Category Archives: Hope

Elie Wiesel on Hope.

I was putting some order in my papers today when I found this interview with Elie Wiesel inside a notebook.

The interview ‘Ten questions for Elie Wiesel’ was published in Time magazine in February 6, 2006. I’m posting only three of those questions.

On the photo, my table, always too messy…

dsc_0273

Humility, conscience, the use of power- these are themes you’ve discussed for years.

My mission has not changed. In the beginning, I thought, Maybe my witness will be received, and things will change. But they don’t. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had Rwanda and Darfur and Cambodja and Bosnia. Human nature cannot be changed in one generation.

Where do we start? What do we need to focus on?

Two subjects. We should fight hatred. There should be a Bibilcal commandment: Rhou shalt not hate. And then there’s indifference.  Everyone can fall into this trap. It’s so easy to enter into indifference and stay there. An indifferent person remains indifferent unless shaken up. These are the most important  subjects in the world.

You sound hopeful, but I know you love to read and teach Albert Camus. Why? Many people see him as a depressing writer.

To the contrary, I think he is hopeful. If you read The Plague, there is a doctor who does everything he can to save. In the midst of death, there is a human being who sacrifices his days and nights- and maybe risks his life- to save people he’d never met. Camus said “Where there is no hope, one must invent hope”. It is only pessimistic if you stop with teh first half of the sentence and just say, There is no hope. Like Camus, even when it seems hopeless, I invent reasons to hope.

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Filed under Duty of memory, Hope

Film ‘Resolution 819’ shown in Sarajevo

Two days ago (3 December) the film ‘Resolution 819’ was shown in Sarajevo.

Here is an article on the event, published by Osservatorio sui Balcani (in italian).

Sarajevo 819

According to its author, Andrea Rossini, my fears that the film might misrepresent the role of the UN and the Dutchbat have not been confirmed. Rossini mentions the polemic caused by the article written by Hasan Nuhanovic in the newspaper Dani (translated into italian by Osservatorio sui Balcani and into english from the italian translation here at this blog), saying that ‘the equivoque  was clarified after a meeting between Nuhanovic and Battiato in Sarajevo’.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

La visione di “Risoluzione 819”, del resto, non lascia dubbi, il messaggio rispetto al ruolo della comunità internazionale è molto chiaro. Il sistema viene descritto impietosamente, a partire dai disperati colloqui telefonici del comandante olandese a Srebrenica (Karremans) con il generale delle Nazioni Unite a Zagabria (Janvier), che nega gli interventi aerei.

Here in English (my translation):

The vision of ‘Resolution 819’ does not leave room for doubt, the message regarding the role of the international community is very clear. The system is described with no mercy, starting from the desperate phone conversations between the dutch commander in Srebrenica (Karremans) and the United Nations general in Zagreb (Janvier), who denies an air intervention”.

This perspective is, somehow, confirmed by another person who watched the film, which stated in the comment box of Osservatorio sui Balcani (comment author: provenzan salvan, 05.12.2008 10:08):

ho visto il film l’altra sera. forse non un capolavoro, ma un film utile. (…) temevo sentimentalismi facili, temevo deviazioni “spettacolari” dalla trama, temevo una narrazione molto parziale dei fatti. invece, devo ammettere che la storia di srebrenica e’ li’, e’ nel film che, ricordiamolo, non e’ un documentario (ce ne sono di bellissimi) ma un prodotto che non deve essere “vero”, ma “verosimile”. (…)  il regista ha mostrato la storia di srebrenica, in un modo certo imperfetto e in alcuni punti discutibile, ma non l’ha stravolta o strumentalizzata. magari, altri faranno meglio. o magari no.”

I watched the movie the other evening. it’s probably not a masterpiece, but a useful film. (…) I was afraid of easy sentimentalisms, I feared ‘spectacular’ deviations of the thread, a narration that might be too parcial. On the contrary, I have to admite that the story of Srebrenica is there, it’s on the film, which, let me remind that, is not a documentary (there are excellent) but a product that must not me ‘true’, but ‘likely’. (…) the director has shown the story of Srebrenica, in an imperfect way and in some points questionable, but has not distorted or instrumentalized it maybe others will do better. ir not.

