The day I faced evil
Sarajevo Travel Blog› entry 8 of 8 › view all entries
We arrived at the memorial place around noon. Based in Sarajevo we had about a three hour drive to get to Srebrenica. Me and my journalist buddy, Morten, weren't sure if we were going to do a story on the events, but I had made up my mind that I wanted to visit Srebrenica when I was in Bosnia. I've never been so tense about seeing something before in my life. Exited yet, anxious. Would it be dangerous for us to be there? I didn't think so. The sun was burning and there was no wind at all. Somehow it just made the cemetary seem more peaceful. It was an amazing sight with almost 2500 green tomb stones spread over a big area. We approached a small group of people in the cemetary- seemed almost like trespassing their private sphere- I mean it's a cemetary for heaven's sake.
Next we approached a woman who was clearly in moarning. As a matter of fact she was looking for family members without even knowing where to look. She didn't speek any English, so our fixer had to translate for us. She was with another woman, a neighbour, that kept saying that she ought to not talk to us- journalist were par of all of the misery. We tried to explain to her that we were here to try and tell the story of the people who lost everything. She wouldn't listened- who can blame her, I mean what did we know about pain?!
Our fixer, Leila, went to talk to one of the diggers in the cemetary. He told us about a woman living behind the cemetary who lost her whole family in the war. We decided to go and see her. She was a rather young woman, actually not older than my mother who was 50 at that time, but she looked 70 to me. Maybe it was the deep wrinckles in her face, maybe it was just the white Muslim scarf surrounding her face. She was sitting in front of her house with two family members, a cousin and her husband. She willingly began to talk about her life. She had lost her husband and three sons during the war- first her husband was killed in a grenade attack. Then her oldest son was killed in another grenade attack and finally her two youngest sons vanished and were probably killed during the siege of the Serbs in July 1995. Their bodies haven't been found or identified yet. During the interview she showed us pictures of her sons and husband and tears were running down her face.
I had to remain professional but it was one of those times where it's really hard to keep a straight face. I felt frustrated and sad and I was almost crying all of the time. It really made me thing about a lot of stuff- how can people be so cruel? And why? But the thought that hurt me the most was: How and why does a woman like that stay alive? What is left to live for? I finally thought that the answer must be that she's staying alive until they find the bodies of her missing children.
The prejudices about the other ethnical groups are still lurking underneath the surface and mixed marriages rarely occur today.
By Natasja Engholm and Morten Ravn
In a small cafe in the old part of Sarajevo the couple Vedrana Rebic and Taner San is sitting. At first sight there is nothing different to notice about them. They are both in the middle of their 20’s, both look South European with the dark hair and eyes and like so many other couples in love they touch each other on a regular basis or look each other deep in the eyes.
However, the people who know Vedrana Rebic and Taner San well will know that they are still different from a lot of other couples their age.
23-year-old psychology student, Vedrana Rebic, is Croat and a Catholic while Taner San, who is 24 years old and studying civil engineering, is a Muslim and after 13 months relationship they decided to get engaged. They hope to get married by the end of this year.
But while it is very common to have friendships among the other ethical groups, mixed relationships and marriages are very rare after the war in Bosnia. According to a statistic from the mayor’s office in Sarajevo 17 percent of the citizens of the city were married with a person with another religious or ethnical background than themselves before the war. According to the same place two marriages were registered between people from different backgrounds in 2005.
“The marriages are rare, because the parents have planted hatred in their children,” Vedrana Rebic explains.
”But we are not angry. We experienced the war, and now we just want to be happy. We don’t want to waste our time on discussions about religion, but I know that a lot of people, especially older people, have been poisoned with that way of thinking. And I also know that a lot of the parents of my best friends wouldn’t like their children marrying outside their own religion.”
She believes that the parents are afraid of how people will react when they learn that their child has married some one from another religion.
“If they were concerned about the happiness of their children, they wouldn’t be thinking that way,” Vedrana Rebic thinks.
