Kristin Deasy, junior correspondent at RFE/RL, writes for "World Affairs Journal" about the Balkans' new lost generation -- how former Yugoslavia’s five million so-called “war babies” continue to be shaped by the forces of nationalism, which are once again stirring up the region.
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War Babies: The Balkans’ New Lost Generation
Kristin Deasy | World Affairs Journal
On a sweltering summer afternoon in one of Sarajevo’s many café-lined streets, Marko Radovanovic waves aside what he says are the usual complaints in the Balkans—no jobs, corrupt politics—and gets serious. Moving his beer to one side, the sharp-eyed twenty-four-year-old Bosnian Serb leans in confidentially and explains that the region’s biggest problem is actually his own generation. “We are,” he says grimly, “a ticking bomb.”
In other parts of the world, such a comment might make one look nervously for the outlines of a suicide vest. Here it is just another reminder that the former Yugoslavia’s five million so-called “war babies” are also coming of age. The long-awaited arrest in May of Bosnian Serb war commander Ratko Mladic, who is charged with crimes against humanity during the region’s bitter 1992–1995 war, created the illusion that this region was finally emerging from postwar bitterness. Yet while the youth of the Arab world spring forward, the youth of the Balkans stand suspected of falling back. Nationalism has stirred once again among their ranks, whose war-torn childhood years were saturated by the propaganda efforts of a militantly ethnocentric government agenda. Such forces continue to shape the rising generation throughout former Yugoslavia, a region once revered for its ethnic and religious diversity, to a degree unthinkable even a generation ago.
“Our parents, the people who fought the last war,” Radovanovic explains, “had lived together for forty-some years. Even though they fought the war, they still have memories of ‘the good old times.’ They lived together, they went to school together.” The look on his face as he finishes this sentence carries the punch line: but this is no longer the case.
Radovanovic has no memory of communism or its ideologically driven equalizing policies that put Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs to work side by side building schools and railways as comrades in the 1960s. He witnessed race-upon-race violence as a child, not community-building. Only fifteen years have passed since nearly one hundred thousand people died in an ethnically charged war that unleashed the worst brutality seen in Europe since World War II. But memory is persistent—and a social problem.
Kristin Deasy is a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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