Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Meta-tags

This part of the web never had any meta-tags or even an introduction passage. An excerpt from a work by Alyssa Leventhal from Cornell University does much in explaining what a great part of this blog is dealing about

By Alyssa Leventhal, Cornell University

“There is nothing good to be found in the war!”
–quote from a Kung Fu Master to Jasmin Čaušević

The ethnic cleansing that occurred in Bosnia during the Yugoslavian War of Independence has long been mischaracterized and disputed. During the 1990’s, when it was occurring, countries were hesitant to get involved. To avoid the obligation of military involvement, countries labeled the genocide as a Civil War, not only effectively shirking themselves of any responsibility, but also diminishing the horrific experience for those involved by refusing to call it what it was (Neuffer). The politics of naming genocides have plagued the United Nations and the UN Security Council since its onset, and because of this, nations have been slow-moving when it comes to getting involved in the horrific atrocities occurring in other countries (Weiss, 2/27/13). The genocide in the former Yugoslavia is of no exception to this. While so-called “civilized Europeans” were shooting, looting, raping, and murdering, the world stood idly by, waiting for the ‘Civil War’ to sort itself out.

The town of Bihać is the capital of Una-Sana Canton, located in the northwestern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bihac.org).Previously, Muslims, Croats, and Serbs all lived together peacefully before the war, but Bihać became the victim of the nationalistic fervor that had gripped the Balkan region in the 1990’s. The town withstood a siege for three years of the conflict. Bihać was left with “little electricity, no gas or mail service, scant running water” and countless buildings and lives destroyed (O’Connor). “As Serbian forces close[d] in” on Srebrenica, the UN declared it and five other Bosnia towns, including the town of Bihać a ‘UN Safe Zone’ in 1993. Like the majority of the UN Safe Zones in the former Yugoslavia, instead of actually saving the inhabitants of the area and the refugees who sought protection there, it made it easier for the Bosnian Serbs to locate their enemy and viciously target it (News.bbc.co.uk).

What are some of the lasting emotional effects of living through an atrocity like this? How have the pains of the genocide carried through, even to today? This is what I want to investigate with my paper. Because although reading the numbers and the statistics is horrifying, it is engaging with the human element that is tremendously important. It is easy to dismiss numbers. But this is something that happened to people. This is something that young children and teens experienced during their formative, developing years. The physical impacts of death, malnutrition, and rebuilding are somewhat easy to gage. But it is the personal effects, the emotional toil, the distrust of neighbors, which numbers cannot show. This is what I want to find out from the people who experienced it in the town of Bihać.
“There is a general agreement that traumatic events can have lasting mental and emotional effects” (Bolton). Other genocides have fallen into this category. Studies conducted post-genocide in Rwanda have shown that Western-described mental illness has plagued the population following the atrocities of the genocide. Rwandans were asked to describe their symptoms, in their own language, without choosing from a list of symptoms that might color their perception of what is going on. They ended up describing “feeling isolated, feeling like committing suicide, lack of love, feeling hopeless, feeling that [one’s] life is not worthwhile, feeling like [one] is dead and it would be better if [one was], envying the dead,” “feeling [like] there is a cloud within oneself, instability of the mind, loss of intelligence, and a lack of trust” (Bolton). These descriptions ended up being the symptoms of PTSD and depression (Bolton). This survey was done in 2001, which is quite some time after the genocide, yet the psychological effects are still long lasting and prominent.

Genocides also can have a profound effect on the communal identity of the country the atrocity occurs in. In Guatemala, “Generals Romeo Lucas García and Efraín Ríos Montt [launched] bloody military campaigns aimed at decimating [their enemies]… Mayans… were especially targeted” (Esparza, 377). There have been many attempts at achieving justice in Guatemala, including the trial and guilty judgment of Ríos Montt. Yet in spite of all this, “the genocide imbedded a lasting mindset in indigenous… communities.” The atrocities committed against the Mayan people have led to “an ideology of war,” causing “a psychology of militarization and authoritarianism.” The “survivors of rape, violence and torture, and relatives of murder victims, have profound reactions to torture they suffered… such as anger, desire for retaliation, fear, suspicion and guilt, which they focus not only on army soldiers and the government, but also on each other” (Esparza, 386). However, despite the war ending in 1996, this collaboration still continues, and deeply hurts Guatemala’s ability to heal (Esparza, 385). This militarization “continues the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples’ traditional communal bonds” (Esparza, 378).

