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Introduction: Facing the Bosnian War
War is an ugly word. It is not only that being at war means murdering people. The state of war also means being forced to hate someone that one barely knows. Therefore, the phenomenon of war is based on a lack of understanding. Which is even worse, it blocks people from being rational. War causes pain and suffering, making one go against one’s nature by killing the enemy.
The Bosnian War is no exception. The war occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 (Hansen 11). Although the subject matter grew into a military conflict, the main issue was religious instead of a political one (Ching 7). Particularly, the confrontation between Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats (Vullamy 13).The war-affected every citizen directly. The infamous Siege of Sarajevo along with the Srebrenica massacre can be considered the most tragic point of the conflict development.
The event itself has become a notorious example of awful war crimes. In his short story Zambak/Muslims, a part of Sarajevo Blues, Semezdin Mehmedinovic, a Serbian writer, addresses the problem above. He shows that the nature of a wise guy helped him survive the horrors of war and its outcomes. However, he also makes it clear that he had to turn into a wise man as it ended.
Although the war hit the author as something truly horrible, the sensation of freedom and the experience of his unique self can be viewed as strangely positive compared to the following turning the Bosnian Muslims into social outcasts, as the sarcastic remarks in Freedom and especially Zambak/Muslims by Mehmedinovic show.
The Language of Freedom: Sem’s Concept of Self
Freedom points out that the author addresses the complex issue of the Bosnian war wisely developing a philosophy based on peace. Therefore, the transformation is clear. Sem makes a wise commentary on the overall nature of war: “War is a mythological time” (Mehmedinovic 86). However, at the current stage of his development, Sem cannot avoid being sarcastic. Indeed, the statement mentioned above can be interpreted in numerous ways.
Placed in the context that the author sets, it may indicate that Sem considers the events above from a sarcastic perspective. Indeed, the author might mean that the mythological elements of war emerge as a result of retelling the story and covering the truth. There is no secret that whitewashing is a part and parcel of policies in a range of states. The process of covering the ugly truth and replacing it with acceptable lies can be viewed as creating specific war mythology. Therefore, the remark made by Sem can be interpreted as bitter and sarcastic.
Similarly, Sem considers his childhood experience from a rather ironic point of view. Looking back at his childhood, he mentions his misconception of war: “In my search for moral consolation, as infantile as I knew I was, I thought up the following distinction: to be in Sarajevo means being in the world of truth” (Mehmedinovic 86). The memories of his innocent childhood could be considered an attempt at creating a melancholic nostalgic moment. However, the exaggeration made by the author and the contrast between the current philosophy and the childlike one makes the irony quite clear.
Also, Sem’s attempts at being a wise guy are evident in the metaphors and the parallels that he makes. For instance, bringing up the concept of childhood, he mentions the black-and-white moral dimension that a child lives in: A child says: it’s cold as heaven, probably since he’s heard people say it’s hot as hell so many times” (Mehmedinovic 86). However, the exaggeration that he makes creates the impression of being ironic and, therefore, a wise guy.
Zambak/Muslims: Wise Guys and Wise Men
The post-war era has left a mark on Sem as he tends to be a wise guy rather than a wise man. Although the previous philosophy still shines through, it is not as evident.
At this point, being a wise guy helps Sem survive. Also, it helps him adapt to the new environment. It would be wrong to state that Sem avoids being a wise man at this point in his life. On the contrary, the specified part of his book is filled with the remarks of a wise man. The state that forgetting is an important part of being human. Particularly, he mentions that the horrors of war are “in oblivion” (Mehmedinovic 50). Thus, he allows himself to forget the awful years of war and forgive his opponents.
Moreover, Zambak/Muslims include social commentary on the war and its effects. For example, the author mentions the so-called “partisan effect” (Mehmedinovic 50). The elements above help the author develop the attitude of a wise man instead of a wise guy. The change in the author’s philosophy shines through the excerpts mentioned above. The change from a wise guy to a wise man became possible because Sem allowed himself to analyze the war and its events. He learned what motivated the people involved in it. As a result, Sem confronted not only his fears but also the fears of his enemies. The understanding helped Sem forgive the people involved.
