A Heroes Welcome

It’s a party in Pale. The flags are out. So are the three fingered patriots. The collective has awaken.

Momcilo Krajisnik is on his way home after serving a part of his sentence for war crimes that took place during the Bosnian war. I thought we may have witnessed an unheard of breakthrough when he said “I don’t know why an arrival celebration has been organized, I am a war criminal after all.” For a nanosecond I was proud of his jail-aged wisdom until his next sentence….”I still have to prove the truth (of his innocence) in the revision procedures.”

This is testament to the seemingly eternal Bosnian dilemma called perception, warped or otherwise. With no victor in this war, except the thieves and thugs, all sides see themselves as victims and defenders.

Momcilo Krajisnik was sentenced to 20 years in prison for war crimes including; murder, execution, deportation, and crimes against humanity by the International War Crimes Tribunal. Tonight he is a free man. Thousands await his arrival in full celebration mode for this wartime celebrity. He will get a heroes a welcome. He has been and will be portrayed as a victim of an unprecedented international conspiracy against the Serbian people.

There will be no recognition that any crimes took place. There will be no reconciliatory tone. No one will take responsibility for the brutality that ravaged this tiny nation and its people for four long years. In a war marked by concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder most claim to have simply defended themselves. All sides are victims.

We are stuck between a rock and a hard place with no movement in site. And no side, whether perpetrator or victim, is willing or able to empathize with the other. That’s why we all lose. We are a multiple vortex tornado wreaking havoc on the souls and minds of the masses. This is Bosnia.

There’s a party in Pale tonight.

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I will wait

This song has been in my head for days. It won’t leave. I don’t want it to.

Being that I have been obsessively listening to it for days it struck a chord (no pun intended) with me yesterday, July 11 – the 18th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres. It is always a sad day here on that day. Many are flooded with emotions and look to vent in any way they can. Many use social networks, like the one I’m using now. Some are angry. Some spew hate. Most are just overwhelmed with sadness by the fact that we could do this to each other.

Waiting 18 years to find 2 bones of your baby so you may bury him has to be a major head fuck for the mothers of Srebrenica. It is for me. And many still wait. Waiting is all they can do.

The lyrics of this most brilliant song seemed to fit the day yesterday. I have always found solace in music. And I found it in this song on that very sad day. This is for the mothers. For me. For you. For all of us. Listen….

 

And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So break my step
And relent
You forgave and I won’t forget
Know what we’ve seen
And him with less
Now in some way
Shake the excess

But I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies

But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

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No beginning and no end

Usually when the father of the bride addresses both families at a wedding he speaks of his love for his daughter, how pleased he is to welcome the grooms side into the family, and (whether he believes it or not) that his son-in-law is a great man that truly loves his baby girl.

Not my father-in-law.

At our wedding, exactly a half decade ago to the day, my 6’4″ father-in-law stood up, champagne in hand, and gave a speech a little something like this…

“Today is a very important day for me and for all of us. This wedding shows the unbreakable bond between Bosnia and America. America is a great friend of ours and this is one more step in solidifying the good relations between our countries. Good foreign relations between America and Bosnia is key for us, for without America, Bosnia wouldn’t be here today….

He carried on a bit more and I do believe he mentioned his daughter at least once in his state of the union speech. He is the only man (or woman) in my life who has successfully quelled my criticism of American foreign policy. He doesn’t want to hear it. And can talk volumes louder than I and is not at all shy about drowning out my misguided dissent with his boisterous voice. Bless him.

Five years ago today we gathered in the Derzelez House in Sarajevo’s Old Town. This house is the oldest Ottoman home in Sarajevo, dating back to the 17th century. There was only room for our immediately family and a small handful of close friends. In hindsight, the municipal ceremony must have been somewhat confusing for my family. The official from the municipality who legally married us carried on for some fifteen minutes about the rules and regulations of marriage and the state. A ceremony certainly inherited from Bosnia’s socialist past. I could see some of my family members cock their heads in confusion every now and then. Nothing like a cultural exchange during your wedding vows.

wedding

Just after the ceremony we moved to the ‘big room.’ This is the room where my father-in-law gave his inspiring speech. Then Sabina went to each of her family members and introduced them and what they meant to her to my family in English. I followed by doing the same for my family to Sabina’s in Bosnian.  I thought that would be a nice touch being that most weddings, besides having the same soundtrack (Celebrate Good Times, c’mon!), often find the brides family sitting on one side mingling only amongst themselves and the grooms side doing pretty much of the same.

