Before the 1992–1995 war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was well known in Yugoslavia for the mix of nationalities living close to each other. We knew all that could be known about each other, and respecting one’s neighbour was something that came quite naturally.
We were happy to celebrate each other’s holidays, to share sweets and joy, and at the same time to learn about each other.
At school, we learned that in some parts of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were home to more than 60 different minority groups, such as Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Vlachs, and Albanians. Radio and TV programmes were produced in the languages of all these groups, and provided information about their cultures, religion and traditions. This way of living was known in the region as the Bosnian Pot (Bosanski Lonac), named after the country’s favourite dish – a mixture of local vegetables and herbs that are put together in a haphazard way, but with an extremely delicious result.
During the war however, all these different people simply disappeared, as did another important part of our lives, tolerance.
And thus, the Bosnian Pot way of life, where we lived together in tolerance and mutual understanding was lost, and today we are more concerned with our differences than with the rich diversity of our country.
Speaking from the point of view of one of the majority groups in Bosnia, it is not easy to tell how the others feel, for this very reason, and I have to say that I feel lonely without them.
I know that during the war people who belonged to any of the minority groups were forced to take sides in order to survive. They suddenly had to choose who their favourite neighbour was, who they would fight for.
While the media reported mass killings of Bosnians, Serbs and Croats, all majority groups in the country, nobody paid attention to the minorities. Overnight, we just forgot about them.
Some months ago, a local NGO presented the results of a couple of years’ study on the victims of war in Bosnia. I saw the results and read how many Bosnians, how many Croats, and how many Serbs were killed. The forth group is simply called “the others”. Looking at the figures from Srebrenica, where some 9 000 people were killed in just seven days in July 1995, I noticed that, among the thousands of Bosnians, there was one Roma person who died. At that moment, I felt a great loneliness because of him. The only thing I could do was to try to find out more.
I reacted as a journalist; I wanted to see if it was possible to find how many Roma people, the largest minority group in Bosnia and Herzegovina, died in the war. I could not find any reliable figures, but I discovered a number of stories, starting with the story of a Roma and an Albanian from Bijeljina.
Another story involved a small village in the north of Bosnia where more than 40 people were killed in one day and the village completely destroyed. All of them were Roma people. Nobody reported the massacre and the mass gave containing their bodies has not been discovered. We just assume that they were buried in a mass grave.
I am sorry to say that the reason for this is that they were Roma people.
Later on, I found out about another community of Roma people, also from the north of the country, who were detained in one of the camps, and forced to torture other prisoners who were from one of the majority groups. They themselves were also tortured, the women were raped, and many were killed. But, even this case was not reported, and people are still not willing to talk about it in public.
All these crimes are simply being ignored in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not one person has been charged with killing Roma or any other minority people, despite the fact that a couple of hundred people have been indicted after the war. Neither do we know how many Jewish people were killed, disappeared or left the country, how many Ukrainians, Romanians, Albanians… We simply do not know what happened to them. Are they still alive?
In today’s political reality, and under the constitution that developed out of the Dayton Peace Agreement signed in 1995, only three majority groups have real rights. They are the “constituent people” and can be elected as representatives.
Public broadcasters do not dedicate time or space to other groups. We no longer hear anything about different people and their languages and cultures. Young people are not even aware they exist. And as time goes by, we are becoming more and more xenophobic.
Once we were a country that was proud of our diversity, but that is far cry from the Bosnia and Herzegovina of today.
If we look at the lessons from the past, we can see how dangerous it can be to forget about other people, especially those who have been living close to us, and who we used to see every day. Many people who were living in Bosnia and Herzegovina were forgotten by the “majority” in the rest of the world and left to die during the war.
Today, we risk again being forgotten by a “majority group” and becoming, once again, victims of human rights violations. Not only the state, but also every individual citizen will have to find its way out of this forgetfulness in order to rebuild a normal life with full respect of our basic human rights.