I'm not going to pretend to understand what happened in the "former Yugoslavia" in the mid-90s. I mean, I do understand that a brutal war occurred, that thousands were slaughtered, that atrocities against humans were committed, and that many lives were shattered. And I understand that ethnic divisions/hatreds/histories between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians (or Bosniaks) were at the center.
At the time, I remember NPR reporters asking experts and insiders of all kinds to explain to the rest of us what the sources of these ancient conflicts were.
Historical battles, borders, territories. These were some of the answers. My friend, Vesna Neskow, a writer whose family comes from this part of the world has given up (I hope only temporarily) on the novel she wrote about these people and this world.
"It started to seem too much like a lesson in history," she told me, "as if I had too much of an agenda," she said. "Do people understand what that war was about?" she asked me. Speaking for myself, no, not really, but on the other hand, yes, of course.
What prompted me to take up this topic this week was a story I heard on NPR a few weeks ago. The story started out by saying that 15 years after the war, Sarajevo appears to be a city healed. But the reality of the region is that ethnic divisions remain.
Education, which should foster a multicultural society, has instead been manipulated by each ethnic group. There are separate education ministries, and each draws up its own ethnically based curricula and textbooks.
The part of the story that struck me most deeply was this:
In many towns and villages, few refugees displaced during the war have gone back to their homes. More and more young people are segregated: They've never met anyone from the other two ethnic communities. . . .
Says organizer Emin Mahmutovic, "Young people, they are starting to think that ethnic divisions are normal."
One thing I like about writing this blog is that I don't need to come to any conclusions. I can do with this material whatever I want, including simply putting it out there. While reading about Bosnia, however, I did learn that during the war, this beautiful bridge in Mostar was destroyed.It has since been rebuilt, but what could be more metaphorical than a bridge destroyed? And what could be more normal (at least for me) than worrying about what normal can or should be.