A reader responds to my posting on Bosnian war deaths:

When you will realise that in Bosnia (Yugoslavia) occurred a civil war, and that is caused by the large number of victims and mass slaughter of Serbs by Croats and Mislimans during the Second World War (Serbs have never forgotten that victims), and that the number of victims in this war a miserable small in comparison to those in Second World War (which of course not justified them)? Read the history of the Balkans and some things will become clearer to you.

One can never keep everyone happy, of course, but why does he think that I am unaware of or otherwise downplaying the role of WW2 in the 1990s’ Bosnian disaster?

On the contrary, as Ambassador in Sarajevo I used to remind visitors and London that many of the worst massacres in the latest conflict took place close to where other massacres had happened in WW2. Somehow the local lust for revenge (if that is what it was) had been bottled up for a full fifty years then gushed out again.

Where and why did all that ill-will start start? Where/when/why does it end?

Here is Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric in his famous A Letter from 1920, published in 1946.

Two former school friends meet at Slavonski Brod railway station, en route from Bosnia. They talk.

“Fine, but may one ask what it is you’re running away from in Bosnia?” I asked, with the recklessness at that time typical of people my age asking questions.

“Well, ‘one may ask,’ but one isn’t likely to get a concise answer in transit at a railway station. But if I still had to say in one word what is driving me out of Bosnia, I would say: hatred.”

Max suddenly stood up, as if he had unexpectedly run into an invisible fence in his speech. And I emerged to the reality of a cold night at the railway station in Slavonski Brod.

The wind was beating stronger and stronger, colder and colder, signal lights were winking in the distance, tiny locomotives were whistling.

Max later writes his companion a letter:

… let me come straight to the point. Bosnia is a wonderful country, fascinating, with nothing ordinary in the habitat or people. And just there are mineral riches under the earth in Bosnia, so undoubtedly are Bosnians rich in hidden moral values, which are more rarely found in their compatriots in other Yugoslav lands.

But, you see, there’s one thing that the people of Bosnia, at least people of your kind, must realise and never lose sight of- Bosnia is a country of hatred and fear…

… I know that hatred, like anger, has its function in the development of society, because hatred gives strength, and anger provokes action. I know that there are ancient and deeply rooted injustice and abuses which only torrents of hatred and anger can uproot and wash away. and when these torrents dwindle and dry up, room for freedom remains, for the creation of better life.

The people living at the time see the hatred and anger far better, because they are the sufferers by them, but their descendants see only the fruits of this strength and action. That I know well.

But what I have seen in Bosnia – that is something different.

It is hatred, but not limited just to a moment in the course of social change, or an inevitable part of the historical process; rather, it is hatred acting as an independent force, as an end in itself.

Hatred which sets man against man and casts both alike into misery and misfortune, or drives both opponents to the grave; hatred like a cancer in an organism, consuming and eating up everything around it, only to die itself at the last; because this kind of hatred, like a flame, has neither one constant form, nor a life of its own: it is simply the agent of the instinct of destruction or self destruction. It exists only in this form, and only its task of total destruction has been completed.

That same bleak idea reappears now as the Sakic-Milosevic Syndrome.

Does reading Balkan history really make things clearer?