“The Muslims experienced a great tragedy during the war and if your Muslim child marries a Serb, the think it would be like denying the abuse or make fun of the tragedy.”
Opposites and solidarity during the war
Both Vedrana Rebic and Taner San experienced things during the war that could have made them think differently about the other ethnical groups.
“The first year of the war my mother and I were here in Sarajevo,” Taner San says.
“After that we fled to Turkey, where we were until 1995, shortly before the war ended. When we left Sarajevo in a convoy we were close to the border between the Serbs and the Muslims and we were forced to wait here for six hours. I saw older people being drawn out of busses and separated from the rest of us.
The Serbs were hitting them, asking whose side they were on. If they didn’t give the right answer they were hit in the face. It was terrible even though I was just a kid and doesn’t remember all the details.”
During the war Vedrana Rebic lived in Sarajevo with her family. Despite the danger of snipers and hitting grenades most of the children continued going to school.
“At the end of the war the children, who weren’t Croatian, started calling us patronizing names that were used about Croats who committed war crimes. My dad fought in the Bosnian army who defended Sarajevo and it was really humiliating being compared to the Croats who were the real responsible for the massacres during the war. I felt so bad that I ended up changing school,” she says quietly.
When she’s still not feeling any hatred against the Serbs or Muslims it’s mainly because of the good solidarity in the building where she was living with her family during the war.
On the first floor lived the Muslims; above lived the Croats, on the third floor the Serbs and on the fourth floor the Muslims again.
“We shared the food, the shelter and there were no conflicts at all. So I experienced both the good sides and the conflicts,” she says.
Love above all
Neither Vedrana Rebic or her future husband is concerned about their marriage in Bosnia.
“If there are going to be any problems, we’ll just pack our suitcases and find another place to live. Because we think humanity comes above all,” Taner San says.
“And love…,” Vedrana Rebic adds smiling.
“Yes, and love,” Taner San supports her words while caressing her hand.
Vedrana Rebic turns serious again. She thinks that she is lucky to have parents who have the same opinion about mixed marriages as herself.
“My parents realized that being a good person in more important than being one nation. They are both Croats and Catholics and still they are divorced. So my mother thinks that it is better to be in a mixed married that is happy than being unhappily married to a man of the same religion and nationality as yourself.
“It is not the same as being an ordinary Serb or Croat as being a Serb or a Croat who kills people. There are so many Serbs who experienced the same kind of abuse as I did,” Taner San adds.
“No and good friends do not try to affect our decision because they know that we are smart and that we have thought things through. And that the feelings are there,” Vedrana Rebic says.
Resistance against the relationship
Even though the war in Bosnia by long is over, Vedrana Rebic and Taner San are still fighting a more peaceful fight against sceptics and opponents of mixed relationships. Their parents and closest friends are standing behind the relationship but the couple has also met people who are against relationships between people with different religions.
“One of Tanner’s friends asked him what I was like because I was a Croat. He then told him a story about his neighbours who had different religions and therefore were divorced during the war,” Vedrana Rebic says.
“He tried to make it sound like he was just giving some good advice but I know he doesn’t care about us,” Taner San says.
”Another of one of his friends wouldn’t shake my hand because I’m a Croat,” Vedrana interposes.
Taner San also tells about one of his Muslim friends who’s father was killed by Croats during the war.
“He has some very ugly opinions about Croats, which I don’t agree with at all,” he says.
“It makes me sad but on the other hand it’s hard for me to blame him for having these opinions. Because he lost his father. I do not know how I would feel if I was the one who lost a parent”.
Vedrana interrupts Taner San.
“But we all lost something,” she says while raising her voice and eagerly gesticulates with her hands.
“Maybe I didn’t lose my father but we have lost both material and non-material things. I have a friend from my university who lost her mother in Srebrenica while her brother and father escaped. She was alone for a couple a months until she suddenly found her father and brother in Sarajevo. And still she is so nice to me, because she knows that I didn’t have anything to do with those people who killed her mother. Because intelligent people are able to tell the difference between the people who killed her mother and
Ordinary people,” she says.
