So Long Mustafa. A Great artist passes

An excerpt from “Everything for Love,” WC Turck, available on Amazon and at barnesandNoble.com

Mount Trebevich loomed high above the school and city center. Smoke drifted lazily from the Serbian trenches there. Those trenches could see up and down every street and alley in Sarajevo. They weren’t shooting today, despite the clear weather. They didn’t have to. Fear and unpredictability were as formidable to maintaining the siege as bombs and mines and bullets.
It was dusty and cold inside. The walls were covered with graffiti, so much that it seemed like something of a work in progress, a final assertion of a dying city, or the cynical conscience of the world. The building became a living history of lives that faded like echoes. There were declarations of love, calls to revolution, an homage to Che Guevara, filthy words and phrases in a dozen different languages and scripts. There were sketches, cartoons, Rock bands, rap verses, poetry and bits of prophetic wisdom like:

Ever since Tito died the world has gone to shit!
Elvis


Hasan was waiting for us in one of the first floor sculpture studios. The room was empty. Everything that could be burned had been pilfered. The books, desks and easels were all gone. Hasan looked so forlorn surrounded by that emptiness. He looked up smartly as we entered. His face was filled with worry.
“Where have you two been?” he asked.
“It’s my fault,” I said. “I had to deliver some things to a friend at the hospital and we got held up.”
He said we were late to meet with one of Sarajevo’s premiere artists. His name was Mustafa Skolpjak. He lived in the Academy of Arts building across the river. We hurried across the Princip Bridge, the spot where a young Slav nationalist had assassinated the Austrian archduke Ferdinand in 1914, beginning a series of events precipitating the First World War. The academy was an odd looking building with a prominent silver dome. At a glance it appeared abandoned. The tall windows had been blown out and shells had punctured the dome. The once carefully manicured lawns were overgrown with tangled weeds.
The heavy wooden door groaned loudly on its hinges. For a moment we stood in a narrow channel of daylight, illuminating part of a long staircase to one side, and a dark hallway to the other. We followed the hall past deserted studios to the small office where Mustafa lived.
“So would you like to meet Sarajevo’s greatest artist?” Hasan asked.
“Besides you and Nadja?” I winked, with a grin. He chuckled and said something about going into politics as he knocked at the door.
There was a long pause before a shadow disturbed the sliver of light beneath the door. I had read a good deal about Mustafa in the Press back home and was expecting someone fiery and philosophical, someone who exemplified the defiant persistence of the Sarajevo Arts community. Instead the man who opened the door was rather short and kind of dull. He had a thick, brushy mustache and heavy gray stubble. He smiled broadly when he recognized Hasan, though it seemed a terrific effort for him, as though it was not at all a natural act.
In jeans and a beat up leather jacket, his hair somewhat askew, Mustafa was more like a character from a Kerouac novel than anything else. He was quiet, hardly an egoist like Picasso, and certainly not the swashbuckling sort like Hemingway. At first impression Sarajevo’s greatest living artist was rather mundane.
“You’ve gotten big,” he rubbed Sulejman’s head. He invited us inside, apologizing that he had nothing to offer.
Stepping into the studio was like stepping into a small attic crammed with undreamed of treasures. The air was stale like an attic and filled with dust that hung like constellations among nebulous clouds of cigarette smoke. Midday sun flooded through a translucent sheet of UNHCR plastic covering a small window. The light was quickly scattered by abstract constructions of colored glass collected from around the city. Renderings and small paintings covered the walls or were stacked around the room. To one corner a mattress was braced between two burgeoning file cabinets. A tiny sink was filled with dishes and a pair of socks. Below the sink was the obligatory collection of buckets and jugs. At the end of his cluttered desk was a giant stack of magazines and newspapers from around the world. I mentioned that I read articles about him in America.Mustafa_Skopljak_vertikala
”America,” he pondered. He stroked the stubble of his square jaw. “What do they say for me in America?”
“Mostly how you’ve led Sarajevo’s art scene, and how you’ve triumphed and found inspiration in the war.”
“Hmm,” he considered. “I don’t find inspiration in the war. Other people’s words. I only find survival, but that doesn’t pass the time quite so well, and certainly doesn’t feed the soul.”
“All of these magazines and newspapers have stories about Mustafa,” Hasan motioned to the stack on the desk.
“Amazing,” I said.
Mustafa seemed almost ashamed of the attention. “It was only necessary to destroy a nation and murder two hundred thousand people so that I could become famous.”
We all looked to the window as a shell exploded on the mountain. The long, low rumble could be felt through the floor. It shook free more of that ever-present dust, but there was more to the sound. It made Mustafa’s life and talent so fragile and fleeting. Like every other man in the city he was a soldier, and if the Serbs tried to take the city his celebrity would afford him no special privilege. A single bullet or shell could instantly extinguish his rare gift. The artists of Sarajevo were a brave and resilient bunch, but they were also mortal.
We didn’t stay long at the academy. Mustafa was a private man, and despite his graciousness, our visit was something of an intrusion. Besides I was still suffering from the day before and wanted to go home and take a nap.
Hasan was headed back to school. Sulejman wanted to meet his mother at Markale (pronounced MARK-A-LAY), but Hasan didn’t want him to go there alone. The boy begged me to go with him, but I wasn’t really interested. Hasan could see that I was beat and scolded Sulejman about pestering me. With that Sulejman pouted and complained that he was sick and tired of sitting in the house with nothing to do. Out of sympathy I relented.
The Markale outdoor market filled a small square just off Marshal Tito Street, at a place where the street was at its narrowest. Markale was protected on three sides by the high walls of surrounding buildings. It was more than a market. It was an integral part of the city’s social fabric. Neighbors met to swap news and gossip. That simple function was even more important during the war.
Hardly a year had passed since a Serbian mortar slammed into the market killing sixty-eight, but old habits were hard to overcome. Within days of the attack Sarajevans returned to reclaim the market. As Sulejman and I crossed the street it was already jammed beyond capacity with shoppers, beggars and gawkers. I recalled Serbian assertions that the Bosnians had inflated the number of dead by dragging out cadavers. As packed as the market was on any given day it was a miracle that only sixty-eight had died that day.
Shopping was, of course, a relative term in besieged Sarajevo. People were crowded among the tightly packed tables, ogling a pathetic offering of goods. There were putrid looking chicken and pigeon carcasses, some washes with bleach to kill the smell. Not that it mattered. Even at ten or fifteen marks for a scrawny one the price was well out of reach for most. The NEW YORK TIMES some months earlier had celebrated the falling price of food in the city. Over the summer a pound of beef had plummeted from around a hundred Marks to twenty-five. The paper failed to mention that twenty-five marks represented one or two month’s income for most families. Prices fluctuated wildly with the fighting. A single egg might cost a few Marks in the morning, and go for six or eight or ten by afternoon.
Nadja was at the back of the square, looking over a paltry collection of small vegetables grown in the many war gardens that sprang up around the city. I stepped across the small crater punched by the February shell to reach her. It struck in a corner reflecting the full force of the blast into the square, turning tables and body parts into lethal missiles.
Nadja and Hasan had just been paid for the month with a carton of smuggled Drina cigarettes, or roughly the equivalent of one small chicken. She was haggling over a pile of little potatoes, scrawny carrots and some mangy garlic cloves. I gave Nadja a twenty Mark note, but the old Gypsy woman behind the table complained she couldn’t possibly make change for that. Nadja was a shrewd negotiator and managed enough vegetables to make a pot of soup for the next couple of days. She stuffed the precious goods into her tattered purse and, clutching it tightly, hurried out of the market.
“Did we do good?” I asked.
Nadja nodded. “I’m satisfied.
The street opened to a wide boulevard. Cafes had sprouted along sun drenched sidewalks as an assertion of the city’s undying spirit, as if the war was a distant thing. But reminders of the war were never very far away. There was the shriek of a patrolling NATO warplane, a firefight on the mountain and the grating annoyance of a passing UN tank. Just beyond the fringes of the cafes, where patrons chanced a Mark for a moment of normalcy, disowned refugees and the homeless begged for mercy or some small hope from those who had lost both a long time ago. Only the dead or the insane could truly escape the war, and at every given moment everyone in Sarajevo teetered at the edge of one or the other.

