As part of my research into the Balkans and more specifically the Bosnian war- the causes, implications for the future, and the present situation there, there is always so much additional information that relates to and informs that research. A recently published book titled Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, by Omer Bartov, is one of those sources. Bartov begins with a brief description of his family’s history in the town and builds from there using interviews, letters, diaries, and archives to give the reader a very clear picture of the persecution and suffering of the residents, and the pathological perspectives of the perpetrators.

Another painful account of murder and genocide, the book focuses and the now Ukrainian town of Buczacz, mainly from 1900 onward through World War II.  I have read many books on the Holocaust, World War II, the Soviet Union, Armenia, and the war in Bosnia and the Balkans. But for me the poignancy in Bartov’s book is its focus on this single town, and how the perpetration of torture, murder, and genocide switched hands, but continued unabated, with whichever conquering army was in control of the region. No matter if Ukrainians or Poles were in charge carrying out their nationalistic agendas, there was murder and genocide, with Jews always a target. And once the Nazis marched in, they found ready perpetrators within all three “ethnic” groups in the town, with Poles and Ukrainians working alongside the Nazis, and complicit Jews aiding in the roundup, incarceration, and delivery of mostly Jewish residents of Buczacz for murder.

The “normalisation of murder”, its acceptance as an everyday occurrence, as part of life, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book. Bartov’s book is full of quotes directly from sources, relating the exact words and feelings of the murderers, giving eye-witness accounts from perpetrators, “bystanders”, and surviving victims. Equally disturbing is the almost festive atmosphere of the action by German army officers, and to a lesser degree others complicit in the genocide, who were in charge in the town. They were joined by their families, children, and parents in some cases, all of whom were witness to the brutal, daily violence at times taking place at random on the city streets, in broad daylight, in front of passersby. The town became their playground, with anything they wanted at their fingertips. Anyone who questioned them would be immediately killed without a second thought.

The perpetration of genocide in Buczacz, and how it so many residents became complicit, was recreated in Bosnia 50 years later. The actions of those in the early 1940’s in the Ukraine appear almost as a blueprint for the 1990’s. Pitting one “ethnic” group against another; using ethnic, religious, and socio-economic differences; highlighting, elaborating, and in many cases revising history and past injustices; and finally rewarding the murderers with power, and spoils- the houses, possessions, and property of the murdered. This was the formula used by the Nazis in Buczacz and by Milosevic and the Serbs, and eventually the Croatians, in Bosnia.

Bartov’s book is disturbing; there is no way around it.  But, as I paraphrase so often, “if we do not study history, we are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately for so many we DO forget too quickly. Hopefully this book will help make a create a more indelible memory of history that must never be forgotten.



More Balkan Coffee

10 March 2018

As I prepare to return to Sarajevo in a couple of weeks, I have turned more towards drinking Bosnian coffee. Being a coffee snob as I am, I have very specific tastes.  And one of them is for Turkish-style coffee with a Bosnian twist- officially Bosnian coffee in that country.  Made in a dzezva (one of many alternative spellings I have found), a uniquely-shaped coffee maker, Bosnian coffee has brew and drinking methods all its own.

Bosnian coffee, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A beautiful dzezva of Bosnian coffee ready to pour and enjoy. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The drinking method is the most important part for me- I have been instructed that it is all about time.  Taking time to grind the beans, to brew the coffee, and to sit, to look around, to talk with others. Unlike here in the US, where for so many people coffee is something you get in a paper cup at a Starbucks drive-through window, in Bosnia, coffee is drunk with others, sitting in a cafe, watching people and life. I do not recall seeing a single laptop or tablet at a cafe there. Only people sitting together, interacting, or in the case of those alone, watching the interactions of others, be they passersby or at the next table. We should take a lesson from them.


I do not pay attention to many things that are covered in the news, but I do tend to watch what happens in the Balkans.  An article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal (27-28 January, 2018) covers an ongoing dispute between Greece and Macedonia regarding the latter country’s name. The dispute, because of Greece’s resistance to the use of the name, keeps Macedonia out of NATO and the EU, which severely limits their prospects globally.

Greece claims ownership to the name Macedonia because of its reference to their own region of Macedonia. The WSJ article states that the countries may have reached an agreement which amounts to Macedonia changing or adding to its name- “New Macedonia” is one possibility.  I have been holding on to another idea that may solve the problem for years now.  What if Macedonia just offered Greece a few hundred dollars for the name? I mean, this is Greece ware talking about, and I am sure they could use the money.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

27 January 2018

Happy Birthday Mozart! Born 262 years ago today, there is little question that he was one of the most amazing and gifted musicians who ever lived. Read more about him at Wikipedia.

I make it a point to not pay much attention to what is going on in government- my time is much more valuable. Health care is the one issue that I cannot ignore, at least once a year, as I see my family’s insurance bill rise yet again. This year it was slated to go up another $275 per month- and that would have been for coverage only on the Front Range of Colorado where we live and a few other locations! If we traveled to Utah for example we would not have been covered! If someone can explain the logic behind this, and the legality, I would like to hear it.

For some background, before the ACA- the Affordable Care Act (which I like to call the Affordable Care my Ass act), before health care became affordable, my family had very adequate coverage, a low deductible, low copay, and we were covered wherever we went and whatever we did. We paid about $450 a month for that coverage as part of a small business owners’ group plan.  That plan become illegal under the ACA (not enough money in it for Big Business).

Now that health care has become affordable, to get the same coverage would cost us around $2200 a month.  As it stands, this year we chose a short-term plan, the cheapest option available at about $650 per month.  From my perspective it amounts to nothing more than a payoff to keep the government off our backs, as we essentially have no health care. We have a very high deductible, no copay, and nearly everything is paid out of pocket. Basically none of us will go to a doctor this year. But at least we are “covered” beyond our own back yard. If we are injured on a trip outside of Colorado, we do have “coverage”, whatever that means.




I love coffee.  Bosanska Kafa, right from Bosnia and Herzegovina especially.

Sunday morning Bosnain coffee

Sunday morning Bosnian coffee.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that Facebook has acknowledged that use of its service can be harmful to mental health, explaining the vacancy, disinterest, and general ennui so pervasive in society today. Studies outside of Facebook found using the service but failing to interact with other humans face to face- not being able to process the information adequately and properly-  had negative effects on mental health. Imagine that. Facebook countered with their own, internal research that showed the answer to such lack of interaction with others and said negative mental effects could be remedied by, are you ready for this, spending more time of Facebook! I will keep my eyes open for the publication of their future studies. Perhaps they will join with the tobacco industry and find that smoking is actually healthy once again. Or maybe they will start peddling alcohol and drugs to their… users. Hey kids, remember that users are losers! Don’t use drugs! (Or Facebook.)