Latest Reading: “War” by Sebastian Junger

Junger is a New York Times reporter and author who was embedded with US troops in a remote valley in Afghanistan in 2007-2008. This book and a documentary film, “Restrepo” were the result of his experience. I was engrossed in the book and couldn’t put it down, while between swims in the ocean and pool with the kids while on holiday last week.

The book gives some detailed descriptions of battle in this dangerous valley near the Pakistan border. I enjoyed following these, but more importantly for me, I really understood the mentality of troops on the front line. I forgot how young these guys are and so many of them come from rough backgrounds, where the army is a better way of life than they would have in civilian life. I can’t imagine being 19 and in a situation like these guys are put through. I was so immature at that time in my life. The two biggest take-aways were the thrill of combat and the strong bonds formed between soldiers. It is the only friendship a person will have whose life depends on the relationship. When going through experiences like that, I can see why they never have relationships like that again in their civilian lives.

I also got a sense of what it is like to be on the opposing side. They must be in fear of the US military strength, with the Apache helicopters, drones, and invisible bomb strikes. It sure is an expensive war the US is fighting over there. It is also interesting that this is the front line on the “war on terror” and how few people are really involved. The vast majority of Americans are not in the military and those that are, most do not see combat.

It also concerns me for returning veterans and the medical treatment they will receive, both physical and psychological. It will be difficult for many to readjust to everyday life in the US, post-military.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will have to check it out. I highly recommend this book.

Great End To the Day

Ocean, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Last night after work, my daughter Ocean and I went to the Lido Beach on Great War Island. The island is in the middle of the Sava River, just upstream from Ada Ciganlija, near the Belgrade suburb of Zemun. During the summer months, the Serbian army erects a portable, pontoon bridge so people can cross and swim on the beach on the north tip of the island. During the other months, the small island is a Serbian military base and nature reserve for birds. It is called, Veliki Ratno Ostrva (Great War Island) because it was a strategic military point for the conquest or defense of Belgrade.

It is very shallow and no white sand, turquoise water of the Adriatic, but it does have a cool vibe and with temperatures over 100F, it was just as good as any Caribbean beach.

After a busy day at school with multiple meetings and the suffocating heat wave w are experiencing, it was nice to go to the beach, cool off, and just hang out with Ocean. She didn’t like the shells and rocky bits, but after awhile, got used to it. We bought some popcorn and then headed home. It was a brief respite from the busy school and family life I have.

The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War

I just finished reading this book by Misha Glenny. It is the second book I read by him and it was an excellent read. Glenny worked for the BBC as a journalist covering the conflict with the break up of Yugoslavia. He is considered by many Serbs to be biased. In this book he points out war crimes against civilians from all sides.

It was a chaotic and horrible time in the history of Serbia. With the fall of the Soviet Union Eastern Europe faced a time of uncertainity. The end of Yugoslavia was probably the most violent repercussion of the end of communism in Europe.

It would have been great if all of this could have been done peacefully. I think somewhat the force of history and more poor leadership caused this violence. For the good of all, I think all the republics that made up Yugoslavia should have stayed together but it was not to be. The Yugoslavia experiment ended up being a group of tiny, ethnically homogeneous, nations. I was surprised to learn that 12 “parastates” were declared during this time. The secession from the federation of Yugoslavia would have been easy and violence free if all the nations were ethnically pure. The two closest ethnically pure republics, Slovenia and Serbia, ended up with not much violence occuring. The bulk of the war occured in the Serbian parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercogovinia where many groups lived together. It was a confusing war as there were many factions. Some of the major sides were the Bosnian Serbs, the JNA (Yugoslavian Army) consisting of mostly Serbs but also other ethnic groups, the Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims. Each side had their different factions and paramilitary groups which added to the mix.

Glenny was a witness to much of the war and his descriptions are tragic and horrifying. World War II was devastating for Yugoslavia and so many families experienced death and violence during that time. The effects of WWII played big factor with this war as massacres were remembered from that time. Being an American I have trouble understanding violent hatred between ethnic groups and people staying in one place generation after generation. For example some of the Serb villages in Croatia have been Serb dominated for hundreds of years. The biggest shock for me writing the book is the violence suffered by civilians. Entire cities were made to evacuate on a moment’s notice before the oncoming invading army. Families were traveling by car, tractor, and eventually foot to escape. Many didn’t make it.

