Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Uri Avnery: Crying Stones of Bosnia

Expand Messages
  • World View
    Crying Stones (A Lesson in Ethnic Cleansing) Uri Avnery 17.6.06 w w w . g u s h - s h a l o m - o r g I COLLECTED with my bare hands the body
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Crying Stones
      (A Lesson in Ethnic Cleansing)
      Uri Avnery
      w w w . g u s h - s h a l o m - o r g

      "I COLLECTED with my bare hands the body parts of my two little sons.
      What mother must do that? One shell of the aggressors blew them apart.
      Within a second, my life was destroyed forever." The woman spoke
      quietly. Her third son, a boy of about eight, stood at her side and,
      from time to time, wiped the tears from her cheek. The well turned out
      woman, her hair collected in a pink kerchief, well dressed, was
      self-controlled but full of restrained hatred for the "aggressors" -
      the Serbs - who had caused her tragedy. A big wreath and the photos of
      the boys at the entrance of the home silently commemorated the 15th
      anniversary of the disaster - the first day of the siege of Sarajevo.

      From the moment we - Rachel and I - arrived at the airport, Sarajevo
      threw us into a cauldron of emotions, which we could not escape for a
      moment. In Sarajevo, one simply cannot be indifferent. "For the stone
      shall cry out of the wall," as the prophet Habakkuk (2, 11) said.
      Walls pockmarked by bullets, ruins that once were homes, people
      carrying with them blood-curdling stories as if they had happened but
      yesterday. A city that warms your heart and breaks your heart.

      For a total of four years, Sarajevo was under siege. It is hard to
      believe - and it happened only ten years ago. The capital city of a
      European state, surrounded on all sides, stricken, starved, shelled,
      tortured - with Europe looking on.

      The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a beautiful town - and its very
      beauty became its disaster. The description of Jerusalem in Psalm 125:
      "The mountains are round about Jerusalem" also fits Sarajevo. It lies
      in a valley, surrounded by high hills on all sides. Green, wooded
      hills, in many places dotted with red roofs. There is almost no spot
      in the city where one does not see the beautiful hills. But since all
      the hilltops were occupied by the Serbian army that beleaguered the
      city, there was practically no spot in the city that was not exposed
      to snipers. Not for a day, a week, a month. For four long years.

      Sarajevo is a town of graves - dozens of graveyards are dispersed
      across it, small, large and very large. Thousands of white tombstones
      blind the eyes, mostly of uniform dimensions and with simple
      inscriptions, fresh wreaths at their feet. Twelve thousand of the
      town's inhabitants were killed during the siege, 1500 of them children
      under 14. The entire city is still suffering from this trauma.

      And in spite of that - a vibrant city. Traffic jams, old, clattering
      cars, roads and sidewalks scarred. The city tries to recover: many of
      the square houses, which look as if they had been painted by children,
      have been redecorated in brown, green and mustard colors, and between
      them are fruit trees and small garden plots with huge rosebushes.

      In the center of the town - a Turkish palace, built, of all people, by
      the Austrians when they were ruling Bosnia. It housed the state
      library, one of the most important in the world. It was completed
      destroyed by fire during the siege. Behind the imposing front,
      everything is burned out.

      A FORMER commander, with grey hair and a sunburned, plowed face,
      showed us the battle sites and recounted the annals of the siege. I
      felt as if I had been there myself. Every word reminded me of my own
      experiences in the war of 1948. The improvised army; the feeling that
      "there is no alternative"; the fear that if we lose the battle, we and
      our families would be massacred; the shortage of weapons; the sense of
      "few against many"; the breakthrough to a beleaguered city (Jewish
      Jerusalem); the blurring of the dividing line between soldiers and

      At the time, I followed the Bosnian war with the feeling that it very
      much resembled our own war. It was an ethnic war, a war marked by what
      since then is known as "ethnic cleansing".