So long, Dear Friend

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On the day before our engagement

The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside. Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.

“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”

The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.

“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”
“I was leaving the city tonight.”

“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”

At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”

“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”

“Soon.”

“You don’t sound very happy?”

“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.

“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”

“Ana.”

“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”

“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”

Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”

“I’m not finished yet,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.

“Just war,” Alto replied.

Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room. As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.

“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.

“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”

“It was all a mistake, Emira.”

“Real love is never a mistake.”

“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”

“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”

Later that evening Ana and I went to see her grandmother downtown. Ghostly white clouds drifted silently above the dark city and broken rooftops. I said nothing about leaving, and Ana seemed to be in no mood to confront that eventuality either

A soldier was waiting in the war room when we returned to Ana’s. He was tall and handsome, with broad shoulders and neatly trimmed blond hair. He was still in uniform and dirty from being on the line. He paced the room while his girlfriend looked on with a concerned expression. She was equally stunning by appearance, imbued with the grace and elegance of a dancer. Long golden hair was pulled tightly from her small face. Their expressions were severe and tense. Ana knew why they were there. She checked to be sure no one was on the stairs and closed the door tight.

“Bill, this is my friend Damir.”

I held out a hand but he ignored it. “What has Ana told you about the tunnel?”

“Nothing.” I shrank from his girlfriend’s icy stare. Her name was Nina. She and Ana had gone to school together, and had trained at the same dance school.

“Did she tell you that I work on the tunnel?”

“She never mentioned any names.” I looked at Ana. Her expression spoke of the danger and seriousness of all this.

“Damir,” Nina scowled, “this is a big mistake.”

He waved her off and thought for a moment. “Normally I would not do this. There is a reason that foreigners are forbidden from the tunnel. If the Chetniks learned the location the war could be lost.” He sighed heavily. “However, because of my friendship with Ana I will help you, if you can get there.”

“You understand that if Damir is caught he could be shot,” said Nina. “Will you carry that on your conscience?” She glared accusingly at Ana.

“I will be at the tunnel Monday and Wednesday night,” Damir went to the door. Nina joined him there. His eyes met mine, as though second-guessing his decision. “Do not tell anyone of this.”

They left quickly, Ana and I languishing in the heaviness of their departure.

“Do you trust him?” I asked.

She looked so terribly sad as she nodded. I sighed and checked the time. It was nearly curfew.

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Ana and I in Sarajevo. Happy Anniversary

The sun was a sickly yellow ball suspended in the soupy smoke and haze at the end of the valley. The cold reached out from the shadows of the Austrian quarter. What remained of the day ran as a narrow channel of light along the wide promenade. Further on the Western world gave way to the old Turkish bazaar of Bashcharshija. The line was sudden and unmistakable. Vasha Miskin became Sarachi as neatly laced cobblestones changed to uneven quarry stones. The Western philosophy of anonymous commerce gave way to intimate passageways and narrow alleys interwoven with crooked arteries of small shops and Eastern-style kafanas.

Ana and I crossed from West to East past a cordon of soldiers hunting deserters. Muslim men filled the walled courtyard of the Gazi Husref beg Mosque. Its marvelously tall spire disappeared high above ancient maples shrouding the lane. At the head of the valley, the crumbling walls of the fortress Jekovac looked down upon the city. Autumn leaves fell like snow upon the smooth stones. For a moment any distinction between past and present became irrelevant.

“Such a pretty place,” I remarked.

“You should have seen Sarajevo before the war,” Ana remarked wistfully. “It was so beautiful. We really had everything here. We had the mountains and skiing. In a few hours you could be on the sea. There was opera and Rock music. You could go for Chinese food by the river, see a French film at the theater and stop for coffee in Bashcharshija. And friends… we would all go for parties in the mountains: Serbs, Croats and Muslims. It didn’t matter who you were. None of us had learned to hate each other yet. Guys would play guitar under the stars and everyone would eat and sing and…”

Her words trailed away into some distant and private memory. She looked at me as if something had been stolen from her. “You could be any religion or no religion. We celebrated Hanukah with Jewish friends, Bajram with Muslim neighbors and Orthodox Christmas with Serbs. We were so lucky to see the world with so many different eyes. It was like we could see just a little bit more of God.”

“So what happened?’

Ana only shrugged, as if the weight of the answer was too much to bear.

We wandered through the old Turkish market, definitely but not purposely towards the ruins of the Library. It was once a beautiful building, dominating the end of the valley, where the river cut among the deep gorge on its way to Pale. Ana could not bring herself to look at it, and instead kept her eyes to the ground until we crossed to the river. Incendiary shells from Serb guns had destroyed the library, and with it a treasury of Bosnia’s heritage. The steps where Austria’s Archduke stood before being assassinated in 1914 led to the scorched and blackened shell of a building. Ana hurried onto the bridge, and leaned at the rail. I joined her there an instant later.

