Friday, October 14, 2016

Letter from Santa Fe - A Hostage in Tehran




Baquer Namazi
I have been thinking a lot about both freedom and prison lately, and the meaning of both extremes.  Why? - because I, along with nearly a hundred other former UN and UNICEF colleagues, have been working for months now to gain the freedom of a friend and former colleague in prison in Iran.  

Baquer Namazi, now 80 years old, was arrested on February 22, 2016 and has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.  His elder son, Siamak, was arrested last October and is held in the same prison.  

Both father and son were on trial last week in Tehran in a 'closed' court with no public mention of the trial, the charges, or the verdicts. Both are dual nationals, in their cases, Iranians with American citizenship. They are among perhaps 9 other dual nationals held today on spurious charges - 4 Americans and 5 British. All are apparently kept as bargaining chips in Iran's less than diplomatic negotiations with western countries. In short, they are hostages.

Having myself reached the young age of 70,  I shudder to imagine what imprisonment at age 80 means for anyone.    


I cannot speak to the cases of the other hostages, but I can certainly speak to the life and career of Baquer Namazi.  I first met Baquer in Somalia in October 1987 when I was the incoming head of the UNICEF mission there, and he was the outgoing.  He had recently been transferred to Nairobi as head of UNICEF´s office and program for Kenya.  Baquer later moved on to Egypt as UNICEF’s Representative there.  It was in Egypt that Baquer and another UNICEF official were wounded and narrowly escaped death in a rebel attack while they were visiting schools and health centers in an under-served part of the country.  The UNICEF photographer traveling with them died in the attack.


I remember Baquer particularly for his devotion to improving health and education services for nomadic children.  Then as now the government was struggling just to provide a few meager services to urban families.  Yet Somalia is a country of nomads and the condition of nomadic families was and still is far worse than that of their counterparts in the towns.  Few services reach beyond urban limits. Yet, every Somali honors his nomad roots, and so Baquer’s harping on the need to serve the most needy struck a sympathetic cord.  New efforts were made and projects put in place.  Every minister and public official I met recalled Baquer’s quiet determination that government should serve those beyond the city and towns.  


Baquer kept that same determination in his other postings, Nairobi, Cairo, and in New York where he played a key role in the adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child - a bold statement both of rights and obligations eventually subscribed to by almost all countries of the world, including Iran.  


After his retirement from the UN, Baquer went on to work as a consultant for the Population Council and the World Bank.  While working for the latter he authored an important study on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Iran.  


Back home in Iran, Baquer founded and led an NGO devoted to improving the situation of destitute women and children.  He succeeded in convincing the Iranian government to allow Afghan refugee children free schooling, something denied them for many years.  In his global network of contacts and friends, Baquer resurrected  the idea of ‘Children as Zones of Peace’ by which he meant that both the international community and warring parties in conflict zones like Syria, Iraq and South Sudan among other points had an obligation to protect and continue essential health and education services whenever and wherever possible.    


While Baquer did argue for better services for women and children, he was never a vocal critic of his government.  In fact, in the US both he and his imprisoned son, Siamak, were known as advocates of rapprochement, beginning with a relaxation of western sanctions on food and medicines for Iran.  This advocacy made them targets of right-wing Iranian expat groups in the US who opposed the nuclear deal and any rapprochement between Iran and the West.  


Yet, Iranian opposition to the nuclear deal and rapprochement was not just among right wing elements of the Iranian expatriate community, but also in Iran itself.   The Iranian government is deeply split between on the one hand those like President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Zarif, and on the other the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the Judiciary, the Intelligence Service and the Revolutionary Guard.   One irony is that the Supreme Leader himself signed off on the nuclear agreement, but ever since has railed against it as submission to the Great Satan.  His faction of the government seems anxious to throw every obstacle possible in front of improved relations with western countries.


Indeed, it was the Revolutionary Guard which arrested both Namazis and the Judiciary which is trying their cases.  The ‘other faction’ made up of those close to the President and the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s diplomats, seem anxious to free the Namazis, or at least have them ‘off their plates’.  Arresting dual nationals, including aid workers, foreign businessmen and journalists, is not a good signal that Iran is open for business again.  


