Letters from Bosnia
by Gillian Clarke
In the closing decade of the 20th century, all the small countries that formed the former Yugoslavia declared their wish to be free. Croatia, Serbia, and other smaller countries, had been rolled into one, big country, Yugoslavia, which had been ruled for most of the 20th century as a single, atheist, communist state, although many of its people were Muslim and many were Christian. When the Bosnian people wanted their freedom, the Serbian army used brutal force in an effort to suppress them. It was a terrible war. Many innocent people died. People were murdered for their religion or their ethnic identity. Christians and Muslims who had been good neighbours became suspicious of each other. Peaceful communities were destroyed. Friends became enemies.
As in many towns in Britain, the people in the small mid-Wales town of Llanidloes collected money, food, clothes and blankets and sent them to Bosnia. The children in the primary school sent letters to children in Vites, and pen friendships were formed. One April day just before Easter I was writing poetry with the children when the post arrived from Bosnia. One letter was from Misha to Ben. There were Easter cards made by the Bosnian children, and a photograph of the class in Vites. They looked exactly like Welsh children, smiling in the sunshine in their tee shirts and trainers, some signalling, thumbs up, for the camera. Behind them was a shabby wall, marked by what looked like bullet holes.
All this is in the poem. Read it, and find the facts, all set out in as few words as possible. In a poem every word counts. One word often serves two purposes. The children in Llanidloes are also the children in Vites. The European spring is happening is in Wales and Bosnia. We share Easter. We are all Europeans. ‘April is all indecision’, just as Europe is. The cherry blossom is beautiful, but it is torn by sharp April rain, just as the beautiful children are torn by sudden war. The ‘bullet holes’ in the final line is intended to be shocking, and a warning. What if it happened here?