Sem also shows his wisdom by assessing the outcomes of the war. He points specifically to the effects that the war has had on children: “Many Muslims in Bosnia gave their children Orthodox names from what could be called a partisan complex” (Mehmedinovic 50). Sem makes it clear that he can sympathize with others.
Also, Sem proves to be a wise man instead of a wise guy as he develops an understanding of his identity. Despite the war and its pressure eh still realizes that he is a Bosnian Muslim. However, the author states that a range of people have lost or may lose theirs as a result of constant pressure: “These poor kids were born into their parents’ unnatural marriage to a state that delicately tried to assimilate them” (Mehmedinovic 50). Therefore, the author wisely views culture clashes as one of the effects of the war.
The author proves himself as a wise man also by mentioning the psychological effects of the war. Moreover, he addresses the effect above on children. Thus, Sem points to the fact that war propaganda has led to stereotyping people. As a result, the very basis of society is changed for worse. The war has affected relationships between people, making them less trusting.
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A Gradual Change in Self-Perception
The constant repartition of the concept of wisdom leads the author from being a wise guy to becoming a wise man, and vice versa. Both pieces under analysis have the elements of irony in them. However, the one written later also has a very heavy lean toward a more peaceful and also bitter philosophy. Sem views the events of the war from a slightly different perspective. He is no longer a detached observer. Instead, he assumes the position of someone who has been affected by the war greatly.
Also, the author develops a better understanding of his nature. As explained above, Freedom has a stronger emphasis on faith. Facing the threat of losing his faith and identify, Sem starts appreciating it better. As a result, he experiences a major change.
Nevertheless, the author stops at the point where he can look at the war from the perspective of a wise man. It would be wrong to believe that he refuses to be satirical at all. On the contrary, Sem keeps the acid tone and makes rather sharp remarks. However, as his analysis of the events of war progresses, he applies a more objective approach. Sem develops the philosophy that helps him view the events of the Bosnian War from a different perspective. Particularly, he manages to accept a more objective point of view.
As stressed above, Sem does not change entirely. There are elements of sarcasm and irony in both of the pieces under analysis. The author has kept his ironic nature, as seen in most of his notes. However, Freedom feels more sincere that Zambak/Muslims. The phenomenon mentioned above can be explained by the fact that Sem finally comes at terms with himself.
Conclusion: A Voice in the Wilderness
The two works by Mehmedinovic mentioned above show the gradual transformation from being a wise guy to becoming a wise man. The author does not simply make a blank statement that war is bad. Instead, he shows the social and cultural effects of the conflict. In other words, he makes it clear that the war was driven by social factors and not economic or political ones. Moreover, Mehmedinovic shows that the cultural conflict at its core has not been resolved. Instead, it has been silenced.
The conclusions made by the author look all the more powerful as his tone changes. At first, the author makes his statements in a wise guy manner. He is sarcastic, and his remarks are sharp. The arguments are directed at opponents, and, therefore, it is easy to respond to them. Sem’s arguments are sensible. However, his tone makes it easy to antagonize him. The second excerpt, however, shows a different Sem – a wise man. He analyzes the outcomes of war without a sneer. Instead, he shows compassion and understanding.
Therefore, the two stories show the author’s gradual transformation. Nevertheless, the outcomes can be deemed as strangely liberating. Mehmedinovic’s values have changed drastically. However, he can empathize with his opponent and understand the true meaning of war. The transformation from the wise guy to the wise man, therefore, is evident, and it opens a range of opportunities for future communication and self-development. Therefore, it could be argued that the novels point to the need to seek peaceful agreement. Nevertheless, the pain and the devastation that the war caused show that the search may become a lifelong journey.
Ching, Jacqueline. Genocide and the Bosnian War. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009. Print.
Hansen, Lene. Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Mehmedinovic, Semezdin. Sarajevo Blues. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, 2001. Print.
Vullamy, Ed. The War is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia: the Reckoning. New York, NY: Random House, 2012. Print.