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Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

As well as the spectacular beauty of the places mentioned in my post The former Yugoslavia Part 1:  The Glorious… I also visited a plethora of tragic sights/sites while returning to the places Lazar once lived and while researching my novel. Here is my list of those I found most affecting. Knin and Sarajevo make it onto both lists, for reasons given below. Again, photos follow the list.

Knin, Croatia

The air of emptiness in some of the villages around Knin is really haunting. While driving through northwestern Bosnia towards Knin, we passed village after village with only a couple of houses still inhabited. The rest were burnt and looted ruins abandoned during the war. I was also stunned by how quickly nature has reclaimed those abandoned houses. Many are smothered in ivy, the gardens overtaken by stinging nettles… I couldn’t help but think it must be difficult for those who’ve stayed or returned to forget the conflict when confronted with such sights every day.

Please see also my new page Lazar’s Story: an Update, 2014 for some news about Lazar’s family house outside Knin.

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Although Sarajevo is today a beautiful city whose inhabitants manage to exude an air of stylish nonchalance despite their economic woes, there are reminders of the war everywhere. Bullet and shell-pocked buildings still abound. Tour companies advertise drives down Sniper Alley and trips to the Tunnel of Hope museum. ‘Genocide tourism’, Lazar dubbed it. Is such tourism a good thing or a bad? Probably a bit of both, I guess.

Mostar, Bosnia

I’m glad the Stari Most (Old Bridge) has been rebuilt, but what a tragedy it was blown to bits in the first place! Once the new stones take on a bit of a patina, it should be less obvious that the bridge is not as ancient as its surroundings.

Srebrenica, Bosnia

Even discounting the Potočari Genocide Memorial with its 8372 white gravestones poking from the soil, there’s an air of desolation about Srebrenica. Would I feel that way if I hadn’t read so much about what happened there? I don’t know. Of late, another issue facing the residents of Srebrenica is that the recent floods have washed out many of the uncleared minefields, strewing mines in places previously thought safe. I saw several billboards around the town warning people to beware of shifting mines.

Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo

Lazar’s family lived for a year here in a kindergarten/refugee centre after fleeing Knin. Today Mitrovica is a divided city. The Serbs in the northern part are separated from the newly independent southern half of Kosovo by a bridge blocked to traffic at both ends by armoured vehicles and patrolled by international KFOR troops, Italian carabinieri and assorted other foreign peacekeepers. I saw more Serbian flags on the drive into Mitrovica than I did in all of Serbia: many Serbs and the Serbian government refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence because it’s seen as the heartland of ancient Serbia.

Nis, Serbia

Niš and much of the southern part of Serbia is noticeably poorer than the north. There’s a saying that the further south you go, the sadder things get. It rhymes in Serbian: što južnije to tužnije. Niš is also home to two pretty harrowing sites. The first is the Crveni Krst (Red Cross) Concentration Camp, one of Europe’s best-preserved Nazi concentration camps, right down to the graffiti prisoners scratched into the walls. Also in Niš is the Tower of Skulls, erected by the Ottoman Turks following a Serbian rebellion in which a Serb duke blew up the Turkish powder stores, killing 10 000 Turks, 4000 Serbs and himself. The Turks then beheaded and scalped 952 Serbs and plastered their skulls all over the outside of the tower as a warning to any other locals who might have been harbouring rebellious thoughts. Now housed in a chapel, the Tower was originally situated in open air. Apparently the whistling of the wind through the skulls’ empty eye sockets and lipless mouths was terrible to hear. Today there are only 58 skulls left, but that doesn’t make the Tower any less horrifying.

 

 

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

Gosh, it’s taken me a long time to post this, but here it is…

Below is a link to the video of a public forum I had the pleasure of chairing this February. Jointly organised by RAC (the Refugee Action Committee) and the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, the forum was titled ‘Refugees: What would Jesus do? What should we do?’ The eloquent speakers included leaders from the Anglican, Catholic, Uniting and Baptist churches as well as RAC’s very own Eileen O’Brien, who gave a wonderfully inspiring speech about why our country’s senior citizens need to lead the debate on refugees.

Here is a full list of the speakers:

  • Bishop Stephen Pickard, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity & Culture
  • Reverend Myung Hwa Park, Moderator Elect, Uniting Church Synod of NSW & ACT
  • Monsignor John Woods, Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn
  • Reverend Chris Turner, Senior Minister, Canberra Baptist Church
  • Eileen O’Brien, Refugee Action Committee, Canberra.

Overall the night was a great success for the refugee rights movement, with the hall so packed we needed to open the folding doors and set up more chairs outside. A huge thanks to all who attended.

Click here to watch a video of the forum.

Click here for text versions of the speeches.

Tuesday, November 05th, 2013 | Author:

 

A ‘three-star general’ appointed to use military force to stop asylum seekers. A ‘black-out’ on reporting the numbers of refugees arriving by boat. Sending vulnerable men, women and children seeking our assistance to remote detention camps in neighbouring third world countries. Stripping funds for legal assistance for asylum seekers. Eliminating any right to appeal refugee status in the courts. Forcing anyone found to be a refugee entitled to protection to reapply for a Temporary Protection Visa every 3 years, so they live forever in fear of being deported. What’s wrong with this picture? What can we do to change it?

Last week I participated in a public forum at the Australian University organised by the Refugee Action Committee and entitled “What’s Wrong with Abbott’s Refugee Policy?” I was the last speaker, after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens and Professor Desmond Manderson, Future Fellow in the ANU College of Law and the Research School of Humanities and Arts. They were both such wonderfully passionate and eloquent speakers that, listening to them, I felt very nervous awaiting my turn. But once I started speaking, I think I managed to control my nerves fairly well and of course, it made it easier that I was speaking from personal experience on a topic about which I feel very strongly. Afterwards, I received a lot of really positive feedback from audience members who told me how great it was to hear a personal story amongst all the facts and statistics about refugees and asylum seekers. More than a few audience members told me my speech made them cry.

If you’d like to watch a video of the forum, you can find it here: https://vimeo.com/78135194. My speech starts about 40 minutes into it.

For those of you in Canberra, there will be a rally for refugees on the grounds of Parliament House on Monday the 18th November. It starts at 11 am with speeches commencing at 1 pm. Speakers will include Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and representatives from various refugee communities. Come along and show your support!

Monday, October 07th, 2013 | Author:

 

Since I am married to a man who arrived in Australia as a refugee, since I am writing a novel about refugees, but most of all since I believe passionately that this world is place of plenty and we all deserve a chance to share in it, I recently joined the Canberra branch of the Refugee Action Committee. RAC is committed to publicising the plight of asylum seekers and disseminating the facts, rather than fear-mongering propaganda, about our government’s policies towards them.

Recently, my girls helped me make this wonderful placard to take to the first RAC protest we attended.

To quote one of the chants we used at the protest: “Say it loud, say it clear! Refugees are welcome here.”

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