Friday, March 11, 2011

Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats

Bosnian people display the Bosnian war time flag and photos of retired Bosnian Army general Jovan Divjak, during a protest against his detention, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Over 5,000 people protested Saturday against the arrest of a retired Bosnian Army general whom Serbia is accusing of war crimes. Jovan Divjak, a Serbian colonel who defected to Bosnia's army at the start of the 1992-95 war between the two sides was detained Thursday evening at the Vienna airport on Serbi
AP Photo (Image Source)
As an outsider, the easiest way for me to understand the recent war is to think of it in ethnic terms: the Serbs besieged the Bosniaks within Sarajevo and fought the Croats in other parts of the country. Broadly speaking, there is some truth to that, but the full truth is much more complex.

Last week the general who led the forces protecting Sarajevo during the siege was arrested in Austria on war crimes charges brought by the nation of Serbia. The general, Jovan Divjak, is a Bosnian patriot through and through and a hero in Sarajevo, but he's also a Serb. The city was full of protesters last week, agitating for Divjak's release.

Sarajevo has a rich and centuries-old tradition of tolerance and multi-ethnicity. I have no idea whether Divjak was guilty of war crimes (though the UN has already said that the incident he was arrested for was not a war crime), but watching Sarajevans rally around a Serb who is one of their own reminds me not to be too reductionist in my explanations of the previous war. Another Bosnian Serb said that Divjak fought "for the idea of a multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina." The response to his arrest seems to prove that multi-ethnicism is still an important Bosnian value.

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