The Sava River

POETRY FORMAT, 19 Oct 2015

Satoshi Ashikaga – TRANSCEND Media Service

Over this river, the border of Bosnia
Over this Sava, the border of Bosnia
You are livin’
right over there.
You are livin’
right over there.

Thundering are cannons
Bursting are shells
Aimin’ at the town, the town in Bosnia.
You are livin’
in that town.
You are livin’
in that town.

Crossin’ are refugees the River of Sava,
Fleeing Bosnia, comin’ ov’r this side.
But you are not amon’ these people.
You are not amon’ these people.

Thundering are cannons
Bursting are shells
You are still
livin’ over there.
You are still
livin’ over there.

Thundering are cannons
Bursting are shells
You are still
livin’ over there.
You are still
livin’ over there.

You are still
livin’ over there.
You are still
livin’ over there.

______________________________

Background Situations of the Poem:

During and after the Wars in the former Yugoslavia, the author was working in the war-zones and war-torn zones, mostly in Bosnia and in Croatia, in addition to other areas of the Balkans whenever necessary. In the late summer of 1995, for instance, he was deployed in the area near the Croatian side of the Sava River, from which he was monitoring and reporting the ongoing war situation, including that of the refugee-influxes into Croatia from Bosnia.

At that time, the Operation Una by the Croatian Army was being implemented. A series of intensive shelling was made, aiming at the Bosnian Serb-controlled area (Republika Srpusk) in Bosnia. Meanwhile, the Bosnian Serb Army and their civilian authorities were accelerating their ethnic cleansing against the local non-Serbs (including those of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats, and other local ethnic minorities), not only by bombarding remote villages of those non-Serbs but also by confiscating their houses and apartments to expel them from the populated city centers of the towns in the north-western part of Bosnia (mostly the areas of the Republika Srpska), a.k.a. Bosanska Krajina – the region facing or near the Sava and Una rivers. (The Una River is a tributary of the Sava River.)

From the latter part August of 1995, refugees from Bosnia began to cross the Sava River by small boat, and they arrived at Davor, a small village town, situated in south of Nova Gradiška, on the Croatian side of the river. They crossed the river by boat because, to block the influx of the refugees from Bosnia into Croatia and a possible attack by the Bosnian Serb Army, the bridge between Bosanska Gradiška (Bosnian side) and Stara Gradiška (Croatian side) was “partially destroyed“ (meaning that some part of the bridge was detonated in a way that made the repair of the bridge easy/less difficult although no one could cross the bridge without the completion of the repair) just after the Operation Flash of the Croatian Army in May 1995. [The Croatian Army achieved the objectives of this military campaign: To recaputure the ethnic Serb-controlled area of Western Slavonia, Croatia, and to expell many of these local ethnic Serbian residents from that region. Many of those ethnic Serbs, born and brought up in that region of Croatia, were either forced to leave or “encouraged to voluntarily leave“ their hometowns of Croatia to newly start living in the Bosnian Serb-controlled area (Republika Srpska) of Bosnia. After their departure from the region, the bridge was (partially) detonated. It could be said that it was the Croatian government’s one of the “successful ethnic cleansings“ against the local ethnic Serbs in Croatia, as intended.]

That bridge was the only bridge available for refugees from Bosnia to cross the river for their exodus. However, the “partial destruction of the bridge“ did not stop the exodus of refugees from Bosnia. The refugees’ river-crossing continued until the latter part of October 1995. Many refugees crossed the river during the months of August and September of that year, and comaratively a few refugees crossed the river in Ocotober then, however. It was the final and harshest phase of the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War. The author wrote the above poem one day in September of that year. Thundering of cannons was vibrating the air all around the area then.

The autumn of this year, 2015, marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the War in Bosnia. For the author, however, it was only yesterday. Most buildings in the former war-zones were already rebuilt or renovated (while abandoned houses are now mostly completely ruined), but the local people are still suffering from their irreversible dreadful situations behind the scenes of the somehow fancy-looking towns. The scars of the war are immeasurably deep for those who experienced the war and may last for many years, possibly for the rest of their lives. Not only those who lost their loved ones are suffering from their grief, but also those former soldiers who participated in the atrocities are deeply suffering from the nightmare of what they committed.

Twenty years after the Croatian and Bosnian Wars that produced millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), European countries are currently facing an unprecedented scale of huge influxes of refugees from Syria, in addition to those from Afghanistan, Iraq, and some African and Asian countries.

The above poem is dedicated, with the author’s deepest empathy, to those who have been affected by armed conflict regardless of its area or region in the world; they have lost their lives, part of their bodies, their loved ones, their homes or the means of their livelihood, or they are suffering from unbearable PTSD, or more.

The surface of the Sava River looks peaceful now. But who knows the grief that may be hidden somewhere in the heart of this river? Who knows its depth?

****

Satoshi Ashikaga, having worked as researcher, development program/project officer, legal protection/humanitarian assistance officer, human rights monitor-negotiator, managing-editor, and more, prefers a peaceful and prudent life, especially that in communion with nature.  His previous work experiences, including those in war zones and war-torn zones, remind him of the invaluableness of peace.  His interest and/or expertise includes international affairs, international law, jurisprudence, economic and business affairs, project/operations or organizational management, geography, history, the environmental/ecological issues, audio/visual documentation of nature and culture, and more.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Oct 2015.

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