My one vaguely work-related commitment during this holiday has been to drive to Omagh, 85 km away, and talk to a group of local community activists who are involved in post-conflict reconciliation issues in County Fermanagh and western Tyrone, and are planning a fact-finding trip to Bosnia to see what future there might be for cooperation between the two areas. They wheeled me in to do a quick briefing on Bosnian history, politics and culture for the trip participants.
Bosnia is no longer a country I do much work on, but I did live there from January 1997 to May 1998, with Anne and the infant B joining me half way through. And since it’s where my career really picked up, and since I got that job largely on the strength of what I learnt from Northern Ireland politics, it seemed right to try and repay some of my debts to this part of the world.
My presentation went well, but at the end when I was giving the statistics of the Bosnian war, hundreds of thousands killed, over half the population displaced, thousands of rapes, one of my audience sighed and said, “It puts our problems into perspective, doesn’t it?” I couldn’t think of a response. On the one hand, of course it does; but on the other, by talking about Bosnia I don’t think we are saying that what happened in Omagh doesn’t matter.
On the long and thoughtful drive home, I came across this little bit of cultural inventiveness:
If you find your own history difficult to deal with, hey, why not borrow someone else’s?