Like Mido said (that’s my father-in-law), this was not only a joining of family but of continents and nations, right? So we thought it would be a good way to break the ice and encourage shuttle diplomacy. It worked.

It was a good day. And every day since then has been even better. My ‘better half’ (whatever) truly does make my life that much better. I am grateful for her friendship. I adore how much she loves our son. It fascinates me watching her grow into her own. It never ceases to amaze me how committed she is to changing me (keep tryin’, hon). I love how she thinks she is always right fully knowing that it is me who is always right. I am eternally thankful that we allowed destiny to do its thing! Happy Anniversary Sabina.

(For those of you unfamiliar with our courting process….http://thebosniaguy.net/so-you-dont-believe-in-destiny-you-say/)

peace

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

My Dad enlisted in the Marines just after he finished college in 1968. I was born on the base where he was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina (it’s definitely one of the reasons I’m a Tarheel fan as well). As a kid I loved to rummage through his old chest and try on his uniforms and admire his photos. His Dad was a career National Guardsman. My brother was US Army. My other grandfather was army too, serving in Germany at Remagen Bridge during WWII. My Uncle Dan, rest his soul, was a career Navy officer and served all over the world.

In all honesty, it never crossed my mind (at least as an adult) to serve in the armed forces. I was never attracted to guns or the prospect of a drill sargeant hurling insults at me let alone going to war to fight. I’m more the Hunger Project or Save the Children type of guy.

In my late teens and early twenties my worldview started to take shape. Part of that view was vehemently anti-war. Soldiers were, in retrospect, unfairly placed in that basket as well. But what I didn’t understand as a young and at times angry man was the dynamics of war and where (and how) to steer those emotions.

-Anti-War-Traffic-Sign

I came to a brutal war zone in 1992 with an army jacket that had a large crossed-off AK-47 patch across my chest. Sort of like a no-smoking sign. It didn’t take me long to figure out that every male between 18-55 had a uniform on (and an AK-47 in hand). The entire population was mobilized. There was no choice in the matter. Fight or flee. So most of my friends were soldiers. And to my surprise many of our views were rather similar. Our day jobs were just a bit different.

That period taught me a lot of things. I did a lot of growing up. I had often confused my dislike of the military industrial complex with ordinary men and women asked to do extra ordinary things for their family, community, and country. I was flat out wrong. Let me tell you why.

The support our troops slogan was and still is a nasty manipulation tool to me. The American public’s rejection of the Vietnam War led government to rethink its propaganda management. Vietnam Vets, as usual, were given the short end of the stick on their return home. The frosty and even bitter reception at home, however misdirected, led to a major shift in how the government would present America’s entry into new wars. It would deflect blame and responsibility from itself through emotional blackmail…and a very sensitive one at that. The troops. Our brothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. Sisters. Supporting our troops became synonymous with support our war. And to me the difference is night and day. My idea of supporting our troops is to keep them safe at home. I don’t support any war.

I now know what its like to be on the front line. I understand the rush and terror of continuous bombardment. I get what it’s like to dodge sniper fire in a foreign land where next to nothing is familiar. I developed a deep respect and equal dislike for snipers. It’s no walk in the park for any soldier to implement the agenda of their government. War is hell. Full stop. Soldiers, their families, and countless civilians have paid and still pay the ultimate price any way you look at it.

Soldiers are all too often mandated to do a governments dirty work. Whether it’s Bosnia, America or Chechnya. But what has been clear to me for sometime now is the need and desire for many of us to serve our community or country. We may do it in drastically different ways. But the bottom line is that for most of us it’s our way of doing the right thing and giving something back. Intent is 9/10th’s of the law.

So to all of you, like my friends Lawrence White, Robert Kendall, Ed Brinkley and CJ Watson, who have served and sacrificed in any capacity for community or country I have two words for you. Respect. Peace!

