What Makes Sense And What Does Not

Today I have a guest post from Sanja, a person dear to my heart, but who I see far too rarely.

It was originally published in ‘The Budapest Times’ and we would both love this story to reach as many people as possible – so if you enjoy it, please pass it on, recommend it, Stumble it, Digg it or whatever’s your favourite poison.

Over to you Sanja ……

I told this story to my colleagues recently after many years, and it left quite an impression. I was advised to put it in writing and try to spread the word, in this moment of economic crisis, on voting against any crazy politics in the world and inviting ordinary people to think bigger.

Place: Budapest, Hungary

Setting: Colleagues gathered for Friday drinks.

A diverse bunch from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Hungary and Serbia. All unwinding at the end of another week in a small, cheapish, Budapest watering hole. It is January, 2009 and the global financial crisis has naturally, crept into the conversation, inspiring many anecdotes and much speculation. As expected, the only thing they could all agree on was to disagree about what the future held, so the conversation moved more to trying to work out where we may be going, based on what we had personally seen in the past.

Sanja from Serbia, a generally enthusiastic and positive person, tentatively said: “I am just worried that there might be another war, it feels almost déja vu for me. First comes economic instability, and then national emotions get stirred up and then it’s so easy to manipulate people against each other, especially when they feel poor and scared.”

Kevin, from New Zealand, vehemently dismissed such thoughts with the response: “No way that this can happen, people are not crazy, it doesn’t make sense…”

But Sanja was already thinking back to many years ago when she had heard exactly the same thing. With eyes fixed to the corner above the bar, she began to tell what she remembered:

“It just reminds me so much of a story from 1991 when my country was still Yugoslavia and when I was a 16-year-old kid. It was summer and, as I had been doing for many years, I was camping in a small camp-site on the coast of Montenegro with my family.

Throughout the whole year my sister and I would be eagerly looking forward to the coast and getting together with our usual gang. We had a big, cool crew of kids of similar age from different Yugoslav cities, though mostly from Bosnia and Serbia. We had so many stories that connected us over the years, funny stories, adventurous stories, love stories… we couldn’t get enough of each other. During the year we would exchange letters, calls and visits.

And finally it was again summer, and we were together, careless and happy. One night we were laying on the beach, each with their list of wishes written down on a piece of paper waiting for a decent meteor shower. We were all excited, staring at the sky, ready to tick off the wishes from our list as soon as the falling stars started to appear. The night sky by the coast was beautifully clear and we were seeing so many shooting stars we had to agree to concentrate and have wishes ready so that we didn’t waste a star… We were quiet. All you could hear was the sound of crickets, some far away conversations and music from a radio.

The music was then interrupted by an announcement.

The war in Yugoslavia had started. There was a serious incident in Croatia.

We sat up one by one, slowly, confused, looking at each other, not saying anything, trying to make sense of what we had heard. It did not make sense… wait, what were we supposed to do? Then… and only then… I stared thinking of who was who.

Davor – was he Croatian?

Adnan, he must be a Muslim!

My sister and I are Serbian … and so on.

And what does it mean now? Are we on different sides? And then someone said: “This is crazy, it will not spread, and it cannot happen in Bosnia. We come from mixed families, there are Muslims, Croats and Serbs living on the same floor of the same building, we celebrate Christmas and Ramadan together. People are not crazy, it does not make sense!”

Soon, the war spread to Bosnia and it was the bloodiest of all, probably because there was no sense to it. We, the crew from the beach, ended up on different sides, still caring for each other, calling each other and checking if everyone was alive and if their families were OK. Those conversations tended to keep to safe, superficial topics – “How are you?”, “OK, and you?” – not going deeper, or crossing the invisible line after which you knew you could have debated who was right, what was really happening and would then be forced to face suppressed anger, guilt, accusations and mainly confusion.

When I heard that Adnan’s father was shot because he kept a stock of guns and ammunition in the house, the same house we had eaten baklava in the summer before, when my family and I stopped on the way back from the coast, I stopped calling. Those conversations were pointless from then on. They did not make sense any more, nothing did.”

Kevin from New Zealand, who had  dismissed the idea of unrest as crazy, was quiet for few seconds. Then he quietly asked Sanja to write down this story.

And she did.

Sanja Kovandzic

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