Student or Learner
This is the fourth part of my short story, "The Nineties." Please would you take a look at it and correct my mistakes.
“You see how stupid she is. She wants to hurt me, but instead she hurts you, son,” my father said when he calmed down. He was right, and I was tired of their everlasting quarrels that had been going on for two decades, even if they did not live together any longer. I promised myself never to marry early and be careful with whom I was going to have children. I had no right to inflict on them damage as my parents did on me.
Ivica, my former college classmate lived in the neighbourhood, and I went to him to exchange thoughts about the current situation. Of course, I could have conversed with my father, but I did not want to upset him unnecessarily, and by the way, nobody could better understand me than people of my age. Ivica was fortunate to have landed a job at the telephone exchange, immediately after graduation. His wife Mira was a primary school teacher. They earned well and rented a house from a man who had been working in Germany and came back only once, or twice a year, on holiday. Thus, Ivica and his wife had an opportunity to have the whole house for themselves. They had been wise enough not to have children until this uncertain time was over.
We sat in their living room and watched TV, and we could hardly believe what we saw. Terrible scenes played out on the screen before our eyes. It was like watching a war film from the Second World War, only this time there were no professional actors, but ordinary people like us. Factories and whole streets were bombed into rubble. Remaining houses were burning, flames shooting into the sky, their walls gaping with large holes. Carcasses of burnt-out cars and other vehicles in ditches, tanks with their turrets blown off, overturned personal carriers stripped of their wheels and other parts, the sounds of explosions, machine-gun fire, warplanes flying low, cries of the wounded and screams of the children. But the most difficult to watch was the faces of the people in distress, refugees with their possessions packed on horse carts and tractor trailers, children crying and clutching their toys and pets and not understanding what was going on. They were fleeing into the unknown, anywhere away from this Inferno. The camera showed the soldiers in close-up, their exhausted, prematurely old faces and their eyes without life. They promised to fight to the end and were ready to die. They smoked heavily and swigged slivovitz from bottles that went from hand to hand until they were empty and replaced with new ones.
My hosts switched channels and we were able to see three different pictures of the war, from Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo. There was so much propaganda and deception, which made the search for the truth almost an impossible task. But it was clear that the Croats were going to do anything to defend their independence, while the Serbs were never going to give up their dream of Greater Serbia without fight. The Bosnian government in Sarajevo was as brittle as a dry twig and tried to stay neutral and to not offend their stronger neighbours. “This is not our war,” announced the Bosnian President Izetbegovic, trying to save our country from the coming disaster.
My hosts and I grew up in Tito’s Yugoslavia and were taught that brotherhood and unity was the most sacred things in our homeland. Tito and the Communist party had severely punished anyone who came up with the idea of nationalism, but now both he and the party were dead, and nationalism had become the mainstream. The masses turned in their thousands to listen to their leaders, who promised them their respective countries at the expense of other nations. That meant certain war and destruction, but the people were euphoric and ready for sacrifices.
“All this is concocted in Belgrade,” said Ivica. “It’s Milosevic and his clique who encouraged the Serbs to rebel. He wants to be a new Tito and reign over the whole Yugoslavia. But it’s too late. Slovenia is already independent, Croatia will never be part of Yugoslavia again, and he’ll probably lose Kosovo.”
“ Tudjman isn’t a whit better than him. Why does he diminish the number of the killed Serbs by the Croats in the Second World War? Why does he treat the Serbs as second-class citizens? After all, they have lived there for hundreds of years. The land belongs to them also,” Mira said.
I felt sorry for Ivica and his wife. He was a Croat and she a Serb, and it must have been difficult to watch the conflict in a neighbouring country and remain impassive.
“I do not understand why the Serbs needed to take up arms. They could solve their problems in a democratic way,” he said.
“The Serbs were afraid 1941 was going to repeat. They did not want to end up in concentration camps. They did not trust anyone,” she said.
“The worst is that the war can spill over the border, and if that happens, there will be carnage,” I said.
“It is already spilling. Look how many Serb volunteers are now there. Some of them travel over the weekends, like on a holiday and return on Monday,” Ivica said.
To be continued
Thank you for your suggestions, Tarheel. I used "eyes were without life" only because I did not remember any better phrase.
The problem with that part of Europe is that all kind of armies had passed through in the past hundreds of years, and every time there were killings and oppression, but also rebelion. The Second World War was terrible, and then in the 90' came even worse time when people seeked revenge for the killings in the past. And even today animosity is strong, but luckily there is the EU which can control those nations. Regarding the Americans, I can tell you that the former president of the Swedish Nobel Committee once told the journalists that the American writers are parochial, and because of that he was not popular among the American intellectuals.
"Understate" is the right word. But you have also crossed out the killed Serbs in the first sentence, which is probably a mistake.
Yes, you are right. Say:
Why does he understate the number of Serbs killed by the Croats...?
People sought revenge for the killings of the past.
It's like I said, grievances are forever.