Bosnia

Remembering Scenes from a Massacre as 'Butcher of Bosnia' Convicted of Genocide

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, his wife and bodyguard attend church services in Pale, Bosnia in 1993. Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

As I watched the presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon read the verdict — for a full 58 minutes — it all came back to me. In 1996 and in 1999, I traveled in and out of the war zones in Bosnia. The hand-dug graves in the soccer field. The reports of Muslim massacres; of whole villages forced into a school gym and burned alive; the small hotel where we stayed that was also housing skeletal refugees recently released from a Serb concentration camp; the dogs with blown-off paws; the underground bakery distributing bread at the risk of their lives. And most of all “Sniper Alley” in downtown Sarajevo and the Serb soldier who showed me his sniper nest on Serb-held Mt. Jajolina and pointed his rifle at the place where I was staying.

Pope Aims to Be ‘Messenger of Peace’ in Bosnia

Photo via Brian Pellot / RNS
A banner advertising the pope’s visit to Bosnia hangs in Sarajevo as people pass below. Photo via Brian Pellot / RNS

Pope Francis has promised to be a “messenger of peace” during his day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 6, but despite excitement in the country there are doubts the visit will have a lasting impact.

When the pope touches down in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo, it will have been nearly two decades since a bloody three-year conflict came to an end.

In Celebration of the 'Average' Church

Church steeple at sunset. Image courtesy Nancy Bauer/shutterstock.com
Church steeple at sunset. Image courtesy Nancy Bauer/shutterstock.com

You may have never attended an "average" church, but you've certainly seen one. Older buildings, often made of dark brick, old-fashioned roofs that slope down from the center — possibly a bell tower and a steeple. St. Stephen's. Redeemer. Hope. Resurrection. St. Thomas. St. Vincent. Beautiful Savior. The names recall an age gone by — not just the 1950s, when neighborhoods walked together to Sunday morning worship, but also an age 2,000 years ago, when the world was changed by the witness of Stephen the martyr, and Jesus' resurrection from death on a cross in Jerusalem brought freedom and life to a world hungry for God's love and redemption.

If you've never been in an "average" church, or even if you have, long ago, you may wonder what it's still there for. The median American church has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday morning. More than half of American congregations worship between 7-99 people each Sunday. They are strikingly homogeneous. In 2010, just 13.7 percent of congregations reported being "multiracial." Thirty percent of congregations still didn't have a website in 2010.

Reading these statistics, it may seem easy to despair — to drive by one church and then another, to attend worship there on Christmas Eve and wonder why you bothered.
 

Aren't We Supposed to Be Peacemakers?

DURING THE BALKAN war of the early ’90s, I traveled twice to Bosnia and Croatia. I visited middle-class women whose husbands and sons had been brutally killed. I visited a refugee center filled with people who had lost everything and were at the mercy of any country that would take them in. I visited school children suffering from post-traumatic stress after seeing their parents killed by enemy shells that landed in their homes.

I walked through the rubble of Mostar, where the Friendship Bridge—a massive stone structure named in honor of the many ethnic groups that had crossed it for four centuries—had been bombed and destroyed. In city after city, I saw the destruction of architecture, art, museums—a violent erasure of the cultures that had thrived there.

It was the first time I had seen war up close, and I was shocked by what human beings do to each other.

While I traveled in the Balkans, another war was waged in Rwanda by Hutus against Tutsis—what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide. Since 2009 I’ve traveled twice to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ethnic battles forged in Rwanda crossed borders and continue to this day. As usual in war, civilians pay the highest price. Subsistence farmers in small villages want only to live in peace, tend their crops, and feed their families. Instead, their crops are burned, wives and daughters are raped, and many become slave labor in Congolese mines that provide minerals for our cell phones and wealth for the violent criminals who control the mines.

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Web exclusive: Full text of Swanee Hunt interview

Swanee Hunt, founder of Women Waging Peace, spoke with Sojourners’ Rose Marie Berger about her book This Was Not Our War, and the ways women are engaged in peace processes in conflict-ridden countries.