I hope to get other reactions from people who may have watched the film. I’ll post more on this as soon as I have more reactions (it is unlikely that I will have the possibility to watch the film any time soon).

Previous posts on ‘Resolution 819’ on Café Turco:

History as written by other people, the transation of Hasan Nuhhanovic’s article  Drugi pišu našu historiju, published on the newspaper Dani (thanks, Owen, for the translation) (24/11/2008)

Film ‘Resolution 819’ about the genocide in Srebrenica includes inaccurate scene that falsifies the truth, where I react to Hasan Nuhanovic’s article. (21/11/2008)

Film ‘Resoultion 819’ about the genocide in Srebrenica wins highest award at the Rome Film Festival. (1/11/2008)

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Filed under Art, Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Hope, Nationalism, Srebrenica

LETTER FROM BELGRADE

This is a letter I have just received from a colleague from Belgrade:
Dear all,
I would like to share with you one information that made me very happy!
Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnian Serbs during the war in Bosnia, indicted before the ICTY for variety of serious crimes, among other for the Srebrenica genocide, fugitive from justice for 12 years, has been arrested in Belgrade yesterday night.
During the press conference that was held a minute ago the high state officials of Serbia have stated that he was hiding in Belgrade, his identity was well hidden, he was working as the alternative medicine doctor in one Belgrade’s small doctor’s surgery (he was healing people ?!?). He was arrested in a bus when he was going to work.
I know that this all sounds a bit crazy, but it is true.
This story has 2 points:
1) Be careful in the future if you want to seek the advice from the alternative medicine doctor 🙂
2) Most important thing – the law enforcement bodies are usually very capable to do their work – it is the political will that is needed to confront the problem! That could equally be applied in the case of combating trafficking in human beings.
Warmest regards to everyone from Belgrade!

Andjelka

Andjelka, it’s just great to have friend like you. In the end it is people like you that will rescue Serbia’s lost dignity!

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Filed under Belgrade, Bosnia, Freedom, Genocide, Hope, International Law, Justice, Nationalism, Non-conformism, Serbia, Srebrenica

KARADZIC ARRESTED!

I am so HAPPPPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the news on B92.

Here in BBC.

Serbia seems to be finally chosing the future over the past! From Lisbon, I want to greet my serbian friends!

I have just returned from Belgrade, and there was indeed hope in the air. Something was changing. It’s easy to say so now, of course, but those who know me personally know that was my feeling. But as I was leaving, Jelena and I were talking about the possibility that Mladic could soon be arrested, but none of us thought that Karadzic would ever be arrested. It is an irony that it took SPS to get to power for this to happen, but it makes sense. They are cynicals, not true believers, and they will over-run any obstacle to their goals. Now Mladic and Karadic were the obstacles… Too bad for them.

I called my friends on the phone and we cryed of joy together! I am getting sentimental, what can I do?

It’s amazing how things work when there is political will to do so.

At this very moment I am on the phone with one of my friend from Belgrade. She is watching the news on TV and I am waiting for the latest developments. My friends are receiving SMS messages from all around, people are incredibly happy, and now I need to go to sleep because tomorrow there is plenty of work wayting for me, but how can one sleep with such excitement?

My thoughs now go to the little girl that photographed in Srebrenica. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I will print her photos and send them to her family’s address.

Good night Radovan, sweet dreams and srećni put to Holland!

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Hope, Justice, Serbia, Srebrenica

SREBRENICA

This year i attended the annual cerimony in Srebrenica for the first time. I didn’t have the intention to write about it, at least not immediately, but the staff from Women in Black, the NGO that organized the bus in which I travelled from Belgrade to Potočari, gave me a questionnaire for me to fill, so I did write about it. In the end, they didn’t collect my statement, and my friend Jelena, to whom I read it afterwords, though I should publish it on my blog, so that is what I am doing now, with a new part that I have decided to add while I was typing the original handwritten text. The photos published in this post were taken by me.

QUESTIONNAIRE:

Koji put ideš u Srebrenici?

To je bio prvi put.