I need to point out here that Iranian law does not recognize ‘dual nationality’. Once an Iranian, always an Iranian under these laws.  Moreover, in the present day ‘dual nationals’ are seen by more conservative Iranians as a ‘third column’ of people who bring western ideas and money back home with an intent to undermine the Revolution and revert the country to the western decadence that existed under the Shah.  According to one Iranian news service, “The conservatives say dual nationality is one of the major canals for foreigners to infiltrate the Islamic Republic.”


Of course, imprisonment of the Namazis and other dual nationals is not due to their holding of dual nationality, but because their second nationality happens to be US, UK, French or until a recent release, Canadian. All are held because they are well known in their second countries where they will be viewed sympathetically.   In fact, there are thousands of other dual national Iranians who ‘go home’ each year to visit relatives, do business, or just want to see the old country.  Many of these hold the same western nationalities as those detained, yet are not arrested.


So why detain these nine or ten?  Precisely because they provide useful bargaining chips in the next phase of Iran’s tortured return to the world stage.  Five earlier hostages were released in January. This release came about in parallel to the larger nuclear deal and the agreement to unfreeze Iranian assets. It must have been clear to conservatives that if Western nations were willing to give up so much, albeit in Iran’s own frozen funds, there was a golden opportunity available in arresting more hostages.  It was also likely an opportunity to embarrass their political opponents at home, those anxious to show the world a new face of Iran.


On the world stage the detention of a few dual nationals by one country may not seem all that important.  After all, we are in the midst of seemingly endless civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, multiple terrorist groups, growing rejection of refugees, rising nationalism and racism. Against this backdrop, how much does the detention of 10 or even 20 individuals count?  
But of course they do count.  


Related image
A view inside Evin Prison






Friday, October 7, 2016

Letter from Santa Fe - After the Elections

September 14, 2016

A recent article in Esquire concerning last weekend's comments the governor of Kentucky's made about the possibility of armed insurrection in case Hillary Clinton were to win the election.   This got me thinking about what may come after the November election - and that it is high time we address those issues before they become real threats.  


Okay, I know these are just the kinds of crazy things lazy and sloppy politicians say during electoral season, but having lived through the Bosnian civil war, I have a particular sensitivity to how politicians can whip emotions into violence.   

My concern here is not just about renewed racial violence, armed insurrection or the longstanding movements in states like Idaho and Texas for secession (although those factors too are certainly by themselves very real concerns), but also how deeply fractured our country is beginning to look at local levels.   

Red state vs blue state - Take a look at this map on Nate Silver's daily predictions for the electoral college map for November, not so much on the question of who may win, as on the sharp divides between states - and, if you scroll down and open the state by state analysis, how many states are far to the left or far to the right of the middle ground.  And of course, this masks the sharp divisions within individual states - look at Nebraska's divide, for instance:


Or, Tom Toles' cartoon and article in the Washington Post:  Is the electoral map of the US starting to look like the map of Syria?  https://goo.gl/8tqhnW

So what would happen should Hillary win - or for that matter if Trump were to win?  How do we begin to heal these rifts?  Any thoughts on practical steps we can take ourselves?


And just a closing reminder while we are on the subject of secession, consider:


Or, 

Letter from Santa Fe - Strategic voting and Multi-Party Democracy in the USA

August 9, 2016

We have gotten quite used to the idea that the US has only two parties - or at least only two that can win elections.  There is little doubt that the two party system will continue to dominate American politics for years to come and that the current election will deliver us only a President Clinton or a President Trump. 

That said, should we look at ways to develop roles for third or fourth parties?  Even if they could not win a presidency and perhaps at best hold a Congressional seat or two, could they widen public discourse, bring fresh ideas to the political scene, and help push the 'big two' to adopt more progressive agenda?

Democrats continue to talk about how Al Gore and the Green Party cost the democrats the presidency and instead gave us George W.  This fear continues today with the idea that voting for a minor party could end up giving us a President Trump.  

But are these fears well grounded?  Did Gore really cost the Democrats the election in 2000?   

Equally, of course, we might ask whether discouraged Bernie Sanders voters and turned off young voters in general might sit on their hands in November and give us a similar result.  

Could a different use of our individual votes open the way to a multi-party system - one in which compromise and coalition lead to a more moderate and a less entrenched politics?  