“Look,” she said as the setting sun cast a pale orange glow upon the shallow waters of the Miljatcka.

The river ran straight through the city between high stone walls. Buildings crowded to either side. The bridges appeared stacked upon one another. As people moved back and forth across them their long shadows were cast upon the glittering sunlit waters of the river. Pigeons gathered in the stone arches of the Princip Bridge. I looked at Ana, her gaze fixed on the city. The city and sunset were reflected in her eyes.

“It’s beautiful,” I said softly, as much about the city as for her.

I could hardly take my eyes off her and would have been content to remain there forever. Ana’s shoulder fell quite casually against mine. The energy passing with that touch was every bit as powerful and fluid as river.

“Do you have a girlfriend somewhere?” she asked.

“No not really,” I said.

“You’re not married, are you?”

“Definitely not,” I laughed.

“How come? There isn’t something wrong with you?” she crossed the bridge and I followed.

“No.”

The cobbled streets of Bistrik climbed steeply before us. This was old Sarajevo, a collection of mostly Muslim neighborhoods called Mahalas. The Mahalas were almost separate communities unto themselves, collections of homes where clear distinctions between neighbor and relation had long ago dissolved. There were houses and families that went back generations, even centuries. Ana was a stranger here as much as I was. The odd looks from doorways and windows only confirmed that fact.

“Be careful what you say here,” Ana warned at barely a whisper. “Many here were supporters of Tsatso.”

I knew the name well In the first weeks and months of the war Musan “Tsatso” Topalovich and other would-be warlords had helped rally the city’s defense. His men fought bloody, wasteful battles from the trenches a few hundred meters above Bistrik. But his forced conscriptions, executions and brutality against Serbs and Croats in the city soon besieged the city from within as well. A government crackdown finally ended his reign of terror. Doubtless, Tsatso’s ad hoc defense those first days and months had save the city, but at a terrible cost. For the Muslims of Bistrik, however, Tsatso was not a criminal but a savior who had saved them from annihilation.

“But Tsatso is dead now,” I observed.

“Here he is a martyr and a hero.”

“Is he a war criminal or a hero, in your opinion?”

The question made her visibly uncomfortable. She kept looking to the darkened houses.

“It is best that we not talk about such things, especially not here, and especially not us.”

I didn’t pursue the subject, seeing how it upset her so. We found a set of stone steps and paused for a moment to look out across the city. Bashcharshija was laid out before us, the red tiled rooftops set ablaze by the final assertions of daylight.

“So how come you never got married?” We started down the uneven steps.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I don’t think I ever will. I have this foolishly unrealistic idea of what marriage is supposed to be: totally equal, friends, lovers, soul mates. I know it’s an unattainable expectation, but I couldn’t be happy if I settled for something less.”
“If you hate it so much why not change your expectation?”

“I don’t know,” I said, a bit forlorn. “Guess I’m just hopeless, and part of me thinks I’ll actually find what I’m looking for.”

“But if it causes you so much pain?’

“Right now I’ve got no reason to change. All I have to worry about is my cat.”

“A cat?’

“A big fat one!” I opened my arms wide.

“How big?” she gasped.

“Well not so big. Seems like it for how much he eats.”

“And his name?”

“Manhattan.”

“Like the city?”

“Like the movie: Woody Allen. I was watching it when a neighbor came over with this little black and white kitten. I had no interest in it, but the kitten sat on my shoulder through the whole movie, and by then I was hooked.”

“Fall in love fast, eh?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“And you have no kids?”

“None that I know of. What about you, ever see yourself married?’

“I told you, my parents are divorced. They had an awful marriage. The whole thing really jaded me to marriage.”

“Really?’

“I think that a man expands himself in marriage. He expects to have all his needs filled. He wants a maid, a cook, a mother and a whore. A woman tends to sacrifice to fill that need. She loses herself to become those things. She gives up her need and identity for him, and freedom for her children. That’s what happened to my mom, and I don’t want to lose myself.”

“What about children?”

She smiled mischievously. “None that I know of.”

Our eyes met, and for the first time I thought it would be nice to kiss her. I felt sure she was thinking the same thing, but I blushed and looked away. From the corner of my eye I could see that Ana was blushing too.

We turned down a long sloping lane bounded to one side by the towering walls of the Sarajevo Pivara, or brewery. A fire hose carried water from the Pivara to a gurgling spigot. The natural spring within the walls of the brewery proved to be one of the few reliable sources of water for the entire city. There was a line of haggard looking folks waiting to fill water jugs at the spigot. Ana stopped at the top of the lane. Her face darkened with a memory.

“I hate this place,” she said quietly. “We came here for water the first year of the war, my sister and me. It was a dangerous time. Nobody trusted anybody. A lot of Muslim refugees were coming into the city to escape the Serbs, and they needed some to place to live. Some Muslims in our neighborhood wanted to put us out of our place because our mother is a Croat and my father is a Serb. They wanted to give our place to some refugees. They would see us here waiting in line for water, with the rest of the city, and calls us Chetnik whores. Sometimes others would join in, cursing us, spitting on us or spilling our water.”

“You must hate them?”

“You must remember that real Chetniks were murdering and raping thousands of Muslims, and the Croatian Army refused to help break the siege. There were no frontlines, not as they are now. It still wasn’t certain that the Serbs would not take the city, and they found some Serbs in the city who were preparing for that. There were Serbs in the city with death lists of Muslim neighbors. Many people in the city simply disappeared. We were just two young girls. One word and we would just disappear. So we would stand there and cry, and wait for our turn for water.”

Ana led me to the courtyard of a small Mosque. Dozens of stone markers could be seen through a small embrasure, the stones sinking gradually beneath deepening grass. The branches of a willow hung in mourning above the stones, lightly brushing their round tops. Ana pressed her cheeks to the iron bars of the embrasure. I put my face close to hers, pretending to look in at the courtyard when I was really looking at her. I breathed in her perfume.

“…but the rain is still pouring down as it has for days,” I said softly, relishing in her nearness, “and the pigeons coo in the attic. They announce the day that has not yet come. My hand becomes stiff from holding the pen, the candle spits and sparks a little as it staves off death. I look upon these rows of words, tombstones of my thoughts, and do not know if I have killed them or given them to life.”

“Mesha Selimovich,” she said, surprised.

“Dervish and Death, my favorite Bosnian novel.”

“You know of Bosnian writers?”

“A little.”

“My grandmother knew him.”

