Tuesday, April 10, 2007


When the Izetbegovic regime picked a fight with the Bosnian Serbs fifteen years ago (April 6, 1992), one of the immediate results was a division of Sarajevo with roadblocks and barricades, with the part of the city controlled by Muslim militias effectively cut off from the rest of the country. Most stores were looted within weeks, courtesy of crime overlords who declared themselves "defenders" of the city - although they had copious help from local residents who figured (and correctly) that this was all the food they would see for a while.

Food began arriving into the city in June, when the airport re-opened under UN management. Thus began the Sarajevo airlift, which lasted longer than the Berlin one. Someone somewhere probably has a tally of all the food, medicine, blankets and plastic sheeting that UNHCR delivered to Sarajevo, and Bosnia in general. I can only say with the certainty of someone who's been there throughout the war that this aid kept people alive who would have otherwise starved. And not only civilians - because as soon as the food and supplies started arriving, the government set up an "Agency for reception and distribution" of aid, which would skim 60% or more of the rations for use by the government and the military.

One can only imagine the dire predicament of civilians trapped in wartime Sarajevo when MREs were considered gourmet food, usually sprinkled on top of rice, pasta or - on those rare days - beans. One of the staples of humanitarian aid rations was Icar - canned beef from somewhere in the EU which looked rather vile.

Well, as war and propaganda went on, soon the people inside the Muslim portion of Sarajevo began to grow a sense of entitlement. The food was nothing more than the world "owed" us, for failing to defend us from "aggression" and "genocide." How dared they send us ratty gray blankets, or vitaminized biscuits from 1968, pulled from stocks never used in Vietnam? Didn't they know we were Europeans, used to Italian shoes and German cars? The outrage!

Few, if any, stopped to think that without this food, those blankets, or the admittedly hideous-looking foil we used to cover up our shattered windows, we would have all frozen or starved to death in 1992. Or that the UNHCR was essentially the logistics command for the "Bosnian Army," enabling it to continue the war until Izetbegovic could get a territorial settlement he actually liked. Instead, we had people protest that the inconsiderate Europeans sent us this terrible beef...

Fifteen years after the "international community" saved us from starvation just in time, Reuters reports that an art organization has sponsored a monument to Icar beef (Reuters photo below).

"To the international community, the grateful citizens of Sarajevo," reads the inscription on the pedestal holding up the giant Icar can.

"It's witty, ironic and artistic," says Dunja Blazevic from the Center for Contemporary Art, which is behind the sculpture.

The popular urban myth from the war, recycled by Blazevic in her statement to Reuters, is that Icar beef was so vile even cats and dogs refused to eat it. It's certainly possible. But I've traveled a bit since, and Icar is hardly worse than what they serve in school cafeterias or fast-food places in the U.S.

No one in the world had the slightest shred of obligation or duty to send anything to the people of Bosnia, who democratically elected politicians that led the country into civil war. The responsibility for supplying and defending the civilian population was squarely on the government that declared independence - and that government failed at everything a government is supposed to do. Miserably. To cover that up, it constantly blamed the "international community." To the present day, hundreds of thousands of people in Bosnia believe "the world" had failed them, and that the West owes them something.

Thus the Icar monument. "Hey foreigners, how dare you send us non-gourmet food? We are the righteous victims, didn't you know?"

I wonder if those ingrates who made the sculpture, as well as those who will walk past it with an approving snicker, will ever realize that without that help, without those very cans of grade-Q beef, few of them would still be alive? The world owes us nothing. And we owe ourselves the truth.

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