Šta za tebe u emotivnom, moralnom i političkom pogledu znači posećivanje mesta zloćina posećinjenih u naše ime/Srebrenica?

It was my duty to come to Srebrenica, not because genocide was committed in my name, as I am not serbian, but because I believe it is essential to my work as a researcher in Political Science that I always keep in my mind that the subjects I study, analyze and present to my readers had and continue to have real implication in the lives of real people. It is not difficult for a researcher to loose that sense of reality as he is submerged by all kinds of informations, data and theories. The need to respect the dignity of the victims of violence imposes on me that I never forget that, otherwise my work would be no more than an intellectual exercise to feed my self-image.

Koje ti je osnovni razlog da odlazak u Srebrenicu?

The answer to this question is contained in the the first question.

Koji ti je najvažniji utisak iz Srebrenice/Potočara?

My strongest impression is the small girl who asked me to take her picture. She was probably 6. I am sorry to say that I don’t remember her name. She was beautiful and her mother and grandmother were very generous to allow me to take her picture. They even unleashed her blonde hair so that she might look even better. She was very happy.
I could say the walls covered with blood in the building in Potočari impressed me most, but as a researcher it is my job to deal with that kind of morbid details.
The beautiful girl, and all the other children I got the chance to meet in my trips around former Yugoslavia are what gives my work a purpose. She means that the past is important, but that it is the future that really matters.

My answer to the questionnaire stopped here, because I had already used all the available space in the paper sheet. However, I was not satisfied with the abrupt way in which it ended. I am aware that my last phrase does sound like a cliché, but for me it has a real meaning. Saying that the best in the world are the children does sound like a cliché, but one of the most beautiful poems ever written in portuguese, Liberdade, also ends like that (o melhor do mundo são as crianças), so I rely on Fernando Pessoa to defend myself from the accusation that burdens me of being too emotional, a critique that usually implies that my work is biased or contaminated by an excessive subjectivity.
Dealing with suffering always demands a certain degree of emotional attachment, and this is something one has to learn to deal with. It comes with the job. The focus on objectivity, neutrality or impartiality is usually a way to escape it that but one that carries with it the danger of moral relativization.

I cannot be indifferent to the fact that yesterday thousands of people gathered to pay respect to the dead, but what I witnessed yesterday does not resume to that. I also saw how life is much stronger than death and this is why racists and genociders particularly hate others’ children.
By bringing their children to Srebrenica, these families are preserving the memory of their deceased, they are creating a link between generations that were denied the possibility to live together and enjoy each other’s company. On the children will one day rely the double responsibility to both honor the dead by protecting them from oblivion and to overcome the legacy that burdens their families.

This will not be an easy task. To be able to cope with such responsibility in the future they need to be nurtured now. It is up to today’s adults to provide them with an environment that allows them to grow into self-confident decent adults. If we achieve, these children will represesent the genociders ultimate failure.

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Filed under Bosnia, Brave Women, Children, Duty of memory, Genocide, Hope, Serbia, Srebrenica

SREBRENICA AND SERBIA some thoughts on moral monsters, bystanders and civic minded people.

On my first trip to Serbia, in 2006, I had the chance to attend two sessions of the trial of the Scorpions.

The Skorpioni were a para-military group that attained world fame through a video made public in 2005, where they are seen getting a blessing from an serb orthodox priest, and then killing men and boys in Srebrenica.

The shock that this video provoked forced the serbian authorities to arrest those that appear in the video and prosecute them.

In case someone wants to see those images, please go to youtube and make a search on SKORPIONI. you will find plenty of apologetic videos about them. Please do read the comments, they are quite revealing. I just read one that said “they were a good unit but they shouldnt of filmed what they did because it makes us srbe look bad” . I am not going to post one of those videos here because i don’t want to contaminate my blog with the language of hatred.

In the room reserved for the public in Special Tribunal of Belgrade, there were three groups of people:

  • a group of Human Rights activists from Serbia, the Women in Black, all of them dressed in black in sign of mouring;
  • a group of Mothers from Srebrenica, including some who identified their loved ones getting killed in the video;
  • and finally a group composed of the friends and family of the accused. there were some men in this group, but most of the group was composed by wives, girlfriends and the mothers of the Scorpions.

