People Who Saved the Lives of Others during the Bosnian War

People Who Saved the Lives of Others during the Bosnian War

Tito's granddaughter, Svetlana Broz, records the testimonies of people protected by good samaritans in a terrible time.

Dr. Svetlana Broz, granddaughter of former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, spoke at UCLA on October 27 about Balkan reconciliation and her book, Good People in an Evil Time: Portraits of Complicity and Resistance in the Bosnian War, coauthored with Ellen Elias-Bursac and Laurie Kain Hart. This work was originally published in Serbian in 1999 and released in an English translation this year by Other Press. Her talk was sponsored by the UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies.

Dr. Broz, a cardiologist, went to Bosnia in 1992 when the war began to offer her medical services to "victims on all sides of the war." Broz listened to her patients' stories of kindness and selfless humanity that crossed ethnic and religious barriers. She often was astonished by the way in which people would pour their hearts out to her, explaining how someone from another background had saved their lives by offering food, shelter, or safe passage when killing was going on all around them.

"In those improvised cardiology units I discovered that my patients from all three ethnic backgrounds [Serb, Croatian, Bosniak] in Bosnia-Herzegovina had the need to tell me their testimonies about the goodness they had experienced from somebody that didn't belong to their own ethnic group. Being a cardiologist I have my professional secrets so I could not use the testimonies I heard through being a doctor, so I had to collect new testimonies from people who were not my patients. I put down my cardiology equipment and picked up an audio recorder and microphone and went around Bosnia-Herzegovina to collect testimonies."

Svetlana Broz said that being related to Tito, who unified Yugoslavia under a government that protected all ethnic backgrounds, helped her gain the trust of the survivors with whom she spoke.

The Media Saw Only the Worst

Dr. Broz was frustrated by the media accounts of the war focusing only on atrocities and not on those who acted humanely.

"If you're going to talk about atrocities, that's fine, but you have to ask the survivors how they survived. People refused to participate in the killing, people resisted, people opposed, and helped other human beings, that is how many people survived. This is also part of the story. It was one of those things where the whole media were talking about evil, which was real, but nobody was talking and writing about good deeds in this period."

Dr. Broz said that her book has been a starting point for many to begin looking at themselves and their neighbours in a new light. She hopes it will contribut to the process of reconciliation by starting a conversation about what happened and by shining a light on the acts of kindness that occurred amidst the bloodshed.

One Balkan media company began broadcasting her testimonies each Saturday morning in a program called Catharsis. It has been on the air now for five years and, she reported, the number of listeners keeps growing. She added that last year Belgrade television made a thirty minute documentary based on her book, but it did not receive the attention that it otherwise might have because the news was dominated by the assassination of Serbia's Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic.

Garden of the Righteous

Dr. Broz left Belgrade in 1999 after her life was threatened, and is now living in Sarajevo where she established the Garden of the Righteous, a memorial for the brave people who kept their humanity during a time of violence. The Garden of the Righteous was modeled on Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, which honors non-Jewish persons who risked their lives saving Jews during the Holocaust.

Dr. Broz explained that the Garden of the Righteous in Sarajevo is full of trees, each representing one "brave individual who opposed the abuse, humiliation, torture, and murder of innocent people on the grounds of their ethnic and/or religious differences."

Published Testimonies

While Dr. Broz hopes the publishing of her book has contributed to the beginning of reconciliation between the Balkan War survivors, she said her aim was really to impact future generations of Bosnians.

"It was very important for me to leave a documentary trace about the possibility of choice. Would we stay human beings or would we become inhuman in inhuman circumstances? Our humanity is never connected with our race, religious, or national backgrounds. It is connected with our moral and ethical norms."

The Possibility of Reconciliation

"People are always ready to talk about kindness in the face of evil," she said. "Even those who passed through concentration camps will always tell you of the one human being who stayed a human being. It is a hope for the future. On the basis of evil there can be no future. Only on the basis of goodness it is possible to build a future."

Svetlana Broz added that Bosnia-Herzegovina's possible entry to the European Union would also go a long way toward mending the fabric of their society since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the war that followed.

Dr. Svetlana Broz is director of Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide.

Published: Monday, November 15, 2004