A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Peacemaker of Hrvatska Kostajnica

Daniel, his wife, Marina, and their daughter, Dalia
 In a park in Hrvatska Kostajnica, the Croatian half of a city divided by the Una River and the Bosnian border, a woman approached Inge and I to ask if we needed anything. This question always gets my mind racing as there is a long list of things I feel I could do with, but we answered only that we were looking for a place to stay that night. The woman, a Russian named Marina, replied that her husband, Daniel might be able to help us out when he returned from work.
We waited for this unknown patron of ours by the river, listening to the muezzin's call to prayer over on the Bosnian side. I had to smile as I hadn't heard this sound since Morocco, nine months ago, and I had to smile even more as I was hearing this call in Europe, in a place where this sound had almost been eradicated 20 years previously.
Daniel, Marina, and their daughter, Dalia, arrived later, helping us to find a place to camp along the river. The Una River was named by the Romans as being THE river; it is still a clear, clean and beautiful river worthy of the name. During their visit, Daniel explained he had been involved in projects aimed at reconciliation between Bosnian Serbs and Croatians, projects that had caught the attention of peace communities like Tamera, in Portugal, which sent representatives in 2003 to learn from Daniel and his colleagues.
Alen and Daniel
The next morning I was up early to have coffee with Daniel and his brother Alen. Both brothers were cheerful, and remained so despite my questions about their lives during the war.
Their family had moved from Kostajnica to Bihac, in Bosnia, hoping to avoid the impact of the impending war. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of it, holing up in their basement as mortar rounds fell around their house, killing and maiming friends. Alen, who was only 11 at the time, was afraid to leave the basement the first month, but later got used to the war, playing football with his friends whenever there was a pause in the mortar attacks. Once, Alen got his hands on some smoke grenades and he and his friends lit them and used them as footballs.
On another occasion, Alen hunted a neighbor's chicken with a home made bow and arrow. He proudly displayed it to his mother, who angrily made him throw it away; she was afraid the family would suffer for his stealing the chicken. When his father got home, he angrily had Alen find the chicken, stating that food shouldn't be thrown away when everyone was so hungry. That night the chicken fed eleven people. Alen also traded with UN soldiers in the Black Market, bringing home cigarettes and tinned beef. He has since put on weight and become a cook, telling me he decided after the war he would never be hungry again.
Daniel was older when the war started, and not long after the first mortar rounds fell, he was given a WWII German automatic rifle. He served in the army until a UN convoy was able to bring he and his family to Zagreb, where Daniel studied at university.
After the war the family returned to Kostajnica, occupying a vacant house for a time before finding a permanent home.
What is most remarkable about this story is that Daniel has devoted his years after the war to peacemaking in spite of the hardship he and his family suffered. Both he and Marina are examples for all of us to follow. 

Across the Una River and into Bosnia

At the border

A republic within a nation; Republika Srpska

The mosque in Bosanska Kostajnica, just across the river

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