There were a few other people, five or six at the most (including myself). In what regards the international community, only the Embassy of the USA sent representatives.

As we entered the room, the group who came to support the Scorpions sat on the front seats. The Mothers from Srebrenica sat on the back, while the Women in Black sat between both, as if they felt they needed to act as a barrier.

By that time, my skills in serbian were very very very limited (now they are only very limited), and people tend to speak really fast, so what I mostly did during those hours was to observe the other persons in the room, as well as in the room where the trial was taking place, which was separate with thick glass.

It was not but one hour after the session started that I fully interiorized that I had monstrous assassins in front of me . Not that I didn’t know that. I had seen the video, just like millions of people did. I knew the story, but it’s like on a certain moment I became aware, as it suddenly stopped being just one more thing that I rationally knew about, to become something much stronger: that is the sense that one cannot be indifferent, that we just don’t have the right not to know.

On the short break in each session, these groups would go to the corridor and drink some coffee or water. Watching the behaviour of the Scorpion’s friends and relatives was much more shocking that looking at the back of the assassins as they stood on trial. They were chatting, laughing, and in between they would intimidate and harass the women from the other two groups. It was obvious that they believed nothing would come out of that trial, and even more that they shared the idea that their victims had got what they deserved.

Then, there was also the attitude of the police officers that were guarding the tribunal. They too harassed both the Women in Black and the Mothers from Srebrenica as much as they could, while discretely (and sometimes not so discretely) exchanging complicit looks with the men who had come in support of the detainees and admiring the sensuality of the killers’ girlfriends. While some of those women were dressing like prostitutes on duty, it was the girls from the Women in Black, who were outside the building smoking, that got a warning that they were not decently dressed.

Before the first session, one of the Women in Black told me that i would notice that those people that came to support the killers looked like normal people. This is an argument I often listen to when people talk about mass murder. Most of them did look like normal people, but there was a difference between them and what I consider to be normal people. They didn’t behave like normal people. Their arrogance and contempt clearly indicated that the concept of justice is meaningless to them. I had witnessed such behaviour before in other trials, albeit involving much less serious charges. A friend of mine was over-run by a car whose driver abandoned her and flee. The driver and his lawyer had the same attitude of contempt in court that I observed in the scorpions trial, that is a total disregard for suffering inflicted on others and the absence of any sign of regret, not to mention shame.

These people are normal only if we consider that normal people are incapable of feeling remorse for their wrong doings and the suffering inflicted upon others.

This argument about what normal people can do comes from what I think is a missinterpretation of Hannah Arendt expression The banality of Evil. As far as I know ( I dont have my books with me nor my notes, so I am relying on my memory), she latter regretted having used such expression precisely because of those misinterpretations. This argument, that is often repeated in this context( the best example is the book They wouldnt hurt a fly, by Slavenka Drakulic), is very appealing in the sense that it contradicts the tendency to judge people for their external looks or their origins. Anyone who has already felt disappointed by someone whom one had in high esteem can understand how difficult it is to know the true nature of people and the degree of moral corruption that a person can engage into.
But this argument misses the point on why is it that some people are able to resist and maintain their moral integrity. I believe the answer to that question was provided some centuries ago by the french thinker Ettienne de la Boetie on the when he said that some people are better able than others to keep the sense of the value of freedom in their minds even in the most oppressive circumstances because of their ability to live in a simple way, that protects them from moral corruption. In a way, this is also implicit in Hannah Arendt argument when she speaks about thoughtlessness. As Boetie identifies the habit as the most important treat to free will, so she identifies the refusal or the inability to think as the element that transforms seemingly normal people in moral monsters.
The problem is that normal people living in normal circumstances dont usually know themselves well enough to imagine how they would react or what they would become if faced with exceptional circumstances. In this I consider myself included. However, at a micro level everyone has already experienced or observed situations of discrimination, prejudice and racism. Unfortunately, it seems that most people only feel outraged by discrimination when it happens to them or to someone they consider to be close to them. This reminds me of when I was in elementary school. My teacher loved to beat and humiliate the most fragile children in class, but most of the other children didnt seem to mind because they believes it wouldnt happen to them as, unlike the others, they were smart and behaved well, so the teacher told them (she also told my mother that I was a good student, but my case was different because she didnt beat me but she used to beat my brother who had been her pupil, and this was enough for me to dislike her). So the fragile kids were seen by normal kids as inferior and thus deserving the harsh treatment the teacher imposed on them without ever realizing that they could very easily become the next victims of that sadistic frustrated woman whose sole pleasure was to mistreat the children who most needed her protection. Everyone in school, including my mother, knew about it and nobody did anything in their defense, because in those times it was still considered normal to use corporal punishment and psychological violence to *educate* some children. There was a great deal of conformism in such indifference, to the point that those victimized children actually interiorized that they deserved to be treated in that way.
This brings me to the phenomenon of bystanders, which is something that I find more difficult to understand.

