The powerful force of history

History is a powerful force, especially for the victors. This week we had the opportunity to visit the Institute for the Research of Crime Against Humanity, the BiH War Court, and the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) Outreach Center. We learned extensively about the history of Yugoslavia, its’ break-up, and the wars throughout the region. But it did not hit me until Friday afternoon on a cab ride to the bus station that we have only had the opportunity to hear one side of history.

Friday stated with a visit to the Institute for Research, which researches every aspect of the war and its’ crimes, then at the BiH War Court we heard about the process of prosecuting war criminals at the national level. But it was the cab ride to the bus station that made me reevaluate everything. A little background: we went to the wrong bus station to catch our bus to Croatia and we had 15 minutes to get to the other bus station half-way across Sarajevo but it may have been fate, or karma, or whatever you believe in that we ended up at the wrong station. Our friendly cab driver asked if there was anything he could do to help us since we might miss our bus to Croatia but we had already accepted the fact that we might miss it. We made small-talk with him, he asked us where we were from, we said the US, Colorado. What he said next came to no surprise to us. “I like Americans but I don’t like the American government.” We assumed it was because of our current political situation but then he added, “They bombed Serbia, I don’t like them [US government]. Now, they are doing it to Syria and Iraq.” The conversation turned to where he was from. He lived in the center of Sarajevo for a majority of his life, until the siege started. He said, “I had to leave. The Muslims were going to kill me. I paid a lot of money to get out and went to Srpska [Republika Srpska].” But by this time, we were close to the bus station so we weren’t able to have him elaborate and I didn’t think of him again until Monday afternoon at the ICTY Outreach Center.

At the ICTY Outreach Center, Almir explained that one of his office’s goals is to go into communities and schools to explain what occurred during the war. He told us of visiting a high school in a town in the R.S. where the school was used to commit sexual violence and war crimes. When he told the students, sitting in the renovated school, they had no idea about the history of their school. They did not know war crimes were committed there. In the R.S. the war and its atrocities are not taught. Young adults view war criminals from the Bosnian Serb Army as heroes. The ICTY Outreach Center tries to explain to them that they are not guilty for their ethnic past, they are not guilty of what happened before they were born. Then I thought of our cab driver from Friday. Who does he blame for having to move from his home? Does he resent what happened to him and his family? In order to understand conflict we must look at all sides, not just the side of the ‘victims.’ By ignoring the victims of one side we are ignoring history as a whole and the conflict is bound to happen again.

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