An exhibition organized by the Centro Sefarad-Israel, the Bosnia-Herzegovina embassy and the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country of Tenerife shows, at the headquarters of the latter institution, on Calle San Agustín, the memories of the Spanish military presence in the Balkan country from 1992 to 2010.
Sarajevo, Mostar, Srebrenica… Names that sound in the fog of memory of the last, cruel and uncivil Balkan War, the one that caused the dismemberment of Yugoslavia into six republics from the early 90s of the 20th century at the beginning of the millennium. All geographical references correspond to what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of those six independent countries that emerged from the paradise of self-management in Tito’s time. These names also represent the stages of the conflict in the wounds of a people. Its reparation and relief, at least in part, corresponded to a Spanish Army that left an indelible mark on the country. This is the main axis of the sample Bosnia: images of a tragedy which can be visited until the next day 24, from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., in the exhibition hall of the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country of Tenerife (RSEAPT), at number 23 of the lagoon street San Agustín. An exclusive installation for these days.
The Bosnian people and their authorities recognize the enormous effort of the Spanish Army in sending 46,000 soldiers deployed there as a military mission, under the UN or NATO flag, until 2010. Of these, 22 died in that peace mission. A plaque with their names remembers them outside the Alcázar de Toledo. Tribute is also paid to them in the Plaza de España in Mostar. Despite the fact that troops of numerous nationalities were there during different stages, this is the only reference that recalls one of them in Bosnian lands.
A total of 32 panels and 130 images, along with maps and other graphic resources, go through decades of history with the Spanish Army as the axis and its three precepts in the Balkan lands: monitor, protect and rebuild. Ángel Quintero, curator of the exhibition, emphasizes the latter with reference to two specific symbols: «The Sarajevo library, destroyed with hammer blows by the Serbs, which demonstrates the hatred unleashed in that war between brothers. And the famous bridge of Mostar, a World Heritage Site, rebuilt by the Spanish».
The tour includes iconic photographs such as the building of the capital, Sarajevo, from where the Serbian snipers massacred the population. Quintero relates: “The children came out and they shot them in the legs to force their parents to do it and shoot them from a distance.” The images of destruction are repeated. Like those of the old Olympic Village, since Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. Ángel tells the anecdote of a tank located on a hill that, when it changed hands, was used to machine-gun the other side from above.
The curator reflects: «This exhibition, which we intend to make permanent in the Almeyda Military Museum, is more timely than ever. Europe repeats wars and genocides. It happened with the Nazis in the middle of the 20th century, in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and now in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He concludes: “Few things have changed in the transition between two centuries.”
The military and humanitarian work of the Spanish soldiers always appears in the background. Raise what was knocked down by the bombs, train the new local police, always help civilians, demine a subsoil that is still full of explosive devices…
The central display case gathers resources donated by the soldiers who were in Bosnia. Caps, vests, cards, decorations or insignia of the NATO Or the UN. And the peculiar colored pipes traditionally used in the Balkans.
In Bosnia it is thought that with the Spanish it would never have been the same in Srebrenica, when the 400 Dutch peacekeepers looked the other way in 1995 while the Serbs massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
land of borders
Parallel to the show, the series of conferences Bosnia: Land of Frontiers has been held throughout this week, in the RSEAPT assembly hall. It has been organized as the exhibition by the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sefarad-Israel Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yesterday it was closed by the Bosnian ambassador to Spain, Danka Savic, who was previously in the Parliament of the Canary Islands. Today he visits Los Silos, a town closely linked to the diaspora of his country, because a group of 86 children and adults took refuge there at the beginning of the war, in the former Yugoslavia, thanks to the efforts of Fernando de Paz, who led through of the NGO that founded, Friends of Peace, the complicated humanitarian operation. De Paz also recounted his experience in this forum through the conference The Struggle for Peace and Help for the Victims of the Bosnian War.
Two soldiers from Tenerife who were at the forefront of that conflict have offered talks in the series. On the one hand, Brigadier General (UN) Emilio Abad Ripoll, who recounted his experience in With a Blue Beret (Ex-Yugoslavia 1995-1996). On the other hand, the commander of the Army José Felipe Dorta, who spoke about Bosnia and Herzegovina: the unreason of human beings.
Lastly, the Director of Culture of the Centro Sefarad-Israel, Esther Bendahan, glossed over the figure of the protagonist of the embassy’s exhibition under the title Del judeo español de Laura Papo to the new and new creators.
‘Laura Papo, Sephardic writer’
Along with the exhibition on the war in Bosnia and the series of talks, the RSEAPT headquarters in Laguna hosts another exhibition called Life and work of Laura Papo, a Sephardic writer, a direct contribution from the embassy in Spain. It can be visited until the 24th at the same time as the other facility. It traces the life and work of the writer and playwright whose children died in the terrible concentration camp of Jasenovac where it is estimated that the pro-Nazi regime of the Croatian Ustacha murdered almost 100,000 people between 1941 and 1945. Laura Papo (Sarajevo, 1891- 1942) was also known by the pseudonym Bohoreta (the first-born, in Ladino), with which she sometimes signed. She made a decisive contribution to the study of Sephardic culture – a field that led her to collaborate with the Spanish Board for the Extension of Studies – and to the dissemination of Judeo-Spanish, a language in which she is considered to be the first playwright.