I heard a few of these pieces on NPR's 'On the Media" Sunday morning.  One gives an overview of concepts like 'strategic (or tactical) voting'.  If Americans hear at all of 'strategic voting', it is usually only in the context of the open primary states, when voters of one party vote for the weaker of two candidates of the opposite party 

However, this podcast argues that the concept can equally apply in a general election.  Some argue that strategic voting helped Canadians break the dominance of the Conservatives, and elect Justin Trudeau,  largely through creating a an informal and local (province by province) alliance of the left and centrist parties.

If you don't have time for the entire 50 minute podcast, you can also find the six individual interviews on the same weblink .  You can also download the transcripts for each. 

In the first link below, the leader of Canada's strategic voting initiative gives a state by state breakdown of how such a concept could work for the US.

None of this is likely to happen in time for this November, but perhaps something to consider for future contests.  

Best regards,

Tom






There Must Be Another Way

The Democratic Party and the media are fretting about whether the Green Party will splinter Democratic votes in November. This week, we look at the myths and realities surrounding third parties and consider how "strategic voting" could figure into the coming election. Also, a deep look at the oft-cited narrative that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore. Plus, Donald Trump's latest skirmish with Khizr and Ghazala Khan has prompted the media to clamor yet again over whether Trump has finally gone too far. Are they missing the point?

Letter from Santa Fe - A Long Dry Spell

Nearly two years have passed without any posts by me on this site, and before that a gap of nearly six years.   My apologies.  At the time I said,

"it is a shock to look at the date of my last entry in this blog, May 12, 2009 - a gap of nearly six years! As in today's post - I am not really sure why I stopped, and also not clear about my reasons for now returning now to the blog. " 

I cannot say anything different today.  I remain unsure why I stopped and equally unsure why I begin again today.

I want to begin by posting here a couple short pieces I sent out to friends in Santa Fe in recent months.  From that beginning I hope to start a few posts on other topics.





Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Letter from Santa Fe, Sunday January 4, 2015 - Reflections during a Sermon

It is a shock to look at the date of my last entry in this blog, May 12, 2009 - a gap of nearly six years! As in today's post - I am not really sure why I stopped, and also not clear about my reasons for now returning now to the blog.  I ended with a piece about Bosnia, and a promise at the time to write my next about what happened to Bosnia's ex-mujaheddin.  It is unlikely now that I will return to such a topic, but let's see.  For the moment, a short reflection on something closer to home.


Until the end of last summer I was a fairly reliable weekly churchgoer.  Then I stopped.  I would have to go back a year or so earlier to find a time when I might have called myself a regular - an almost daily participant.  As with many other wayward Christians, however, Christmas sparked in me a renewed interest in community worship, and so over the last couple of weeks I find myself back in the pews on Sundays.  One part of my thoughts was asking why I had stopped.  Another part was asking what was the reason now for returning?


A second item for confession - I have never been very good at staying alert during a church sermon.  That is not to say that I routinely sleep through them (though, yes, I have been known to do that too), but sermons do seem to provide my mind the opportunity to wander.   


So where did today’s wandering take me?  It began with a casual look around the church and the observation that not more than one or two of the congregation were aged under 65.  Many were considerably older.  The shift away from organized religion among the young and middle-aged comes as no surprise to anyone attending a church in America or Europe these days.  Yet today’s look around the church got me thinking.
The day before I had read an article by Rafi Khatchadourian in the New Yorker describing the decline into oblivion of the Armenian Orthodox community in the city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey. That decline  began with the massacre of Armenians and other minorities in 1915 and continued up to 1993 when all that remained of the community was one old man who maintained a single torn bible as a memento of the lost community and its faith.  

( A Century of Silence by Raffi Khatchadourian in the New Yorker of January 5, 2015http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/century-silence).

The article focuses not on the massacre itself, but rather on the years that followed, as the community aged and shrank.  As might be expected, the rapid decline of the community took place amidst open hostility and frequent aggression by the surrounding ‘majority’ community, a time in which the remaining Armenians found themselves isolated and unwelcome in their native lands.  By 1993 the church and its priest were gone, and only the one old man remained.
The story is poignant and so reminiscent of the stories of the rapid decline of Spain’s Arab and Jewish communities in the years following 1492. Maria Rosa Menocal in her book The Ornament of the World uses the story of an old paper vendor trying to peddle as kindling the few remaining copies of the great works of Western classical literature to signify this loss of a major piece of Western civilization. With books written in languages no one any longer was able to read, or at least would admit to knowing how to read, - Arabic, Hebrew and Greek - something magnificent was lost forever, but far more than the books, a culture, a tradition, and a people had been annihilated.

