by: Kurt Miller ’16
How can we pat ourselves on the back when so many died?
When good men do nothing, evil always thrives.
Through the horrors of horrors, that bloody genocide,
Too many tragedies in too short a time.
History says we saved them, but we are the victor.
It’s a filthy lie that with time, only grows thicker.
Remember not the guts and glory,
But the Cowards who fled, now that is the story.
Peace keeping is foolish, when war has begun,
But it is even more silly to drop everything and run.
All for the sake of a few dozen men,
Tens of thousands met their tragic end.
Why, oh why did these events unfold?
So many chances to not repeat the mistakes of old.
“Never again” – the mantra we uttered,
But how, then, does this keep happening amongst brothers?
Too many mothers grieving for sons.
Even today, many still succumb.
Genocide on an industrial scale,
A tragedy of modernity, people still wail.
While we all were young, crying and sleeping,
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, evil was creeping.
Kurt Miller ’16 – This summer, we have studied over the past several weeks the limits and potentials of enlarging the European Union to include the country of Bosnia & Herzegovina. This week, we visited the beautiful city of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Amongst this ancient and beautiful city, the scars of the devastating war from 1992-1995 still remain present. It is hard to imagine that for four years in the 1990s, while I was living a comfortable life in the Midwest, this city was under siege. The longest siege of a city since World War II has left an eerie mark on this city. Shrapnel scars pepper buildings and many structures remain skeletal shells – stuck in a state of limbo as their legal owners’ fates are unknown.
The real tragedy of this war was not, however, the siege of Sarajevo, but the genocide committed throughout the country by paramilitary and military forces. Yesterday, we visited Srebrenica – a town smaller than Crawfordsville, Indiana. This picturesque town, nestled between scenic mountains and lush green forest, was the site of the most destructive genocide on European soil since World War II. We met with a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) who lost both his twin brother and his father to Serbian forces. His eyes and speech told me the story of his struggle and I felt his pain during his presentation.
Bosnia & Herzegovina is divided into two main state entities comprising three main ethnic groups. In one half of the country, the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina contains a majority of Bosniaks (Muslims) and a minority of Croats (Catholics). In the other half of the country, Republica SPRSKA, an overwhelming Serbian majority (Orthodox) is present. The conflicts between these ethnic groups and religious groups reflect thousands of years of foreign occupation dating back to Ancient Rome. Over the past 2,000 years, further occupations by Ottomans, Austo-Hungarians, Nazis, and Communists dichotomized this country and drove deep divisions based upon ethnic lines.
After the breakdown of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, multiple wars of independence were fought. In 1992, Bosnia & Herzegovina was on the brink of civil war between the two state entities. During a parliamentary session, the leader of the Serbian delegation threatened the “extermination” of the Bosniak population. Bosniaks expected war, but they did not expect genocide. When Serbian forces rolled into the mountains around Sarajevo, cutting the city off from all electricity, phone lines, water, and food sources, horror stories began coming out of tales of mass murder. All Muslim men between the ages of 12 and 77 were targeted by Serbian forces. The goal of these murders was to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks in order to create a greater Serbian state.
When we visited the site of the largest genocide yesterday, I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness. As a Wabash man, we are taught to think critically, lead effectively, act responsibly, and live humanely. All of these values could have helped prevent these heinous crimes from unfolding, yet none were present. U.N. Peacekeepers were present at this site during the time of the genocide, yet they did NOTHING to stop it. I cannot help but feel regret that the international community did so little to stop these atrocities. The hardest part was knowing how many mothers and young children still grieve at the unknown fates of their fathers and brothers.
We have intently listened to multiple speakers tell their stories of the war and while the scars are present, they paint the hope for future reconciliation. The international community has by and large failed to solve this country’s problems, so the people take the difficult responsibility upon themselves to cobble together a history that is neither discriminatory, nor falsely accusatory.
We will return to Freiburg, Germany on Saturday, but the people, cities, and mountains have told me the story of a people on the grieving side of history that I will remember forever. Twenty years after these tragedies, I feel a sliver of hope. Bosniaks still ostracize Serbs and vice-versa, but the killing has ended. The state, described by political scientists as a minimalist state, has successfully integrated military forces containing multi-ethnic units. This may not seem like much, but it is a major step forward that only two decades ago these men were killing each other simply because of their ethnic heritage.
For now, we must never forget. Before I came here, I knew next to nothing about Bosnia. Now, I leave here with the goal to never allow my fellow Wabash scholars to glance over this small Balkan country as another tragedy of history.