Sarajevo and Sudan

Everyone told me Dubrovnik would be the highlight of my trip to the Balkans last week. The Adriatic is what seas should be, they said. The city walls are beautiful. Croatians are so nice. You’ll fall in love.

In some ways, they were right. The Adriatic is what seas should be, and the walls are beautiful, but Dubrovnik wasn’t perfect. The city was overrun with cruise ship crowds and tour buses, and everything was pretty in a postcard way, complete with designated photo opportunities. And I didn’t fall in love until I got to Sarajevo.

Sarajevo is not pretty, at least not conventionally so. Buildings still bear the scars of the four-year-long siege during the Yugoslav wars, and the pavement is pockmarked with Sarajevo roses, places where mortar shells wiped out concrete and, sometimes, people.

I don’t know why this meant more to me than coastlines and carefully preserved ruins, why I felt more at ease in Bosnia than in Croatia. A professor once accused me of being a conflict junkie; I’m not sure if that’s true, but there is something about Sarajevo — something about an old man in a café, consuming an endless stream of coffee and cigarettes, telling me stories of four years without electricity or running water, urging me to drink from the fountain with magic waters so that I will always come back. Something about his girlfriend, who sits down at our table and orders a saucer of whipped cream for Snoopy, a tiny dog who keeps her company while her daughter studies in the States. Something about the one-room war museum, its stained glass still shattered from the war. “Beautiful” is perhaps both the least and most appropriate word: the city is sadly, richly captivating.

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, where over 8000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs in a UN-protected “safe area.” Some survivors of the massacre have brought a lawsuit against the United Nations, particularly the Dutch troops in Srebrenica, for failing to stop the killings, a move that is understandable but probably useless.

Ian Williams has a post on the Guardian’s Comment is Free comparing Unprofor, the UN protection force in Bosnia, to UNAMID in Sudan. His main point is that both forces are (were) maddeningly weak: under-supported, under-funded and consequently facing impossible tasks. For UNAMID, this weekend’s announcement that the International Criminal Court is likely to seek an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur will probably make things even worse. Williams writes:

After Srebrenica, the phrase “Never Again” was again on everyone’s lips. In international Diplo-Speak, maybe that phrase misses punctuation. Maybe it should be written “Never! Again?”, meaning something like “Whoops.”

2008 Africa Reading Challenge

Dave at siphoning off a few thoughts has posted an Africa Reading Challenge for 2008. The basics:

Participants commit to read – in the course of 2008 – six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues.

This coincides so nicely with Chris Blattman’s Africa reading list that I’m jumping in.

Here’s my list:

1. Ryszard Kapuściński’s The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat

2. Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion

3. Jeremy Weinstein’s Inside Rebellion

4. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

5. Michaela Wrong’s I Didn’t Do It for You

6. Something (I haven’t decided yet) by Naguib Mahfouz

Reviews to come….

Found via Bazungu Bucks.