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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Books - The War Is Dead, Long Live the War - Bosnia: The Reckoning by Ed Vulliamy

Star rating - 10/10

Some books we read for pleasure and amusement, and some to gain insight and knowledge. Some books we feel we should read, but there are some books that we simply must read. Journalist Ed Vulliamy's harrowing and jaw dropping account of the aftermath of the Bosnian War at a distance of twenty years after is such a book.

Vulliamy tellingly compares the Bosnian context to the response of the German nation to its own shameful Nazi past, with its collective awareness of what was done, and fierce determination to remember the full horror of Hitler's 'Final Solution' for the Jewish people. Concentration camps are preserved for posterity so that future generations can bear witness to the full evil of what happened, and hopefully to help such unthinkable atrocities and barbarism from ever recurring. The rest of the world also helped with the process of rehabilitation, barely fifteen years after the end of World War II The Beatles were performing in Hamburg, and Germany has emerged as a strong and democratic nation. 

This is all in stark contrast to the same period following the Bosnian conflict. And although this book is about events after the war, they cannot be recounted without making reference, in shocking detail, to some of the bone chillingly sadistic and cruel episodes which took place during it. Nazi style concentration camps sprung up, in a Western European nation which not long before had hosted the Winter Olympics, to house the 'ethnically cleansed' Bosnian Muslims after their houses were burned down and many of their number were slaughtered. Vulliamy reveals in great detail, from his own personal experience during the conflict, how the outside world at best ignored the existence of these camps, and at worst colluded in covering them up.

Rape and torture of horrific kinds were routinely committed, and many of the prisoners were forced to commit unspeakable acts on each other for the amusement of their captors. Genocide is not a word to be used lightly, but there is no other way to describe the actions of the Serbian army under President Slobodan Milošević and his henchman General Radovan Karadžić.

And all the more shocking is the failure to come to terms with what was done, despite war crimes trials in The Hague. Today Bosnian Muslims cannot grieve at national shrines and try to come to terms with what was done to them. There are no monuments - the Serbians won't agree to them being built, and anyway many of the more barbarous acts are denied, despite the evidence of thousands of Bosnian Muslim bodies being painstakingly sifted through to be able to give their remaining families some way of mourning them. And woman have to face their rapists across the street every day, either having served a short term in jail, or many going unpunished for their crimes.

But aside from these frankly deeply depressing realities, the stories of the people that Vulliamy has come to know are brilliant reminders of how such conflict touches families and individuals, as well as nations. One particularly heart-warming detail is that of the Manchester City star striker Edin Džeko, who is nothing short of a Bosnian national hero for his fierce pride in his nation and refusal to adopt citizenship of other much more glamorous footballing nations when he had the chance. As a City fan myself, it is pleasing to know that some of our pampered stars have principles and loyalty that have nothing to do with riches, and that such qualities cannot be bought. 

Vulliamy's own part in helping to publicise the existence of the concentration camps, and in acting as a witness in The Hague is distinguished and to be applauded. As is his determination to continue to make the world sit up and take note of what is still happening today through this brilliant and brave book. It frankly demands to be read.

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