Reza: Bearing witness to war and peace

Desembre 25, 2008

I strongly recommend you to listen to this interview from NPR to Reza Deghati, considered among the world’s great photojournalists. His latest book, Reza War and Peace: A Photographer’s Journey, is a retrospective of his amazing work as an eyewitness on various conflicts. On the link you’ll also find a selection of some of those photos.

“I heard some demonstration against the shah — and this was in those days unbelievable,” Reza tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “Nobody really thought that there would be demonstrations on the streets because the presence of the secret police and army was so strong … that nobody would dare.”

As he watched from the window, army jeeps arrived and soldiers began shooting into the demonstrators, many of whom were students.

One of them “had a camera and he was taking pictures and running,” Reza says. “This was a moment that really changed my life. The day after, I was on the street starting [to take photographs], and day after day I just forgot to return back to my office. And this was 30 years ago.”



Sudan, 1989

Sudan, 1989: “I saw his feet, scarred by chains that also bound his hands. His eyes were resigned, his violence contained.” – Reza

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Fears of new ethnic conflict in Bosnia

Desembre 22, 2008

I just found this analysis on the actual situation of Bosnia, specially regarding the effects that the independence of Kosovo may have on the Serb Republic of the country. For those who are interested on this issue, I strongly recommend you to read this.

As you see, from now on I’ll try to write as much posts as I can in english. I appreciate the comments from spanish or catalan followers but I would like to reach as much readers as I can. Please, forgive my mistakes on advance, I’ll do my best with the language.

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The New York Times
December 14, 2008

By DAN BILEFSKY

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Thirteen years after the United States brokered the Dayton peace agreement to end the ferocious ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia, fears are mounting that Bosnia, poor and divided, is again teetering toward crisis.

On the surface, this haunted capital, its ancient mosques and Orthodox churches still pocked by mortar fire, appears to be enjoying a renaissance. Young professionals throng to stylish cafes and gleaming new shopping malls while the muezzin heralds the morning prayer. The ghosts of Srebrenica linger –ecalling the worst massacre in Europe since World War II – but Sarajevans prefer to talk about President-elect Barack Obama or the global financial crisis.

Yet for the first time in years, talk of the prospect of another war is creeping into conversations across the ethnic divide in Bosnia, a former Yugoslav republic that the Dayton agreement divided into two entities, a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic.

The power-sharing agreement between former foes has always been tense. Now, however, the uneasy peace has been complicated by Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February, which many here worry could prompt the Serb Republic to follow suit, tipping the region into a conflict that could fast turn deadly.

“It’s time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don’t want things to get nasty very quickly,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the Clinton administration oficial who brokered the Dayton accord, and Paddy Ashdown, formerly the West’s top diplomat in Bosnia, warned recently in an open letter published in several newspapers. “By now, the entire world knows the price of that.”

The peace agreement, negotiated at a United States Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, accomplished its goal of ending a Savage three-and-a-half-year war in which about 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims. A million more Muslims, Serbs and Croats were driven from their homes, while much of this rugged country’s infrastructure was destroyed.

But the decentralized political system that Dayton engineered has entrenched rather than healed ethnic divisions. Even in communities where Serbs, Muslims and Croats live side by side, some opt to send their children to the same schools, but in different shifts.

And the country’s leaders are so busy fighting one another that they are impeding Bosnia from progressing. Locked in an impasse of mutual recrimination are Haris Silajdzic – the Muslim in the country’s three-member presidency, who has called for the Serb Republic to be abolished – and the Bosnian Serb prime minister, Milorad Dodik, who is supported by Russia and Serbia and who has dangled the threat that is republic could secede.

Bosnia, which has received more than $18 billion in foreign aid since 1995, remains a ward of the West, its security guaranteed by 2,000 European Union peacekeepers.

Sketching a worst-case example, Srecko Latal, a Bosnia specialist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Sarajevo, warned that if the Serb Republic declared independence, Croatia would respond by sending in troops, while the Bosnian Muslims would take up arms. If Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic, were to fall, he continued, Serbia would be provoked into entering the fray, leading to the prospect of a regional war.

“For the first time in years, people are talking about war,” Mr. Latal said. “They are tired of it, and they don’t want it. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

Leaders across Bosnia expressed hope that Mr. Obama would be more engaged in Bosnia than President Bush has been, while emphasizing that the president-elect’s multicultural background made him ideally suited to mediate here.

And although Bosnia was featured in a painful campaign gaffe for the probable new secretary of state, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton – who stepped back from a claim that she had ducked sniper fire during a visit here as first lady – many here are optimistic that she will have a vested interest in salvaging Dayton as part of President Bill Clinton’s legacy.