Sojourners: What got you involved in Bosnia?

Swanee Hunt: I was appointed ambassador to Austria in 1993, and Sarajevo was so dangerous then that the State Department didn’t want to open up an embassy there. I offered to have it in Vienna, so for over a year, the U.S. mission to Bosnia was actually in our embassy in Vienna. As a result, I was meeting the political figures and hosting negotiations, and I became very concerned about the 70,000 refugees that were in Austria. I went out and heard their stories - which sounded like they were coming out of World War II - and, you know, I’d always wondered who those policy makers were sitting at their big mahogany desks when Hitler was organizing and advancing, and all of a sudden I realized I was a policy maker sitting at a big mahogany desk. And I represented this lone superpower that wasn’t doing anything about it. I decided I had to add my voice.

Sojourners: Why did you decide to write this book, particularly with the voices of Bosnian women?

Hunt: I wrote this story about the women because a lot of other people were spending time with policymakers in general - and I was, too - but there were very few people who had the hundreds of hours that I had with the women. Partly that’s because I needed to not get in the way of the State Department people who were working on the official part. And so I worked on the edges, if you will.

Sojourners: Where one often finds women!

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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Replacing Hatred with Hope

Swanee Hunt,

Swanee Hunt, founder of Women Waging Peace, spoke with Sojourners’ Rose Marie Berger about her book This Was Not Our War and the ways women are engaged in peace processes in conflict-ridden countries.

Sojourners: What got you involved in Bosnia?

Swanee Hunt: I was appointed ambassador to Austria in 1993, and Sarajevo was so dangerous then that the State Department didn’t want to open up an embassy there. I offered to have it in Vienna, so for over a year, the U.S. mission to Bosnia was actually in our embassy in Vienna. As a result, I was meeting the political figures and hosting negotiations, and I became very concerned about the 70,000 refugees that were in Austria. I went out and heard their stories - which sounded like they were coming out of World War II. I’d always wondered who those policy makers were sitting at their big mahogany desks when Hitler was organizing and advancing, and all of a sudden I realized I was a policy maker sitting at a big mahogany desk. I represented this lone superpower that wasn’t doing anything about it. I decided I had to add my voice.

Sojourners: Why did you decide to write this book, particularly with the voices of Bosnian women?

Hunt: There were few people who had the hundreds of hours that I had with the women. Various journalists or policymakers were telling the stories, and they were all about the man. You might have a woman victim pop up every now and then, but there was nothing - zero - about what the women had been doing to try to prevent the war, to stop it while it was going on, or to stabilize the country afterward.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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The Mercy Seat

Sex slaves. Type that into your "search" field and the filtering software will get a workout. You’ll also get steered to the U.N.’s International War Crimes Tribunal Web site highlighting information on this winter’s groundbreaking conviction of three Bosnian Serbs for the systematic rape of Muslim women during the Bosnian war. The charge? Sexual enslavement.

The Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia is the first to write rape and sexual enslavement into international war-tribunal statutes as a criminal offense and a crime against humanity in war. The Nuremberg Tribunal heard sex crime evidence, but did not allow it in the formal records. The Tokyo Tribunal allowed rape to form part of the evidence for those convicted during the Rape of Nanking, but sexual crimes were not prosecuted on their own merit.

"I support wholeheartedly the decision of the War Crimes Tribunal to convict these men of rape," said Subhija Sejdic, program director of Sarajevo Phoenix, a micro-business that works primarily with women suffering from effects of the war. "However, the lasting consequences of this violence against the thousands raped—grandmothers, mothers, and daughters—can in no way restore to these women the dignity they enjoyed prior to being violated."

The Tribunal judge stated that these "lawless opportunists" were without mercy in their torture of the women they enslaved and "should expect no mercy, no matter how low their position in the chain of command may be."

