Contributed by Dragana Vidovic, News and Legislation Associate, World Without Genocide
Individuals meet in unexpected situations and places. Those encounters are a reminder of how small our world is – that all humans are connected in some way. Strangers start conversations and discover that they have common friends or enemies in one or another part of the world.
Although the modern world is connected in unprecedented ways, people often choose to isolate each other, ignoring the suffering of their fellow humans.
Almost 20 years ago, in a war-torn city of Banjaluka, Bosnia (officially known as Bosnia-Herzegovina), 14 newborn babies became victims and witnesses to human cruelty and isolation. While those in power debated their war tactics, 12 newborn babies died in a hospital from lack of oxygen. The troops surrounding the area around Banjaluka didn’t let oxygen be imported by land. The UN Security Council had established a no-fly zone over Bosnia and the airplane bringing the oxygen from Belgrade was not allowed to fly.
Slađana Kobas, the 13th baby from this incident, died at the age of 13 and the last surviving baby, Marko Medaković, is still living in Banjaluka and struggling with horrific physical and mental consequences. The groups involved in the 1990s conflict are blaming each other and creating controversies around this event, only to vindicate their souls and prolong the pain of those who lost their loved ones.
I remember watching the news and hoping naïvely that someone would save those babies and stop the war, but the violence continued for the next three years. I ask myself the same questions today as I did then; what motivates humans to hurt each other and what inspires us to protect each other? During trying war times, events like these happen over and over again due to lack of communication, trust, and empathy.
Monument in Banja Luka – 12 Banjaluka babies
There is a one key emotion that those who isolate others lack: empathy. The ability to imagine someone else’s feelings and understand other people’s perspectives enables us to resolve our misunderstandings in a peaceful way. Yet the nature of empathy is such that we are most empathetic towards those who live close to us, are similar to us, or are our family members. A question often asked is “why should we care about people living thousands of miles away in another country?” While participating in the “Children of Genocide: Five Who Survived” film project, I met people who survived Nazi persecution, war in Darfur, and the killing fields of Cambodia, and I realized that they were affected by war violence in similar ways that my friends and neighbors were in Bosnia during the war. Millions of people around the world are forced to fight “someone else’s” war and that threatens the safety and security of every one of us. If we can understand our commonality and begin to feel and imagine the lives of other human beings, we will learn how to make our world better place.
American prison psychologist Gustav Gilbert said during the Nuremburg trials after interviewing several Nazi war crimes defendants in 1945, “I told you once that I was searching for the nature of evil. I think I’ve come close to defining it: a lack of empathy…A genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow man. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” I have witnessed this kind of evil firsthand, and I believe that mass destruction is preventable if we will take the time to listen to and understand each other. It is our behavior toward others that produces either friends or enemies. The choice is yours to make.