“Extreme wickedness, pathology or ideological conviction are not necessary for an individual to commit an act of endless evil” is a quote by political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt, which seemed most appropriate as an opening line for a text on such a difficult and painful topic as war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sarajevo under shellfire, the city to which I immediately felt connected and belonging. The idea of the banality of evil is so gruesome that it’s emotionally paralyzing. It seems to me that it is a natural human aspiration to search for answers and attempt to understand the causes of certain acts, i.e. whether something is a result of pathological hatred or just compliance with the will of the state apparatus… But when I think of the Markale market or the Srebrenica massacres, it is all simply annulled. Every search for answers seems pointless and that is when the emotional paralysis actually sets in. A similar sentiment awoke in me when I visited the “Siege” exhibition at the Belgrade Center for Cultural Decontamination on April 12th, marking the 30th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo.
The exhibition featured photographs by Paul Lowe taken during his sporadic visits to the besieged city of Sarajevo in the period from 1992 to 1994. This English photographer conveyed scenes from everyday life in Sarajevo through the use of expressive black-and-white photography. Documentary photographs, while simultaneously conveying a powerful emotion, stand as a testimony of the suffering of people from Sarajevo and the difficulties they went through. These fragments of the life of Sarajevans, aside from all the weight they carry, also reflect their resistance by means of artistic and cultural events, such as the Miss Sarajevo beauty pageant. That spirit of the city was preserved even in the most difficult moments, despite all the horrors of reality of the time.
And yet, this emotional paralysis I was overcome with while visiting the exhibition was actually triggered by the immense sadness and pain I felt when I saw the photographs. It also got me wondering about the attitude of the modern Serbian society towards this topic; are they ready to face the truth; how much and what do younger generations know about it…
There are people in Serbia who know the truth and are very vocal about it… They are not a critical mass, but they exist. They resist the right-wing terror of relativization, historical distortion, the general narrative of denial or the impossibility to create the right definition – there was a genocide committed in Srebrenica, not war crimes. These people are found in institutions such as the Center for Cultural Decontamination, the Endžio HAB. They are the last pillars of freedom and defense against the propaganda machinery – Jasmina Đuričić appearing in the Agelast Podcast hosted by Galeb Nikačević; Aida Ćorović, the woman who tried to remove the Ratko Mladić mural in Vračar; “Women in Black” with their numerous protests.
As important as it is for us in Serbia to know that we have like-minded fellow citizens, I believe that it is equally important for you in Bosnia. Let’s not forget Prijedor or Zvornik. There is this tainted Serbia which is in the foreground, but there is also this other Serbia which is loud and which does not bend to pressure. This division of society is also evident in the stencil graffiti featuring the image of Ratko Mladić that appeared on Dorćol. The Nazis come and spray paint his image, then someone with common sense arrives, crosses it out and spray paints a capital C (as in criminal) next to it. Then those narrow-minded people come again and re-paint the image, but then the others will also return, and strike back.
At times, it all resembles an eternal conflict of a deeply divided society. Throughout the three decades since the siege of Sarajevo began, the authorities in Serbia have constantly been changing. From Đinđić’s reforms and attempts at confronting the society with the truth, to today’s official attitude of the state, which remains contradictory, inconsistent and confusing. However, let me also quote Fox Mulder: “I want to believe…” that the entire Serbian society will, at some point, reach a cathartic acceptance of what happened and loudly condemn the war.
Until then, those of us who favor justice, must not forget and shall, wherever possible, emphasize the truth, which is one of the key elements of interethnic reconciliation. And there is always that love factor. In my personal case, the love for the people and the city of Sarajevo, as Damir Imamović puts it, “above Trebević, where the blue sea is a story”. Teeming with life, tolerance, joy, kindness, coexistence and beauty. Despite the bloody history, this essence of Sarajevo will always exist and survive, no matter what. And that is why we will be in love with it forever.
Vanja Ratković (b.1991 in Sremska Mitrovica) is a culturologist and freelance journalist. Since 2015, she has been present in the media both as a journalist and editor. She is primarily interested in topics in the field of art and culture as well as human and minority rights, social phenomena and history. She has also launched her independent Youtube show titled “Zujanje” (Eng. “Buzzing”).