bosnia report
No. 4 February - March 1994
 
From the Pages of Oslobodenje

More than Just a Newspaper

Recently, in one of the many texts that have been published about Oslobodenje in the international press, I read the following statement: "A small Sarajevo newspaper, which yesterday no one had heard of and which could have been considered almost insignificant in the context of world journalism, has to day become the symbol of the struggle for freedom of information and for the freedom of the press in general ..."

There are three essential reasons why Oslobodenje has played an invaluable role in the lives of the inhabitants of the city. Above all, the newspaper has fulfilled its principle function, that of informing the Sarajevans of what is happening in Sarajevo and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in ex-Yugoslavia and in the entire world. Deprived of electricity, and of radio and television also, Oslobodenje is often the only source of news available to the people of the city. The news it prints is all the more important because, in spite of the surrounding folly, the newspaper has managed to preserve its independence and freedom of action.

The second reason why Oslobodenje is unique is the way it is produced: in almost impossible conditions, 50 metres from the front line, in a charred and ruined building, constantly attacked and bombarded, with communication lines broken and no electricity, no water, no heating. Its journalists have shown that in Sarajevo life is stronger than death.

Finally, throughout the war, the staff has been made up of journalists of different ethnic and religious origins: their professionalism is stronger than the nationalist hysteria. For these people, national divisions are not a "natural necessity", as the neo-nazi ideologues of the Balkans have tried to claim.

These reasons which make Oslobodenje today far more than a newspaper, are also the reasons why the butchers of Bosnia-Herzegovina are so keen to see it disappear. Unfortunately, their daily attacks on the newspaper have been supported by political manoeuvring outside ex-Yugoslavia,ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ° and particularly at the United Nations. One example: the decision that the paper and videocassettes which the Sarajevan media need do not "deserve" space in the humanitarian aid convoys.

It seems that Oslobodenje is to pay the price of unmasking the incredible international hypocrisy that surrounds the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Zlatko Dizdarevic, 16 September 1993.

The Empire of Hatred

Every person who survives this war in Bosnia will still have to fight against their own hatred and the hatred of others.

Most Westerners, when they arrive in Bosnia and are confronted by the great tragedy which is unfolding there - whether they be diplomats, journalists or members of humanitarian organisations - try to search out the origins of the hell that is around them. As long as they are in our country, they are careful not to venture a diagnosis, but as soon as they have returned home, almost all of them recount that they were the witnesses of an unprecedented display of inter-ethnic hatred.

Once the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, had been convinced by the theory of millennial hatred in Bosnia, he immediately announced a reversal in international opinion and a change in the American attitude to military intervention to restrain the Serbs in Bosnia. However, inter-ethnic hatred is not the sole prerogative of Bosnia. During the difficult centuries of coexistence between Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews, there were certainly eruptions of hatred, but this hatred was outweighed by love. Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, threatened the Muslims with the extermination of their people if they would not agree to live in Milosevic's mutilated Yugoslavia. Today, this nationalist, responsible for the most atrocious crimes of war, says that a common life with the Muslims is impossible.

It was not inter-ethnic hatred which provoked the war, nor did it begin as a civil war, but the brutality of the Serbian aggression has brought results. Hatred and vengeance have recruited new, often reluctant, supporters. None of those whose nearest and dearest have been murdered, whose houses have been stripped and burned, will be able to forget.

In the Balkans, the house is a mythic place, symbol of life itself. You hear many people who have suffered say: "We will avenge every stone of our house". Not everyone will obey this desperate cry, but some will give in to this madness, at the risk of damning themselves. The collective anger and hatred that will be the inevitable effect of this war will stay with us for many years.

The massacres carried out by Serbs and by Croats constitute an important chapter in the history of hatred between the peoples of the Balkans. This hatred was imposed from outside upon the Muslims, but on the ground today the difference seems negligible. The Serbs are without doubt the most clearly pathological case. It was they who set the machinery of hatred in motion to perform the task of ethnic cleansing, by accusing the Muslims and Croats of crimes against the Serbian minorities.

The cruelty with which the Serbs have carried out this mission of ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories surpasses all understanding, whatever political pretexts are adduced. Their only purpose has been to prove to the West that the peoples of our countries were incapable of living together in peace. Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that Karadzic has achieved some remarkable results in this domain.

This will have been his only victory in this war; it is a diabolical and macabre victory, which will not long survive, but a victory nevertheless.

However, some enclaves remain in which the spirit of coexistence has been preserved. Before the war, Sarajevo was the model of that inter-ethnic harmony and tolerance to which all of Europe aspires. This city too has been wounded, but despite everything has managed to protect the essential spirit of the Bosnian tradition. One year ago, the young SarajevÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°an actor, Nermin Tulic, was seriously wounded by a Tchetnik missile. He was coming home from the theatre, and was barely 50 metres from his house when the device landed. He lost both his legs. His wife is Serbian, and together they are raising their two young daughters.