We were very near the river again. The city was quiet, the streets nearly empty…

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21 years ago today

Excerpt from the memoir by Revolution and Beer’s WC Turck “Everything for Love.” Dedicated to my wife of 21 years…41e+6tsee9L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_

We hope, we hope, we hope. We hope, because it is the Knight that does battle with the cold and agonizing emptiness that surrounds and fills us. It is that emptiness which, in the absence of hope, is poised to crush and devour us. Only hope, and its cousin, love, defends us. They are comfort to our hearts and a curse to our intellect. They are our salvation and our burden. We need hope to exist, and therefore we drink it in madly. Hope was in desperate supply in Sarajevo, and it was the one thing I was determined to give Ana, but I wondered if it was proper to offer such a thing. It felt like a fertile branch floating upon an uncertain ocean. Was there a promise of approaching shores or of the unrelenting sea?

There were few sights that spoke of the siege as graphically as the hillside cemetery above the soccer stadium. Then thousand wooden markers, ten thousand mounds of earth, ten thousand dead nearly bisected the city. It was a community in it’s own right, if one defines a community by its common bonds and needs. Bound by death, their only need was remembrance, for they had long ago lost the need for justice. New graves quickly overtook the old ones and replaced the grove of tall willow, pine and maple that once shrouded the cemetery. The bones of those older graves lay scattered on the muddy ground. The city of the dead was slowly taking over the places for the living.

I detoured among the graves that evening on the way to Ana’s. I often walked among them trying to find some commonality among them: between them and me. I read the names, if there were any, and the dates of their births and deaths. Some were decorated with curiously personal trinkets, flowers, poems, letters, children’s toys and more. Many were simply forgotten, or were simple mounds with no marker or name. BOSNIA-SARAJEVO FOOTBALL STADIUM

Near the stadium I found the grave of IRMA GRABOVICA, born 1982 and died 1993. Nearby lay HUSEIN KAROVICH, born in 1938. Beside the grave of twenty-two year old IZET BEGICH were two anonymous graves. Further on PAVO BLAZHEVICH, A Catholic Croat lay beside ZLATIMIR TEZICH, a Serb, and KASIM MEZHUR, a Muslim. Kasim and Zlatomir’s graves were so close together I wondered if in life they were friends.

It was quite dark when I reached Ana’s building. The night was brisk and moonless night. The Milky Way was bright and splashed across the sky. Ana waved from the window and hurried downstairs and into my arms. She was eager for me to meet a friend who had been crippled in the first days of the war. A battle erupted northeast of the city and spread along the lines. Despite the fighting we headed for Bare, a working class neighborhood on the northern edge of the city.

Bare was in a fold two blocks below Ana’s building. It was pressed between a communist-era hillside cemetery and the Serb lines on an adjacent ridge. Ana and I were thankful for such a dark night, as the squat, widely spaced apartment blocks were fully exposed to the lines.

We went quietly, never speaking above a whisper and tensed for the punch of a sniper’s bullet that would come quick and silent. There wasn’t much in the way of cover, just the occasional wreck amid trash strewn empty lots.

“Chetniks,” Ana whispered, “no more than three hundred meters. There is no wind tonight. We must be careful. They can hear everything up there.”

“Who are we visiting?”

“My good friend Cico. It is important that you meet him.”

ZIP! A bullet ripped the air close by. Ana and I were instantly racing for the cover of a nearby doorway. The night fell silent once more, but Ana and I refused to move. We were holding tight to one another. I could feel her heart beating madly through her coat. There was terror in her eyes. Her face, half consumed in shadow, was suddenly pale. billturckbosnianwar

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“My nerves. I’ll be fine. I think it’s safe now, but we should hurry.”

Cico’s building was close. The building was dark, but for the flickering glow of candles through translucent UNHCR plastic covering the windows at the back of the building. We ran until we reached the open door. Ana called up and a huge figure appeared at the top of the stairs. Candle poured light across a man’s face.

Even from the bottom of the stairs I could tell that Marko Markovich, Cico’s father, was a good soul, a beer and pretzels sort of guy. The candlelight painted the map of a difficult life upon his simple face. He leaned over the rail to help light our way with the candle. A welcoming smile came to him when he recognized Ana.

“Hey, Ana! Kako ste? Shta ima?” His rich deep voice filled the stairwell. Woven within was the elation of a man momentarily rescued from despair.

“Nemam nishta,” nothing much, Ana replied breathlessly. “Kako ste vi?”

“Dobro sam,” very well, he nodded meeting us on the stairs. He greeted Ana with a huge one-armed hug, nearly lifting her off her feet. “Ah, the daughter I always wanted!”

Ana introduced me. Marko welcomed me with a big handshake and hearty pat on the shoulder.

“Come, come,” he said. “It’s warmer inside. You must forgive me but I have nothing to offer.”

The apartment was tiny, much smaller than Ana’s. It was cluttered like most wartime apartments, and a bit of a mess, for which the sweet-natured Serb kept apologizing as he lumbered around the place. We found a seat on an old couch. Beautiful red and black Oriental blankets were thrown and tucked over the most worn places. The room had a strange character, as though it was as much a memory of someone that had passed as anything else. There was an air of clumsy preservation, in which a woman’s touch had been staged or recreated. That sense hid at the edges of the candlelight, like a memory fading with time. Ana was expectant, less about Cico and more as if there was something she needed to confirm here.

He said something about the last place being wrecked by a missile, and they had not settled into this place yet. Ana and I shared a smile. Marko was as awkward as a schoolboy with a crush.

“You will have some tea, both of you,” he said, leading us by candlelight through a narrow hall into the living room.

“Please, no,” said Ana. “You have much too far to go for water here.”

“Nonsense. It’s freezing outside.”

“A small cup then,” she relented.

Ana and Cico were friends before the war, but not as close as they were now. They lost touch for a while. It was then that Cico’s life changed forever.

The first weeks of the war Cico was riding in a car with some friends. One of them was playing with a gun when it went off and blew away part of Cico’s left foot. It was a terrible wound, but at the hospital it hardly compared with those missing arms and legs, with guts hanging out or faces shredded. There were dozens as badly wounded as Cico and dozens more that were hurt much worse, with casualties mounting by the hour. What remained of the hospital staff was hopelessly overwhelmed. The best he could hope for was a simple bandage. Infection set in quickly and the doctors did their best to save as much of the leg as possible, but without the proper medicines all they could do was amputate more and more of his leg in a vain effort to stay ahead of the infection. After the last operation doctors told him he should be prepared to lose the entire leg.