 

 

 

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No satisfaction

Speaking of Kosovo….

It was the summer of 1999 (now I have Bryan Adams ‘Summer of ’69 song in my head). I had been shuttling around Albania between refugee camps. By far the worst situation was in the border town of Kukes. So most of my energy was utilized there. Refugee camps were well established. Then we started getting famous visitors for the fundraising craze. We lucked out, Save the Children brought Maria Bello. We met in Tirana. She was not only cool as a cucumber but well-informed with both feet on the ground. It was enjoyable hanging out with her and she seemed genuinely interested in the plight of the people.

Unicef brought Bianca Jagger to a refugee camp in Kukes to address a group preschool children. Although UNICEF drove me crazy with their bureaucracy and flag waving, we were doing good things together in Kukes. Then Bianca showed up.

kukes

So picture this. We’re sitting on the floor on a hot summer day. There are 240,000 refugees squeezed into an exceptionally poor town of 20,000. There was always the slight (or not so slight) hint of sewage. It was dusty and dry. The mountain winds constantly made the tent doors and shutters flap. We gathered the children from their improv classrooms to sit in the field to listen to the one and only Bianca Jagger. Cameras rolling. The world’s press at her feet, just as she likes it.

(pls keep in mind, these are 5 year old’s)

“The people who have done this to you will be brought to justice. They will not get away with this!” blah, blah, blah “The international community backs the intervention to halt this ethnic cleansing.” blah, blah, blah “I am here to comfort you in these tough times” blah, blah, blah “That’s why UNICEF is here to help you and your families.” blah, blah, blah

By that point I was sick to my stomach and it wasn’t from the fresh smell of human shit.

UNICEF had been dragging their feet with our goal of get every kid in school as soon as possible. We had the money and the resources. Save the Children sourced everything locally. We were on the move. It was quite a rush actually. It was the first time in modern humanitarian aid that this type of frontline intervention was used. We literally took kids off the exodus queues and put them in school. It was working. UNICEF had to place orders to their main warehouse in Denmark for school supplies. Those packages would arrive very close to the date that all the refugees packed up and went back home to Kosovo. So much for emergency aid. But back to Bianca.

So she stood there in her blue jacket and white hat. Armored UNICEF vehicles were in the background with big blue flags blowing in the wind. Bianca talked a little more about herself. Then a bit more about herself. A word or two about UNICEF. As I watched these kids, their heads sort of cocked to the side like golden retriever puppies confused about was being said. Even the translator seemed uncomfortable. But she got her 10 minutes of fame that she obviously thirsted for.

The big blue flag entourage took off into the horizon, leaving a long trail of dust behind them. We never saw or heard from her again. Always count your blessings in war.

I admit I have memory troubles, particularly with dates. Bianca’s speech to small children was so political and heartless that it is carved in my memory. The date is not. I think this is what happened next. Most of the kids went back to their tent classrooms. In order to have as big of a group as possible, children from the neighboring camp from across the street were ‘invited.’ It was a dangerous street. The local Albanians were hired to drive aid from the main warehouses to the various refugee camps. They were slow and lazy so the aid agencies decided on a policy change. The drivers would be paid per delivery.

They all instantaneously reincarnated into Mario Andretti. These old and decrepit Chinese trucks would rumble down the narrow, pot-hole ridden roads at frightening speeds. One of the kids who had the pleasure of listening to Bianca headed back towards his camp. He didn’t look both ways (most people in the Balkans never do). The overloaded truck’s wheels screeched to a halt. The boy was struck by the tire, his head wedged between the tire and the asphalt. He died instantly.

I had become used to gore from Bosnia. Whenever it’s a kid, though, it tends to do your head in, no pun intended. It was a gory sight. His brains literally poured out onto the pavement. His uncle had been close. Dad showed up within minutes. They covered him with a blanket before mom arrived. When mom came things fell apart. That painful yell is etched. His legs veered from beneath the blanket and, like every mom, she recognized him from his shoes, his socks, and the little fuzzy peach hairs on his legs. Every mom knows their babies. This one had just been taken from her.

