Late August, eighteen years ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting in the out-patients’ department of a Dublin hospital. Waiting, waiting… as people still do today. The Irish health service hasn’t really changed much. He needed a check-up – one of his first since he’d been discharged a few weeks earlier. That July, he’d had a major operation for injuries he’d incurred during the war in Bosnia.
The summer of ’95… For Ireland, it was glorious. With levels of sunshine and temperatures unsurpassed until 2013. My boyfriend spent the heat-wave in hospital wards. And then in our small flat, recuperating. In terms of medical skills, I was no Florence Nightingale. The only thing I could do was just be there for him.
Like in that waiting room. At the top of it, a TV churned out news. On Sky, I think, or some other new-fangled cable channel which boasted a 24/7 information feed. No-one was listening. Perhaps the volume was off. Or maybe the sweaty audience – rustling papers and talking, nursing their pain or nervously impatient – drowned the sound. For most, their personal predicaments were far from that distant world of current affairs. Not for all. A breaking story hit the screen. My boyfriend startled – the images too familiar. His city… Sarajevo. Its main marketplace bombarded. Civilians mangled, ripped apart, amid the wreckage. Again.
His appointment was almost forgotten in a blur of fear. Anxiously trying to contact his parents, we ran round Dublin’s call boxes in the pre-mobile age of Telecom Éireann phone-cards. As usual, it took several attempts. Lines were down or desperate relatives had jammed any tenuous connections. But, eventually, he got through.
There was no such relief for the 43 families of those who were killed that day. The suffering of scores more wounded had just begun. This stab at the heart of Sarajevo brought to an end another season of haemorrhage across Bosnia. It etched its gaping scar into a world still contemplating the aftermath of Srebrenica. Then, as in 2013, the time had passed for adequate solutions.
In Syria, whatever happens now, over 100 000 lives have already been squandered. The victims of this conflict have served as excessive collateral for international indifference. The damage is done. The price has been paid by limp, lifeless children… by those gassed in Damascus.
Western reaction to the first of Sarajevo’s market massacres, in February 1994, was to accept more refugees and airlift injured people out of Bosnia. My boyfriend, now my husband of many years, was among those medevacs. The response, in August 1995, wasn’t quite the same. Two days after the atrocity, NATO airstrikes started. High octane negotiations gathered pace in the months that followed. By November, the Bosnian war was officially over. A bitter, belated peace slunk in without huge reason for rejoicing. Though, at least, live-streamed death had ceased to beam from Sarajevo. And that meant no more panic-stricken phone-calls.