05 March 2022

here we are watching from our ringside seats

The above is a quote from an opinion piece by Ian McEwan in today's Guardian. I am lost for words or maybe I am simply ashamed for not having proper words, deeds and thoughts right now. 

I get mad when clever people try to tell us that for the first time since the end of WWII, Europe is facing war. Not true. As the hundreds of thousands casualties of the war in former Yugoslavia should testify. In my memory, two days immediately come to mind. 

One, a sunny Saturday in 1992, we are getting ready for a month in the country with S and her best friend. While they are packing the car, I have a last cup of tea reading the newspaper, the big article about women in Bosnia, the first report on systematic genocidal rape. I know I left the newspaper behind because half way through our holiday, the friend who looked after our plants and cats phoned and told me that she had read the article while having a cat moment on our balcony, lost too much sleep and was now joining some women doctors travelling to Bosnia to help. 

Two, on an early morning in 1999, with my colleagues at work. Since last night and for the first time since WWII, the German army is actively fighting, participating in the NATO air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia. Good grief, we thought, our naive pacifist hearts crushed.

 "For all our pity and anguish, our status as onlookers is luxurious." writes Ian McEwan today.

 Over breakfast today, this is what we listened to:

Dear friends,

humanitarian organisations in Sarajevo are collecting aid for you and I am sitting in front of the closet in my apartment trying to remember what you would be needing the most. It's not my warm socks or my jacket or my warm boots that you most need now. It's my 30-year old t-shirt imprinted with a slogan that kept me up during the 1425 days that Bosnian Serbs fired at will and held my city under siege with no water, no food, no electricity, no heating, and no communication with the outside world. I wore that shirt and read its message as more than two million shells fell on our heads and I dodged countless bullets. The t-shirt says, Sarajevo will be, everything else will pass.

Bad times are ahead of you, my friends. But weapons are being sent so you can defend yourselves. We Bosnians fought back but the world imposed an arms embargo on us. It did not understand what the fight was about in Sarajevo. Thank God it understands now in Kyiv. 

You are going to be hungry, thirsty, cold and dirty. You will lose your homes, your friends and family members, but what will hurt you the most will be the lies. Lies, that you are somehow to blame for what is happening to you. Lies, that you are actually doing what's being done to you. Those lies will poke countless holes into your hearts but without stopping them from beating and without freezing them. 

I see they destroyed your tv tower. Ha! They want to keep you in the dark just as they kept us in the dark. They want to turn the lights off so we cannot see what they are doing to you. 

Write down everything. Record it. One day it will define your history. It will explain to Ukrainians who are yet to be born what happened and most likely, it will end up being used as evidence and proof in a court against those trying to kill you. 

In the dark times that are ahead of you, you will lose faith sometimes. But I am writing to you from the future and I am telling you, you will prevail. Just as we did. I was supposed to be dead. But I survived. I am going to take my grandchildren for a walk tomorrow. You will one day too. Because I can see in you the same resilience I saw here. I hear you singing your anthem while pushing tanks away with your bare hands. 

Over time, you will sing, as we did, new songs. About your courage during this plight. And you will come up with your own slogans that will keep you alive. But for now, I am sending you the most precious thing I have. It's my slogan. I modify it for you. Ukraine will be, everything else will pass. 

Aida Cerkez. You can also listen to her reading it here



  1. A very poignant post. As another naïve passivist, I also have the sad experience of history, of having a big question for all who are helping, commiserating, or hoping to heal...what will be the most likely outcome of all this?

  2. I cannot believe this is happening. Every question I have seems to be answered the same way- it is madness. He is a madman. Humans have an evil, murderous streak in them which can surface at any time.
    There is certainly no logic to any of it. I wish I believed in prayer.

  3. I'm torn between wanting to know what's going on and wanting to hide and protect what is left of my sanity. I have no words, only tears and fears.

  4. "... In the dark times that are ahead of you, you will lose faith sometimes. But I am writing to you from the future and I am telling you, you will prevail ...

    Thank you for bringing your voice and other European voices to my attention. We are far away and so close at the same time.

  5. I remember the Bosnian war and the seige of Sarajevo. It just drags me down right now, watching this brutality play out and I will not look away because there are those, the Ukrainians, who cannot look away. That letter was beautiful and hopeful. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. I struggle with what I should be doing. Dave and I have given some money to refugee organizations, but it's hard to know how else to more directly intervene. Our position at ringside is indeed a luxury, though it's not guaranteed to last.

  7. If Putin isn't stopped he will attack the next and the next determined to bring back the USSR. I read that the military equipment Germany sent to Ukraine was rusty, in need of repair, and unusable. Don't know if that's true or not. We should not be cowed by Putin's threats of nuclear retaliation. Surely he knows Russia would not be spared damage.

    1. I followed the stories about the rusty equipment. It appears that the German government agreed to deliver 1000 modern anti-tank weapons and 500 surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine, and is considering also to send older anti-aircraft missiles, so-called Strela from the stock of the former GDR army (currently shared with military in The Netherlands and Lithuania). It's about the Strela that rumours have been circulating possibly fuelled by reporters in Ukraine or Russia who, according to a statement of the Ministry of Defence, described their indignation about this "scrap metal" and that they had arrived rusty, did not function properly and were mouldy. However, these reports came at a time when the German army was still debating whether to send these older weapons. As of today, they have not been sent.

  8. Our world has been cycling backwards into the dark ages for a few years now. We're on the downturn of the wheel, or so it seems. When I am not numbing myself I am in despair.