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the psychological and identification effects are also felt. One of my correspondents, Azra Hromadzic, was a teenager when the siege began. “Life under siege was intense, where ‘the best and the worst’ in people was displayed on [a] daily basis… While living under siege, especially as a teenager who goes to a first date under the rain of bullets, you think that if you ever become “truly” free/the war ends you will not care about so many things, such as petty fights and material possessions.” Her experience as a teenager was shaped by the siege, and “it was the experience that made [her] who [she is] today (Hromadzic, 5/18/13). She “remembers going to a front line looking for her boyfriend just to make sure he was alive.” Hromadzic also points to the effects of living in an area where life is so fleeting. Because of this, “relationships… mature way too quickly during the war, as do youth… [and] everything becomes almost too deep, too intense.” When any day might be your last, it affects the way people behave and think (Hromadzic, 5/19/13). It is within this context that the psychological effects develop. Although Hromadzic feels that “everything and nothing about [her] psychological and emotional self changed due to the war,” she recognizes that the war itself changed her forever and because of this, she thinks of things in terms of they were before the war and the way they were after the war (Hromadzic, 5/18/13). This kind of thinking seems to be one that occurs in post-genocidal societies.

Because the genocide shaped a whole generation, these effects are apparent not only in people but also in literature. Nihad Hasanović, a Bosnian writer from Bihać, in his novel, On Barbecue and Sundry Disorders, depicts life in a post-genocidal society. His novel, published in 2008, is a window to current Bosnian society. According to the back cover, the story is “more than just a psychobiography of his characters, it’s also a satirical depiction of the history of ordinary life as lived by individuals in Bosnia.” Hasanović does this by starting the story with a seemingly normal celebration at the River Una, a beautiful river that runs through the town of Bihać. He slowly contrasts this with the characters’ inner feelings of war and post-war life, indicative of the kind of emotional turmoil other Bosnians are going through in post-war life as well (nihadhasanovic.com). “The narrative unfolds around three main characters, each of them carrying the burden of their experience of war in their own different way” “Is There Such a Thing as a Universal Ethics”https://jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/…/is-there-such-thing-a…).The characters “discover fault-lines deep within the psyche” exposing the concept that “nothing is resolved, [and] life is an ongoing, toxic process” (Nihadhasanovic.com). The characters seek to deal with the pain that has been internalized. “They don’t discuss their experience with the others but are preoccupied with it” (https://jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/, “Is There Such a Thing”).One is so distraught over what he has experienced, he wants to become a completely different person and seeks out a new name and identity. Another, ridden with anxiety and trying to keep it all in, suffers panic attacks (Nihadhasanovic.com). Although the war has been over for at least a decade, these internal demons are the remnants of the war, and something they must cope with. These issues, discussed in the novel, are indicative of the kinds of problems everyday Bosnians face as well.
One of my correspondents, a man by the name of Jasmin Čaušević, who was born in and spent the length of the war in Bihać, joined the army at the age of eighteen. He described the army as “a union between neighbors and the family… [with] in the beginning… only a couple of guns [for] ten men” (Čaušević, 5/6/13). One of his friends, from a city named Sanski Most, had also volunteered for the army when war broke out. His city was one that was especially torn apart “and where many war crimes were committed” (Čaušević, 5/11/13). Whether it was because of nationalist fervor, a desire to protect his country, a sense of duty, or just a feeling of morality, both men were shaped by their experience in the army. Čaušević’s friend came face to face with some of the worst of war’s circumstances – “crossfire of heavy artillery in the frontline… muddy water from the dirty ground [as drinking water].” Yet when the fighting stopped, the town of Bihać went back to the way things were. The new struggle became the sudden normalcy of everyday life, which after four “brutal years of hell[ish]… siege[,] civilian casualties[,] and deaths” did not seem very normal at all (https://jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/2008/08/america.html, “America”).

Like the characters in Hasanović’s novel, Čaušević’s friend found it difficult to cope with the horror that had taken over his beloved homeland. He turned to alcohol, and “began drinking excessively,” watching as his life fell “into a state of complete disorder and loss.” After six months of heavy drinking, Čaušević’s friend decided he didn’t like where this path was taking him, and decided to try one night of sobriety. However, little did Čaušević’s friend know, sobriety is an extremely hard experiment, and the withdrawal can be extremely difficult – physically, emotionally, and mentally. In the middle of a movie theater on his first night of sobriety, he experienced what he described as “what it feels like to die.”Čaušević’s friend dealt with pretty horrible withdrawal symptoms – “sweat[ing] excessively” and feeling “like everything inside him was about to explode.” With a rapidly beating heart, Čaušević’s friend became convinced he was dying and felt it would be best to die within the comfort of his own home. Once there, “he gave in,” and was overwhelmed with images of “all the things that he was eagerly passionate about during his life.” When the episode ended, Čaušević’s friend sought out religion to replace the booze he had been sustaining himself on, but that didn’t last either. Instead, “he decided to go on with his life… as [he had] before the terrible siege had started and turned the dark on” https://jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/ “America”). The war had left this gaping hole in his life, and he couldn’t fill it with anything except normal life itself. Going back to normalcy after such a horrific event is bizarre and difficult, but it is even harder to try to push the event aside, such as with a substance like alcohol.Sadly, Čaušević’s friend was unable to continue his fight with addiction, and lost a stable job, a wonderful girlfriend, and everything meaningful in his life to a heroin addition (Čaušević, 5/11/13). The psychological effects of experiencing something as horrific as genocide continue far beyond the end of the war.

