I was raised to distrust the military. My parents were active anti-Vietnam protestors, and I was dragged to my fair share of protests when I was a child. This reticence about military action rubbed off on me, but I began to question the validity of a knee-jerk anti-military stance when the war began in Bosnia.
As I grew to understand that hostilities in Bosnia constituted genocide and that military strength was extremely lopsided, I began to advocate for stronger U.N. military intervention. While I am somewhat uneasy seeing soldiers in tanks patrolling parts of Bosnia, I have also seen and heard about some of the ways in which the ongoing military presence is vital. Few Bosnian Muslims returned to Srebrenica and the surrounding areas until recently, when an SFOR (U.N. Stabilization Force) base was constructed at Konjevic Polje, a village on the major road into Srebrenica. Local NGO staff and returnees have emphasized over and over again how much more secure they feel knowing that the base is there. Some have even ventured to say that there would be far fewer minority returns to the Srebrenica area without the nearby military base.
SFOR did not have a highly visible presence at the recent burial of 283 victims of the Srebrenica massacre. However, a few Apache helicopters passed overhead during the ceremony (which was attended by thousands of Bosnian Muslims and held in a Bosnian Serb area) and tanks were parked at the edges of the memorial site. Fortunately, the soldiers were not needed, but just being in attendance was an important job. Many Muslims feared traveling to the Serbian area in which the ceremony was held, and the mere presence of troops assured people that they would remain physically secure.
SFOR troops have also been a major supporter of Bosfam. Foreign soldiers have historically been Bosfam’s biggest customers, and they have also actively helped the organization to grow. For example, Beba (Bosfam’s Director) and I are currently working with SFOR civil relations staff to organize a Bosfam clothing fashion show on the nearby military base. Our primary contact, a Major, is working closely with Beba. She has explained to her how to maintain an ongoing relationship with SFOR, as the soldiers only stay for six-month rotations. She has also tried to build Bosfam’s marketing capacity, suggesting ways in which they could target their advertising specifically to newly-arrived soldiers. Beba is looking forward to an improved store on the base and to a fashion and carpet exhibition in September.
I certainly still question the rationale for U.S. military involvement in various situations, but I, like many of my colleagues here, support a continued U.S. military presence in Bosnia – and the security that comes with it.
Posted By Marta Schaaf
Posted Jul 26th, 2003