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Goražde by Joe Sacco

safeare1

Recently finished Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, by Joe Sacco. This is a graphic novel that came out in 2000 detailing the experiences of the author in Gorazde, a predominantly Muslim area in eastern Bosnia that was entirely surrounded by the Serbian army during the war.

Joe Sacco visited Gorazde near the end of the war and listens to the stories of the local people who have lived through the trials of war. He writes their history, somewhat confusedly, as though he were there as well, which he wasn’t (he came at the end) and this is slightly confusing…However, Sacco tells of the peaceful times in Yugoslavia under Tito (a communist) who united the country’s three different cultural-linguistic groups, the Serbs (christian orthodox), the Muslims, and the Croats (roman catholic). After Tito’s death, the peace began to fall apart as pro-nationalist agitators on all sides fomented separatism along racial/religious lines. Anyhow, when Serbia invaded Bosnia there were several muslim pockets left in the east, the largest of which was Gorazde. Various attrocities took place in the town as Serbian militias attacked the town, including schools, hospitals, etc. The format of graphic novel is excellent for (literally) illustrating the devastation of places and people. The story, as toldand drawn by Sacco, is a truly mesmerizing and devastating example of the hardship and evilness of war as lived by the average citizen. Now, some criticism.

Before reading this book, I knew very little about the war in Yugoslavia, indeed I would still claim to know very little. However, as I was reading the book I was struck by the very positive light which was shone upon the NATO airstrikes. They were, to the people of Gorazde, a saviour from above, driving away the serbian militias which were penning the survivors into an increasingly small area. But, as far as I knew or remembered, there was great controversy around the NATO airstrikes, and as far as I know, the left was critical of them. So I asked GPS about it.

Though the war took place after the fall of the USSR, it can still be seen in the light of the cold war. Aparently, the Serbian leaders (including Milosovic?), had an anti-western pro-socialist stance whereas the Croats had a pro-western stance (and backing). As well, attrocities were committed on both sides. So it seems that neither side was objectively “right” and thus the decision by NATO to back the pro-western Croats can be seen as an anti-communist move, and as fitting into their general domino theory of international aggression.

That being said, Sacco’s story has a decidedly anti-serbian stance and it may well be justified since wikipedia tells me that in the war 83% of the civilian casualties were Bosniks (muslims). But still, little mention is given to the politics of the Bosnik leaders, nor to the evil acts comitted by the Croats against Serbs. Who knows. Read it.