One warm sunny morning in August some considerable time ago, I woke up in a strange place. It was a chalet style ski lodge, built, I was told, for a long passed winter Olympics.
Standing on the grass outside the door I looked out at a beautiful, steep sided, densely wooded valley, dotted with small villages and towns. I swear that even now I can smell the freshness in the air.
A bus came and took us all off for a day’s filming.
In the early afternoon, the bus stopped at what might have once been a farm; maybe cattle, maybe chickens. There were two long, low sheds.
But the sheds no longer housed cows or hens. They housed men and boys–some no older than 13 or 14. They sat and lay in long rows, no more than three feet apart. Thin, dirty, resigned. Our tour guides stood around glaring at us, fingering their Kalashnikovs.
It was called Manjača, and it was one of several internment camps operating in Bosnia in 1992 as a consequence of the Yugoslavian wars.
I was there because Paddy Ashdown and Russell Johnston had bullied the Serbs into letting us in.
i found it a sobering experience, not least because I really couldn’t see what separated the guards from the prisoners apart from a national label
This happened only 25 years ago, only a three hour flight from Heathrow or Gatwick. In our own backyard near enough. It’s what can happen when you divide the world into Them and Us. When you let yourself give in to unthinking nationalism and the fear of the Other.
Eventually of course the wars stopped and the various parties sat down and *talked* and now two of the former Yugoslavian republics are members of the EU and more are on track to join and it *won’t happen again*
The EU is where you talk first. But its more than just avoiding conflict. It’s where you actively co-operate with the others to make things better for all of you. It’s about NOT turning inwards and creating squabbling fortress nations but welcoming new ideas even new ideologies if you want. It’s about being part of something bigger and more varied.
So when you go and vote later (you are going to vote later, aren’t you?) please do vote Remain for a more peaceful and more prosperous Europe.
(By the way, there’s a better written and better recalled story of that trip to Bosnia in Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography, *A Fortunate Life.* It’s not a bad read if you ignore Paddy’s slightly pompous style)