Vedrana Rebic also talks about a Catholic aunt who encouraged her only to date boys of her own religion.
“It’s easier for you and people of your own religion will be better at understanding and supporting you. They will accept your family unconditionally,” her aunt said.
“But later she stopped saying those things because I told her a couple of times that I didn’t agree with her,” Vedrana Rebic says with a smile.
The couple gets both angry and sad when they receive hurtful comments about their relationship. But the both acknowledge that prejudices about the other ethnical groups in Bosnia unfortunately are not rare.
“We know a lot of people who says that they will not marry outside their own religion. The war is the biggest reason. I think it’s a shame, because we are a small country with three nationalities and it’s sad that we cannot appreciate it,” Taner San thinks.
From 1992 to 1995 the citizens of Bosnia lived through one of the worst civil wars in Europe since World War II. It began with an election in 1992 where a majority of the Croat and Muslim population wanted to tear itself from Bosnia-Herzegovina and formed their own states, while the Serbian population wanted a united Bosnia. That led to a civil war that lasted three years and about 250.000 lost their lives.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, often just mentioned as Bosnia, was until
About 4.5 million people live in Bosnia spread into three big ethnical groups: 48 pct Bosnians who are primarily Muslims, 14 pct Croats who are Catholics and 37 pct Serbs who are members of the Orthodocs church. The last 0.6 pct belongs to other ethnical groups.
At an election I 1992 the majority of the Croats and the Muslims in the country voted for a detachment from the republic and the foundation of independent states. The Bosnian Serbs wanted to remain a whole Bosnia.
That resulted in a three year long civil war from 1992 to 1995. On the 14th of December 1995, the fighting parties agreed, under pressure from Europe and the United States to negotiate a peace agreement. That meant that Bosnia was to remain one state but also that the country was separated in two: The federation Bosnia-Hercegovina, which covers 51 pct of the country and mainly is occupied by Croats and Muslims. And the republic of Srpska, which is the Serbian part of the country.
In 2005 the average income in Bosnia was 6.800 $ per inhabitant per year and 45.5 pct were without a job. In comparison the income per inhabitant was 33.400 $ per year in Denmark and the unemployment rate was 5.5 pct.
Source: CIA- the world fact book, Bosnien-Hercegovina by Birthe Lauritsen, Bosnien- OG naboer- på Balkan by Ole B. Clausen
The historical hate- why they are fighting on Balkan
The hatred between the different ethnical groups in Bosnia goes back a long time and far beyond the borders of the country. In 1908 Bosnia was incorporated into the Austrian-Hungarian kingdom, which the Serbs were very upset about, since there was a large amount of Serbs in Bosnia. That led to the murder of the heir of the throne in Austria-Hungary in 1914, by Serbian nationalists. That became literally the starting shot to World War I, when the Austrian-Hungarian Kingdom declared war against Serbia.
During World War II the German Nazis occupied Croatia, but many Croats cooperated with the regime and began an ethnical cleaning of the Serbs in Bosnia. Actually, it is believe that many more people were killed because of internal fighting than under the Nazi gun.
During the socialism regime of Josip Tito from 1945 to 1980 it looked like the old grudge was forgotten and that more and more people saw themselves as Yugoslavians and not Muslims, Croats and Serbs.
But after his death, and also because of poorer conditions of life in the 80s, the Yugoslavian federation winded up going into pieces in 1991. And by then nothing stood in the way of the growing nationalism.
Source: www.folkedrab.dk, Attentatet i Sarajevo by Alex Woolf,
Why is it called Serbs, Croats and Muslims?
In Denmark we understand the word Muslims as a group that has Islam as its religious belief. In Bosnia and in most international Medias, the term Muslims is used for the groups of Bosnians who are not Bosnian Serbs or Croats.
Muslims in Bosnia does not have to be practicing their religion more actively than Danish people. .
Source: Bosnien-Hercegovina by Birthe Lauritsen