(The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal, Little, Brown and Company, 2003).

Indeed, the same story has been told so often by minority communities, Jewish, Palestinian, Druze, Armenian, Muslim, Hindu.  Indeed, almost every community seems at one time or another to have found itself defined by its neighbors as “the others” and eventually persecuted and driven out.  So how does a community of faith come to be regarded as “the other” and what leads a majority to such hatred of “the other” that they will drive them away?  Why are minority beliefs about the nature of God so threatening to a majority?
This “separating out” of communities parallels what we see in so many parts of the Middle East today, and indeed have witnessed there for nearly the entire course of the  last century, as minority populations were first isolated, then attacked, driven out and made homeless until they found refuge elsewhere.  Behind new borders the Middle East has been remade into a set of smaller states, each with a majority population with little tolerance for their own minorities, be they Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, or Jewish.  This continued fracturing of the region into smaller and smaller nations formed along ethnic or religious lines has been the continuing curse of the region ever since the collapse of the Ottomans, and a trend which seems to be accelerating today, as groups like the Islamic State seek to annihilate or drive out anyone not of their own radical Sunni beliefs.
All this took me back to the community around me in modern America.  Certainly, no one can claim that minority religious communities here are persecuted or their faithful driven out as refugees elsewhere.  After all, most Americans claim to be firm believers and regular attendees of church, synagogue or mosque. Yet, the fact is that few actually do attend, much less participate actively in the work or decision-making of their faith community.  At the same time, church, mosque or synagogue goers are increasingly seen and see themselves as minorities, as “others” among their more secular neighbors..  
This is the curious phenomenon of modern secular life - we give reverence for institutions that we claim to cherish, but do not understand, or even want to understand - institutions in which we seldom participate, much less ones to which we devote sweat and tears to their good works or ultimate success.  We might sum this up as a “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t give a damn” approach of a busy secular society in which people have little time for issues that don’t immediately impinge on their wallets or lifestyle.
This phenomenon perhaps underlies the complaints we hear so often these days by certain faith groups, claiming that their ‘religious liberty’ has been imperiled by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or some other social program.  To many of us, these claims sound ridiculous.  If anything, the programs in question seek to carry forward the charitable works of faith, ensuring among other aims a better life for the poor and marginal members of society.  Yet, for some, these programs impinge on their religious liberty by requiring that their members share the tax burdens of fellow citizens for services which contravene the group’s beliefs on issues like use of contraceptives.
  
So where is the connection with the concepts of isolated minorities and these somewhat spurious claims of impingement of freedom of religion?  Perhaps the current claims are not so much important on their own merits, as because the groups making them see such programs as a leading edge of growing apathy, and a possible attack by the wider secular society - a designation of them as "others".  The recourse to claims of infringement of their freedom of religion then might simply be a warning shot across the bow of modern society - a cry of "Hey, we're still here, take us seriously".  Like me, they look around their congregation and see not only declining numbers and aging population, but also a lack of interest by those who claim to share their beliefs, but seldom show up to join them in prayer, much less to bear the work and responsibility for outcomes of their faith.
This thought led me to another article I read last night, James Fallows article in the Atlantic, concerning the dilemma facing the American military. 

(The Tragedy of the American Military by  James Fallows in the January / February issue of the Atlantic,http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/12/the-tragedy-of-the-american-military/383516/ )

 Like organized religion, the military is a revered institution in America.  So revered that Americans are ready to throw endless amounts of money in its direction with almost no consideration of the financial and human costs involved.  This devotion of the population is reflected in the speeches of American politicians, who endlessly promise undying support for the heroism and dedication of the military, as well as open checkbooks on nearly any military issue.
Yet the fact is that few Americans today participate in the military or care to understand its issues, much less subject it to the same kind of critical review we give to social programs.  Few Americans today are or have been themselves in the military or have an immediate family member there.  Few have seen close relatives returning home with missing limbs or lasting psychological trauma, and even fewer know people living in recent war zones where civilians have suffered occupation or ongoing American military operations.  The result of this ignorance of the impacts of war is that the country is far too easily led into conflicts that it is unlikely to win.  We all too easily commit to  war at a distance, and all too often endless war distanced from those who will pay for it.  Moreover, military leaders are seldom held accountable for success or failure of their work, much less are the politicians who led them to that work.  Again the military seems an example of an approach of “Don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t give a damn” aspect of busy secular life.
In a way the American military is a kind of faith group - one requiring a better discipline, cleaner lifestyle, harder work, deeper dedication and greater willingness to serve and sacrifice than the members of the society they serve.  They are like members of a committed faith group, a group apart, and one under an odd form of attack - certainly not one of violent opposition, but rather one of apathy in the midst of false reverence and fawning devotion.
Finally, my thoughts turned to an excellent article on what I might call the missing moral foundations of liberal political philosophy.  (Taking the Long Way by Yuval Levin in the October issue of First Things http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/10/taking-the-long-way )

