Jesus, Mary, and the patron saints St. Gabriel and St. Michael are shown here
Candles in the orthodox church
Candles in the orthodox church

Three Stories

Besides the church, three stories by three people who lived through the conflict- one Muslim Bosniak, one Orthodox Serb and one Catholic- stand out amongst these last two weeks. I’ll try not to go too in-depth into each of them, but I think they’re valuable in retelling to understand just how much the people of Bosnia were affected- something that seems glossed over in politics and International Relations.

The first is Hasan Nuhanovic, a Bosniak who served as an interpreter for the Dutch peacekeeping force in Srebrenica. He himself was not from Srebrenica, but fled there with his family, as did so many others, as Serb forces killed and pushed out Bosniaks living in the present-day Republika Srpska in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

While the UN “safe area” kept the Serb forced from invading Srebrenica for years- from around 1992 to 1995, when Hasan served as an interpreter- in 1995, the Serbs eventually attacked the town, ultimately resulting in the Srebrenica massacre. As I told in a previous blog post, many Bosniaks fled for refuge in the Dutch garrison in an old factory outside of the city. Hasan told of how hundreds of people fled within, and how a day later the Dutch forced every refugee taking shelter there to leave, in fear of the compound being overrun. Hasan’s mother, father and brother were among those who were filed out by Dutch soldiers, and later died at the hands of Serb militants because of the actions of the peacekeepers.

To Hasan, this means that the Dutch soldiers were complacent in genocide. He was one of the few saved from the massacre, by virtue of his job as a UN translator, a position he later left after the UN tried to repress him speaking out about his experiences. For fourteen years he engaged in a legal battle with the Dutch state over the state’s responsibility over the deaths of his family, a battle he finally won in 2014. Today he is an author and a scholar on the Sbrebrenica massacre, his books focusing on the failings of the international community in preventing or intervening in the genocide.

The second story is of the Archbishop and Cardinal of Sarajevo. Around 70 or 80 years old, with a infectious smile, he was made bishop during the communist times of Tito, and was Archbishop during the siege of Sarajevo. During the siege, while living in the bombed-out ruins of his house (the very house, now rebuilt, that we visited him in), he had a well dug and provided water to the surrounding community, no matter their religious or ethnic affiliation. Immediately following the war, he was instrumental in sending priests throughout Bosnia, to help heal wounds and bring hope to all parts of the nation, no matter their religion or role in the war.

Today, he’s part of a dialogue between the religious leaders of all four major religions- Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Catholics- in Sarajevo, and together with them working to foster tolerance and coexistence between the religions within the city. He also earns the reward for my favorite quote yet: “To be human, you must have brains, heart and soul. To have brains and heart is to be something great- but only with soul can you be truly Noble”.

Finally, there is Dragan, a Serb soldier who fought in the siege of Sarajevo during the four years of the war. His story, though, is not about battle, but instead focused on the tragic story of his friendship with Samir, a muslim from the same municipality just outside of Sarajevo as he.

According to Dragan,  he and Samir were best friends since Kindergarten, and though he was Serb and Orthodox and Samir Muslim and Bosniak, each visited each other’s homes during religious celebrations, as to them and their families the festivals were as much communal gatherings between friends and neighbors as they were matters of faith.

Around 1992, however, when Dragan was in his late teens, he found himself and his family suddenly excluded from these gatherings. Samir would still say hello to him on the streets, but the long days spent together were now a thing of the past- their friend group, once a mix of serbs and muslims, was suddenly fractured in two, a fracture that only grew as the siege of Sarajevo began, with Dragan fighting on one side of the siege line and Samir and Dragan’s other Muslim friends on the other side. Dragan claimed however that, despite being on opposite sides of the war, he didn’t feel any enmity for his friends- in fact, he often sent packages of goods and medicine through the red cross to Samir and his other muslim friends (although he later found out that these were often stolen by gang leaders before they could reach their intended recipients).

