SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina—On Saturday night, at the corner in this city from which assassin Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago fired two shots heard round the world, two young women wearing Princip masks said it’s not fair to label him an assassin. One explained in English that the shooter was a “patriot” who wanted to liberate Bosnia from Austrian rule.
Debate about the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is one small example of the larger disputes that continue to roil Bosnia, a country of 4 million divided in half along ethnic lines and still living in “limbo,” according to one survivor of the civil war that ended under international pressure in 1995. Serbs, Croatians, and Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians) still argue about events that took place in 1389, 1804, 1848, 1878, and the 1910s, 1940s, and 1990s.
One example of non-reconciliation: Bosnia has a tripartite presidency—one Croat, one Bosniak, one Serb—but the Serb president boycotted the big June 28 event, a televised Vienna Philharmonic concert at Sarajevo’s City Hall for which the European Union paid $2 million. National Public Radio reported that many Sarajevo residents were saying “the 100 year anniversary has nothing to do with us. What we need is jobs and food. We don’t need the Vienna Philharmonic.”
A second example: In 1995 the worst European genocidal event since the Holocaust took place near Srebrenica, a Bosnian town east of Sarajevo. An International Criminal Tribunal finding summarized the savagery: “Thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered.”
“Thousands” in 20th century history is a relatively modest total placed next to 6 million Jews and tens of millions of other victims of humans-seeing-themselves-as-gods, but what made Srebrenica a world-class horror is that United Nations officials had told the thousands they were in a safe zone, and persuaded them to turn in weapons. (Dutch UN troops, when pressed, abandoned the civilians whom they were to protect, gaining safe passage for themselves. I visited the Srebrenica area yesterday and will write more about this down the road, but you can see why feelings of betrayal abound here.)
A third example: The New York Times reported on an academic conference, in a Serb-sector town, originally called to debate the causes and consequences of World War I, but neutered as scholars from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and other European nations could not agree on the topics to be discussed and the speakers who would address them.
A monument at the cemetery near Srebrenica states, “May revenge become justice. May mothers’ tears become prayers that Srebrenica never happens again.” Does that mean revenge is just, or that the next generation will give up revenge? This whole region desperately needs lots of prayer to the Bible’s God of peace, not secular or other gods of war.