 In part the article concerns an old debate on the the balance between rights and responsibilities, and asks how do we as a society prepare ourselves, much less our children, for “freedom”.  Indeed, what is freedom?   What do we ask of our citizens?  Are we ready to bear the responsibilities, the hard work and sacrifices required to make a liberal democracy successful?
So where was I in all this?  There I sat, supposedly listening to the sermon, but actually musing on the question of how much I personally was willing to sacrifice for an institution which I claim to cherish - church?  
Meanwhile, the priest was just wrapping up his sermon.  The subject was that of the gospel of the day, the visit of the three wise men to pay homage to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.  Like me, I thought, they made their journey, paid homage, left their gifts, and then went home.  They were not there for the long-run, nor for the work of making a community work.  They didn’t stick around for the crucifixion or what followed.

 


.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Letter from Santa Fe Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Bosnia Part II

Last week was a busy one in Bosnia for soldiers, diplomats, and politicians: 
-          soldiers busy searching houses, and arresting other, old(er), soldiers. 
-          diplomats trying to figure out how to kick certain politicians out of office without breaking up the country.
-          politicians looking for support and trying to figure out how to stay in office.  

Much of this sudden burst of energy stems from the forthcoming visit of US Vice-President Joe Biden, who leaves Washington next week for a tour of Croatia and Bosnia. 

First, a little background:   
The Dayton Accords are largely credited with ending Bosnia’s war.  Sadly, the agreements also burdened the new country with a loopy structure of government that only a diplomat could love – internal ethnic “borders”, a political federation of two ethnic groups (Croats and Muslims)  inside a second larger federation with a third ethnic group (Serbs),  and the whole circus headed by a “national” government with no fewer than four rotating presidents. 

On top of all this, the agreements created the position of an internationally appointed High Representative for Bosnia & Herzegovina – a kind of foreign nanny  - appointed to oversee the implementation of the Dayton Accords – and given powers to approve or rescind laws, etc. – de facto, a modern viceroy.
The post of High Representative is currently filled by an Austrian diplomat, Valentin Inzko, who simultaneously serves as the European Union’s Representative to Bosnia.  The job of High Representative was supposed to have been abolished in 2007, but with peace in Bosnia still elusive, the post has been twice extended.  To help him do his work, the High Representative has a force of a little over 2,000 EU troops (EUFOR).  Similar peace-keeping forces have in the past been served in Bosnia under NATO and UN flags. 

The stated objective of governments and international agencies involved in Bosnia since its inception has been the establishment of a democratic government capable of maintaining peace and security, protecting its citizens and their human rights, etc.  Unfortunately, we seem to be still far from that goal.  Moreover, in recent years it seems that outside forces are not helping, but actually hindering the development of a stable and competent government.  

Sadly, stable government and lasting peace after war needs a clear outcome ….a winner, and a loser.   The war in Bosnia left no clear winner and an abundance of losers.  Worse, all the losers ended up thinking they had won; or, at least, ended up thinking that the war had left them in a strong enough position that they could win the next time around.  

In the end, Dayton’s maps only reconfirmed existing ethnic geography:  Bosnian Croats ended up living next door to Croatia; Bosnian Serbs next to Serbia, leaving – for the most part - only the Muslims truly committed to the idea of a separate Bosnia.

While economists say the government is close to bankrupt, the fact is that money is flowing – though not necessarily staying.  On the surface, Bosnia is a vastly different country than the one we knew during and just after the war.  Streets are full of well-dressed people, new shops and restaurants.  Much of the money "in flow" is the result of sales of former state-owned assets.  Little revenue results from local production.  Unemployment is estimated at over 40%.  All sides speak of growing levels of corruption at all levels of government and society.

