by Eric Lucas
The afternoon sun was highlighting the vineyard rows next to us as I asked my Croatian guide the key question of the day, if not of all days. She stopped short, appraised me for a minute and smiled, but not an easy smile, one weighed against both pain and promise.
“Of course I visit Serbia. I have many Serbian friends. They are our neighbors. Each people, each country, there are bad persons and good. We do not hold to the bitterness of the past,” Biljana declared. “We must not.
“Do you understand?”
Do I? I strolled off through the countryside, past the cinnamon vines of autumn, to the gate of a nearby cemetery. Perhaps here were buried a few of her contemporaries, Croatian citizens gunned down by Serbian troops in a war just half a generation old, or even Croatian children who stepped on land mines left behind, buried in the willow breaks along the Danube like toxic waste.
To declare that one must be neighborly to those who made war on you, that is not a sentiment I have often heard. The human race proves each new day that the word “humanity” is a misnomer; bitterness and conflict stretch hundreds if not thousands of years. In China I watched hordes of protesters surround the Japanese embassy, anger from World War II still cankering. In Alabama Confederate flags still fly, not for décor value but for hate. In Arizona armed vigilantes gun down Hispanics who have crossed the border. In the Caribbean, islanders cast fearful glances over their shoulders at Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. I have personally set foot on ground where millions—10 million people, roughly—have fought and died. I’ve been inside the Auschwitz gas chamber. Those are just the places I’ve been. Elsewhere dozens of fire-points flare daily around the world.
Yet in modern Europe 700 million people in dozens of different countries live in peace, prosperity and promise.