There wasn’t much any of us could do. We wanted to get the other kids away as quick as possible. Within minutes I had left. For the life of me I can’t remember what I did or where I went after that. It is a complete blank. So it goes.

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Poison mushrooms

poison_mushrooms_by_daadox-d31jluh

For a continent that has produced the likes of U2, the Beatles, Gainsbourg, Pavarotti, Goran Bregovic and ABBA, I am stunned, year in and year out, at the old continents enthusiasm for the Eurosong ‘contest.’ And yes, I’m well aware that ABBA won Eurovision before I was even in kindergarten. So what?! Even though there may be the odd hot act, Eurovision has turned into a spectacularly tacky display of really bad pop. So it goes. But that’s not the subject of today’s ranting.

The recent agreement, surprisingly well-facilitated by the EU, between Serbia and Kosovo has shed a flicker of positive light on the Balkans…it has even conjured up backroom talk of regional stability. I know, silly people, right? Even if Eurovision is a farce, let’s hope the EU-backed pact between Belgrade and Pristina isn’t.

Many people are completely dumbfounded by the conflicts that rocked the former Yugoslavia. Fair enough. So are the people from here. For even more folks it seems ridiculous that a group of southern Slavs that, more or less, speak the same language, share many of the same or similar traditions, and look pretty much alike had harped on the few differences among themselves enough to brutally duke it out with each other for almost four years. Kosovo is a different story.

Whenever I mingle with the southern Slavs they almost always refer to Albanians as ‘shiptar.’ Siptar, when spoken by an Albanian, is acceptable. Siptar, when spoken by a southern Slav, is sort of like using the n****r word. Plain and simple, it’s derogatory. Some may deny it claiming ‘that’s what they call themselves’ but they know all too well that when they say it and how they say it, the reference has a negative connotation. The Kosovars know that as well. Generally speaking, the Slavs have an emphasized prejudice against Albanians.

Most thought the break-up of Yugoslavia would begin where it actually ended – in Kosovo between the Serbs and Albanians. Whereas there is certainly room for optimism when it comes to this most recent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, anyone close to this issue knows there is no love lost between these rival tribes. There is a poisonous relationship between them.

Case in point. In 1999 I was stationed in Kukes on the Albanian/Kosovo border with Save the Children. I mentioned in an earlier blog that approximately a half million Kosovar refugees were forced into Albania by Serbian forces. Another 800,000 into Kosovo’s southern neighbor Macedonia. Some of these figures may be overstretched, but it’s fair to say that at least half of Kosovo’s population was expelled. On the flip side, after the NATO bombing campaign, most of Kosovo’s Serb population fled north to Serbia. Two major exoduses in less than three months.

I was working right on the border post in a place called Morine. This is where we greeted the scared and tired masses with oranges, blankets, bread and water. The flow seemed to never waver. From our viewpoint we could see the border post controlled by the Serbian military. The policy was this – all license plates and ID cards were confiscated at the border. There were literally small hill-size piles of them in plain site. A key element in ethnic cleansing is erasing all traces. By expelling the Kosovar’s into neighboring countries with Albanian populations, it would be easy to say ‘we have no record of you, you don’t exist here, you must be from Albania or Macedonia.’

I witnessed this on a daily basis as the piles of license plates got bigger and bigger. It may seem a trite exercise to some but it was an integral part of the ‘Kosovo solution.’ Erase all traces that is.

One evening a vehicle from Pristina crossed the border. We were surprised to see someone from Pristina. Most people from the provincial capital were flushed south into Macedonia. It was mostly central and western Kosovars whose fates were directed towards northeast Albania. The man escaped with his wife and two kids. He was an aid worker from the NGO Mother Theresa based out of Pristina. He parked his car, kids and wife safe and sound, rolled up his sleeves and jumped in with us to help. He spoke perfect English. He had tons of energy. I wish I could remember his name.

