Your blood is red whether you are red, white, brown, yellow or something in between – as the Brits would put it – “not quite white”. All of us, except for the unfortunate few, have eyes, noses, mouths, ears and five functioning senses. Grey cells control our actions, some premeditated, some involuntary. We all act and react predictably, rationally if you will, most of the time. We all feel pain, hunger and thirst. The urge to stay alive is universal, notwithstanding the fact that death is inevitable. Simply said, we all put on our pants one leg at a time.
It’s our brains, those grey cells that are the center of man’s nervous system, nature’s flawed computer, that malfunction, makes us act irrationally, have us abandon reason and just fuck us up with disastrous results. But by and large nature dictates our actions, making us put on our pants one leg at a time.
These musings were brought on by last Sunday’s Travel Section article on Schevingen, the Dutch seaside resort with “a long, sandy beach, an esplanade, a pier and a lighthouse” dominated by the Kurhaus, a grand hotel and casino. Summer holidays may be Schevingen’s happy face but it has a dark side, a dour castle of a jail on Pompstationsweg within spiting distance of the beach, the dunes, the hiking trails of that vacation spa. That jail housed the United Nations Detention Unit for persons that had been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, sitting in judgment in The Hague, the town next door.
I had the occasion to visit that bleak facility many times. I was in close contact with the Accused – the inmates, the detainees – men who during the years of the Bosnian Wars and the destruction of Yugoslavia had visited death and destruction upon their fellow countrymen. They were from the three warring factions – the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims. They worshiped different Gods, yet in that Schevingen jail they were all alike, they all put on their pants one leg at a time.
I do not have to remind you of Srebrenica or Zepa, of Slobodan Praljak, Naser Oric and Ratko Mladic, or speak of Mostar, Stupni Do and Sarajevo. There was enough blame and sorrow for all to share and share they did, one leg at a time in that Schevingen jail.
Awaiting trial, the United Nations Accused were housed in a separate unit, subject to an enlightened and humane regime. They wore workaday civilian clothes and were ethnically and politically indistinguishable to the naked eye. The guards addressed them as “Mr.” and sometimes “General” or “Colonel”. Conjugal visits were allowed and encouraged, even with unmarried significant others. They were different and were treated as such, not like the common criminals on the other side of the wall. Yet every morning all of them, the UN Accused and common criminals put on their pants on, one leg at a time.
The UN Accused mingled peacefully in large communal areas shared by all. By force of circumstance these men, once bent on each other’s destruction, who had murdered, tortured, raped civilians for ethnic causus belli spent their days peacefully but only after waking up in the morning and putting on their pants one leg at a time.
While waiting for my guy to come and visit with me and in the hours, I spent with him I had a bird eyes’ view of the common room goings on. Ante, a Croat, was cooking a beans and sausages for Goran and Stefan, diehard Serbs, to be shared with the Bosniak contingent including Mehmed and Enver. The games of chess and cards had a continuously rotating cast of ethnic characters gambling away cigarettes and commissary chits. A Serb’s patron saint’s day [Slava] was celebrated with contraband booze by one and all.
Favors were exchanged – use my visiting hours to spend more time with your wife, the one sporting a colorful hijab, and oblige me likewise when my miniskirt lover visits next week. Here’s a pack of cigarettes, pay me back when you can. Use my prepaid phone card to make that important telephone call.
The homicidal urges that had brought them to the Schevingen jail were forgotten, set aside. They became the lowest human common denominator, just men living their lives, flawed as they may be, trying to survive, all of them putting on their pants, one leg at a time. I think of them in the morning as I struggle into my jeans, one leg at a time, and wonder what happened to them.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. He was the attorney for two Accused before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com