As a child, I saw what follows ethnic cleansing. That’s why I am speaking out about my new home’s silence over Palestinian deaths
When I moved to Berlin, I developed a habit of stopping by the Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones” memorials) and reading about Jewish people who were taken from their homes and transported to the concentration camps. There is one building on my way to the U-Bahn from which 16 people were taken. But it was Lucie’s stone that chilled me to the core. Hers is a single memorial stone in front of a large building. One little Stolperstein. All that is known of Lucie is that she was taken away at the age of 61. It made me think about all the other people who lived in the building and may have watched it happen. What were they doing? Did they just look the other way?
My family comes from Croatia, and as non-Croats we left the country during the nationalist frenzy of the early 1990s, which the late Dubravka Ugrešić described in her work as the fight for “pure Croatian air”. Having been persecuted in Croatia since the early 1940s – my grandpa managed to leave the Jasenovac concentration camp alive at the age of 11 – we found ourselves in the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There the victim was different. Our Bosniak neighbours, whose only difference from us was their Muslim names, were now publicly vilified by almost every Serbian media outlet. People who lived by our side, sent their children to the same schools, spoke the same language, were now portrayed as non-human, as jihadists who would kill us while we slept, as animals that would pull our teeth out and rape our women. All of these stories I heard at the age of six. I knew the word mujahideen before having learned the alphabet.
The local 16th-century mosque in Banja Luka was razed. Some of my schoolfriends left overnight and nothing was said of them next day in class. Some changed their names to Christianised variants, but were bullied on a daily basis anyway. By the time I was eight, I learned how to tell the difference between us and them. A teacher was no longer a teacher, she was a Serb. A classmate was no longer a classmate. He was a Muslim. A doctor was no longer a doctor. They were now a Croat.
Why write about Bosnia 28 years after the Dayton peace agreement? The truth is, there is no such thing as peace after an ethnic cleansing. Bosnia is still deeply divided. People can’t agree on what to call the language they speak. War criminals are venerated on all sides. Bosnia’s brain drain grows every year. Traumatised children have become traumatised adults, unable to find work or access decent healthcare.
I wrote a novel inspired by my memories from Banja Luka which was translated into various languages, including German, which led to me being offered a German cultural fellowship. My life for the past couple of years has been spent travelling around Germany to talk about my book and about the paralysis Bosnia is still dealing with. Everywhere, I’ve met sympathetic listeners, people eager to read the stories, to spread the word, to help. I was the designated Bosnian girl. Comfortable white Europeans sat in literary events and shook their heads in disbelief as I told them about ethnic cleansing. Never again, they would say, every time some Bosnian anniversary or other popped up in their feeds.
But never again is a feeble phrase. The world forgets, just like it has forgotten Bosnia. The nevers have been worn out and abandoned; the again keeps coming back in bigger numbers and darker stories.
The Gaza Strip, already impoverished by occupation and an unlawful 16-year blockade, whose population is made up of 47% children is being carpet-bombed by the most powerful army in the Middle East with the help of the most powerful allies in the world. More than 4,600 Palestinians lie dead and many more face death in the absence of a ceasefire, because they can’t escape bombardment or lack access to water, food or electricity. The Israeli army claims that its offensive, now being stepped up is a “war on terror”; UN experts say it amounts to collective punishment.
These are all facts. Yet even the mention of the word “Palestine” in Germany risks getting you accused of antisemitism. Any attempt at providing context and sharing facts on the historical background to the conflict is seen as crude justification of Hamas’s terror.
Not only have pro-Palestinian rallies been stopped or broken up by police, the German education senator Katharina Günther-Wünsch has also sent out an email to schools saying that
“any demonstrative behaviour or expression of opinion that can be understood (italics are mine) as approving the attacks against Israel or supporting the terrorist organisations that carry them out, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, represents a threat to school peace in the current situation and is prohibited”. In addition to banning Hamas-related symbols schools are now free to also ban “symbols, gestures and expressions of opinion that do not yet reach the limit of criminal liability”, which includes the keffiyeh, the Palestinian flag and “free Palestine” stickers and badges.
The stifling of opposition to the killing of civilians in Gaza even extends to Jewish people. A Jewish Israeli woman who held up a placard in a Berlin square calling for an end to violence was approached by German police in a matter of seconds and taken away in a police van. She was later released. Anyone showing solidarity with Palestinians is automatically suspected of being a tacit Hamas sympathiser.
An award ceremony for the Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail, was cancelled by the Frankfurt book fair. Berlin’s Gorki theatre cancelled a performance of Austrian-Israeli Yael Ronen’s play The Situation planned for 23 October. And the editor of an anthology featuring works by 34 exiled Arabic poets said the event had been cancelled by the Berlin Haus für Poesie.
Well-meaning people have advised me that voicing this opinion could lead to being disinvited from literary events and festivals, and that my career in Germany – the source of my livelihood for the last two years – might be over.
Yet while artists and writers are cancelled for their alleged antisemitism, real neo-Nazism is on the rise, with the far-right party AfD, Alternative for Germany, winning local elections and mainstream politicians float the idea of doing deals with them. The same book fair that shut down Shibli’s award ceremony faced criticism previously for including a hard-right publishing house, Antaios, in its programme, with AfD members in attendance.
Germany’s unwavering official support for the Israeli government’s actions leaves scant room for humanity. It is also counter-productive, serving to spread fear, Islamophobia and, yes, antisemitism. Having grown up in the shadow of collective guilt for Nazi war crimes, many German intellectuals seem almost to welcome an opportunity to atone for ancestral sins. The atonement, of course, will fall on the backs of Palestinian children.
It should come under the “stating the obvious” category, but still has to be underlined: historically, Islamophobia has only led to more terrorism. Having grown up in Bosnia, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the vicious circle is never-ending. There is always another dead body to be weaponised.
The white saviourist hypocrisy we are witnessing in Germany today will, in the long run, benefit white Germans only.Either you are against fascism in all its forms, or you’re a hypocrite. You condemn a terrorist organisation as well as the terrorism committed by a government.
I am appalled by Hamas’s actions and offer my thoughts for their victims, but I have no say in what they do. None of my taxes go to the funding of Hamas. Some of my taxes, however, do fund the bombing of Gaza. In the period between 2018 and 2022, Israel imported $2.7bn-worth of weapons from the US and Germany.
Living in Germany, I see it as my human responsibility to call it out for its one-sidedness, its hypocrisy and its acquiesence in the ethnic cleansing of Gaza. Walking by Lucie’s stone every day, I am reminded of that responsibility. I am reminded of what silence can do and how long it can haunt a place and a people. I come from a silent place soaked in blood. I never thought I would feel that same silence in Germany.
Source : The Guardian