Nermin is now preparing to take up his work again and says: "Suddenly, I felt this hatred rising up inside me. This small victory is the only victory Karadzic and his colleagues have won over me. But I will be free of it, I will drive this hatred out..."

Every person who survives this war will still have to fight against their own hatred and against the hatred of others. There is as yet no sign of a collective therapy to be seen on our horizon.

Gojko Beric, 17 June 1993

The End of a World Starts Here

The inhabitants of Sarajevo have many good reasons to take an interest in world politics now, while they still have the time. Nowhere else have human life and human time been held so cheap. The rest of the world should not try to ignore the analysis they offer, for they are a people who already have one foot in the tomb.

Sarajevo, encircled, all telephonic and emotional lines of communication down, now believes that the world would definitely be happier if it saw this country and this town erased from the surface of the planet.

This disappointment has been almost as painful as the loss of fathers, mothers, brothers, of the 1,500 children killed by the rockets of Karadzic. This disappointment is so bitter, so painful, that the inhabitants of Sarajevo are already aware, well before everyone else, that the world which is waiting for us at the end of this war is a world without moral values - whether those values are those of the Holy Scriptures of the great religions, or those enshrined in the charter of the United Nations.

This judgement may seem excessively severe, but only to those who have not seen a missile land 10 paces in front of them, killing a father who had left his house with his daughter, and the daughter fall down on his body, weeping: "Daddy, Daddy . . ." The daughter is maybe 10 or 12: she will carry this image in her memory for half-a-century, or even to the end of her life - provided, of course, that she survives this siege.

The disappointment is accompanied by astonishment: what has happened to those countries which used to speak so proudly of the rights of man, and who have suddenly forgotten that the right to live is the foundation of all other rights? Many explanations are proposed.

Certain radicals want to situate the discourse about human rights in a context made up of political manipulation and brainwashing, aimed at a naive audience. Others, who have a preference for historical explanations, dig out old maps of the Balkans and scan them for traces of zones of interest, confess themselves surprised at the great reticence of Italy, and praise those countries that have accepted Bosnian refugees with open arms. And lastly, there are those who judge that the disappearance of Eastern Europe has condemned the West to disappear in its turn. After all, Bosnia-Herzegovina is located on the fault line which used to separate the western and eastern branches of the Roman Empire, and more recently marked the border between the zones of interest of Russia and the Western powers.

"With the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and of the USSR, says a retired sociology professor, the West has lost an important military and political rival, and this has endangered its spirit and its strength which were based on the principle of competition. Since there is not yet an active internal principle of competition in the West, all the political mechanisms continue to work as if the Great Enemy were still out there."

An engineer, currently attached to the Department of Civil Defence, considers that the war in Bosnia would have been over in two weeks if the two super powers had still existed: "For fear of losing influence to the other blocÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°, the West would have issued a series of very clear threats, and Milosevic would have been forced to withdraw his troops. And we would have been spared all this."

There are not many Russophiles in Sarajevo; they are more numerous on the other side of the firing line. Even our left-wing parties were rarely down on their knees before the Kremlin. So these references to the USSR can hardly be interpreted as nostalgia for the "good old days". They are rather an indication that the people here are realising that the West does not correspond to the image it liked to project of itself, and which we were happy to project back into it.

Therefore, they are encouraged to explain this change by reference to the last great historic upheaval, the disintegration of the Soviet block. As long as there were two independent fire brigades, each of them was eager to try and extinguish the fire before the other one arrived. Now, the fire is left to run its course, and the firemen arrive when everything has burned down, in time to survey the smouldering ashes. Many of the inhabitants of Sarajevo don't expect to see the firemen now until the whole of Bosnia has been burned to the ground.

The international community's attitude to the Bosnian tragedy has overturned all our received ideas about the world, about Europe and our neighbours. The Bosnians had hoped that the creation of apowerful European Community would benefit its neighbours also. Now they are already having doubts about the Community's future, and wonder whether these problems might not have been more rapidly resolved if the geostrategic situation had been left unchanged. But things are as they are - each state tries to solve its own problems, and to prepare for those that are to come.

Meanwhile, the missiles continue to fall on Sarajevo. The snipers and rocket launchers posted in the surrounding hills have put a stop to burials in the old cemetery, while the new one, opened last year, covers an area of two hectares, extends across a football pitch, and is already approaching the devastated sports centre and the stadium where, a few years ago now - though to us it seems like centuries - Juan Antonio Samaranch officiated at the opening of the Olympic games.

Hamza Baksic, 12 June 1993.

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