At the war’s end, thousands of Serbs fled Sarajevo for the Republika Srpska and Serbia, fearful for retribution by Bosniak muslims following the conflict. Dragan was one of the few to return to his home town, months after the war ended, to retrieve possessions from his home- there he found Samir, years after he had seen him last. Approaching him as a friend, he found himself suddenly jumped by Samir and his friends, who beat him for “being of the kind that killed his brother”. Dragan escaped the beating, but it would be the last time he would ever see his childhood friend.

For years Dragan traveled around Bosnia working, in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and other cities, before in the late 90s once again meeting Samir’s father. When asking about Samir, his father said that he had been recruited by Islamic radicals and became a militant in Afghanistan. Later, through Samir’s mother, Dragan found that Samir had died during the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Today, Dragan still maintains in contact with Samir’s parents and other Muslim friends from the war, who like Dragan refuse to let the war and the hatreds born from it to damage their friendship. Yet still Dragan, remembering his childhood best friend, remains wary of the nationalism and radicalism of his country today- radicalism, he says, which is causing many young, angry, lost muslim men to join ISIS in Syria, just as Samir had joined the militants in Afghanistan.

I haven’t told any of these stories perfectly, but they are worth retelling just to try to show just how greatly the people of Bosnia were affected, and continue to be affected, but that war that occurred just twenty years ago. Too often, listening to the news or reading about the conflict in history books, we can’t realize that these events lead to pain, suffering, and hardship for hundreds and thousands of real, breathing people. For so many Bosnians, this isn’t history. Hassan lost his family to the complacency of peacekeepers who were supposed to protect them. Dragan lost his best friend to hatred and radicalism. And there are other stories too, hundreds and thousands of stories, each just as important to understanding what happened as the last.

And yet, for all of these stories of suffering, for all of the corruption in the government, for all of the economic stagnation, there is still so much good in this city. Faith, be that Orthodox, Muslim, Jew or Catholic- compassion, regardless of ethnicity, and for all of the frustration of the state of things today, hope for the future- that things will get better, that one day Bosnia will become a country in which its many beauties outweigh its hardships.

There is a hotel that stands above the Ottoman district, and atop it, a cafe. Looking out from atop that cafe, as the sun sets over the city and sends it awash in the oranges of dusk, it is hard to feel anything but love for Sarajevo, for this city that has seen so much and yet, still, remains so beautiful, so full of wonder and life.

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Politics in the Balkans

Thursday, July 17th

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted last- but for good reason. Over the past couple of days we’ve been meeting with different political figures- members of the Bosnian House of Representatives, the United States Embassy, the Officeof Higher Representatives, and the European Union- each with different views as to the sate of the country, its future and the best course of action towards improving it.

There won’t be many photos on this post- something I don’t think I’ll do in future blog posts. It’s frowned upon (to say the least) to take photos of the U.S Embassy, and the offices of the other political bodies are usually underwhelming and not terribly worth photographing. So, without further ado, here is perhaps the one photo that will be on this post: the Parliamentary building of Bosnia.

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First off, a quick run-down of the very, very complicated politics of Bosnia:

Bosnia is divided between two entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which is leftover from the peace agreement between Croats and Bosniaks halfway through the war, and the Republka Srpska, the Serb half of the country whose borders are (more or less) remnant of the battle line between the Serbs and Bosniaks at the end of the war. Serbs dominate the Republika Srpska and have a central, federal-type government, while the Federation is divided into ten “cantons”: four that are Bosniak dominated, four Croatian dominated, and two mixed.

On top of that, there are two nation-wide legislative bodies: The House of Peoples, which is divided into three serbs, three bosniaks, and three croats, and the House of Representatives, which is a parliamentary body divided dominated by different political parties, some of which are ethnic in platform, some economic. And then there are three presidents, each representing the Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croatians.

Complicated, no? Here’s the thing: because the Republika is serb-dominated, it can get decisions done quicker due to its federal, centralized government system. For the Federation, however, divided between Croats and Bosniaks, decision-making is harder. Not only are people divided on position, but the ability of one ethnicity to completely block the other makes it hard to get anything through the Federation’s legislative bodies. On a national level, the divide between the Federation and Republika is reflected in the House of Peoples and Representatives, making national-level decisions even less likely to pass.

