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Through A Child's Eyes: The Yugoslav War View other pieces in "The New Yorker"
By Mark Danner April 04, 1994
Tags: Balkans Print


For besiegers of cities, a child is an especially lucrative target. If the aim is to sow terror among those holding out behind the walls, how better to do it than by murdering children? Which is why, on a sunny afternoon in Sarajevo this past January, a Serb gunner fired a high-explosive shell into a group of children sledding.

This was but one incident in the epic of sieges and atrocities that has been the Yugoslav war. Belma, from Sarajevo, describes another in "We Were Only Waiting for Candies." Though the style matches the artist's age, the knowledge far exceeds it: Belma, ten years old, knows how a shell severs limbs, how the blood gushes and pools, how the wounded can be told from the dead.

We want innocence from our children, but what we find here (and in other works in unicef's "I Dream of Peace," to be published by HarperCollins on May 10th) is knowledge. Mirko, eleven years old, knows intimately the siege of his home town, and depicts with precision how the tanks move methodically from house to house, church to church, firing their shells point-blank into every wall of the ancient city until virtually every expanse of brick and stone has been perforated, every structure made by man reduced to ruin. Robert, a fourteen-year-old from Fovca, knows what it is like to live in a city under attack: his city is bursting, not only with closely observed detail -- we see the sandbags, the anti-aircraft fire, the Red Cross -- but with sound: fires rage, warplanes screech overhead, and, at the end of the street, a fire alarm blares, unheeded.

We demand innocence from our children; we receive a clear-eyed rendering of what is seen. But look too long at the whirl of shrapnel amid the bloodied children, and you feel yourself drawn in, pulled toward a place neither the artist, nor the viewer, can understand.

© 2021 Mark Danner