Bosnia: In the name of the fathers
In his last 6 months he had turned into a baby. The epileptic seizures due to his brain tumour shattered his memory. But one night, while I was trying some speech therapy and every kind of vain bullshit therapy, a documentary was on TV. Greek Civil War. 1946–1949. The British Army vs communist partisans, in the dawn of the Cold War.
And with his blank stare he watched it and started crying. And started talking about that. Just like that. I mean the guy was only interested in history and politics in his whole 72year life. More than in his own son sometimes . If it could be said, his history was erased, but not History itself.
For him, to be a citizen was more important than to stay human. But still the Greek word than stands for Civil War is “emfylios”, intra-race, which refers to tribe, race…blood. Not a civilian. For a Band of Brothers. I first understood what “rest in peace” means, after he died.
So that’s today. One year of grief, or the period of mourning psychologists say you are supposed to have.
That’s today, or some weeks before, in a room of the community centre in Kozarac in north Bosnia, near the borders to Croatia waiting for her.
Some 100 women were raped here during the Bosnian war. Some fiction documentaries try to say the story. NGOs try to encourage them to talk about it. For a path to salvation. But most simply “don’t have the energy”.
But she found the energy. And she came at 19:00. Outside stood her husband waiting for her, who still doesn’t know what happened that night in 1992.
She closed the door and she started talking. In the background of this “20years old raped girl” but then, couldn’t resist listening to the music of the dancing course her daughter had in the next room of the community centre. Like a film. That’s why when I googled after “Bosnian ethic…” I skipped “…cleansing” and searched “…folk music”.
“I live because I have to. For my family, for my three children. I must because of them. Only because of them, nothing else”, she said.
And in a Scandinavian country now lives a 25-year-old student, born in 1993. She still doesn’t know how she was conceived. Only her 58-year-old mother stands the burden of that knowledge. Her husband died two years ago, he always suspected butnever asked. “Others just killed their children of rape”.
“Life just rejects gaps. It just goes on, rejecting us” That was one of his sayings, of this 72-year-old man. My father. And here comes today.
Safe Area once again
So that’s today. 68 years after the Greek Civil War. 22 years after Gradanski Rat. The Bosnian War. Or whatever title it bears. Today. 7394 days after Dayton. On or off Google. “I lived every second of war, and I don’t give a shit of how they call it”, said a profound Bosnian journalist who covered the seizure of Sarajevo, but also was a civilian, a husband and a father back in those days.
On March 15, at the centre of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, inside a room of Marriott Hotel, the heads of governments of Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia met in the sidelines of the Western Balkans Summit. “EU path for Westerns Balkans. Reform agenda for integration process”, read the title of the press-release.
At the lobby, the CNN anchor on TV was waiting for the results of the Dutch elections and the possibility of a winner Geert Wilders, while talking about the trigger by Teresa May for negotiations for Brexit. “The next summit of Western Balkans will be in Trieste, and the one after will be London. I don’t know with what travel papers I’ll travel” said the British journalist of Economics.
EU Path for the Westerns Balkans. “For geostrategic interest, energy and the prevention of Russia’s expansion”.
“There is no moral issue here. We want these countries under control. Balkans are the backyard of EU. Under this umbrella, we wanted to create a safe area for the PMs to meet” said Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans, DG Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, at our work dinner in the hotel restaurant,. Once again a “safe area”, for Bosniaks.
“One country can survive from something bigger from itself” Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Ambassador, Head of EU Delegation and EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina told us. “Don’t mention the War. That’s the spirit of this country today”.
The next day’s headlines of local press were about the PMs and EU executives meeting in the most expensive hotel of the town. I am sure they meant the journalists too.
“Local politicians frankly, doing nothing, except from preparing and winning the elections” says Ahmed Burić, one of the most profound and awarded authors, journalists and rock musicians.
“At 2008 it was a plan, initiated from EU, for some kind of harmonizing relations in the country (economizing huge and irrational administration), so called April’s package (Aprilski paket). And the Package failed. It looked like that the Serbs, who committed most crimes in the war, were ready to do make some compromises, but things was stopped from cabinet of Bosniak member of Presidency, Haris Silajdžić. From than on, Milorad Dodik, from Republika Srpska, realized that there is no real policy in Sarajevo, and started nationalist campaign to make Republika Srpska independent, even everybody knows that is not possible. But there is a place for manipulation, and he is using it by all means”.
The cookbook novel
“These are the Balkans. It’s not a playground”, go the lyrics of a greek song. But still.
