I will never forget the constant reminders throughout the city of Sarajevo and the Bosnian countryside that a brutal war occurred in the country less than 25 years ago. One could not escape the reminder if they tried. From the “Sarajevo Rose” mortar shell scars on city sidewalks and roads to the bullet holes and mortar strikes leaving their marks on buildings, the reminders were seemingly everywhere, including when observing some of the people navigating daily life. I felt the shock of war’s unfortunate reality when on several occasions I noticed people who had lost an arm or a leg. As a result, each time I was reminded of the war my mind raced back to the readings and videos I consumed before embarking to Bosnia, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the circumstances and actions that caused the visible scars to some of the people and infrastructure that encompass Bosnia.
I cannot overstate the importance of continuing to talk about the atrocities that occurred in the Balkans in the 1990s. History will have a harder time repeating itself if there is open dialogue concerning the factors that led to atrocities in the first place, and the factors that need to be avoided so that they don’t happen again. Victims’ stories of tragedy and survival are vitally important to not be ignored because they bring an extremely powerful personal narrative that allows the audience to relive the experience with the victim and attempt to put themselves in the victim’s shoes. That said, victims have the choice to not speak about their tragic experiences, and no one should judge a person based on their choice. The choice is a very personal one and whatever the person chooses is the right one for them.
I spoke briefly in a previous blog about our class having the opportunity to hear a firsthand account of survival from a Srebrenica genocide survivor. A member of the audience from a separate group than us spoke out after the survivor, Nejad, finished telling his harrowing story in great detail. The person thanked Nejad for sharing his story, but then said in more or less words that there is a time to be silent after sharing experiences. I am in disbelief that this man had the audacity to say such an insensitive thing to a person who just told a gut-wrenching story of survival in the midst of hatred, and attempted to control this person by threatening his right to speak freely. I believe my other classmates would agree with me when I say that I was happy and proud to hear our professor immediately respond by telling Nejad, “please never be silent.”
Stories like the one we heard from Nejad need to be heard. Nejad started to share his story not long ago after years of choosing not to. That choice made sense for him at the time and his choice to speak today makes sense for him now. I am in awe of not only Nejad’s courage, as well as the other survivors of genocide we had the privilege to hear, but also of their ability to not hate even after falling victim to the utter hate of others. We as a society have a lot to learn about tolerance for others and forgiveness. I believe that a greater ability to love is the key. All of the survivors that we met showed us their unwavering capacity to love even after having their hearts broken and shattered by heinous crimes committed against them and their loved ones. I sure felt loved by them. I have a deep and everlasting admiration for each person we met who were affected by the Bosnian War, whether they are victims or dedicate their time to raise awareness and fight for the peace and remembrance of the victims and their families. I will never forget my time in the amazing country of Bosnia, and my time spent with the people who continue to enrich the beautiful country. I can’t wait to go back.