December 03, 2007

Ethnic Cleansing: Lessons from the Balkans

Last week, Abu Muqawama had a lengthy post on the difficulties U.S. commanders in Iraq will face when internally displaced persons return to their homes in Baghdad and try to move back in to their homes ... only to discover someone new already living there. That post prompted the following vignette from one of the blog's readers, a Canadian officer who has served in both Bosnia and Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama posts the story here with his permission. This vignette really drives home the difficulty of re-integration:

Your post re the de facto ethnic cleansing of Baghdad reminded me of a situation I faced as a platoon commander in Bosnia in 2001. I was in a Croatian region working out of the town of Tomislavgrad. Someone had determined that wherever people had moved during the war (generally from mixed regions to ethnically homogeneous Serb, Croatian and Bosniak regions), they had to move back to their original homes. Staying where they were would simply legitimize the ethnic cleansing of the war. This in spite of the fact that people had found new jobs, new homes (yeah - they'd belonged to someone else, but when needs must . . .), their kids were in school, and life was starting to go on. Also, thanks to communism, there weren't a lot of title deeds, making it difficult to prove you used to live in a certain house. Anyway, moving the story along, people had to vacate houses and move back to where they came from - think IDP situation in reverse. And lucky us - the Stabilization Force had to enforce this. So, in my particular region, there was an awesome representative of the Methodist Missionaries (he was an Aussie contractor - not a missionary) assigning money to fix houses. He came to us to tell us that a house he'd been working on for a Serb family due to return shortly had been badly vandalised. We checked it out, took pics of all the 'death to Serbs' graffiti, left behind a layback patrol in the attic, and picked them up the next day. Turns out the village mayor and chief of police were the ones doing the vandalism. I spent quite a while cursing and swearing whoever was trying to force this reintegration and the boneheadedness of humanity in general, and then we told the mayor that unless this kind of intimidation stopped, his town would lose reconstruction funding. It sort of worked, but you can only use that threat so many times.