I looked around the room and remarked how sad it seemed. It was as if another soul was in the room with us.

“It’s Cico’s mom. You could feel her even stronger in the last place. She died when he was small of kidney failure. She was in terrible agony…I just can’t imagine.”

We could hear Cico on the stairs. He was hollering at Ana for interrupting the best pool game he’d had in weeks. He clumsily negotiated the clutter in the hall on a pair of silver metal crutches. He was tall with thick dark hair and bright playful eyes. Cico had a huge grin on his face. It dissolved the moment he saw me sitting beside Ana. Our introduction was no less awkward. He was very obviously jealous.

They caught up with neighborhood gossip. One girl was a refugee in Germany, and a kid from school had been killed on the line a few days earlier.

There was shelling to the south. The dull rumble drew concentric rings across the surface of my tea. Now and again Ana would touch my leg and ask if I was all right in English. Each time Cico took note. He leaned to Ana.

“Why don’t we hit the American over the head and steal his money,” he smirked in Bosnian. Ana fought the urge to laugh.

“Really?” she replied.

“And why not?”

“Cico, he understands everything you say.”

His eyes went wide with surprise. “Everything?’

“Everything,” she said. He looked sharply at me and blushed as I nodded.

“I, uh, I only joke,” he stammered.

“That’s okay,” I winked. “Ana suggested we mug you if you won big in pool!”

From that moment Cico and I were friends. Ana seemed terribly relieved and went back to her conversation. Gossip was the only real entertainment left in the city, and the scandalous stuff he had about who was sleeping with who was golden. For my part I marveled at Ana and the intensity she brought to every relationship. In her embrace I knew I could forever be safe from the treachery of the world. As for Ana and Cico, what passed between them was rich and pure, and much deeper than simple friendship. For Cico, by the way he looked at her and hung on every word, I knew it was nothing short of love.


Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray with Jack Hammond and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “A Tragic Fate: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Risking Everything for Love, 20 years ago today…

An excerpt from the memoir by WC Turck, Everything for Love, available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com:

I had one last chance, and it was a long shot. In fact, it was unlikely to work out the way I hoped, but what choice did I have? If it failed I knew that I would lose Ana forever.
I barged into the marriage bureau startling the women there. One of them screamed and hurried to find a guard. The others could do little more that protest feebly as I went to the cabinet and pulled out the marriage file on the British journalists. In an instant I had it open and had my journal out.
“You must leave here or we will have you arrested,” one woman complained. I ignored her and quickly copied the citizenship document.
“One document can say both things?” I asked. The blond-haired woman nodded. Johnson at the embassy had already said that I could get the citizenship paper. That was the easy part. Near the center of the page I inserted the line, “In so far as this embassy is aware Mr. Turck is not married.” Nothing about the statement was untrue. I wasn’t married, and the embassy had no idea one way or another. It was a long shot, but it was all that I had.
There was shooting in the plaza again. In fact there was a lot of shooting, but there was no time to worry about it now. I had to get back to the embassy no matter what, but as I stepped from the bombed-out storefront two bullets struck the wall beside my head. I dove headfirst back through the window and crawled up against the wall.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, my frightened breaths exploding in the empty shop.
Every heartbeat thundered in my ears. I laughed, realizing how close I’d come to being killed. Fear was a weight I could ill afford, that is if I really wanted to be with Ana, but it was a weight that kept me from moving for some time. I fought it and threw myself into the open, letting blind momentum decide my fate. I was immediately at a dead run. Ahead of me, past the hotel and a Ukrainian APC on the road, death stalked from a thousand empty windows. A rifle shot thundered in the plaza. I shouted and strained to cover the last few yards before collapsing against the back of the hotel.
It was dark and cool inside the hotel. The place was empty, as usual. A few journalists kept to the shadows and relative safety of a small bar at the back of the cavernous lobby. Bosnian snipers were firing across the river into Grbavica now. The gunfire reverberated with muffled, hollow reports, like the dull throbbing of a kettledrum.
I hated it there. The hotel was a monument to the hypocrisy of war. The Serbs left the place more or less alone, despite that nearly every other building in and around the plaza had been destroyed or heavily damaged. The upper floors were gutted, and the Serbs took occasional pot shots at the front of the building to rattle and warn the foreign Press and diplomats who stayed there.
The Holiday Inn had always had something of an unsavory reputation. The squat yellow and peach building looked as if it had been dropped by accident among some of Sarajevo’s best known and most beautiful architecture. There were rumors that the owners had made some arrangement with the Serbs and local mafia. The relatively cosmetic damage to the place only tended to bolster its nefarious reputation.
The American delegation to Bosnia was on the third floor. It was called an embassy, but only in the loosest possible terms. Next door to the embassy the Newsweek correspondent, a rather miserable looking fellow, was working on a story. A Bosnian guard slept in a chair in front of the embassy. A fully loaded assault rifle threatened to spill from his lap. I quietly slipped past the guard into the embassy, surprising several intelligence officers who scattered quickly as I entered. A tall blond diplomat stepped forward, blocking me until they were gone.
“Dave Johnson(not his real name), First Secretary.” he said with all the sincerity of a used car salesman. He listened impatiently to my story. “So, you’re getting married. Fantastic! That’s just great. No problem, we can give you whatever you need.”
Johnson gave the paper a quick review and nodded.
“I’m sure this will be fine,” he said. “We’ll type it up. Why don’t you come back in the morning?”
“Dave,” I said at the door, “do me a favor and get an office in a better neighborhood. Every time I come here I get shot at. I’m starting to get a bad impression of Sarajevo!”
There was a woman I knew in the lobby. Her name was Fahira, an impeccably dressed business-like woman in her mid forties. Her reddish blond hair was flawless, and held in place by copious amounts of hairspray, that must have cost her a fortune to attain through the black market. Fahira was sitting before one of the hotel’s tall windows staring out at the desolation of her city. She was there most days, hoping to make money as a translator, but no one cared about Bosnian much anymore. I sat down beside her, and knew better than to ask her how business was. She hadn’t worked in many months and was growing more discouraged by the day.
“I thought you might have gone by now,” she said, without looking at me.
“Soon, I hope.” I said nothing of Ana.
“I think the war is lost.” She said dully. I didn’t reply. “When the world no longer cares what happens here, when the Chetniks know the world is looking the other way they will come and slaughter us.”
I let the topic go. I was in no mood for politics.
“How is your daughter?”
“She asks for things. What do I tell her?” Fahira pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. She counted them and thought better of having one. She put them away and huffed. “I think that I have ruined her. When everyone else was starving, I could still afford food. We always had money, you know? Now we have no food, nothing. I almost wish that something terrible would happen, then perhaps someone will come and I will make a little money for her.”
I sat with her a while longer, though we didn’t say much. She did most of the talking. I stood and looked out into the plaza. The sun was setting and I didn’t want Ana to worry.
“Well,” I said, not looking at her, “good luck to you.” Fahira nodded slightly and looked off across the plaza.
Rain came that evening, falling over the city as a soft sigh that grew to a gentle whisper. By the time Ana and I left for Nadja and Hasan’s it was pouring. It was a cold autumn rain, that danced upon tiled rooftops and gurgled into failing and overburdened gutters…


The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.


CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Saying Goodye in Sarajevo’s Bombed-out National Library, an excerpt from Everything for Love, a memoir

“This is such a sad place,” said Ana.
She paused at the rubble-strewn steps of the National Library. The city was silent, lulled into a somber peace by a low shroud of funeral gray clouds. They made the archways and galleries of the bombed-out library as deep and mysterious as a cave. There was a stillness to the valley, a muddled quality that left the world distant and out of focus, like an old photograph.
There was a sentry at the corner with a Kalashnikov slung over one shoulder. He looked like a guy from the neighborhood. He watched us curiously for a moment before turning away from the dust thrown up by a passing tank. Ana climbed the steps slowly and went inside without a word. I found her in the shadowy rotunda. Her eyes were closed, face turned upwards to the lattice of the broken ceiling.
I paused beneath an archway, not wishing to disturb such an intimate moment. The air was heavy with the scent of burnt and rotting books. Their ashes lay in heaps among the oriental arches and terraces. Serb shells had shattered many of the massive marble columns and a great pile of rubble stood in the center of the rotunda. High above the thundering wing beats of pigeons disturbed the moment. Ana looked at me, her expression weighted by something.
“Will you tell me now?’ she pleaded. All morning I had teased her about a surprise.
“Let me take a picture of you first.”
“Then you will tell me?”
“Maybe,” I laughed.
“I hate you,” she pouted.
“Be that as it may,” I snapped a picture of her, “but I still won’t tell you.”
“Pease, Bill, don’t be so cruel!”
The more insistent she became the more obstinate I became. Not that the surprise was so great. Rather it was more a gift of hope, a way of making the distance between us a little less painful. Ana danced across the rotunda, framed like an angel in the lens of my camera.
“Did you come to this place before the war?” I asked.
“Oh, it was such a beautiful place. It was, it was like walking into someone’s soul, or the soul of humanity. Ideas, truth and history called from every corner, begging them to take their secrets into your heart. There was a huge painting over there, and books there and there and there. I would often sit in those galleries, sometimes reading, sometimes just looking out at the river and mountains.”
Ana turned suddenly and did her best to feigned anger. “Bill, I really must tell you that I hate surprises. Do you really wish for me to hate you?”
“Nice try.” I snapped another photo.
“Why do you torture me so? I swear I will never speak to you again.” She found it impossible to keep from smiling.
“You’re like a child!”
“Oh no, I can be much worse.”
I lowered the camera and went to her. “Ana, do you believe in Christmas miracles?”
“Bill,” she protested, “don’t play games.”
“I left some money with Nadja and Hasan. Not much, but it should be enough for something on Christmas.” Tears welled in her eyes. Ana held me tight.
“I love you so much,” she whispered.
“You have come to mean so much to me,” I said. “Leaving you behind, it will soothe my broken heart to know that I made you smile one last time. Just remember me, okay?”
“I will remember you, I promise.” She kissed my neck. Her tears were wet and cool.
We climbed down from the library into the gray blue cityscape. Gunfire echoed as we walked home along the river. A crowd waited for a tram near the Princip Bridge, spread out along the wall should a shell land among them. From Marin Dvor came the fevered wail of an ambulance. A convoy passed an argument in a window. Numbed and shell-shocked soldiers wandered empty streets, as bitter and aimless as the roaming dogs long ago abandoned by destitute owners. A young man missing a leg hobbled along an alley to an uncertain future. Children were being born blocks from the line where men were dying. Young boys and girls learned the thrill and pain of first love, while a Gypsy family lived out of a storefront and cooked over an open flame. A crazy man ran naked down the street. A parent learned of their son’s death, while a couple made love next door. All of this in a world barely one by three miles long. Ana hugged me close and said that she felt like Robinson Crusoe.


CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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20 Years Ago Today I Asked Bosnian Artist Ana Tosic to Marry me. It Almost Didn’t Happen…