Add rampant corruption (more on that later) to the table, and you have a huge mess of a political system that in which reform is almost impossible.

Got that? Now on to the other kink in the system: the Office of Higher Representatives. Run by a European head and an American deputy (although the jury is out on which of the two has the most power), the OHR is supposed to 1) uphold the peace established by the Dayton agreement (which set up all of these political systems) and 2) guide the country towards a better democracy that would, hopefully, result in integration into the European Union. To that end, they have a special ability called “bond powers”, which allows them to remove corrupt or overly radical officials in government or otherwise block certain aspects in the government that would lead to renewed war. Since 2006, the OHR has been following a policy of non-interventionalism, refusing to use Bond powers unless not doing so would result in renewed conflicts (such as the Republika Srpska breaking free of Bosnia) and allowing the country to plot its own course towards better democracy and EU integration.

Which has had…mixed results. For one their is the corruption in the country. Most businesses are nationalized, and corrupt political figures appoint as CEOs members of their political parties, leading to economic stagnation. To add to that, the judiciary is also corrupt- without a system that justly convicts corruption, it becomes impossible (outside of OHR powers) to remove corrupt officials by legal channels. And this isn’t just exclusive to the political scene- from the police to education to the health sector, corruption has become integrated into the county on the most basic level, making it all that more difficult to remove.

And then there are the divides, nationally and within the Federation, between ethnic groups that prevents any kind of reform from going through. Croats want greater political power for the Cantons in which they dominate, or its own entity like the Federation or Republika to itself. Serbs want greater autonomy for the Republika, with mentions breaking off completely having been heard in recent years- an act that could potentially result in another war. Bosniaks, by and large, want a centralized government in the Federation and National level, which would give them more political power as they are the ethnic majority in Bosnia.

Not only does this lead to gridlock throughout Bosnia, but it prevents it from joining the EU. Because the political parties are dominated- or in the case of the presidency and House of Peoples, exclusive- to the Serb, Croat, and Bosniak ethnicities, it has excluded political minorities- Jews, Roma, people who identify as nationally Bosnian rather than by an ethnic group-  from political life, making the country an imperfect democracy at best. Although past court cases have ruled that the constitution must be amended to allow for these groups to have a political say- something the EU also requires before it allows Bosnia to become a member- little has been done to do so in any way, as the status quo keeps corrupt and nationalistic politicians in their positions. Rocking the boat may see them loose their political power- and just as in the U.S, that’s the last thing any politician wants.

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So what’s the answer here? The end goal for Bosnia seems to be EU integration, but no one wants to make the steps towards getting there- or if they do, they are blocked by and overly corrupt and dysfunctional political system. As for the Office of Higher Representatives, they seem to lessen of their hands-on influence in favor of letting Bosnia decide its own future, and allowing the EU to take its place as a soft influence with little direct impact on the country’s affairs.

But that can’t happen with the current political system- which needs to be amended to allow for less gridlock and more representation of minorities- and the corruption rampant throughout the political scene. And that itself can’t happen so long as political candidates can fall back on nationalism and radicalism to get elected, and refuse to cooperate with other ethnic groups and parties because of their nationalist agenda.

In any other country, having a younger generation enter the political field would held solve a lot of these problems- the youth, in any country, are after all typically more inclined to want to push forward liberal reforms and bring the country forward. But because of the corruption here- and because of the impotence many people feel in their ability to change the system- most of the youth seems ill-inclined to enter politics. The common saying here is that the youth sit around in coffee shops to complain, but don’t do anything else to actually change the system that they gripe about.

Not that they’re encouraged to do so in any way, mind you. Although a lot of Bosnians are college educated, they prefer to take that education and go to Germany, Austria, or Croatia, where their prospects are better, instead of staying behind to improve their own nation. Those who do enter politics are often forced out by the existing political elite, who see any push towards reform as a challenge to their power, or are themselves radical and nationalistic like their parents. And so most do nothing- feeling like they is nothing that they can do.

