The Bosnia List
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". . .a troubling but hopeful glimpse into the dark side of humans."
I’ve been to the Balkans multiple times from 1991 through 2013, yet I remain perplexed to explain the centuries-old strife between various “ethnic” (and/or religious) groups (Bosnians, Croatians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Slovenians, Albanians and Serbians) who occupied what was once Yugoslavia. But Kenan Trebinčvić’s memoir, The Bosnia List, has been most helpful for me to grasp why neighbors and friends turned against each other in 1991, leaving more than 300,000 dead.
When the author is only twelve years old, he is awarded his karate belt from coach, mentor and hero, Pero. Months later, Pero shoves an AK-47 at Trebinčvić’s head and fires. Mercifully, the gun jams. Then, he discovers hundreds of Muslims have been massacred inside The Partizan Sports Hall where he once trained, and later observes bodies floating down the Sava River where he fished with his father.
“Why?” asks Trebinčvić. His father offers a simple explanation. The Serbian leader Slobodan Miloŝevićs “sick obsession” is to create an all-Serb country without Muslims, he says. It all goes back to the 14th Century when the Turkish army brought them to Bosnia as servants. Trebinčvić responds, “But the Serbs can’t still be pissed off and blaming us for that …?”
Sadly, the answer is yes, but still it’s difficult to grasp how this animosity lingers, so easily triggered by a exploitative “nationalist”, and all too easily reignited even after decades and centuries pass, which theoretically should heal past wounds.
The complexity behind Trebinčvić’s childhood questions unfold as he tells of his family’s escape, their exile to the United States, and his return home with his father and brother nearly twenty years later. The 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the war divided Bosnia among the Serbians, Bosniaks and Croats, which meant many of his enemies and friends were again living side-by-side.
Trebinčvić’s journey challenges his own reality, detailed in a changing to-do “list” when he confronts a personal contradiction: If it hadn’t been for Serbian friends and neighbors, his family would not have survived. Putting his book on your reading list offers a troubling but hopeful glimpse into the dark side of humans.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla