Eno on War Child

An excerpt from an article in Melody Maker, 9th September 1995, by Brian Eno.

The article was accompanied by a large photo of morgue workers in Sarajevo laying out the bodies of small children, blown to pieces by shells and bombs.

The forward, which starts by mentioning other interviews with other people involved with "Help", finishes as follows: "The album's executive producer and WAR CHILD patron Brian Eno explains his involvement with the charity and offers an explanation of the historical and political background that continues to fuel this most bitter of wars".

I guess I'm involved in this because I'm very interested in this Bosnian question. I'm perhaps more politically interested than I ought to be. It's interesting that at this moment in time, when the vision of our politicians doesn't extend beyond tomorrow's opinion poll, that the only people who are showing vision are people who aren't in politics. I don't mean only musicians, but people like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, all of these various non-governmental organisations that'll turn out to be the people who are thinking longer term. I think this is the future.

The future is that government becomes the job of management and thinking becomes the job of everyone who isn't in the government. There's a bad side to that as well - a lot of lobbies like the National Rifle Association and the American tobacco industry have realised this, that the power is not within the government but resides outside it, with the people who push the government to do things. They're the first people to realise it and it's about time the rest of us did as well.

Most people don't really know what's going on in Bosnia and don't really need to. War Child is a charity that set out non-denominationally to help children, child victims of the war. It doesn't matter who they are - Serbs, Croats, or Muslims - so there's no need to have a political opinion on it. It happens that I do, but there isn't any need for it.

I don't think it's as hard to understand what's going on as people think. What we've been presented with is the story that there's a civil war. There isn't a civil war. There's a country being invaded by another country and that isn't a civil war. One side didn't want to fight. It didn't want to be involved and it hasn't been involved very much except to defend itself. I'm talking about Bosnia, of course. So it isn't a civil war any more than when the Germans invaded Sudetenland before the last war. They said that was a civil war as well. They tried to make it look as if there was a big civil war going on in the country, to which they were going to respond - exactly the same technique the Serbians have used. So, number one: it isn't a civil war, it's a straightforward invasion and a straightforward taking of territory.

Number two: it's not, as far as the Bosnians are concerned, a religious war. Notice that they're always called the Bosnian Muslims. No-one ever mentions that the Croats are fundamental Catholics and the Serbs are fundamental Orthodox. But Bosnia is in fact an extremely secular, multi-ethnic, liberal society - you wouldn't really get a sense of it as a Muslim country. Calling it Muslim is a way of saying: it's not part of us, it's not part of Europe. That's wrong, in my opinion - Bosnia is being forced now to become more Muslim as a result, because the only people who would help it are other Muslim countries. Of course, since the Serbs have got Serbs out of there, and the Croats have got Croats out of there, it is de facto a majority Muslim country. But it wasn't before. And, in fact, there are still a lot of Serbs and and Croats left in there, who live there and insist on calling themselves Bosnians.

I think this situation has been the victim of very bad and very confusing reporting. And I think reporting has been done to overcomplicate the situation. What the West would like above all is a nice stable situation; as far as it's concerned, that means a strong Serbia, a strong Croatia and probably no Bosnia. I think that's eventually what'll happen - it's what the latest peace plans practically propose, certainly what Tudjeman wants, and obviously what the Serbs want. Bosnia doesn't have any real allies here. Germany was historically and is today allied with Croatia, seeing Croatia as part of an extended Germany. I don't mean they're suddenly going to have a Fourth Reich, but that they're historically allies. And Serbia is historically allied with Russia.

Bosnia isn't allied with anyone. Bosnia has always been slightly like Switzerland, a country that kept itself to itself, and prided itself on the variety of its population rather than on its ethnic purity. The Bosnians are terribly proud of the fact that, for 500 years, Bosnia has been a refuge for people who've been persecuted elsewhere. That's why one of the only other sources of money going into Bosnia is from American Jews: a lot of Jews, from Ferdinand and Isabella onwards, have taken refuge in Bosnia, and there's a big Jewish population. A lot of them have left now for America, but have returned the favour.

The other really sad thing about this situation is that only one country has played by the rules that we set: Bosnia. The rules for civilised, international dispute; all the rules that we're supposed to subscribe to. They've done it and they've suffered for it. The worst aspect of this, from our point of view, is that we've shown we don't believe in our own rules and we're not prepared to defend them. That's a really bad signal for the rest of the world - what do you think other little dictators with big armies think?

The other important thing to say is that this has always been posed as an important moral and historical situation. Its history is terribly complicated, but it's also quite irrelevant. You don't need to go into moral and historical arguments about it; just be legalistic about it and say: "Look, we have international laws and international agreements and they've been broken." The agreements have been broken by Serbia quite clearly and earlier on by Croatia as well. And what is the point of having these agreements if we don't police them in any way at all? We don't have to say "In 1146, King Vlad knocked down this bridge", and all that sort of thing. It doesn't matter, really. It's similar to the Salman Rushdie situation, where there were all sorts of complications about freedom of speech, and whether he should be allowed to write this or not. That is not an issue. The issue is: are we going to tolerate foreign countries coming and killing our citizens? There's no need to discuss what Rushdie wrote. All we need to say is: we don't tolerate that kind of reaction.

Like that, this is quite a simple picture. Of course, it keeps getting recomplicated, because there are all sorts of devious political reasons why people don't want to it be seen clearly, why they want it to continue to appear complicated. Because they do want to carve up Bosnia. What politicians want more than anything else is stability. And if that means supporting dictators who put 20,000 people in prison and torture them, well it's better than communism, or it's better than this or that.

Brian Eno