“I was 4 or 5 years old. We were actually hungry during the war and didn’t have many things to eat and I used to go to my room, take my mother’s cook book, look at the pictures of food and laugh and cry” says photoreporter Mithat Poturović, even though he was born in 1989.
Seventeen minorities were registered in Bosnia in 1991. There aren’t any official figures after the war. “Hundreds of mixed ethnic and religious couples left. They said. Fuck it. Educated people. That was the country’s biggest detriment. And still is. The generation flees this “black hole” of EU said the journalist.
Lightings and shelling
One night of heavy rain in Sarajevo, in the bus terminal, lightning frightened everyone. “I had just come in town and saw everyone near me”.
The Siege of Sarajevo. The longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. And the siege of memory.
One woman from Balkans, who helps me clean my apartment back in Athens, was telling me how in every family dinner, on Christmas Eve, they leave the plates on the table during the night. So the dead can eat. Tradition. “The living with the living and the dead with the dead”. That’s what old ladies say in greek villages.
In the early 90ies, Yugoslavia had the 3rd largest army in Europe. In Europe’s new order, this couldn’t be allowed. And you can see how “well organised” the war was by foreign powers. From the north of Yugoslavia to the south from 1991 to 1995.
For decades after WW2, generations of expelled or self-exiled people started lobbying to US and Canada. Ustashas, Chechens, Russians — after breaking up with Stalin. They hated Tito’s Yugoslavia.
And once Pandora’s Box opened… no one could close it.
“If my family finds out, I’ll probably kill myself”
“I was 20 year old. Bosnians, Serbs and Croats, we used to live together. We didn’t know who is who. Until 1992. Then that damn war started”, E.R. said (Full name not published for reasons of sensitivity of the matter)
They took my mother and me to Trnopolje camp. We were there for about a month. During the night, they used to take the girls they liked. They would just take you and do with you what they wanted… Horrible scenes… Yes, they took me too, but I just can’t talk about that.
I never told my husband what happened. I never will. Not to him. Neither my two girls. He was a prisoner in the camp too and knows what was happening. Never, never… Because I’m ashamed. I know I did nothing wrong, but if my family found out about it, I would probably kill myself.
I can’t tell you the story without tears, I just can’t…
I had three brothers. They were taken into the camp. I only learned that one was killed. I never found out what happened to the other two. I still hope, they will come home one day.
How do I live today? Well, the worst thing is to see the guy who did this to me, walking free on the streets. I know them and of course I am afraid of them. Even today.
No, I have never told the story to prosecutors. Why? Because I do not trust them. I do not believe in the judiciary in BiH. More than 20 years after the war, and these people are still walking free. It’s a shame.
I live because I have to. I have my family my three children. I must live because of them. Only because of them, nothing else”.
Bridge keepers or Marchons, marchons
One warm day of last August, a group of tourist French veterans stood in front of the reconstructed Stari Most (Old Bridge), which Mimar Hayruddin had built in 16th century, and saw it standing until November 9th ,1993, when it fell after repeated shelling of Croats and Bosniaks. They all started marching and singing the Marseillaise. “I didn’t know how to react”, said Jasua Lelo, a 35-year-old tourist guide in Mostar. And so the joke from John Cleese goes: ‘Why did the French have so many civil wars? So they can win one now and again’.
At this cultural capital, at the center of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton of the Federation, you can feel that a lot of today’s reconstruction and rebuildingis done for the tourists. Not for the close to 120,000 residents who fled.
“Do they (tourists) want to hear stories of war? It depends on the group. Media created all kinds of stories, and everyone is searching for their own story”, said. Jasua.
In the hills (south), a young monk, Gabriel, 34, is at the Žitomislić garden , the Serbian Orthodox monastery, twice destroyed in WW2 and the 90s war. “After the war people come here more”
“If you ask me, people have never lived in worse conditions in this ethnic pure Serb Republic of Bosnia. Nationalism doesn’t feed people”, said this journalist, citizen, father. Although a reporter who had covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I couldn’t convince him to stay a civilian and disclose his name. “Only after 3 years of war, one morning in the streets of Sarajevo, I realised that I didn’t have to run anymore. My body just ordered me to stop running”.
“When people of Sarajevo, who had migrated before the war broke up, came back later, they were complaining and grumbling about their working conditions in Germany and other countries. We, the ones who stayed here, couldn’t actually say anything to them. Look, everyone thinks that their drama is the greatest one. That’s human”.
On the way downtown a destroyed building full of bullets and shells is seen, with a sign reading “No to pigeons”; and next a McDonald’s and a Porsche store.
