Our everyday hurly burly; our frenetic (if often needless) busy-ness; our madcap dash from home via school run, work, supermarket, sports club, friends, hobbies; my own whirligig of a political and Parliamentary life sometimes means that we lose sight of the big picture. The more fixated we are by our own immediate circumstances, the less aware we are of the big issues in life.
So I took advantage of the ‘Party Conference Recess’ (more on that later) to join 17 or so MPs and peers from all parties on a harrowing and hard work visit to Bosnia. We were led by the Right Hon Colonel Robert Stewart DSO MP, or ‘Colonel Bob’ to us all, the hero of the British presence in war-torn Bosnia in 1992/3. The Soviet Union had collapsed; that plus the death of President Tito meant the end of the fake Union known as Yugoslavia. What followed was chaos. Some little republics were quickly set up on their own, leaving at the heart of the Western Balkans, the hybrid State of Bosnia.
Here Bosnian Moslems, Serbian Eastern Orthodox and Croatian Roman Catholics had lived together in peace for generations. But Serbian Slobodan Milosevic saw his chance for a ‘Greater Serbia’ incorporating the 33% of Bosnia which had an ethnic Serbian majority. His problem were the thousands of Bosnian Moslems in the middle of it. So taking his example from Hitler, he set about ‘ethnic cleansing’ by killing the Bosnian Moslems off in their thousands.
We visited Sarajevo; besieged for over 1000 days - the longest in modern history; we explored the tunnel under the airport which was the only access in or out of the town which was being relentlessly shelled by the surrounding Serbians; we drove down ‘Sniper Alley’; we met both the young soldiers who had fought to save their city; and the victims who had lost so many sons and brothers.
Then we drove to Ahmici, where Colonel Bob had led the British force who uncovered the brutal massacre of 116 Bosnian Moslems, Croatian houses standing untouched. Who could not be moved by Col Bob’s tale of the young girl dead next to her parents shot through the puppy she was cradling.
But nothing could prepare us for the horror of Srebrenica. A large part of the Moslem population from the surrounding area had gathered together in what the UN guaranteed as a ‘Safe Haven’. I am certain it would have been had Col Bob been in charge; but we had given control over to the Dutch who gave in without a fight to the butcher General Mladic. Without a second thought, he then murdered 8373 men and boys, and deported 23,000 women and girls to concentration camps, many of them to fates too awful to recount. We met some of their mothers, paid our respects at the mass cemetery; spoke to former Moslem soldiers; visited the derelict factory where the men and women had been separated out like sheep and goats.
So if you are worried about where the next gallon of fuel is coming from; if you are fussed about whether or not to have the third jab; if you are obsessed by the potholes down your road; if you are fixated by the minutiae of politics which is so often the product of those rather annoying events the Party Conferences; if you are so close to the trees of your daily lives that you find it hard to see the woods, then I would just say:
Remember Ahmici; Remember Srebrenica;
and be grateful for how fortunate we in Britain really are.