I knew ahead of time that travelling in the former Yugoslavia would be an interesting challenge for several reasons, but, the fact that the country SO recently was at the center of a horrendous war seemed to be the trickiest one. On the way here, I thought about my experiences in other post-conflict or in-conflict countries and what I had learned there. Russia, of course, has a similar past in that it quickly transitioned to capitalism, and the effects of that transition do tend to manifest in a similar way across the post-communist world, despite local culture and tradition. Israel, very much an in-conflict country, taught me how to REALLY look around because conflict isnt always obvious. It could be a sign on the door keeping a certain type of people out, it could be a sudden change of cuisine one street over, it could be a feeling in the air. The most pervasive conflict are the subtle fights and tensions that dominate daily, personal interactions.
Serbia's case is different somehow. It isn't just the fact that a major, urban war was fought in this area only 18 years ago, it is the fact that they are seen as the international pirayas because of it. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a Serbian? The first thing that came to my mind before I got here is "The country that got a little arrogrant and killed a bunch of people", it's how the history has been written. They are the Nazi Germany of the Balkan Wars. Atleast Israel has about 50% of people's opinion on its side. Who stands up for Serbia besides Serbians?
So, does it at all and, if so, how does it affect life here everyday? Serbians are funny. They make a strong effort to say "whatever, we dont need them anyway, we are moving forward, why cant they?". But there have been and there are policies in place which affect them daily, the punishment saturates the air. They aren't members of the EU which makes it very difficult for them to travel. It also makes it very difficult for them to get Foreign Direct Investment to better their economy. Their sports teams do not get to participate in European events and, when they are in the olympics, they feel awkward about rooting for their team. Novak Djokovic is a HUGE source of pride for them but they don't feel they can really support him without people wondering "Here they go again..that Greater Serbia stuff".
So, I think, the question is: How long do we punish these people? Is it 20 years, 40 years? A conflict is NEVER black or white, and while the Serbian army did some horrible things, the others were never exactly innoncent either. The American government does some pretty awful stuff, they probably did in Yemen this morning, would you want that to define you as an American? As members of the Western World, especially with our seat on the Security Council, we write history. We decide who is seen as victim or oppressor, evil or good, innocent or guilty and, unfortunately, it causes reputations which last generations and infiltrates the collective unconscious of entire nations. The consequences for crimes committed by a nation state, the most complicated of human political inventions, are not something to take lightly, lest the punishment create new conflict. Last night, we went to watch the soccer matches on a beautiful street of outdoor cafes and the only game that was on: Croatia vs. Spain. Spain scores, the street went crazy. They came to watch Croatia lose. Is that a sign of a healthy, post-conflict process? I don't know.
After being in Israel, Serbia and soon to be Bosnia, I cant help but think about the Middle East and our involvement there. Will we f*** it up again? Will we hurry through the process, discriminately deciding who was bad and who was good, acting as the political gods, decreeing who lives and who dies? I thought of a quote I read once by George Kennan. He is talking about Russia but I think it is something we should consider when making decisions about lives in faraway countries, with cultures, histories and traditions that we do not understand."When Soviet power has run its course . . . let us not hover nervously over the people who come after, applying litmus papers daily to their political complexions to find out whether they answer to our concept of 'democrats'. Give them time; let them be Russians; let them work out their internal problems in their own manner. The ways by which people advance towards dignity and enlightenment in government are things that constitute the deepest and most intimate processes of national life. There is nothing less understand-able to foreigners, nothing in which foreign influence can do less good." I leave for Bosnia tomorrow. The one thing I am sure of- I will hear the other side of the story. Lindsey