A sense of longing for life before the conflict is something that permeates post-genocidal society as well. Jasmin Čaušević, in a piece of writing online, contemplates the question “who would [he] be now if something significant in [his life] had turned out differently.” His experience in Bihać, “surviving [the war] and living in a city under siege” shaped him like no other experience could. Čaušević was fourteen durnig the years when the ominous smell of the future disasters started spreading, and reminisces fondly about the person he had been: “someone with a collection of comic books… bold enough to produce [his own] and publish them in magazines.” He played basketball, did well in school, and painted. “The world lay at [his] feet.” Yet, Čaušević is undecided if the personal effects of war would have occurred without the violence that preceded it. “It [could have been] the war that changed… individuals so fatally and unfortunately… [o]r… it [might] have had something to do with their psychological make-up.” Since “war can find… [a person’s] every weakness… or… it can bring out the best” in that same person. Because this question is not one that can be answered, people who went through such a traumatic experience, as Čaušević did, are left longing for what could have been, and never knowing if what could have been and what is are one and the same. Čaušević states, “you are not allowed… to dare try and collect up the little pieces of mosaic that once made up your soul and have suddenly become fragments of an irreparable broken glass. Even if you somehow discover a piece of that glass, the face you see reflected in it will never be the same… the only thing left will be the blurred image that was swallowed up [forever] by the [twentieth] century” (Lacunamag.org).
It is within this context that Čaušević has such a visceral reaction to seeing a friend’s sofa. “The sofa was like so many others, with nice tiny brown straps, with nothing out of the ordinary to distinguish it.” Yet, the other dinner guests don’t comprehend Čaušević’s reaction at first. It’s just an ordinary sofa. Compared to the exquisite food that everyone had been dining on previously, the sofa is hardly worth interrupting conversation to comment on. Yet for Čaušević, the sofa is so much more. In his home in Bihać, back before the war, his family had had the same sofa, and it “had been the cent[er]piece of [the] living room.” Yet during the war, “the sofa had been damaged [with]… the rest of the furniture… during the bombardment.” Seeing the same exact sofa, the same color and type, was a reminder for Čaušević that his “sofa had long since fallen to pieces… of wood and fabric, rotten and lost.” It was a reminder that “the [other] objects that once made up [his] world” were also “rotten and lost.” It is one thing to keep going on with life, but longing for what could have been catches up to individuals (Lacunamag.org). Sometimes it’s during a severe episode of withdrawal, such as with Čaušević’s friend who saw everything he had been passionate about, and sometimes it’s when an object from the past pops up. Genocide breaks individuals, prevents them from putting the pieces together, and whatever pieces that individual finds, are not like the pieces that individual had previously had. This couch wasn’t a replacement for Čaušević’s childhood home. Instead it was just a reminder of what was.
Azra Hromadzic also notes a sort of jadedness that emerged after the genocide. She refers to it as “learn[ing]… the rules and games of politics” (Hromadzic, 5/19/13).The international community is not fast when it comes to responding when crises emerge, and it is also extremely inefficient when it comes to dealing with those crises. When the atrocity was occurring in Bosnia, the worst of the United Nations’ bureaucracy and inefficiency was on display with its inability to deploy peacekeeping forces (Neuffer). In addition, Hromadzic recalls on “the day when… NATO [was] supposed to bomb the Serb-controlled frontlines around Bihać because the Serbs were still shelling the city, nothing happened. NATO did not step in when the Serbs continued with their bulletfire even though they had issued the ultimatum. “The official reason was that the weather conditions were wrong… [when] [i]t was a sunny day.” In actuality, “there were some tensions at the high level politics involving France, [who] was opposed to the bombings.” Because of this, the poor citizens of Bihać were stuck in the city, the Serbs were allowed to continue their shelling, and citizens like Hromadzic were left feeling like the international community was apathetic to their plight. “The larger, often self-interested motives” left Hromadzic feeling cynical and disillusioned, yet hopefully that those self-interested motives might add up in her favor. She points to this when “following other wars in the world, [she has] a much more sophisticated relationship to suffering, to politics, to political economy of structural, physical, and symbolic violence (Hromadzic, 5/19/13). The lens through which she views the world is different because of how the world reacted, or rather, didn’t react.

