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From the Archives
Autumn 1994

Declaration at Skenderija,
December 15, 1993

by Jovo of Sarajevo

The following first appeared in the Autumn 1994 issue of The New Combat, which was devoted to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

It was not a text, but rather spoken into a tape recorder, with perhaps thirty seconds of preparation, in besieged Sarajevo in December 1993. The tape was then translated by Alexandra Wagner, a native of the city, working with a TNC editor.

We don't know his last name (yet), but Jovo (pronounced YO-vo) was then working in the Film Unit of the newborn Bosnian Army, helping to defend the city against the Serb nationalist aggressors who surrounded and terrorized it from April 1992 until August 1995.

For richer context, read here.

MY NAME IS JOVOn (YO-vo).nI was born in Sarajevo.
My family has been living here for about 500 years. We lived together through all that time without any problems. Even today, in this chaos, or this "war," if one can even use that term, I have no problems.

In 1915, my fathetr was in the Muslim primary school. At that time there were no nursery schools. His mother was working in a tobacco factory in Sarajevo, and she couldn't leave him on the street. So he was left in a "Muslim" place, together with "Muslim" children. Ever since then, our family has not distinguished between Croats, Serbs and Muslims. It was not part of my upbringing, and I didn't teach it to my own children. It simply never came up as a topic of conversation.

This war for me is very strange because I can neither accept it nor understand it, simply because I was not brought up to distinguish or divide people by their faith or nationality. It is understandable that people pray to God in different ways, but that such a thing should be a divide between people, that I cannot understand.

As a Serb in Sarajevo, I am equal to, if not even in some respects better off than, Muslims (or Bošnjaci as they are sometimes now being called) in this town. What I am trying to say is that all the stories and comments about Serb inequality here are, for me, unacceptable and difficult to understand.

I have been on the front line. Before I went, some people told me that I would be forced to greet other comrades by saying Merhaba[the Turkish hello]. That was not true.

I have been asked a number of times during this crisis whether I feel threatened here, in any way, in any aspect of my life. I do not. But what is difficult for me in this war is that I am separated from my family. Althought the distance between us is no more than one kilometer — maybe we could even hear each other if we shouted very loud — I haven't seen them for the last twenty months.

[It sounds as if his family lives in Grbavica, the one district in the city proper occupied and barricaded by Serb nationalist forces.]

We manage to speak every three months. It depresses me a lot, because this family of mine is still close to me. It's not that they left me because they chose to be separate. Nobody expected this series of events. This is another reason why this war, for me, isa difficult one to understand.

My best and closest friend, a Muslim man, was killed during a shelling on Drvenija bridge. To me that loss was a major shock, as if I had lost the closest member of my own family. Fifteen days after he died I was still unable to accept that it had happened.

Throughout this war, my Muslim friends have been very good and helpful with me, and this experience is very different from what one hears on the news. As a normal man, I cannot accept any criteria for division between Croats, Serbs and Muslims, especially not the one between Serbs and Muslims. Serbs in Bosnia and Serbs in Serbia have little to do with each other, just as Muslims from Bosnia and Muslims from other lands in the world are not at all the same. The mentality of the people here has less to do with nationality and more to do with the place that they share. Many times during this war I've gotten my daily bread from Muslim friends who understood very well that I was without my family, and that we are both hungry in the same way.

The End

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