Bosnia’s prospects for stability, analysts say, would also be helped if it joined the European Union, the world’s biggest trading bloc. But progress has not been encouraging. In a damning report assessing Bosnia’s readiness to join the bloc, the European Commission, the group’s executive body, warned in November that “inflammatory rhetoric has adversely affected the functioning of institutions and slowed down reform” while corruption and organized crime were significant.

The world is so concerned about Bosnia’s stability that the United Nations Security Council has extended the mandate of its senior envoy to Bosnia, who was supposed to leave this year, until June. Still, Miroslav Lajcak, the envoy, said in an interview that while the situation is critical, it was a sign of Bosnia’s progress that politics now trumped security as the biggest challenge.

“The political situation is difficult, volatile and unstable, but it is not undermining security,” he said. “Violence can’t be ruled out, but I don’t see the prospect of another war.”

For the country to progress, leaders on all sides say, the structure established by the Dayton accord must be overhauled. The country’s two entibies have their own parliaments, and there are 10 regional authorities, each with its own police force and education, health and judicial authorities.

The result is a byzantine system of government directed by 160 ministers, a structure that absorbs 50 percent of Bosnia’s gross domestic product of $15 billion, according to the World Bank.

While untangling that bureaucracy would be difficult, persuading the country’s leaders to put aside their fundamental differences might be harder.

In October 2007, the country experienced one of its worst political crises when Bosnian Serbs protested a new voting system aimed at preventing politicians from blocking major reform efforts by simply not showing up at meetings.

Fearing that it could be outvoted by other ethnic groups under the new rules, the Serb Republic condemned the measures and Mr. Dodik threatened to withdraw his party’s representatives from all Bosnian institutions. The crisis finally ended after some concessions were made to the Bosnian Serbs, and the European Union rewarded the country by initialing an agreement cementing Bosnia’s ties with the bloc.

Mr. Silajdzic, who as Bosnia’s wartime foreign minister was at Dayton, argued in an interview that the institutional structure created there had served to legitimize the genocidal policy of the Serbs during the war. He urged the world to help write a new Constitution that would create a unified state based on economic regions, effectively consigning the Serb Republic to the dustbin.

“The problem with Dayton is that it created an ethnocracy rather than a democracy and has become an umbrella under which Slobodan Milosevic’s Project of ethnic cleansing is hidden,” he said, referring to the former Serbian president. “If the situation is allowed to continue, the message this sends the world is, ‘Kill thy neighbor and get away with it.’ “

For Mr. Dodik, the Serb Republic’s prime minister, such talk just proves that Bosnia’s Muslim leadership is intent on domination.

“If Silajdzic doesn’t like Dayton, then why did he sign it?” he asked.

Mr. Dodik, a charismatic former basketball player with a large power base in the Serb Republic, was once a Western darling for his wartime and postwar opposition to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb nationalist leader now on trial in The Hague on war crime charges. But many Western diplomats say he has since adopted Mr. Karadzic’s nationalist language and they blame him for impeding Bosnia’s progress.

Mr. Dodik recently further inflamed tensions by filing criminal charges against a senior United States envoy and foreign prosecutors in Bosnia, accusing them of plotting against his government after they opened a corruption investigation into the Serb Republic’s infrastructure deals, including one for a $146-million government building in Banja Luka.
“We are tired of being treated like a banana republic,” Mr. Dodik said.

Guessing whether he will tear the country apart has become a favorite parlor game in Bosnia in recent months. In the past, he has said that a referendum for independence could be a fair way to settle the Serb Republic’s status.

But in a recent interview, he said that secession was not on his agenda.

“I have said many times that my aim is not secession and we have not taken a single step toward that,” Mr. Dodik said. “What has been said is a fabrication.”

Most Serbian analysts agree that secession would be tantamount to political suicide for the prime minister. Beyond the obvious threat of provoking a war, aligning the Serb Republic with Serbia would diminish Mr. Dodik’s power and lead to further isolation internationally.

In the former Yugoslavia, the lives of Serbs, Croats and Muslims were closely entwined for 45 years, with intermarriage not uncommon in larger cities like Sarajevo. But Mr. Dodik said the dissolution of the old state and the war that followed had destroyed whatever optimism he once had about different ethnic groups collectively deciding one another’s fates.

“Bosnia is a divided country,” he said. “There is not a single event or holiday, except for New Year’s or the First of May, that we celebrate together. I have lost all of my illusions.”