Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Field of Blackbirds.

I had wanted my first blog post to be something scathingly witty, a roll in the aisles, kind of a vaudeville show for the internet masses. I went to bed last night mulling the very important question, "Which career path would I choose? Pirate or Ninja?". Let me tell you, it's not a cut and dried proposition, that one. Lots of positives and negatives to each.

My plans changed a bit when I read the news this morning. I don't get out of bed without checking the latest in celebrity gossip (it helps me start off the day on a happy note, since most of it is just flat-out ridiculous) as well as The Huffington Post (which sometimes is merely a slightly more sophisticated version of The real and imagined adventures of swashbuckling, rum-soaked sailors and cunning, well-dressed assassins made way very quickly for the sudden, unexpected appearance of a very real monster: Ratko Mladić.

Years ago, I took an independent study course with a focus on intractable conflict. I immersed myself in the language of hate, stunningly similar across ethnic and cultural divisions, a scar wending its way along the interminable march of time. This bitterness has no beginning, and it will have no end, until we ourselves end. I began to wonder if there was a group on earth that had never been a victim. Or a perpetrator.

Once, I got into a bar fight. OK. It wasn't a real bar (it was at a swank hotel in a moneyed desert resort town) and it wasn't a real fight, to tell the truth. I had been watching a man sitting nearby. His dark hair fell thickly over his forehead, offsetting his eyes, which were the color of the sea, far away from shore. I listened distractedly as his accent came and went; I could tell he was Eastern European, but I couldn't tell which country was his.

My interest was casual and curious until I heard him say, "...although they should really just kill every Muslim. They're all terrorist dogs." And then I knew. A Serb. Long story short, I confronted him. I went up to him and said, "Kosovo. It means "'field of blackbirds', doesn't it?" He looked at me in shocked semi-drunken silence. I started to lecture him - a person I didn't know! In a town that wasn't my own! Tried to convince him that the only way out of anything is peace. Understanding. He was horrified at first, defensive. But he came around - not completely- but with a promise to try to see people for who they were, not what group they belonged to. I ended up with the red, white and blue rubber bracelet on his wrist as a gift. Cheerfully embossed on it is the phrase, "Kosovo is Serbia!" offset by a cross and the address of an ultranationalist website. It reminds me that people can change and move forward, even if it is only a timid step out of the familiar.

Mladić had been protected for so long by so many. Only now, with Serbia wanting to shed its sorrow and the memory of horrors burnt into the ground of Srebrenica and Kosovo in an effort at reconciliation (or entry into the European Union) has this architect of terror finally been offered up to history.

I remembered a poem about the war in the Balkans called "Terminus" by Nicholas Christopher. He writes:

All the history you've ever read
tells you this is what men do
this is only a sliver of the reflection
of the beast
who is a fixture of human history
and the places you heard of as a boy
that were his latest stalking grounds
Auschwitz Dachau Treblinka
and the names of their dead
and their numberless dead whose names have vanished
each day now find their rolls swelled
with kindred souls
new names new numbers
from towns and villages
that have been scorched from the map

1993 may as well be 1943
and it should be clear now
that the beast in his many guises
the flags and vestments
in which he wraps himself
and the elaborate titles he assumed
can never be outrun

In the end, Mladić could no longer run. In my car today, every satellite news station was blathering on about something insignificant. It was only the BBC that seemed to spend all day dedicated to the story, remembering the victims for us so that we would not, could not forget them. In the first flush of battle, everything is news, but people get bored, turn back to the siren call of their own lives. Even now, with our own wars in Iraq, Afghanistan: where is the tally of lives? The nameless civilians? Our brave men and women, fighting to keep us safe? We turn the channel. Next. Next. Next.

The war crimes tribunal at the Hague metes out justice slowly, so slowly that the accused sometimes die waiting. I hope Richard Holbrooke is looking down from heaven, smiling at this victory, however fractured. And I hope the victims of Mladić and anyone else who chooses to harm rather than hold out their hand can find some peace, in whatever way they can.