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Bosnian Americans Fear Return of Violence in the Balkans

As much as people want historical conflicts to simply die off in the past and no longer trouble them, the conflicts find a way of lingering on. The motives, biases, and hatreds that spawned these conflicts survive as a specter in the shadow of peace — a specter that must be constantly monitored and rallied against when necessary. If it isn’t, that specter often steps into the light in the form of violent conflict and brings mass suffering. 30 years after the start of the Balkan wars, many Bosnians across the globe are afraid that the afore mentioned specter is returning in the former Yugoslavia, and with it a possible renewal of violence. 

The war was thought to be a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union and therefore no longer possible. Recently, however, it’s come to people’s attention that many of the same sentiments among the Serbian population in Bosnia that created the war in the 90’s are still felt today.  

Just last year, the U.N. extended the mandate that European Union peace keeping forces must stay in the Balkans to prevent the possibility of war. This is because ethnic Serbs within Bosnia (including their political leader, Milorad Dodik) threatened to create their own Serbian military force within the political region of Srpska and outright secede, even going so far as to imply that the nations of Serbia and perhaps Russia will aid them in this. Were this to happen, it would lead to the old policy of segregation between Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats that would result in ethnic violence. This is something that the Bosnian Americans are trying to desperately stop.  

Hanka Grabovica, a Bosnian American Community Association organizer at today’s rally in front of the State Office Building spoke about why she and others are trying to keep the peace. 

E. Handzel: “It seems that a lot of the tension between Serbs and Bosnians that existed in the 90’s is starting to brew up again. Are you seeing that same tension here in Utica?”

Hanka Grabovica: “No, absolutely not. We really don’t see any issues here. We live and value American values here. So, it doesn’t really matter if you’re Bosnian, Serbian, or Croatian here, we value American values, and that’s what we want in Bosnia. So, we’re trying to support and let them [people in Bosnia] know that in Bosnia, we can have the same values as here in America. Serbs, Bosnians, and Croatians here in America are actually having a good time and have no issues whatsoever.” 

She pointed out that many of the BACA members are themselves part Serbian, and they hope they can serve as an example so that their countrymen back home can see that it’s possible for Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs to live peacefully together integrated, not segregated. View the gallery here.

The event’s primary speaker, Sandro Sehic, made a speech of which this is an excerpt: “Today, 27 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, Bosnia and its people are facing another crisis. A crisis created by those who profited from the war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Those who want to see further ethnic divisions and dismantle the whole country. This is something that every honest and decent person will not like to see and encourage. This is something that goes against democracy, diversity, and basic human rights in general. Who wants to live in a society with ethnic apartheid where children of different ethnic groups go to different schools? Who wants to live in a society where war criminals are honored and glorified? Who wants to live in a society formed by concentration camps, mass executions, and destruction of cultural heritage? Who wants to live in a society where corruption and political affiliation are the only ways to achieve progress? My answer is, “no one”. Those are not the values that we cherish.”

Sandro Sehic reading his speech. Photo by Eamon Handzel.

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