Keep Off The Grass

03 Aug 2007

I am acutely aware that this is the first unpaved surface I've walked on in Bosnia. I move slowly, almost silently - as if a light step makes a difference - and stick tightly to the path.

Lyn wanders, collecting fallen plums and prunes to eat. Laughing at my fear, she comes over to offer me one. I stoop, using my hat to gently push away the grass, exposing a chilling skull-and-crossbones sign at ground level.

She actually gasps, and freezes. I push the grass further aside, revealing the lightning symbol I've been able to see all along: the danger here is buried cables, not mines. This cemetary won't be claiming new victims.

The danger is finished but the damage is everywhere. Another cemetary is well-visited; we moved aside for a young man with a military uniform and two small children. The only English word our host can pronounce well is "sniper". Widowed, she spends her time on needlepoint. The footpaths are marked by shell impacts.

The incredible brutality of the siege of Sarajevo is well documented elsewhere. I found two things hard to understand: how can a society function merely ten years after a civil war of such barbarity? Everywhere there are people who have lost partners, children, limbs in a one-sided attack - how can peace, let alone prosperity, be possible? How did they break the cycle of vengeance so quickly?

Closer to home, what should be done? Nato ended the war by heavily bombing the Serbs. In other words, the Americans unilaterally attacked a country not threatening them.. but it was a good thing. There's no anti-Nato graffiti here.

So, when do you say "none of our business", and when do you send in the cruise missiles? The far left, pacifist, anti-American position runs into difficulties here. Negotiations had repeatedly failed. Only cluster bombs made a difference. So if Iraq is one end of the spectrum and Bosnia is the other, where's Afghanistan? North Korea?

I'm looking for a moral bright line, and I fear that there isn't one.