As we stood there, handing out food and blankets and trying to get information on what was going on and where inside Kosovo, less than thirty minutes after he escaped with his life, he told me this joke:

“A Serbian military general came to visit the field to see the progress of the cleansing campaign. As they walked through a village they came across a dead Albanian. The general asked ‘Commander, what is this?’ The commander replied “General, this siptar ate poisonous mushrooms.’ The general shrugged as they walked on. They soon came across another dead Albanian. The general again inquired ‘Commander, and what happened here?’ The commander sheepishly replied “General sir, this siptar also ate poisonous mushrooms.’ The general looked confused. Then they came to a dead Albanian with an ax through his forehead. The general shouted ‘And Commander, what the hell is this?’ The reply was ‘General, this siptar wouldn’t eat the poison mushrooms, sir.”

Gotta love the dark humor of the Balkans. No love lost, though. It will be a long road to real peace.

peace

 

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NO LOGO

Please excuse my absence. The weather has been so nice that I found it much more rewarding to enjoy the silence of the great outdoors. I’ve been spending a lot of time up at our land…dreaming of what it will be like to one day live there. So it goes.

What compels me to write this day is a comment I got from an old friend. In short, I’m apparently a douchebag. But it’s not the fact that he called me a douchebag that inspired me but rather why. And it’s a subject that has come up many times. I obviously haven’t adequately addressed the issue.

Being American.

I am often accused and/or criticized for being anti-American or not American enough by other fellow Americans, usually right leaning ones. So I ask myself (quite often, actually), what is an American? What is the American experience? What does it mean to me and why does it seem to mean so much more to others?

I grew up in a middle class Irish-American family on Long Island. My neighbors were mainly Italian and Irish-Americans along with a smaller assortment of German, French and Jewish. It was a great place to grow up…in a Levittown development on the island they call long. I guess in a lot of ways I was an All-American boy. We all were (except the girls, of course). The streets were teeming with kids of all ages. We played basketball in my backyard, baseball at the Geoghegans, hockey in the street, went swimming at the Cozzali’s. I went fishing and crabbing in the Long Island Sound with my best friend Jimmy Hulbert and his dad on a regular basis. I loved the Rangers and Knicks (still do), and could never decide between the Mets and Yankees. I broke the cardinal New York rule – I liked both teams (and still do). I know, shame on me.

My mom worked as a volunteer AEMT (Advanced Emergency Medical Technician) in Medford. My dad was finance director for the Smithtown School District. My grandmother, a WWII immigrant from the Channel Islands, worked in the New York City court system. My Aunt Grace was a nurse in Mineola for 40 years. My uncle Walter, one of the most influential figures for me growing up, was a volunteer fire chief, a NYC cop and later a detective. My two cousins were NYPD as well. Although today we probably wouldn’t agree on much politically – he was and still is a pillar of what I view to be a driving factor in who and what I am as a person. Yes, I have lived outside of the states for almost half of my life now…but I am a direct result of the type of community service the Irish-Americans have been so dedicated to since we started arriving from the western shores of Eire.

On my mom’s dad side we have been New Yorkers since the 1640’s. From my dad’s side the Clancy’s started arriving during the great famine years. John Clancy was a cobbler who didn’t speak a lick of English. He was sent straight from the boat to the front line to make boots for the Union army. Not an uncommon Irish story.

I get the feeling many ask themselves ‘where did Tim go wrong?’ ‘What happened to Tim?’ ‘Why does he hate America?’ One: I don’t think I ‘went wrong’. Two: how does destiny sound as an abstract answer. Three: I don’t hate America.

I probably ask a similar question though. When did America go wrong?….or perhaps better put when and where did I lose touch with it a bit? There’s no hiding the fact that I enjoy Europe. I’m fascinated by the old continent. I love the food and wine in Italy. Provence in France. London is one of the world’s greatest cities. Istanbul runs neck and neck right along with London. I love the order of Germany and the disorder of the Balkans. I am mesmerized by the mountains of Austria and Switzerland. I find the Poles to be comfortingly odd. Poland is a great nation. The Swedes have the most admirable and humane ‘system’ I have ever seen or experienced. I like trying to figure out how the Fins and Hungarians have a similar language?! I like the anarchy of driving in Albania and Iove how Guinness in Ireland really is different than anywhere else. I love a good craic!

