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Feeling utterly betrayed by their leaders, twenty-six women from all over Bosnia meet with Swanee Hunt, former US Ambassador to Austria and Chair of Women Waging Peace, a global policy initiative. In their own words, they describe the war which ravaged their country and reduced it to rubble. As they make clear from the outset, this war was not a result of age-old ethnic antagonisms in the Balkans, where city after city had been peacefully multi-ethnic and where most families had loyalties to more than one group. It was the direct result, they believe, of the nationalism fomented by unscrupulous politicians, especially Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, as they seized power and wealth in the vacuum which existed following the death of Marshall Tito.

The twenty-six speakers are Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, atheists (former Communists), and Jews, all bright, articulate women who are, and have been, working to heal their society. They include engineers, several journalists and physicians, a teacher, a member of the Bosnian Parliament, a professor at the School of Economics, a landscape architect, a member of the seven-member shared Presidency, a farm wife, a flower shop owner, a teenage student, and an art gallery owner, and they represent all areas of Bosnia, from Srebrenica to Mostar, Tuzla, and Sarajevo.

With one voice, they blame their politicians for the atrocities of the war, pointing out that their leaders' manipulation of the international press and their sectarian chauvinism led to ethnic fundamentalism in a country which had previously been multicultural. The imposition of traditional roles on women led to their enforced withdrawal from decision-making, and they universally agree that that they might have been able to influence the direction of the country toward more cultural understanding and better communication if they had been allowed to continue their previous political, professional, and social roles.

The stories here are lively, personal, often incredibly sad, and absolutely unforgettable. Beautiful color portraits of the women, along with brief biographies, make each woman a "living" voice, and the reader is struck by how much these women typify women around the world. Most remarkably the women, despite the losses of parents, husbands, sons, and friends, all continue rebuilding their country, ignoring ethnic labels as they work to get housing for all refugees, find medical supplies and equipment, establish a women's collective, work with rape victims, plan conferences to bring together women from all over the country, make radio broadcasts, organize news agencies, write books, promote international awareness of the atrocities in Bosnia (especially in Srebrenica), care for the elderly, become ambassadors, and run schools.

Hunt's book and the words of these remarkable women are a major achievement in the understanding of this terrible war, a war far different from what most of us have been led to believe. Fourteen magnificent photographs, in addition to the women's portraits, will wring the heart--an unrecognizable national library, a snow-covered Sarajevo soccer field which is now a cemetery, and a decimated dormitory in the Olympic village. Yet amidst the carnage are smiling women who are changing the face of Bosnia. As Kada tells Hunt, "Thank you for telling my story. What's written down will last." n Mary Whipple
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on February 12, 2005
This Was Not our War by former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt is a deeply troubling and hopeful work. First-person accounts of twenty-six Bosnian women from diverse backgrounds form a narrative for understanding conflict and daily life in the Balkans during the 1990's. As the reader meets these women and enters into their experiences, and especially their powerful movements to build a peaceful society, we not only encounter their lives, but through them gain some sense of the struggles and hopes of people caught in other similar contemporary human disasters in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Sudan.

The women whose stories are presented here are teachers and politicians, business owners and factory workers, journalists and physicians. They are Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic and non-religious. They are Croats and Serbs and very clear that the ethnic distinctions on which so much destruction was based was largely a myth of justification amplified out of all proportion by those who made the war.

Each woman who was interviewed is presented with a photo and a brief biography which had great impact on me as a reader, bringing them to life. And once they were alive, then the narrative and history also came to life in a much more personal way. They are like women I know, my friends and neighbors.

I believe it is in making that connection that this work is most important and valuable. When the people involved in war seem like strangers to me, I can tend to distance from what I read and see and hear. The particulars of these women in their photos, narratives and biographies broke through that kind of shield. In doing so, I came to understand that the Bosnian conflict, while not of their choosing or design, was like all wars, our war, in which we all participate and suffer and to which we all have power to respond. Our way as humans in this world does not have to be this kind of warring madness. Ambassador Hunt's book helps us see the possibilities of other ways.
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on February 2, 2005
The central focus of Ambassador Hunt's book is the women from various Bosnian backgrounds whom she interviewed, and who uniformly reject the premise that the recent Bosnian wars were an inevitable result of the area's diverse ethnic and religious composition. The book traces the women's general lack of a formal role in their country's policy-making circles during the period before the tragedy; their victimization during it ("Men feared being killed....We women were afraid of being caught alive."); and their ongoing (sometimes quiet, and sometimes more public) dedication to sustaining and rebuilding their society. The women's comments, and those of Amb. Hunt who was posted in Vienna during a key part of the conflict, also show the calculated and chilling manner in which leaders of the nation knowingly set about to destroy portions of their society and sacrifice many of its people for their own personal gain. ("The campaign was composed of small bits. We didn't recognize the whole picture, because it came in tiny, invisible pieces....You get so used to it...that you can't recognize it any more.") The book contains valuable insight into the manipulations and psychology of the nation's leadership, and what Amb. Hunt refers to as "the transformation of privilege [of some of the dominant groups] into a victim mentality...".

The book contains interesting information about the positions taken by other nations and leaders (including those in America) toward the building and ongoing conflict.

There are also strong currents of hope and optimism which help to balance the narratives of the destruction. One of the women interviewed comments on the relatively advanced position of Muslim women's rights in Bosnia: ("We should help the women of Kabul. Bosniak women are an inspiration for women all over the world.") And another offers the important lesson that she had "learned that political action is not only about influencing others. It's also about preserving her last shred of self-respect."

The book is important reading for anyone interested in the Balkan region in general, and particularly in its more recent history and the prospects for its future; in the role of women in that society (or any other); the role of leadership in fostering, or destroying, the common welfare of the people; and the ability of diverse groups in any region to coexist peacefully and constructively.

And don't neglect the footnotes: they contain a lot of interesting information and insights.
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on May 25, 2005
This is an exquisitely executed book about the struggles of women in Bosnia to survive the ravages of a war fuelled by political expedience and glamorized as an ethnic struggle. Swanee Hunt's own tone of moral outrage never eclipses the voices of the women she has interviewed. She writes of them with love, and also finds much love in them, a love only more startling for having survived such intense hatred. This book is a great, great achievement, both for its singular mix of empathy and for its clarity. As Primo Levi and Viktor Frankl found meaning in the Holocaust without diminishing its horror, so Hunt finds a language of strength and power in these compromised lives. This is a book about the very best and very worst of humanity.
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on June 23, 2005
I found this book to be unbelievably moving, especially the pictures of the women, which helped me realize that these women are just like you and me, and that this could happen to any one of us. I can not imagine the strength required and exhibited by each of these women, and thank Ms. Hunt for sharing their stories. Every woman in America should read this book!
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on April 25, 2016
very useful document in trying to understand a very confusing conflict.
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on September 1, 2007
This is yet another attempt to water down the real cause of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reader will conclude that the agressor was not Serbia and Monteneagro, but....some crazy local politicians who succeded in fomanting the heatred after coming to power. Reader is fooled into beleiving that this heatred had nothing to do with previous history, which is full of bloodshed caused by this monsterous project of Greater Serbia. Personal tragedies of these woman are masterfully twisted into illusion that "we lived like a brothers during Marshall Tito", who by the way was one of the biggest criminals and dictatiors in the recent history. If I wrote this when this communist Tito was alive, I'd be in the gulag before this message treavelled from my computer to amazon's server. Poor book, full of illusions and lies! Stay away.
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