The place where...

I got home last night and picked up Martin Bell's book 'In Harm's Way'. Large parts of the book are his reflections of his time in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 90s. I read it before we moved here. Eighteen months later the place names are no longer historical abstractions but 'the place where so-and-so lives' or 'the place where we turn right to get to so-and-so'. This weekend three things made me remember his book; here are two of them.

A Bosnian friend told us how she'd been on a trip in Serbia a few years ago. She'd been put up by a very poor but very hospitable Serbian old lady. At one point the old lady pointed out the damage that still remains from the American bombing of her area. 'Was your town bombed?' she had asked her guest. 'I didn't have the heart to tell her the Serbs bombed our town' our friend told us.

As we sat at breakfast yesterday the TV played silently in the corner. Radovan Karadžić was making his opening statement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Someone looked up as pictures of Sarajevo's Markale marketplace flashed onto the screen: 'My dad was there two hours before that happened'. Karadžić was arguing the massacre was a stage-managed set-up.

These two incidents made me think. I'll leave you to imagine the reasons why. I don't have a clever conclusion; far be it from me to state the lessons you should learn from stories like these. It is for others to discuss the attributing of guilt or blame, the determining of causes and contributing factors. I am aware, as much as ever, that the 'true' version of history will depend entirely on who is telling it. But whatever lessons we do learn, I hope we are not quick to forget them.


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