This is probably extremely un-PC of me, but no progress on "the science of hatred" is going to be made by a Bosnian wandering around Serbian high schools asking "why don't you accept that you're guilty?"
One of my best friends is Croatian. Several of my colleagues are Albanian. My cousin ran supplies into Sarajevo for IFOR from 1996-2003. And I spent a couple months dating a Serbian girl.
Funny thing is, I thought she was Croatian. She was on the Yugoslavian national volleyball team. She had a CS degree from the University of Sarajevo. And she was an illegal immigrant working a kiosk at the airport. On Match.com her handle was "Hermione."
That first date was at a Starbuck's. I can't remember how it came up, but as soon as you're talking to a girl with a masters in comp sci who works a kiosk at SeaTac who happens to have a thick accent, origins are going to come up. Anyway, she said the most haunting thing:
"It was worse when they firebombed our house in the country than when they carpetbombed our apartment in the city. You can't take carpetbombing personally."
It didn't make sense to me at the time, but I let it go - wasn't NATO the one doing the carpet bombing? But whatever, she was charming, she was beautiful, she had a cat named Smierschke ("snowball") and she had gypsy eyes. I took her to see Amelie and we went to get hot chocolate (her thing). We were merrily walking down the street and I said something stupid like "I've never dated a Bosnian before."
She stopped. "neither have I."
"I thought you were - "
"You thought I was Bosnian?" She spat. Literally. On the ground.
"I am Serbian!"
We walked a little, things got a little better. She was clearly pissed. I mentioned something like it being a really visceral thing. She agreed. I asked her what she'd do if she saw a Bosnian walking down the street right then. She stopped in her tracks.
"I'd kill them. I'd kill them. I'd kill them."
I watched No Man's Land with them. They loved it. I did not point out the director is Bosnian.
* * *
That's the sort of thing that gets left out of the narrative on this. Here's this girl. Yugoslav national volleyball team. CS degree with honors from a top Soviet technical university. Her apartment in the city bombed from the air by NATO, her family cabin burned down by an angry mob with Molotov cocktails (with her in it). Drifting from city to city, one step ahead of the INS, one sister in London, one in Budapest, a brother in Munich, a roommate in a flop house south of the airport, driving everywhere in a stolen car, nobody with a license, car breaks down you leave it on the side of the road and buy another because as soon as you pop up in the system, not only are you an illegal, you're a villain.
Yet the narrative on "war" is "good guys" and "bad guys" and when the "bad guys" lose, they're wrong, they're evil, they owe the whole world an apology. Make no mistake - the Serbs were the aggressors in that one. They've been on top in the region for about a hundred years. They were on top under the Soviets, and when the Soviets went away, they scrambled to keep the pecking order while the Albanians and Croats tried to get out from under their thumb. From a Serbian standpoint, they were preserving the status quo and things got out of hand. And from the perspective of a high school kid in 2013, Dad and Grandpa had good lives of privilege, they fought to preserve what they had, and now they're war criminals. The kid never pointed a gun at anyone. From his perspective, his peeps aren't monsters, they're defeated. Yet we're waving a paper in his face and saying
"Tell me why you hate."
What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? Because when you say "you were on the side that did this horrible thing" they can just as easily say "and you were on the side that did this other horrible thing but for some reason, the world's okay with it."
Lots of Albanians in LA. Lots of Croatians. Beautiful women. Delicious food. Haunted eyes. Every one of them has a story they don't like to talk about, but you can ask them. They all suffered. They all continue to suffer.
But so did "Hermione."