      I was invited to Sarajevo to speak about precisely this subject, in an
      international conference of the "New Agora", which is based in Poland
      and whose aim is to gather intellectuals from different countries to
      discuss the future of the world. (In ancient Greece, the Agora was the
      market square where the population could assemble to discuss public

      An "ethnic war", in my understanding, is different from any other war.
      A "normal" war takes place between states, mostly for a piece of land
      on the border between them. Thus, Germany and France fought for
      centuries over Alsace. But ethnic wars are fought by two peoples over
      a country that both consider their homeland. In such a war, each side
      strives not only to conquer as much territory as possible, but also -
      and mainly - to drive the other people out. That's why it is always
      especially cruel.

      The 1948 Palestine war was an ethnic war between Arabs and Jews. Each
      side believed that the entire country belonged to it. Half of the
      Palestinian people were driven from their home and land, some by the
      fighting itself, some by a deliberate Israeli policy. For the sake of
      historical justice, it must be mentioned that in the areas conquered
      by the Arab side (true, they were small) no Jews remained either. But
      we conquered 78% of the country, and from these areas 750 thousand
      Arabs were removed, while less than 100 thousand remained. Hundreds of
      villages were razed after the war, and on their sites new Jewish
      villages were built. Entire Arab neighborhoods in the towns were
      emptied, and new Jewish immigrants replaced the former inhabitants.
      Conquest and expulsion went together. In short: ethnic cleansing.

      The Bosnian war was similar - except that instead of two sides, as in
      our war, there were three: Bosniaks (Muslim), Serbs (Orthodox
      Christian) and Croats (Catholic Christian). Each of the three sides
      fought against the other two. Terrible massacres became almost
      routine. As a sad Bosniak told us: "Every day a farmer plowing his
      field discovers a new mass grave."

      As in Palestine before the 1948 war, the different populations lived
      in Bosnia interspersed with each other. The towns were mixed (like
      Jerusalem and Haifa), the villages lived beside each other - villages
      with soaring minarets, villages with Catholic church towers, villages
      with the domes of Orthodox churches.

      Therefore, people used to think, before it happened, "it can't happen
      in Sarajevo." Serbs and Croats were already butchering each other in
      the other states of the disintegrating Yugoslavia, but in Bosnia?
      After all, there everybody had married everybody. There is hardly a
      person in Bosnia in whose veins there does not flow all three kinds of
      blood together. In the towns, they lived door to door.

      In Sarajevo there was - and still is - a large majority of Muslims,
      side by side with minorities of Croats, Serbs and Jews, in that order.
      The general who explained the battles to us, Jovan Divjak, the former
      deputy commander of the Bosnian army, is a Serb. He left the Yugoslav
      (Serbian) army in order to defend Sarajevo.

      The photographer who took my picture for a local magazine found it
      hard to explain his family tree. One grandfather, a Muslim, had
      married a Croat woman. The other one was himself half Serb, half
      Montenegrin, while his wife was Muslim. "We must all live together,"
      he said repeatedly, "After all, there is no real difference between us!"

      And indeed - that is one big difference between our war and the
      Bosnian one. There, all three sides, who butchered each other with
      such relish, speak the same language. All three are the descendants of
      the same Slavic tribes that conquered this country in the 7th century.
      In the street, one cannot distinguish between a Muslim, a Croat and a

      Sarajevo was - and remains, in spite of everything - a model of
      tolerance. On one square in the center of the town there stand, next
      to each other, a mosque, a Catholic church, an Orthodox church and a
      synagogue. It is hard to believe that 10 years ago there was a
      terrible war raging in this country.

      "I can't sleep at night," the Muslim cook at a restaurant told us.
      "Every night the sights come back to haunt me. I want to forget, and
      cannot." When he was 18 years old, a tall, muscular youngster, he was
      drafted into the then Yugoslav army, which was dominated by the Serbs.
      When the war between Serbs and Croats broke out, he was enroled in a
      special unit and sent to Vucovar, where the Serbs carried out a
      terrible massacre of the Croats. "We mowed them down row after
      row, dozens, hundreds, men, women and children. Me too. I had no
      alternative. If you refused, the commander shot you in the neck. In
      the end I stole a truck with weapons, and deserted. I was caught and
      spent half a year in prison. It was hard, very hard. I escaped and
      reached the Croats. They put me into one of their special units, until
      I managed to desert and came home to Sarajevo. Now I live with my
      father and mother and want some day to open an inn, to have a family,
      and to hell with everyone."