In the world’s highest court, the law has exacted retributive justice. Now on to the horrors of the Sudan and East Timor. Is that the end of the story? Has the world’s common good been served? Retributive justice stops at punishment. But what about healing and mercy?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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A Laboratory of Reconciliation

In a seventh-century cathedral on the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslavia, a massive stone carving over the portal depicts the life of Christ. In true Balkan fashion, however, the scenes are not arranged according to time. In the first scene, Christ is baptized; midway he hangs on a cross; at the end the Wise Men gaze at him in adoration, and Mary smiles. Here, specific order is not as crucial as generating spiritual fervor. Who you were is not as important as who you are becoming. And suffering is the rough road one must take to love.

Bosnia is a spiritual laboratory, a place where spiritual hypotheses can be tested and observed. I first visited in 1996 at the end of the vicious four-year siege of Sarajevo. The question I asked then was: What makes average people in extraordinary circumstances behave as sinners or as saints? Now, during Bosnia’s long post-war reconstruction period, and particularly in the aftermath of Kosovo, I ask: This is a people who had raging evil sit on them like a stalled hurricane. Is it possible for them to be born again? Initial evidence suggests that they can.

An Antidote for Fear

Vjeko Saje, project director for the Center for Religious Dialogue in Sarajevo, is a passionate, energetic man in his mid-40s. Saje was an architect before the war. He spent five years working in Baghdad for an engineering firm before NATO air strikes in Iraq sent him home to Sarajevo in 1990. Saje is Catholic, though not Croat; his wife, Azra, is Muslim. The witnesses at their wedding were Serbs. They have an 18-year-old daughter, Irma. They are a fairly typical Sarajevan family.

In 1993, Saje was assigned to dig trenches along the front lines outside Sarajevo. There were three other engineers with him a little further down the line. In a flash of mortar fire one morning, he tells me, all three were killed. He and I are silent. What is there to say?

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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Healing Hands

Much like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, members of Sarajevo Phoenix are rising from the devastation of the 1992-1995 war in the former Yugoslavia. The 17-person embroidery cooperative is comprised of Croatians, Muslims, and Serbians who are attempting to heal the wounds of despair, bitterness, and loss through the work of their hands.

The group—originally all women—formed in the fall of 1997; at that time they were all unemployed. Some existed on miniscule pensions. But each woman had learned to embroider at the feet of her mother and grandmother. Now the 16 women and 1 man meet in program director Bela Sejdic’s home, and in their own homes, to produce altar cloths, liturgical stoles, and wall hangings. Each person who cuts and sizes, designs, and embroiders represents the rich diversity of Bosnia-Hercegovina; each believes in a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

The cooperative formed with the help of Hands Raised Together (HaRT), a ministry associated with Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Although the program’s goal calls for self-sufficiency, HaRT currently subsidizes Sarajevo Phoenix’s embroidery work. Members are paid $20 for a stole, for example, that HaRT contracts to sell for $12.50; HaRT pays the cooperative $12 to create a wall hanging that is sold for $6.50. Considering that many of the women’s pensions amount to only $40 a month, they can create three to four stoles and wall hangings and triple their monthly incomes.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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The Personal Touch

When the Holocaust became general news after World War II, the cry went out, "Never Again!" Never again, we said, would we allow genocide to occur, wherein whole populations are destroyed simply because of who they are. We hoped that the world had truly decided on "Never again!" But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In the past decade, among a myriad of smaller wars, there have been two major massacres that some have called genocides: Bosnia and Rwanda. Both of these were known while they were going on; both received only perfunctory attention from the United Nations and the major powers. Both were permitted to continue until massive destruction of human life had occurred. Neither is really yet over, but both have led to so much killing that now in both Bosnia and Rwanda the population is 70 percent women. Yet these women have not gone unscathed. Besides losing their husbands, fathers, and brothers in so many cases, they themselves have often been tortured and/or raped. Now they find themselves devastated, having lost their men, their homes, and often their self-respect.

What they may still have is children. In Rwanda, there are so many orphans that each woman is asked to care for six children besides her own.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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