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Ana Turck • Jul 08, 2009

Photo by Bill Turck

There are moments in my life when I regret not keeping a journal; the kind whose pages are filled with mundane details, only seldom interrupted by fragments of insightful thought. In my early teens I tried this exercise in self-awareness, but faltered after realizing that the journal turned into lists of meals, obsessive ramblings about unrequited love and frustrations over schoolwork. Realizing the ordinary nature of my teen angst, I stopped writing and turned to poetry instead.

During the war I refused to write; partially due to my inability to focus on anything more than survival, but also as a form of resistance to the conditions of my life. I refused to be just another person writing a war journal. It felt like living some sort of cliché.

After the war I wanted to escape and forget. I wanted to distance myself from anything that reminded me of those terrible days and years. Since this was my goal, the last thing I needed was a journal and the process of personal writing that would keep me alive. I wanted to disappear and become someone else who had not suffered a war.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that I am not in a possession of a primary document, other than my memory and the memories of others close to me that help me recount the Bosnian war. Recent events cause me to regret the decision, lack of discipline, laziness, the fear or whatever it was that kept me from keeping a journal. I regret it even more now recalling the anti-war protests in Sarajevo and the first days of war. But the protests and crackdowns recently in Iran reminded me that there is more to history than factual accounts of events. There is the emotional memory, which I tried so hard to forget.

The first weeks prior to war were tense. Venomous nationalist discourse overtook public and private spheres with fervor. I was an art student in Sarajevo then. I often found myself listening to arguments about fundamentalist ideologies advocating superiority of one religion and nationality over another, in odd moments such as still-life drawing classes. This national dysfunction permeated every aspect of society and life.

These kinds of discourses were unavoidable. To be clear, those fomenting the ethnic and nationalist rhetoric were a very small minority, but their constant message filtered through skewed historical perspectives, chaotic politics and a struggling economy tore at “Brotherhood and Unity” fostered by Yugoslavia’s long dead leader Josip Broz “Tito.” The constant din of division-ist politics fractured Sarajevo at every level, boiling up to a poisoned national election that suddenly saw barricades with armed men go up around the city. Sarajevo was at a breaking point. This was a crossroads against that tiny minority attempting to force division upon the rest of us, an outrage that we could not bear any longer.

The city rose up at once. Huge masses collected at both ends of the city, the word going out from neighbor to neighbor, and by progressive radio announcers. My mom picked us up to join this amazing show of civic power and responsibility. Crowds, by some estimate more than a hundred thousand, nearly a third of the population, marched on the city-center determined to end the nationalist rabble once and for all. I was swept into this awe-inspiring assertion of freedom and decency. There was singing, women, children and old people. This was my Sarajevo. Banners proclaimed unity against war, and red, blue and white Yugoslav flags waved. We marched to the military barracks where someone had fired on a smaller group of protesters a few nights before. Surely no one would dare provoke us now.

As we passed there were soldiers in the windows of the barracks. Suddenly something from the crowd caught my attention. A middle-aged man began screaming at the soldiers. Red faced and hysterical he tore off his shirt in a blind rage. It was a murderous emotion that, at 16, I was wholly unprepared for. For the first time I felt that we were truly in danger here. It was a premonition of things to come, though at that moment the power of the protesters seemed unstoppable…

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