Waging peace: the New Zealand army in Bosnia

Waging peace: the New Zealand army in Bosnia Mark Scott
After years of every sort of viciousness imaginable, years which have seen the killing of hundreds of thousands out of a population of only four-and-a-half million, perhaps hopscotch under the barrel of a protective machine-gun really is peace. New Zealand soldiers with the United Nations are trying to keep peace, and finding it is a lot tougher than waging war.

It was a standard dream. I was being chased by soldiers in camouflage uniform who meant to cut my throat. My feet were mired in clay. I couldn't get away. I woke to the sound of bombardment, but that, too, was an illusion. Just a thunderstorm, rolling in from the mountains of the interior. I checked my watch. At four I would be leaving by truck for Bosnia. There was no point going back to sleep.

The day hadn't gone well. At lunch I'd seen a soldier shoot a dog. Along the cobblestone promenade, half visible through the cafe umbrellas and the Phoenix palms, seen him draw his pistol and stoop over the stricken animal, lying on the roadway where it had been run down. There was something casual about the bullet.

And then I'd surprised another soldier practising karate kicks. He was marching down a lane, shoulders set in a swagger, delivering kicks to imaginary heads. A double-edged dagger was in his hand. His hair was shaven in such a way as to leave a ridge of bristles running along the top of his head. Like a boar or a rooster. The Croatian town I was in is a coastal resort on the Adriatic, and was full of soldiers. They all had the same haircuts. The same swagger. In from the front.

In from a place of true nightmare. The television images had been playing too much on my mind. A woman waiting for a bus is felled by a sniper's bullet. A child lies on a mortuary slab, gaping knife wound to the throat. Cattle truck deportations. Implacable politicians with strange names and eyes cold as stone, who everyone knows are responsible but who are never held to account. And in the middle of it a bunch of UN soldiers wearing helmets of baby blue.

I'd flown first to Zagreb, Croatia's capital, and there, too, the omens hadn't been good. I visited the Zagreb cathedral. Inside this raw cave of overpowering size black beetle women scuttled across the flagstones. Before Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac's crypt they dropped to their knees, crossing themselves, wordless prayer sliding from their lips. Stepinac's priests oversaw the slaughter of some 500,000 Serbs (of the Orthodox faith) at Jasenovac in Bosnia, forcing conversions to the Catholic faith at graveside.

Zagreb is full of statuary that celebrates Croatia's imperial past, when Bosnia lay within its borders. There is no end of bronzed, flaring-nostrilled horses With bodies muscled like armour, and Vlad the Impaler-types astride them, swords pointing forward-but the slaughter at Jasenovac is more recent.

Additional Info

  • Author: Mark Scott
  • Start page: 50