When the war ended I remember one of the most eerie feelings was…the silence. During cease-fires there may have been a day or two, even a week by some freak chance, where the constant sound of machine gun and sniper fire was muted. But we always knew it could, and would, end at any moment. So ones guard was never quite down. Then it ended. And I felt uneasy about it.
I felt uneasy about being able to walk down a street where I knew their used to be a sniper looking at me through his scope. It made me uneasy because the body and mind fought with each other, one begging to let the guard down and other saying ‘don’t you fucking dare!’ The sounds of machine gun fire accompanied our lives for almost four years. It was as common as a trains rumble thru a city or a chain saw in a village. It guided us. Told us where to go and where not to go. And although it wasn’t a pleasant sound, it was a reassuring one – as strange as that may sound. In war, you take anything you can get to help you get to the next day. And the sounds of bullets being rapidly discharged from their cartridge did just that….unless, of course, one of those bullets had your name on it.
But what I find with a lot of people today is a strong adversity to those sounds, even if they are just fireworks for New Years. It comes from a deep sense of trauma. Which brings me to my point.
Not too far from the house that we are building is a Yugoslav era firing range. Whereas most urban military installations have been moved, this one remains an active shooting ground. Civilians live literally 20 meters from this site. It is not fenced in. I’d say within a hundred and fifty meter radius there are probably over 100 homes.
So for those who survived the longest siege in modern European history, they get to be reminded of the tortuous sounds and feelings on a daily basis. The range is now used by local special forces, police and, yes, EUFOR soldiers. They come to fire boisterous live rounds that resonate across the entire valley, from Sedrenik, Gazin Han, Hladivode, Faletici and Biosko. From my home, 1.5 kilometres away, it sounds like the war has returned to Sarajevo. For the people living next to it, it sounds like the apocalypse.
What astonishes me, and pisses me off, is the arrogant disregard for the local community.How on earth can they allow the special forces and foreign troops to come play war in people’s backyards.
I looked into which European capital city has open-air firing ranges within 20, or 50 or even 1.000 meters of a residential area. Funny enough, I couldn’t find a single one. So while we are often getting European standards shoved down our throats, including human rights, EUFOR (EU led NATO military force in BiH) have no problem with psychologically torturing the local population. I wish I was surprised at the hypocrisy. Obviously I’m not. (I’d like to point out that there ARE functional alternatives not too far from Sarajevo in a much more isolated location).
I was recently asked by the national tv station BH1 to give an interview about this. After I gave the interview the ‘concessionaire’ approached me. He shook my hand and didn’t let go.
“Don’t you have anything smarter to do than this?” Although it wasn’t me that contacted the media nor was it my idea to bring up the issue, I got mad “Nope, nothing at all” I replied (admittedly with a chip on my shoulder). Still not letting go of my hand he moved his chin in the direction of the firing range where I had just given my statement in front of the camera “You know that is private property where you just were?! (slight pause) Is there democracy in America?” I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this. My answer was “partially, at least, yes.” He shook his shiny, bald head “No, there’s not. You know in America that people have the right to protect their property, right?” Still not knowing is which direction he was heading I said “yes, they do.” His answer to that was “Even killing someone is justified, right?.” He squeezed my hand a bit more. Now I got his point. “And you were just on my private property, weren’t you?”
I’m not quite sure where the chemical imbalance that occurs in me in these situations comes from. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism to not shit myself. But I was fucking furious. I wrestled my hand away from this 6’2″, 210 pound, bald-headed man…”So now you’re threatening me?!?!” There were four other people standing there in silence, including the reporter. “Your house is just down the road, isn’t it?” His threats became even more ‘subtle.’ He was definitely sending me a clear message. So I walked off and yelled “Don’t threaten me!” His only reply was “I’m not threatening you at all.”
At this point I had the rage. But I had also pissed off a very powerful and, by the looks of his car, gold necklace, and fancy watch, rich war veteran (which is not, by the way, the state of affairs for veterans who honorably sacrificed pretty much everything except breathing for this city).
What pissed me off even more is that I knew the locals has signed a petition that ‘got lost’ in the municipality, complaining about the trauma inflicted on their families because of this firing range. Yet no one would stand in front of the camera. Everyone clammed up. I understand why. Really, I do. But I have been there before and witnessed how everyone disappears when the going gets a bit rough. One time it landed me in a five year court battle. Another exposed me to systematic threats that were, thank goodness, empty ones. So I called the tv station. I told them if I was the only one giving a statement then they don’t have my permission to air the interview. They confirmed that no one would speak to the media. I backed out.
It didn’t take me long to feel defeated. I chickened out. What a pussy. Yet I promised myself last time that I will always stand when even just one other person is ready and willing. But not if I’m to go at it alone again. I didn’t do a good job at convincing myself. I still felt like a loser. Baldy had won.
I was at my house the other day when the boyz with the noise showed up to practice their wares. They fired for hours. I was instantly brought back to the war. I thought of the old baba that lives literally a stones throw from where they were shooting. She had not only survived WWII and the brutality of the last war…but was being forced to relive the trauma several times a week when they bring the old front line right into her living room. There’s no fucking humanity in that. None at all. It’s just plain wrong.
So, with tail between legs, I write this pathetic blog. And tomorrow the Europeans will show up, standards and ethics and all, to fire away in our neighborhood. And the baldhead walks away with a bag full of cash.
not to be re-published in any form without the explicit consent of thebosniaguy – which basically means not to be re-published, period.