By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
With Palestine, that was easy to know because there are so few Palestinian voices in the media. The obvious reason for that is U.S. interests lie with Israel, and our media reflects that.
Having spent a good deal of time there, what do you think it will take to resolve that conflict?
I don’t see it resolving anytime soon. I was there several times over the past year, and during that year the level of violence went way up on both sides. It’s no longer a question of police in Jeeps coming around shooting a few rubber bullets — it’s tanks and aircraft now. It looks increasingly likely that there won’t be a viable Palestinian state, and that these two peoples will be forever conjoined in some way that might result in an apartheid situation. Israel knows that removing the settlements would do a great deal in terms of moving toward a just solution, but it would take considerable will among the Israelis to do that, and it would be messy — at least 15 percent of the Israeli population would oppose it tooth and claw. The U.S. has played a lousy role in this situation all the way through, and should be pressing Israel harder to make concessions.
For decades different ethnic communities lived side by side in the former Yugoslavia, then a fierce sense of tribal identity flared up and separated people. What caused this to occur?
It occurred because some politicians saw it could be exploited in their quest for power. For all the good Tito did [when he ruled communist Yugoslavia until his death in 1980], he created problems in not allowing people to talk about crimes that had been committed among these ethnic groups at various points, particularly during World War II. There was no truth-and-reconciliation commission, and many people weren’t brought to justice. These are things politicians can use, and that’s what Milosevic and Karadzic did.
How do you explain the atrocities committed during wartime? Do some people have the capacity to switch gears and take pleasure in killing?
There are always a limited number of sadists in any war, and a few hardcore sadists can turn a group around. They tend to make sure the people around them get blood on their hands, too, so everyone has a vested interest in continuing the killing. It’s hard to get anyone involved to speak openly about those things, of course. Every now and then a journalist is around one of those people whose star is rising, who feel like they can do anything they want. But when I was there in 1995, the Serbs appeared to be on the losing end of the Dayton Accord and the Hague tribunal had been set up, so people weren’t bragging about things they’d done during the war.
What finally made the Serbs and the Croats stop killing one another?
Sheer exhaustion was part of it, but international pressure also had a lot to do with it. And, a lot of what the Serbs wanted out of the war was accomplished in that they cleared vast areas of the Muslim population.
You returned to Gorazde in 2001. Has the city begun to recover?
No. They’ve fixed up some houses at the center of town and painted them garish colors, but the outskirts of town are still wrecked. Gorazde is a dying city, and the ethnic cleansing continued to go on there long after the war ended in that, little by little, all the people are leaving Gorazde.
Are people capable of recovering from the extreme trauma they often suffer during war?
There are always individuals who are just too fucked up, but generally I think people do recover. In Gorazde, there are two girls who dream about a new pair of 501 jeans, and that’s a beautiful thing — the fact that they’re hanging on to anything as normal as that is good, because it shows that people just want to be a part of the world, in all its silliness.
Your new book is about a fixer named Neven. What is a fixer?
There are many kinds of fixers, but generally they’re people who can translate well, are knowledgeable about the local scene, and can make introductions and make things happen for you. With Neven, I could’ve said, “Take me to the 5th Army Corps and get me an interview with a general,” and he probably could’ve arranged it. A fixer can really influence a journalist’s story in that his or her politics can determine which stories they introduce you to. They can steer you in a particular direction or not translate specific things, and there’s no way you can know they’re doing it. One point I wanted to make with this book is that journalists are dependent on these people, for good or for bad. I can’t know for sure if Neven was telling the truth, but my tendency was to believe him, and I think he gave me an accurate overall picture of what happened. However, I always had to remember that it was through Neven’s filter.
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