In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Battle for Bosnia was the bloodiest combat since World War II, but it did not raise our national awareness like, say, The Gulf War. Or Iraq . Or Afghanistan . Why? Because there was no oil involved? Because we don’t really care if people in other countries slaughter each other, as long as it doesn’t affect our economy? Because a civil war in another country is none of our business? Because President Clinton was preoccupied at the time, and didn’t have the international backing to go in and try to stop the genocide?
Bosnia , of course, was part of the Yugoslavia that broke up after the death of Tito, who, though by all accounts a cruel and despotic dictator, nevertheless managed to hold together what was obviously a delicate ethnic triumvirate: Serbs, Croatians, and Muslims. But the political vacuum following the demise of Communist rule ignited centuries-old, still-smoldering cultural divisions, and suddenly it’s open warfare. Fingers can be pointed all day about who started it, and at whose provocation, but once the violence began there was no stopping it---not until the slaughter was horrific, even by 20th century standards.
Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a happy young woman going on a date. Her sister helps her get dolled up, and she’s having a great time, at dinner, and later, at a club, dancing. Suddenly the air is pierced with an unexpected explosion, and the coarse, inelegant violence has literally come home to roost. It turns out that her date, Danijel (Goran Kostic) is a captain in the Serbian reserve army, which of course has now been activated. And Ajla is Muslim. She says, later, that she was brought up in such a way that those distinctions no longer mattered. But she is about to receive a very rough re-education.
Just like the Nazis did when rounding up the Jews in occupied territories during World War II, first, they separate the men from the women. Then the women from their children. Then the younger women are herded off separately, so they can be….used in whatever fashion the rough soldiers may choose. Sometimes, the capricious raping is public, just to emphasize their total control over everyone. The women, completely intimidated and isolated and brutalized, now have only two choices: submit or die. And doing the first makes them feel like choosing the second.
Ajla is one of the lucky ones. Her “capitan,” Danijel, continues to take a special interest in her, and even protects her with her own room, and sets her up with her precious paints and easel, where she is free to pursue her considerable artistic talent. But she sees the coquettish “painted ladies” who have chosen to be “party girls” for the soldiers, giggling and flirting and throwing their sex around freely, and she neither wishes to be “traitorous” like them nor does she want to feel guilty about her genuine feelings for this otherwise-attractive man caught in a maelstrom of his own. Meanwhile, as the conflict escalates, Danijel is watching his men get picked off by the “enemy,” and feels quite conflicted when he returns to his “kept woman,” whose “special” circumstances are starting to cause dissension in the ranks as well as confusion within him. Worse, his father, a commanding general, has caught wind of the unusual arrangement and feels he needs to take steps to both protect his son and denigrate his fraternizing-with-the-enemy relationship, which for him are the same thing.
There’s no happily ever after here. Four years after the outbreak of hostilities, the war drags on, and more and more innocents are plowed under, until there is no innocence left. Writer and Director Angelina Jolie shows the conflict from the standpoint of the women, but her focus is unblinking when it comes to the rapacious personal violence of “ethnic cleansing” unchecked. Many who want their movies to provide “light entertainment” will avoid this one. But those who avail themselves will experience an emotional wallop not soon forgotten.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas