20-24 Nov 2017

Dismantling civil war -- Why do neighbors start killing each other?

Writer Janne Teller warns that “either the moderates keep together [in Europe], or extremists will split us up.” As a scholar of the Balkan war believes that history is on the brink of repeating itself.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
Dismantling civil war -- Why do neighbors start killing each other? - NewsMavens
Janne Teller. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

migration, human rights

The Balkan war is history for my generation -- back then we were either kids, too busy watching Cartoon Network to care, or we were not even born. Having grown up after the democratic transitions in Eastern Europe we take peace, stability and democracy for granted. It would be, however, very naïve to forget the tragic past without learning any lessons.

Janne Teller, an award-winning Danish writer, told "Nepszava" that if we keep on ignoring the smoke signals and fail to join forces against extremists, we may witness history repeat itself. She points out similarities between the rhetoric of the pre-war period in Yugoslavia and that of contemporary Europe. “Either the moderates keep together, or the extremists will split us up,” she says.

In the 1990s, she worked with the United Nations in Mozambique, yet she followed the European news closely through UN reports on the situation in the Balkans. This experience made such an impact on her that she ended up writing a novel about the war. It was recently published in Hungary and Teller came to Budapest to share her views on the relevance of the Balkan war in today’s Europe, on the continent's leaders and the migration crisis.

“I tried to understand the mechanisms of civil war -- when neighbors start killing each other. How can this happen among people who went to school together? Ultimately, I realized there are always leaders manipulating people’s feelings,” she claims.

The writer also criticized Europe’s response to the refugee crisis, pointing to the governments of Germany and Sweden as the few exceptions who tried to handle the situation with humanity. According to her, what is missing from the European leaders’ reaction is practical thinking.

“We must always help people who flee wars, natural disasters, and catastrophes. It is not even a choice. It does not mean, however, that people can become citizens forever. I personally wouldn’t mind, but I understand why for some it is too much. Of course, there is a limit to how much Europe can absorb. But you can easily give a permit to stay just for 3 years. Once the conflict is over, the situation should be reassessed, and we could say -- you have to go back, because that gives space to someone else in need,” the writer suggests.

Details from the story:

  • Janne Teller became an internationally known writer after her controversial novel, 'Nothing', was banned in Denmark. Later, it was included in the school curriculum and became a bestseller.
  • She is primarily a fiction writer but often publishes essays on current affairs.
  • Before becoming a full-time author she worked for the UN in the fields of humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution.
  • She is an activist against mass surveillance.
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