growing up i was always fascinated by history, yet i was hardly able to remember any dates or facts. it seemed to me as if those stories are so far away, so untouchable, that it made them even less rememberable than any emotionally flat hollywood story. even tragedies of blood, murder, and war were presented as facts and figures and did not arouse any further emotion than a heartfelt “oh no, that is horrible” – and as soon as the bell rang, the thought had passed.
today was the first time, i felt the touch of history.
reading the autobiography of madame albright, i came across the chapter concerned with the bosnian war. before she had already covered somalia, ruanda and haiti in a very lively manner – this is said not to degrade the tragedies of the happenings, but to complement albright’s excellent writing style. i was especially keen on reading about bosnia, since the names milosevic, mladic and karadzic were the first names i ever remembered in the context of newspaper articles on political issues when i was a child. and then i came across the section in which she describes pictures of a football field and a school on which massacres happened. pictures they got from the american intelligence. pictures that made the clinton administration decide to go to war.
i have seen these pictures.
it was a few weeks ago when an organization at my university decided to take a field trip to brussels and the hague and i was in charge of the program for the hague. it was more a coincidence, a bureaucratic hindrance that denied us entrance into the international criminal court (icc) and the idea of a friend to ask the international criminal tribunal for the former yugoslavia (icty) instead. arriving at icty i was informed that they were able to offer us entrance to the hearings of both mladic and karadzic. and it was mladic’s hearing where the pictures were shown.
i remember sitting there, looking at this old man, being torn between the feelings of shock, wonder, disgust, and fear. what triggered these emotions was the epiphany that if i would see this man on a street, riding the subway, or getting a coffee at starbucks, i would not so much as glance at him, taking him for any other old man. yet this man has killed so many people, has drowned his hands in blood and is charged for crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. this made me realize that one cannot see behind a persons face and it made me shiver.
during the presentation of the pictures, i was stunned by the atrocities and the details presented. yet it was only when reading the autobiography of madame albright and reading about those exact pictures, that i felt the presence of the past today.