Writer, filmmaker, and "humanitarian bombing" survivor Jasmina Tesanovic reflects on the similarities between the war she experienced, and the strikes proposed by the United States against Syria.
I have little new to say about my 78 days of humanitarian bombing, but my experience might be new to the people of Syria.
In the Orwellian days of 1999, Serbia was being blown up for blowing up Kosovo, officially a part of Serbia. So one can see why the Serbia of the 1990s is offered as a model for a military intervention in Syria.
I wrote a diary in my attempt to make some sense of the situation, when citizens in Serbia were living in the internal repression of the Milosevic regime. The international community was keen on isolation and sanctions for Serbia, while global entrepreneurs profited by the disorders by selling us black-market diesel, cigarettes and weapons. I was among the traitors to our patriotic military, but I was also a legitimate target for the NATO airplanes, who, after all, planned to overthrow the regime through making life impossible for the population.
This stark combination of civil war, repression and sanctions had brought the people in Serbia back to that medieval Ottoman condition they had once shared with the Syrians. It meant lack of medicines, no heating, blackouts, smashed bridges and food shortages. And, of course, those 78 days of plummeting bombs brought colossal explosions that shook the marrow in the bones of every being with a skeleton. Even the zoo animals were shell shocked by the earth tremors and the sonic booms of the warplanes. In these maddening conditions, the hostage population hated their dictator, their friends, their enemies, themselves, the whole world.
Personally, I understood why we were being bombed and, politically speaking, I could not argue against it. I was a target, along with my elderly parents and my underage children, but I hoped that the rain of bombs would conclude our endless years of more subtle forms of punishment. Despite those hopes and that comprehension, I went out of my mind with fear when the first alarm sirens went off and the NATO warplanes appeared in our sky.
That being said, I must admit that the targeting was precise, and aimed at infrastructure. So few civilians were dead that the cynical term "collateral damage" made some sense. My first horrific fears proved worse than the dull ensuing weeks of real life under the raid conditions. When it finally ended, I was relieved that so many of us had survived, and I felt ready to congratulate anyone and everyone still standing, all the NATO forces, the Serbian military and deserters, the Albanians in Kosovo, everybody but our regime which was not even toppled!
I was one of the earliest witnesses to war who chose to write on the Internet. I naively thought that maybe my high-tech, electronic, Internet diary, which spread very widely on email lists, might become a useful document for those in good faith who made big military mistakes.
But the Internet grew old while the military mistakes are forever young: diaries, wars, Twitter streams, Facebook posts and bombings…and not much changed. Nowadays, when I look back at those times of the 1990s, remembering those heroic and even romantic days of solidarity and activism when we were fighting for truth and justice, the big picture comes back to me much grimmer.
Pacifists were ignored, and victims hidden under the carpet. Nobody remembers or honors the collateral dead: even I myself try to forget that my mother died, like many others, from sanctions deprivations and the lack of antibiotics! My daughter grew up in fear of her life, many young men I knew personally were killed, or made into killers…
But when we are not standing at ground zero for the new world disorder, we forget it, and we fail to realize that it has not ended, just moved somewhere else. The Balkans yesterday, Syria today. The exodus of refugees, the screaming of pacifists, the warnings of historians, the exploding social media from the war zone, they drift across the global landscape endlessly. The globe learns nothing from our previous local experiences; we don't even learn how to stop the wars faster and survive them more handily. All our electronic media have taught us very little that makes any difference to the body count.
Sometimes the slaughter crosses a line that the great powers find unbearable: in Serbia it was the genocide of Srebrenica and the ethic cleansing of Kosovo, in Syria it is chemical weapons, but the only big differences here are matters of equipment. Intervention occurs when the international community is forced to confront its own ignorance and impotence and their fear of being dragged into the quagmire instead of merely financing it.
Activists from all over the world, those who suffer the free-floating anxiety syndrome of concerned parties with no visible path to success, will give their own lives to save Syrian innocent children. Syria doesn't lack for martyrs giving their lives. People with their sense of decency offended will shudder at war scenes and change the TV channel: better them than us! But the dread, the fear and death are constants of the world scene now.
When the catastrophe arrives, it will be borderless and entirely modern, it won't be "theirs" or "ours".
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