Wednesday's Korner


Shot Through The Heart

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, 1998 I saw a compelling movie on the subject of the 1992 Bosnian-Serbs' invasion of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ironically, I saw it three nights before it was announced that NATO is going to send planes to bomb Belgrade, Yugoslavia [unless troops withdraw, they gave Serbian troops two weeks to leave the Kosovo/Macedonia region]. The film is called Shot Through the Heart and it is based on a true story. It premieres Sunday, October 4, on HBO and plays during the month of October.

Inside the theater, the movie was introduced with a tone of realism, "Invading Sarajevo is like invading San Francisco. It, too, is a multi-ethnic city, where people are educated; they have careers, raise families, own homes, and lead normal lives. Or so they did until the war broke out in April of '92."

First, I must commend the director, David Atwood, for filming in the war-torn city of Sarajevo and making it look as real as possible, for example, using the actual news footage which broke the story when the war began. The two stars, Linus Roache (Wings of the Dove) and Vincent Perez (Indochine, Queen Margot), are well-cast as the two best friends; their performances are staggeringly believable. The two particular friends, Vlad and Slavco, are at the center of the movie--they are trained sharp-shooters.

Shot Through The Heart depicts how friends are split by their race and religion when the Bosnian-Serbs began attacking the Muslims and Croats; their very own neighbors and, often, their life-long friends. One minute people are drinking coffee in Sarajevo's cafes, the next day the city is being evacuated and prices are inflated, making it virtually impossible to obtain supplies, or find a way out of the city. Those who stay fight for their long-established businesses and try to survive attacks by the Serb snipers.

After the screening, there was a lecture/panel discussion conducted by the local chapter of the World Affairs Council, moderated by the San Francisco Film Society's Artistic Director, Peter Scarlett. Participants consisted of the director, the US Ambassador to the Balkans, and the San Francisco Chronicle's Foreign Correspondent.

When the war was over in Bosnia and a peace agreement signed, many who returned to their homes had nothing left. The director explained that he had visited a Muslim family who discovered their house completely left bare; they learned that their furniture was stolen by the Serbian family down the street. They didn't go ask for their furniture back, in fact, he was there to witness a mutual understanding. As they drove by, the Serb family came out and waved to the Muslim family to which the Muslims waved back.

This civil war is very complex. The history of conflict dates back to 1200 B.C., however I felt gripped with interest after seeing this film. I was eager to leave the lecture understanding why this war took place and why the atrocities have now spread to Kosovo.

During the panel discussion it became clear that people outside of Europe, mostly the United States, tune out when they hear any news about the war. Indeed, we Americans are in no danger of losing any exports from that region of the world. But anyone who says that we learned our lessons with WWII is dealing with some heavy denial. Ethnic cleansing is intolerable and the consequences, i.e., the mass graves we later discovered, are devastating.

The only way we can understand and show some sym(em)-pathy is to be informed. Stopping the conflict now will save hundreds of thousands of lives. The world cannot afford to wait three years to decide to intervene.

Today, the continued survival of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic depends on conflict (in 1992 he was President of Serbia and head of the Serbian Communist Party) which is according to a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal (10/02/98). The editorial was written by Christopher Bennett, director of the International Crisis Group's Balkans project, he writes on Milosevic: "Neither Milosevic nor the ethnic Albanian resistance is interested in coming to terms...he can successfully continue to use the fighting there to maintain his hold on power in Yugoslavia by deflecting attention from the failings of his own regime," and further explains, "U.N. resolutions, no matter how strongly worded, cut no ice with him because all he cares about are power and his own political survival... In 1996-97 the Serbs in tens of thousands took to the streets to challenge Milosevic and now they have united in the struggle against 'Albanian terrorism,' with Milosevic at the head of yet another national crusade."

Bennett also explains that the scale and nature of killing in Kosovo do not come close to Bosnia; while the communities of Bosnia were deliberately shattered, such bonds did not exist in Kosovo. Nevertheless several dozens of Albanians are reported to have been executed. "It is likely that these are not isolated incidents, since Western journalists are being denied access to the most sensitive areas," states Bennett. "As with the war in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, the war on Kosovo will escalate if the international community does not intervene. Already 250,000 Albanian refugees have fled their homes."

A question on the FAQ Shot Through The Heart web page:

What is the situation in Bosnia today? Precarious. In 1995, after 43 months of war, a U.S.-brokered peace agreement (the Dayton Peace Agreement) divided Bosnia into two halves: the Bosnian Serb's Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The country now has a three-person presidency (in a country the size of West Virginia); one president selected by the Serbs, one by the Muslims and one by the Croats. On September 11 and 12 of this year, Bosnia held its second national election since the end of the war. To the dismay of Western observers, the winner of the Bosnian Serb presidency was not the moderate incumbent, Biljana Plavsic, but Nikola Poplasen, a nationalistic hardliner. Poplasen isn't reticent about expressing his desire to unite all Serbs in the Great Serb State (here we go again), and has continually expressed contempt for the Dayton Peace Accords. According to Poplasen, "The Dayton Peace, as every other peace, is an interlude between two wars." In light of the recent Serbian massacres of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo, Poplasen's rise to power is unnerving, to say the least. Without leaders who are willing to work to unify the ethnic factions of the region, the Balkans could easily fall back into war.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate any feedback and hope that you too are moved as much as I was upon viewing this film.

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