Europe opened my eyes to many things after leaving the states as a young, naive American college kid. Then I found myself in the midst of a nasty war. That certainly changed me forever. For the better I hope. I did learn a lot about politics in that time. I saw the power and influence of American foreign policy from an entirely new spectrum. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Admittedly, I did grow critical of American foreign policy. I think when one yields so much influence over the lives and deaths of so many…that comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. We have been, to say the least, irresponsible on many occasions. And that was at the cost of many lives, including our own.

In my mind, however, this does not qualify me as anti-American. Nor an American hater. I do think we have serious issues with our culture of gun violence. I do think our food industry is run by ruthless multi-nationals that are literally killing us off with the shit they feed us with. I do believe that  the American ultra-capitalist system is unfair and unsustainable. All of these voices are more than vocal from within the states as well, though. So nothing new there. But I also believe that many Americans are do-gooders. I know how generous and kind we can be. Although we are far from perfect, it is a magical melange of people of all nations, races, and religions. We breathe diversity. We reward creativity. We set high standards for ourselves. We try hard (and sometimes fail) to be fair and just…at least domestically.

So sure, Europe and the war in former Yugoslavia gave me a whole new perspective on the US. So did my travels to South America, Africa and the Near East. America changed for me, though, after 9/11. Patriotism bled far into the realm of nationalism. Having lived through the rise of nationalism during the Balkan wars, it was scary to watch the States falling into the same pit. A very dangerous one at that. Any word of dissent was immediately seen as treason. Benedict Arnold labels were being slapped on Americans who disagreed with the mainstream mania. Flag waving became a national pastime. After all these years, this phenomena has stuck. And it’s part of new generation that I sometimes have trouble connecting with. I have never been, and never will be, a flag waver of any kind. It’s just not my style. I do get a healthy tingle of patriotism come Olympics time. OK, maybe a bit more than a tingle.

I am often asked by old friends stateside if I am serving in the military…as if that is the only reason to be overseas or that is the only way to serve ones country. I have worked with refugees for Save the Children US in Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. All financed by American tax payers. I have worked on USAID and US Embassy funded projects on many occasions, not only representing myself but the country of my birth as well. Whether we like it or not, when we travel abroad we are Americans. We are viewed as Americans and treated as Americans. So in that sense, whether we do good or bad, we are representing our country. So I ask, how am I less of an American for trying to do good elsewhere? Why am I anti-American for having opposing views on what are, to me, glaringly obvious injustices? I thought that’s what we were all about, n’est pas?

I am neither proud or ashamed of being American. I simply am one. It is where I was born. It was where I was raised. I am a direct product of my experiences there which molded me into the person I am today. I make no apologies for that. I’d much rather walk through life as Naomi Klein put it, though, with “No Logo.”

no_logo.png

peace (and happy Labor day to all you hard workers!)

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I second that emotion

I go about my daily business lately with just one slight adjustment to my routine. Ok, I’m lying, I don’t really have a routine. But I do make that one adjustment. I click, about every half our, to the BBC website to see if a war on the Korean peninsula has started-  as if that information will drastically change the reality I’m/we’re currently in. Maybe it will. Ko zna?

That got me thinking about war again (imagine that). Well, maybe not war itself but what Gil Scott Heron so appropriately defined as peace. Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the absence of the rumors of war, the preparations for war, the threat of war. He also said the revolution would not be televised. I think he may have gotten that one wrong.

damir

Shortly after one of my obsessive excursions to BBC-land I read a piece by Damir Niksic. For anyone who is familiar with Damir, our ‘mini-star’ of culture as he puts it, they know that his brain never stops. Well, none of our brains actually stop, but perhaps they do rest on occasion. Not Damir’s. If I translated his most recent text I don’t think it would do it much justice. So I’ll try to paraphrase.

“In this country we don’t need to bring investors, scientists, experts, electricity, water, gas or medicine. In this country we don’t need to build factories, dams, coal plants, or football fields…we don’t need hospitals, churches or mosques…in this country we don’t need law and order or courts…much less God or Goddess’. In this country we don’t need to work or to rest.

In this country we need to bring, build and begin – peace. This country needs peace. However, peace is a dove that will not land is this country or build its nest as long as the fear of war persists, or even just the talk of war.

Nothing is served in this country – not burek or baklava – without the spicy talk of war trauma.

