Bosnia, 1995: Western TV’s Dream Victim

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), p. 173:

In a coffee break, I talk to a girl called Dijana, from Sarajevo. She is in her early twenties and beautiful, with high cheekbones and large, liquid, oval eyes; stylishly dressed in black, carefully made up in white. At first, she is unforthcoming, almost hostile, until I mention the name of a good friend who has been coming regularly to Sarajevo in the worst times of the siege. I add, “You must be totally fed up with all these well-intentioned foreigners always asking the same questions.” “Yes,” she says, and smiles for the first time. “A lot of people come just for themselves, to say they’ve been here, to show off.”

Now she’d like to ask me something. Why did the West do nothing to help Sarajevo? Sarajevo was a very special place before the war. They lived well, better than many in the West. Now their life is utterly destroyed and degraded. Her brother was just starting to study. But he’s been four years a soldier, and she doesn’t think he can ever return to normal life. And the West has done nothing—nothing—just watched them being killed. She wants to say to UNPROFOR, “just clear out and give me a weapon to fight with, and I’ll see if I can avoid being raped or whatever.” Anger polishes her English.

What is she to do? Perhaps she could emigrate, but she doesn’t want to be a dishwasher somewhere. “My children might become Canadian or whatever, but I wouldn’t be—I’d always be Sarajevan.” At the independent Radio Zid, she and her friends try to pretend they live in a normal country. They do reports on films, play pop music, and give their listeners beauty tips. For example, water after rice has been boiled in it is very good for the skin. She smiles, an angry smile.

Like it or not (and she doesn’t), Dijana is a Western television producer’s dream victim. Beautiful in black and white, eloquent, bitter. Victim, the new fragrance from Calvin Klein.

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Filed under U.N., war, Yugoslavia

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