“From 1981 to 1989, I would goto the seaside every spring. After the end of war, I just don’t want to” said Jijo Jelaskovic, 65, taxi driver in Sarajevo.
The EU refusal to admit failure in Yugoslavia’s war is the reason people cannot be convinced for this EU path. Of course there is corruption and nepotism in government. “Who created today’s Bosnian’s administration system? Dayton did. Also, back then, we weren’t prepared for democracy”, Burić says.
“So, if I win you’ll buy me a Pjanic shirt” “Deal. But if I win I’ll teach you to play defence. To use your body… Come on dude. You come from the former Yugoslavia basketball team, Europe’s dream team which won the Americans” I told Mohammed, 11. He was playing in a field between the international airport in East Sarajevo and the line which separated the Bosnian army and the Serbs; brothers once. Or one-on-one with stereotypes.
“One night, during the seige, a neighbour brought bananas to my 3 year old daughter. She didn’t want them. She only knew the taste of rice” said Selimovic Hebija, 48, who owns a flower shop in the entrance of Cemetery.
EU path or “Don’t mention the war”
“Never lose sight of what makes you happy”, reads the sign of Night Club Soba, with electronic music, in a building still full of shelling holes, across the Lion Cemetery.
Turkish flags stand in many cemeteries — memorials built by Ankara, as “an emotional friendship, a symbolic gesture between Bosnia and Turkey”, said Branimir Mujdza, General Manager of Heidlberg Cement BiH Group and President of the Foreign Investors Council.
“Geography is our destiny”, he said during the press conference after the summit Johannes Hahn, commissioner for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
According to the official figures, the unemployment Rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to be 40.20% in the first quarter of the year. The average monthly net salary per employee in legal entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina for March 2016 amounted to 431 euro (843 KM).
“Bosnian protests: A Balkan Spring?” was the headline of Western Media about the 2014 unrest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, demonstrations of people demanding the overthrown of the corrupted government of this dysfunctional state war left its people. “Dayton made the state governance impossible”.
“People lack faith, cynicism dominates their lives, after the war”. And when they hear some foreign NGO talk about reconciliation, people just get angry.
EU is encouraging Western Balkan countries to create a common market. “On a very short and medium-term perspective, this could allow […] more than 80,000 jobs in the region,” Hahn said in Sarajevo. “A smaller Yugoslavia”
“If we leave them alone — Bosnia Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Albania, all those countries — we will have war again,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission a few days ago, warning US president Donald Trump against encouraging countries to follow Britain’s exit from the EU.
And Commissioner Johannes Hahn for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations said it loud and clear, during the press conference: “One of the reasons of this Summit was for the de-escalation of ethnic tensions”.
Bosnia submitted a request for a revision of a U.N. court ruling that cleared Serbia of blame for genocide last February, prompting an angry response from Bosnian Serbs. “I could never imagine the power of the prosecutors, in the way to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia”, said the journalist, the father, the civilian.
Prosecute the future
“On the very first next day after the war, I started cleaning the road in front of my house. How can I leave my town, my house? The night when everything happened(?), I grabbed my son and we jumped out of the window, seconds before the tank destroyed my house” said Dzafer Pendek , 82, in the region of East Sarajevo, towards the airport.
“We fought for every inch of this land. Every day a man was killed. You can see the road with the shell’s bombing. I mean, come on. This is Balkans. We fight every 40years”.
“It’s much easier in this country to talk about ethno-politics, as it is to talk about populism in EU, rather than serious issues like how we can make economy work” said Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Ambassador, Head of EU Delegation and EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Distractions of ethnicity to growth. In terms international institutions.
“We now fight only over football” said a Cazim Custo 43, farmer in the village.
Clara, 8 years old, goes to the small town of Slovac (west) every morning to pick up her friend, Mariam, 8, to go to school. Same school. Actually same building. And then they split. They attend classes in the same building, but different floors. Bosniaks and Croats split due to this “Two schools under one roof” regulation based on the ethnic segregation of children. It’s one of the 57 schools operating in this way in the county.
“My daughter (Clara) wants to go to the dancing class and she isn’t allowed because the teacher is a Croat” said Samra, 32. “Even the kindergarden is separated”.
Too early for school history books to include what happened 22 years ago.
French marching, people from Barcelona fighting for Bosniaks, Madrids for Serbs, foreign fighters, tourists and mercenaries from various countries during the war, with a death toll around 100,000 people.
Time just gets away from us.