That’s why those who are hungry or thirsty, poor and pathetic, sad or sick, in trouble or lost their will, just like those with or without jobs, young or old…should first wish for peace.” DN

I second that emotion. Play it Smokey!

 

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Sad times indeed

The period around April 6th is usually a nice one for me. We celebrate our city in what I find to be a  very dignified and modest way. Manchester City football star Edin Dzeko and the SOS orphanage shared the 6th of April award given out by the City of Sarajevo each year for the person/s who most made their humane mark on this city and its people. Jim Marshall had his inspirational photo exhibition ‘there is a light that never goes out’ at the Boris Smoje Gallery. Bel Canto Ensemble from Zenica claimed the Farah Tahirbegovic award. It is a time for affirming all that this city and country aspires to be. 

Junaci_FarahBut as Farah said from her death bed ‘all this you see, all of it, is from sorrow and sadness.’ She was talking about how cancer, like our silence, grows. She was 32 when cancer ate her away in less than month.  She wasn’t…and still isn’t…alone.

For those of you who sometimes plug in to this blog you might remember the story of the little boy who was killed by an unexploded ordinance near Mostar. His father called me this weekend, asking me to come to Mostar to talk to his only remaining son. I have known him since he was 11. He was a twirpy teenager then. He’s like a bear now. A teddy bear, though. He’s a veterinarian. He loves his job. He’s an exceptionally good kid. Just after Sabina and I had Noah, he had twins.

 

The other day he picked them up from school. He was so drunk he remembers none of it. When he went to pick his wife up from work the kids were in the back, unbuckled. He could barely keep his hands on the steering wheel. He reeked of alcohol. The next day he repeated his binge, albeit without his small children…and his father was called to rescue him from self-destruction. Literally.

So I answered the SOS call and went to talk to him. We spoke for hours. It was upbeat and positive. It seems as if everything is crumbling around us and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The sadness seeped from him and his wife like sap from a maple tree. It’s a sadness that I think we all feel here, whether we express it or not. We all cope in different ways. Some better than others. Too many not at all. It is this collective burden, this silent sadness, that effects me most, though. In all honesty, I think it’s killing us off more than the bullets and bombs ever did. We have fallen so deep into an emotional crisis – not to mention the moral, social, economic, and political ones – that few of us can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With so many here bearing the scars of the war and its aftermath, we have no one to share our sorrow with. I’m not sure there is the emotional capacity to deal with the burdens we collectively and individually carry anymore. I have my doubts that we ever did. And it seems like every day we add insult to injury. The one step forward two steps back syndrome is an epidemic in Bosnia. We just can’t seem to get a break. But that would putting the blame elsewhere, wouldn’t it? Perhaps it would be better said that we just won’t give ourselves a break. So why are we such gluttons?

We are on our most slippiest slope since Dayton ended the slaughter in 1995. I would love to be wrong…but I fear things have come to a breaking point. What that will look like I do not know. It may be ugly. It might be violent. We could remain gluttons though too, and simply drown in our own sorrow.

What I do know is that this is a sad time for us here. Let’s hope Jim is right…and that there is a light that will never go out. peace.

 

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Kusturica goes Hollywood

The Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica plans to make a film about Serbs from Kosovo being murdered in order to sell their organs during the war in 1999. A motivating factor, he claims, is to undue the negative image of the Serbs. When I want to shed positive light on something, I definitely don’t need to belittle others or to paint a collage of collective victimhood to do it. Apparently he does. Affirmation of one’s own culture through the degradation of another’s, however, is a favorite Balkan pastime. I find it rather pathetic. In the end, it simply won’t fly. Let me tell you why.

I worked in Albania and Kosova just before, during and after the NATO campaign in 1999. I was with the Save the Children Alliance that was first based out of Tirana and then later in Prishtine. It was a crazy time. Although I was field officer for the entire country, I spent most of the bombing campaign on the Albania – Kosova border in the northeast town of Kukes. It was a shitty little town of maybe 15,000 people that was inundated with a quarter of a million Kosovar refugees. A total of 500,000 Kosovars were expelled across the border at Morine by Serbian forces. I was there to witness a large part of this exodus. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, welcome to the monkey house.

kosovo refugees

There were people everywhere. And I must admit I wasn’t impressed with local Albanian hospitality towards the Kosovars. The foreign journalists and aid workers didn’t help much either by snatching up accommodation for themselves – which drove the prices sky high and out of reach for most refugees. That forced most Kosovars to sleep in tractor trailers or in tents. I pitched a tent near the lake in the midst of around 20,000 refugees.