      After a moment he added: "It's the politicians who are to blame for
      everything. If I were God, I would kill them all!"

      AT THE entrance of a shop in a pedestrian street in Sarajevo I saw a
      T-shirt with the English inscription: "I am a Muslim - don't panic!"

      For an Israeli, it is difficult to accept that almost all the people
      in the street are Muslim. They do not resemble the Muslims we know at
      home. They are white, Europeans. Almost all the children are blond. On
      the thousands of graves, over the name of the deceased and the dates
      of birth and death, one Arabic word is inscribed (Fatiha, the prayer
      for the dead), but except for the Grand Mufti, who sat next to me at a
      panel discussion, I did not meet anyone who knew Arabic. I also did
      not see anyone smoking a water-pipe, not even near one of the dozens
      of mosques in the city.

      The Grand Mufti had heard only vaguely of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
      who had visited the city in World War II. "Ah, that Husseini ," he
      remarked dismissively. But Yasser Arafat is remembered. He met with
      the adored leader of the Bosnian Muslims, Aliya Izetbegovich, during
      the peace negotiations and advised him: "Take what you can get!"

      A few women cover their hair with colorful silk kerchiefs. It is
      rather odd to see such young women, with colorful headcovers and
      elegant floor-sweeping skirts, sitting in the coffee-shops with female
      friends and smoking cigarettes. They also walk around in mixed groups
      with girls who do not cover their hair and wear tight jeans and
      T-shirts. There seems to be no problem.

      Many shops in the market sell local art - artillery shell cases used
      as vases or salt/pepper mills, bullet cases used for pens. Everywhere
      pictures of Tito are on sale. Many people recall him with nostalgia.
      As long as he was alive, he kept the peace between the peoples of

      But the most interesting place in town is the tunnel. It explains how
      the city could hold out during the four years of the terrible siege,
      without starving to death or dying for lack of medicines, or
      surrendering for lack of ammunition. Much as we succeeded in 1948 in
      breaking the siege of Jewish Jerusalem by moving the boulders and
      creating a primitive "Burma road", the Bosniaks dug a tunnel under the
      Serb position to reach the free Bosniak area beyond. For five Bosnian
      Marka (two and a half Euros) one can get in: it's 1.60 meters high, a
      meter wide. Through this underground passage, food, medicines and arms
      were brought into the city, by half crawling, and the wounded were
      moved out.

      Now it is a museum, the pride of the town. Perhaps, some day, the
      tunnels of Rafah in the Gaza Strip will serve the same purpose.

      THE NATIONAL symbol of Bosnia is the bridge of Mostar, two hours drive
      by bus from the capital. The Turks, who reigned in Bosnia for 400
      years and are fondly remembered, built there a unique, high stone arch
      bridge over the river. It remained unharmed through all wars, until
      the last war. When the Croats besieged Mostar, they destroyed it
      willfully with artillery.

      After the war, the bridge was rebuilt with European money, an exact
      replica of the ancient one. But the barbaric deed is still burning in
      the heart of every Bosniak. "Don't forget 1993!" demands an
      inscription on a stone tablet.

      When we visited the place, in the heart of the fascinating old town,
      soldiers of the international peace-keeping force were strolling
      around. I looked at their shoulder tags, and could not help laughing.
      They were Austrian soldiers.

      On June 28, 1914, a Serb nationalist called Gavrilo Princip murdered
      the Austrian heir to the throne on the main street of Sarajevo, in
      protest against the Austrian occupation of the country. That led
      directly to World War I.

      Now, 92 years later, the Austrian soldiers have returned to Bosnia,
      and the inhabitants are glad to see them there. True, many people in
      Bosnia believe that another war is impossible: "It can't happen again.
      We have learned our lesson!" But a young woman of 20, who is still
      carrying within her the trauma of the siege, told us: "Have no doubt -
      if the international soldiers leave, everything will start again!"

      It is possible that the ethnic war in Bosnia, like the ethnic war in
      our country, is not yet over.



      To subscribe to this group, send an email to:

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.