I have given up on counting the number of people in Serbia that tried to manipulate me into relativising the seriousness of crimes committed during the wars. I guess I look dumb, and I do play dumb because I think it is very important for my work to listen to such arguments on first hand. It makes me sick, tough, to listen to some people that have everything to be qualified as decent honest citizens trying to pedagogically convince me about what “really” happened, and then doing their best to show me that the serbs are really nice people, excellent hosts and that I have the wrong impression because I was naive and thus manipulated to believe in anti-serbian traitors ( as if I needed to be rescued from those self hating serbs).

I have been studying about the rethoric of victimization in Serbia, and i also am aware that the reversal of reality is one of the most clear signs of a totalitarian mind-set. But at the same time, I often have the feeling that the strategy of denial, oblivion or relativisation used by normal serbian citizens whom I met in the last 2 and half years is in fact hiding a sense of shame that is sublimated as victimization and scapegoating of others. They need to denie or relativise so that they keep intact their self image of decent persons.

I am in Belgrade now, and today I listened to some young people who were teenagers in 1995. They remember, they know and they refuse denial. They face the hostility of the bystanders and relativisers, something that sometimes has deep implications to their lives, as those bystanders are often their parents, family and friends.

Unlike those other people, they are willing to go against the tendency to denial and oblivion. From their mouths I know that I will have to listen to lectures about the demographic strategy of the albanians, or about how the roma who refuse to integrate themselves in the serbian society all carry muslim names, and similar racist statements that I have heard too often. They are a source of hope, and the fact that they were able to organize and engage in common actions with people like the mothers of Srebrenica is a source of hope for Serbia too.

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Filed under Belgrade, Bosnia, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Freedom, Genocide, Hope, Justice, Nationalism, Serbia, Srebrenica, Violence

THE VRAČAR PACK

I am above all a cat person, but i love dogs too, and dogs have a big advantage comparing to cats: its much easier to take their picture. They also have a big advantage comparing to people: I don’t need to ask for their tacit or explicit consent to take their picture. So I take plenty of pictures of dogs.

Every time I return to Belgrade, one of my first thoughts is whether I will be able to meet once again the lovely stray dogs that live in the garden near Saint Sava Temple. I got used to their presence there, and now I feel emotionally attached to them. My favorite is the white dog with black spots on his eyes. He is also the most difficult to portray, so I call him the elusive dog, because of the fact that he is so shy.

When I was in Belgrade last October, I noticed that there was this dog that looked sad and ill. I was afraid he would not resist the Winter, so it made me really happy to see him once again when I returned some months later. All the dogs were still there, and the sad sick dog looked much better.

Cities are not only made of people and buildings. The stray cats and dogs, the gardens, the trees, the birds, they are citizens too. In the case of Belgrade, they are an essential part of its charm and one of the reasons why I feel so much at home there. Now that I am preparing myself to go back once again, my anxiety starts to rise: will the Vračar dogs be waiting for me? I could call a friend and ask, but I prefer not to know, I hate to get bad news on the phone, and in case there is no bad news to be told, I don’t want to waist the surprise effect of finding all the dogs where they belong.

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Filed under Belgrade, Hope, Serbia