Showing posts with label Croatia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Croatia. Show all posts

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Rumination

Having just come back from a vacation in the Balkans, where reminders of the devastation of war remained everywhere, a reflection on Memorial Day of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country seemed particularly poignant.

In Dubrovnik, a stark white cross stood on top of the bluff that looked down at the medieval old town, a reminder of the times when missiles rained down on the World Heritage site and pinned its hapless denizens underground for months before world opinion intervened. Inside the old town, the first thing to greet visiting tourists was a brass map showing where the bombs and fragmentation grenades fell. From the city wall, one can easily distinguish the new red tile roofs from the ancient yellow and black tiles—and there were precious few of the latter.

Tourists go to Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina to see the strikingly beautiful arch bridge, originally built by the Turks and now rebuilt after the internal conflict between the Croat Catholic and the Moslem population that destroyed it. The park in the city center is now a converted cemetery because of those times. Even after more than 15 years, fresh flowers still cover the rows of graves of young Muslim men, born of different dates, even different decades, but died around the same month in 1993. Listless survivors can still be seen sitting around sidewalk stalls with resigned vacant stares, seemingly unable to stir from their personal daze.

From Dubrovnik, we drove north along the famed Dalmatian coast. North of Split, we wound through the countryside to see the aftereffects of some of the worst fighting that took place between Serbs and Croats, folks that used to live as neighbors. The Croatian villages have been largely rebuilt. The Serbian villages that could be just across the road have been abandoned. Farm houses with fallen roofs and blown out walls stood to remind visitors of the fighting that turned neighbors and friends into mortal enemies. Barbed wired fields, with warning signs that the land mines have not yet been cleared, served as grim reminders that the prospects of death and injury still awaited the unwary.
Even though Split is the second largest city in Croatia and boost of a world class tourist attraction in the palace Roman Emperor Diocletian built in the 4th century AD, the city has no decent tourist accommodations. How come? For seven long years, all the hotels were used to house refugees from the war until they could return to their homes to rebuild their lives. The city has yet to recover from that experience and funds needed to restore those facilities suitable for providing hospitality to the foreign visitor have not been forthcoming.

It has been more than a decade since the end of the war that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the reconstituted republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. People there don’t seem interested in talking about the past, to analyze the causes of conflict and to excoriate those responsible for the tragic bloodshed. There was no perceptible joy in having won the outcome. They seemed only interested in getting on with their lives and look to a future without strife.

As I observed what war did to Yugoslavia, I couldn’t help wonder how the people in Iraq will one day react when the conflict is finally ended and the last American soldier has left. Will the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds be able to live alongside again? Will they be able to rebuild or will they leave certain devastations to remain as reminders of the American incursion? Most important, will Iraqis remember and thank Americans for liberating them so that in future Memorial Days as we mourn for those that gave their lives in Iraq, we find consolation in the Iraqi gratitude?

I wonder but I am not hopeful.