Transcript of Tanya Domi’s Comments


Thank you- thank you very much Gordon.  And now we hear from Tanya Domi who is an adjunct professor at Columbia but who was also deeply involved as a domestic actor we’ve heard in Bosnia in the late 1990’s with the OSCE there, worked on human rights matters for the press office and as a result somebody who is very close to observing many of the- of the international engagement that we can read about in the book and I am glad to have her join us and sort of give a first-hand perspective to the book.


Sure, thank you so much.  I want to echo my colleagues in their congratulations to Gerard and Carl Dahlman.  I think it’s a very impressive piece of work, having been on the ground through much of what you write about, at least through 2000 and later, I went back many times and continued- I just was there in February.  I have to say that you have created “one-stop shop”, so to speak, because we’re talking about millions of documents, we’re talking about intermediary reports that- they would just go by me.  You know, I have to talk about this today, and then next week it will be another area- and what you’ve done is masterful in collecting that information in an analytical critique as well as the generation of not just the maps, the population of the maps which became a dreaded document in my life, as I worked in Bosnia.  But the fact that you’ve populated so much data and your discussion about political geography- the effects, the outcome from the ethnic cleansing from the war and then the output from the international community.  And let’s put it right on the table: the international community’s efforts, for better or worse, on fulfilling and Annex 7 the right of return of refugees.  Let me just say as I began to read the book a rush of memories came back to me as I lived and worked in Bosnia in 1996 to 2000. And my first personal experience with refugee return was actually in Sarajevo and I was renting, actually, a room from a Bosnian woman who lost her husband during the war- not due to the war- um, but her nephew and his wife returned to Sarajevo from Germany, where they had fled in 93’.  And it was a Sunday night and I was not expecting six refugees to show up at my landlady’s apartment and I’ll be honest I was sort of like, shocked, one, and two it’s like, oh my god, ah yeah I know there are refugees so I have to personally deal with this on a Sunday night as I get ready for work. And, um, I didn’t really speak much Bosnian at that time and so fortunately the nephew’s wife did speak- ah, both of them spoke very good English and he had been a medical student at the medical faculty and we were sitting there just having a nice conversation, they had driven there, driven back from Germany and she turned to me and said “you don’t know how lucky you are,” and I said, “ooh yes I do, I do know how lucky I am,” and then she said “you don’t know how lucky you are, you are an American,” and I said, “yes, I know how lucky I am with that passport,” and she said, “look what they did to me,” and stood up and showed me these horrible scars, showed me her stomach- she had been shot through the stomach on the streets of Sarajevo.  And I went, “Wow,” you know, I came face-to-face with it and I said “You know, I got to take a walk,” and I left the apartment and just took a walk for about thirty minutes.  And that was the beginning of my personal interaction with people who had begun to return.  And, over the course of the next several years I witnessed many family reunions and I cried.  I didn’t know these people but I cried, I was so moved.  People coming back from Belgrade to reunite with their families, people coming back from Montenegro to reunite with their families.  Ah, and your comments, Andrew [Gilbert], about how there’s no discussion about the individuals, about the people themselves, about the women who survived horrible crimes, about the internally displaced, where I actually went with Ambassador Robert Barry who followed Ambassador Robert Frowick, you know, in a train that had been just stopped on the tracks, it was a refugee camp where old- older Croats, very old senior citizens were living in just deplorable, deplorable conditions.  So let me just say that all of this happening- and I was really struck because I’m sitting at an international table at OHR or with the SFOR commander, etc., and no discussion, like there’s just no discussion that’s like “Let’s just do it, let’s just do it.”  And so, your chapter on building capacity is really remarkable because I think there may have been some things left out and I’m going to talk about that, but I have to say you have captured- for at least the moments I was there- you have reconstructed it brilliantly and I will give you lots of credit on that.  Um, and let me just say, I’m not going to quote anthropologists or anything like, I’m looking at this through an international public policy lens because I think it is a great contribution.  Ah, your narrative, your story, and your documentation of that story about what the international community attempted to do.  Ah, let me just say in addition to the extremely data rich observations about Zvornik and Doboj, I will lend another. I was working in eastern Bosnia in my first iteration, where I was initially assigned, I was actually in Sokolac in eastern Bosnia, and Zvornik was part of my area of operation and I can tell you that the efforts to return clearly did not really begin in earnest until 1997 but you, your mentioning in your reporting that in essence the 96’ elections did in fact solidify ethnic cleansing is no question, absolutely true.  It was a marred election, the P2 form brings back horrible memories for me, I will say to you that that became a cornerstone of US foreign policy I think it’s regrettable, when I hear this discourse now about Libya I am very concerned about that, that we’ve gotta go to elections, we’ve gotta go to elections, that vetting all these people should have been part of a process but didn’t happen until much later.  But the election process, I will say that the drafting of the election law, was continually confronted with how do we get around, how can we reverse ethnic cleansing through the election law. And that was a huge discourse internally at the OSCE because we were charged with the elections, and I think that the attempts made were to be commended but I don’t think that they actually worked.  Although I was in Srebrenica when we went back to support the minority government and they elected the Bosniak government, I was there, I went to Drvar when in fact there were riots in the municipal building of Drvar, I recall going there with General Clark and his colleagues, my boss Bob Frowick- I mean, Bob Barry,- General Shinseki and the election effort was really very much focused on how can we get around it, how can we help return proportional representation.  So, just for your information that was a significant lift, and I don’t think it achieved what it aimed to do.  And I would also agree with Andrew in that um, that your introduction about the whole issue of poverty reduction I think that one of the things that I came away with having not only worked in Bosnia but in so many transitional democracies that you cannot eat democracy, and the war has left terrible consequences for many women being singular heads of households, many older people, many of them older women, who are living in dire poverty.  And the internally displaced I don’t think are going to return because of the lack of economic opportunities, I mean it’s just not there.  And I think this is the Achilles heel and potential undoing of the entire Balkan region. I was just in a remarkable book talk this morning on Serbia’s 20-year economic history and it even lags behind Bosnia in terms of attracting FDI, its exports still are meager, I think that is, I truly believe that if you are hungry, if you have no hope or possibility, I believe that really undermines the return effort and I just don’t see people returning as a consequence.  So I think that your introduction to that is to be commended and perhaps explored later. I will also say that one of the big fears at the table was oh, they’re going to return, Oh my god, what are we going to do?  You know, and one of the big fears always was about the Srebrenican widows. Oh my god they want to go back, they’re going to go back we’ve got to protect them.  So, I think that some of those things, simple lives, the concerns and the worries of the international community, and I think a lot of it was very short term, not necessarily strategic, but for anybody working in the Balkan region for anybody whose looking at the right of return, I’m sure this is something Israel worries about and pushes back on forever and a day, your work is to be commended and sought out by all and I certainly recommend it.  I’m not going to get into a deconstruction about the history and about identities which Gordon clearly has articulated from his personal standpoint, but I will say there was a big lift, it is a commendable lift by the international community, millions of dollars spend and yet I would agree that I don’t think the outcome is good.


About Gerard Toal

I am an Irish born DC based Political Geographer researching territorial conflicts and the dynamics of geopolitical competition in post-Communist Europe.
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