Toy Guns

A trip through post-war normality in Ex-Yugoslavia

A day in late March 2004. All seems quiet in Mitrovica, a city in Kosovo, five years after the end of the war. Children are playing in the sun. But then, a rumour spreads like fire: Two Kosovo Albanian children drowned in the river Ibar that seperates the city into a Serbian and a Kosovo Albanian sector. Did they drown in the course of a children´s game?

Churches and mosques devastated

In the Kosovo Albanian media, the version is favoured that the accident happened during a children´s game and that Serbian children are guilty of the death of the two Kosovo-Albanian children. Although the circumstances of the children’s death remain unclear, hereupon, mobs of Kosovo-Albanians are breaking into the Kfor protected Serbian areas of Mitrovica, seeking revenge. The orthodox cathedral of Mitrovica was devastated in one night. Yugoslavian television channels broadcast pictures of the flame inferno. On TV, pictures of orthodox priests are shown, carrying the valuable reliquiums of the church to the sounds of folklore music. In the middle of the report, the music becomes menacing and the screen is filled by scenes depicting Kosovo Albanian stone throwers. They are followed by burning houses, a crying woman, and, as a last scene, the exodus of the Serbian mothers and children. A bit later, mosques in Belgrade and other Serbian cities are burning.

Virtual war games and toy guns

A young man I meet in the train to Belgrade the next day doesn’t seem to be shocked: “ Things like that happen every two months. That’s sort of, well, normal for us here.” He wears a uniform like other young men I see on the streets of Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik, Kotor or elsewhere. His parents pick him up from the station. In the internet cafés, I meet young men without uniform playing computer games against each other. It is always the same game: The computer-animated playground in which the game is taking place is a sniper’s paradise: Empty streets, ruins, corridors of houses with a tapestry decorated in the style of the Seventies. You are a fighter armed with a machine-gun, a pistol and a knife, and the aim is to kill the other player. This other person looks exactly like you and is dressed in a sort of indefinable tarn-clothes. The usual end of the game is the death of one or the other.

In Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina people are drinking strong black coffee in small cups, accompanied by sweets, “Bosnian coffee”, so they tell me. The historic bridge, after its destruction during the war, has been completely rebuilt and will be reinaugurated in summer 2004. On both sides of the bridge shops sell toy guns for kids. Models of the type Kalashnikov, or smaller ones in different colours. In Mostar, you can buy the same gun-models for your children as in Belgrade, Dubrovnik or elsewhere. However, near the Mostar bridge and close to the shops that sell toy guns is a housewall that has not been damaged by the war. It shows a butterfly.

Pictures: Nicole Dörr

Pictures: Nicole Dörr

This article was posted in Online Issue III and tagged .

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