At curfew she walked with me to the end of her street. There was fighting on Igman. We watched flashes across the dark face of the mountain. There was worry in Ana’s face.
“You must leave soon, Bill.”
I studied her face, mulling over a thought. “What if I stayed?”
“Don’t be foolish.”
“I love you, Ana. What if we were meant to…”
She quickly cut me off. “If we were meant to be together we would have met in Chicago or Paris or anywhere but here.”
I sighed heavily and looked again at the mountain. She was right, of course.
“I talked with a friend the other day,” she said. “He works on the tunnel in Dobrinja. He says that if you can get there he will help you across to Butmir.”
“Ana, I…”
“It is very dangerous, but if you have no other choice.”
The time had come, and I decided that night, as I evaded the police on the way to Hasan’s, that I would leaving the following night. Ana’s friend would be at the tunnel and, with a bit of luck, would help me across. I would go to see her in the afternoon to say goodbye. It would be quick, like tearing off a bandage.
The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside. Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.
“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”
The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.
“Little boys with dangerous toys,” I remarked.
“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”
“I was leaving the city tonight.”
“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”
At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”
“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”
“Soon.”
“You don’t sound very happy?”
“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.
“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”
“Ana.”
“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”
“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”
Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”
“I’m not finished yet,” he said.
“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.
“Just war,” Alto replied.
Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room. As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.
“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.
“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”
“It was all a mistake, Emira.”
“Real love is never a mistake.”
“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”
“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”
Later that evening Ana and I went to see her grandmother downtown. Ghostly white clouds drifted silently above the dark city and broken rooftops. I said nothing about leaving, and Ana seemed to be in no mood to confront that eventuality either.
Ana’s grandmother Angela lived in a five-story building near Bashcharshija. There were no lights in the stairwell. Tall windows on each landing allowed starlight and offered a magnificent view of Trebevich, but also made us targets for snipers. Angela was expecting us.
She appeared on the landing at her door beckoning us to hurry. She greeted me warmly and ushered us inside. Despite her age and the hardships of the war, Angela remained a lovely and refined woman. I saw not a small amount of her in Ana. They were both proud and mannered almost to a fault. A wool shawl was thrown around her shoulders, and there were hints of silver in her curly dark hair. By candlelight her skin had the luster of fine alabaster.
The apartment was small but inviting and warm. The window in the tiny front room held a stunning view of Trebevich and the frontline. Despite the fact that the walls of the building were peppered with bulletholes, Angela’s windows had miraculously remained intact. The room was kept like a museum, with a beautiful espresso colored loveseat, and an impressive library of Bosnian and Yugoslav literature kept under lock and key behind bevelled glass doors. Opposite the windows and mountain, and easily the centerpiece to this magnificent place, stood a turn-of-the-century Austrian writing table.
The walls were filled with original oil paintings by some of Yugoslavia’s best artists. Among them were lithographs and several sketches of a nude girl I felt sure were of Angela done many years before. The candlelight warmed the dark wood of exquisite Austrian antiques. In glimpses it was almost as if we had stepped into another time. There were keepsakes from around the world, and posters that hinted at Angela’s career as a Yugoslav film producer for movies like “Tito and Me,” “A Time for Gypsies,” and “When father was Away on Business.”
I could feel her studying me as we sipped hot tea. She seemed to scrutinize every word and gesture, as if to gauge some clue to my motives. Ana seemed to notice as well, and seemed terribly worried over her grandmother’s opinion, much as she was with Cico. Years of sizing up opponents in the cutthroat system of the Yugoslav Communist Party had made her adept at identifying and neutralizing threats. For the moment I was a threat to her granddaughter. Despite that, I found that I both admired and feared Angela. As if sensing this, Ana would reach over now and then to touch my knee and let me know that everything was all right.
Angela produced a small plate of palachinka, jam-filled Bosnian crepes. She delighted in watching as Ana and I devoured the entire plate. It was, quite frankly, the only substantive food either of us had eaten in days. Angela had gone to great expense to make them.
She usually kept a very tight, indeed miserly, reign on her finances, which were dwindling steadily as the war continued. In the late Eighties, following the death of Tito, as the Yugoslav Dinar began to crumble, Angela wisely converted much of her cash to German Marks. She knew that the cash starved government and corrupt officials would plunder the state-controlled banks. If war broke out the Dinar would be worthless.
We stayed only a short time. Angela begged us to visit her again. She rarely had visitors any longer, and the cold and war had aggravated her arthritis so that she almost never left the apartment. Neither of us let on that I would be leaving soon. We could hardly bear the thought ourselves. We hurried past the windows on the stairs as tracers spit from trenches on the mountain. Down on the street Ana held me tight.
“How did I do?” I asked.
“You were great. She really liked you. I knew that she would.”
A soldier was waiting in the war room when we returned to Ana’s. He was tall and handsome, with broad shoulders and neatly trimmed blond hair. He was still in uniform and dirty from being on the line. He paced the room while his girlfriend looked on with a concerned expression. She was equally stunning by appearance, imbued with the grace and elegance of a dancer. Long golden hair was pulled tightly from her small face. Their expressions were severe and tense. Ana knew why they were there. She checked to be sure no one was on the stairs and closed the door tight.
“Bill, this is my friend Damir.”
I held out a hand but he ignored it. “What has Ana told you about the tunnel?”
“Nothing.” I shrank from his girlfriend’s icy stare. Her name was Nina. She and Ana had gone to school together, and had trained at the same dance school.
“Did she tell you that I work on the tunnel?”
“She never mentioned any names.” I looked at Ana. Her expression spoke of the danger and seriousness of all this.
“Damir,” Nina scowled, “this is a big mistake.”
He waved her off and thought for a moment. “Normally I would not do this. There is a reason that foreigners are forbidden from the tunnel. If the Chetniks learned the location the war could be lost.” He sighed heavily. “However, because of my friendship with Ana I will help you, if you can get there.”
“You understand that if Damir is caught he could be shot,” said Nina. “Will you carry that on your conscience?” She glared accusingly at Ana.
“I will be at the tunnel Monday and Wednesday night,” Damir went to the door. Nina joined him there. His eyes met mine, as though second-guessing his decision. “Do not tell anyone of this.”
They left quickly, Ana and I languishing in the heaviness of their departure.
“I’m sorry for Nina,” Ana rubbed my chest. “She comes off like a bitch. It’s just that she worries for him terribly.”
I nodded. “Do you trust him?”
She looked so terribly sad as she nodded. I sighed and checked the time. It was nearly curfew.


CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Everything you know about World War I is a lie: On the hundredth anniversary?

Splash! I was standing in the very spot where 18 year old Gavrilo Princip fired his 1903 .32 caliber Colt at Archduke Ferdinand and his wife 84 years earlier. It had just rained, a string of storms that doused the Sarajevo valley, leaving the Miljacka River across the road rushing and ruddy from mountain runoff. Suddenly a dark blue VW Rabbit rounded the corner, hardly 5 feet away, splashing a puddle and soaking the front of my jeans. 16 years later that moment is as clear now as it was the moment it happened. All that has changed is the recrimination for being too surprised to yell something at the guy. 4608792098

I stepped across the oily puddle. The street there, the trees and old Mosque across the river, the narrow and cobblestoned Latin Bridge, arching lazily across the canaled river, the buildings along the river are surprisingly similar to how they appeared that day. There are scars from the most recent war. The city hall, where the Archduke visited that day, and from which he was leaving when assassinated had been gutted and still stood nearly in ruins a few blocks away. As I stepped into the street I acted out Princip’s fateful step that day. I could feel the tension as he lifted the gun from his side, feel the sweat of his palm on the grated metal grip, and feel the weight of the weapon.

I wondered, as he looked down the barrel, the Archduke’s open auto paused momentarily in front of him at the corner, was he focused on the royal couple or on the end of the pistol. One thing is certain, Princip held the weapon with relative confidence. He squeezed off two shots in quick succession. Both hit their mark. He was unaffected it seems by the explosion from the barrel and the kick of the weapon, which would have been small. Accounts have the young man calmly raising the gun to his head. In his trial, Princip was calm and forthcoming.

The 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, his wife and unborn child in Sarajevo has passed, both on the calendar and through the filter of false history. Too simply the killing is considered the start of the First World War. I use to brag about standing on the spot where the War started, culminating in the deaths of between 16 and 18 million people. It is not the place where the war began. On the 100th anniversary I have also heard musings on whether the war might have been avoided. Allow me to dispel just a few misconceptions.