In Glenny’s previous book that I read, The Balkans, he describes how larger nations meddle in the affairs of the smaller Balkan states. It is no different with this war. Germany, the US, Russia, the EU all played a part, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

The book ends with the Dayton Accords. Bosnia was divided into two parts, a Serbian controlled Bosnia called the Sparska Republic and a Croat-Muslim federation on the other.

It is too bad that the Serbs were depicted in the media as the only villains in this war. It was interesting to read about the rise of Slobodon Milosevic. He won less than 50% of the Serbian vote and thousands of Belgraders protested against him and the war. Since I live in Belgrade, I was curious about what the people here did. Most people in Belgrade didn’t participate in the war, but suffered from the years of international blockades and the NATO bombings, that happened after the book was written. When the JNA called for a draft, 90% of the young men eligible hid from the service. I will be talking with my friends about their war experiences and hopefully documenting a bit about what they went through. Very sad the whole thing.

The first nanny we interviewed upon arrival to Belgrade, said she came to Belgrade from Croatia, leaving because of the war. She said that her life in Croatia for her family was much better than here, and it was tough for her father to start over. It is sad that the countries of the former Yugoslavia couldn’t maintain a big ethnic diversity. I believe this enriches nations and makes life better for all, generally.

I’ll be reading more about the history of this fascinating country of Serbia and blogging more here.

According to data collected by the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, RDC, 98,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war – 57,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians. Bosniaks accounted for 64,036 of the dead, Serbs for 24,905 and Croats for 7,788.

The RDC also provided a detailed picture of what happened in Brcko.

RDC’s Snjezana Filipovic said their research showed that between 1991 and 1995, 1,432 people were killed in Brcko, with 226 people still missing. Most atrocities were committed in 1992, when 944 people were killed, including 505 civilians – 409 men and 96 women.”

Excerpt from “Voices of Victims Heard at Belgrade Conference” Institute for War and Peace Reporting web site that is covering the International Court of Tribunals for the ex-Yugoslavia trials. September 12, 2008.

Arrest of Karadzic

Protest , originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We happened to be downtown today at the same time the protest march was coming around. Above is the front of the group that was marching through the streets of Belgrade. Our taxi was diverted by police and I snapped this photo through the window. There were many policemen all decked out in riot gear, but it was quite civilized and peaceful. We were on our way to dinner to Pizza Hut which is downtown, but we decided it best to get back to our neighborhood of Senjak to find something to eat.

The protesters are against the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. He was the first President of the Republic Srpska. The Republic Srpska is the Serbian half of the nation of Bosnia & Herzogovina. Mr. Karadzic has been a fugitive from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 1995. He is the 44th Serb to be brought to the ICTY. He is charged with 10 counts of various war crimes from his time leading the war effort in Bosnia from 1992-95.

Radovan sounds like a character in a Dostoevsky novel! He has lived a full life to say the least. I can see why many Serbs admire him, he is steeped in “Serbdom.” His father was a Chetnik fighter in WWII and after the war was imprisoned by the Tito’s Communist party. Karadzic is a psychologist by training, even spending a year at Columbia University in New York. He is a published poet and has won awards for his works. He was imprisoned for a year himself by the Yugoslav Communist government on charges of fraud and embezzlement while working at a hospital in Belgrade.

He next got into politics and founded the Serbian Democratic Party of Bosnia. This was during the chaotic time of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. His Bosnian Serb party promoted a union of Bosnia with Serbia and they organized a vote for an independent government. A day later Bosnia went independent from Yugoslavia and that is when the violence started. Karadzic assumed the Head of State powers of the Republica Srpska. Like in the USA, the President is also Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and head of the Security Council. Karadzic is being charged by the ICTY for being the leader of the armed forces that carried out the Siege of Sarajevo, the Srebenica Massacre, and kidnapping UN personnel. In his defense, he is claiming that he acted as any normal president would in a time of war.

He was captured Monday on a public bus in Belgrade. He had been running an alternative medicine clinic under an assumed name. He was a guru of “Human Quantum Energy” and claimed that his methods helped sexual disorders among other ailments. He looks like Saddam Hussein looked when he was captured in December of 2003. Below is the front page of the Blic newspaper of Belgrade and it shows how long his hair and beard are.