“That’s why they wanted Yugoslavia to fall apart”

“We know how to do many things” remarked a genocide survivor over the weekend. This was part of a larger conversation we were having about the value of resourcefulness in Bosniak culture and the “jack of all trades” persona embodied by many. If a house is needed, they build it. If they don’t know how, they learn. If there is no teacher, they become their own. There is no waiting to be taught, because there is no patience for not knowing.

“Bosnian Girl” by Šejla Kamerić shows an overlay of graffiti originally scribed by the Dutch Batallion stationed in Srebrencia. This shows a tendency to otherize Bosnian women by those who were there to “help.”

I’ve been thinking about how this trait may have aided Bosniaks’ survival during the genocide and in the years that followed in which they were tasked with creative use of the residual pieces of their lives. It is easier to be resilient when you are resourceful because diverse talents and knowledge bases make a person flexible. Like a good patent portfolio or a jungle ecosystem, diversity is best. If a system has enough varied resources, it can make corrective changes and sustain the blow of a species gone extinct or an idea gone moot. In this way, diversity becomes the anecdote for instability.

As another local Bosnian put it, “that’s why they wanted Yugoslavia to fall apart, because we were a rich people.” She meant this not in the financial sense, but in the way a culture and its people adequately nourish one another. That was also the time when the lives of Bosnians, Croatians, and Serbians were more integrated socially and geographically and there was a myriad of minds and hearts from which to draw.

What strikes me is the arrogance of the Yugoslav War instigators to think that they would somehow be immune to the havoc they wreaked on Bosniak communities. It’s obvious that they didn’t take the time to understand how the loss of people and cultural influences would impact the function of the successor states in the region. We see this in the economic data provided by the Global Europe Program which describes the Republika Srpska’s economy as struggling significantly more than the Muslim majority Federation region which is causing a growing number of Serbs to venture into Sarajevo, Tuzla, and other towns on the Bosniak side for economic opportunity. This irony makes clear that those who seek to “ethnically cleanse” and otherwise isolate themselves will ultimately be adversely affected by their own actions. This is why the “us and them” dichotomy is a fallacy. It is, in actuality, always just “us” and it will take a more open exchange and respect for diversity to rebuild the regional economies and resew the war torn social fabric still frayed today. – Krista Bajgier


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