Camps were soon established by CARE, the Turkish government, and even the United Arab Emirates military. They ran a tight show. It was the best run camp I had ever been in….and I’ve seen many, at least in the Balkans. It was a monumental task to get this all organized. I guess the military discipline of the UAE camp came in handy. They didn’t take any shit…as the Albanian mafia would soon find out.

There were always rumors floating around about the kidnapping of children and girls. Some to steal their organs, others for prostitution in Italy. You could literally see the fear of god in the eyes of both the Kosovars and locals when a car pulled up with a Vlorë registration tag. Vlorë was, and some purport still is, the mafia capital of Albania. I know we were not allowed to travel there. The Vlorians were kind enough to make the effort to visit us, though.

There were a few reports of missing children in the camps. But those are very difficult to confirm in the chaos of massive refugee movement. I did, however, witness several things. One of our staff members, a young Kosovar lady, was approached by a van with Vlorë plates. The door swung open and two men grabbed her. What they didn’t know is how strong this little woman was. She got away. It confirmed, up close and personal, our concerns about the kidnappings. We were all on red alert. And in the days to come we learned of more similar incidents. Several days after that two men were shot dead by UAE soldiers. Access to the camp was very limited and, like I mentioned earlier, they were not fucking around. One man was caught attacking a woman whilst the other tried to flee back over the fence. Neither of them made it. They were apparently both from Vlorë.

The stories of murdering Serbs in Kosovo during the conflict for their organs may very well be true. The numbers are most likely quite small. Only one, of course, is one too many in my book. I personally experienced retaliatory tactics by Albanians against Serbs in Kosovo. That’s what war is. It’s plain ugly. I was, for that matter, forced to leave Kosova for defending an old Serbian lady. So it goes.

But what I do know is that the Kosovars themselves were victims to that same brutality. That I witnessed first-hand. The underground of the organ smuggling world is indeed an nasty one – but it is one that knows no borders or nations. It is something that I have never spoken of, perhaps because it is so hard to fathom that it could actually be true or because it’s so hard to get the bottom of things of this nature. The mafia thrives on conflicts and disarray. The chaos of the situation allowed them to step in and wreak their havoc almost unchecked.

My point is, these horrible things did happen.They undoubtedly happened to the Kosovar Albanians at the hands of the Albanian mafia. And a lot more atrocious things at the hands of Serbian paramilitaries. Is it feasible that the same thing was done to Kosovo Serbs? Absolutely. In fact, I’d bet on it. If Emir Kusturica is looking to affirm the Serbs as a nation and a people, though, I can think of a million better ways to do it. Playing the victim card simply ne pije vode. What happened in Kosovo was the Kosovar Albanians taking a large, large brunt of the brutality (after decades of state-sponsored oppression) – mostly at the hands of Serbian paramilitaries and, in a completely different context and to a much lesser extent, by the Albanian mafia. What happened later is another story altogether.

Organ trading is the business of the devil. If Kusturica is trying to glorify the Serbs and defame the Kosovars via a one-sided organ theft story, I’m afraid he’s going about it in all the wrong ways. Perhaps Kusturica rightly criticizes the quality and accuracy of Hollywood when it comes to the Bosnian war (although he wouldn’t know because he wasn’t here). But, knowing him, he will most likely follow in their footsteps with a biased and sensationalized tale of the victimization of ‘his’ people in Kosovo. Two wrongs never make a right, Emir.

You openly attack the credibility of Hollywood films about the region and the unfair demonization of the Serbs. It seems your objective is to do exactly the same. It would be immoral and factually incorrect to portray the Kosovar Albanians as evil organ smugglers terrorizing innocent Serb civilians. That innocence was taken from us all quite some time ago. Mainly by the people you liked to rub elbows and drink rakija with in Beograd.

 

 

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