There are pushes to change that, however. Schools like AUBiH (the American University of Bosnia and Hercegovina, where we have many of our lectures) try to bring Bosnian-American students, who parents usually left for America during the war, to Sarajevo to get them involved with the future of their home country. So too is the U.S Embassy trying to establish programs to get the youth politically active- a sentiment both the OHR and EU share, as they feel that only with a strong push by younger generations can the country really begin to unite its different parts and, hopefully, one day become part of the European Union.

For now, though, Bosnia- for all of its diversity, all of its different groups and religions and identities- remains dysfunctional, as crippled by corruption and nationalism as it is by apathy. That’s not to say that there isn’t hope, and signs of progress, but for now it seems like there is a long, long road ahead until Bosnia is the country it needs to be- equal for all people, free from corruption, and untainted by the radical nationalism that yesterday caused a war and today creates nearly irreparable divisions.

Srebrenica (Part 2)

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Monday, July 13th

I’ll let photos tell most of this one- but, like yesterday, a brief bit of history first.

Srebrenica is why, when we speak of the Bosnian War, we often refer to it as the “Bosnian Genocide”. In 1995, soldiers of the Republika Srpska (the ethnically Serb part of the civil war) were in the process of “ethnically cleansing” eastern Bosnia. The thought was to create a completely Serb state by forcefully pushing out or killing everyone who was not Serb in the eastern Bosnia. In July of 1995, the town of Srebrenica- historically a mix of Serbs and Bosniak Muslims- was in the path of this campaign.

Although Bosniaks Muslim soldiers and Serb soldiers did conflict in battle over Srebrenica- both sides committing war crimes against the other but by and large keeping their intended casualties to the actual soldiers on either side- the real massacre happened when Srebrenica fell to the Serbs. Thousands of Bosniak Muslims fled to a UN “safe area”- little more than a warehouse outside of the town- for refuge as the Serb army pursued them.

The “safe area” was manned by Dutch soldiers, and though at first they brought thousands of Muslims into the warehouse for safety, the building wasn’t enough to hold everyone seeking safety. With the Serb army approaching and threatening to overrun the safe area, possibility killing both the UN peacekeepers and the people inside, the Dutch called in an airstrike on the Serb positions- but somewhere up the chain of command, either in the US, France, or Britain, the order stalled. The Serb army kept moving forward towards the safe area.

In an effort to prevent being overrun, the Dutch met with the leaders of the Serb army and agreed to help move the civilians out of the safe area. Women and men were separated and put onto separate trucks by the Serb army- with the help of the Dutch peacekeepers. In the end, the women and children were brought safely to Bosnian Muslim territory- the men, or anyone the Serbs thought would be of fighting age, were brought to five different sites, executed, and buried in mass graves. They range from 15 to 70 years old, and often consisted of entire families.

Others, instead of boarding the trucks, decided to flee north to Tuzla, where another UN safe area was. Along the way, the thousands who fled were shelled, ambushed, and killed by snipers, and though some did manage to make it to Tuzla, thousands more died.

To the Bosnian Muslims, this is a genocide. To the Serbs…it’s more complicated. They believe that it was a horrible war crime, but that it didn’t count as genocide as they had spared the women and children and killed only those who were of fighting age. If you were watching CNN the other day- the 20th anniversary of the massacre- you might have seen the Serbian prime minister being forced away from the ceremonies because of his country’s refusal to admit the killings were genocidal.

I could go on to say a lot more- retell some of the stories of survivors, throw out statistics about the number killed- but I think I’ll let photos tell the rest.

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Items found on the remains of the victims of Srebrenica

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Graffiti placed by UN peacekeepers, charged with the protection of Bosnians civilians
Graffiti placed by UN peacekeepers, charged with the protection of Bosnians civilians

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A memorial to those who died at Srebrenica, categorized by family name
A memorial to those who died at Srebrenica, ordered by family name

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The day before was one of the largest memorial ceremonies in memory for Srebrenica- thousands of people, dignitaries from the U.S, Germany, Jordan, Turkey, televised across the world.

Today? No one. Two police cars, a scattering of people paying respects, a French tour group. It seems that, after all of the ceremony of yesterday, Srebrenica was forgotten again. And will continue to be so until the world finds a suitable enough anniversary to once again remember it.

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