Present day politics are dominated by two men Bosnians often call “the terrible twins” – Milorod Dodik, Prime Minister of the Serb mini-state (Republika Srbska)  and Haris Silajdzic (a Bosnian Muslim) who serves as one of the country’s four rotating Presidents. 

Dodik is a former basketball player turned businessman who became very rich during the war.  Silajdzic is a former academic and diplomat.  Dodik talks openly of Serb secession and implies eventual unification with Serbia.  Silajdzic, along with most of the international community, argues that the country must continue as established under the Dayton Accords.  Together Dodik and Silajdzic represent the forces seen across much of central Europe today  – one side fighting for redrawing of national borders along ethnic lines; the other side trying to maintain current borders and integrated populations (think here of Kosovo, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia).  

Interestingly, the latest phase of this battle has come over another country fighting a similar battle of secession – Georgia.   With the urging of the US and NATO, Bosnia decided to send a 16 man army team to participate in NATO war games scheduled to begin soon in Georgia.  The Serbs, given their long-standing ties to Russia, oppose any support to Georgia. 

Friday, the Defense Minister, Selmo Cikotic, defended the decision:
"Bosnia has chosen the path of Euro-Atlantic integration that sometimes includes difficult decisions with short-term effects but long-term benefits," Defense Minister Selmo Cikotic said about the decision to join the war games.
"Any withdrawal would bring more harm then benefits."
Meanwhile, Dodik was busy on Thursday publicly urging the Serb members of the army team to refuse to go – in effect, calling for a mutiny among members of the military.  In turn, B&H authorities and western diplomats have called for the sacking of Dodik.
Ah, but how to sack the Prime Minister of the Serb entity without leading to further calls for Serb secession?   Rumors are flying.  One press story has it that the US is urging the High Representative to dismiss simultaneously three senior politicians – one from each of the three ethnic groups, Dodik (Serb), Dragan Covic (Croat), and Bakir Izetbegovic (Muslim).  The sackings would be based on misuse of office and corruption charges said to be under preparation by the State Prosecutor’s Office ( a group largely run by foreign "advisors").

Izetbegovic is the son of Bosnia’s first President, Alia Izetbegovic.  Izetbegovic Junior is viewed by some western diplomats as a radical politician whose outspoken views threaten future stability.  Or, to put it another way, if Izetbegovic, rather than Silajdzic were leading the Bosnian Muslims, there be very little hope of keeping the Serbs onboard.  Interestingly, Izetbegovic was quoted last year as telling the international community, “"It would be better that the international community reacted to the Serbian "separatism" of Milorad Dodik in the Republika Srpska, rather than allowing us (Non-Serbs) to fight it in our way"

To put it mildly, any attempt to dismiss major politicians like Dodik and Izetbegovic would be extremely risky.  The idea of adding a Croat leader like Covic to the hit list seems to be just a foolish attempt to maintain balance – equal opportunity in sacking!  As the article above asks, what then happens when all three of these guys win their court cases, and then return to the political scene, vindicated and strengthened?

Added to these political games were tensions rising out of fresh house-to-house searches by EU troops last week in Serb areas of Bosnia – part of a series of periodic attempts to find and arrest former General Ratko Mladic on charges of war crimes.  Mladic is wanted primarily for the role he played in the massacre at Srebrenica in which Serb forces killed some 7,000 muslim civilians.
It seems doubtful that these searches are yielding any results, other than perhaps further inflaming tensions among the Serbs.  Over the last 14 years international troops from the UN, then NATO, and now the EU have periodically raided villages and searched homes, but yet have not been able to track down Mladic. 
If they ever find Mladic, I will be among the first to celebrate.  However, given how small the country is and the enormous number of foreign troops who have served there since 1995, one wonders how serious these attempts are.  Former President Karadic was finally arrested in Belgrade in July last year, thanks only to a new government in Serbia anxious to join the EU, and under intense pressure from western states.  This seems to be the only effective strategy.

On the Muslim side of the equation western pressure is also at play.  Last week authorities arrested three former members of the foreign mujahidin who had  fought on the Muslim side of the war.  All three had settled in Bosnia, became Bosnian citizens, married Bosnian women and raised families there.  There is no suggestion that any of the three has terrorist connections.  Rather they are detained only on an immigration charge of illegal entry to the country – some 17 years after they got there! 