First, the war was not inevitable, sort of. The Austrians would have preferred not to go to war against Serbia, but Germany pressed for war, promising to support the Austrians. The Germans feared pan Slavism binding Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia. The crafted with the Austrians a 10 point ultimatum which they believed the Serbian government would reject. It was an all or nothing demand. If the Serbs quibbled on even one of the points it would mean war. The ultimatum was a direct assault and violation of Serbian sovereignty. They could only refuse, or so the Germans believed. Instead the Serbs accepted 9 points and offered the 10th for international arbitration. The Germans pressed for war. War began, not because of Gavrilo Princip, but because of Germany. It began in July, on the 28th of July 1914 to be exact.

The Germans betrayed their Austrian cousins. They all but left the Austrians to fight a war on two fronts. Ultimately the Germans opened multiple fronts. The Serbs and Austrians slogged back and forth in the Serbian hills and mountains for 4 years.

The conspirators, including Princip, were not fanatic. Wild holding strong beliefs, they were more animated by politics and freeing fellow slavs from Austrian occupation. Vaso Čubrilović, an ardent Serbian nationalist, a professor at the University of Belgrade, was the last conspirator to pass away in Bosnia in 1990. Rather they were average young men, perhaps exceedingly so. My mother in law was close with his niece. Vaso liked his Turkish coffee and was understated when asked about his infamous background.

The war was phenomenally costly in terms of civilian deaths. Some 8 million innocents died. It is likely the number is much higher, owing to the rudimentary census and birth records. This number is overlooked in most history texts. Simply the number is misleading and used to mislead casual students of history. The mythology of the war is of troops slugging it out in more or less static muddy trenches. The war devastated Europe, caused mass starvation and disease and was notable for mass atrocities. Serbian civilians alone numbered almost 1million.

Details, right? Why quibble over details? But the details are important. They are critical to every war, and necessary to the memory and justice of every innocent killed. They are the facts and details of a crime, which is how we should view war. Not as some noble cause, but as a breakdown and failure in our humanity. Each of those victims is entitled to justice. For now justice only comes as an accurate record of the truth. Anything less, any simplification makes us all a party to a crime.

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Bridges through Time

This weekend passed, in near complete absentia a sad, but important historical anniversary. Twenty two years ago, April 6th 1992, the siege of Sarajevo began with the Bosnian War. The siege of Sarajevo remains the longest siege in human history. As each year passes I am saddened that the crime and tragedy of those years is forgotten a bit more. I should not be entirely surprised. Humanity seems doomed on a future of forgetting the lessons of the past, which is why the progress of our species seems altogether slow and even regressive when it comes to the protection of human rights. Bu this is not really a lesson in history, but rather in the personal nature of history.

You see, hardly more than a year and a half into the war and the siege of I arrived in the Balkans as a witness to the genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims and to the destruction of a vibrant and passionate culture. 1911975_10203143784826519_442693471_nIt would become a fateful journey through the perils and handicaps of my own ignorance and shortcomings, and prove a salvation as well. During the second year of the war, on a dusty and sunny October afternoon in the heart of war torn Sarajevo I met and soon thereafter married a beautiful Bosnian artist.

It seemed easy in the drama and tumult of the war, where she and her family had suffered for so long to play the part of would be savior. There was nothing I could do to mitigate the war the privations, violence, fear and horror. I simply had to be, and there was a certain hope imbued in that being. One thing was certain though, and that was that I was hope for her, and that from the moment of my promise to marry her I made a covenant with god, or the universe or simply myself to care for her all the days of my life.

It was easy to be hope for her then. Things change however, but I still resolve to be that hope. Ana several years ago was diagnosed with Lupus, Hoshimoto’s disease and fibromyalgia, piled on top of a severe Thyroid disorder. When I was laid off last year I also, due to a dear friend was offered an unpaid gig on a radio show. Instantly I found I had a talent for broadcasting, and at 50 decided that I might well pursue this towards some independence for both of us, and for some hope for Ana.

Last summer there arose a fateful meeting at and Iraq Veterans Against the War cookout in a city lot one evening. An acquaintance had a small radio station and transmitter that were essentially not being utilize, at least not to anything approaching their potential. Being passionate about the disappearance of independent media in our nation I saw an opportunity build a media reflecting the city I knew, and to once again be that hope for Ana.

The station built itself practically. With some great talent already there, activists and artists from around Chicago threw their heart and soul into the project. In just 4 short months the station went from 1667 people engaging our website to 12,000 in March. And now I am trying to be hope for them as we build something truly special and remarkable, but it comes at a price.

Standing up to power in this country, the insincere and self power that has taken this nation down a darker path feared by the founding fathers. Literally with the change in our pockets, choosing food, bartering a few bucks here for a gallon of gas to make it to the studio and a small bit of equipment for the studio is exhausting and keeps me up nights. In the dark of the room, while my wife sleeps, I stare into the abyss wondering whether I am bartering her future wellbeing for a dream, and wondering whether anyone beyond this radio family we have created truly cares if a station for the people, fighting for those better American principles would care whether we exist or not.

In November of 1994 I had to escape Sarajevo. Running a two day gauntlet through front lines, secret tunnels, shelling and nearly freezing to death on an embattled mountain overlooking Sarajevo only one simple thing maintained me; live for Ana. I would not allow death to interrupt or steal the hope I wished for her, and which buoyed her through those dark and terrible days and months of war before she too could escape. She could hope for a safe place to escape to.

And now I stand at that precipice again, risking everything for her and for hope once again. I risk everything but death for a greater ideal, as there are no great ideals in death, but rather in living only. I ask myself minute by minute if the sacrifice, the dream and sleep stealing terror of challenging media behemoths is even possible. But something compels me forward. Something compels me to that microphone daily and to squeeze out change for a smartcard here or a cable there.

At the end there is always Ana and the hope and life I wish to give her. Married now almost 20 years I still struggle every moment whether the love and trust and hope I see reflected in her eyes is something I have the power to give her, or if I build false hope as a drug to move us from day to day. But one thing is clear. It is as clear as it was on those shell and bullet battered streets. I am still at war. This moment is bridged with the past. As the din of monstrous and intransigent cynicism draws those battle lines tightly I understand that the enemy remains the same, just with a different mask. And I stand at the center of that whirlwind holding tightly to that beautiful young woman painting the illusion of strength and promising hope while struggling for both myself.

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