Another lasting effect of genocide that I have noticed, is a disapproval of the kind of distinctions that led to the genocide in the first place – such as ethnic, national, and religious divides. This is especially true with the survivors from Bosnia. This disapproval can be simple, such as Jasmin Čaušević stating that he hates the word ‘nationality,’ clearly residual feelings from a war based solely on prioritizing and preserving one ‘nationality’ over others (Čaušević, 5/11/10). This disapproval also can pop up in a different way. The Bosnian writer, Nihad Hasanović, thinks “it is important to know a foreign language.” This doesn’t seem like the remnants of a war-torn society’s thinking. However, with Hasanović’s explanation of the reason for knowing other languages, one can see the effect the genocide had on him. Only speaking one language “would be like finding [oneself] just a mile or two away from a really beautiful city, with the opportunity to go there and look around, but unwilling to do so because of some obsession or prejudice, an excessive devotion to [one’s] own homeland.” “Studying a language is… an investigation that involves entering a different culture, exploring it, [and] absorbing it.” Hasanović places other cultures, languages, and cities on par with his own. He believes there is beauty to be derived from other languages, and not deriving that beauty can only be due to “obsession or prejudice.” This diction is especially telling, because the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs was specifically because of some “excessive devotion to [a]… homeland.” Years later, these feelings are culminating as an appreciation of other languages, and a disregard for the motives of people who specifically choose to be monolingual. However, for Hasanović, it is also not enough to know a foreign language if the person who knows it has not allowed that foreign language to make them “less rigidly nationalistic or narrow-minded.” Hasanović brings up these emotions because these are the emotions that have been the most destructive to his home (jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba, “An Interview”).
The experiences of war and genocide are very personal ones. Their effects are very personal as well. Because of this, it is hard to identify all of the lasting effects from genocide on people. Talking can be therapeutic, so perhaps by talking about this it can do something beneficial for the people who experienced the atrocity. The lives in the city of Bihać were forever shaped and altered by the siege and the war. The psychological effects, the identification effects, and the lens through which individuals view the world are pronounced in Bihać because of the experience. Individuals such as Hasanović, Čaušević, and Hromadzic are left wondering about the difference between what is and what could have been, never knowing if these two are one and the same.
Works Cited
"Bihac." Bihac. Web. 10 May 2013. <Bihac.org>.
Elizabeth, Neuffer. The Key to My Neighbor's House. New York: Picador, 2001. Print.
O’Connor, Mike. “Besieged Now by Cold and Hunger.” New York Times 19 Oct. 1995:
Bl+. Print.
BBC. “1993: UN makes Srebrenica ‘safe haven.’”BBC. BBC, 2013. Web. 19 May 2013
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/…/stories/april/16/newsid_4253000/4253
41.stm>
Bolton, Paul, and Neugebauer, Richard. “Prevalence of Depression in Rural Rwanda
Based on Symptom and Functional Criteria.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental
Disease 109.9 (2002): 631-7. Online.
Esparza, Marcia. “Post-war Guatemala: long-term effects of psychological and
ideological militarization of the K’iche Mayans.” The Journal of Genocide
Research 7.3 (2005): 337-91. Online.
Hromadzic, Azra. “Cornell University-Weiss’s International Humanitarianism Class.”
Message to the author. 18 May 2013. E-mail.
Hromadzic, Azra. “Cornell University-Weiss’s International Humanitarianism Class.”
Message to the author. 19 May 2013. E-mail.
Hasanovic, Nihad. The back cover text. Web. 19 May 2013.
<http://www.nihadhasanovic.com/en_knjiga_4.php>
Causevic, Jasmin. “Hot Sofa story/essay.” Message to the author. 6 May 2013. E-mail.
Causevic, Jasmin. “Professor Weiss’s Class Project.” Message to the author. 11 May
2013. E-mail.
Causevic, Jasmin. Is there such thing as Universal Ethics?. Web. 19 May 2013.
<http://www.jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/…/is-there-such-thin…
ethics.html>
Causevic, Jasmin. America. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/2008/08/america.html>
Causevic, Jasmin. Hot Sofa. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://lacunamag.org/2012/12/jasmin-
causevic-hot-sofa/>
Causevic, Jasmin. An Interview with Nihad Hasanovic. Web. 19 May 2013.
<http://www.jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/…/interview-with-nih…>
https://jasmin-morehard.blogspot.ba/2008/08/america.html