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Balkan Nightmares

The ghosts of history haunt the Balkans.
Ancient passions, unbending hatreds
turmoil the region.
Painful tragedies of the past
are recycled by memories.
Permanent hostage of bound
and determined remembrance,
Race, religion and poverty clash
in violent convulsions.

Ethnic warfare and ruthless fright
sweep across nations,
fuelled by explosions of grief, revenge
and fear.
They are immersed in horror,
terror, chaos and bloodshed,
the sufferings of children,
the sorrows of fathers,
and the agonies of widows.

In 1453 the Turks led by Mehmet II
captured Constantinople
and the Eastern Roman Empire
ceased to exist.
The Ottomans became the new masters
of the Balkan provinces,
ushering in long centuries
of rugged struggles for freedom
and independence.

In 1697 Prince Eugene of Savoy
conquered Sarajevo,
A historic city that he left burned down
and plague-infected. Although by 1717
the prince liberated Belgrade
and the Danube region from Ottoman rule,
he failed to retake the Bosnian capital.

In the 19th century Austria-Hungary
annexed Bosnia, but together with Albania,
it remains a Muslim stronghold
in the heart of Europe.

In one summer day in 1914
the driver of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
took a wrong turn to Franz Josef Street,
at the edge of the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo.
On an official visit, the heir presumptive
to the Austro-Hungarian throne was riding
in an open car along with his pregnant wife,

A young Serb, Gavrilo Princip, a member
of the secret Pan-Slavic Black Hand Society,
spotted them. He approached the car
and from a distance of five feet
he fired twice
his FN model pistol, shooting the Archduke
in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen.

Bleeding, but still conscious,
he pleaded her:
"Please, don't die. You must live
for the sake of our children".
But they both died
on the way to the hospital.

The assassination of the royal couple
was a main catalyst that precipitated
the outbreak of the First World War.
On July 28,1914, Austria-Hungary
declared war on Serbia.

Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes,
came to existence in the Great War.
However, peace did not last long.
When Yugoslavia refused to join
Hitler's New Order in Europe,
the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade
and Nazi Germany invaded the country.

The Fuehrer's armies occupied Sarajevo
on April 16,1941.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
as well as Croatia
became Nazi satellite states.
Fascist Bosnian Muslims,
Croatian Ustasha,
Serb Chetniks clashed with each other
or fought against
Tito's anti-fascist partisans.

The fighting was bloody and brutal.
The occupying German forces
Committed dreadful atrocities.

The Croatian Ustasha
had been especially notorious
for wanton acts of cruelty,
torturing and murdering
thousands of Serbs and Jews,
men, women and children.
During World War II
over one million Yugoslavs died.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
was born out of the flames and ruins
of the Second World War.
Yet, after Tito's death
and the collapse of communism in the 1980s
the ethnic communities of the republic
wanted independence.

The Serb Communist Party leader
Slobodan Milosevic became a nationalist
and changed the Serbian constitution.
He annulled the autonomy
of the Albanian province of Kosovo
and introduced repressive measures
against ethnic Albanians.

Seeking independence,
Slovenia and Croatia in 1991
voted to secede
from the Yugoslav federation.
A year later Bosnia, too,
declared independence.

In the Yugoslav Dissolution Wars,
Slovenia gained sovereignty,
following brief skirmishes
with the federal Yugoslav People's Army.

In other parts
of the disintegrating communist republic
the tragedy of war struck
with enormous devastation,
enfolding as a long lasting conflict,
a violent catastrophe
that engulfed a large part of the Balkans
in flames.

In November 1991 Serb militias
supported by the Yugoslav Army
murdered hundreds of Croatians
in the Vukovar region.
They continued to bombard the town
for three months solid.

In December,
the Serbian Autonomous Oblast declared
its independence under the name
of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.
It controlled one third of Croatian territory
and pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing,
expelling the Croatian population
from the oblast.

But by 1993
the newly created Croatian Army
was strong enough to start an offensive
against the Serbs. The conflict escalated
into a full scale Yugoslav civil war
and entered its bloodiest phase.

In August 1995 the Croatian Army
invaded Krajina. Within a few days
more than 200,000 Serbs fled their homes.
NATO forces intervened
but supported the Croats.

They patrolled the skies and attacked
Serb surface-to-air missile radar sites.
Croatian planes raided Serbian towns
and army positions.

A dreadful nightmare
descended on the Balkans.
Croatian aircrafts bombed and strafed
Civilians, as frightened Serbs; old and young,
women and children, trying to reach safety,
had been trapped on roads
clogged with refugees.

Adding to the horrors, Bosnian Muslim troops
crossed the border into Krajina and cut off
the Serbian escape routes.
Along with the Croatian assault,
the Bosnian artillery pounded
the fleeing Serbs and burned down
Serbian villages.

Meanwhile the Serbian enclaves in Bosnia
had striven to join a greater Serbia
and engaged in ethnic cleansing.
In July 1995 Serb forces
of General Ratko Mladic
slaughtered thousands of Bosnian Muslims
in Srebrenica.

The wounds of the Second World War
had not healed yet and Yugoslavs
found themselves now fighting a new
and terrible tribal war.

They realized that peace
is precious and fragile,
that it has to be constantly nourished,
that it can never be taken for granted.
They looked back with nostalgia
to past days of tranquility.

Not very long
before the troubles started
Yugoslavia hosted
the Winter Olympic games.
The games were held in 1984
in the city of Sarajevo.

But now, eight years later,
Serbian troops encircled the Bosnian capital.
In a siege that lasted 43 months,
the nationalists cut off food supplies,
utilities and communications.
Serbian snipers shot at Sarajevans
going to work or to shop.
More than 12,000 Bosnian Muslims,
as well as Serb and Croatian residents
of the city were killed in the siege,
among them,1,500 children.

At the same time Serb nationalists
throughout Bosnia shelled and burned down
villages and towns, deported people
to detention camps and terrorized
Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
They systematically raped the women,
tortured and executed the men.
They conducted a scorched earth policy,
destroying houses, schools, roads,
bridges and railways and forced millions
of people to flee their homes.

In 1999, in the same decade
that the Rwandan genocide took place,
President Milosevic of Serbia attempted
another ethnic cleansing campaign
against the Albanian population of Kosovo.

After NATO intervened
and bombed Serbia in order to stop
the expulsion of Albanians from the province,
the returning Albanians attacked
the Serbian residents of Kosovo.

Now the former victims of ethnic cleansing
Became the perpetrators of the same crimes
against humanity. The Albanians drove out
one hundred thousand Serbs from Kosovo.

Human tragedies know neither political,
nor ethnical, nor religious frontiers.
The Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Albanians
involved in the conflicts
of the Yugoslav Dissolution Wars
became both aggressors and victims.
Many of them committed
heinous war crimes.
Civilians, especially the women
and the children, suffered terribly
on all sides.

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