Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some Call It Peace

I remember it vividly, as if was just yesterday. It was a Tuesday, November 21. Just a day prior, we got word that the talks had collapsed - yet again - and that the war would go on. And then it was over.

It didn't seem over at the time. By the time I left Bosnia, two months later, the armies were still in position, the roads were still passable only to NATO peacekeepers, conscription was still in effect, and utilities were not yet restored. But the longer the ceasefire held, the less likely it seemed the shooting would restart. By the time the treaty was officially signed, in mid-December, it dawned upon us that it was peace at last.

Thus ended the Bosnian War.

There is still some contention as to when precisely it began. For me, it was April 5, 1992, when roadblocks appeared in Sarajevo. From that Sunday morning, until that Tuesday when the word came from Ohio, I had counted 1,376 days. Not the longest war in history, or the bloodiest, or the cruelest - but when it happens to you, that's hardly a consolation.

The day after the peace treaty was announced, my first ever article in English appeared, published by The Independent. The way I wrote it, it was a schmaltzy celebration of peace. The way it was headlined, it sounded like a one-cheer of a disappointed war victim. Unlike some folk, who were perhaps hoping for a "final victory" and a Bosnia remade according to their fantasies, I was not the least bit disappointed by the Dayton peace treaty. I didn't feel much like a victim, either. I just hoped it would last.

I was entirely too young to realize that the war would merely move back to the realm of politics. So, the headline - "At least there will be no more killing" - proved strangely prophetic.

Earlier this year, while visiting Bosnia, I wrote:

"In Bosnia, ethnic warfare was the direct result of the complete destruction of trust between the communities as the regime of Alija Izetbegovic pushed for independence at the expense of everything and everyone else. The Dayton settlement did not restore that trust, but offered a framework in which it could be re-forged if Bosnia’s peoples so chose. When the U.S. and the EU made Bosnia into a de facto protectorate shortly after the war, and began to impose their often conflicting but always confused visions of what Bosnia should be, they created a powerful disincentive for internal dialogue.

When Bosnian Serb PM Milorad Dodik said recently that it might be time to talk about a consensual separation, president Silajdzic angrily replied that this was impossible. "Those who dislike this country are free to leave, but they can’t take an inch of the land with them," Silajdzic said.

This very argument, that Bosnia belonged "100 percent" to Silajdzic and the Muslims, while everyone else is welcome to get out, is precisely what ignited the 1992-95 war and claimed 100,000 lives. After fifteen years of peace and "nation-building," Bosnia seems to be back at square one. And this is what the State Department describes as a great "success."

One shudders to think what failure would look like."

Whatever the Empire - or the Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders who signed it - intended to accomplish with the Dayton agreement, it did silence the guns. And it still offers hope, however fleeting, that the people who live in Bosnia may eventually sit down and figure out how to live together - or part ways - peacefully.

As for me, I will always remember that moment of unadulterated joy I felt when I heard the news that the war was over, when I realized that my family and I had made it through alive.

So many people take life for granted. I'm not one of them. And now you know why.


Laser 3000 said...

Brilliant article Nebojsa. Whilst I was born in Australia, my late father was from Bosnia and I watched the former Yugoslavia unravel before my eyes during the 1990s. I am one of your friends on Facebook by the way. I always enjoy reading your informative articles and watching you interviewed on TV. Keep up the good work!

Baya said...

Where's that article? You know, I would very much like to read your earlier work. Before 2000, I mean. I've read everything else you've written in English.

Gray Falcon said...

I don't think much of my pre-2000 stuff is online anymore, and I don't think that piece in The Independent ever was.

Perhaps one of these days I'll pull together a collection of essays from that time... some of the stuff in there is still surprisingly relevant, though much has been overtaken by events.