One of those arrested, Aiman Awad, is a former Syrian citizen who was given Bosnian citizenship after the war.  There are doubts whether he could ever be safely extradited to his former homeland.  

Tomorrow, a little more about Awad and other former soldiers - Bosnia’s ex-mujahidin.
Enough for today.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Letter from Santa Fe Monday, May 11, 2009 Bosnia Part I

I had decided yesterday that today’s article would be about the “war” in eastern Chad – the latest phase in the long internal struggle within the Zaghawa tribe between President Deby and his cousins in the rebel UFR – a conflict closely tied to the war in Darfur.  However, I decided to leave that article for another day.
 Instead, my attention moved  to another recent tribal conflict - a good distance north of Chad and Darfur – Bosnia.

 I will get back down to Chad and Darfur in a day or two – I promise.

 Why the change of subject?  Well, last night I spotted a small article about the opening of a memorial in Sarajevo to the 1,600 children who died there during the siege of the city from 1992 to 1995.  As the article points out, the siege of Sarajevo lasted longer than the siege of Stalingrad during World War II. 


I served as UNICEF’s Special Representative to  Bosnia and the other countries of former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1998.  Recognizing that not many countries put up monuments to the children lost in war, I wanted to give Bosnia priority today. 

The article became too long (too many memories!), so I decided to divide it into two pieces.  Today’s is a short and rather sentimental memorial about the war.  Tomorrow’s piece will be more political - a look at the tensions that may be leading the country back to further conflict. 

At the time, it didn’t feel like the siege of Stalingrad, but it did seem that the siege would never end.  So too, the killing of children (and their parents) seemed to trickle by us in an unending stream, almost unnoticed, a flow of death and destruction so steady it could no longer be felt.  The UN military monitors published a daily bulletin, listing shell impacts in each sector of the city, so many here, so many there – a kind of daily weather report – factual, bland and without mention of the people maimed or killed by each shell.

It was a kind of new reality to which we had to adjust – a steady pace of death in which numbers made little sense of what was happening around us.  The siege was as much mental as it was physical - as much for us who could leave, as for those who could not.  Our world became a smaller world – one of walls, front lines, invisible borders. The world beyond disappeared from view.  

Somehow, despite the siege, Sarajevo and so many other isolated towns kept on living – smuggling food through the tunnel under the airport, drawing water from the wells which once served the city’s brewery, dodging the snipers, living on relief rations.  As a Bosnian put it to me at the time, “War – yes, but war or no war, every morning someone has to get up to bake the bread.”  

Fortunately, working with children gave us daily highs, as well as the inevitable lows.  Our work was very different from those who counted shell impacts or managed political negotiations.  Children and hope always seem to go together.  

I admired so much the people in our office who insisted, despite all the warnings and risks, on visiting the family of every child reported killed – they had to put a name and face to each, hold the hand of a parent, hear the stories.  

Many of us had worked in war zones of the third world.  We had come to quite smug assumptions about the nature of modern war.  We believed that wars were something fought out in Africa or Asia, that armed conflicts were rooted in poverty, under-development, and lack of education.  Yet, here we were in a reasonably prosperous part of Europe at the end of the twentieth century in the midst of a brutal tribal war.   The homes destroyed looked like the homes where we grew up - the schools like our schools.  The children - living and dead - looked like the kids with whom we once played and went to school.

This reality - that war was still very much a part of us, not just "them" - came as a shock.  However smug we Europeans and North Americams might feel about the level of our "civilization" , lurking somewhere just below the surface are ethnic tribal roots.  Bosnia was a sobering reminder of how politicians can quickly rub raw those roots, letting violence and resort to war replace dialogue and compromise.

 Estimates are that a total of between 100,000 and 110,000 people died in the Bosnian war.   Even conservative estimates suggest that around 17,000 children were killed.  Many others were raped, crippled or otherwise severely handicapped.  

Perhaps then the 1,600 children who died in Sarajevo form only one small piece of Bosnia's lost generation.  Nonetheless, I was happy to see that Sarajevo – seventeen years after the siege began and fourteen years after it ended - had taken the time to remember its children.

Sarajevo's monument ought to encourage all of us to take a moment to recall what we and our governments did or failed to do in those years;  a moment to think of our children, of the world we have given them; a moment to consider what we have learned or still failed to learn about our ourselves and the nature of war.  
Time also to say a little prayer for all those who lost their children in other armed conflicts since that siege ended.