Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A depressing coffee

For once, a positive take on the situation in Bosnia. The Economist has an article from a couple of weeks back about how the old Yugoslavia is no longer a country but the countries that came from it are now developing a Yugosphere, where business and cultural aspects are binding the area back to a semblance of normality, despite their politicians.

The article is a couple of weeks old now, and must have been published when all the politicians were away on holiday because now they are back at work we are being treated to a few articles with headlines like 'Politicians "lead Bosnia to the verge of war"'. All kinds of the usual political shenanigans are going on with various political parties throwing all their toys out of the pram and behaving like, well, my children really.

Usually I come down on seeing the positive side of the situation in Bosnia. Despite what all those politicians are up to, I can see that in everyday life people are getting on with the business of living. They have coffee with each other. They create business together. They listen to the same sort of music and love to travel to Croatia or Serbia. They live together. To some extent they view with their politicians with a hint of exasperation, but also don't see much of a connection between the latest shenanigans in Sarajevo will affect their day to day lives.

This week though, I'm feeling more pessimistic about Bosnia's future having had the (mis)fortune to have had a coffee in the company of a die-hard nationalist. Whilst practically every other Bosnian I have met (whether Serb, Croat or Muslim) has been the most generous, kind hearted, well natured person, this man was odious. The bile he spewed was jaw dropping to listen to. The certainty in his own beliefs was frightening. The venom he had for people who were not like him was really frightening.

I have struggled to understand how it was that the war in Bosnia became so vicious and nasty. The people I've met have all been such unlikely characters to participate in such a thing. They were neighbours before the war, I couldn't understand how they got to the point that they did. How was it that they came to listen to their politicians and embark on such a lunacy?

Having met this man, I could suddenly see a glimpse of how it might have happened. He is not someone I would want to meet at a roadblock. He is not someone I would like to have negotiate with. He stands out to me as the exception in Bosnia, I have not met anyone quite like him before. Suddenly I understood that it wouldn't take so many of this type of man on each side to create a situation where things became nasty.

But the really frightening thing? The thing that really depressed me? He was in a position of influence and there were 5 or 6 18 year olds hanging off his every word.

17 comments:

Catharine Withenay said...

Extremism is the most scary thing. I hope and pray that this man's influence will be short-lived, and that those youths will see the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of his views.

Thank goodness most people are not like that.

Half Mum Half Biscuit said...

I'm really interested in how politics is personal - that politics is psychology blown up like a big balloon. It's why, in my view, it would be good to have more women involved in politics and why politics might benefit from becoming more 'feminised'...

I love the breadth of your blog! (And of course the depth!)

Nicola said...

That is unnerving. I too hate extremism of any kind. Live and let live is more my motto. Although I remember my passionate political views when I was 18 and how every in the 6th form was always involved in some form of socialistic debate or another and so it is really worrying that his views where listened to by such impressionable people. Good to know that most people you come across are, more or less, just like the rest of us. As for him...I guess it helps to explain why the world is in such conflict and why it continues to be that way in so many countries. Very, very sad.

Mud in the City said...

Terrifying. The feeling that narrow minded passion can envelop and deny any semblance of logic and compassion. Hard to see how or why it happens, but being faced with it in the flesh... well, reminds us all not to take peace and civilisation for granted.

WeDoAdventure said...

While not as extreme, we know young teenagers around Mostar who come out with some, usually football related, nationalistic stuff that they're way to young to understand. We have to assume someone is trying to see that current divisions get passed on to the next generation.

wify in england´s pampa said...

Hi, it´s me (jarane.de.blogger.ba)... Sorry for your depressing coffee. Every now and then you will meet such creatures in Bosnia (and in my experience even more often in Croatia or Serbia). It´s hard to stay cool or silent to all the nonsense they are usually giving as arguments... So I never did ;-). Not that that was very clever though... Not to waste my time on having any conversation with them or paying any attention to what they have to say, is the most natural implication... And as for those young people who were listening to him? I feel really sorry for them. They are still quite young and I hope they are good listeners so at least some of them will get it right sooner or later. p.s. would love to write a guest post Dear So and So. Never did it before, so how?

Mwa said...

We have lots of extremists in Belgium, wanting to split up the country or wanting to keep it together. I'm always grateful that so far it's only flags and songs and silly marches. I dread the day it turns into something else.

coffee and cigarettes said...

u never know what humans are capable of

Josie @Sleep is for the Weak said...

That is scary. Unfortunately you're going to find fundy extremists in every culture and country. But throw in a vulnerable political structure, and then allow these people positions of influence, and all of a sudden the whole thing takes on a far more sinister and damaging edge.

I hope the young people listening have more common sense then to fall for his simplistic world view and have the strength to think for themselves.

Pippa said...

Thank you for this post. Even though I know of the situation I don't "know of the situation" and reading things like this make me realise this and make me do something about it.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

That sounds awful - I guess from my narrow experiences I find it hard to see the leap from each individual and their views to how you get to the awfulness of the war and yet from what you say suddenly it can seem like a baby step away

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

CW - he really stood out as being the exception.

HMHB - Couldn't agree more! I have a theory that dealing with politicians is not that different from dealing with toddlers...

Nicola - It is unnerving. It is really the young people who need to see beyond the pettiness of it all. I hope they can see beyond his rubbish!

Mud - agreed! Especially in Bosnia. I sometimes think all this Bosnia heading back to war is all made up for the papers, but every now and then I think there might be a grain (very small) grain of truth in it. I do hope not!

WDA - you know my views on football! Especially in Mostar...

Wify - I've been trying to email you but can't find an address for you. Would love to have a dear so and so from you. Can you email me (address is on the profile page)? As for nationalists, I avoid them when I can, it is just too depressing to get involved with a conversation with them.

Mwa - sometimes people compare where Bosnia is aiming for to Belgium. May it stay just flags and silly songs.

coffee and cigarettes - that could be Bosnia's motto! I agree with you, you never know.

Josie - You have to hope for the young people. I can't see it ever changing otherwise.

Pippa - Thanks. Sometimes I worry that I bore everyone with Bosnian political posts, but I do think it is important to understand the broader context of living here. Do stop me if I keep on whittering on though!

MAM - Usually I can't see it either. Just every now and then there is a flash and then it is really scary.

uSvijetu said...

Unfortunately there are extremists everywhere (even in western Europe but also in the Balkans) but the positive thing is they are not many. They are very few individualists who have some issues with people in general and very often with themselves as well.

rosiescribble said...

That's really quite frightening. People are so easily influences. What a thought-provoking post.

A Modern Mother said...

Unfortunaltey, you are right it only takes a few. I am seeing quite a division in the US with political views (some people REALLY HATE Obama). I'm interested in what drives these people to have such extreme, unflexible views. Is it genetic?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

uSvijetu - You are right. And I take heart from the fact that they stand out by being an exception rather than the rule.

RS - Just hoping that the younger lads were able to see through some of the rubbish he was coming out with

MM - The certainity that you are right and everyone else is wrong and there is no room for debate is frightening. It must have been fascinating to be in the US during all this health care furore.

Iota said...

That is scary. Interesting to hear your stories like this. I'm sure that many of us, like you, have wondered "how could that situation have ever started?"