There is no doubt that we Croatians, and some other actors, are in the midst of a drama with epic proportions. The title could be something like ‘War and Piece in the Balkans’ or ‘The Suicide of Justice’, or ‘Killing off the Hero Within’. Whatever the case, it is clear that the themes are big, universal and archetypal. And that there are lessons to be learned.
The general of the Croatian army who fought in Croatia and Bosnia during the last war, has been found guilty of war crimes and sentenced, after surrendering himself to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, having already spent 13 years incarcerated. This sentence concludes the work of this court for war crimes committed in the Balkans, after many years of trials, witnesses, reports, deliberations, publicity, anguish and destinies appearing before us, as if appearing on a big stage of history.
The ultimate director of this play has staged the final sitting of this court, which presided over delivering sentences and ‘dishing out justice’ to many Croats, Bosnians and Serbs involved in the conflict. This took place on 29 November – the biggest state holiday and ‘The Day of the Republic’, in the state of Yugoslavia, now itself just a corpse, upon whose death the whole conflict erupted in the first place. Is this play a farce, a satire, a comedy perhaps?
Upon hearing the verdict, one of the accused generals, who, before becoming a general had a career as a film director and worked in theatre, yells out: “I am not a criminal” and drinks a poison from the small bottle concealed in his hand in front of the judges, those present in court and the TV audience of many, as the trial was screened live. The judges are stunned and not knowing what to do, just usher for: “the curtain, the curtain.” Blackness ensues. THE END.
The man dies later in hospital. The stunned Croatian audience/nation does not know if they should clap or not. For whom and for what? Booing also doesn’t seem appropriate. Just an odd whistle with unclear meaning, breaks the silence here and there. As the public reaction of the Croatian Government, public commentators and social media show, no one is sure what kind of epilogue to write, what is appropriate in this scenario they have never witnessed before. Some yell: “Hero!”, others: “Coward!”; some proclaim: “Justice is dead” and call for a different judgement. The War continues.
Wars can’t be over through seeking justice in court, or by looking for objective truth. Nor by attributing blame or establishing guilt. Wars can’t be over as long as we continue to look for the culprit, the person or persons responsible, the guilty one(s). Wars can’t be over for as long as one side considers itself better than the other. Wars can’t be over if we need heroes.
The legal process of establishing personal responsibility for those few who were the executors on behalf of their leaders and their nation does not contribute much to the process of true reconciliation. Our reaction to justice as determined by courts is always dependent on our national belonging. We all seek: “Ultimate justice” and call for :“The objective truth.” When are we going to learn that this is an illusory quest?! When are we going to realise that there is no one Right or one Wrong? When are we going to understand that there is no one god?
How many more wars does it take and how many more perpetrators do we need, whose actions we deem abhorrent, standing in court and declaring: “I am not guilty” for us to understand?
No man feels guilty for killing those outside the boundaries of their own tribe. No Croat, no Serb, no Muslim, no German, no Israeli. We kill those who follow a different god with good conscience, and with the blessing of our god. And we feel like heroes and are considered to be so by our tribe. The same man is seen as a hero or as a war criminal, depending on the colours of the seer.
The solution is to turn away from these lesser gods and turn to God who lets the rain fall and the sun shine on the just and unjust, innocent and guilty equally. We have to follow the God who is kindly turned to everyone, victims as well as perpetrators, right as well as left, red as well as green.
We have to see that our brother Serbs or our brother Muslims were killing with the same zealousness as we Croats, with the same conviction that they were fighting for a just cause as we had. We have to see that they do not and cannot feel guilty about it, as much as we can’t about our own killing. All sides in all wars fight for: ‘The good cause’. Yes, with tragic consequences and always with the same tragic blindness. And what is it that blinds us? Our conscience. Because every tribe has a different conscience, and every tribe believes that theirs is the universal one. And that theirs is the right and just one!
We are all guilty and we are all innocent. We are all victims and we are all perpetrators. True reconciliation happens when we look at the trail of blood our convictions have left behind. When we look at the victims, the dead on all sides, with the same piety and respect, with the same pain in our heart. When all the victors come to their knees and sob at the destiny of those defeated. When we, the descendants, look at all the dead and grieve for all of them, without seeing the marks on their uniforms, without knowing which army they belonged to. Yes, ultimately it is about feeling the same love for all.
The Croatian curse is not only that they had the enemies outside of their tribe, and that they continue to harbour these conflicts, but the fact that WWII had the nation split in half: half of the nation followed one ideology while the other half followed the other. This split continues to work in us, like in bad horror movies or in psychiatric wards in which one part fights the other, in which we harbour our worst enemy, the perpetrator within ourselves. Croatians are a schizophrenic nation. It makes it difficult, if not impossible to deal with the outcomes of later wars, to face the future, or, as the pathetic Croatian political scene shows, deal with any practical issues in the present.
But, ultimately and in every situation, under any circumstances, we have to understand that the Partisans were no better that the Ustashas. Or that the Ustashas were not bigger Croatian nation lovers than the Partisans. Or that those fighting for a united Slavs communist state of Yugoslavia were no better than those wanting an independent state of Croatia. Or the other way around. These are just different ideas, with ideologies built around them, and each one of them has their followers, as well as those opposing them. No ideology, no idea is worth fighting for, because inevitably, a trail of blood follows. No idea, no cause is worth fighting for, because no one idea is better than another.
Fighting for peace brings war. Let them be side by side. War and Peace. Give them both their place. Bow and say: “I do not understand what purpose you have, which master you serve. I leave it all in higher hands. And I do not interfere. I do not try to take God’s place and I do not act on his behalf.”
We don’t need to yell out loud our love for our country, we can just tend our garden quietly. We can serve our country by not spilling blood in her name – ours and that of others. We can be hospitable hosts and good neighbours, welcoming the guests from other tribes, preparing our national dishes for them. We can be a country which doesn’t need heroes, where men stay at home and plough the field and make love to their wives. We can be a country where fathers don’t leave their sons in cradles, never to return from war. And we can respect those men who do the same across our borders. We can be the country whose mothers and wives keep their men at home, because it is precisely this that war kills first: a connection between a man and a woman, with far reaching consequences for our world.
War kills love, not just between a man and a man, not just between a Croat and a Serb or a Muslim. War kills love, that warm, intimate love between a man and a woman, right there in their bed.
So, women, love thy man, and keep him at home. And, men, love thy neighbour and respect his love of his country and land. And all of us, let’s love our country by turning to our garden, tending it with care, making it flourish and prosper.
And the dead, those killed in the past wars, do we forget them? No. We look at them with love, at all of them and their killers lying now beside them. And we say: “We are all the same, there is no Other, we are all One.” And we put down the gun we pointed at our enemies, from our need to avenge those killed before, because we suddenly realise that, in pulling the trigger, we kill ourselves.
So, if this writer is allowed to changed the ending of this drama, as writers sometimes are, then the hero in our drama is the one who has this sudden insight and slowly, as if in a dream, gently lays his gun on the ground, turns around and walks slowly off the stage. The curtain comes down, the moment of suspended silence follows. The audience raptures in thunderous applause. The hero hugs his wife and children backstage, decides to leave his acting career and head home with them to feed the animals and water their garden.
2.12.2017. Zagreb, Croatia