By Annamaria Karvalits
When I first learned of the Bosnian war, it was described to me as an ethnic conflict rooted in religious difference. Hungarian education defined Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats as Slavic ethnic groups that practice different religions.
However, during the time I have spent in Bosnia listening to testimonies and opinions of survivors and family members of victims, no one has ever mentioned religion as the reason of the violence and the genocide that happened. These stories painted pre-Bosnia as a place where the tradition of neighborhood was stronger that any possible religious divide. Although individuals could be associated with ethnic groups based on their given names, it took strong propaganda in years preceding the war to draw attention to the divide.
Regardless of whether the war was a political tool or an ethnic conflict, one thing can be very clear to anyone visiting this region: all post-war memorials—let them be the statues raised in the memory of Serb soldiers or the cemeteries and the annual commemorations of the Bosniaks—are accompanied by religious undertones. One particular text caught my eye as I was walking around in the Muslim cemetery of Kozarac where 1232 Bosniaks found in mass graves around the villages were reburied.
“All theses Shahid (martyr) names (…) are witnesses of the truth which will haunt the murderers and their ideologists forever, because the one who grows seeds of death will not and cannot harvest happiness or love. To us who maintain this painful truth, and to all those who will in the future, let this place be an eternal reminder that harm should never be repeated to us or anyone else again.”
I had mixed feelings walking away from this memorial building, beautifully decorated with traditional Muslim patterns. Memorials are for the living, as they say, and this one carried a message of peace, meaning both in our minds and in our relationships, and it also reflected an attitude of “forgive but do not forget.” On the other hand, there were two interpretations from which radically opposing ideas could be derived. Remembrance, in the sense most people I have met, used the word was a message for future generations, a lesson to prevent future wars. The other interpretation is one I encountered only once. According to this, victims should never forget who performed the horrors of the war because “they are not their friends.”
One would expect that many share this view, these feelings. But in my experience, people long for peace and this land that they are so deeply attached. They do not wish to hate and they are willing to face a difficult journey towards a better future where neighbors can look each other in the eye and not only coexist, but live together.